So much for buckingham: the camilla randall mysteries #5

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So Much for BuckinghamCamilla Randall Mystery #5a comedyby Anne R. Allen

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"Off with his head. So much for Buckingham."

...the most famous line of Shakespeare that Shakespeare never wrote.

Table of Contents

Title Page

Part 1—The Summer of our Discontent

Chapter 1—Camilla

Chapter 2—Plantagenet

Chapter 3—Camilla

Chapter 4—Plantagenet

Chapter 5—Camilla

Chapter 6—Plantagenet

Chapter 7—Camilla

Chapter 8—Plantagenet

Part II— The Poisonous Bunch-Backed Toad

Chapter 9—Camilla

Chapter 10—Plantagenet

Chapter 11—Camilla

Chapter 12—Plantagenet

Chapter 13—Camilla

Chapter 14—Plantagenet

Chapter 15—Camilla

Chapter 16—Plantagenet

Chapter 17—Camilla

Chapter 18—Plantagenet

Chapter 19—Camilla

Part III—The Kingdom of Perpetual Night

Chapter 20—Plantagenet

Chapter 21—Camilla

Chapter 22—Plantagenet

Chapter 23—Camilla

Chapter 24—Plantagenet

Chapter 25—Camilla

Chapter 26—Plantagenet

Chapter 27—Camilla

Chapter 28—Plantagenet

Chapter 29—Camilla

Chapter 30—Plantagenet

Chapter 31—Camilla

Part IV—Every Tale Condemns me for a Villain

Chapter 32—Plantagenet

Chapter 33—Camilla

Chapter 34—Plantagenet

Chapter 35—Camilla

Chapter 36—Plantagenet

Chapter 37—Camilla

Chapter 38—Plantagenet

Chapter 39—Camilla

Chapter 40—Plantagenet

Chapter 41—Camilla

Part V—There is no Creature Loves Me

Chapter 42—Plantagenet

Chapter 43—Camilla

Chapter 44—Plantagenet

Chapter 45—Camilla

Chapter 46—Plantagenet

Chapter 47—Camilla

Chapter 48—Plantagenet

Chapter 49—Camilla

Chapter 50—Plantagenet

Chapter 51—Camilla

Chapter 52—Plantagenet

Part VI—An Honest Tale Speeds Best

Chapter 53—Camilla

Chapter 54—Plantagenet

Chapter 55—Camilla

Chapter 56—Plantagenet

Chapter 57—Camilla

Chapter 58—Plantagenet

Chapter 59—Camilla

Chapter 60—Plantagenet

Chapter 61—Camilla

Chapter 62—Plantagenet

Part VII—Certain Dregs of Conscience

Chapter 63—Camilla

Chapter 64—Plantagenet

Chapter 65—Camilla

Chapter 66—Plantagenet

Chapter 67—Camilla

Chapter 68—Plantagenet

Chapter 69—Camilla

Chapter 70—Plantagenet

Chapter 71—Camilla

Chapter 72—Plantagenet

Part VIII—True Hope Flies on Swallows Wings

Chapter 73—Camilla

Chapter 74—Plantagenet

Chapter 75—Camilla

Chapter 76—Plantagenet

Chapter 77—Camilla

Chapter 78—Plantagenet

Chapter 79—Camilla

About the Author

Books by Anne R. Allen

Nonfiction by Anne R. Allen

Part 1—The Summer of our DiscontentChapter 1—Camilla

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Morro Bay fog did not creep in on little cat feet like Carl Sandburg's Chicago mists. It galumphed on elephant hooves and moved in for the summer. Why didn't people warn you that "sunny California" could be so gloomy?

By the twenty-eighth of August, the gauge on my outdoor thermometer hadn't risen above sixty-five degrees for three solid months.

Even my summer in the soggy English Midlands had been sunnier than here on the California coast. I glared at the fog bank that obscured my view of the bay and found myself actually longing for Lincolnshire, where I'd spent an eventful summer three years ago.

