An icy November wind swirled the dense mist over the Salisbury Plains almost obscuring Stonehenge. Professor Isaac Cedric Effingham, known simply as ICE to students and faculty at Merton College, Oxford, walked seven times around the circle, first clockwise, then anticlockwise as prescribed by the Druid code of conduct. Although not religious or superstitious, his critical eye sought more clues to his understanding of their purpose as he edged closer, scrutinizing each upright stone. Even after countless visits, their sheer size never ceased to fill him with wonderment. It was he who had shocked the world by proving that each one of the almost thirteen feet high, seven feet wide stones, and weighing around 25 tons, had been transported from modern-day Pembrokeshire 150 miles away in South Wales, five thousand years ago.
The bad weather had taken him by surprise, but his heavy topcoat, sturdy boots, together with a warm scarf and deerstalker hat, helped keep out the bitter cold. A small wooden door at the base of a stone suddenly caught his eye. How was that possible? he mused. How come he had never noticed it before? Bending down, he realized it wasn't locked, and after pushing it open, he could hear the chatter of voices.
Descending a flight of narrow winding steps, he passed a sign which read, The Missing Bride Inn, finding himself in a lounge with bright oil lamps hanging from dark oak beams. People were sitting, drinking, and laughing. A log fire blazed in a large open grate.
“Welcome,” a tall, tuxedoed handsome man standing behind a bar called him over. “Welcome to the Writers and Artists Guild. We’ve been waiting for you. Come and have a drink. The first one’s on the house.”
“Then I’ll have a martini,” he answered.
“You mean a martini, shaken, not stirred?”
“Well, yes, if you say so.”
“My name is Bond, James Bond,” the bartender said, offering his hand.
“That's an interesting name. I may have heard it before. Just can’t remember where. And you can call me ICE. Everybody else does.”
“Then you’re welcome, ICE and I must say, I really like your topcoat.”
“And aren’t you going to introduce me, James? I’d cut up my heart for you to wear if you wanted it.” ICE turned towards the sounds of the female voice. “And I’ll have another sherry-cobbler please, with a sucker.”
Seated on a bar stool was a stunningly beautiful woman. ICE gasped. Where had he seen her before? With her deep green eyes, flaming red hair and dressed in a gorgeous ankle-length velvet gown, it was as if she had just walked out of her plantation home. He racked his memory. But it failed again.
“I’m so sorry Scarlett. Allow me to introduce our guest. ICE this is Miss O’ Hara from Tara Hall, in Georgia.”
“I’m so pleased to meet you,” she said. “And may I ask what you do for a living?”
“Yes, of course. I write books and am an expert on Stonehenge.”“Well, that’s interesting,” she replied. “I came by here just to take a look at it myself and to get away from death, taxes and childbirth; there’s never any convenient time for any of them.”
ICE smiled and nodded.
“But I’m actually on my way to Ireland to trace my ancestors.”
Just then, a loud guffaw erupted from a corner table.
“Sit down Ernie,” a dark-curly haired, pipe smoking but pretty young woman was shouting. “You’re just showing off again.”
“But you should have seen this matador.” He had taken a table napkin, lowered it and with his head following the movement, swung his arms in the motion of a slow sweeping veronica. Then gathering the napkin to his waist spun his hips that made the napkin swing in the stiff arc of a rebolera as it past the bull’s nose while he calmly walked away.
“Pay no attention to Hemmingway,” she said as ICE and James arrived to see what the noise was about. “He can’t make his mind up whether he wants to be a bullfighter or a writer. He’s just published Death in the Afternoon, and won't shut up about it. He’s obsessed.”
“Maybe when I get some time, I should educate myself. My name’s ICE, by the way, and it’s got nothing to do with the weather. My real name is Isaac, but nobody ever uses it. And you are?”
“Just call me George. That’s the name I write under. Surname, Elliot.” Then she turned her head to search for the nearest spittoon.
“Don’t want to get into it just now,” she said, “but it really irritates me that publishers believe women do not write as good as men. In fact, I’m on a mission to liberate women from male dominance. My books have had good sales, especially The Mill on The Floss, and people have given a positive reception to my last one, Middlemarch. However, in all the reviews, I insist that this is just my nom de plume. I want to be recognized for who I really am.”
