George Beats the Curse

George Beats the Curse

At first, only a few spots of scarlet seeped to the surface of her blue silk blouse as she lay mortally wounded in George’s arms. The spots rapidly became a torrent, colouring Bianca’s top to the hue of her wonderful red lips. Tentacles of nausea crept through George’s stomach forcing upwards into his throat as he pulled the boning knife from her chest. The sound of Bianca’s body sucking air through the gaping bloody hole shook George to his soul.

‘I put a curse on you George for the wrong you have done me. Soon you will die a painful death screaming for me to release you.’

A tear escaped from the corner of her eye; taking with it the life from those brown eyes that had captured George’s heart five years before, beneath the Seville sun. Even the lustre of her jet-black hair imprisoned in a bun beside a red camellia lost its shine.

Shadows from a bitter February sun on the yellow and red rose patterned wallpaper gave way to twilight; and then the black night, bringing with it the dark despair of his loss. A grandfather clock in the corner of the hallway broke the sombre silence with its Westminster chime of midnight.

George ignored the darts of pain shooting through the cramped muscles of his skinny body as he crawled to the light switch. High in the vaulted ceiling a crystal chandelier that once adorned the boudoir of the Empress Josephine threw its twenty-bulb luminescence onto the sanguinary scene. Mr McIvor, Bianca’s spiteful cat, stared accusingly down at him through the balustrade of the minstrels’ gallery.

The peaty warmth of single malt brought some semblance of sanity and pain relief to George. He sank into his leather armchair in the yellow painted drawing room, with its blood-red velvet curtains, twisting the glass of amber liquid in his shaking hand. Antique Spanish furniture, so lovingly gathered from Harrods by Bianca, surrounded him as he brooded on what to do next.

Should he call the police and tell them it was an accident? No. They wouldn’t believe him. They would uncover a motive, jealousy. Should he bury her in his two-acre garden? No. The gardener or a fox might dig her up. Could he dump her in the Thames that bordered his Berkshire mansion? No. She may float. Anyway, she was six feet tall, and he couldn’t carry her far.

If someone discovered the body, he would hang. Neither his social position nor his distinguished war record would save him.

There could only be one solution; the zinc bath in the cellar and a saw. He had the time. Mrs Hardcastle, his housekeeper, was visiting her sister in Manchester for a few days.

George fortified himself with another whisky and turned on the wireless. Funeral music for the death of King George V1 broke the eerie stillness.

His thoughts drifted back five years before, to his travels in Spain.


A guitar and the clacking of castanets beckoned the curious George. Through the bougainvillea scented heat of a July evening, he followed the sound along the reed banks of the Rio Guadalquivir to an orange grove. Brightly painted horse-drawn caravans stood in a clearing among the trees. The mouth-watering aroma from three rabbits roasting on a rickety rack drew him closer.

A rainbow of women in their red and yellow skirts and men in black leather opened their ranks to let him sit among them on the sun-dried planks and boxes. The pungent smell of horses and hard work wafted from the men, cut through with lavender from the women. Feeling slightly overdressed, George removed his blue tie and linen jacket, rolled up his white shirtsleeves and crossed his cavalry twilled legs.

And then he saw her. Carmenesque, this beautiful creature twirled and twisted her long slim body inside her scarlet skirt, in time with the guitar, clapping her castanets above her head in a beat that almost threw George’s heart out of rhythm. With a red rose clenched in her ivory teeth, her unfettered long black hair tossing first one way and then the other, her high cheek boned face flushed with passion, she came to George. Beads of perspiration ran down her perfect neck from under gold earrings big enough for a parrot to perch. It trickled through an amber necklace the colour of her skin and disappeared into a yellow chemise, lost in a paradise of which George could only dream.

Her soft hand slid through his blond hair making a little curl, across his pale forehead and along his nose. His lips parted as a finger touched the pencil thin moustache and entered his mouth. A red painted fingernail probed the small gap between his two front teeth.

‘You English?’


‘I like English. You like Spanish.’

‘Oh yes. I like Spanish.’

‘I called Bianca. Today I twenty-one. What you give me for my birthday?’

‘I give you, my heart.’ George wasn’t joking.

‘You make me laugh. I like.’

The sangria flowed, the rabbits devoured, all but Bianca and George fell asleep under a canopy of a billion stars and a lullaby of cicadas.

