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Authors: Lyndon Stacey

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BOOK: Murder in Mind
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'Mr Mullin will be spending the night with us. We need to speak with him and we can't do that until he's had time to sober up. He'll be left to sleep it off for now and we'll see how he is in the morning.'

He opened the door and stood back to allow Matt to pass.

'Is he under arrest?'

'We'll speak to him in the morning,' the DI repeated. 'Goodnight, Mr Shepherd.'

A further hour had passed by the time arrangements had been made to get Matt home. When he enquired about Kendra's car, he was told that, like his clothing, it was classed as evidence and would have to undergo forensic tests. He realised with a shock that they wanted to check that the Honda hadn't been used to transport Sophie, or her body, to the bridge.

'Did the doctor say you were fit to drive?' Bartholomew asked, casting a doubtful look at Matt's ankle as he got up stiffly from his seat in reception.

'I didn't ask him.'

'Hmm. Perhaps you should have.'

'It's an automatic,' Matt pointed out. 'That's why I borrowed it.'

Bartholomew merely raised his eyebrows, so he gave up and hobbled out to the squad car with WPC Deane. Settling himself and his stick into the passenger seat, he sat back with his eyes closed, looking forward to home, a decent cup of tea, and a long overdue dose of painkillers.

It was half past three in the morning when the police car turned into the yard at the cottage. During the journey, Deane had made sporadic attempts to engage him in conversation, which lent some weight to Matt's suspicion that Bartholomew had hoped he would open up to her when he relaxed. As it was, in spite of his anxiety about Kendra, Matt was so tired that he found himself nodding off more than once and Deane gave up before they were halfway home.

At Spinney Cottage, a light glowed behind the curtains in the sitting room, but there were no other vehicles in the yard. It appeared that the police had finished their search.

'Thank you for your help, Mr Shepherd, we'll be in touch,' the WPC said, as Matt eased himself out of the car.

'Yeah, well – thanks for the lift.' Matt turned away, and, by the time he reached the front door, Deane had gone.

Letting himself in, he found Kendra curled up on the sofa, wrapped in a duvet. She appeared to be asleep, but woke up soon enough when Patches picked up a squeaky toy and started parading round the room with it to celebrate Matt's return.

'Oh, thank God you're back! Are you OK?' she said, standing up and shedding the quilt. 'The police were here for ages. I had to go next door with the dogs. Woke Terry up – but it was either that or the police station. They wouldn't tell me what they were looking for. What's going on, Matt?'

'I'm sorry. I wanted to warn you, but they wouldn't let me.'

Kendra came over and Matt enfolded her in a big hug.

'I was terrified when they turned up. I thought something had happened to you,' she said, tucking her face into the side of his neck.

'I'm sorry,' he said again. His ankle was throbbing and he was beginning to feel a bit light-headed.

'God, where on earth did you get this jumper? It's not yours, is it? It smells musty.'

'Police lost property, I shouldn't wonder,' Matt said. 'They promised me it was clean, but they took my clothes for forensic tests.'

'So what's going on? They were asking about Jamie – if I'd heard from him. Said they were working on an enquiry. Is he OK?'

Matt sighed.

'Yeah – physically, at any rate. He's at Charlborough Police Station. Sophie Bradford's dead.'

It came out more bluntly than he intended and Kendra pulled away to look at him, her eyes wide. 'Sophie? How? I mean – what happened?'

'It looks like she left the party on her own and someone attacked her.'

Kendra's eyes opened even wider.

'What? She was murdered? Oh my God! That's awful!'

'What's worse is that, at the moment, they think Jamie did it.'

'But that's ridiculous! Why would they?' Kendra exclaimed. 'Jamie wouldn't hurt anyone.'

'Well, unfortunately he and Sophie had a bit of a set-to at the party last night, in full view of everyone,' Matt told her. 'So, I suppose it's not surprising he's their number one suspect.'

He hobbled to the nearest chair and collapsed into it.

'Sophie . . .' Kendra said wonderingly. 'It's hard to believe. Poor girl! I mean – I won't pretend I ever really liked her – but you wouldn't wish something like this on anyone, would you?'

'Just at the moment, all I wish for is to get this shoe off before my ankle explodes. Everything else will just have to wait,' Matt said wearily.

