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Authors: Lyndon Stacey

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BOOK: Murder in Mind
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'Did you call the police?'

'Yes, of course! At least I tried to, but the phone was dead.' She looked up at Matt through tear-filled eyes. 'That's when I knew they must be close – if they'd cut the phone line – so I thought I'd try and get to Dad's, but . . .' Her voice caught and she stopped and sniffed. 'I grabbed Taffy and made a run for the car, but it wouldn't start. It was like a nightmare!'

Matt kissed her forehead.

'You poor love! It's all right – you're safe now.' He rubbed her back. 'So you came in and locked the doors?'

'I didn't know what else to do . . .'

'Why didn't you use your mobile?'

'I couldn't find it. I must have left it at Mum's. And I kept thinking, if only Jamie was still here. Why did it have to happen today, when he's just gone?' She paused. 'Oh God! You don't think they knew that? That they've been watching and waiting until I was alone?'

'I don't know,' Matt said. 'I shouldn't think so.' Although it was what he'd been thinking himself, he didn't think it would help to say so. 'Did this man say anything else? I mean, did he say
why
he was coming?'

Almost imperceptibly, he felt Kendra stiffen.

'Yes.' She pulled back slightly. 'He said because of you. He said you'd ignored the warning. He said he didn't want to hurt me, but you hadn't left him any choice.'

'Oh God, I'm sorry, love.' It seemed woefully inadequate, but he didn't know what else to say. His mind was racing. Had this been one of the men from Saturday night, then? From what they had said, those two had been hired muscle, so perhaps, instead, this had been the man who had done the hiring, shifting from physical intimidation to emotional?

'But you'll stop now, won't you? This thing with Jamie and Sophie – you'll leave it to the police. Won't you, Matt? Please?'

When he didn't immediately answer, she twisted her neck to look up at him.

'Matt? Please . . . ? I can't go through another day like today. It's gone way too far.'

'You're right. Come on, let's get you out of here. Let's go downstairs and I'll make you a cup of tea. You're safe now, anyway.'

Taffy had begun to wriggle, so Kendra lowered her to the floor, then, with Matt's arm round her shoulders, they went down, to be met at the bottom of the stairs by the other dogs, milling around with furiously wagging tails.

'Sky wouldn't have let anyone in, would you, lass?' Matt said, ruffling the German shepherd's thick fur.

Kendra sat at the table, clutching a handkerchief and still noticeably trembling, her face pale and tear-stained in the bright lights of the kitchen. 'I know she'd have barked, but I kept thinking, what if they had a knife? Or poison for the dogs? If they know all about us, they'd know about the dogs.'

Matt filled the kettle at the sink.

'To be honest, I don't suppose they ever intended coming in. I should think they just wanted to frighten you – to get at me.'

'Oh, so I'm overreacting, am I?' Kendra flared up. 'Making a fuss about nothing.'

'No – of course not! I didn't mean that, at all. I know how frightening it must have been. I was trying to comfort you.' Matt had a horrible feeling he was on a hiding to nothing.

'What, by making me feel like a pathetic female who's blown the whole thing out of proportion? Or was it to try and ease your conscience because you know bloody well it's all your fault in the first place? Because it is, you know. If you'd dropped this stupid private-eye thing when I asked you, none of this would have happened, and your career wouldn't be on the rocks. But – oh no! You had to play the hero! Well, I've had enough. I don't want to do this anymore.'

Matt left the kettle and went to crouch beside her, taking one of her hands in his.

'Of course I don't think you're pathetic. And I'm more sorry than I can say. If I'd had any idea it would come to this, I'd never have started it, I promise you.'

'So you'll give it up?'

'I would, but I'm not sure that'll help . . .'

'You
would
?' she repeated incredulously, snatching her hand away. 'You mean you're not going to? Even after what happened today?'

'Please Kennie, just listen. The thing is, I haven't really been doing anything anyway – not since that business on Saturday – but that hasn't made any difference, has it? They didn't wait to see if their warning had worked, so what's to say they'll stop now?' Done nothing, he thought guiltily, except speak to Bartholomew about Lord Kenning – but surely
he
wasn't behind this . . .

'
You
haven't done anything, maybe, but what about that Casey girl? They know she's helping you – what if she's been poking around?'

It was possible, Matt supposed, but she hadn't been in touch. He hoped she was all right. What if she was next in line for a dose of intimidation? What if she lived alone?

'Perhaps I'd better give her a ring,' he mused aloud. 'Check she's OK . . .'

