Sometimes the people closest to you are complete strangers.
Diane ‘Dee’ Young thought she knew all there was to know about her fiancé Stewart Donaldson. A stock broker and a high achiever, handsome and athletic, Stu came from a wealthy British family and seemed to have the world at his fingertips and a bright future ahead. When Stu dies suddenly, and in mysterious circumstances, Diane begins to question everything she knew about Stu as she searches for the truth.
Intertwined in Diane’s tale is the story of the Zackary Armstrong, an eighteen year old male seduced by Stewart Donaldson via the internet. Their sexual liaisons ultimately become both their undoing.
Will Diane ever learn the truth about her fiancé’s death? Or is there a murderer who may never be brought to justice?
The agonizing wail of Stewart’s mother, Carole, as they stood in the Kensington Borough Cemetery, brought Diane Young back from her daydream. Diane was sweating under her garments. Her thoughts had strayed to the oppressive heat. As the temperature soared to a record thirty-four degrees Celsius, she imagined collapsing at the knees. Black. Wearing black in this temperature was like hitting the beach in Tenerife in woolies and a muffler, certifiably insane.
Light-headed and lost in the past, Diane smiled to herself. Stu liked Tenerife. Though he did complain about the Northerners, he wasted no time sipping Coronas at the pool or wading out into the Atlantic’s cool tide.
“…and as we remember Stewart Adam Donaldson, let us reflect on the life of a good son, and a loving partner…”
A tiny drop of sweat ran down Diane’s temple. As she tried discreetly to brush it away she caught sight of her father doing the same. When did Dad get so old? Was it since Mom died twelve years ago? Dad never approved of Stewart. Didn’t Dad say Stu was too posh? Too reserved? Too mysteriously quiet? Tom Young didn’t appreciate the middle class or their air of condescension over ‘us common working blokes’.
“Dad, he’s too good for me. That’s the problem.”
“Rubbish. You don’t know what you’re talking about. ‘e’s lucky to have a lass like you. That’s just the problem with their kind. They don’t know how to appreciate a hard-working girl when they sees it.”
Carole whined again; heart-wrenching thin siren-like calls to God or whomever would listen. Carole’s husband Dan grabbed Carole around the shoulders to comfort her and keep her from dropping down in this heat. It’s never easy losing a son. It goes against the grain, against nature.
Wiping at her eyes with a tissue then dabbing the sweat off her lip lightly, Diane caught some dark evasive movement out of the corner of her eye. In the shadows of a thick gnarled yew, a man was slinking behind the small group. Diane wondered if the man was spied by anyone else.
Diane gave their tiny funeral gathering a quick once over; Tom, Diane’s father, Stewart’s over-indulgent parents, bleach-blonde Suz from her old school, pock-marked Kenneth from Stewart’s office, and what-iz-name, the boring vicar. It seemed Stewart wasn’t a very social man. He didn’t have a huge network of friends or family. It was what they had in common.
The man was creeping like a tarantula just behind the vicar as he finished his monotone eulogy. “Does anyone want to speak a few words?”
Why do they all look at me? Diane cringed.
Tom nodded to her in that fatherly way; one that read, ‘you should say something, Dee.’
Diane took one last look at the odd male who had snuck close enough to their group to see into the deep, cool hole Stewart’s casket was sunk into in the stagnant heat. Diane cleared her throat nervously. Waving at a gnat as it sought some salt from her sweaty forehead, Diane stepped carefully in her black pumps over the manicured lawn ominously speckled with clods of fresh dirt.
The vicar smiled bravely and nodded in that same way as her father.
Diane dabbed her lip, raised her head and stared at nothing. “In the three years I’ve known Stu I’ve found him to be a kind, honest man.”
Finally Suz noticed the odd stranger. Her head moved just slightly to see who it was.
“Even though we didn’t make it to our wedding date, I’ll always consider Stewart my soul mate.” She couldn’t think of anything else to say. His death had caught her unprepared. It was as if someone had dropped a raw egg at her feet and she was supposed to explain the purpose.
In the pause that followed, her father whispered, “Well done, Dee.”
The vicar concluded his solemn sermon, throwing a small dry handful of dirt on the oak casket. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust…”
Carole wailed again in a bellowing howl, not to be consoled.
Shivering at the sensation of dread that mournful sound brought, Diane found herself looking quickly for the odd man only to see him slinking off before she could talk to him and ask him how he knew her fiancé. Diane’s concentration was broken by Suz tapping her on the shoulder. “You’re holding up well. I can’t say the same for Mrs. Donaldson.”
“It’s her son, Suz.”
“I suppose so.”
“You coming back to the house?”
“I can. For a bit.”
Leaving Kensington Borough Cemetery, the caravan of four cars made its way to Calabria Road in Islington, Stewart’s parent’s home.
Carole had finally controlled her sobs in favor of just keeping silent and dabbing her eyes as Dan helped her up the small brick steps and into their stately three-quarter of a million pound residence.
The apparent calm of the magnolia and white interior gave no relief to the heat. Diane moved unceremoniously through the remodeled Victorian home to the kitchen and removed the prepared platters of food to set out on the table. She could hear every conversation from her vantage point in the lounge.
“Cheers for taking the time for a mate.” Tom shook Kenneth’s hand.
“Well, it was the least I could do. We did work together.”
“You both worked over on Canary Warf, yeah?”
“Aye. Over at the Virtualbank.”
“I reckon it was a bit of a shock to ‘em.”
“It was, Tom. Indeed. A shock to us all. The fellow was only thirty. That’s too young for anyone to die. Especially in those circumstances.” Kenneth lowered his voice and peered back at Mrs. Donaldson.
Unwrapping the plastic cellophane, Diane paused as she overheard those words. It was too young. Too confusing. Nothing made any sense.