When a solicitor's clerk arrives one evening with news of a legacy for an unknown relative, possibly his half-sister, Sam tries hard to help her inherit. If it had been a smaller amount, he probably wouldn't have agreed to stand in for her, but as it was…
Author's Note: I know that many of my readers prefer stories without "scenes of a sexual nature" whilst others enjoy the naughtier bits. As an experiment, I'm providing optional extra bits of this story. The story below is complete in itself, without any "Scenes Of A Sexual Nature" although you'll find adult language used throughout the story. If you prefer the fuller version, click on the SOASN links at the relevant parts of the story and enjoy; click on your browser's Back button to return to the main story and continue reading.
And not just one innovation but two, I always try to ensure my stories are understandable not just to my regular readers, but to any new reader as well. Consequently, I tend to repeat in each story details about Big Busts' products. I've now included a Big Busts' pamphlet. If you're a regular reader, you won't need to read it – at least, not more than once – but new readers can read it to find out all about Big Busts products.
Unusually for me, I've left public comments open so you can give your opinion on the changes,
by Charlotte Dickles
"Hello. Mr Samuel Smith?" The woman who had knocked his door that Thursday evening was smartly dressed in a business suit, which probably meant she was selling something. But she looked rather older than the typical saleswoman, probably around his mother's age, which would put her in the early sixties.
"Yes?" He cautiously admitted his name, leaving his question hanging.
"I'm Rita Nicholls and I'm working on behalf of a firm of solicitors. You've probably seen the will-chasing programmes on TV. I'm urgently trying to locate a Miss Samantha Smith."
"Oh I see." That changed everything. "I'm sorry. There's no Samantha Smith living here and I can't think of any of my relatives named that, off hand. Do you want to come inside? Would you like a coffee?"
Rita smiled at him. "I'd love one, please. I've been on the road for hours. I'm running out of time and you're my last hope."
He led the way inside to his lounge and, as he put on the kettle and spooned instant coffee into two cups, he tried to review all the members of his extended family.
"I've a cousin called Sandie Smith, which is presumably short for Sandra," he said as he handed the cup to her, "but no Samantha."
She tried not to turn up her nose as she smelt the cheapest brand of instant coffee, and said, "No. It's definitely Samantha I'm looking for.
"I see you play the piano," she added, nodding towards the keyboard, her abrupt change of subject taking him by surprise.
"Yes," he said, "my mother and father both played. Dad was a concert pianist and he taught me when I was a child. He died when I was still a teenager but I've kept it up ever since."
"But it's not your career?"
He shook his head. "It doesn't pay well. My father was a brilliant pianist but never earned that much."
"Samantha Smith plays professionally, as well."
He paused. "You mean she might be from my father's side of the family?"
"I meant rather closer than that."
"But there's only me. I don't have any sisters."
"You mean any sisters that you know of. Maybe you have a half-sister."
"You're crazy," he said. "What right do you have to come here making those kinds of insinuations?"
"Sorry," she said, "but I didn't just call on you by chance. There are far too many Smiths for that to work."
"Well, what then?"
"I'd tried all the conventional routes to find her. She was the daughter of a single mother and was orphaned when she was twelve. She then lived in a series of foster homes. When she was fifteen, she ran away and lived partly by performing in bars and clubs."
Rita grimaced. "She turned to the oldest profession to subsidise her income. Then about three years ago she disappeared off the radar."
"So she might be dead." He didn't know whether he was pleased or saddened.
"Or living with some guy who loves her music." She shrugged. "We just don't know."
"So what makes you think I might be her half-brother?"
"The father's name on the birth certificate is Jack Smith, same as your father's, but there are thousands of Jack Smiths so, on its own, it doesn't really mean anything. As I said, I tried all the conventional routes and got nowhere. Then I contacted this geek who makes a speciality of internet searches on social media sites. He has a way of getting through their security systems."
"But even so, you could still only search for someone called Smith."
"I had a three-year-old picture of Samantha, so I got him to search the social media sites with some facial recognition software, looking for family similarities to Samantha. It produced your picture, rating it as high confidence, although I don't think a human would have made the connection. You look quite different, you see. But with the same father's name..."
"Can I see the photo?"
"Yes, it's on my laptop. Can I plug it in? Can I access your Wi-Fi as well? I need to check my emails."
It took a few minutes for her to get things set up. Sam went to make some more coffee although strangely, Rita said she didn't want any more.
"Before I show you the picture," she said, "I need to explain the way the recognition software works. It analyses the face, measuring things like the length and width of your nose, mouth and eyes, the overall shape, and so on, and works out the ratio of one to the other. Then it goes through the database of pictures, making the same calculations for each one and looking for the same proportions."
He shrugged. "Yeah, but so what?"
She brought up a photo on the screen. "This is Samantha Smith," adding as he stared at it, "Skin colour is only one of many other factors it's examining."
He gasped as he stared at a picture of a voluptuous black woman wearing a Jessica Rabbit dress.
"That's impossible," he cried. "Mum and Dad were terrible racists. They hated black people."
"Both of them? Or just your mother?"
He thought. "Mum always was the more dominant. Dad would never argue with her, but he never disagreed, even when I grew up and realised how bigoted they both were and started arguing with them."
"Perhaps there was a reason why she disliked black people so much."
"She was just racist," he said. "She read the Daily Mail. Those two things reinforce each other."
He glanced at the picture again. "How can she possibly be my half-sister?"
"I must say, I had the same reaction when my geek first showed me your photo, but he was ready for that. He'd taken the picture of your face you had on your social media page, darkened the skin and then pasted it into the photo of Samantha. Look at this."
She showed him another, almost identical photo to the first. Sam stared at the two photos, one with his blackened face pasted into it, the other untouched photo of Samantha.
"We're almost identical," he admitted. "But I can't believe Dad would have had an affair with someone, especially a black woman. I have difficulty believing my parents even had sex, but I'm the proof of that."
"Being a pianist, did he travel away from home, much?"
"A lot of the time," he admitted. "Sometimes for weeks on end."
Rita shrugged, philosophically. "Things really stack up, although it wouldn't be enough to prove it in a court of law. For my money, you're Samantha's half-brother."
Slowly, Sam nodded, and spent a few silent minutes thinking about the implications. "But it doesn't get you any closer to finding her," he said, breaking the silence. "Didn't you say time was critical?"
Rita nodded. "It is," she said. "I have until tomorrow evening to produce her and I'm clearly not going to be able to. Unless…"
"Can you keep a confidence, because everything I'm about to say must be kept secret, otherwise the whole will is forfeit."
"OK, I'll respect that."
"I'm being employed by Grosvenor & Steele, a firm of solicitors, to assist in the execution of the will of Marguerite Lang, a rather rich woman who recently died of cancer. She didn't make a normal will, bequeathing so much to one person and so much to another. Instead, she decided there'd be a competition amongst the potential beneficiaries and the winner would get the lot. That competition is this weekend."
"Phew," Sam said. "That's weird, and likely to be very competitive. Presumably, Samantha is a potential beneficiary? And what sort of competition is it?"
