Wednesday, 16 December 2020

The Connector by Elizabeth St John - a story inspired by a song

Read the Story
Guess The Song

here's a clue!


The man in the Brioni dinner jacket sitting to Julia’s left in the White House State Dining Room picked up the exquisite Baccarat glass and gently swirled the burgundy before sniffing, sipping and savoring the taste. 
    “Of course,” he remarked, his Boston accent draping like a Burberry merino blanket over the yipping of the southern belle on her right, “in European circles, the legacy of the Romanovs continues to confound Russian nationalism. The durable impact of the Tsar and his family’s execution was not anticipated at the time.” 
    He held the crystal goblet to the flame of a slender ivory candle that formed the elegant centerpiece, warming the wine to the indignant concern of the butler hovering nearby. A gold signet ring engraved with a crown flashed from the New Englander’s finger. 
    “Not quite the right temperature,” he explained almost apologetically, a dimple flashing in his cheek, then further added, “They would have actually been far more useful left alive.”
    “You treat world-changing events with such nonchalance.” Julia found his arrogance irritating. He sounded like another one of her 20th century history students at Merton College, where nihilism was de-rigueur.      “Perhaps an acknowledgement of the heartbreak of a family slaughtered, the brutality of the attempted eradication of their memory should be considered.”
    “And continue the ‘Anastasia survived’ myth?” he replied. “We know as historians to dismiss the rumors that circulated for fifty years that she escaped. They were all wiped out. Convenient for Lenin. Tragic, yes, for that beautiful family. Five minutes of violence and the entire Russian empire was effectively toppled.”     
     The other diners fell silent as the man’s words reverberated around their circle of eight. Julia glanced at the head table, where the new Russian president sat next to the German chancellor and her husband. Another accord signed this past week had increased economic and cultural ties tenfold, leaving the United Kingdom beached on the distant shores of Europe. 
    She pulled her attention back to the conversation. Was he really that cold-hearted? Or simply stating facts? “And that changed the political axis, allowed the rise of Hitler?” 
     This dinner was proving to be more a lecture in 20th century history than the social occasion she’d anticipated when Julia had first received her invitation from the British Embassy.
    “Well, the focus of Lenin and subsequently Stalin was completely on building a new state, not destroying an old corrupt and declining one.” The man smiled, suddenly breaking the tension. “We could debate the new world order all night. But we are here to enjoy ourselves, right?” He waved away the butler and refilled her glass himself. “A Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru should not go unnoticed. Fortunately, the White House sommelier went off-piste and didn’t choose wine from the homelands of our honored guests.” 
    A mock grimace and he had the table laughing. She joined in, despite herself. 
    “Jack Bradshawe, by the way.” He was a chameleon. And charming. 
    “Julia Beauchamp,” she replied. 
    “English?” He quirked his head, full focus now on her. 
    “Yes. I’m currently working at the Folger on a research project for CEMS.” 
      “Ah. And let me guess. Merton.” He smiled, the dimple reappearing. His dark blue eyes crinkled at the corners, face attractively tanned from skiing or yachting, or an exotic southern hemisphere sun. “You’re a long way from home, Julia.”
    He said her name with a caress, extending the first vowel. It reminded her of the way Paulo spoke, caught her off guard. She had thought she was over that lost love.