I felt an even stronger longing for the royalty check from my publishers at Sherwood, Ltd. that was nearly a month overdue.

My bookstore wasn't paying its way, and bills were piling up.

To make things worse, my boyfriend Ronzo had cancelled his planned visit from New Jersey this week, and now he wasn't even returning my calls or emails. I had no idea what was up with him. He couldn't claim his work kept him at home. He was a music review blogger who could live anywhere he wanted.

But my inbox held nothing but spam this evening. Again.

Plus I had a lunatic one-star review on the Amazon buy page for my bestselling etiquette book,The Manners Doctor's Good Manners for Bad Times.

"This auther is a evil slutt and a Tudor-lover," said a reviewer identified as "DickonthePig." 

It was ridiculous what passed for a book review these days.

Fury made me hit the button for "comments." 

I typed—In the Manners Doctor's signature third person voice—"This reviewer is mistaken. The Manners Doctor has never been fond of Tudor. When it comes to architecture, she much prefers Georgian simplicity. She also prefers correct spelling."

Of course at the moment I lived in a biodegrading former motel cottage that was more Calvin Coolidgean than Georgian, but I didn't say that. It wasn't common knowledge that my family fortune had been wiped out by my deceased—and impecunious—mother.

Of course, somebody who left one-star reviews about one's presumed taste in architecture was probably a lunatic. And might be dangerous.

Maybe I shouldn't respond at all.

Loud crunching on the gravel pathway outside the cottage startled me.

Could it be Ronzo? My heart gave a little flip.

Maybe he'd decided to surprise me. He had a habit of doing the unexpected. I felt so fluttery at the prospect of seeing him, I went to hit backspace to delete the comment, but hit "enter" by mistake.

Well, it was done.

And it felt good, even though it might not be considered entirely polite.

I smoothed my hair and wished I hadn't scrambled into sweats so soon after work. I'd planned an evening of vegging in front of Netflix, not a romantic encounter with the adorable man I hadn't seen in person for months.

"Hello!" I called in the direction of the door. "Ronzo? Is that you?"

"Camilla! I'm so glad you're home."

Not Ronzo. My best friend Plantagenet. He would forgive my sweats and mussy hair.

"Come on in. The door's unlocked."

Plant's body felt tense as he gave me a perfunctory squeeze and plunked himself down at my little dining table.

Not a good sign. Plant and Silas were supposed to be leaving for their honeymoon tomorrow.

Plant's rumpled state did not bode well either. He was usually impeccably dressed, even on his most casual days.

"What's wrong?" I closed my laptop. I could tell this wasn't going to be a short visit.

"Everything. It's over with Silas. We're cancelling our trip. Splitting up."

I was a little bored with the histrionics of Plant and Silas's relationship, but I reached across the table and pressed his hand in sympathy. They'd been having spats for months over the details of their wedding.

Plant's chest heaved with a troubled sigh.

"You can't be splitting up," I said. "You've been married less than a week. What on earth is going on?"

He ran his fingers through his silvering hair. I could tell he was fighting tears.

"Glendower Jones," he said. "My old boyfriend. I don't know why I invited him to the wedding. He's become some kind of New Age guru and talks absolute nonsense."

"Glen Jones? My lawyer from twenty years ago? The little guy with the cowlick? He was at the wedding?" I didn't even remember seeing him. I guess I wanted to forget my long-ago brush with the law.

Plant gave a rough laugh.

"He doesn't practice law any more. And he doesn't have a cowlick. Bald as an egg. And totally buffed. He's seriously into yoga now. I'm surprised he didn't seek you out to talk you into going off to his pricey tropical retreat. I guess you're not a big enough celebrity to matter anymore."

Plant was obviously under stress, but this remark came across as a bit unkind. My syndicated etiquette column had died a sad death, but my books had been selling again, and were steady bestsellers in Asia.

