which, if any, of these statements, rings true:
1. It was an accident, human error
2. Unavoidable destiny, pre-written
3. They died by the Will of Heaven
4. It was an act of deliberate murder
finally, take the "At-A-Glance" test, at the end
Euan snapped at scenes through the tinted window that would probably look surreal or abstract, I sat with “Death Of A Princess” by Thomas Sancton and Scott MacLeod on my lap and contented myself with catching glimpses of the night-lit city-scape as we sped swiftly through the quiet streets of Paris.
“Place de la Concorde,” Brenda shouted, as if we were all supposed to do something about it.
‘All’ included Euan, Brenda, Tosh, Eta, Arri, Igvarts, Lotte, Acey and me (Rick). It was my first time in a stretch-limo.
Igvarts seized the book from my knees and, in jest, gently knocked Brenda on the head.
“A conspiracy?” said Lotte, “I quote: ‘utter drivel... Total rot,’ I agree.”
“That dismissal,” Igvarts smiled, “is as good as a, ‘Yes’.”
“Yes, what?” Eta asked.
“Yes to a conspiracy, ‘No’ to an ‘accident’,” said Igvarts.
“Ask Derren Brown,” Brenda said.
“Derren and I never spoke,” said Eta.
“He knows how it was done,” Brenda said.
“Here it is, Pillar Thirteen, inside the Alma Tunnel,” said Euan.
“Derren Brown has not the slightest interest in the affairs of the British royals, past or present,” said Lotte as if she knew the man personally.
MACLEOD & SANCTON*
“Sancton and MacLeod,” I said, reaching for my book back, “delivered the definitive account of all the events and the people involved, before, during and after the crash.” I waved the tome as if it would silence everyone evermore. “From these details it is clear that the crash was a tragic consequence of a series of spur-of-the-moment decision-changes.”
Euan backed me up, “no one,” he said, “could have been at the ready to orchestrate a car smash of this nature at such short notice.”
“What ‘short notice’ do you mean?” Arri asked.
“The hours between their plane landing and the change of plan from visiting a restaurant to dining at the Ritz,” said Eta before I could answer.
“Then there’s the change of route, back to Dodi’s apartment,” said Tosh as he scanned through his newspaper in the dim light.
We had all read the book while holed up in the French Alps waiting for repairs to our main balloon. As a result, each of us was an ‘expert’ on the death of Princess Diana.
Brenda shook her head, “that, too was planned.”
“Impossible,” said Eta.
“Never watched a magic show on telly?” Brenda asked, “when the audience, including you, at home, chose one particular word out of a page full of words, and it was the 'right' word, as predicted by the magician?” Brenda opened her eyes wide and pulled a face at Eta.
“That‘s different,” Eta said.
“Really?” Brenda and Igvarts replied in unison.
MAP THE FUTURE
“Map,” said Brenda, index finger raised, “lay down your map of the future and examine where each road leads.”
“As simple as that?” Lotte asked.
“What’s she talking about?” Euan turned from his view of the Seine.
“Strategy,” Brenda said, “people who look ahead.”
“Who learn from the past,” said Igvarts.
“There was no other option,” Brenda raised her eyebrows.
“No viable option?” Lotte asked.
“No,” said Igvarts, “there was no alternative.”
Euan put his camera into his pocket and looked sternly at Igvarts, “you are telling me that Ye Ol’ Duke read the papers and declared to Her Maj, ‘Dodi snogged our Di, off with their heads’? You’re deranged.” Euan clicked his tongue and looked out the window again.
“Can you imagine yourself,” said Eta, “you ruffle your grandson‘s hair and think, ‘guess what son, I murdered your Mum’.”
“Were that scenario true,” said Tosh, “sooner or later, we’d know.”
Brenda and Igvarts shook their heads slowly.
“Not a bit of it,” said Igvarts. “certainly not from Buckingham Palace.”
“Way back,” said Brenda.
“You’re in on this too, Igvarts,” said Eta with a hint of accusation.
Igvarts smiled, “we've worked something out,” he shrugged.
“All right,” said Lotte, “go on, tell us the secret.”
The limousine drew smoothly to a halt, we had arrived.