One of the few drawbacks of being stable jockey in John Leonard's yard was that it placed Matt under the controlling influence of Kendra's father, Charlie Brewer. Brewer's string of thirty or so thoroughbreds represented nearly half the horses in training at the Rockfield yard and – as the businessman wasn't above reminding Leonard when they experienced a difference of opinions – the trainer owed his success and ongoing career almost entirely to him.

Leonard, ex-RAF and son of a gentleman farmer, had already been training racehorses at the time Kendra's father had first met him, desperately struggling against an ever-increasing tide of debt that had been set in motion by crippling inheritance taxes. Brewer, for his part, had just made the decision to spend a little of his considerable wealth on a racehorse or two, and was looking around for a trainer. His eye had alighted on Leonard's struggling yard at Rockfield Farm, less than a dozen miles from Brewer's home, and, within a very short space of time, he had bought the farm and stables, taken the trainer onto his payroll, and added half a dozen well-bred youngsters to the eleven animals already there.

Six years on, Rockfield ranked amongst the most successful yards in the country, and Brewer's string of horses were the envy of many a more established owner. And if, in due course, Leonard had any reservations about this wholesale takeover of his home, life, and career, he had never shared them with Matt in the three years he'd known him, and no doubt felt it to be a small price to pay in return for the many advantages of the arrangement. In his early sixties, he could now face the prospect of retirement with equanimity and the comfort of knowing that his disabled son was assured of a job.

Matt was aware that it was a source of irritation to Brewer that he couldn't control Matt in the same way, more especially since he had become engaged to Brewer's daughter. Matt knew he wasn't the man the social-climbing businessman had hoped for Kendra to settle down with and had resisted the attraction himself for some time, wary of the implications of marrying the boss's daughter, but, in the end, the chemistry had been too strong.

True to his character, when Brewer had realised that he couldn't stop the relationship developing, he sought instead to manage it. Here, too, he had been thwarted. Matt had remained politely but stubbornly independent, rejecting his future father-in-law's handsome offer to build them a home in the shadow of his own, Birchwood Hall, in favour of staying on in Spinney Cottage, some twenty miles away.

For a while after this disagreement, Brewer had been a little cool towards him, but Matt had affected not to notice it and lately the businessman had shown a measure of acceptance.

One dictate that he and Kendra did bow down to was that they should join the rest of the family for the Sunday evening meal at Birchwood Hall. This doubled as a social occasion and a chance for Brewer to discuss with his jockey the timetable and prospects for the week ahead.

The day following Doogie's party was no exception, and seven o'clock found Kendra parking Matt's car on the broad sweep of gravel in front of the Brewer family home.

Birchwood Hall was a Regency-period country house of some stature and importance with an imposing three-storey facade and a colonnaded front door sufficient to satisfy the most ostentatious of occupants. With upward of thirty main rooms, numerous outbuildings, a stable block, and an orangery that had been converted into a swimming pool, it stood in formal gardens, surrounded by about seventy acres of park and farmland.

Much as Charlie Brewer would have loved to claim it as a family seat, handed down through the generations, the truth was that he'd bought it less than twenty years before; his own antecedents having eked out a far less privileged existence as farm labourers in Suffolk. Her grandfather, according to Kendra, had been a second-hand car dealer.

She and Matt were met at the door by the Brewers' butler-cum-occasional-chauffeur, Greening, who informed them that the family were assembled in the drawing room. They always were at this time on a Sunday evening, but the politenesses had to be observed.

It was typical that the first person Matt saw as he followed Kendra into the elegant reception room was her father. At forty-six, tanned and bald-headed, he was a muscular six foot or so, with shrewd blue eyes in a strong face that sported a designer moustache and close-cut goatee beard. There was no denying that he was a striking figure, and it was easy to see, in the middle-aged man, the good-looking young lad-about-town who had swept a seventeen-year-old debutante off her feet at a summer ball some twenty-five years before. The intervening period had added to that charm an indefinable presence born of success, so that he seemed to inexorably draw the eye, dominating any gathering at which he was present.

Reclining in a gold brocade wing chair, with a glass of red wine in his hand, Charlie Brewer looked up as his daughter and her fiancé entered, but it was his wife, Joy, who stood and came to meet them across the immaculate cream carpet.