"Sorry." I could see Plant wince at his own bad manners. "I didn't mean it like that. You can't compete with me in the nobody department. At least you're not a screenwriter who hasn't sold a script in three years. But since Silas got his fortune back from Harry Sharkov, he's worth Glen's notice, apparently."

"Silas flirted with some bald hippie at his own wedding?" I couldn't stifle a laugh. "I know Silas's flirting can be outrageous. But it's not enough to break up about."

"No...no." Plant's voice went froggy with emotion. "I don't give a damn about flirting. We're way beyond that. It's...Glen started going on about the old days and he, well, he told Silas about us."

I love Plant—he's been my best friend for over twenty years—but I knew better than to let him get me involved in one of his operatic spats with Silas.

Anyway, I had my own drama with Silas—involving my three-weeks-late payment for the bookstore and cottage I was buying from him.

I offered Plant what I hoped was a sympathetic smile.

"Silas is upset you had a thing with Glen twenty years ago? You're forty-seven, Plant. How could you not have old boyfriends?"

Plant gave a pained look.

"Not me and Glen. Me and you. Glen told Silas about our...romance."

"You never told him?" I couldn't keep the anger from my voice. "You've been together what? Four years? And you never told him you and I were once engaged?"

"It never came up."

I wanted to shake him. I'd felt like a third wheel in their relationship more than once. Silas often seemed to resent me. I assumed my long-ago affair with Plant—and his bisexuality—had been the "elephant in the room" nobody spoke of.

But it seemed Silas had been unaware of the resident pachyderm.

"I'm sure he'll forgive you. He needs a little time to process."

Plant didn't look convinced.

I took a bottle of chardonnay out of the fridge as I tried to think of something more soothing to say.

"Why don't you have some wine, take a few breaths, and give him a call." I carefully filled two glasses. "You two have to catch a plane to London tomorrow. And you have all those theater tickets. He's not going to miss a chance to seeBilly Elliot...."

Plant took an airline envelope out of his pocket and tossed it on the table.

"Silas threw the tickets at me when he took off yesterday. God knows where he went. I hoped he'd come back, but he hasn't even phoned. He could be dead on the highway somewhere. He said he never wanted to go to England anyway. He would have preferred Maui. Maui! What is there to see in Maui?"

A sunny Hawaiian island sounded pretty appealing to me at that point, but I didn't say so. I sipped my chardonnay: a gorgeous Chamisal Califa from Edna Valley I'd bought to share with Ronzo. Probably the last bottle of good wine I'd be able to afford for some time.

Plant jumped up and grabbed my hand.

"Come with me, Camilla. Come to London. It's all paid for. We even got tickets to see Kevin Spacey as Richard III—he's reprising the role for a limited run. It's the chance of a lifetime. Nobody does evil like Spacey."

I nearly spilled my wine as I pulled my hand away.

"Plant, that is a terrible idea on so many levels. You should go, but not with me."

"Why? Please come. My treat. Consider it an early present for your big 4-0 birthday in November."

My mind filled with "why-nots."

"First, we'd cause more hurt and paranoia for Silas, second, I have a bookstore to run..."

Plant's phone rang. He reached in his pocket and took the call.

"Silas?"

Plant stood very still for a moment, his face going from white to crimson. He started to speak, then clicked off his iPhone, obviously on the verge of tears.

"What's wrong?"

"At least I know where Silas is. Maui. Apparently having a hot romantic encounter with Mr. Glendower Jones."

Chapter 2—Plantagenet

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Plant's eyes burned as he drove his aging Ferrari home from Morro Bay. But no way would he let the tears fall.

Silas did not deserve them.

Neither did Glendower Jones, the mealy-mouthed little charlatan.

"I have a damned Oscar!" Plant shouted at the vine-covered hills as he sped toward his Edna Valley home. "I've been nominated for two Tonys. What does that hairless idiot have?"

But he knew the answer.

What Glen had was a place in Maui. And a great body.