'Oh, that'd be right!' Kendra jumped to her feet, upsetting the dogs, who all stood up with her in anticipation of an outing. 'Look after Casey, don't worry about your fiancée! Maybe Grace was right; she said it sounded like you were seeing a lot of her. Asked me if she was pretty.'

'Oh, for God's sake! You know your sister's got a vicious tongue! Since when did you take any notice of what she thinks?'

'So tell me why Casey's suddenly had a makeover – hair, clothes, the lot?' Kendra watched Matt's face for a long moment and then gave a short, bitter laugh. 'Oh my God! Are you going to try and tell me you hadn't noticed?
Come on
!'

Matt shook his head, vaguely remembering that something had struck him as different about the girl.

'I had other things on my mind on Saturday. Look, how did we get onto the subject of Casey, anyway?'

'You were going to ring her,' he was reminded tartly. 'Will that be before or after you drive me over to Dad's?'

'Tonight?' Matt queried.

'
Yes
tonight. Now,' she added, tears running freely once more. 'I love this house, but I don't want to be here alone anymore. I don't ever want to be that scared again.'

'And you won't be,' he stated. 'But stay here with me tonight and I'll take you first thing in the morning . . .'

She shook her head.

'Now. Please?'

'What about the police? We could use my mobile . . .'

'And spend all evening at the police station? No, thank you!'

'They might come here.'

'I just want to go home.'

The words cut deeply.

'I thought this
was
your home,' Matt said quietly.

'Home is somewhere you feel safe,' she retorted, her face pink.

With an effort, Matt checked his own instinctive response; nothing would be gained by a war of words. He sighed.

'All right. What about your tea?' He gestured at the waiting mugs and teabags. Anything to keep her there a little longer, to give her time to calm down, to maybe change her mind.

'No, leave it. I'll have some at Dad's,' she said, heading towards the stairs. 'I'll just grab some things.'

By the time Matt let himself back into the cottage later that evening, the pleasure he'd felt at the day's successes seemed a lifetime away. Even the dogs were subdued, looking past him into the darkness, as if waiting for Kendra and Taffy to appear.

They had spoken little on the journey to Birchwood Hall, Matt's efforts at conversation meeting with monosyllabic responses. They had never had such a serious row before and he was at a loss as to know how best to bring her round.

Using Matt's mobile to phone ahead, Kendra was met on the doorstep by her mother, who took the overnight bag from Matt with a commiserating half-smile and gathered her tearful daughter in, rather like a hen taking a chick under its wing. Taffy trotted in at their heels without a backward glance.

Left staring at the half-open front door, Matt kicked his heels for a minute or so and then pulled the door shut and turned away. Kendra's last words had been to suggest that he'd want to get back to feed the dogs. The implication was clear – for now, at least, he wasn't wanted.

At Spinney Cottage he shut the front door against a chilly wind and wandered into the kitchen, dropping his keys on the work surface and flicking the switch on the kettle. The two waiting mugs seemed to mock him and he put one away. On the wall, a pulsing red light on the telephone answering machine indicated messages left, and, while he waited for the water to boil, he listened to them.

There were four: the first from Josh Harper, who said he'd catch Matt later. One, incredibly, was from the telephone company – who he'd called before setting out. Then, they had told him that an engineer would call within the next two days, but their message said that the connection had been restored and they were testing the line. Next, Casey's Irish accent announced that she'd found out that the white van was owned by one Steve Bryan, who lived in Yeovil, but the usefulness of this information was limited by the fact that it had been reported stolen the evening Matt was attacked. The last message, left only ten minutes before Matt had got in, was from John Leonard and, instantly, something in his voice made Matt pause, teaspoon in hand, and look at the phone.

'Matt . . . er, well done today. Look, I'm sorry to have to do this to you, but the Guv'nor wants Ray on his first string for the rest of the week. There's Mr Monkey for you tomorrow, and those two novices of Emmett's on Saturday, but not a lot else, I'm afraid. I tried to reason with him, but . . . Well, you know what he's like . . . Sorry, Matt.' There was a short silence, where a sound like the rustling of papers could be heard, and then the click of the receiver being replaced. The machine told him that he'd reached the end of his messages, and invited him to listen to them again, but he reached out a hand to switch it off.