ENTER THE MANSION
“The first thing,” said Igvarts.
“Or things,” added Brenda.
Our limousine door was opened for us by our driver. It had just gone two a.m.
“To understand,” Igvarts continued as he stepped out, “is that behind the operation there lay no malice.”
We stretched ourselves under the trees that lined the drive as one by one the limousine disgorged all nine occupants.
“It wasn’t a ‘Crime Of Passion’,” Brenda said, then added, “nor greed or revenge.”
“It was not only necessary,” said Igvarts, “it was the best conclusion.”
“Con-clu-sion?” Euan dropped his outstretched arms, “you make it sound like we’re dealing with a tuppence-ha’penny 'Crimmy', not real, live people’s destinies.”
“Princess Diana,” said Brenda, “had long ago been stripped of what you and I are lucky enough to enjoy as 'Ordinary Lives'. We have free choice, where to go on holiday, who to invite to dinner and so on.”
“Royals can hardly go for a pee without all the correct personnel being alerted,” I said.
“Makes a gold-fish bowl in a restaurant seem like secrecy,” said Eta with a nod.
“Just about,” Brenda smiled.
“When all the world’s your stage,” said Arri, “there is no limousine waiting to sweep you safely to the privacy of your own home.”
“Brutal, scary, shocking and terrifying,” Brenda was serious, “the bottom line is: there really was No - Other - Way. Those who made these decisions did not have the luxury of choice.” Brenda cut the air with the edge of her hand.
“I can’t believe I’m hearing this,” Lotte said softly.
Tosh pulled a face and shook his head, “to quote historian Lord Blake, utter drivel.”
We mounted the steps, the doors opened as if of their own, beyond, lights shone in the hallway. The gravel around us was illuminated by flood-lamps.
Igvarts smiled, “the plan was drafted long before the divorce papers were signed.”
“Before Di and Dodi were even close?” Lotte was incredulous.
Brenda and Igvarts nodded together, the three paused on the steps.
“During the weeks after the initial separation,” said Brenda, “possibly before.”
“But why?” Eta looked back from the doorway and raised her voice, “more to the point, how? I mean, Dodi was on the verge of proposing to Kelly Fisher.”
I urged Lotte and Brenda to keep on going up the steps and not hold us back.
“Panic stations!” Igvarts and Brenda said almost together as they entered.
“Excuse me,” said Lotte inside the hall, “I may sound dim, what the blazes are you lot rabbiting on about? It’s nonsense. There was a crash and, around it, you’re spinning the most absurd fabrications imaginable.”
We were by now all inside the hallway.
Arri pulled that wicked little smile of his, “the two-brain-celled knee-jerkers pump themselves up with faked 'inside knowledge' in order to rescue their myopic egos from the smelly drains of their daily existence as their wretched inferiority complexes desperately battle to become something which they conspicuously are not.”
Our host’s butler closed the front doors and switched off the outside lights. I noticed he bit his cheeks to prevent himself laughing out loud.
Eta rounded on Arri as someone who had blasphemed.
“What's that you are saying about Mohammed al Fayed?”
“That's different,” said Tosh.
Arri gazed at Eta, “Al Fayed ought to take out a court-order to allow immediate scrutiny of the crashed Mercedes,” he said, “look where no one else has looked, prove there are, or that there could never have been any concealed devices.”
The butler steered us down the hallway and round a corner.
“Diana and Dodi’s romance was chosen some considerable time earlier,” Igvarts spoke with the authority of someone who had eaves-dropped on the whole show, “at least a year, I’d say, maybe eight or nine months minimum.”
We were ushered into a drawing room where refreshments were laid out. Tosh threw his newspaper onto the coffee table and gave his fullest attention to the buffet.
“Once each possible future had been examined,” Brenda said, “it was evident that the best way for Diana to leave the public eye would be as the ‘Saint’ many wanted her to be.”
We took plates to the enticing spread and began to load up.
“Diana, ‘The Divorcee’, was no longer the icon the public craved, I mean, needed,” said Igvarts, “she had to go.”
“And go on the crest of the highest wave,” Arri said, his eyes bright.