Plant knew he should exercise more. Plus he hadn't written anything in nearly a year. His last screenplay was never going to be made. He was over in Hollywood. And Broadway had all but forgotten him.

Glen, on the other hand, glowed with self-confidence. And he was obviously at ease with his hair loss—something Silas obsessed about. Plus of course Glen was actualized and soul-centered and probably could interface with angelic entities.

Or whatever woo stuff Silas was into this week.

Silas had been reading a string of New Age books recently, and when he started talking all that spiritualist babble, Plant always tuned out.

Now it was obvious he should have paid more attention.

Instead, Plant had spent the last year obsessed with the wedding and re-decorating their behemoth of a house after the smoke damage last summer—while Silas fought in the courts to get his family's fortune back from Harry the Shark.

But they'd won. The infusion of capital had revived Silas's five remaining bookstores. And the house was more elegant than ever. Their wedding had gone off pretty much without a hitch.

Of course it helped to have the Manners Doctor as a best friend.

Plant realized he had probably spent more time with Camilla than with Silas in the past six months. Coordinating florists and bakers and caterers and guests' hotel accommodations became a full time job.

He did know that Silas had been drifting away. Their sex life had been practically nonexistent for months.

Being the victim of a con man had left Silas off-balance. Silas was convinced the Sharkov incident had been a "wake-up call" and a sign he'd been "sleepwalking through life".

So now Silas had sleepwalked off to Maui. With his new husband's old boyfriend. How enlightened.

Plant pulled into the driveway of their Edna Valley Tuscan-style villa and wondered how the hell he'd ended up here. He was a Princeton graduate. An intellectual. Now he lived in an overpriced McMansion with a guy who read horoscopes and talked about "planets in retrograde".

Plant didn't know about Silas, but he'd been sleepwalking through his own life.

It was time to wake up. He was going to London, with Camilla, his best friend. A perfect opportunity to recharge and regain his sense of self.

Inside the all-too-quiet empty house, he poured himself a stiff Grey Goose, hoping it would calm his nerves and help him sleep. He wasn't ready for bed, but he didn't have anything left to do. He'd already packed his suitcase, which stood waiting by the door, and even had his carry-on filled with all but the last minute things.

His book was in there too: Josephine Tey'sDaughter of Time, a 1930s mystery novel about Richard III. One of Silas's bookstore clerks had presented it to them at the wedding, insisting they read it before they saw Spacey'sRichard.

Plant didn't feel like pulling it out of the bag, or starting something new, so he turned on the television. It was tuned to CNN. If anything would make him sleepy, it would be endlessly rehashed news about manufactured political crises.

But he was startled to hear a familiar name from the announcer.

"Ronson V. Zolek," the New Jersey music blogger at "Zo What" has taken his own life."

Camilla's Ronzo. No wonder he hadn't shown up for the wedding.

Chapter 3—Camilla

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After a frantic half hour of searching the cottage, I finally found my passport in my winter navy Chanel bag.

This was probably crazy, but I could see Plant was devastated by whatever was going on with Silas. He needed me. And I had to admit it would be lovely to visit London and see all those plays. Besides, I could use the opportunity to go up to Swynsby-on-Trent and find out why the people at Sherwood, Ltd. had stopped paying my royalties.

But it meant that somehow I had to be ready to leave for the San Francisco airport by eight AM to catch the three PM flight to Heathrow.

I was a little apprehensive about leaving the Jens in charge of the bookstore for a week. The two Cal Poly students—both named Jen—were eager and great with customers, but they didn't understand anything about ordering or receiving books or doing the accounts.

If only the uber-efficient Dorothy were still around, but she'd been lured back to her old life runningHomemagazine in New York after her ex-husband Harry Sharkov admitted she had nothing to do with his Ponzi schemes.

I pulled some of my less-dated designer clothes from the back of the closet, wondering what would be suitable for the West End of London at this time of year.

I booted up my laptop and Googled today's weather in London. 71 degrees and raining. Okay, rain gear. I still had my Burberry raincoat. I could wear that on the plane.