"It's going to be a murder mystery game. Have you ever taken part in one? I'm told they can be a lot of fun, although I think this is going to be anything but."
"I did one a few years back," he said. "We all had to dress up as characters in the mystery, and we were given facts about ourselves we could reveal to the others when asked. We had to try to work out who had killed the victim."
"Well, I'm told this is going to be similar although I'm not certain how the winner of Marguerite Lang's estate is going to be chosen. Anyway, Samantha is invited to take part, playing the character of a pianist like herself. Just for going along, she'll receive ten thousand pounds."
"Ten thousand just for attending. Wow! How much is the estate worth?"
"Millions," she said, "and I'm not going to tell you how many."
"And if we don't find Samantha before tomorrow evening, she loses out?"
"Precisely. Which is where my 'Unless' comes in."
"Unless what?" He paused looking at her staring back at him, when he suddenly realised. "Oh, no. No way! Absolutely no way! I don't have her skin colour and I don't have her curves. It will never work."
"OK," she said. "I understand your reservations, but if we could overcome those things, would you have a problem in principle?"
"You mean, if I suddenly turned black and grew breasts, would I have a problem in going as her?"
"Er, well… I guess I'd be so shocked by the other things, I wouldn't worry about a little thing such as attending a murder mystery."
"That's great," she said. "One question. Can you play As Time Goes By? And the Funeral March? That's essential."
"Oh, I get it," Sam said. "Play it again, Sam. Casablanca. Humphrey Bogart. Yes, I can play that and Chopin's Piano Concerto No 2."
"In that case," Rita said, "pack your toothbrush and some pyjamas and we'll get on the road."
"Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Where are you suggesting we're going? Besides, I have to go to work tomorrow."
"Call in sick. There's a town called Seacombe on the south coast, where they do a tremendous job of converting a man to look like a woman. We'll drive there now and I'll book you into a hotel room. Tomorrow, they'll transform you into your black half sister. Then tomorrow evening, you have a murder mystery event to go to."
It was Friday evening, almost twenty-four hours later, when Sam stared into his hotel room mirror, and Samantha stared back at him. She was wearing a similar red, Jessica Rabbit dress to the one she'd been wearing in the photo, which was rather more practical than the cartoon version. So it wasn't backless which would have made it physically impossible to support her huge wobbling breasts. Instead, it had a corset top with a lace-up back which squeezed her waist to a size Sam would not have thought possible. But the corset allowed the platform bra cups to properly support her large breasts, so they wobbled like jellies on a plate, her nipples barely concealed. The dress was slit down from the hip on one side, meaning that as she sat at the piano, her audience would see everything from her suspender supported stocking tops down to her spiky heels. The heels, too, leaned to the practical, so they were only one inch high rather than the four inches which Jessica Rabbit would wear.
Sam half turned so he could properly see Samantha's protruding bottom, and he marvelled at the transformation he'd experienced that morning.
It had been a long drive the preceding evening, and they'd checked into the Grand Hotel in Seacombe in the early hours of the morning. His alarm went off at seven, for a seven-forty-five breakfast, so that they could be at Big Busts, the company which was going to transform him, by nine.
A rapid consultation, with Rita showing them the photograph of Samantha, and then Sam was told to strip off. They'd pushed him into a spray booth with some goggles and a miniscule thong, and spent ages spraying him until he was a near ebony shade all over.
Then, he'd had gel smeared over his body and he was told to don a Bustlet and Hiplet (for details of these products, see the pamphlet). Both were in the same ebony colour as his skin.
The rest of the day had been spent in giving him an Afro hair style, make-up, lessons in moving and talking (where he had the help of a pill which tasted like nitric acid but gave him a sweet voice). Finally, he was fitted into the dress, pushed into a taxi and told to return to the Grand Hotel. A car would be calling for him In just three hours' time to take him to the venue where he would be the pianist, and he hadn't practiced at the piano for ages. Fortunately, he'd brought his keyboard so he'd spent the time practicing. Now Samantha was ready to be collected.
The knock on her door came promptly at seven, and when Sam opened it, Rita stood there: only a Rita transformed by a black dress with a white frilly apron, and a matching frilly white cap and gloves.
"It seems that the maid, isn't going to arrive so I have to stand in for her. We're both keeping our same names but from now on, you must call me Rita, and I call you Miss, or Miss Samantha.
"That was a bit of a surprise for you," Sam said, "but not quite as big a surprise as I received last night. And all through today, for that matter."
Rita smiled. "It certainly was, Miss," she said.
"Does that mean you're going to receive ten thousand pounds, as well?"
Rita shook her head. "Fraid not. I'm told it's all part of the job. Incidentally, I have some extra items for you to carry in your handbag." She reached in her own bag and extracted an item. "Here are some handcuffs for you; presumably you'll be arresting the murderer.
"And here," she added, pulling out something else, "is your gun. It's only a cap gun," she said, seeing the look of surprise on Samantha's face, "so you won't run the risk of really killing someone. Look." She broke open the small pink pistol and showed the caps inside. "OK?"
Samantha nodded. "I guess so, but my small handbag is quite full, with that in it. I need to squeeze my phone in, as well."
"Phones aren't allowed," Rita said. "It's too easy to cheat if you have access to the internet and the real world. If you're discovered with one you're immediately excluded from the inheritance and you don't get the ten thousand pounds.
"There's one final thing," she added, pulling out another item from her bag, "you need to insert this radio earpiece into your ear. You'll get instructions over it on what to do and what to say, and you must follow them precisely, otherwise you forfeit the right to be included in the will and the ten thousand pounds you'll receive anyway. Do you understand?"
She smiled again. "We should be calling this game schizophrenia: you have to do what the voices in the head tell you to."
Samantha smiled back. "Have you any more idea what this game is all about?"
"None at all, except that I know they've employed out-of-work actors to fill some of the roles, so you may even recognise one or two. But whatever happens, don't refer to it. You must stay in character as long as the game continues. Do you understand?"
After Samantha had nodded a second time, Rita said, "Then let's go. There's a car waiting for us downstairs."
Seacombe had once been a busy fishing port at the mouth of the River Combe and the car took them to the quayside, where there were a gaggle of men and women, some black, some white, in dinner jackets and evening dress, clearly waiting for a boat to collect them. They were all wearing earpieces, Sam noticed. Rita got out of the car first, and no one seemed to take much notice of her. Then Rita helped Samantha out, the slit in her dress exposing her leg from ankle to stocking top as she did so, and suddenly she was the centre of attention.
"Hi there." "Good to see you." "Well, hello." The latter remark was from a well-dressed, elderly black gentleman who, in spite of his years, ran an appreciative eye over Samantha, which seemed to contain just as much lust as the younger men. "I'm Walter Goodman," he added.
"Tony Fortescue," the younger, rather plump man said, "and this is my wife, Tracey." He indicated a tall thin black woman in a white dress with a cleavage plunging almost to the waist (which actually exposed very little) who was scowling at Samantha.
"Ben Gibson," the other black man said, "and this is my girlfriend, Ashley." Ashley was short and plump. Her cleavage exposed an abundance of pale flesh.