“And,” said Acey, lips turned down, “kick a man they disliked in the nuts.”
“Al Fayed,” I muttered, “Dodi’s dad.”
“Dodi,” Brenda almost spilled her plate as her hand flew up to emphasise her point, “was chosen after a great deal of research and careful thought.”
“Sorry,” Euan grinned as he reached across to choose more goodies, “cloud-cuckoo-land. Make two people fall in love? That’s too preposterous for words.”
“Supermarkets,” said Igvarts, “manipulate shoppers.”
Brenda continued his line, “casinos monitor punters. Magicians amaze audiences.”
Arri picked up the thread, “advertisers change the way we think and alter our decision making processes.”
“Aye,” said Acey in his worst Scotch accent, “we’re a’ brain-washed the noo.”
“Too true,” said Tosh, “ask the Facebook execs.”
“Nowadays,” said Brenda, “you don’t just look up someone’s name and address, you look up our entire personality profile and everything we are going to say, think and do over the next two or three weeks.”
“As close as that?” Lotte raised an eyebrow.
“If you have access to the right data, yes,” said Igvarts.
“Which,” said Brenda, “in the case of high profile 'Celebrities' such as Diana and Dodi - ”
“- is easy,” said Igvarts.
“Easy?” Euan drew himself erect from his food-gathering exercise, “now you’re really pulling my chain.” Euan took his piled plate to a convenient corner, “celebs pay thousands for psychoanalysts to fail to reach the bottom of their private dilemmas.”
“True,” said Eta, “that’s why Scientology is such a success. They answer those ‘difficult questions’.”
“Oh yes,” Acey chuckled, “with the psycho-babble equivalent of Fake News”.
“Back in the nineties,” Arri said, “that data wasn’t around.”
“Every move was known,” said Brenda.
“Princess Diana couldn’t even fart without someone catching it on tape,” Lotte joked.
“Or in a bag,” I said.
“Stasi-style,” said Tosh, “that was one of their tricks.”
“Did they do it?” Arri asked, “the Stasi?”
“Doubt it,” said Euan.
AROUND THE COFFEE TABLE
We sat in the leather settees around the marble coffee-table with our plates.
“Anyway,” said Acey, “ye’re haverin’. Prove your point, we haven’t got all day. I mean, night.”
“Dodi and Diana were played like a cello and viola in a string quartet,” said Brenda as she settled among the cushions on the settee, “the score was written, the timeline drafted, there were areas of flexibility and manoeuvre but, all told, the entire operation from early ninety-seven or even ninety-six, up until the last day of August, each step was put in place with meticulous precision.”
Igvarts, mouth full, nodded in solemn agreement.
Euan swallowed as quickly as he could before he spoke, “Hugo Young got it in one when he said, 'all these stories are bullshit.' I agree with him. You cannot orchestrate two people falling in love and then set up a guaranteed-fatal crash in an off-route tunnel.”
“Especially when they’re in one of the world’s safest, most crash-proof cars,” I said.
“Not if they share a mutual antipathy, no,” said Brenda. “If, however, they share certain experiences and are already friends, then, sorry, I’m afraid to say the answer is,” Igvarts, mouth clear, chimed in with Brenda, “Oh Yes You Can”. Together they nodded.
“Well go on then,” said Lotte, “explain yourself, Brenda, stop playing the 'Superior Knowledge' game and spell it out.”
Brenda threw a furtive look at Arri who gave her a smile of encouragement.
“Cues. Associations. Contexts,” Brenda counted each one off with a raised finger. “Whenever something pleasant happens, who should appear? Whenever you enjoy a moment of success, whose name crops up?”
“Anchoring,” Acey nodded.
“Are you in on this mind-game stuff too?” Eta asked.
“No,” said Acey, “I just remember reading about a salesman’s trick called 'Anchoring'. Every time you say something 'good' I clear my throat, every time you say or do something not so good, I knock the floor or the table, or whatever.”
Lotte nodded and smiled, “until I unconsciously associate your signals the way you want me to.”
“Precisely,” Brenda and Acey said together.
“A magazine front page on the private jet,” said Brenda, “a ribbon of a specific colour, Diana glimpses someone with the same kind of jacket as Dodi, Dodi hears Diana’s name mentioned when he contemplates a holiday.”
