London 1929, a society sticking to the rigid values of the past, but only on the surface.
Such charm he had, Leonard. Such charm, elegance too. Poise, like a woman. He’d observe out of the corner of his eyes; feline, almost feminine. Everyone liked Leonard, even when the opinions expressed could be cutting. Acute observation.
People believed him blessed, and sought out his company at parties. He was rarely alone. Despite advances from both men and women, Adele was the only woman Leonard took home, but they weren’t lovers.
Leonard and Adele made a charming couple, and in other circumstances would have been perfect for one another.
It made no difference to the way they felt.
Adele was the type of woman who gave too much, too early and subsequently became damaged. She had been married twice, to men on different continents. She and Leonard thrown together over the years; he soothing with kind words, an acid wit, while displaying the protective qualities of a brother. She, a kind of substitute mother or sister, while acting as wife/lover for the sake of appearances.
Leonard was a rock for her to cling to in a wild and tempestuous sea.
The pair became a ‘celebrated’ couple artfully gaining entry into the best salons in town. Leonard the swanky feline, Adele the gracious and mysterious vamp. They suited one another to a tee, best described by some wit as ‘comparable to champagne and orange juice’.
Neither had money, or at least not much.
Adele had jewellery, a little alimony and what she was ‘given’; Leonard lived on an allowance from his father’s estate, plus a small portfolio of stocks and shares.
People in the know advised when to buy, and importantly when to sell. If the tip came from inside circles, it wasn’t criminal in the broad sense, simply the way it was ‘done’ by those in the know.
Leonard’s mother kept a flat, above a Gentlemen’s Barber shop in Shaftesbury Avenue. It was here Leonard and Adele had set up home. The flat providing an excellent prospect of London life, which Leonard after climbing out of bed spent his afternoons in observing, never tiring of the variety of comings and goings of ordinary people, from whom in general he maintained a strict distance.
Adele’s habit was to remain in bed until after two, before taking a bath and doing her hair. She would telephone friends, pay visits or go shopping. It was rare for Leonard and Adele to have nowhere to go in the evening, with parties in abundance, events or theatrical plays or musicals to attend.
Among his other talents, Leonard played piano pretty well and could often be found in the smoke filled dens of a variety of jazz clubs. Most were low class establishments, but Leonard’s patronage assured a good crowd of well-heeled clients. Leonard loved the atmosphere and camaraderie to be obtained in the clubs, which was different to that found in more cultured establishments.
Adele preferred a sedate environment, such as a classy hotel or restaurant. It was here she met friends or conducted assignations of her own devising. Mostly she was attended on by the type of man who preferred their affairs to remain discreet.
Adele’s history meant she rarely engaged with a man in a meaningful way, preferring to tantalise by promising more than she was likely to deliver. And yet, the men continued to pursue, plying her with gifts as she dandled promises as if they were the keys to her heart. It was a game to Adele, who refused to be seduced, unless able to extricate herself without harm afterwards.
Everything was proceeding swimmingly for the couple until following a session in a jazz club Leonard had the misfortune to fall in love. The boy in question was a struggling musician Leonard became besotted with.
Adele had never witnessed Leonard in such a state before. Shocked at his outward appearance. Leonard refused to shave, and wouldn’t leave the flat. He was so wound up by what was denied him. He quickly grew morose and became utterly flat in spirit.
The boy had refused Leonard’s advances at the outset, and Leonard felt thwarted. Adele had little idea how to rouse her erstwhile companion from the slump into which he’d fallen, until one evening (and despite previous misgivings) she went in search of the person who’d wreaked such havoc upon her best friend.
The boy was certainly attractive, carrying himself in a way that interested Adele from the outset. She’d had numerous lovers down the years, but this boy remained too young for that consideration. Nevertheless a plot evolved during the course of the evening, as she watched and listened to the young man go through his performance.
Introduced by mutual friends, she soon discovered the boy was named Charles Henry, and although at first Adele had little idea how she would manage events, found it easy enough to gain his interest.
In her heart she needed to find a way to involve Leonard, and her instinct was to create a cosy ménage a trois whereby she could give back something to the one man who mattered most to her.
Adele knew the possibility of failure would wreak havoc upon the relationship she’d created with Leonard, but she remained a romantic at heart, knowing mighty oaks from small acorns can grow.
Without alerting Leonard to her plan Adele began to conduct her trysts with Charles Henry in secret. He was an unsophisticated lover, unskilled in the arts she placed before him, and by an unspoken consensus the affair was largely conducted in a series of small hotels.
The one person Adele managed to overlook in her planning was the boy himself. Charles Henry rarely spoke about his circumstances, and if he did Adele refused to listen. He was a pawn in the game after all, and she needed to find a way to turn proceedings in the direction she needed for it to go.
If Adele had delved into the boy’s background, she might have discovered Charles Henry was actually married. One of those hasty marriages, conducted in the heat of private passion, but when the passion cooled both parties discovered they didn’t love one another. Despite this, the wife had hung on with grim determination, refusing to allow a divorce as both were Catholic.
Norma retained a fiery temper coupled with an unforgiving nature. Charles Henry was not bright enough to hide the affair from her, and she took to following him to discover who her rival was, shocked to discover him in the arms of a much older woman.
