And Thereby Hangs a Tale: Short Stories

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9780312539542: And Thereby Hangs a Tale: Short Stories
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Tragic, comic, outrageous―these fifteen tales from international bestselling author Jeffrey Archer showcase his remarkable talent for capturing an unforgettable moment in time...

In India, in "Caste-Off," a man and woman fall in love while waiting for a traffic light to turn green on the streets of Delhi...

From Germany comes "A Good Eye," about a priceless oil painting that has remained in the same family for over two hundred years, until...

To the Channel Islands and "Members Only," where a golf ball falls out of a Christmas cracker, and a young man's life will never be the same...

To Italy and "No Room at the Inn," where a young man who is trying to book a hotel room ends up in bed with the receptionist, unaware that she...

To England, where, in "High Heels," a woman has to explain to her husband why a pair of designer shoes couldn't have gone up in flames...

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About the Author:

Jeffrey Archer was educated at Oxford University. He has served five years in Britain's House of Commons and fourteen years in the House of Lords. All of his novels and short story collections--including Kane and Abel, Paths of Glory and False Impression--have been international bestselling books. Archer is married with two sons and lives in London and Cambridge.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

ONE
Detective Inspector William Trave of the Oxfordshire CID felt the pain as soon as he’d passed through the revolving entrance doors of the Old Bailey and had shaken the rain out from his coat onto the dirty wet floor of the courthouse. It hurt him in the same place as before—on the left side of his chest, just above his heart. But it was worse this time. It felt important. Like it might never go away.
There was a white plastic chair in the corner, placed there perhaps by some kind janitor to accommodate visitors made faint by their first experience of the Old Bailey. Now Trave fell into it, bending down over his knees to gather the pain into himself. He was fighting for breath while prickly sweat poured down in rivulets over his face, mixing with the raindrops. And all the time his brain raced from one thought to another, as if it wanted in the space of a minute or two to catch up on all the years he had wasted not talking to his wife, not coming to terms with his son’s death, not living. He thought of the lonely North Oxford house he had left behind at seven o’clock that morning, with the room at the back that he never went into, and he thought of his ex-wife, whom he had seen just the other day shopping in the covered market. He had run back into the High Street, frightened that his successor might come into view carrying a shared shopping bag, and had ducked into the Mitre in search of whisky.
Trave wanted whisky now, but the Old Bailey wasn’t the place to find it. For a moment he considered the possibility of the pub across the road. It was called The Witness Box, or some fatuous name like that, but it wouldn’t be open yet. Trave felt his breath beginning to come easier. The pain was better, and he got out a crumpled handkerchief and wiped away some of the sweat and rain. It was funny that he’d felt for a moment that he was actually going to die, and yet no one seemed to have noticed. The security guards were still patting down the pockets of the public just like they had been doing all morning. One of them was even humming a discordant version of that American song, “Heartbreak Hotel.” A rain-soaked middle-aged policeman sitting on a chair in the corner, gathering his breath for the day ahead, was hardly a cause for distraction.
A sudden weariness came over Trave. Once again he felt weighed down by the meaninglessness of the world around him. Trave always tried to keep his natural nihilism at bay as best he could. He did his job to the best of his ability, went to church on Sundays, and nurtured the plants that grew in the carefully arranged borders of his garden—and sometimes it all worked. Things seemed important precisely because they didn’t last. But underneath, the despair was always there, ready to spring out and take him unawares. Like that morning, halfway down his own street, when a young man in blue overalls working on a dismembered motorcycle had brought back the memory of Joe as if he had gone only yesterday. And fallen apples in the garden at the weekend had resurrected Vanessa stooping to gather them into a straw basket three autumns before. It was funny that he always remembered his wife with her back turned.
Trave gathered himself together and made for the stairs. When he got time, he’d go and see his doctor. Perhaps the GP could give him something. In the meantime he had to carry on. Today was important. Regina v. Stephen Cade, said the list on the wall outside the courthouse. Before His Honour Judge Murdoch at twelve o’clock. Charged with murder. Father murder—patricide, it was called. And the father was an important man—a colonel in the army during the war and a university professor in civilian life. If convicted, the boy would certainly hang. The powers that be would see to that. The boy. But Stephen wasn’t a boy. He was twenty-two. He just felt like a boy to Trave. The policeman fought to keep back the thought that Stephen was so much like Joe. It wasn’t just a physical resemblance. Joe had had the same passion, the same need to rebel that had driven him to ride his brand new 600cc silver motorcycle too fast after dark down a narrow road on the other side of Oxford. A wet January night more than two years ago. If he’d lived, Joe would be twenty-two. Just like Stephen. Trave shook his head. He didn’t need the police training manual to know that empathising with the main suspect in a murder investigation was no way to do his job. Trave had trained himself to be fair and decent and unemotional. That way he brought order to a disordered world, and most of the time he believed there was some value in that. He would do his duty, give his evidence, and move on. The fate of Stephen Cade was not his responsibility.