"Pleased to meet ya," Ashley said, looking anything but.
"Hi, everybody," Samantha said. "I'm Samantha Smith, and I'm going to play for you this evening."
"You can play with me anytime," Walter said.
"Walter, behave." The words snapped out from across the quay, where a tall, elderly woman was standing very erect. She seemed rather familiar to Samantha.
"Sorry, darling," Walter said, and then added, "This is Samantha Smith. Samantha, this is my partner, Marguerite Lang."
Of course, Samantha thought, with Marguerite being dead, someone was playing her part. She had been that actress in that long running TV soap… What was she called? Diana Partridge. That was it. She hadn't seen her for years. "Good evening, Miss Lang," she said, and the words were echoed by Rita.
"Ladies and gentlemen." Everyone turned to see an elderly man dressed in a rather shabby dinner jacket. "I am Jenson, Miss Lang's butler. I have just been notified that our steam yacht – the Princess Beatrice – will be with us in just a few minutes."
"They're not paid to be late, Jenson." Miss Lang's voice snapped out. "Make certain they're made aware of that."
"Yes, Miss Lang."
There was a rather uncomfortable silence after that, which only relaxed as an elderly steam yacht approached the quayside. It was, Samantha realised, a vintage yacht and no doubt the hire fee reflected that. The Captain stood impressively on the bridge whilst two deckhands, dressed in the traditional gear of white bell-bottom trousers and striped jerseys prepared to moor the yacht. It docked immediately next to where they stood, and the deckhands raised a gangplank to bridge the difference in height. Miss Lang stepped on board, followed by each of the guests. Jenson stood immediately next to the gangplank, ticking off people's names as they passed. As employees, Samantha and Rita waited until the others were on-board before approaching the gangplank.
"Samantha Smith," Samantha said.
"Ah yes, Miss Smith. The piano is in the rear saloon, below decks. Perhaps you would start playing immediately."
"Thank you." She stepped on the gangplank.
"Rita Brown," Rita said, as she went to follow Samantha.
"Know your place, Rita," Jenson said, thrusting an arm in front of her to bar her way. "I shall step aboard now and you will follow me."
Rita's look of anger should have killed him outright, but
he waited with his arm outstretched until Rita had stepped backwards so he could move onto the gangplank.
This, Samantha thought, sounds like it's going to be a bundle of fun."
In fact, once she'd gone down to the saloon, sat at the piano and started playing, things started to get better. After the Princess Beatrice cast off from the wharf, the passengers gawping around on deck were attracted to the music and came down to watch her playing. Rita started serving drinks, closely supervised by Jenson, but they seemed to be settling along together. And when Samantha was finally served a drink, she really relaxed into the role. She was even getting used to the wobble of her breasts with every press on the piano keyboard.
Conversation started to bumble around the room. Samantha knew she should be paying attention if she was going to work out who the murderer was going to be, but she'd never been one of those musicians who could play without total concentration, so she simply concentrated on the music as the Princess Beatrice chugged along, with a rather pleasant chunk-chuff, chunk-chuff sound. From the lack of motion on board, she guessed the boat was heading up-river, rather than out to sea, although she had little idea of the local geography or where they would end up.
It was probably an hour later when Samantha became aware that the chunk-chuff sound had ceased, and conversation in the saloon seemed to die off as people realised they must be stopped. Then the smartly dressed Captain was stepping down into the saloon and announcing to Miss Lang that they had reached our stopping point.
He was what most people would describe as a typical seafaring captain: tall, with a bald head, mostly concealed by a peaked cap, and a white beard.
"I am Captain Trevithick," he announced. "Dinner is being served on deck under the awning. Miss Lang, may I escort you there?"
He crooked his arm so that she could take it and they walked together to the stairs. The other guests followed behind and Samantha noted that Jenson and Rita were not to be seen; presumably they were already on deck, ready to serve the meal.
After Samantha rounded off the piece she was playing, she made to close the piano lid, but for the first time, the headphone in her ear clicked in. "Continue playing whilst we eat," a synthesised voice spoke in her ear. "You will be sent down food when the guests have been served and you may take a short break whilst you eat."
So she continued playing, and eventually Rita brought down two plates of very tasty food, and the two women tucked into it with gusto. Mindful that they must stay in role, otherwise Samantha would lose the ten thousand pounds as well as a chance to win the legacy, they chatted as two women might, thrown together in such circumstances. Rita made up a whole spiel about how she'd worked for Miss Lang for many years, and advised her many times to get rid of Walter Goodman, as he was anything but a good man.
"I'm not racist," Rita said with a slight grin, as she recalled the previous evening's conversation with Samantha, "but you can tell he's a shifty character just by looking at him. I'm sure he's been having sex with the previous pianist."
"I thought he looked rather dishy," Samantha said, giggling to herself at the very idea.
"You mark my words," Rita said. "All he's interested in is getting into someone's knickers. Just make certain he's not getting into yours."
That rather took the smirk off Samantha's face. The thought was horrifying. "No way," she said.
Just then, her headphone came to life and the voice said, "Play it again, Sam."
It didn't take much to work out what was required and Samantha started playing As Time Goes By. But she'd only played for a few seconds before there was some kind of commotion upstairs.
"Are you all right, Captain?"
"Get him some water."
"Give him some air."
Rita abruptly stood up. "What's happening up there?" She raced across to the stairs. Sam was about to follow her when the voice in her ear said, "Carry on playing to the end of this piece."
It was, she realised, all part of the murder mystery game. The order to continue playing confirmed that.
She continued as the panicky conversations got louder and louder until, "I think he's dead." It suddenly went very quiet, especially as Sam had come to the end of her piece. Without any further command to play, she felt it was entirely within character to go up on deck to satisfy her curiosity.
Trevithick was lying flat on his back with everyone crowded around him so Sam could barely see.
"Call an ambulance," Tracey said.
"It's too late. Call the police," Walter said.
"Does anyone have a mobile phone?" Marguerite Lang's voice cut through the air.
There was a helpless patting of pockets and searching through handbags and a general shaking of heads.
"I tried to smuggle mine in here stuffed in my knickers," Ashley said. "But they found it and told me I'd be thrown out if I tried it again."
"If we can't ring the police from here," Marguerite Lang said, "then we must return to Seacombe immediately."
"I am sorry." Only then did Sam realise that the two deckhands had joined the group and one of them spoke in broken English. "The Captain bring us into creek. He know it well. Very difficult. We cannot take boat backwards."
For the first time, Sam glanced around. The Princess Beatrice was in a narrow creek, surrounded on all sides by overhanging trees. Behind and in front, the creek twisted away out of sight.
"It can't be that difficult, Jakob," Tony Fortescue argued. "We can all reverse cars without difficulty. Well, apart from Tracey, that is. She always manages to scrape the paintwork."
"A yacht is not the same as a car," Walter said. "The rudder only works when the propeller is thrusting forward. When you're reversing you have no steerage."
"Tide go out," Jakob said. "Here, yacht lies flat on bottom. Get stuck on mud over there, maybe yacht turn on side."