“Remember,” said Igvarts, “their itineraries have to be announced in advance”.
“Product placement,” said Brenda with her, 'knowing look', “only instead of on TV or in films, it’s in real-life situations.”
“Months of subtle emotional steering?” Lotte asked, incredulous.
“An article which describes Dodi in terms that resonate with Diana’s own life happens to be ‘left behind’ in her hotel suite,” said Brenda.
“Little hints,” said Tosh, “almost out-of-earshot remarks, guests chatting nearby at grand social functions or at private parties.” He pulled a face as he weighed the possibilities.
“Over-heard but not consciously listened to,” Igvarts said.
“A bit hard to pull off, surely?” Eta said.
“Tricky, yes, hard, not really,” said Brenda.
“Angel-dust in their tea,” Arri grinned.
Lotte’s eyes opened wide, “just a touch, enough to make them smile,” she said.
Eta’s hand flew to her mouth, “and a spec of toxic concoction when he’s with the one to be ditched.”
“How? Who?” Euan leapt to the defence, “Dodi’s bodyguards would protect them.”
“Exactly,” I said, “sheer speculation. Fantasy, hyperbole, rubbish.”
“The problem is,” Acey said, “conspiracy talk sounds so terribly good.” He grinned from ear to ear.
“Feeds the paranoid,” Arri chuckled, “Paranoia-Food.” He raised his eyebrows and wobbled his head.
“There are those,” said Lotte, “who love to teach that behind every façade there lurks a nasty evil.”
“Paint our world as black as black can be,” Eta nodded.
TWO CHIMPANZEES AND A DECK OF CARDS
Like spectators at a tennis match, Euan and I looked from Arri to Brenda and the others, our eyes and grins (and bulging cheeks) growing ever wider.
“What are you two chimpanzees smirking at?” asked Tosh with a hint of annoyance.
Euan shrugged, “it’s hilarious,” he said.
I couldn’t contain myself and laughed, “latrant balderdash but my oh my, it doesn’t half throw the cat among the pigeons.”
Euan and I fell into a mirth that bordered on hysterics.
“Seriously,” said Brenda, “there’s a string of dead giveaways in the fleeing motorcycle and white Fiat, the toxicology report, and the bizarre MI-6 break-in to steal the photographer’s hard disk drives.” Brenda asserted her authority, Euan and I calmed down.
“Henri Paul was spiked, drugged, doped,” said Brenda. “Carbon monoxide? That’s ridiculous. Only through some deliberate interference could all those poisons have entered his blood-stream.”
Euan produced a deck of cards and quietly began shuffling as if, like waiting for our next call, we were to pass the rest of the night with games of whist.
I sighed, “he’d been drinking when he knocked off earlier, he’d been off duty for hours.” I sank my teeth into something exceptionally tasty.
“Never,” said Tosh, “would a professional driver with his experience have taken the wheel had he consumed that amount of booze.”
Euan laid the cards out in four neat piles and returned to his nearly finished plate.
“Someone,” Brenda continued, “somehow slipped him a capsule or three of high-strength alcohol. It entered his blood only by about the time he approached the tunnel. Up to that point, he was fine. My guess, but it fits.”
Euan rolled his eyes and clicked his tongue, “cash-till registers do not lie,” he addressed his last piece of prawn before it disappeared.
“He bought booze,” I said, “right there in the Ritz.”
“If,” Brenda said, “the exhaust had been leaked into the car, everyone would have been equally affected.”
“Air bag,” said Igvarts, “the air-bag burst and he inhaled the gas.A deliberate leak would have been found, even with the car being wrecked.”
“Deliberate tampering,” said Tosh, “it’s well nigh impossible to conceal. That’s true.”
“Exactly,” said Brenda, “deliberate tampering. There lies the next big give-away.”
“It does?” Lotte and Eta leaned towards Brenda.
Euan demonstrated his expertise in card-shuffling, it would have been annoying except that we were so very used to it.
MODIFIED ESCAPE MERCEDES
“What an odd coincidence,” said Brenda, “that, out of all the vehicles available, the one they, ‘chose,’ just happened to have been stolen and stripped of its electronic components a couple of months before.”
