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Authors: Lyndon Stacey

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BOOK: Murder in Mind
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'Well . . .' Matt hesitated, unwilling to lie but not feeling the time was exactly ideal for being bluntly honest.

Apparently Jamie wasn't expecting an answer.

'I know she wasn't an angel,' he went on. 'But she was trying to change. If she'd had a child, I think she'd have been different, don't you?'

'Mm. Maybe . . .'

'All right, she
was
a slut!' Jamie said suddenly, explosively. 'She was a lying bitch and everyone could see it except me! They were laughing at me. Were you laughing, too? Huh? Were you?'

'No,' Matt said quietly.

Jamie looked up at him, his face bitter. '
You
knew she was sleeping around – why didn't you tell me? Why did you let me make a fool of myself? That baby wasn't mine. Why did I ever think it could have been?'

'You don't know that,' Matt countered, more to calm him than through any conviction. He closed the door and came back into the room, placing his mug on the table opposite Jamie and sliding wearily into a seat.

'Yes I do. Bartholomew rang earlier. The DNA didn't match. It wasn't my baby. God knows whose it was – take your pick, really.'

'I'm sorry' Matt wasn't sure if that was the right thing to say. Was it right to commiserate because the baby – which had never had a chance at life – hadn't been Jamie's? At this time in the morning, it was too much for his sleep-deprived brain to sort out.

'
I'm
not,' Jamie stated, taking a sip of his tea, but, as if to prove him a liar, tears welled under his lashes and one escaped to run down his cheek. He brushed it away, impatiently. 'What am I going to do, Matt? People were just starting to ask for me to ride their horses – not because I happened to be available, but because they actually wanted me. But they won't want me now. This has ruined everything. Why won't anyone believe I didn't do it?'

'People
do
believe you. I do, Kendra does, John and Reney do, and loads of other people. I think Bartholomew probably does, too, or he'd have charged you by now.'

Jamie shook his head.

'No, he doesn't. He was trying to get me to confess. Said it would be in my best interests.
Now he thinks I killed her because the baby
wasn't
mine. Bastard!'

Matt wasn't sure what to say, and, after a moment, came up with a suggestion that was near to his own heart.

'Look, why don't you get some sleep. You're not thinking straight – which is hardly surprising after the night you've had. Let's leave it till later, huh?'

'Yeah, maybe.' Jamie showed no signs of moving.

'Jamie, come on . . .'

'You go on.'

Matt sighed and tried again.

'You know, drinking yourself into a stupor isn't the way to deal with all this. It won't solve anything.'

'So what do you suggest, Matt? How would
you
deal with losing your girlfriend – who, it turns out, was fucking half the county behind your back – losing your job – as near as dammit – and having all your mates look at you as if you'd just crawled out of a sewer! I feel like shit and drinking is the only thing that makes it go away.'

'But it
doesn't,
does it?' Matt said, exasperated. 'You have to stop sometime, and, when you do, it's still there. If I were in your shoes, I'd stop whingeing and protesting my innocence, and prove it.'

'How?' Jamie looked up. '
How
can I prove it?'

'By finding out who did kill Sophie.'

Jamie frowned, but there was a spark of interest in his eyes.

'How?'

'I don't know – I'm too tired to think at the moment.'

'Will you help me, then?'

Having an uncomfortable suspicion that he might have started something he would come to regret, Matt pushed his chair back and stood up.

'If I can. Now, will you go to bed?'

'All right – but you
will
help?'

'I said yes, didn't I? Go to bed!'

Any hope that a few hours' sleep would have erased all memory of their conversation from Jamie's head was swiftly banished when Matt encountered him later that morning. Surprisingly, considering the hour at which they'd finally gone to bed, this was at the breakfast table, just after nine. Matt had left a text message on Leonard's phone to excuse himself from riding work, before falling into bed at the time he would usually have been getting up. Even though he managed to sleep for a couple of hours, he awoke feeling anything but rested and could have happily done without a return to Jamie's problems over the coffee and toast.

