He took the heavy cardboard box and watched her set down the walkway, getting in her car and driving off before he really processed what happened. The box smelled heavily of James, and James' sister had been fighting back tears are she handed the box over to Richard. This was it. This is what was left for him after family cleared out the house, readying it for the estate agent.
His sudden passing left them all in a state of shock. He'd just been around last week in his beloved 458 Speciale, laughing and drinking and making plans for a future that suddenly didn't exist. Richard had moped all week in a heavy depressive fog, drinking and crying until Mindy decided to get the girls away from his poor state.
Heart attack, they said. No warning. Nothing they could do, it was too late. Leave it to James to die of something so common. No exploding rocket cars for him or crashing Meccano bridges, just a simple clutch of pain that he probably slept through in the night and a final breath that went unnoticed.
It had made the papers, of course. Reporters turning up at Richard's estate almost as soon as word got out. He'd hidden away, shutting off his phone and unplugging the TV and internet. Andy had called, confirming everything, and Richard shut out the world. W. Chump & Sons was now a threesome, staggering blindly as the most stable leg broke off. Undoubtedly Jeremy had been trying to reach him, as were his agents, Andy, his family, James' family and god knows who else. He just couldn't deal with it, retreating to his painting and a few old books, spending most of his days with a bottle of scotch in his chair, looking out at the drearily depressive countryside.
One of James' sisters showed up with the box. Richard vaguely remembered the face but couldn't place the name. Services were already over, the small ceremony hijacked by gawkers. Richard didn't attend. He heard rumor Jeremy and Andy didn't attend either, leaving it for James' family.
When he was sure she'd driven away, Richard kicked the door shut and locked it. One interruption of his misery was more than enough today. He carried the box into his parlor, the big formal room with windows floor to ceiling highlighting the land and wavy grass and fields that was the selling point of Bollitree Farm. He knew he would have to do this. Sooner or later he'd have to shift through James' things both personally and professionally. There was only so long the world would let him grieve.
Drawing up his bottle, Richard poured three fingers into the rocks tumbler then doubled it. He didn't want to open the flaps, the smell of James almost assaulting him in his own house. It was likely the last he'd have that smell and didn't want to lose the scent to the air.
The box itself was inoffensive. Green Homebase logo stamped on each side, someone writing HAMSTER on the top in black sharpie. He moved it between his seat and the windows, setting his drink down after taking a large sip.
James would have preferred beer for this, a pull of that old ale shit he preferred, and maybe a little bit of pot if no one was looking. Richard settled on the scotch, wiping his palm on his knee and wishing he had some smoke left over. James would have laughed at his lager selection in the fridge, shaking his head and making his hair fly around like the Spaniel he was before dragging Richard out to a pub for a real pint.
He sighed and lifted the first flap, sending his hands into the box not knowing what to really expect. He looked at the items carefully packed away for him before dropping his glasses on his nose. Some manila folders he would look at closer later. A thin book of Neruda poems, obviously well worn that Richard remembered fondly from their Bolivian trip. There was a framed photo of them from White City, the day James half gave him a hug in front of the camera. Richard paused and looked at his own photo. They looked so young, all smiles and bright eyes, James' arm draped stiffly over his shoulder and attention solely on Richard as Richard smiled for the camera. It hurt but made him smile.
His wooden beaded bracelet from the Africa trip was packed in a zip lock. Richard held the plastic baggie in his hand and marveled at how worn the wood was. They'd rarely see James wear it, mostly on trips abroad, but apparently it had gotten more use than he'd let on.
"Oh no," Richard breathed as he pulled out the next item. James' infamous Gant shirt, the pink and purple rugby he'd worn through. Richard buried his nose in it, inhaling deeply and imagining it to still be warm. "Oh James." It was threadbare in places, small holes randomly dotting the sleeves and hemline. Grease stained the front now, probably what made him retire the beloved shirt. Garment. Hooptacular Top. The sleeves went over his shoulders as the cotton/poly blend draped over his chest.
He passed up the assortment of car and motorcycle fobs, seeing unwanted emblems of Porsche and Honda on them. There was a thick tome on traumatic brain injuries that looked too advanced to ever crack, so Richard set that aside. He found an old CD next, the jewel case and CD both pen-free but scuffed, obviously much played and shuffled between car and house when such things used to happen. The spine simply said RMH in familiar looping scrawl, someone in his family sharp enough to recognize Richard's initials and chuck it his way.
He opened the brittle plastic case and pulled the disk out, flipping it over to check for burn. The blue/green reflected against the British sun and showed a good amount of data on the disk. It intrigued him, knowing James love of music even if preferred styles differed from his own taste.