'Ah, here they are. Hello darling! Oh dear! How's that ankle of yours, Matt?' she asked in quick sympathy, her brows drawing down over a pair of fine brown eyes. Slim, with long blonde hair, she was often mistaken for an elder sister rather than the mother of her four grown-up children. Matt was extremely fond of her.

'It'll be fine in a day or two,' he assured her, as they exchanged kisses.

'Wouldn't have happened if you hadn't ridden Smythe's horse,' Brewer commented from across the room. 'Missed out on Secundo, didn't you?'

'Yes. That'll teach me, won't it?' Matt observed, with a quizzical smile. 'Still, Jamie did a good job on him.'

Brewer grunted. 'That horse would have won whoever was on his back, but that's not the point. You're the stable jockey.'

'Yes, well let's not start the evening with an argument, darling,' Joy put in. 'Matt didn't hurt his foot on purpose, I imagine.'

Matt was grateful to her. As stable jockey, he was technically employed by Leonard and answerable to him alone, but, because of the trainer's dependence on Brewer, the issue was a little confused. Brewer was strongly of the opinion that Matt should ride for Rockfield and no other yard, even to the point of offering to subsidise him for any loss of income, but Matt wasn't prepared to sign up for that. He liked to be busy; he liked variety; and he was also very wary of placing all his eggs in one basket. Besides which, as his reputation continued to grow, he was getting some really good rides from other yards. The Champion Hurdle win had been on a horse from Doogie McKenzie's yard and the Scottish trainer had a number of youngsters that he was looking forward to riding.

Kendra left his side to go and give her father a kiss and, glancing round the room, Matt waved a hand and voiced an all-encompassing greeting. He did a swift head count. There would be eight sitting down to dinner on this occasion, as the whole family was present. He knew Kendra's two elder sisters, Grace and Frances, and her younger brother, Deacon, who was seated in one of the wing chairs with one of his two Persian cats on his lap. The only person he didn't recognise was a young man who was sitting on the settee next to Kendra's eldest sister, Grace.

'Come and meet Rupert,' Joy said, taking Matt's arm and steering him towards the pair.

As they approached, the young man rose to his feet and Matt found that he was of a similar height and age to himself, with receding blond hair and rather weak, pale blue eyes. His carefully casual clothes screamed money, from the Calvin Klein polo shirt down to the toes of his Timberland leather trainers.

'Rupert Beaufort,' the young man announced, before Joy had a chance to introduce him. He stretched out a beautifully manicured hand. 'And you must be the jockey.'

'That's right,' Matt agreed, shaking the soft-skinned hand and quelling an impulse to tighten his grip and wipe the slightly patronising smile off Beaufort's face. 'Matt Shepherd.'

'Rupert's father is Jarvis Beaufort,' Grace announced, in the tone of one imparting a golden nugget of information. She stood up and came forward to put her hand on Beaufort's designer-jacketed arm. 'He owns Beaufort's the Jewellers.'

And diamonds are a girl's best friend
, Matt thought dryly, raising his eyebrows and inclining his head in a spurious show of interest.

Three years older than Kendra, Grace was stick-slim and, in Matt's estimation, the smile on her face was about as natural as the blondeness of her hair. She had her father's colouring and rampant ambition, but little of his charm.

'Rupert has promised to take me on a private tour of the London showroom and studios,' she said. 'It'll be wonderful.'

'Oh, how exciting!' Kendra exclaimed, coming over in time to save Matt from having to find something polite to say.

Grace positively glowed with satisfaction, and it occurred to Matt, not for the first time, that she was a little jealous of her younger sister.

When they sat down to dinner at the fifteen-foot-long, mahogany table, under the lights of three cut-glass chandeliers, Matt was pleased to find himself next to Kendra's second sister, Frances. At twenty-three, she was just a year younger than Grace, but couldn't have been more different. Taller, bigger built, and plainer than her siblings, she wore her shoulder-length brown hair unbleached, and a minimal amount of make-up and jewellery, but she had an attraction all her own. Intelligent and practical, with a sharp wit, which she wasn't averse to sharing, she was, to her father's eternal mystification, training to be a child psychologist.

BOOK: Murder in Mind
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