'So, what do we do first?' Jamie looked like a morning-after boxer with an impressive black eye and a cut and swollen lip, but it seemed that Matt's promise of positive action had acted like a tonic.

'What
you
do first is go and look for your car,' Matt told him. 'I can give you a lift down there, but you'll have to find your own way back, because I'm riding this afternoon. Have you remembered where you left it?'

'Yeah, I think so. But what I meant was where do we start with clearing my name?'

'Give me a chance!' Matt exclaimed, last night's premonition growing ever stronger. 'Just when am I supposed to have come up with a plan of action? In my sleep?'

In spite of having formulated no plan, the first chance to make enquiries on Jamie's behalf presented itself that very afternoon and in an entirely unexpected way.

Rockfield had sent runners to two courses – Leonard had taken a promising young horse to run on the flat at the Ascot Festival; whilst Harry and Matt were at Maiden Newton, where Matt was booked to ride two for Kendra's father and one for another owner.

The afternoon started badly when he was hailed by Mick Westerby, a wiry ex-jockey-turned-trainer he'd ridden for on several occasions when he was starting out, who offered him the ride on a novice in the first.

'Nice sort. Been showing a lot of promise at home,' Westerby told him. 'Randall's been schooling him over hurdles for me. Jockey's called in sick this morning.'

Matt wasn't keen. Although it went against the grain to turn down a riding fee, he hadn't the greatest regard for Westerby's skill in bringing on youngsters, and jump racing was a risky enough business anyway without taking on a ride that had every chance of ending in a fall. Still, Nick Randall was no fool, and if he'd been schooling him . . .

'Chap who owns him has just bought Peacock Penny,' Westerby added casually. 'You know, the mare who wiped the floor with the field in the Devon Stakes. I expect he'll be looking for a jock to ride her soon . . .'

'You're a devious bastard!' Matt declared. 'All right, but if this animal goes flat on its face at the first, I'll feed your bollocks to my dogs!'

'He'll be fine. Just keep a hold of his head. I'll give the colours to your valet.' Westerby began to turn away, then hesitated. 'Er . . . How many dogs have you got?'

Matt leaned close.

'Four,' he said. 'And they always seem to be hungry . . .'

The first race of the day was a two-mile novice hurdle. The ground was good to firm and Westerby's youngster, who went by the name of Khaki Kollin, cantered quite smoothly down to the start, so Matt began to relax a little, until one of the other jockeys called out, 'Have you packed your parachute, Mojo?'

He turned to see Irishman Tam Connelly riding towards him on a neat-looking chestnut.

'Do you know this fella, then?' he asked, with a feeling he wasn't going to like the answer.

Connelly laughed.

'You remember old Fletch bust his collarbone a couple of weeks back? Well, guess what he was riding . . .'

Matt groaned.

'That bugger Westerby swore he was a good 'un. Said Nicko had been schooling him.'

'Nicko rode him once,' Connelly said. 'Told 'em to take him to the glue factory. Have a nice day!'

'Oh, cheers, mate!'

The starter called them in; Matt pulled his chinstrap a little tighter and shortened his reins; the tape flew up and they were away.

It seemed Khaki Kollin's smooth progress to the start had been misleading. As soon as the race got underway, all his manners went out the window, and, with them, any chance of a comfortable ride. 'Keep a hold of his head,' the trainer had said. That was a joke! Matt found himself with a choice between letting the animal have its head, in which case it seemed probable Khaki Kollin would burn himself out within a mile – always supposing he didn't come crashing down at the first hurdle – or trying to control the speed, which option was almost certain to result in a pitched battle all the way to the first with much the same outcome.

