Authors: Lyndon Stacey
Lyndon Stacey is the bestselling author of
Cut Throat, Blindfold, Deadfall, Outside Chance
Time to Pay.
She lives in the Blackmore Vale.
'Stacey's plot is both credible and consistently engaging, pulling the reader quickly towards her stomach-clenchingly exciting denouement. The novel's racing backdrop is drawn with assurance and in vivid colours . . . this is an exciting and absorbing novel by an accomplished storyteller . . .
Murder in Mind
is an enjoyable, well-crafted crime novel sure to give pleasure to lovers of the genre'
By the same author
Time to Pay
This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.
Published by Arrow Books 2008
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Copyright © Lyndon Stacey 2007
The right of Lyndon Stacey to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988
This electronic book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental
First published in the United Kingdom in 2007
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is available from the British Library
In memory of the real Taffy; of Herbs, Mo Mo,
Sula, Starsky, Gerty, Shadow and the many other
dogs who have enriched the lives of their human companions beyond belief, and who continue to be sorely missed.
As usual there are many people to thank for their willing and enthusiastic help. This time, top of the list must come Robert 'Choc' Thornton for giving me an insight into the life and work of a National Hunt jockey at the top of his game. Also, thanks are due to Roger Hart, physiotherapist Jacqueline Flexney-Briscoe, Melanie Scott at Weatherbys, Joan Gardiner, Mark Randall, Earle Garner and Julie Cooke.
The turf was racing by in a blur of green and brown in the instant before Matt Shepherd hit it, shoulder first, and slammed over onto his back.
Years of practice had him instinctively curling into a ball and rolling to cover his face and stomach, but emerging unscathed from a steeple-chasing fall is always a matter of luck, and, on this occasion, luck wasn't entirely with him.
He'd been near the front of the field, riding the favourite, when he'd approached the last fence in the back straight, with only three fences left to jump and every expectation of lifting the prestigious Camberley Gold Cup for the second year running. But, three strides out, he knew it was not to be. Kandahar Prince was wrong at it – totally wrong – and it was too late to do anything but sit quietly and hope the horse could sort it out for himself.
To be fair to Prince, he might have done, had the horse immediately behind not been so close. A Herculean effort saw him clear the tightly packed birch, but he landed too steeply and, as he stumbled, the following horse cannoned into his hindquarters, sending him pitching forward onto his nose and then down, catapulting Matt some ten or twelve feet further on.
For a moment, as he pressed close to the track, his whole world diminished to a chaos of thunderous noise, flashes of colour, and the thudding blows of galloping hooves.
It was a big field – twenty-five runners, to be exact – and it seemed to Matt that they all managed to clip him in passing, the last one giving him such a clout that he was rolled over twice more before he stopped moving.
An eternity passed in seconds and, as the drumming hoofbeats receded into the distance, Matt lay still for a moment, grass tickling his nose and the earthy aroma of bruised turf filling his nostrils. Somewhere behind him he heard Prince get to his feet and set off after the other horses.
'You all right, old boy?' a voice enquired, and, lifting his head cautiously, Matt saw a blur of scarlet and yellow close by, which presently resolved itself into the shape of another jockey, sitting up and watching him with a level of concern that belied the jokey tone he'd used.
Matt blinked, and the jockey became, more specifically, Jamie Mullin, Irishman and his own good friend.
Matt opened his mouth to speak, paused, spat a quantity of grass and gritty soil, then said, 'Fancy meeting you here! Do you come here often?'
Jamie's face widened into a characteristic grin.
'Not if I can help it. You?'
'Unfortunately, yes.' Matt uncurled, gingerly testing each limb for function.
'Got all your fingers and toes?' Jamie stood up and came over, undoing the strap on his crash cap and taking it off to reveal a quantity of thin, spiky blond hair and the dark smudge of a goatee beard.
'Yep. Think so.' Matt waggled them experimentally and felt pain spread through his left ankle and foot. 'Damn! Some bugger's stepped on my ankle.' Holding his hand up, he balanced on one foot as Jamie pulled him to his feet, and then stood holding on to his friend while he tried putting a little weight on the injured foot.
The result wasn't encouraging.
'Bugger! I've got Secundo in the next.'
Jamie pursed his lips. 'Or . . . not.'
'Shh-hit!' Matt said.
The racecourse medics, who had been hovering on the other side of the rails, now ducked under and approached, bags in hand.
'Everything OK?' they wanted to know.
After a precautionary visit to A&E for X-rays, which showed his ankle to be badly bruised but not broken, Matt found Jamie waiting in the hospital reception area when he was wheeled out in a wheelchair, a walking stick held in his lap.