     She pulled her attention back to his question. “A first folio research grant brought me to Washington. But I’m surprised you’ve heard of the Centre for Early Modern Studies.”
    “I’m one of those irritatingly enthusiastic Rhodes Scholars, I’m afraid,” he replied with a grin. His hair was as blue-black as a raven’s wing, just a little too long for business, a little too short for Bohemian. “And you’re not just a researcher. You’re a world expert on seventeenth century women’s literature. And their secret spy network.”
    Julia shrugged. “It’s not a field that gets much competition.” She looked at him curiously. He could have been no more than in his early forties, and clearly not a diplomat. “What field did you study at Oxford?”
     “History and Politics at Christ Church. And then I stayed in England and took a doctorate at LSE.”
     “Interesting combination.” 
  Jack responded, leaning closer towards her and dropping his voice, “Economics is equally an instrument of social change as culture or politics or religion,” 
    “Not in every society.” Julia couldn’t decide if she was still irritated or becoming intrigued. She was leaning toward the latter. She brushed back her fringe, which always flopped into her eyes, despite her best efforts to construct a sophisticated chignon. As she did so, she caught his amused glance and flushed. “And sometimes all three together. Look at what the Kennedy assassinations did to America in the sixties.”
     “The end of Camelot?” Jack’s tone was mock-wistful. “The betrayal of the sanctity of kings? Do you believe in the quest for the holy grail, Julia?”
    “Perhaps the end of innocence,” she replied. “And holy wars are a whole different paradigm.”
    “Ah. One man’s crusade is another man’s holy war. Like Bin Laden’s jihad against the US that we disingenuously call 9-11?” Jack sipped his wine again and looked reflective.
      “A jihad? Or evangelism?”
    A veil dropped across Jack’s eyes. “Is there a difference? I worked at Kleinwort Benson on Wall Street in 2001. I saw the plane hit Tower Two. I watched the trapped office workers jump. I joined the exodus to Harlem as we silently walked uptown through the ashes.” 
     “I’m sorry.” Julia bit her lip. 
  “Don’t be. Sometimes being an eyewitness to history changes the perspective of centuries. It’s back to our early conversation. Is history altered by one cataclysmic event or long, slow reform?”
     “Reform? Or revolution? Either can be reversed, perhaps.” Julia poked at a thought that was distracting her. Revolution raised it in her consciousness. Something about his name was familiar, and yet she couldn’t place it.
    He watched her closely, as if willing her to connect her thoughts. “You are thinking of England’s experiment with a Republic, perhaps? It lasted eleven years, and then the king reclaimed his throne.”
    That was it. What a coincidence. Jack—John—Bradshawe was the first signatory on Charles I’s death warrant. The judge who’d presided over the execution of the king.     
      “Did you know—”
    “—That I share a name with a certain judge?” he laughed, catching her thoughts, and gestured for her glass to be refilled. “Yes, an unfortunate—or perhaps fortunate, depending on which side of the Atlantic you stand—twist of fate.”
     “The Civil War was England’s greatest contribution to freedom of choice, with the separation of church and state.”
  “Ah. John Locke’s credo. You sound as though you appreciate his philosophy. And a concept our founding father Thomas Jefferson felt important enough to include in his writing.” Jack paused. “Of course, if you think documents such as the Constitution still hold up for interpretation. Some of our neighbors—” he nodded subtly at the southern belle “—would say that now is America’s opportunity to redefine how we contemporize relevancy and teach history. Perhaps it’s time to reunite church and state to build the Kingdom of God here on Earth.”
     A murmur around the table indicated the consensus of the other dinner guests. Julia wondered how much Jack Bradshaw believed or was simply teasing her. It was hard to tell, his eyes holding hers in amusement, a smile quivering over his lips. She chose to ignore his bait.
    “So, do you still return much to Oxford, Mr. Bradshaw?” Damn. That sounded too eager.
    “Jack, please. I used to. But I’ve recently been offered a position here in Washington that will make it harder for me to return as often as I like.” He smiled at her, causing the color to rise in her cheeks again. “Terrible timing, I would say.”
     A tinkling of the chords from the lute player interrupted them. 
    “Ah, troubadours,” Jack laughed, his eyes crinkling again. “A rather lovely touch, wouldn’t you say? And it sounds to me like the Earl of Essex’s galliard. A stirring piece, don’t you think? I always admired Devereaux’s boldness, the impulsive passion that led to his downfall.”
    She nodded, charmed. It was ridiculous. This man was perfect. Perhaps, after all this time, she’d finally met someone who shared the same range of esoteric interests she did.
   A chiming on a glass interrupted her thoughts. The president was standing. “Ladies and gentlemen, a pleasure to host you all at the White House tonight.” 

White House state dining room

     A smatter of polite applause, and the lutist fell silent.
    “And before we retire for the evening, I have one more announcement I would like to make.” The president turned towards Julia and her companion, raised his glass. “Many of you know of the vacancy in the Department of Education. The Secretary had to retire due to her recent unfortunate accident, and it is my privilege to appoint her replacement. On the occasion of honoring our friends from Russia and Germany, who have had the opportunity to redefine and teach their own post-revolution, post-war curriculum, I am delighted to bring to my administration a man who shares many of my own beliefs about the greatness of America and how its history should be remembered and taught. Some people think of our position as xenophobic. I prefer to think it patriotic, and it is our duty to bring our children up to honor the ideals of the Republic of America.” 
    Julia suddenly experienced a rush of anxiety in the pit of her stomach. She glanced around the room. All one hundred and fifty diplomats, celebrities, and billionaires were listening in rapt attention to his words.
    The president waited for the applause to fade. “Ladies and gentlemen, I would like you to meet the new Secretary of Education, Jack Bradshawe. I think you will agree by just looking at him, he’s one of us. A man of wealth and taste.” The president raised his glass. “Jack, why don’t you say a few words.”
    Julia’s neighbor rose, his immaculate dinner jacket outlining his athletic body, the crisp white shirt accentuating his tanned physique. The southern belle gave a hoot of excitement. Jack grinned and playfully pointed a finger at her as if it were a handgun. She pretended to fire back. Julia flinched in shock as the other dinner guests extended their hands in the same gesture. 
    Raising his own glass, he said, “Please allow me to introduce myself…”     

The End

© Elizabeth St John

Did you guess the song?

Sympathy for the Devil - The Rolling Stones



About Elizabeth St.John


Elizabeth St.John spends her time between California, England, and the past. To inspire her writing, she has tracked down family papers and residences from Nottingham Castle to Lydiard Park, and Castle Fonmon to the Tower of London. Having spent a significant part of her life with her seventeenth century family while writing The Lydiard Chronicles trilogy and Counterpoint series, Elizabeth St.John is now discovering new family stories with her fifteenth century namesake Elysabeth St.John Scrope, and her half-sister, Margaret Beaufort.

Although the family has sold a few castles and country homes along the way (it's hard to keep a good castle going these days), Elizabeth's ancestors still reside within them in the form of portraits, memoirs, and gardens that carry their legacy. And the occasional ghost.  But that’s a different story …



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