How the hell could Brewer justify jocking him off on the grounds of poor performance, just a few hours after he'd won two decent races? Matt picked up the handset, intending to ring Kendra's father, but stopped the call before it was answered. Even in his bitterly angry state, he recognised that now was probably not a propitious time to have what would almost certainly develop into a flaming row with the man. The thought of ringing Leonard was dismissed almost as quickly. He really couldn't blame the trainer for knuckling under to Brewer, who was, to all intents and purposes, his boss. Ruining his own working relations wouldn't do anything to help Matt. Seething, Matt hooked the phone back in its cradle and slammed the heel of his palm into the wall beside it.

Taking a deep breath to calm himself, he considered his next move. Kendra had said the man had phoned to threaten her, so the first thing to do was check caller display, just in case he'd slipped up and not withheld his number.

It was a slim chance and Matt wasn't surprised to find, among the numbers he recognised, one instance of a number not being left.

Scooping the teabag out of his mug, he stirred in milk and sat at the table, reluctantly coming to the decision that, whether Kendra liked it or not, Bartholomew must be called. He recognised, too, that, in doing so, the details of his own recent attack would inevitably be dragged out into the open and his knuckles be severely rapped for not reporting it at the time.

Hoping that Bartholomew would be off duty, Matt reached for the phone.

12

Shutting the door, rather more forcefully than was polite, on the DI's departing form, Matt put up a hand to rub his eyes and forehead, feeling – all at once – desperately tired.

Guessing that Bartholomew was almost certainly hotfooting it to Birchwood Hall, he felt it only fair to warn Kendra but, as luck would have it, it was Grace who picked up the phone.

'I'm afraid she doesn't want to speak to you,' she said, when Matt asked for Kendra. 'She's in a bit of a state. You really ought to take better care of her, especially in her delicate condition.'

So she'd told them her news, had she? Matt thought, with a touch of disappointment. What had happened to the big announcement they were going to make in a couple of weeks' time?

'Just put her on please, Grace. It's important.'

'Sorry. No can do,' she replied airily, clearly enjoying the moment. 'She's been crying her eyes out and now she's gone to bed. Boy, has your halo slipped, buster!'

'Well, she might want to get up again,' Matt informed her, keeping a check on his temper. 'I'm pretty sure DI Bartholomew is on his way to speak to her.'

There came the hiss of dramatically indrawn breath and Grace said, 'Oh dear, that won't please her. She told Daddy she didn't want to talk to the police. She's going to be seriously unhappy with you!'

'Just let her know, OK?' He itched to give Grace a blistering set-down, but the knowledge that she would gain much satisfaction from knowing she had got to him kept him quiet.

He put the receiver down and stood staring gloomily at the wall. He supposed he'd better warn Casey, too, because Bartholomew now knew she had been a witness to the attack at Maiden Newton. As Casey had drawn a virtual blank with the registration number, Matt had left that particular detail out of his tale – partly to avoid getting the young reporter into trouble and partly because he suspected the knowledge would only add fuel to Bartholomew's anger at being kept in the dark. His remarks had been scathing enough as it was.

'My job would be a whole lot easier if I didn't have people like you making their own judgements about whether incidents are worth reporting or not! Haven't you ever heard of forensic science, Mr Shepherd?'

'Of course I have.'

'Well, if you knew a little more about it, it might have occurred to you that, by reporting your little fracas, you'd have given us the chance to possibly lift fibres off yourself or your clothes, which we could have compared with those taken from Sophie Bradford's clothing. If there's any chance that the men who attacked you had anything to do with her death, that could well have clinched it.'

'I'm sorry, I didn't think of that . . .' Matt was genuinely contrite.

'Which is why I'm doing my job and you should stick to doing yours,' had been the acid reply. 'That kind of evidence can be invaluable. I suppose it's too much to hope that you haven't washed the clothes you were wearing?'

'Um . . . They were pretty dirty.'

Bartholomew tutted and shook his head. 'As I told you before – stay out of it!'

'Well, if I had, those guys wouldn't have come after me anyway, so you still wouldn't have got your evidence,' Matt had pointed out, the undeniable logic of which hadn't visibly improved the detective's mood.

Kendra's car had been trailered away, the forensic officer reporting that the reason for its not starting was that the battery had been disconnected. This information had brought with it the chilling realisation that the unknown caller had indeed been close and Kendra's fears completely justified. Matt remembered his own comments with a surge of guilt.

Now, a glance at the kitchen clock told him that, if he was going to get up to ride work the next morning, it was high time he went to bed, so he gave the dogs their supper, locked up, and headed for the shower.

In the bathroom, however, the sight of the white tiled cubicle brought the events of the evening sharply into focus, and, as he stood letting the hot water course over his body, he was tormented by the mental image of Kendra as he had found her – cowering, terrified in the corner.