Richard got up from the chair, cradling the disk and dragging his drink along. The rest of the box could wait. He had a CD player still hooked up to the Ipod dock for the rare time he couldn't be bothered to get something off Itunes. He lost the view of the field and opted to sit on the hardwood floor, in the triangle of the speakers James drew out for him here things would sound the best. The tray slid open on the ancient machine, letting Richard set the disk in before it sucked it back in. Parts whirred to life and he sat back on the floor with the remote and his drink. The LCD panel lit up with twelve tracks. He half expected it to be prog rock, half expecting it to be James' recordings of his own piano playing. He hoped it was the later.
Instead he got some quiet commercial sounding stuff, raising the volume with the remote. He vaguely remembered the song from his childhood, off the Musical Time Machine or something like that. He quickly flipped the jewel case again, not a single note or artist name anywhere, just the RMH still penned in the thin strip. He knew he could find his phone, pull up Shazaam and find the information but it seemed a bit pointless. James knew the song, well apparently, and it had some connection for him to Richard so he just listened.
When my love for life is running dry
You come and pour yourself on me
It was a variant on something James always said to him, never on camera, always when it was just the two of them and James was in one of his notable funks. Richard never caught the reference.
The mood continued through the next few songs, quiet and mushy, stuff his mum would likely listen to, not at all the stuff he pictured James as favoring. He recognized the Dobie Gray song, not as romantic as the others, but he'd heard it played in pubs enough. It seemed to fit the developing mood of the disk.
The next track stopped him dead. It was just piano and some humming along. James had played it constantly, declaring it cheesy, picking out the notes whenever there was an open piano. The humming voice was too deep to be James, but he'd heard the controlled notes so many times that whatever song it was he immediately thought of James. It brought him back to a hotel in Scotland, dead on his feet after that blasted motorcycle and the health spa in Switzerland right before the Rimac accident. It was Beethoven, or Bach, or one of James' classical muses. 'Quasi una fantasia' James called it, letting the words roll off his tongue.
Something clicked in his memory. Years ago in the vague haze after the Vampire. James had come out to Bollitree, right here, to give Mindy some respite. He cared for and watched over Richard for a weekend, waiting patiently for Richard's brain to sort itself out. Usually James read while Richard worked on the puzzles the doctors said would reconnect his neurons but the night had started badly as Richard had an attack of anger over dinner. James sat at the piano after a few relaxing glasses of wine, Richard on the sofa thinking.
They'd left the light low as Richard's eye was still healing, and the cloudy, gloomy night outside matched Richard's mood. Richard watched as James set his crystal glass on the top of the piano, something Mindy would have scolded him for. He sat on the bench and placed his hands over the keys, closing his eyes as he started to play. James favored this song, able to play it from memory without sheet music.
Richard sat up on the sofa and watched as James lost himself in the music. His own musical career had been cut short after he broke his bass over the singer's skull and he admired James' talent.
James hit the damper pedal and lightened his touch on the keys.
"You know, Beethoven wrote this when he was hopelessly in love with a young woman who simply wasn't interested in him."
Feeling the weight of James' gaze he glanced over, knowing James meant something but damaged brain not letting him understand it. He wrote it off as James explaining the song like he explained everything else, a boiler or a sextant, and just listened to him play. James took a deep breath and closed his eyes again, chin falling against his chest as he finished out the first movement.
His hands slid from the keys without starting the second movement. "It's a bit crap," James said tightly, reaching for his wine. "Pardon." He excused himself and let himself out into the garden, the small covered spot where he could smoke protected from the rain.
Richard stayed on the couch and looked at the empty piano seat, knowing his brain was slipping gears but not able to keep up. There were too many things that weren't right and didn't make sense since the accident.
He's mostly forgotten that night, one of so many during the months after his accident. James scuttled off to the guest room after his smoke and disappeared for the rest of the night and the incident was forgotten in the morning.
The full weight of Moonlight Sonata hit Richard physically in the chest and he clutched James's old shirt to him in protection. "Oh God," he groped for his scotch. "You bastard. You utter, utter..." He swallowed as much alcohol as he could, drawing his knees up to his chest.
He was a crying mess by the time the song ended, transitioning into one called, ironically, The Grand Tour. It predated the Grand Tour by many years and answered where James had come up with the name.
The CD played out, songs of love and longing and loss echoing through the empty house. The last one was more upbeat that Richard would have expected and quite simple.