“And with a passion like yours, I’m sure you’ll succeed.”
“Let me introduce you to a couple of other interesting people,” Bond said, steering him towards a man in a naval uniform. “That’s Ian Fleming. He’s quite an interesting character. In World War II he formed a unit of commandos, known as No. 30 Commando, composed of specialist intelligence troops. 30AU's job was to be near the front line of an advance—sometimes in front of it—to seize enemy documents from previously targeted headquarters. But in his final years, he worked as an officer in the Royal Navy's Naval Intelligence Department. I have it on good authority that he also worked for MI5. But more importantly, he attends these gatherings because he is writing a series of spy novels based on his experiences.”
The man smiled as they approached. “Nice boots,” he said, pointing at ICE’s feet.
Before he could respond, a tall, burly, bearded Scotsman in a full highland dress complete with kilt and sporran interrupted them by slapping Bond on the shoulder. His eyes and face had the look of somebody who’d had a liberal helping of alcohol.
“How about another wee dram of usquebaugh, James?” he said, using its Gaelic name. “You should always carry a flagon of whiskey in case of snakebite and, furthermore, always carry a small snake,” then let out a bellow of a laugh. After moving to the bar, Bond poured the man a double measure of twenty-five years old, Glenmorangie single malt, which he grasped momentarily in his beefy hand, looked at it solemnly as if afraid to drink, then unexpectedly held it aloft and shouted, “Lang may yer lum reek!”— (long may your chimney smoke, or to your good health.) Then added, “the drinks are on me.”
It took several minutes before the cheering died down and James had replenished everybody’s glass.
“Who is that man?” ICE asked discretely. “He might be somewhat intoxicated, but he is also full of his own importance.”
“Well, done, ICE. You’re quite perceptive,” Bond replied. “That’s Walter, Sir Walter Scott. He may not attend our meetings frequently, but he is a prolific writer. His latest novel, Ivanhoe, has just been optioned as a movie for a huge amount. So, yes, today, and as usual, he is full of himself and out to impress.”
“But you must meet Jane, she needs cheering up. She has been attending the meetings for years but is stuck and can’t finish her novel. She’s quite depressed.”
After brief introductions, a small petite woman in her thirties, quite pretty but her face now stained with tear marks, explained she had created five sisters in the Bennet family but couldn’t decide how the father’s favorite, Elizabeth, should get married.
“I have this strong-willed, charming but self-assured young woman who seems to push away her suitors. I can’t find the solution. Without a wealthy partner, her life will be ruined.”
ICE could see her lip beginning to quiver as she spoke. Then she reached into her petticoat and retrieved a dainty lace handkerchief. After dabbing her mournful eyes, she looked pleadingly at ICE as if he might save her.
“Far be it from me to even suggest I might have a solution to your dilemma, but in my work, I am convinced that Stonehenge could never have been built without collaboration, compromise, and teamwork. Why not have your characters work together but as opposing forces? Have your female become humbler and more empathetic while maintaining her signature confidence in who she is. And have a suitor realize just how arrogant and assuming he has been.”
“Oh, my goodness,” she exclaimed. “I do believe, Mr. ICE, you may have found the answer. However could I repay you?”
“Finishing your novel would be payment enough. And do you have a title for it?”
“Not yet, but I’m thinking about Pride and Patience or something similar.”
“Then, I wish you good luck,” said ICE as they turned and walked away.
“So what next, James? What is the program?”
“Well, we always invite a well-known writer as keynote speaker and this time it was a tossup between Harper Lee and her book To Kill a Mockingbird and Ngozi Adiche’s Americanah. We went with Adiche. I heard her in London, last year, and she is a dynamic speaker. We really wanted to extend our reach. Are you familiar with her writing? But before I tell you more, we also always invite a magician to our event. For this session, as you can see, it’s David Copperfield. He’s over there doing card tricks. Let’s watch him for a moment, then we can sit down and talk.”
After he had finished mesmerizing his audience, James quickly introduced ICE.
“Nice boots,” David said, “And I love the topcoat. It’s perfect for this kind of weather.”