The picture conjured up a mix of emotions in Matt: white-hot fury at the bastard who had caused her distress; frustration with his own inability to protect her; and – running through it all – a kind of dazed bewilderment at the speed with which his life seemed to be disintegrating around him.

Three weeks ago his most pressing concern had been how to keep up with the escalating demand for his services as a jockey in the coming season; now, that flood of demand had ebbed to a trickle, he'd been beaten up, threatened, had got on the wrong side of the police and the racing authorities, and his personal life was in crisis.

Oh God – Kendra . . .

The rest he could deal with, but the thought that he'd let Kendra down – that she'd felt the need to run to her family for comfort and reassurance – was something that seared through his mind like a physical pain. If only he could have seen it coming, he would have . . .

Here his self-chastisement ground to a halt. Just what would he have done? Abandoned Jamie to his fate? It wasn't in his nature to turn his back on a friend who so plainly needed him, but, on the other hand, had he really helped Jamie at all? He hadn't been able to stop the Irishman's career from going down the pan, and, as far as he knew, Jamie was still the prime suspect for the murder of Sophie Bradford.

Whichever way he looked at it, his actions – well meant though they undoubtedly had been – had achieved nothing of value, and the repercussions looked set to leave his life in tatters.

Out of the shower and wrapped in his bathrobe, the idea of an empty bed held no allure whatsoever, and Matt trudged back downstairs, to the delight of the three dogs who had settled down for the night. He found himself looking round for the fourth and swore under his breath; he was even missing Taffy, so much a part of his life had she become.

Out of habit, he filled the kettle and switched it on, then, moments later, switched it off again. His current mindset wasn't going to be remedied by a mug of tea or coffee. Somewhere, he knew, there was a bottle of whisky, given to him by a grateful owner at the Cheltenham Festival. Neither he nor Kendra drank spirits, as a rule, but he remembered having it in his coffee the evening he was attacked, and just now the enticing warmth and haziness it promised sent him hunting through the kitchen cupboards, banging doors and swearing when he couldn't immediately find it.

The bottle of Famous Grouse was finally run to ground in a cupboard in the sitting room and, retrieving a tumbler from the draining rack in the kitchen, Matt poured himself a generous measure, took a gulp and then, shadowed by the dogs and still carrying the bottle, went back and threw himself down on the sofa.

As the first mouthful of liquid burned a comforting trail down his throat and into the very core of his body, he took another, closed his eyes, and leaned back against the cushions, rolling the unfamiliar taste round his tongue.

A moment later, hearing a whine, he opened his eyes. Sky, the German shepherd, was sitting close, her head tilted to one side, watching him.

'What are you – my conscience?' he demanded. 'Go and lie down. I know what I'm doing.'

Sky flattened her ears uncertainly, but didn't move.

'What? I'm all right. Go and lie down!'

The dog obeyed the second part of the command, but not the first, curling up at the side of the sofa with her chin resting on the edge of the cushion.

Matt took a third mouthful and closed his eyes again, but he could still feel Sky's gaze upon him, making him feel unreasonably guilty. Why the hell shouldn't he get drunk? Didn't he have every excuse? Jamie had gone out on a bender, hadn't he?

Yeah, and what good had it done him?
his logical self argued. Landed him in more grief, in fact. And who had it been who'd pointed out the error of his ways? Did that make Matt the sort of person he'd always despised? One of those who could dish out advice but not live by it themselves?

Stubbornly, he took another gulp, wishing he liked the spirit better. He craved oblivion. What was the point of thinking, when his thoughts just went round in circles and fetched up at the realisation that he'd made a total balls-up of everything and Kendra had left him?

Left him?

The idea caused a stab of panic.
Had
she left him? He didn't know. With his career on the skids, what could he offer her? Charlie had never really thought Matt good enough for his daughter. In her father's house, would she come under pressure to make the split permanent? Surely not, with a baby on the way . . .

Ignoring Sky's worried brown eyes, Matt drained the glass and refilled it.

Matt awoke stiff and cold, with a thumping headache. Opening his eyes, he couldn't, at first, make sense of the pattern of black and white stripes that crossed his field of vision, but they presently resolved themselves into the black beams on the sitting-room ceiling. He was still on the couch, still cradling the bottle of Famous Grouse, and an exploratory hand found the soft fur of the German shepherd, who had apparently not left his side.