Since I was online, I checked my email again, half hoping something from Ronzo would keep me from dashing off on this iffy adventure.

He'd never even sent an explanation for missing Sunday's wedding. Just a text saying: "Sorry. Something came up. More later."

But after five days, "more" had still not appeared. I checked Ronzo's blog, but for some reason it wouldn't load. I couldn't find anything but an ad for the Webhost.

The man had even flaked on his own blog.

Okay, it was probably time to let go of my hopes for that relationship. 

Mr. Ronson V. Zolek was simply one more bad boyfriend who'd decided to evaporate.

I clicked on the Amazon page forGood Manners for Bad Timesagain. I should delete that comment I'd made to DickonthePig. It wasn't wise to dignify that sort of lunacy with a response.

When my page came up, I could hardly believe what I saw.

There were now nine one-star reviews, each nastier than the one before. Some made more mysterious references to my taste for "Tudor." Somebody said, "Worst novel ever. The plot was dum and the people were dummer." Another said it needed an editor and had a lot of typos. Of course none of the reviewers gave their real names. They called themselves enigmatic things like "Alfred the Cake", "Smart Bitch," and "Libra Rising."

I knew the book didn't need more editing. My editor, Pradeep Balasubramariam, was meticulous, and Sherwood used two excellent proofreaders from Lincoln University. I doubted any of these people had read a word of the book. They didn't seem to have even read the blurb. How could anybody think an etiquette handbook was a novel?

I clicked on the U.K. Amazon site, where I usually sold pretty well, hoping it hadn't been affected. But I found more of the same. Much more. There had to be twenty-five of them. A lot were worse than the U.S. ones. The "reviewers" called me names and threatened to keep me from ever selling another book.

Several seemed to have confused me with Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall. One even accused me of causing the death of Princess Diana.

And of course my sales had stopped dead.

I calmed myself with deep breaths as I realized I couldn't go off adventuring with Plant now. I needed to stay here and figure out how to stop this nonsense. It could end my career.

Where were those Sherwood people? I needed help from Davey and Liam. They understood this tech stuff. Maybe they could talk to Amazon and find out how to fix the whole mess. These lunatics must be confusing me with somebody else.

My phone rang. Plant. I hated to let him down, but this had to be dealt with.

"I don't think I can go, Plant. The most terrible thing has happened..."

"I know." Plant's voice sounded choked. "I just saw the story on CNN."

"CNN? It's on television?"

I couldn't bear it. I'd suffered through two awful media scandals in past years and now apparently I was going to be plunged into another. And this time I didn't even know what I was accused of doing.

"I'm so sorry, darling. I realize you won't want to come to London now. There will probably be a funeral.... Do you need me to stay with you? I should cancel the trip."

"A funeral?"  My career wasn't quite dead yet.

"For Ronzo. Ronson V. Zolek. Isn't 'Zo What' the name of his blog?

Hardly breathing, I Googled CNN—and there was the headline:

"'ZO WHAT' BLOGGER A SUICIDE."

I clicked on it and read, "We have a breaking report that Ronson V. Zolek, popular music blogger andRolling Stonecontributor appears to have taken his own life. A suicide note was found in his home in Newark, New Jersey..."

Chapter 4—Plantagenet

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Plantagenet drove like a demon toward the San Francisco Airport. Camilla had insisted he go ahead with his plans and take the trip to London without her.

But now he felt guilty.

She'd been so devastated by the news about Ronzo last night that she hadn't made much sense. She kept babbling some nonsense about Amazon reviews and somebody named DickonthePig.

She also refused to accept the Ronzo story and wanted to believe the CNN report was some sort of hoax. Shock and denial: the first step of the grief process.

Maybe he should have insisted she come with him. There would be nothing for her to do but feel miserable. All by herself.

When he stopped for gas outside of King City, he pulled out his phone, hoping to convince her to come, but realized he didn't have three hours to drive back and forth to Morro Bay.