"Jakob. You must go to the police for help," Marguerite Lang directed him. "Use the dinghy." She indicated the dinghy on the davits at the stern of the yatch .
"To police?" The man sounded horrified, and glanced at his mate. It made Sam think they might be illegal immigrants. A conversation followed between the two men in some foreign language, then they appeared to reach a decision.
"OK. We go," Jakob said. He and his mate lowered the dinghy into the water. Whilst his mate held the painter ready for them to scramble in, Jakob opened a skylight above the engine room.
"Peter, Josef," he shouted down, followed by some unintelligible words. Within seconds, two more men, wearing boiler suits, hurried up from below. They ran to the stern of the yacht and started climbing into the dinghy.
"There's no need for you all to go," Marguerite Lang said. "We need to keep up a head of steam."
"No. We all go," Jakob said. "Is, necessary, er… Health and Safety." By now, he'd joined his crew mates and they cast off from the side of the yacht.
"I order you," Marguerite Lang bellowed, "to return to this boat."
"Very good, madam. When we come back." The engine on the dinghy started and, on the ebbing tide, they rapidly disappeared around the bend of the creek.
"Somehow," Ben said, "I don't think they'll be going to the police for help."
"Nor will we ever see them again," Tracey said. No one else spoke.
"Which means we're stranded here with a dead body aboard," Ashley said, the hysteria bubbling into her voice.
Sam couldn't help admiring her acting abilities, if that is what they were. Was she a professional actor, or a relative of the real Marguerite Lang, hoping to gain the inheritance? If the latter, did she appreciate that Trevithick was not really dead?
Sam had assumed it was all part of the game when she'd been told to continue playing as the drama unfolded upstairs on deck, but at the same time, she couldn't help remembering those stories where the victims were trapped in an isolated position and picked off, one by one. Perhaps she should return to the dining table and check that Trevithick wasn't really dead.
She moved back under the awning to the point where Trevithick's body lay, now respectfully covered with a tablecloth. She thought that if she quickly pulled the tablecloth off his head, she might catch him blinking. Except that, when she did so, there was no Captain there, only some cushions to pad out the tablecloth.
"Oh my God," Tracey cried, staring at the cushions. "Where's he gone?"
Which, of course, was a bit of a stupid question. He'd obviously scrambled out from beneath the tablecloth whist they'd been watching the crew sail away in the dinghy.
"Suggest that we search the ship," the voice instructed through the earpiece.
"We should search the ship," Sam said, expecting everyone to rubbish her, but in fact they all agreed that was a great idea. Presumably, they'd been instructed to agree over their earpieces. So, they split into three groups, Marguerite, Walter and Rita would return to search the rear saloon and the doors leading from it; Ben, Tracey and Jenson would thoroughly search the deck, wheelhouse and engine room; whilst Tony, Ashley and Sam would go down the steps in the foredeck to the crew's quarters. Sam had opted to go with the latter, simply because she wanted to see the other part of the yacht.
Mind, she decided she'd made the wrong decision as soon as she saw the steps down to the crew's quarters. There had been proper stairs leading to the saloon; here there was an almost vertical stepladder. Of course, smart arse Tony had to show off by almost skipping down, frontwards. Ashley took one look at it and said she would not descend; she would supervise from above, so that left Sam who somehow had to descend. There was no alternative.
"Turn around and look away," she ordered Tony, who did as she said.
Then she grasped the hem of her skirt on the opposite side to the slit and pulled it up to tuck it behind one of her suspenders. Then she turned around and carefully lowered one foot to the first step on the ladder and proceeded to climb down. When she reached the bottom, she released the hem of her dress and let it fall into place, then carefully smoothed it down.
"You can turn around now," she said, as she turned towards Tony, only to find he'd been staring at her all the time, a lecherous grin on his face
"How dare you?" she said, actually feeling rather excited that she'd made Tony feel horny, something that was quite obvious from the bulge in the front of his trousers.
"Because you are absolutely beautiful," he said, reaching towards her.
"Leave her alone, Tony," Ashley commanded from above. "Otherwise Tracey will have your guts for garters."
Reluctantly, Tony turned away and stared around the accommodation, as did Samantha. The headroom in the forward part of the yacht was much lower than at the rear, and it felt quite claustrophobic. Sam guessed it would be much worse if the yacht was at sea, with everything heaving up and down in a storm. Leading off from the saloon were cabins labelled, 'Captain' and 'Engineer', and there were several cot beds arranged around a table for the rest of the crew. At the front of the saloon was a cramped toilet and an even more cramped shower. Tony and Samantha meticulously checked out each room, and any cupboard large enough to contain Trevithick's body, including the forecastle where the sails would once have been stored, but which was now empty. Clearly, the body had disappeared, unless one of the other search teams had found it.
As they returned to the bottom of the ladder, Ashley called down, "Sorry guys. I've got to take a leak." And her face disappeared from the top of the ladder.
"That leaves the two of us alone," Tony said. "You've been wobbling those tits under my nose all evening. Let me get my hands on them."
"No way," Samantha said, adding, "Get off," as he lurched towards her and grabbed a tit in each hand. "I'm going to…"
But whatever she was threatening to do would never be heard because at that moment, the synthesised voice spoke in her ear. "You silly tart. Did you think you were employed for your musical talents? Do as he says."
Samantha's mouth gaped open. Hell! What had she got herself in to? She was half inclined to scream anyway, but the thought of the ten thousand pounds made her hesitate. In any case, these were only plastic tits and a plastic vagina. What difference did it make to her?
It certainly made it clear why the real Samantha Smith had been sought, a pianist and a prostitute, who'd be happy to do anything for the ten thousand she was being paid. But did that mean she wasn't a potential beneficiary. Sam tried to remember Rita's words on that topic and thought they'd probably been quite vague. On the other hand, the real Samantha Smith couldn't be the only piano-playing prostitute. The fact that she had been so thoroughly sought out surely meant she must be a potential beneficiary.
"It's all right," Tony said as the thoughts raced through her head. "You can shut your mouth. I don't want a blow job, just a tit fuck."
At least he waited for her on deck as she climbed after him, having repeated the procedure of tucking her skirt into her suspender. And so they'd walked together back to the meeting in the saloon.
"So if the body is not on board," Marguerite was summing up as Tony and Samantha re-joined the group in the rear saloon, "what has happened to it?"
"Suggest someone here has thrown it overboard," the voice in her ear said.
"Someone here must have thrown it overboard," Samantha obediently said.
"Why would they do that?" Ashley asked.
"If someone had poisoned him," Walter said, "they would not want an autopsy done on the body."
"You're crazy," Ben said. "You're suggesting that one of us poisoned him. How could we do that?"
"We were all there when the dinner was served," Walter said. "It was pre-cooked and stored in large casserole dishes. Clearly, Jenson and Rita had the most opportunity to slip something into Trevithick's food, but anyone of us could have done it. We were all milling around the deck as the food was being served."
"I'll have you know I've been serving Miss Lang for twenty years," Jenson interrupted. "I have always been totally trusted. Isn't that right, Miss Lang?"
"Yes, Jenson," Marguerite said. "I trust you absolutely."
