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Duchess of York:
ho's carrying your bag Gail?'
'Damn it, don't scare me like that.'
'I scared you?' Laura chuckled as she unfolded herself and pushed away from the frame of the bedroom door where she had been standing for the past few minutes watching unnoticed as Gail finished her packing. 'What's in there?' she asked, marvelling at close range Gail's massive suitcase while at the same time ignoring the chaos around her.
'Maybe the list would be shorter if I told you what isn't in there. Have you brought the itinerary?'
'Yes, and don't change the subject,' Laura growled goodnaturedly as she fought for space on what was left of Gail's bed. 'Look, there's no way you're going to be able to handle this monster. Some of the hotels in the UK have diabolical staircases meaning multiple, narrow, steep, uneven, shallow and most of the time poorly lit, so you'll be lucky if all you break is a leg. Do yourself a favour, find another, smaller bag.'
'I got it on sale, a great buy and I love the colours so don't start.' Finding just enough room on the bed, diagonally across from Laura, Gail lowered the lid of the suitcase to provide a natural table top. 'Did you manage to get the tickets?'
Laura smiled wickedly. 'Actors on roller skates pretending to be trains?'
'Starlight Express. Come on, did you get them?'
'Best in the house.'
'Yes,' Gail exclaimed, adding two thumbs up for emphasis. 'Okay, I'm ready. Let's hear what you've got planned since you've insisted upon keeping the itinerary a secret.'
Laura hesitated for a moment, seeming to gather her strength as well as her thoughts. 'I've set a theme for this trip, bearing in mind your request to see the grotesque, the macabre, the haunted and the downright disgusting.' Gail chuckled. 'A specific historical era and a particular individual.'
'Yeah,' Gail said, suddenly wary. 'Who?'
'The last Plantagenet, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, later King Richard III – born 1452, died 1485.'
'You mean old hunchback, murdered-his-nephews-in-the-tower thus forfeiting the Uncle of the Year Award, Richard III? The, "a horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse" Richard III?'
'The same,' Laura replied, offering up her most diabolical smile. 'Okay smarty, so you know your Shakespeare but, do you know your history?' She reached inside her jacket pocket, then placed a full-colour, postcard-sized picture on top of the suitcase directly in front of Gail. 'Here's a copy of his portrait by an unknown artist.'
Gail picked up the picture and studied it closely, her head to one side, her brow knotted.
Laura watched her carefully. 'I can't remember when I first became intrigued by him. Perhaps it was after reading Josephine Tey's novelette Daughter of Time. The hero of that piece found it hard to believe that this face belongs to one of history's most notorious murderers. I guess I have the same problem.'
'So, this is what he looked like. I agree, it's a nice face, but look, even in our time there've been mass murderers with faces like angels. What is it you hear? "Such a nice boy, quiet, never in any sort of trouble." Yeah, right, and unbeknown to everyone, all unsuspecting, he's torturing and murdering all over the place, burying the bodies after snacking on the choices bits. Sorry, looks are skin deep, but evil? Right to the bone baby.' She dropped the picture in such a way that it landed with the face staring straight up at Laura.
Almost hesitantly Laura picked it up. Was Gail right? The face had a strained, almost anxious look about it, as if he were in pain. Why, and what sort of pain?
'Well, are you interested Gail? Feel like making a comparison between the Shakespearean version of the facts and what has been written in recent times by noted historians? After all, Shakespeare did such a good job that his side of the story became the accepted classroom history text for hundreds of years.'
Laura knew that Gail would not, could not, resist such a challenge. She knew her Shakespeare, and the Bard was practically sacrosanct. Would she admit that his play was a piece of historical fiction, written during Tudor times to please a Tudor Queen? Would he bend the truth to the breaking point just to see his work performed? Did he malign Good King Richard just to make a buck? Laura started to laugh and promptly slipped off the bed.