Up in the police room, Trave poured himself a cup of black coffee, straightened his tie, and waited in a corner for the court usher to come and get him to give his evidence. He was the officer in the case, and, when the opening statements were over, he would be the first witness called by the prosecution.
The courtroom was one of the oldest in the Old Bailey. It was tall, lit by glass chandeliers that the maintenance staff needed long ladders to reach when the bulbs blew out. On the wood-paneled walls, pictures of long-gone nineteenth-century lawyers stared out on their twentieth-century successors. The judge sat robed in black in a leather-backed armchair placed on a high dais. Only the dock containing the defendant and two uniformed prison officers was at the same level. Between them, in the well of the court, were the lawyers’ tables; the witness box; and, to right and left, the benches for the press and the jury. The jurors were now in place, and Trave felt them slowly relaxing into their new surroundings. Their moment in the limelight, when they stumbled over their oath to render a true verdict in accordance with the evidence, had come and gone. Now they could sit in safe anonymity while the drama of the murder trial played out in front of them. Everyone—members of the press, the jurors, and the spectators packed together in the public gallery above the defendant’s head—was focused on the prosecutor, Gerald Thompson, as he gathered his long black gown around his shoulders and prepared to begin.
“What time did you arrive at Moreton Manor, Inspector?” he asked, “on the night of the murder?”
“Eleven forty-five.” Trave spoke loudly, forgetting for a moment the acoustic qualities of the Old Bailey.
“Were you the first policeman on the scene?”
“No. Officers Clayton and Watts were already there. They’d got everyone in the drawing room. It’s across from the front hall.”
“And the victim, Professor Cade—he was in his study. On the ground floor of the east wing.”
“Yes. That’s right,” said Trave.
There was a measured coldness and determination in the way the prosecutor put his questions, which contrasted sharply with his remarkable lack of stature. Gerald Thompson couldn’t have been more than five feet tall. Now he took a deep breath and drew himself up to his full short height as if to underline to the jury the importance of his next question.
“Now, tell us, Inspector. What did you find?”
“In the study?”
“Yes. In the study.”
Trave could hear the impatience in the prosecutor’s voice, but he still hesitated before beginning his reply. It was the question he’d asked himself a thousand times or more during the four months that had passed since he’d first seen the dead man, sitting bolt upright in his high-backed armchair, gazing out over a game of chess into nothing at all. Shot in the head. Detective Inspector Trave knew what he’d found, all right. He just didn’t know what it meant. Not in his bones, not where it mattered. Pieces of the jigsaw fit too well, and others didn’t fit at all. Everything pointed to Stephen Cade as the murderer, but why had he called out for help after killing his father? Why had he waited to open the door to his accusers? Why had he not tried to escape? Trave remembered how Stephen had gripped the table at the end of their last interview in Oxford Police Station, shouting over and over again until he was hoarse: “I didn’t do it I tell you. I didn’t kill him. I hated my father, but that doesn’t make me a murderer.”
Trave had got up and left the room, told the sergeant at the desk to charge the boy with murder, and walked out into the night. And he hadn’t slept properly ever since.
Thompson, of course, had no such doubts. Trave remembered the first thing the prosecution counsel had told him when the case was being prepared for trial: “There’s something you should know about me, Inspector,” he’d said in that nasal bullying tone with which Trave had now become so familiar. “I don’t suffer fools gladly. I never have and I never will.”
And Trave was a fool. Thompson hadn’t taken long to form that opinion. The art of prosecution was about following the straight and narrow, keeping to the path through the woods until you got to the hanging tree on the other side. Defence lawyers spent their time trying to sidetrack witnesses and throw smoke in the jurors’ eyes to keep them from the truth. Trave was the officer in the case. It was his duty not to be sidetracked, to keep his language plain and simple, to help the jury do its job. And here he was: hesitant and uncertain before he’d even begun.
Thompson cleared his throat and glowered at his witness.
“Tell us about the deceased, Inspector Trave,” he demanded. “Tell us what you found.”
“He’d been shot in the head.”
“How many times?”
“Once.”
“Where in the head?”
“In the forehead.”
“Did you find the gun?”
“Yes, it was on a side table, with a sil...

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