Except, Samantha realised, the real Miss Lang was dead and buried, and this was simply an actor pretending to be her.
"Since we're not going to get anywhere by accusing each other, I suggest we relax and continue our evening together." She turned to Samantha. "Let's have some music, Sam."
So Samantha walked over to the piano, sat down and started to play.
Accepting that Trevithick had been murdered, his body thrown overboard and the rest of the crew had abandoned them could have thrown a bit of a damper on the rest of events that evening, but knowing none of it was actually true tended to lighten the atmosphere. So, Sam played and after a while, Ben and Ashley got up to dance. After a few minutes, the other two couples joined them and things went quite well. In honesty, Sam had never played in that way to an audience and she felt it tremendously rewarding. She could understand why her father had continued his career in spite of the appalling wages. In fact, she realised, her present job was as nothing compared with the satisfaction she was getting from this, as a piano playing whore.
She played on.
"Why have you got those marks on your breasts?" Tracey was standing next to the piano, which meant she was looking down on Samantha. "As though someone's been squeezing them."
Tracey must have been prompted to say those words, Sam realised, since her breasts were really made of plastic; there could be no marks made from Tony's groping. "They were there all along," Samantha ad-libbed as she played. "You simply didn't notice them before."
"Play it again, Sam," the voice in her ear said, and Sam seamlessly switched tunes.
"Don't take me for an idiot," Tracey said. "Ashley came back a long time before you two." She turned to Tony. "You were fucking her, weren't you?"
"Of course not. We were searching the crew's quarters and Ashley wanted to come back to use the toilet."
"No," Ashley said. "You'd finished searching the crew's quarters and were about to come on deck, which is why I thought I could leave the two of you alone for a minute. I was amazed you hadn't returned when I came out of the toilet."
"You bastard," Tracey said. She opened her handbag, pulled out a gun, identical to the one nestling in Sam's bag, and shot Tony with a tremendous "Bang!"
Tony juddered, clutching his heart, and then collapsed on the floor.
Even though she knew it was all make believe – and a terrible plotline at that – Sam was shocked. Shocked by the suddenness of the event, shocked by the bang, but above all, shocked by the black look on Tony's face as he collapsed to the floor.
"Tracey, that was really a very silly thing to do," Marguerite said. "You must promise never to do it again. Put your gun down on the piano and leave it there. Jenson and Ben. Get rid of the evidence. Throw his body overboard; and you'd better weigh it down with something."
"Shouldn't we give him a Christian burial?" Jenson asked.
"Tony! A Christian!" Tracey said. "You must be joking."
"All the same…" Jenson said.
"You're right," Marguerite said. "Let's all go on deck and consign his body to the deep. Sam. Play the Funeral March."
As Sam played Chopin's Piano Sonata No 2, she ruminated on that look on Tony's face. That black look – almost as though he really had been killed. Ever since meeting the other contestants, she'd been trying to work out who were potential beneficiaries and who were actors, employed to fill in a part. She'd have bet anything that Tony was a beneficiary, and yet he'd been able to produce such a look of despair. Or did it mean, she wondered, that Tony was now out of the running as beneficiary of the estate? Of course. That was it. That he'd been 'killed' meant he could no longer win the inheritance. And he'd been 'killed' because he'd had 'fun' with Sam, although fun was not what Sam would have called it – more of an experience.
There was, of course, a strong likelihood that she'd be asked to perform similar actions with the other men. She could refuse to comply and risk losing not just the ten thousand pounds, but also the inheritance. Or, she could do her damndest to ensure they did fall for her charms, ensuring they too would be thrown out of the race, and she'd be left with a stronger chance for herself.
Except that having seen what happened to Tony, the men were hardly likely to make the same mistake, themselves, would they?
Her thoughts were brought abruptly to an end when the order came through the headset to Play it Again, Sam. She'd only played the first few bars when she heard shouting, up on deck. By now, she knew better than to try to find out what was happening, so she simply kept playing. It presumably meant that someone else was out of the competition.
She continued to play as she heard someone returning to the saloon.
"Nice tits," Walter said, reaching around her body and giving her left breast a good squeeze.
"Hi," she said, with a nice smile, wondering what was coming next.
It was Rita who shot Walter, Ben and Jenson, coming down into the saloon just as they were pulling up their trousers.
"She's my friend," she yelled as she picked up the gun from where it still lay on the piano and fired it three times. Bang! Bang! Bang! Once again, Sam was terrified by the noise, and by the violence.
"And then there were four," Marguerite said, as she stepped into the saloon with Ashley.
"Four?" Sam queried, trying to get her head around the rapid decrease in numbers.
"When Tony's body was thrown overboard, tied to several weights," Rita explained, "Tracey was unfortunate enough to get caught in the line attaching the weights to his body. She was dragged under the water as well."
"But it wasn't an accident, was it, Rita?" Marguerite said. "I saw you hook the line onto her dress just as they were about to throw Tony's body into the water. I suspect you're behind all of these killings, in one way or another."
"That's rubbish," Rita said, turning the gun to aim at Marguerite, and then as Ashley moved towards her, at her as well. "Now, stand back all of you."
Just as Sam realised she was behind Rita's line of vision, the voice came into her head, "Take out the gun from your handbag and shoot Rita," it said.
Nervously – Hell! Why should she be nervous – she picked up her handbag from the floor, pulled out her cap gun and aimed it at Rita's back. With Rita 'dead' and Marguerite being a payed actor, it surely meant the running was now between herself and Ashley. All she had to do was pull the trigger, and then what? Shoot Ashley as well?
But all her life she had hated guns and the casual way in which they could end a person's life. She tried to pull the trigger but her finger wouldn't obey her command. For several seconds, Sam hesitated in a way that none of the others had. Then she aimed at the mirror, slightly to the side of Rita and pulled the trigger.
Even the corpses on the ground gave a tremendous jump, since the noise was so much louder than all the previous shots. It was all the more terrifying because the mirror shattered into a thousand pieces, bits of glass flying everywhere.
"Fuck me!" Marguerite said, staring at the mirror, and then at the gun in Sam's hand. "That was a real bullet."
"Holy shit!" Ashley said. "I'm out of here." She raced over to the steps and was up them before anyone else could move, but then the corpses were leaping to their feet and following Marguerite to the stairway. Within seconds, Sam and Rita were the only ones left in the saloon.
"Rita?" Sam asked. "Are you all right?"
Rita turned to her and said, "I'm not certain. I guess so. I certainly wasn't expecting that."
"But Rita," Sam said. "How did that happen? You gave me the cap gun and we both checked it only fired caps."
"Someone must have switched it."
Sam was about to protest, but then realised there'd been many times when she had been distracted by other things going on. It would have been easy to switch handbags whilst her attention was distracted. "But who would do that?" she eventually asked. "The solicitor who you're working for? Or one of the relatives, hoping to really eliminate one of the others from the competition?"
"I can't see old Mr Grosvenor trying to murder anyone," Rita said. "So I suppose it's most likely to be a relative. But I'm not in the running for the prize so why kill me?"