A day came when Leonard was persuaded to visit his ailing mother who lived deep in the Sussex countryside. Taking advantage of Leonard’s absence Adele invited Charles Henry to the flat, primarily to take him off balance. For weeks she had given him the impression the arrangement could be made permanent; what that meant in principle remained undisclosed. From Adele’s perspective it would consist largely of a ploy to put him at a disadvantage.
For some time she had been experimenting with a cocktail of drink and drugs, hoping to create the right medium by which the boy might be made to entertain the threesome she had in mind.
It wasn’t easy; the boy retained scruples, and his time among other jazz musicians had taught him to stay away from substances that could take over his life.
Adele’s back up plan was to simply make him insensible, to be discovered by Leonard on his return.
It would be up to Leonard to take advantage of the young man’s predicament. In retrospect the plan was faulty from the outset, but Adele had been through enough situations herself where men had taken advantage of her while drunk or in a drug induced state. She saw little difference in what was proposed for Charles Henry.
Everything appeared to be going well until Adele heard a knock at the door, and believing Leonard to have forgotten his key, rose from the bed to open the door.
Norma stood there, cold eyed and determined, and before Adele had time to speak pepper was thrown in her face. Adele screamed in shock and fury, before being struck by a furious fist.
With eyes blinded by pepper, and head spinning. Adele listened in panic to the sounds emerging from the bedroom beyond.
The intruder was soon gone, clattering down the stairs as Adele ran water to wash eyes and face. Opening the door into the bedroom, Adele felt sick. Charles Henry was sprawled across the bed, the side of his head caved in, with blood splattered across sheets and pillows.
When Leonard returned he found Adele weeping over the body of the young man. Getting sense out of the woman proved impossible. His own distress equally immeasurable as he gazed upon the body of Charles Henry. And slowly distress turned to anger as he realised Adele was responsible, either directly or indirectly. Their friendship irretrievably betrayed.
Leonard was no friend to the police, aware of their methods when it came to investigation. He knew the assumptions to be made in a situation like this, and it terrified him to be implicated in a murder which, without question, would be reported far and wide by scandal hungry journalists.
Leonard spoke to Adele in urgent tones. “Did you kill him?”
“No. A woman broke in.” Adele described the ordeal through suppressed sobs, but Leonard felt little sympathy towards her.
“A woman – what woman? Why?”
Adele could not answer. Leonard saw only that everything they had tried to be for one another was sure to be held against them, with the future not only uncertain but unobtainable.
“Why him – why Charles…?”
“I did it for you.” Adele responded, attempting to explain. It made no difference, her words sounded hollow and false. The pretext for her actions vanishing before her eyes. “I’m sorry.” She concluded.
“I’m sure you are….” Leonard stared down at the body lying there.
Over the years Leonard had acquired any number of dubious acquaintances, and it was to one of these he now turned for assistance. Adele was placed into a taxi and sent to a reliable friend, who would say nothing if questioned.
By the time she returned all evidence of the killing had been removed, and the clean-up was complete.
Adele examined the empty flat, never once asking how Leonard had arranged everything. The events of the day had reduced her to a respectful silence as she watched Leonard make up the bed with fresh sheets.
“I can’t sleep here.” She remarked.
“Take my room instead.” Leonard insisted, adding in an undertone. “I won’t sleep.”
“Can’t we leave London? I’ve friends in Monte Carlo, or New York.” Adele suggested.
“You go. This is my flat, and I won’t be hounded out of it.”
Adele had rarely seen Leonard behave as bravely. It cheered her immensely. On the surface Leonard remained calm, but underneath he felt deeply shocked. Despite appearances he found it hard to dissipate the anger and frustration he had experienced at discovering Charles Henry to be Adele’s lover, and not his. And despite her sordid explanation he was not prepared to forgive.
It meant a rift in the core relationship, although outwardly no one would have suspected a change had taken place.
Leonard and Adele remained out of circulation until an adequate amount of time passed, during which they realised no suspicion or blame was likely to fall upon them from outside their circle.
And when, eventually, Leonard’s ailing mother died he inherited the property in London together with the family home in Sussex. Surprisingly, for some, taking this opportunity to quit London altogether and opt for a quiet life in the countryside.
By then Adele had begun the search for a third husband. Discovering the right man among her cohort of admirers. An American by birth, Dan Steele took her to New York where they set up home.
Adele, not exactly running from the scene of the crime, but glad to escape the implications.
Charm can give the lie to the most unlikely of situations, and Leonard being a past master at the art was able to smooth events with a smile, enjoying a different kind of celebrity among the County set he met in deepest Sussex.
Leonard became a respectable pillar of the establishment, appointed Justice of the Peace, and an Alderman. And to those who came to know him in later life they would never have guessed at the pain rooted at his heart. The actions of a single evening had destroyed far more than mere infatuation. Leonard paid for the crime perpetually, and the consequences it threw up gave him little respite right through until the bitter end.
Leonard managed to hide the worst from the public gaze, but as a man who’d been forced to survive in a harsh climate from a young age, it gave little satisfaction to know the secret was safe, or that he himself might never fall under suspicion of being involved in covering up a murder.
People liked Leonard for who he was, able to admire his wit and charm “Leonard is such a good fellow. A real charmer.” And he was, outwardly, but how bitter he remained inside. As a consequence Adele and he never spoke again, both fading into obscurity without the forgiveness or apology each needed from the other.
Banner Image: By Stockholm Transport Museum, Photo Nr: 2076-P13 (Buses in London 1927) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons