Today's Reading

He took a deep breath. "There were ladies' . . . underwear. Lipstick." He closed his eyes. "Tissues. It seems he was . . .
experimenting. For pleasure. He probably didn't mean to . . ."

By now he was puce. The Queen took pity. "How dreadful. And the police have been called?"

"Yes. The commissioner has promised absolute discretion."

"Good. Have his parents been told?"

"I don't know, ma'am," Sir Simon said, making a note. "I'll find out."

"Thank you. Is that everything?"

"Almost. I've called a meeting this afternoon to contain publicity. Mrs. Cobbold has already been very understanding on that point. I'm quite certain we have her absolute loyalty and we'll make it clear to the staff: no talking. We'll need to tell the guests about the death—though obviously not the manner of it. Because Mr. Peyrovski brought Mr. Brodsky here last night, he has already been informed."

"I see."

Sir Simon stole another look at his agenda. "Now, there is the question of where exactly you wish to welcome the Obamas..."

They returned to business as usual. It was all very unsettling, though.

To have happened here. At Windsor. In a cupboard. In a purple dressing gown.

She didn't know if she felt more sorry for the castle or the man. It was much more tragic for the poor young pianist, obviously. But she knew the castle better. Knew it like a second skin. It was awful, awful. And after such a wonderful night.


IT WAS THE QUEEN'S HABIT to spend a month at the castle in spring, for the Easter Court. Away from the excessive formality of the palace, she could entertain in a more relaxed, informal style—which meant parties for twenty, instead of banquets for a hundred and sixty, and the chance to catch up with old friends. This particular dine and sleep, a week after Easter, had been somewhat hijacked by Charles, who wanted to use it to curry favor with some rich Russians for one of his pet projects that needed a cash injection.

Charles had requested the presence of Yuri Peyrovski and his preternaturally beautiful young wife, as well as a hedge fund manager called Jay Hax who specialized in Russian markets and was known for being crashingly dull. As a favor to her son the Queen agreed, though she had added a few suggestions of her own.

Sitting at her desk, she considered the guest list, where a copy still sat among her papers. Sir David Attenborough had been there, of course. He was always a delight, and one's own age, which was rare these days. He had been very gloomy about the state of global warming, though. Oh dear. And her racing manager, who was staying for a few days and was never gloomy about anything much, thank goodness. They were joined by a novelist and her screenwriter husband, whose gentle, funny films were the epitome of Britishness. And there was the provost of Eton and his wife, who lived round the corner and were regular stalwarts.

For Charles's sake she had included various people with Russian connections. The recently returned British ambassador to Moscow . . . the Oscar-winning actress of Russian descent, who was rightly famous for her embonpoint and acerbic tongue . . . Who else? Ah, yes, that star British female architect who was building a rather grand museum annex in Russia at the moment, and the professor of Russian literature and her husband (you could never assume the sex or sexuality of professors these days—as Philip had learned the hard way—but this was a woman, married to a man).

And somebody else . . . She looked back at the list. Oh of course, the Archbishop of Canterbury. He was another regular who could be relied upon to make the conversation go with a swing if some of the others became tongue-tied, as could unfortunately be the case. The other misfortune being if they all talked too much and one could hardly get a word in edgeways. For which there was little remedy, apart from the occasional stern look.

The Queen always liked to provide a little entertainment for her guests and Mr. Peyrovski had suggested to Charles a young protégé of his who "played Rachmaninoff like a dream." There were also a couple of ballet dancers who would perform cut-down solos from Swan Lake in Imperial Russian style to recorded music. The whole thing was set to be refined, serious, and soulful. In fact, the Queen had been rather dreading it. The Easter Court was supposed to be jolly, but Charles's fête à la russe sounded positively grim.

And yet. You never know what will happen.
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