They danced, they laughed, they whispered. He talked of the flowers he had seen in the jungles of Asia during the war.

‘Someday I learn all about flowers,’ said Bianca. ‘Here you keep.’

She placed her rose in George’s open palm closing his manicured fingers over the long stem. George thought his heart would burst.

Gently she led him to a red and yellow painted caravan set a little way from the others. Flowers of every colour imaginable bedecked her home, inside and out, hanging in old pans, boots and even a chamber pot. George, ten years older than this Spanish beauty and world travelled, thought he knew it all. That night, Bianca taught him more about love than he ever imagined existed.

The early morning rays of summer sun crept through the open window filling the caravan with the glow of a Seville orange. George stirred. Bianca slept. The rise and fall of a few wisps of hair in his lover’s gentle breathing captivated him. On a small table lay the rose. The heat of the night had faded the bloom; lingering still was its sweet perfume.

Carefully climbing from the small bed, he pulled on his trousers and turned to gaze once more at his good fortune. The crimson stain on the white cotton sheet bore witness that Bianca was not what she had seemed.

Stepping outside the caravan, confused and with pangs of guilt deep inside, he found himself looking down both barrels of a shotgun. At the other end stood Bianca’s grey moustachioed father under a black hat, his weather-beaten face carved by fifty Andalusia summers.

‘You dishonour my daughter and me, English.’ The reek of stale tobacco, garlic and sangria leapt the length of the gun to lodge in the nostrils of a terrified George. ‘Now walk English.’

Deeper into the orange grove the father prodded him.

‘Kneel English.’

George tried desperately to remember a prayer from his Eton schooldays as he knelt in the dusty earth. A man on the brink of death looks upwards for salvation; George learned that as the shells burst around him in Burma. All George saw in that Spanish sky so blue and clear was an imperial eagle floating in a thermal. Frogs on the riverbank called their friends to come to the execution. Peeking out nervously from behind their green shields, sparrows chattered like monkeys. He swore he heard the footsteps of an ant as it carried a leaf past his trembling knees. Oh, perfidious fortune, thought George, to take my life on such a day. The shotgun pressed hard against his right temple, and he wasn’t sure if his bladder would hold out long enough for him to die with dignity.

‘You married, English?’

‘No sir.’

‘What’s your name English? I want to know who I shoot.’

‘George Sanders sir.’

‘You have two choices George Sanders. The first, you may take my daughter’s hand in marriage.’

‘What’s the second?’

A thumb, cracked from hard labour and stained yellow with tobacco, cocked the hammers.

‘No Papa. No Papa. I love this English.’ Like an angel on the wing, Bianca burst through the trees scattering flocks of sparrows skyward.

‘Please may I take your daughter’s hand in marriage?’

The wedding in a small whitewashed Spanish church was simple, legal, and devoid of any friends or family on George’s side. He still felt the humiliating jeers from his new in-laws when his bride stooped to kiss him at the altar.


A sharp pain in his right thigh dragged him from his reverie. Looking down he saw the claws at the end of two black legs set in his leg. Mr McIvor withdrew and slunk away with thoughts that George couldn’t even guess. He would have to kill the cat.

Bianca’s camellias, on the far side of the French doors in the conservatory, turned their red flowers away from George’s gaze. How she had loved those plants. They were the start of the trouble. With the cat gone and the whisky taking effect, George drifted back into memories of two years before.


‘George, this is Sebastian. He’s going to teach me about horticulture.’

‘Oh, yes?’

George didn’t like the look of him. Standing taller than even Bianca, his rippling tanned muscles strained the short cotton sleeves of his white shirt. Sebastian, with his slicked black hair, looked more like one of her Spanish gypsies than a horticulturalist. He came to see her once a week on Monday afternoons until two months ago. They would spend hours down in the potting shed or in the greenhouse speaking in Spanish and laughing. Every Thursday, she would take the Daimler and say she was going to Kew Gardens. Her mind always seemed elsewhere. It drove George mad with jealousy.

When Sebastian stopped coming and she didn’t go out on Thursdays anymore Bianca settled down to her old self. Gone were the days when she would shut herself away in her bedroom reading books. The spark of their love, reduced to an ember for two years, soon blazed back into the full glory of a forest fire.