"They probably wouldn't know who I was going to be aiming at," Sam said. "Perhaps they were just hoping it would kill someone other than themselves. But then, they couldn't have known for sure that my gun wasn't going to be aimed at themselves."
"They wouldn't need to," Rita replied. "If there was any danger of them getting shot they could have simply dodged out of the way or shouted out that it was a real gun. So it could have been anyone on this boat, including the Captain and crew."
"Well I know it wasn't me," Sam said, "and it couldn't have been you since you let me fire the shot. So that cuts it down to a dozen or so. Incidentally, where has everyone gone? Are they just on deck or have they managed to disappear like the rest? I think we're safer all together with them than on our own here. Anyone could creep back downstairs and kill us."
But when they got up onto the deck, the yacht appeared deserted.
"What do we do?" Rita asked.
"We have to find them," Sam said, pacing from one end of the yacht to the other. "If they got off the boat someway then we follow them. What happened to the 'bodies' of Tony and Tracey, which were supposed to have gone overboard? Did you see them go?"
Rita shook her head. "It was just pretend. We just laid the 'bodies' on the foredeck," she said.
"Well, they must have got off the yacht some way," Sam said. "We're not that far from the sides of this creek. Perhaps there are some overhanging branches." She stared around into the trees and then gulped.
"What?" Rita asked, peering at where Sam had been looking.
"There's a noose hanging from the trees over there." Sam pointed to the stern where the noose hung down from an overhanging branch. "See it?" She walked to the stern where it hung just out of reach.
"Maybe they grabbed it and used it to swing ashore," Rita suggested, but they could both see it just wouldn't work. "Or perhaps everyone is hiding in the crew's quarters," she added. They walked back to the wheelhouse and the entrance to the crew's quarters.
"We can see most of it just by looking down the hatch," Sam said, "although I suppose there's the Captain's and Engineer's cabins, and the sail locker in the forecastle. Do you think we should check?"
"You go down as you've done it before. I'll keep check on things up here. Come running if I shout for help, and I'll do the same for you. Remember, this is no longer make-believe."
So, Sam repeated the operation with her skirt and climbed down into the crew's quarters. She meticulously checked the two cabins and the forecastle but there was no sign of any of the others, so she climbed back onto deck.
"There's no one there…" She stopped, aware that Rita was nowhere to be seen, and there was a squeaking noise coming from the stern. She ran along the deck to see Rita hanging from the noose, her hands secured behind her back by handcuffs and her legs frantically kicking out.
"Rita!" she shouted, and then, "Help! Help!" at the top of her voice. She couldn't quite reach Rita's hanging body by herself, but grabbed a boathook and managed to pull her in and grasped her around her trunk and lifted her, to take the pressure off her throat. "Help! Help!" she shouted again. In this position, she was preventing Rita from being choked but she wouldn't be able to maintain it for long. "Help! Help!"
"Hang on!" someone shouted behind her. She couldn't stop a sick smile at the unsuitability of the term as she heard several pairs of feet running towards her.
"OK, we've got her," Trevithick shouted, hoisting Rita further into the air. "Jakob, cut the rope."
Jakob leapt onto the deck rail, grabbed the rope in his one hand and sliced it through with a knife held in the other. Rita was unceremoniously dumped onto the deck and Trevithick dropped down beside her, feeling for a heartbeat and listening to breathing.
"She's alive," he said. "We need to get her to hospital straight away. Peter, do we have steam?"
The engineer turned towards the engine room hatch. "There should be sufficient to get us going. Josef, get stoking."
"Standby to cast off," Trevithick said, striding toward the bridge, and the deckhands started running to bow and stern.
Five minutes later, they had negotiated their way out of the creek and were making their way downstream towards Seacombe. Rita was still unconscious and breathing with a horrible rasping sound. The Engineer, Peter, had fetched a pair of bolt cutters and removed the handcuffs from Rita's wrists, putting the parts into a plastic bag.
"The police will need this as evidence," he said to Sam. "I'd better go and put this somewhere safe."
He disappeared, leaving Sam alone, tending to Rita.
"Rita. Who did that to you?" Sam rhetorically asked her unconscious body.
"That's what I want to know," Trevithick said, coming up behind her. "There were only the two of you on board. We'd taken the others off a few minutes before."
"How did everybody get off the yacht?" Sam asked. "How did you get off?"
"That spot is the normal mooring for Princess Beatrice," he said. "I live in a house just next to it, although you can't see it through the trees. There's a flat-bottomed boat I use for carrying supplies to and from the yacht, pulled along on a line connected between the landing stage and a buoy tied to the bottom of the gangplank. It's easy to move several people quite silently, and we had instructions about when this would happen during the course of the evening.
"But it wasn't part of the plan," he continued, "when everyone, apart from you two, came off just now talking about a real gun being fired. I came out with my crew to find out what was going on, and found Rita hanging by the neck. So what happened?"
Sam told him how the cap gun had fired a real bullet, how she had gone below to check the crew's quarters and come back on deck to find Rita hanging. "It means there must be someone still on board," she ended.
"There is no one else on board," Trevithick said. "Everyone we know about came off, as soon as the shot had been fired. My crew have just done a thorough search of the yacht; there's only one person who could have put the noose around Rita's neck and that's you, Samantha. Do you know, I've always wanted to give this order, but I never realised it would be with such a beautiful young woman. Peter. Jakob. Lash her to the mast."
The two men appeared from nowhere. They each grabbed her by an arm and frog marched her backward to thrust her against the mast, where her hands were tied around the mast behind her.
"But I was shouting for help and trying to save her when you appeared," Sam protested.
"Or perhaps you only started doing that when you heard us arriving," Trevithick countered. "You'll have plenty of opportunity to tell your tales to the police."
"Captain. You're needed at the wheel," came a shout from forward.
"Don't go away," Trevithick said to Sam with a grin, as he turned to march forward to the wheel.
"This woman's shagged every other man on board," Peter said to Jakob, eying Sam's luscious curves. "What say we help ourselves whilst she's got nothing better to do?"
"You'll do no such thing," Rita's voice croaked. "Get away from her and leave us alone."
The two men slunk away, their tails between their legs.
"Rita," Sam said. "You're all right. Thank heavens. But who did this to you?"
"I did," Rita said, adding, "I want to die."
Seeing Sam's look of astonishment, she added, "I've been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Hell on earth is my only future. I don't want to be put through that."
"But you can't have hanged yourself," Sam said. "You were handcuffed behind your back. You can't put a noose around your neck if you're handcuffed."
Rita smiled. "I practiced that over and over, just in case the thing with the gun didn't work. First of all, I fastened the handcuffs around one wrist. Then I got a boathook and pulled the noose towards me. I had to climb onto the deck rail so it was the right height so I could slip the noose around my neck and then balance on it, whilst I snapped the handcuff onto my other wrist behind my back. Incidentally, they're the same handcuffs I gave you earlier this evening. I'm still wearing my gloves so I'm afraid the only fingerprints on the handcuffs will be yours. As I say, it all needed a lot of forethought and practice."
"But why did you go to all that bother? Why not just hang yourself in the normal way?"
"I wanted everyone to think you'd murdered me."