I love you more than I can say
I'll love you twice as much tomorrow
I love you more than I can say
It was too much, overloading Richard's already taxed system. The bottle of scotch was gone, drained trying to dull away a crushing pain. He'd crawled inside of James' shirt at one point, laying on the floor in his own tears and vomit. The silence was deafening and he could hear the empty hum of the electronics.
His dodgy knee was starting to throb, the pins and screws never having settled properly. Richard managed, after a fashion, to haul himself up from the floor. The world tilted around him. Determination lead him down the long hallway of his empty mansion to the bedroom and his closet. He shuffled through his shoe collection and his formal wear, pushing into the very back where the safe was. It took a while to punch in the code correctly, but he really focused on the third try and managed to get it right.
There was a fair selection to choose from, and calmly he selected the beautiful Holland and Holland over-under. To call it a piece of art failed to do it justice and he calmly stroked the oiled walnut stock. Suddenly sure fingers pulled two shells from the lower shelf and stuffed them in the pocket of his jeans. He closed the safe and locked it - safety first - and carried the shotgun out into the parlor.
He pulled an armchair over near the piano bench. James had sat in both many times but the piano bench felt sacrilegious. In the dim light he could almost see James bowed over the keyboard again, talented hands dancing away and stealthily sneaking peeks over when he thought Richard wasn't looking.
"Say something, you berk." He cursed James' ghost and his soul and every memory he ever had of him. Richard gripped the barrels of the shotgun, wishing it was more scotch.
He pulled the warm shells out of his pocket and looked at them. Such innocent looking things, metal and plastic and a bit of powder. James would have approved of the simplicity. Create spark, ignite powder, launch projectile. He used the edge of James' shirt to wipe away the fingerprints he'd left on the barrels.
Fingers found the small latch and opened the break-action, inserting both cartridges before snapping it shut again. James had done this once, albeit accidentally. Everyone cringed and quickly the rifle was pulled away from him. There was no one to pull it away from Richard now, the small bit of control the first he'd felt in a week.
Richard rested the end of the barrel under his chin, letting the butt sit on the floor. It bit into the softness on the underside of his chin. He shifted, seeing if his short-arse arms could reach the trigger.
He gritted his teeth and pulled the metal away from his face. Richard looked into the hollows of the barrels before placing the end against his forehead. His fingers reached the trigger now.
A solemn Jeremy thrust the scrap of paper at Phil, his messy scrawl even messier after the last few weeks. Andy was waiting for him at the white backdrop, the last of the lights being focused as the cameramen readied their equipment. There would only be one take. "Those go on at the end," he said as he walked away from Phil. He nodded tightly. Whatever Jeremy wanted. Phil pocketed the note.
Jeremy found his mark and waited until everyone was set, Andy landing a hand on his shoulder as a make up girl came to fix his face again.
They pulled the focus and adjusted the lights, anything to make him look less gray and drawn.
Phil nodded to Andy. Technically they were ready and the digital camera started to roll. Andy removed his hand, opting to clasp his hands behind him. "Lets do this," he said, more to himself but for Jeremy's benefit as well.
Jeremy took a deep breath and looked at the small crowd in the dark of the studio. Everyone was waiting on him. His eyes flicked to the small red light, a remnant of times when film was expensive and in short supply. "I'm Jeremy Clarkson," he started hoarsely but went with it. "As you may have heard James May passed away last week and Richard Hammond shortly thereafter." Andy's hand landed in the middle of his back as he struggled. "If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, please reach out. Ask if you're worried about someone. Don't ignore the signs. Help is available."
He sniffed back some tears and swallowed hard, finding the strength for what could possibly be his final line. Andy's hand moved from Jeremy's back to rest on his shoulder again, squeezing at the tense muscle. "As we promised each other." Jeremy's voice caught again. "Sadly, James May and Richard Hammond passed away." He paused the trademark Clarkson pause. "Anyway...."
Andy leaned into Jeremy as Jeremy let his tears fall, hand coming up to cover his mouth as he cried.
Phil let the scene run in the editing room, enough to show Jeremy's human side but not enough to embarrass him any further. He slid the digital fader that tapered the frame into blackness, pulling up the digital slide with Jeremy's request on it. It would stay on screen a good thirty seconds, almost as long as Jeremy's screen time.
It was about as simple of a digital slide as one could get. Three lines in white over a black background.
British Heart Foundation 0300 330 3322
Samaritans Suicide Hotline 116 123
LGBT Foundation 0345 3 30 30 30
Phil raised an eyebrow at the last one, knowing it would beg more questions than it answered. He left it in. Jeremy wanted it there.