Euan selected four cards at random and placed them face down on the coffee table.
“Of course,” said Acey with sarcastic mock-agreement, “obvious, really.”
“Obvious?” asked Arri as if woken from a nap, “what is?”
Euan turned over his cards, four aces, the right way up.
“Steal the car,” said Igvarts.
Euan slipped the aces back into the deck.
“Make it look like a theft-to-order,” said Brenda, “a professional gang hit. Use that as a cover to install your devices.”
“What devices?” Lotte asked, “Mercedes engineers refitted the vehicle. Were they in on it?”
“No,” said Brenda, “at least, I doubt it, unless somehow a secret agent was infiltrated onto the team beforehand. No, whoever fitted the devices placed them where they would not be found, even by the Mercedes rebuild team.”
The sceptics among us drew in our breath, tut-tutted and shook our heads. “Hand of God” I mumbled, I doubt anyone noticed.
Euan followed the discussion as he absent-mindedly slid cards out and back in like a slow shuffle.
“The crash investigators would, though,” said Tosh, “and then it would be ‘Game Up’.”
“Not necessarily,” said Igvarts.
“One of those who arrived on-site early on,” said Brenda.
“You mean in the tunnel?” Eta asked.
Brenda nodded and continued, “would have known where to look and what to remove.”
“The mysterious vanishing motorcyclist?” Arri said.
“Unlikely,” said Igvarts.
Euan fanned four threes from his pack. We conscientiously ignored his habitual showing-off.
“Too little time,” said Brenda.
Arri’s eyebrows leapt up and down as he interrupted, “it could have been someone in the emergency team or at head-quarters or, even more likely, the device was too well concealed and disguised to be noticed by anyone.” He sat back pleased with his powers of deduction.
Euan slid the cards back into the deck and placed his cards on the coffee table.
Acey counted off the options on his fingers, “is this your carbon-monoxide machine, your accelerator-over-rider, your Manchurian Candidate hypnotiser, your alcohol-and-pills-injection contraption or the caboodle that takes total control of the vehicle and every one of it’s occupants?”
“It might be no more than a microphone-bug and a location-tracker,” said Brenda.
“That figures,” Euan nodded with a dismissive shrug.
“Hear what’s happening inside the vehicle,” Lotte also nodded, “see exactly where it is and the speed it is doing at all times.”
“The post-crash investigators no doubt did a thorough job,” Brenda continued, “but there are bound to be places in the car where even they would have no need to look.”
“The ‘car-thieves’ had ample time to plant one or more devices tucked well away where they would escape discovery,” Eta said as she picked up on the picture being painted.
MI-6 SECRECY ESSENTIAL
Arri piped up, “the only acceptable reason why the top security service would show their hand by breaking into a photographer’s home to steal hard-drives would be if MI-6 feared those snap-shots incriminated their operation.”
Euan and I once again found ourselves in agreement with one another as we shook our heads.
“What other reason could they have had?” Arri’s voice rose up and up.
Euan beat me to it, “to see if there was evidence of terrorist or enemy-agent sabotage.”
I cut in, “they were doing their job.” Euan didn’t let me continue, “gathering every available photo to ascertain who or what unnatural, pre-meditated influence could have been at work,” he said.
“Fine, then why not just ask? Why the burglary?” Lotte said.
“It’s how they operate,” said Euan.
I laughed, “you’re working for MI-6 or seven or who or whatever. Are you going to knock on the door of a paparazzo and present your ID card with your photo, telephone number, address, rank and employer and say, ‘see you at the next royal gala?’ I think not.”
BOX OF CHOCOLATES
“Lotte,” said Brenda with her winning smile, “in the cupboard under the stairs you’ll find a big box of chocolates.” Brenda waved her finger towards the door.
Lotte hesitated, all eyes were upon her. She rose.
“Lotte,” asked Brenda and a sing-song tone, “where are you going?”
“To fetch the chocolates,” said Lotte.
Acey slapped his thigh gently, looked away and clicked his tongue as he smiled.
“No, Lotte,” said Brenda, “there are no chocolates.”