George didn’t say anything about Sebastian or the trips to Kew when they stopped. He thought it better not to raise the subject of her affair for a couple of months. Bianca didn’t take kindly to questions if she was angry or upset. She had been loving and considerate recently and, most importantly, calm so his confidence in broaching the subject of Sebastian was now high. A lunch of Bianca’s special paella with rabbit and a glass of Rioja had made him mellow; now he watched her clear the dining table. As they stood in the kitchen among the pots and pans, George gazed into Bianca’s beautiful brown eyes and his love for her new no bounds. This was the moment.

‘I forgive you my darling for your affair with Sebastian. I know he was only a travelling gypsy. But it’s all right now. I do forgive you.’

Framed in the doorway of the hall, George ducked the bottle of gold top that came hurtling towards him to smash above his head. A carafe of Rioja exploded against the blue Moorish tiles on the wall to his left, spending its blood-red passion in swirls among the white innocence of the milk. Instinct, and five years of marriage to Bianca, told him to run when she picked up the boning knife.


George woke up. The pale winter sun of morning tip toed its way into the drawing room reflecting a sepia haze as it hit the brass fireplace. An empty whisky glass lay on its side on the Persian carpet where it had fallen by his foot. Thank God it was all just a terrible dream, he thought. He didn’t want to live in a world without Bianca.

George needed a cup of tea and headed for the kitchen. In the hall, cold and lifeless, his Bianca lay on the marble floor. It would have to be the zinc bath, the cellar, and a saw.

Outside the watery sun vanished, overtaken by a wind whistling through the woods, driving rain hard against the front door.

George knew he had to think like a murderer. If he could pick up enough acid from one or more of his five factories, without raising any of his workers’ suspicions, it would save him from the gruesome task. He would dissolve, not dismember, his wife. But first he had to get her into the cellar.

The heavy oak door to the cellar stood facing the front door, just a few feet from where she lay. The blood helped George slide her to the unlocked cellar door. He pulled it towards him and switched on the light with his trembling hand. His knees buckled as he tried a fireman’s lift. With a Herculean effort George managed to keep her over his shoulder. The camellia in her hair fell to the wooden stairs bouncing sideways to plummet through the banister and land far below in that dank subterranean place. With a pain in his heart and an even bigger one in his back he turned to descend to what he knew would be his Hades. How George wished for the knife that had taken Bianca to have taken him instead.

Outside, a freak gust of wind forced open the front door. The sudden pressure threw the heavy cellar door shut knocking George off his feet to tumble down the stairs, landing with a thump on his back. Bianca followed, coming to rest across his chest, face down in the dust of the musty cellar.

The pressure from the weight of Bianca’s body emptied his lungs. He tried to move but she didn’t budge and a sharp pain in his back sent shockwaves through his arms. He couldn’t feel or move his legs. In the war he had seen men with back injuries. They often caused paralysis. If he didn’t get her off him, he knew suffocation would take his life.

Was this the curse of Bianca? Would he die a painful death screaming for her to release him? No. Calmness overtook George. If he was dying, locked in the arms of Bianca was a fitting end. George had beaten the curse. He would simply expire.

In his last moments, his thoughts returned to Bianca’s cruel death.

He saw her running from the kitchen with the boning knife in her hand, skid on the spilt milk and wine and fall on the knife. Oh, the fickle the finger of fate, thought George.

His soul crossed over.


Detective Inspector Blake took a brown envelope from the postman. Hanging his brown trilby next to his trench coat on the hallstand, the policeman went through to the drawing room, sat in George’s armchair, lit his pipe, and slit open the envelope.

Dear Lady Sanders,

It is with immense pleasure that I enclose your Diploma in Horticultural Studies with Distinction.

Dr Sebastian Hernandez PhD., your personal tutor, also sends his congratulations.

Dr Hernandez’s wife, Isabella, has asked me to pass on to you her most sincere gratitude for the trouble you took every Thursday for two years to travel to Kew to help her with her research. Her book, ‘The Flora and Fauna of Southern Spain’ comes out next month.

Please accept my further congratulations on your work with camellias. The camellia Bianca, named in your honour, stands testament to your outstanding achievements.

Yours sincerely,

Professor Jerome St John. Head of Horticultural Studies.

On a carved wooden table in the drawing room, the detective placed the letter and diploma next to a faded rose inside a glass case.

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