Sam gasped. "But why should you want people to think I murdered you? And the police want to see motive, not just opportunity." Her mind was reeling. No wonder Trevithick thought she was a murderer. She'd been set up.
Rita smiled. "The police will find their motive when they discover you inherit under my will. It's quite a lot, actually."
"But I don't know you, Rita. Why would you leave your estate to me?"
"You don't know me, but I know of you. Your mother worked for me and we became best friends, but she betrayed me. She ruined my life."
"If my mother ruined your life," Sam asked, "why would you mention me in your will?"
"So you'll be charged with my murder," Rita said. Seeing Sam was having difficulty in following, Rita elaborated. "My surname is not actually Nicholls, it's Steele. I'm Rita Steele, or Marguerite Steele, as I was christened. The actress Diana Partridge was playing the part of me in the game.
"The whole thing was a set up," Rita continued, "to implicate you in my death, and to shame you in front of the nation. Apart from the crew and myself, the rest were actors employed to take a role.
"And the really clever part," she went on, "is that when the police investigate further, they'll find that this whole thing was organised by Sam Smith."
Sam was gob-smacked. "But I never..."
"The paperwork all shows that you did," Rita said. "It took me ages to create it all."
"But what did my mother do to generate all this hatred?"
"There really was a Walter Goodman," Rita continued. "I was engaged to be married to him but your mother told me she was having an affair with him in order to destroy our relationship."
"My mother was having an affair with a black man?" The very idea of Sam's mother having an affair was crazy; that it should be with the black Walter Goodman was just beyond belief.
"Ridiculous wasn't it?" Rita said. "But I believed it at the time and it ended our engagement. How appropriate he – or at least, an actor playing his part – should have sex with you. Your mother will really hate that bit."
"So this whole charade is to destroy my mother – by destroying me – for something she did decades before."
"It's when you come to the end of your life that you realise what it might have been. Splitting up from Walter broke my heart. Oh, I've had a successful career, but I've never married, never had children or can look forward to grandchildren. All because of your mother. How fitting to destroy what she prevented me from having – her child."
"But where does Samantha Smith come into this?"
Rita laughed. "There is no real Samantha Smith. I made her up."
"But you showed me her photograph."
Rita laughed some more, rather hysterically, Sam thought. She was starting to feel worried, her arms lashed around the mast behind her meant she was totally helpless. "I showed you two doctored photographs of yourself, telling you one was the real Samantha Smith, the other was doctored. No wonder you were so similar to the other photograph; they were both of you."
"And you wanted me to be a black pianist especially because of my mother's colour prejudice?"
"Of course. All the actors are porn actors and they wore tiny cameras on their lapels. They were told to make certain they got plenty of shots of you during the action. When the police search your house, they'll find a hard drive I left hidden there yesterday, connected to the internet, which is recording everything. When your mother sees the videos in court, she'll feel totally disgraced by you. Your incarceration and public humiliation will put the lid on my revenge."
"Except that you're not dead," Sam said. "There won't be a police search or a court case."
"I'm not dead, yet," Rita corrected, walking quickly over to her. "Don't yell out," she hissed, suddenly holding Jakob's knife to Sam's throat. "I really don't want to kill you."
She stepped behind Sam, yanked her one arm backwards, and pushed the other shoulder sideways so Sam fell to one knee. Then the knife was at her throat again.
"Then what?" Sam asked.
"I think this is called a belaying pin," she said, lifting one of the heavy metal pins used for securing ropes to the mast. She slipped it into her apron pocket. "That will prevent me from floating after you've slashed my wrists and thrown me overboard."
"But I'm tied to the mast," Sam said. "I can't attack you."
Another manic grin. "I hadn't forgotten. Enjoy your days in court. Goodbye."
She sliced through the ropes securing Sam's hands, and as Sam struggled to stand up and stop her, she quickly walked to the side of the yacht, holding the knife against her wrist.
"No blood on my teak decks," Trevithick said, appearing from behind the deckhouse, grabbing her wrist and twisting the knife from her. Unfortunately, he concentrated more on the knife than on her, and she slipped from his grip and flipped herself over the deck rail to drop with a horrible splash into the water.
"Man overboard!" Trevithick shouted.
The search for her body went on for hours, and it involved a rescue helicopter, and inshore lifeboat, as well as numerous police officers combing the shoreline. The eventual perceived wisdom of the rescuers was that the belaying pin was heavy enough to keep her submerged, but not heavy enough to pin her to the bottom, so she would drift up and down river with the tidal flow. Finally, it was decided to postpone the search until first light, and the Princess Beatrice headed downstream towards Seacombe, and a police reception.
"There's something you should know," Trevithick said to Sam as they stood on the bridge, continuing to peer into the dark waters with the aid of a spotlight. "This whole thing was set up for your benefit. We were only playing a part when we were in your company. When we were on deck, for example, and you were below, there was no pretence, except that we made conversation so it sounded realistic if you heard it below."
Sam nodded. "I guess that all stacks up."
"That's what made me so suspicious about Rita's involvement. We'd been told that you were paying for it all but clearly, you had no idea what was going on. So when I saw that she was feigning unconsciousness when she was lying on the deck, I contrived a reason for you to be left on your own with her. Peter and I listened to every word the two of you said."
"Every word?" Sam was trying to remember how much of his past life situation Rita had talked about.
"It's the sort of thing which will do no one any good if it comes out," Trevithick said. "I've been speaking with Edward Grosvenor on the phone."
"Edward Grosvenor?" The name sounded familiar but Sam couldn't quite place it.
"He's the senior partner in Grosvenor and Steele," Trevithick said. "They're the most expensive solicitors in Seacombe. Rita was a partner."
"So Rita was a solicitor," Sam said, the surprise obvious in his voice.
"Yes." He nodded. "And a very well-respected one, too. Until recently, when Edward has become rather worried about her. Her behaviour had become very erratic. When I told him what had happened, he wasn't at all surprised."
"So how much does he know?" Sam asked.
"Very little," Trevithick said. "He knows she tried to hang herself and that she threw herself overboard, but when I started to tell him about what I overheard when Rita was talking to you, he shut me up. Said it would be better if you'd been playing the piano all evening and didn't witness anything. So that's the line you should take with the police when they start asking questions. We'll field all the questions and you saw and heard nothing. OK?"
"Oh, yes." Even without a murder charge, there was incredible embarrassment looming if the events of the evening became public knowledge.
"Right, I suggest you go down to the stateroom off the salon and get some shuteye, before the police come. Hopefully, they won't see the need to wake you, but if they do, you say nothing. Right?"
Sam nodded, suddenly aware she was incredibly tired.
"Thank you for coming into the office," Edward Grosvenor said, smiling at Sam.
Fortunately, Trevithick had sent one of the crew to recover her stuff from the Grand Hotel, so she was wearing the jeans, tee shirt and jacket she had travelled to Seacombe in, thirty-six hours earlier, rather than the Jessica Rabbit dress. "Would you like tea or coffee?"
Sam asked for tea and he picked up his phone and asked someone to make it. It was hot in the office and Sam slipped off her jacket and was stretching it over the back of the chair as Grosvenor turned back to her.