Lotte sat down and glared at Brenda.
Brenda shook her head slowly, “just a booby-trapped tunnel”.
“What are you saying?” Eta asked, her passion bordered on anger.
“Dodi,” said Igvarts before Brenda could reply, “was told something, or some things, that ensured he made those fateful, fatal decisions.”
“You make it sound easy,” Lotte said, deflated.
Euan up-turned his deck of cards and showed the lowest, the King of Clubs. He slid it aside to reveal the King of Hearts, then Spades and finally the King of Diamonds.
Arri and I smiled at Euan’s skill.
“Anything but,” said Brenda. “It was hair-raising and precarious from start to finish. My guess is that at least one of those involved nearly bottled out.”
Tosh groaned, “or later took his own life.” He covered his eyes.
“It was also probably one of the most sophisticated and daring operations undertaken,” said Brenda.
I continued my ‘tennis-watching’, Euan quietly shuffled his pack.
Eta frowned and shook her head, “the question remains, why?”
Even Igvarts turned his eyes on Brenda.
Brenda played her audience well, she kept us waiting until we grew restlessness.
Euan stopped shuffling and gave her his fullest attention.
“No choice,” said Brenda.
We waited, Brenda waited, as if to make us believe that she had delivered the final, definitive answer.
Tosh pulled a face and prompted her to continue with a nudge of his chin.
“The British monarchy,” Brenda said, “is essential to the health of Great Britain. Without the House Of Windsor, we’re an island with more than twenty-two languages and all the cultures, religions and value systems that go with them.”
“It’s not about power” Igvarts said, “or 'Reds Under The Beds' or skeletons in the closet.”
“No,” said Brenda, “identity.” Brenda made imaginary spheres with her hands, “cohesion, unity, culture.”
“The Union Jack,” said Euan as he divided the cards in two, “and the royal family,” Euan merged the edges, bent the pack and sprayed the arch down to join the two parts together. “Without them,” he spoke as he shuffled, “we’re a fifty-two card pick-up.” Euan sprayed the entire deck all over the coffee table and floor. “See?” he said, “that’s New Britain.” Euan pointed at the scattered cards. “We've got to keep it together,” he shrugged.
I laughed, Arri shook his head with a smile, Tosh pulled a face and nodded.
“Here we are decades later,” said Lotte in a soft, observational tone, “babbling about who? The British Royal Family. How many royal families are there? It is thanks to Princess Diana that the British royal family is arguably the most famous and most talked about in the whole wide world.”
Lotte looked at us each in turn.
Arri smiled, “it’s their job.”
“Pardon?” Eta asked.
“To be talked about,” said Tosh, “noticed”.
Eta’s face lit up, “leadership,” she said.
Lotte continued for her, “flagship. A beacon in a storm.”
“Symbol, emblem,” said Arri, “call them what you like, without public attention -”
“They are nothing,” Euan nodded. He gathered up his cards, Arri and Lotte helped.
“The, 'Job From Hell',” said Tosh, “if ever there was one.”
Arri held up his finger, “cycle the tightrope between Tabloid-Paparazzi’s Hall-Of-Mirrors and every-day twenty-first century dysfunctional family,” he shook as he stifled laughter at his own joke.
“You’re too intense.” Eta stood up.
“‘Dyss’” said Eta, “‘funct-shun-al’. You make 'family' sound like a nineteenth century machine with polished brass cylinders and pipes used for some banal purpose such as draining a mine.”
The hour-hand advanced towards three o’clock yet none of us felt ready for sleep.
Igvarts caught all of our attention by some slight movement and an intake of breath.
The room was silent.
“Yuri Gagarin,” he said.
Eta sat down.
“A celebrity whose moment of fame had passed,” Igvarts continued, “a, ‘has-been’, an, ‘embarrassment-without-portfolio’. Party-goer, drunk, wife-snatcher.” He looked at us with his sombre gaze, “what did they do? Put him in a wonderful, new, experimental rocket, which, ‘oops-a-daisy’, went wrong and crashed. Bye-bye. Problem sorted.” Before anyone else could speak Igvarts concluded, “Yuri Gagarin died a national hero.” He waved his hand in the air like a salute.