With a groan, he sat up. On the sofa beside him the tumbler lay empty, a stain on the upholstery showing where it had overturned, and the discovery that the bottle remained four-fifths full meant he couldn't blame an excess of alcohol for his sore head. The mundane truth was that the intention to drown his grievances had been defeated by plain old-fashioned fatigue.

'Oh, God – look at me! Can't even get drunk properly,' Matt told the dog, in disgust. Sky stood up and wagged her tail happily.

The room was in that kind of half-light that results from drawn curtains in the daytime, the two shaded wall lights adding their golden pools to the total, and a glance at his watch showed that it was nearly half past eight. He'd missed riding work, then, even if he'd been expected, which – after Leonard's message – he doubted.

Standing the bottle on the coffee table, Matt got to his feet, stretching the kinks out of his muscles. Trying to keep his mind in neutral, he switched the lights off and drew the curtains back, then went into the kitchen to put the kettle on and feed the dogs, before heading upstairs for another shower.

While he was trying to summon up the enthusiasm to get something to eat, Leonard rang, wanting to know if he was all right to ride Mr Monkey that afternoon.

'I tried to ring earlier, but the line was busy . . .'

'It was off the hook,' Matt said, without apology.

'Er ... I gather you and Kendra had a bit of bother yesterday,' Leonard ventured cautiously. 'The Guv said something about it. Everything OK?'

'I'll be there,' Matt said.

'Good, good . . .' Leonard hesitated. 'Look, Matt, I'm really sorry . . .'

'Yeah, well.' He well understood the trainer's predicament, but still couldn't find it within him to utter the words of forgiveness Leonard wanted to hear. Give it a day or two, maybe. 'See you later,' he said, and put the phone down.

Almost immediately, it began to ring again.

'Matt?' It was Casey.

With a rush of guilt, he realised that he'd never got round to ringing her the night before.

'Hi. Has Bartholomew been onto you?'

'No.' She sounded surprised. 'Why?'

Briefly, Matt explained.

'I meant to warn you not to mention the numberplate,' he finished. 'In case you got your contact in trouble.'

'Well, actually, it's the numberplate I'm ringing about. I've done a little digging on our Mr Bryan, and guess what?'

'Hang on, you've lost me already. Am I supposed to know who Mr Bryan is?'

'Steve Bryan,' Casey enunciated, with exaggerated care – as to one deficient in understanding. 'The man who owns the van, remember?'

'Oh, yeah. But you said it was reported stolen.'

'It was, but I've been thinking about that; I mean, what's to stop him using it to set up the ambush on you and then dumping it somewhere and reporting it stolen. I told you it wasn't reported until later that evening, didn't I? But, anyway, the really interesting thing about Steve Bryan is that, until a year or two ago, he was in the army – and so was his brother! And guess who has army connections . . .'

'Who?' Matt's brain was lagging behind somewhat.

'Kenning, of course! Don't you remember? Father was a brigadier.'

'Yeah, but just because the morons that jumped me were wearing combat gear doesn't mean they were necessarily ex-army,' Matt contested. 'You can buy that stuff anywhere.'

'I
know
that. But it seems a bit of a coincidence, don't you think? And they had all the moves. I mean, if you were out to hire muscle, army types would be the obvious choice, wouldn't they?'

Matt supposed she was right.

'OK,' he allowed. 'So, what do you propose we do about it? We'll have to tell Bartholomew now.'

'Well, I've got Bryan's address. We could always go see if we can get a look at him. See if you recognise him.'

'Oh, no!' Matt said, without a moment's hesitation. 'I'm not going anywhere near Mr Bryan or his brother – and neither are you! Look, Bartholomew is certain to catch up with you today sometime – I think you should give him the registration number and let him draw his own conclusions. Let him think you haven't got anywhere with it. In fact, I should just give him the partial plate you got on Saturday and tell him I knew nothing about it. That way,
you
won't get into so much trouble for not reporting it straight away and
I
won't get into trouble for not telling him last night.'

'That seems a bit tame,' Casey complained. 'I thought you'd want to see it through yourself.'

'Well, I don't. All I ever wanted was to get the heat off Jamie – it was you who built it all up with that rubbish about the jockey turned sleuth, and look where it's got me. And don't go thinking you'll do this on your own, because, if it was this Bryan character who threatened Kendra yesterday, he probably wouldn't think twice about tracking you down too, and being a girl isn't going to save you.'

'He doesn't know who I am.'

'It wouldn't take an Einstein to work it out,' Matt told her, dryly. 'No, turn it over to Bartholomew and let him deal with it. Perhaps then I can start to concentrate on putting my life back together.'

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