When Juliet first meets Rory Anstruther-Jones, she is intrigued, but doesn’t trust him. He speaks of having a “thorn in the flesh” – but what does this mean exactly?
EXTRACT FROM “MYSTICAL CIRCLES”
Then Juliet’s glance was drawn on to the next diner. He for his part gave her a watery smile. His pink shirt was teamed with a blue–and–white polka–dot bow tie. Even though seated, he was head and shoulders above his neighbours. How, she wondered, did he manage with all the low ceilings in this farmhouse? She tried to recall the date she’d seen engraved above the front door. Ah yes – 1532. Certainly they must have been shorter in those days.
“Rory. Anstruther-Jones,” he said.
Ah-ha. The one she had to handle with caution. “Good to meet you, Rory,” she replied.
Tall as he was, Rory presumably managed somehow. She observed too that he’d blow-dried his blond hair. He leaned forward, across Don, extending long, slender fingers to clasp her hand. She registered the slippery quality of his touch. She was also struck by the curious unreality of his porcelain complexion.
He drew back into his seat. “I suffer from a thorn in the flesh. Won’t tell you what it is right now. You can guess as you get to know me a bit better. Do I suffer from migraines? Am I epileptic? Or gay, perhaps? I don’t have one leg shorter than the other. You can see I’m not a dwarf. So, each time we meet, you might get a little closer to guessing my problem.”
“Well, Rory, what can I say to that?” murmured Juliet. She was unsure how she felt about his remarks; certainly, she didn’t trust him. But there again, neither did she trust anyone else.
Rory lowered his voice to a confidential whisper and again leaned across Don. “You’d be surprised what fits in with Craig’s teachings.”
She raised her eyebrows, careful not to commit herself.
“Since I arrived here,” Rory went on, ignoring her caution, “many strange things have happened to me. Now, I think that has to do with the effect of being in Gloucestershire, which is renowned for occult activity.”
“Planning to bite her, are you?” said James from across the table.
Craig silenced him with a look. “What kind of occult activity, Rory?” he prompted.
“Such as,” persisted Rory, “the fact that things started going wrong for me as soon as I arrived. You remember?”
“I do. Very well,” said Craig cryptically.
“Last June it was. You told me you had no room.”
“Not true. I simply asked you to commit to a short fixed-term stay.”
Juliet looked from one to the other, alerted. Why had Craig not been keen for him to stay longer? Clearly Rory had ignored this and stayed on anyway. If Craig wasn’t happy about it, why hadn’t he chucked Rory out? She didn’t doubt the strength of his personality. She found it difficult to believe he wouldn’t deal firmly with wastrels and hangers-on, if such Rory was. But for now, the matter must remain a mystery.
She turned back to Rory, who continued unperturbed. “I remember opening my mouth to give Craig a piece of my mind, and my words came out all wrong. I was jabbering incoherently.”
“Yes,” said Craig.
A sharp silence fell. James applied butter to his bread roll in short, terse strokes of the knife.
“Can you account for that experience of Rory’s, Craig?” asked Juliet.