Instead, he filled up and sped on to the airport, wondering if he was being a terrible friend.

He got to the British Airways terminal way too early, with a couple of hours to kill. 

The first thing he did after checking in was phone Camilla, just to let her know he was thinking of her. But the call went to voice mail. She was probably busy at the store. Her two student helpers were not always reliable, and she often had to tend to everything herself.

He fought the urge to call Silas. He had no idea what he could say that he hadn't said in ten other voicemails: "I'm sorry. Can't we talk? It's absurd that I'm going on our honeymoon by myself."

None had been answered, even with a text.

He found a seat by his departure gate and tried to get involved in the gift copy of Josephine Tey'sThe Daughter of Time,but his mind kept wandering back to the wedding and how he'd glossed over the growing rift between them as wedding jitters.

When the guest had presented them with the book, Silas scornfully announced he'd read it years ago. But, he said, if Plant's education had been so neglected, he must read the book immediately.

"You're named after him, so you should know the real story of Richard III. He was no 'poisonous bunch-backed toad'. He was a good king. Shakespeare took Thomas More's libelous propaganda as gospel. The Bard was a lousy historian."

One of those nasty little zingers Silas let out so often these days.

Plant had stifled the urge to point out he was not named for the last Plantagenet king, but the first: Henry I, the role he'd played in a production ofBecketat Princeton.

It would not have been the right time to admit he'd changed his name that semester. Or that his birth name was the tragically ordinary "John Smith"—devoid of even a middle initial—a secret he kept from everybody.

Everybody but Camilla.

Poor Camilla. What tragedy to lose her boyfriend in such an unpleasant way.

He did hope she'd be all right. And that she'd stop looking at her book reviews Writers, like actors, should never read their own reviews.

Every fifteen minutes or so, Plant checked his phone for messages, as the lounge filled up around him. A large, unkempt family with hillbilly accents parked themselves across from him, all chattering at once. One small girl stared at him as if he were a waxwork figure in a museum.

"Is he a bad man?" The child asked loudly.

Her mother gave her a slap.

Plant tried to pretend he hadn't heard. He stared intensely at his phone.

Which still held no texts from Camilla.

Or Silas.

Part of Plant's brain was hoping Silas would call and say it was all a misunderstanding and he was on his way to the airport and they'd continue with their honeymoon as planned. 

But he knew in his soul it wasn't going to happen. His new husband was in Maui. At the Haleakala Spiritual Awakenings Resort.

With Glen, that little toad.

Plant had already checked out the resort's website. It was all palm trees and idyllic beach scenes. A "home for the spirit" where "intuitive channel Glen Jones and his healing practitioners provide color and sound therapy,Feng Shuiconsultations, angel healings, empowerment counseling and crystal therapy to manifest health and prosperity by creating the right vibrations to allow guests to find their inner truth."

A total load of bull bleep. "Home for the spirit" was probably just an excuse for meager food portions and no Wi-Fi.

With a bit of malice in his heart, Plant searched his iPhone for Yelp reviews of the place. He needed to see somebody mocking all this nonsense.

No such luck. There were twelve five-star reviews, each more glowing than the next. Apparently Glen had the only "LGBTQ Empowerment" counseling in Hawaii. Everybody felt cleansed and renewed. They got in touch with their healing angels and were dancing off to wellness.

Of course the reviews were most likely bought and paid for. Everybody knew online reviews were bogus. Most likely written by people who had never even been to a Hawaiian resort.

Like him.

Truth be told, he secretly would have liked to honeymoon in a tropical paradise. But it had been Silas who first suggested London. Silas knew lots of Londoners he'd met at book fairs. Plant thought he'd seem selfish and unintellectual to suggest a resort instead.

And now Plant was stuck playing the intellectual snob role.

He had a devious thought. Nothing was stopping him from writing a one-star review of Glen's resort himself. Or maybe two-star to make it look a little more authentic. He could say he got a norovirus from the spa food or something...

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