'You're getting weirder and weirder, do you know that?' Gail said, as she surveyed her sister-in-law sprawled on the floor. 'Come on downstairs, nut case. There's a fresh pot of coffee waiting.' Gail was halfway across the room when she shot back over her shoulder. 'Now I know why you were so interested in knowing if I'd studied Shakespeare's Richard III in school, and whether or not I understood it, cheeky bitch.'
Laura chuckled. 'Well, did you?' Slowly she rose, brushing imaginary dust bunnies from her jean jacket before making her way around the bed, carefully avoiding bits of clothing, magazines, an umbrella.
'As a matter of fact, I rented Olivier's Richard III from the video store about a month ago. Still get goose bumps just thinking about it. Scary stuff. He was a monster, and the worst part was that he was so charming, too. Are you saying that Shakespeare had it all wrong?' Gail had stopped at the top of the stairs to wait for Laura.
'Oh no, Richard was charming all right.' Laura caught up and together they made their way down the broad, carpeted staircase. 'There are thousands of people right now all around the world who agree with that. It's the monster part that's causing all the problem and on that score there's plenty of debate. You wouldn't believe the number of books written about him. There's a Richard III Society too. Lots of people belong. They're called Ricardians and their aim is to basically rewrite history.'
'Why?' Gail shrugged, 'the guy's been dead for what, 500 years?'
'That's what I mean. Why? I'm talking about a lot of intelligent, professional people here who care deeply about this man's reputation. Anyhow, I think it'll be fun to follow the trail as it were, visit the places associated with him, and hopefully meet some Ricardians and find out the truth. Well, what do you think?'
'This is going to be a fun trip isn't it? I mean, lots of shopping, theatre and such?'
Laura frowned. 'Of course. Why, what's the problem?'
'Nothing,' Gail said as she moved away. 'I'll get the coffee.'
'Right, that's it,' Laura announced as she finished going over the itinerary. 'A copy for you so you can show Wayne and the girls and I guess you might as well have this old road atlas. It's out of date so I had a new one sent.' She sighed as she gathered her notes together. 'I warn you, the driving is going to be hell on wheels. Sorry, but you did say you wanted to see as much of England as possible, so I …'
Laura was interrupted at this point when the doorbell rang. Gail hurried off then returned with a pizza delivery box and, with a flourish, dropped it on the table. 'Ordered this early this morning for noon delivery. Roger warned me you were coming over so I ordered the pizza, bought a bottle of claret, trashed my bedroom and I might add, read up a little on the Kings and Queens. It was a toss-up between Mary Queen of Scots and Richard. I couldn't see us doing Mary all the way from London, so that left Richard. You've mentioned him before you know, and I must admit, it's an interesting story. Who knows, maybe we'll end up joining the Richard III Society.'
'I doubt if we qualify.'
'Well, for one thing I read somewhere that most of the members are female, left-handed and librarians, which rules us out on two counts anyway. And, you have to believe that Richard was a good guy and frankly I don't think he was, even after discounting all the Tudor propaganda.'
'What do you think he was?'
'I'm not sure yet,' Laura said with a shrug. 'Perhaps he was no better or worse than his contemporaries. With the childhood he had, maybe he could best be described as justifiably certifiable.'
'You mean he was nuts?'
Laura chuckled. 'Maybe. Certainly something was wrong somewhere.'
'Wait a minute while I get organized, then you can tell me all about his childhood while we have lunch.'
Gail disappeared into the kitchen leaving Laura to settle into the breakfast room next door. The patio doors were open to the warmth of yet another beautiful August summer morning. It was a lovely room with its profusion of plants and dried flower arrangements, but Laura also liked it because it was the only room in which Gail allowed smoking.
'Right, I think I've got everything,' Gail announced as she prepared the table.
'Are you sure you want to hear this?'
'Come on, maybe we can get some clues from those early, formative years. Tell me.'
'Okay,' Laura said with a sigh, 'but the truth is, he had one hell of a childhood.'
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