'Thought you'd have gone home ages ago,' he said, surprised. There had been a lot of waiting around and it was gone six o'clock.
'We came in
car this morning, if you remember. Your valet gave me the key. Anyway, it's the least I could do for the bloke who stepped aside to give me my third winner of the day,' the Irishman declared jauntily. 'Or should I say – hopped aside?'
Matt favoured him with a parody of a smile. Secundo had been his own best prospect of the day – a horse he'd nursed through the uncertainty of the first outings as a novice, and who he'd been looking forward to partnering in the first big trial of its career. But such disappointments were part and parcel of jump racing and, if someone had to benefit from his misfortune, he would rather it was Jamie than anyone else. At twenty-two, the Irishman was still hovering on the fringes of success.
'Oh well. At least it gives you a taste of what it's like to be a
jockey,' he retorted.
'Nice try, but you can't put me down today; I'm on a roll! Three winners this afternoon, two decent rides on Monday – one courtesy of Matt Shepherd Esq. – and a date with the gorgeous Sophie tonight. Things are definitely looking up!'
Jamie drove fast, patently enjoying the powerful engine and sweet handling of Matt's MR2, and, in less than forty-five minutes, they had reached the tiny village of Norton Peverill and were turning in through the gateway of the Somerset cottage that Matt shared with his fiancée, Kendra Brewer. Jamie also had a room there, which he used whenever he was riding in the south of the country for a few days; this was one such time.
Built of the local golden stone with a brown-tiled roof, the cottage sat end-on to the lane and was approached from the left-hand side via a wooden gate in the stone wall. Once in the yard, there was garaging for three cars on the left, built into an old timber-framed barn. Ahead was a five-bar gate, which led to a concreted yard with three stables and a second barn, and, beyond that, another gate into a lane and the first of three paddocks where he hoped, one day, three or four thoroughbred brood mares might graze. At the moment they were playing host to a couple of yearlings, bought on impulse at a recent sale.
To the right, as they drove in, the cottage sat illuminated by the soft sunlight of early evening. Now, in mid-September, the narrow flowerbeds either side of the front porch were bursting with late-summer colour: blowsy pink dahlias, elbowing their way through the drifts of goldenrod; asters and lavender, all bobbing and bowing in a lively breeze.
Matt regarded the beds with satisfaction. He'd lived at Spinney Cottage for just over three years, but the garden had been left more or less to its own devices until a few months ago, when Kendra had moved in.
Jamie stopped the car in front of the wooden doors of the garage to allow Matt to get out.
'What'll you do about the party tonight?' he asked.
'Oh, I expect I'll go,' Matt said, climbing stiffly out with the aid of the stick. 'Doogie would be very disappointed if I missed it. But I might not stay till the end. I'll see how I feel.'
Leaving Jamie to put the car away, he limped across the brick-paved yard towards the cottage. When he was still several feet from the door, it opened and a slim blonde girl stepped out to meet him. Just as the sight of the cottage gave Matt a lift each time he came home to it, so it was with Kendra. Just turned twenty-one, with fine-boned features, hazel eyes, and elbow-length hair of the palest gold, he continually blessed whatever quirk of her personality had made her fall for him.
'Hiyah. Are you OK? What did the hospital say?' Her concern showed in the tiny crease between her eyes. She rarely came to the racecourse and never watched his races on TV – saying that it made her nervous – but he'd rung to warn her that he'd very likely be late home.
'Just bruised, but I'll be signed off for a day or two. Secundo won,' he added, ruefully.
'Oh, what a shame!' She put her arms round his neck and kissed him. 'Well – not that he won, obviously – but you know what I mean. You've worked so hard on him.'
'Yeah. Still, there'll be other races. And Jamie's not complaining.'
He followed her into the cottage, limping through the lounge with its oak beams, ochre walls, and stone fireplace, and was almost knocked over by the welcome from the dogs as she opened the kitchen door. There were four of them, though sometimes, when they were whirling excitedly, as now, it seemed as if there were twice as many.
He spoke to them all, reserving his fondest welcome for his own special dog, a German shepherd bitch called Sky. Rocko and Patches, the collie crosses he'd adopted from the local rescue centre, were always first in the queue for attention, but Kendra's dainty sheltie waited back until the fuss died down before coming forward demurely to receive her greeting.
'Hallo, Taffy.' He bent gingerly to ruffle her fur, the action reminding him of the buffeting he'd received.
'It's not just your foot, is it?' Kendra observed astutely. 'C'mon, my lad. Let's get you upstairs and into a hot bath.'