"Tea will be with us in just a few…"
Sam looked up to see what had stopped him in mid flow, only to see him staring at Sam's chest. A glance down at two huge, wobbling, black breasts, nipples clearly visible, beneath her tee shirt reminded her of the differences between men and women.
"I'm sorry," she blustered. "I don't know what I was thinking of. I'll put my jacket back on."
"I think it would probably be better," Grosvenor admitted. "I, of course, appreciate your medical condition but my staff are not aware of that."
"My medical condition?" Sam was puzzled.
"Ah, perhaps that was not suitable wording. I meant, of course, that I appreciate that you are transgender."
"But I'm not," Sam protested. "At least, I wasn't until Rita visited me the evening before last, and I don't think that agreeing to dress up as someone else for an evening's murder mystery actually qualifies me as transgender."
"No," Grosvenor gasped, having far too much experience to let his mouth drop open. "No, of course not, but… That's not what Ms Steele told me."
"What did she tell you and why were you discussing me?"
"Ms Steele was remaking her will and she wanted you to be the main legatee. She told me you were…" He stopped speaking as a knock sounded on the door and his assistant brought in the tea and coffee, and served them both. Only when she had withdrawn did he continue.
"She told me you were the son of her best friend from many years ago and you were transgendered. You'd tried to keep it secret, which was causing you great distress. She wanted her inheritance to help you overcome your inhibitions, so I agreed to administer a trust into which her money would be paid on her death. You would be the sole beneficiary, provided you lived the life of a woman."
"Bugger me!" Sam said.
"I don't think that would be essential under the will," Grosvenor said, with a wry smile, "but you would need to dress and regularly perform in the personae of the black jazz pianist whom, she told me, you really wish to be."
"But that's not…"
"Stop!" Grosvenor said, holding up his hand to emphasise his single word. "I think it better if I summarise the situation. First of all, it appears that my client, Ms Marguerite Steele is deceased. I don't yet know that as a fact, but I know Captain Trevithick well and have no reason to doubt his words.
"Secondly, her will was properly drawn up and witnessed. It pays the bulk of her estate into a trust fund, of which you are the main beneficiary, in order to allow you to live the life of a black female pianist. Naturally, there is a standby, so that if for any reason, you could not or did not wish to do so, then the money would go elsewhere, in this case to a number of charities."
Grosvenor stared Sam in the eye. "So if and when my client is confirmed dead, I will be asking you whether you wish to be the recipient of Ms Steele's trust fund. If the answer is yes, then I will arrange a substantial regular income for you and I will need to make occasional checks that you are doing as Ms Steele stipulated. If your answer is no, then your involvement ends there and I will transfer the money to the charities. Do I make myself clear?"
Sam nodded. "Yes, I think you've made it very clear, indeed."
Just then, a knock on the door interrupted their discussion and a tearful clerk entered to say that a body, believed to be that of Ms Steele, had been found.
It was two weeks later. Marguerite Steele had been cremated that day, and in memory of her, the Princess Beatrice sailed upstream from Seacombe and a wreath was thrown overboard at the point where she had jumped in. Captain Trevithick and his crew, none of whom, it turned out, were illegal immigrants, were looking very smart as they lined by the rail whilst Edward Grosvenor said a few words about his colleague. None of the porn actors involved could be traced, but as the wreath was despatched overboard, the notes of As Time Goes By were played on the piano in the saloon.
Samantha Smith again wore her Jessica Rabbit dress, and she smiled as she stared down at her black hands caressing the piano keys. She had gone yesterday to Big Busts, and they had topped up her spray tan, and replaced the adhesive securing her Bustlet and Hiplet.
She had already started performing as pianist in a nightclub two nights a week. It didn't pay well but she got tips, and she thought she would get more if she bought several dresses in a similar vein to her Jessica Rabbit dress, which seemed very popular.
Not that she had to worry about money. She'd resigned from her old job and was now living in Rita's old house.
The most difficult thing had been telling her mother that, under the terms of Rita's will, she had to adopt the character of a black female pianist. She had telephoned her first.
"Hi Mum. It's me."
"Hello love. Haven't heard from you for a while."
"Mum. Do you remember someone called Rita Steele?"
"Rita. She was my best friend a long time ago."
"She made contact with me last week."
"Oh. What's she been saying about me?"
"Mum, I'm sorry to tell you that Rita died on Friday."
"Rita... Oh God! We had some fantastic times together. What did she die of?"
"Mum. I think I'd better come to see you to talk about it."
"That would be great, love. When can you come?"
"Tomorrow? But I need to explain something first. You see Rita tricked me into playing a part in a stupid murder mystery game. I had to wear a disguise."
"You'd better prepare yourself, Mum. She made me take the part of a black woman. And, well, the problem is that I'm stuck in this gear for a couple of weeks."
Sam waited for the hysterical outbreak. Instead he heard her laugh. "You're dressed as a black woman?"
"This I have to see. What time will you be here?"
"I'm not surprised that Rita would set you up like that," her mum had said after she'd told her a carefully edited version of events. "I really pulled a terrible trick on her."
"Do you want to talk about it, Mum?" She was dying to get her mother's side of events.
Her mum hesitated. "I'm not certain, but I suppose it's only right that you should know. I've kept the secret for too long."
For some reason, Sam's heart missed a beat. "Secret?"
She smiled. "Do you know, if you were still Sam, I think I'd have gone to my grave with it still a secret, but now you're Samantha, and black at that, you remind me so much of your father."
Sam shook her head. "What? How can I remind you of Dad when I'm ebony black."
She took a deep breath and dropped her bombshell. "Dad wasn't your biological father. Oh he thought he was, but I'm afraid I was two-timing him. There was this guy called Walter Goodman and he'd asked Rita to marry him. He was an attractive rogue and occasionaly he and I had a little fun together.
"I realised quite early on," she continued, "that I was pregnant. Unfortunately, when I told Walter, he disappeared like a shot, leaving me to explain things to Rita. And since Walter wasn't going to marry me, I took your father to bed and a month later told him I was pregnant. We were married one month after that."
"But I might have been born black."
"That was a risk I had to take, but it didn't happen so we three had a happy family life."
"But Mum, you hate black people. How could you have sex with one?"
"I know it was unfair but it was Walter's actions which turned me. And I think your dad always had his suspicions about Walter, which explained his feelings, as well. I know, it's a whole race condemned on the actions of one man, but I've got my come-uppance, now. I'm going to have to love a black person again."
"Then it's all for the better, Mum."
She suddenly smiled. "What I think is all for the better is that you've finally come out about your gender dysphoria."
There was as silence which stretched on and on.
"What do you mean, Mum? I have to become a female in order to satisfy the terms of Rita's will."
"I knew you were secretly dressing in my clothes when you were about eleven. I really didn't know what to do. Rita and I still occasionally chatted after our mammoth bust up, and I told her all about you. I thought it might blow over, but of course, it never has, and look at you now."
She reached over and held Sam's hand. "Samantha, I'm so glad you've become the woman you want to be. Love you."
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