“Or so our Western media would have us believe,” said Tosh.
“Not a bad piece of theory,” said Euan, still unconvinced. He tucked his cards back in his pocket.
The weight of the moment was broken by Eta’s stern rebuke, “no one could have pre-empted Dodi’s last minute changes.”
I laughed, a little louder than intended, “but yes,” I said, “there is one,” I paused for a moment. “Heaven.” I pointed up.
“Oh for crying out loud,” Acey shouted, “I’m off to inspect our host’s plumbing.” As he rose he snatched Tosh’s paper from the coffee-table. At the door he looked back, “if I find a hidden-away Manchurian-Candidate machine, I’ll bring it back and show you.” He winked with a grin and left the room.
“We have to admit,” said Lotte with a philosophical look, “Diana could not have left behind a better legacy, a more spectacular public image.”
“Even a week,” Tosh said, “maybe a day,” Igvarts added. Tosh continued, “the moment Princess Diana’s engagement to Dodi Fayed hit the headlines, the dirt-diggers and mud-slingers would have launched themselves into ‘over-time’ mode.”
“Wheelbarrows of filth queued round the block at every media office's door.” Arri opened his eyes wide with a silly grin as he glanced from Tosh to Igvarts.
I had to clasp my hand to my mouth the way he made me laugh.
Brenda spoke softly as, ‘one who knows’. “Timed to perfection,” she said, “right from the start.”
Igvarts shared her ‘all-knowing’ look.
A chill ran down my spine.
Our host’s butler entered, observed, waited a few discreet moments and withdrew. We barely noticed.
The tension was uncomfortable.
Eta left the room without a word.
Arri, ever the wit, broke the spell.
“Allah and God went hand in hand to ensure their favourite Muslim’s son and history’s most photographed Princess soared off to Valhalla amidst a fanfare of archangels to enjoy an eternal, unshakable Happily-Ever-After marriage, made, sealed and never-to-end, up there, in Heaven.”
“Boom-boom,” said Euan.
I didn’t realise it but I had let out a big sigh, all eyes were upon me as if I had gasped my last.
I perked up, “there are several indicators,” I said, “that reveal not, 'conspiracy', but, 'believe-it-or-not',” I grinned, “destiny, or something like that.”
“Go on,” said Lotte.
I counted off on my fingers, “the time of the collision, 12:24; '1224' is the number for 'disaster'.”
“Yee-wot?” Tosh screwed up his face in irritated rebuttal.
“Gematria,” I said as I counted off my second finger, “the place of the accident, 'Alma' means 'Egyptian Princess'. Dodi, Egyptian, Diana, Princess.” I grinned.
“Dancer,” Igvarts shook his head with that annoying, knowing smile of his, “Egyptian Dancer.”
I scowled and continued.
“Finally,” I counted off number three, “the 13th pillar.”
I blushed and nearly panicked, these grand theories weren't going down too well. A smile from Lotte restored my confidence.
“Who can organise that?” I finished.
Before anyone could challenge me Euan cut in.
“The huge amounts of speculation,” said Euan, “devoted to proving evil intent might have been better spent understanding the handiwork of the great, invisible, 'Out There'”.
Lotte continued his line of thought, “numerology, astrology.”
Arri smiled, “and the reading of omens, dreams and signals.” He nodded as though he were an expert.
“There must be those who can show,” said Lotte, “that the closure of Princess Diana’s 'Reign', so to speak, was destined, and not, 'engineered'.”
Brenda listened with close attention.
“Same amount of work and effort as conspiratorial supposition,” Tosh almost growled, as if reluctant to accept the new viewpoint.
APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH
“Henri Paul,” said Igvarts in his best authoritarian tone, “met his appointment with death.”
“Appointment?” said Arri, “He wasn't going to the dentist you know.”
“We all,” Igvarts continued, “have an inescapable appointment with death. It is set at birth and cannot be changed. Unless we’re silly, then we go early.”
“Henri Paul died doing what he loved,” Arri smacked his hand, “mastering the Mercedes.”
“Like Tommy Cooper,” said Euan, “I bet he had a jar before he walked on stage.”