Kendra was going out for the evening too, to the hen night of an old school friend, and was picked up by a minibus just after eight, leaving Matt and Jamie to drive to the party in her car. It was an automatic, which meant that if – as was probable – Jamie went on to spend the night with his girlfriend, Matt would be able to get himself home with only one good foot to operate the pedals.
'Wouldn't you do better to get a taxi?' Kendra had asked, on her way out.
'I'll be OK. I've no intention of getting sloshed anyway, unlike our young friend here!'
An evening spent socialising was not number one on Matt's wish list after the day he'd had, but the party was to celebrate the seventieth birthday of Doogie McKenzie, the trainer who had been his mentor and who'd given him his first break as a jockey. They'd had many successes since those days. Indeed, there was a photograph on the wall at Spinney Cottage that showed the two of them standing beside Blackavar in the winner's enclosure after the Champion Hurdle.
In the picture, Doogie had his arm round Matt's shoulders, and Matt, still wearing his cap on his short brown hair, chinstrap undone, had the widest of wide smiles on his lean countenance.
Although Matt had moved on from Doogie's yard to a much bigger one, they remained firm friends, and it would have taken a far more serious injury than the one he'd received today to make him miss this particular bash.
The party was being held in the function rooms of a livestock auction house two or three miles from Charlborough. The venue stood back from the road, surrounded on three sides by parking and having what looked like a couple of acres of covered livestock holding pens on the other. It was approached along an unlit stretch of B-road with fields on one side and an area of private woodland on the other.
Doogie had been in racing all his life and was an extremely well-liked man, as was evident by the number of cars in the car park. When Matt and Jamie entered the building, they found upward of two hundred people jostling for space on the dance floor, seated at tables around the perimeter, or queuing at the bar. The music pounded uncompromisingly loud, keeping time with the throbbing pulse of Matt's headache.
Jamie's eyes were alight with anticipation of an evening's enjoyment, but Matt, whose taste ran more to classical music than the relentless rhythm of club anthems, regarded the next hour or two as something to be endured, and was surprised that Doogie should have wanted a celebration along such lines.
The main function room was lit only by table lights and the flashing coloured bulbs of the DJ's rig, but, even so, Matt recognised several faces. Kendra's younger brother, Deacon, was there and, in the centre of a group by the bar, he could see the ever-popular figure of ex-jockey Harry Leonard in his wheelchair. A good friend of Matt's, Harry was also the son of and assistant to the trainer he usually rode for, and he'd rung whilst Matt was awaiting attention in hospital, to check that he was all right.
As Matt paused just inside the doors, Jamie tapped him on the shoulder, pointed across the dance floor, and moved away. Almost immediately, a stick-thin, gaunt-faced man took his place, leaning close to speak in Matt's ear.
Bob 'Bully' Jennings had yet to reach thirty, but could have been taken for a man twice his age, his features ravaged by a dozen years of struggling to make the weight required of a top-ranked jockey. His teeth were misshapen and discoloured, and, in the daylight, his skin looked sallow, but he invariably wore a smile. Matt liked him a lot, and wished, without much hope, that he would hang up his boots and give his body a chance to recover. Matt was no stranger to the weight battle himself, but, at six foot, Bully had the disadvantage of being at least three inches taller, and his nickname was rumoured to result from a past struggle with bulimia.
'Good to see you up and about,' Bully told him. 'I heard you'd been carted off to hospital. What's the verdict?'
'Just bruised. I'll be back in time to ride
Tortellini next week, so don't start getting your hopes up.'
'I never even gave it a thought!' the other jockey protested, unconvincingly. 'By the way, Doogie's in the other bar, if you're looking for him. I'm stopping here to see if I can get lucky.' He winked, waved a hand, and turned away.
Matt looked round for Jamie and saw him weaving his way through the throng towards the place where a platinum blonde in a slinky red dress was dancing with her hands above her head, flaunting her ample curves for the delectation of whoever might care to watch. From what Matt could see in the fluctuating light, a number of people cared, almost all of them men. Shaking his head slightly, he turned away. He had no doubt that Sophie Bradford would give Jamie the runaround – it was her stock-in-trade – but he supposed it would do him no harm in the long term, and he had to learn.
Hobbling into the smaller bar and lounge with the aid of his stick, Matt saw Doogie McKenzie seated at a circular table, attended by a group of mainly older men and women. When he caught sight of Matt, he stood up and waved, his weather-beaten face splitting into a huge smile.
'Matt! You made it! Come over here, lad,' he called, in his broad Scottish tones, and Matt saw, with amusement, that he had come to the party in a kilt with a tartan tam o' shanter atop his shock of unruly white hair.
As he approached the table, the other guests shifted up to clear a space for him on the red leatherette corner seat.