M.C. Beaton

Death of a Prankster

Hamish Macbeth #7

1992, EN

? Death of a Prankster ?


Full well they laughed, with counterfeited glee,

At all his jokes, for many a joke had he;

—Oliver Goldsmith

Money, or the prospect of it, makes hope spring eternal, and so that was probably the reason a small group of people were packing their bags to travel to the very north of Britain to stay with Mr Trent.

Without that lure of money, it was doubtful whether any of them would have decided to go. But Mr Andrew Trent had written to his relatives to say that he did not have long to live. Mr Trent was a practical joker and, although in his eighties, age had not dimmed his zest for the apple-pie bed or the whoopee cushion. He was a widower, his wife having died some twenty years before, driven to her grave, said his relatives, by her husband’s relentless jokes. His home, Arrat House, outside the village of Arrat in Sutherland, was difficult to get to. The thought of his practical jokes made all his relatives shudder. Possibly that was the reason they all lived in the south of England, as far away from the old man as they could get. But now he said he was dying, and with all that money at stake, the long journey and the prospect of an uncomfortable and possibly humiliating stay must be faced. Of course, the old man could be joking…

“I’ll kill him if he is,” said his daughter Angela. Angela prided herself on plain-speaking. She was a tall, ungainly woman with iron-grey hair and an incipient moustache. She wore mannish clothes and had a booming voice. She and her sister Betty were both in their fifties. They had never married, although both had been fairly good-looking in their youth. Rumour had it that their father’s dreadful jokes had driven any prospective suitors away. They lived together in London, as they had done for quite some time, and detested each other but were bound to each other by rivalry and habit. Betty was small and quiet and affected a certain shy timidity but seemed expert at coming out with sharp and wounding remarks.

“You’re always saying that,” said Betty, “and yet when you see him, you positively cringe.”

“No, I don’t. Stop being spiteful. Have you seen my long underwear?”

“You won’t need it. Dad has good central heating.”

“Pah!” said Angela, finding and holding up a long pair of woollen underpants. “You don’t think I’m going to stay locked up in that house with him all day long. I want to get out and take some brisk walks. Do you think he’s really ill?”

Betty put her head on one side and pursed her lips. “Good chance. The writing was shaky, not like his usual style.”

“Then that’s that,” said Angela. “Can’t risk not going. What if he left it all to that wimp of a son of his?”


The wimp referred to was Mr Trent’s adopted son Charles. He was in his late twenties, a very beautiful man with golden curls, blue eyes and an athlete’s body. His short life of failure did not seem to have affected his sunny good nature. He had done comparatively well at school, but everything had gone downhill from then on. He had lasted only one term at Oxford University before dropping out. After that, he had drifted from one job to the other. He always plunged into each job with great enthusiasm, an enthusiasm which only lasted a few months. He had been a photographer, an insurance salesman, an advertising copy-writer, among other things, and was now selling Lifehanz vitamins to shops around the country. He too was packing, while his fiancee, Titchy Gold, dithered about his studio flat in bra and panties. Titchy Gold was assumed to be a stage name, although she protested in a wide- eyed way that she had been christened that name by her parents, who had been Shakespearian actors, although what that had to do with it nobody knew, the great Bard not having run to names like Titchy. She was a television actress, currently playing the part of a floozie in a popular crime series. Marilyn Monroe was her idol, and as Titchy was blonde and busty, she did her best to look like her.

Charles had read his father’s letter out to her. “Is he really very rich?” asked Titchy.

“Rolling in it,” said Charles. “Masses and masses of dosh, lolly and gelt, my sweet.”

“He’ll leave it to you,” said Titchy. “Bound to. You’re his son. He’ll probably fall for me. Old men always do.”

“I don’t know,” said Charles. “He really despises me. Says I’m shiftless. Might leave it to his brother.”


Mr Andrew Trent’s brother Jeffrey, a stockbroker, was a thin, spare, fastidious man. He was fifteen years younger than his brother, and his wife, Jan, was twenty years younger than he, a second marriage, Jeffrey having divorced the first Mrs Trent. Jan was a cool, elegant, bitchy woman. “He’s got to die sometime,” said Jan. “I mean, living up there is enough to kill anyone. Do you think he’ll leave you anything? I mean, he must, surely.”

“He might leave it all to Charles.”

“He won’t,” said Jan firmly. “He loathes that boy. Now Paul is a different matter. I told Paul to pack his bags and report to the bedside.”

“He won’t leave Paul anything,” exclaimed Jeffrey.

“He might,” said Jan. “Paul is everything Charles is not.” Paul was her son by her first marriage.


A day later, Paul was standing in front of the departure board at Ring’s Cross station, waiting to board the train to Inverness. He was an owlish young man of twenty-five who was a research assistant at some atomic establishment in Surrey. He was very precise and correct, three–piece suit and horn-rimmed glasses. His mother did not know he was bringing a girlfriend with him, which was just as well because Melissa Clarke was just the sort of girl the chilly Jan could be guaranteed to loathe. Her appearance was vaguely punk – black leather jacket and trousers, heavy white make-up, purple eye-shadow, white lips, and earrings that looked like instruments of torture. She was awed at the idea of a country-house visit and so had a slight sneer on her face which she hoped disguised the fact that she felt extremely gauche and wished she had worn more conventional clothes. Also her hair was dyed bright pink, hacked in shreds and backcombed. She worked with Paul in the research establishment. She had not even known he fancied her. This peculiar trip north was their first date.

He had marched up to her in the lab, sweating lightly, and had simply asked her if she could get leave and come with him. Intrigued, she had accepted. She liked Paul. He had only seen her before in sensible blouse and skirt and white lab coat. She had reverted to the fashion of her student days for the journey. She cursed that camp hairdresser who had talked her into the pink fright which was what was left of her once thick and glossy brown hair. She felt near to tears and wanted to run away and the only thing that stopped her running was the fact that Paul appeared genuinely grateful for her support and did not even seem to have noticed her new appearance.

“You must be very fond of him,” she volunteered.

“Who?” asked Paul vaguely.

“Why, Mr Trent, the one we’re going to visit,” said Melissa.

“Oh, him! I hate him. I hope he’s dead when we get there. I’m only going to please my mother. She’s going, of course.”

“Your mother!” squeaked Melissa in alarm. “You didn’t say anything about your mother. My God, why didn’t you tell me?”

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