Excerpt from A Woman of Impulse
"Hal Esterbrooke was a good man, a kind man a loving father and husband..."
He was? I shifted my backside on the hard surface of the pew and gaped at the young vicar with the curly blond hair who couldn't possibly be talking about the man I had once loved with youthful passion.
"Hal was a god-faring man who served the Lord humbly and with joy..."
Hal did? Was the vicar crazy? The Hal Esterbrooke I knew had never served anyone. Oh, he might have poured the odd drink or two for guests when he was playing host, but there had never been anything remotely humble about that. Hal didn't understand humble, considered it the last refuge of the weak and stupid.
"Those of us left to mourn him must take comfort from the knowledge that Hal, having left behind the sins of this mortal world, has gone on to a happier reward..."
The woman beside me sneezed. I felt like choking. Hal had been devoted to the sins of this mortal world. He wouldn't have considered heaven a reward unless it came stocked with his favorite Cuban cigars and a cupboard full of single malt whisky—not to mention a selection of willing women.
"Hal will be sorely missed by us all, and in particular by his loving wife and family..."
Well, yes. He probably would. After all, Bedelia Esterbrooke had succeeded where I hadn't. She had married Hal. But I had reason to know that marriage hadn't changed him much—especially since he'd entered into it under duress.
"And now let us join together in prayer for the soul of Hal Esterbrooke, a man we all knew and loved..."
Except that obviously somebody hadn't known him at all—and I didn't believe that somebody was me. Which meant that either I was at the wrong funeral or I was witnessing the biggest whitewash job since Adam had blamed Eve for offering him the apple. There was one other alternative, of course, but surely that wasn't possible.
It had been announced in the paper that the well-known columnist and critic had died suddenly near his country house in Dorset. The paper hadn't seemed sure how he'd died, but I'd assumed a heart attack—probably brought on by over-indulgence in those sins he was supposedly glad to have left behind.
I shifted my position again. Why were church pews always so damnably hard? Even the ones in nice little stone country churches like this one. The woman beside me was blowing her nose. I wondered vaguely why I didn't feel like crying. Hal and I had been together, off and on, for over two years. I ought to feel something, had felt something when I'd first learned of his death. Yet all I retained of that moment now was an inability to believe that the man the vicar was praising so effusively was Hal.
"Mrs. Esterbrooke has asked me to say that tea will be served in the garden at Averley House for any of Hal's friends who would like to join her and the children. And now let us pray..."
I bowed my head but I couldn't pray. Not for Hal who, as far as I knew, had never prayed for anyone in his life. Not even, to be fair, for himself.
Outside the church, the sober congregation hovered among the gravestones as they waited to offer sympathy to the bereaved.
"So sad... such a young man... poor Bedelia and the children...," the hushed voices murmured around me. I studied the faces beneath the conservative summer hats. All serious, not a glimmer of doubt or cynisism among the lot. They really had come to mourn the passing of one of the most self-centred, acid-tongued, sexiest men I had ever known—in the biblical as well as other senses.