“And the rest,” said Arri.
“Whether Henri Paul had a drink or not is irrelevant,” said Igvarts, “his time, as with Dodi and Diana, was up. They were destined to leave together.”
Euan drew up his shoulders as though he were about to embark upon an academic treatise, “dates of birth for Diana Spencer and ‘Moomoo’, Mohammed al Fayed’s son.”
“Hang on,” I cut in, “Dodi was not simply, ‘the son-of-al-Fayed'”.
Before I could delve into Dodi's career as a film producer, Brenda raised her hand and spoke.
“I can tell you a story which might change how we see it,” but Brenda could say no more.
ETA & ACEY RETURN
Eta entered and held open the door.
Acey came in, he had ‘that look’.
Eta closed the door quietly behind him and took her seat.
My fine words of deep penetrating (ahem) wisdom, would have to wait.
Acey held something behind his back.
“Hurry up,” said Eta.
Acey struggled to suppress his grin as he drew out the package.
In a deep voice, mimicking someone but I don’t know who, he said, “I present to you, for the first time, the one-and-only, ‘Manchurian Candidate Machine’.”
With slow, deliberate movements he began to take off the hastily applied loose newspaper wrapping.
“No one,” he continued in his 'tone', “can escape its devastating control.”
The crumpled pages dropped to the floor. Upon his hand there stood some kind of ‘Steam-Punk’ contraption. In his few moments of absence (perhaps with help from the staff?) Acey had cobbled together an oil-can fitted with a handle in its spout, a small fire-extinguisher wrapped in a cereal packet, a diver’s pressure gauge, a brass tap, two curled-back lengths of pipe, the face-mask from a snorer’s 'ResMed' with is light-grey corrugated tube, an old alarm-clock and a cardboard box with various wing-nuts on the end of protruding bolts. It was held together with wire, string, Sellotape and Blu-Tack.
The room filled with laughter.
ACEY'S MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE MACHINE
Acey passed round his creation, it was remarkably well made considering the brief time available.
I glanced at my watch, my comment about Dodi being not, ‘The Son Of’ but rather, the film producer behind ‘Chariots Of Fire,’ would have to wait.
The butler returned, we were ready for our pre-warmed beds.
I rose, anxious not to keep him waiting.
I felt a hand on my elbow, it was Eta. “Did I hear you say it was an act of God?” she asked.
She let go, “Igvarts and Brenda are wrong.”
I froze; my off-the-cuff remark looked well out of key.
Brenda stopped at the door, “no,” she said, “not 'wrong,' we merely wanted to point out what must have happened in order for the conspiracy theory to hold up, that‘s all.”
Arri threw us his cheeky grin again, “a vortex of mass-emotion,” he said, “criticism collided with adulation to generate a whirlwind of invisible yet tangible forces which converged and combined to create a situation where the key players were sucked into an irrevocable, inescapable, fatal end.” As he spoke, he held up his hands, cradled his fingers and turned his wrists.
“Then there’s Mossad,” said Tosh, “some say they exerted such pressure on Henri Paul he was 'driven to drink'. The stress nearly broke him, as it would any man.”
“Mossad?” Acey scowled, “oh give us a break. KGB, CIA, you'll be telling us it was the Far Eastern Triads next.” Acey spoke with a remarkable degree of vehemence.
Euan rose and stretched, “you'll be telling us you've the inside story from your 'Secret Contact' or that your other job is as a Special Agent,” he said with dry sarcasm.
Tosh gave a laugh and gripped his temples, his body shook as he hid his face.
The butler seemed to read Tosh's mind, “permission to speak?”
Tosh, still sitting at the coffee table, gave him a grin and nodded.
“Social media advertising methods retrospectively applied.” He maintained his professional, poker-face demeanour.
We burst out laughing. Tosh gave him a round of applause and rose.
“Dodi and Diana,” said Lotte softly, “married in Heaven. Together forever.”
Next to the door I noticed an empty holder, it looked about right for a small fire-extinguisher.
We followed the butler up the stairs.
“I've got it now,” said Brenda, “tell you in the morning, er, afternoon.” She looked at her watch, the morning had not that much longer to run.
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