“I wish I could stay for your show tonight, but unfortunately, I’m expected back in Oxford. I’ve heard so much about you, especially that amazing illusion where you walked through the Great Wall of China. Maybe you will do something equally dramatic here at Stonehenge.”
“So sorry you can’t stay, and that’s a great idea. I’ll try to work that site into my act,” David replied with a laugh. “Hopefully there will be another time, but you and I will always be connected—by magic, of course.”
“So tell me, James, what is the history of this place?” ICE asked as they sat down to enjoy another martini, shaken, not stirred.
“I’m not too sure where to start. There has been an Inn on this spot for hundreds of years. Stonehenge was originally privately owned farmland as far back as anyone can remember. A man called Black Harry built the Inn and called it, The Pot of Gold. Some say they called him black, since he had a black patch over one eye. Others, that he had a long black beard. He never shared what had happened, but rumor said he lost the eye as a pirate with Long John Silver’s crew. They found buried treasure on an island, lots of gold coins, pieces of eight. But they fought among themselves, and Black Harry took a knife in his eye. Only a few men lived to tell the tale and get back to England; Long John Silver and his parrot that cried ‘pieces of eight’ whenever they met a stranger, Jim Hawkins a young man who had stowed away on Silver’s ship, Ben Gun who had been marooned for years but showed them where the gold coins were buried, and Black Harry.
“The story told is that Black harry built this Inn with his share of the coins and from then on, some folk referred to him as Goldfinger. You have only seen a fraction of the Inn. And if we had time, I would give you a tour for your eyes only. It is extensive and can house up to thirty guests. He married and had a beautiful daughter, Elvenia, which means magical, whom he adored. She met a sea captain, and they were married in this very room. Their initials are carved into the oak beam over the fireplace. As the guests were enjoying themselves, Elvenia and her husband played a game of hide-and-seek. It lasted for hours and into the night until all the guests had left.
“For a final game, Elvenia hid in her husband’s huge sea chest, which was padded and comfortable, but once inside, it self-locked and she could not get out. Her husband, seeing that the locks were secure, never thought to open his sea chest. No one ever discovered Elvenia. The following morning, the husband walked around Stonehenge seven times, hoping, praying she would return. Then as the sun rose over the Salisbury Plain, he could not contain his grief and shot himself.
“In despair, Black Harry set fire to the Inn and rode off with his wife on his black horse, and no one ever saw them again. Local people say that on a stormy night in November, if you listen carefully, you can still hear a horse’s footsteps and two people loudly weeping.”
“Such a tragic story,” ICE said.
“Yes, but you have to live and let die,” James answered.
“But how did the Inn survive?”
“Since it is underground, the fire damage was only superficial. The Guild took it over shortly afterwards, refurnished it and renamed it The Missing Bride. We meet here every month.”
“That’s amazing,” ICE replied, but not fully comprehending everything. And now, before I go, please tell me about your speaker.”
“Ngozi Adiche will discuss her book, Americanah, with us. It’s essentially a love story and traces the lives of Ifemelu and her childhood sweetheart, Obinze. They are from Nigeria, but become separated when she goes to study in America and stays with Aunt Uju, who is never short of advice on how to acculturate. ‘The problem is,’ she says, ‘that there are many qualified people who are not what they are supposed to be because they won’t lick ass, or they don’t know which ass to lick, or they don’t even know how to lick ass.’ It’s about love, loneliness, and race. But it’s also a poignant, funny, scathing look at the reality of being a new immigrant in the USA—from an African perspective.”
“I’m so sorry I will miss her presentation,” ICE said. “It sounds like something I would be very interested in. But I’ve really enjoyed my time here, so thank you, James, for everything. And now I must leave.”
“Then let me escort you to the stairs,” James said. “That’s as far as I may go. It’s been a pleasure and remember, you only live twice.”
The frosty night air hit Isaac Cedric Effingham with an arctic blast. He shivered and pulled his deerstalker hat closer around his ears. Then he realized he was no longer wearing his topcoat, and his bare feet were freezing. When he turned around to look for the door so he could return for his coat and boots, all he saw was the cold Stonehenge stone—and the mist.