In the end, he compromised, but his efforts to tuck the horse in behind the steadier runners met with little success. Kollin barged about, seemingly with little regard for his own safety, finally clipping the heels of the horse in front, causing it to stumble and drawing a curse from its jockey. Matt steered his mount wide again, gritting his teeth and holding on tight as the first hurdle loomed.

The jumps used in a hurdle race are made of gorse woven into a wooden frame and driven into the turf so that they flatten if they are hit hard enough, which is exactly what Kollin did.
Executing something between a skip and a jump, he barely attained half of the necessary three foot six and lost his back end on landing, throwing his head up and thumping Matt in the face with his neck.

Matt swore and caught sight of Tam Connelly's grinning face looking back at him as the rest of the field passed by. The mistake at the first would have been almost worthwhile if Khaki Kollin had learnt from it, but, once he regained his stride, he set off for the second hurdle with undiminished enthusiasm, leaving Matt with the feeling that it was not so much
if
they came to grief, as how soon.

He wasn't left wondering for long. The second hurdle was negotiated, if not stylishly, then at least without drama, but as they approached the third, which would also be the last jump when they had completed a circuit of the track, Kollin had caught up and was running hard on the heels of the field. Matt made the decision to leave the horse to its own devices and hope that self-preservation took a hand.

It didn't.

Khaki Kollin was either too excited or too stupid to think of anything but getting past the other horses and, for the second time, he completely failed to jump high enough. This time gravity won out. The horse stumbled, tipped onto his nose, and ended up skidding along the turf on his side.

For Matt, propelled over Kollin's shoulder to bounce and roll to a halt some twenty feet away, the thing was a run of the mill affair, barely bruising, and, as he watched the horse scramble to its feet and gallop after the others, he felt no great sense of disappointment. The fall had been a foregone conclusion and, as such, it was just as well that it had happened here, where it was a short walk back to the weighing room, than way over on the other side of the course. He would receive his riding fee and there was no damage done – it could have been a great deal worse, but, even so, he had a bone to pick with a certain trainer.

Climbing to his feet, he loosened the strap on his crash cap and headed for the medical room and the compulsory checks, and then the pleasure of a confrontation with Mick bloody Westerby.

In fact, it wasn't until after Matt's last ride of the day that he finally caught up with Khaki Kollin's trainer, coming face to face with the ex-jockey round a corner.

'Matt!' Westerby exclaimed, in unconvincing tones of happy surprise.

'Mick,' Matt responded, somewhat more heavily. 'Do you remember our little conversation? You told me that horse had been showing a lot of promise . . . Promise of what? I wonder.'

'Randall thought he was going nicely.'

'I have it on good authority that Randall said he should be consigned to the knacker's. And remember Fletch?'

'Ah. Perhaps I was thinking of a different horse.'

'Perhaps you were,' Matt agreed. 'But please don't tell me you were mixed up about getting me the ride on Peacock Penny.'

'No, no,' Westerby assured him hastily. 'I was just talking about you with the owner yesterday.'

'Well, mind you talk to him about it again soon. I think you owe me that,' Matt said.

'Mick? Is there a problem?' A cultured voice spoke from behind Matt, and he swung round to see the tall, grey-suited figure of Lord Kenning, Sophie Bradford's uncle. 'Ah, Matt. Didn't realise it was you. How are you? Nice win on that black horse of Emmett's earlier . . . Er, what's its name?'

'Coneflower,' Matt supplied. 'Thanks, yes – he's a good horse. Er . . . Lord Kenning, could I possibly have a word with you?' He glanced at Westerby, who muttered something about having horses to see to and scuttled away, patently relieved to have been let off the hook.

'Yes, Matt. How can I help you?' Lord Kenning held out one arm, palm forward, to indicate that Matt should walk on with him, and he did so, wondering how on earth to broach the subject uppermost in his mind.

'Well, actually, it's about Jamie Mullin,' he began. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the peer's face harden and hurried on. 'I think he's being given a raw deal.'

'Oh?' Kenning's tone wasn't encouraging.

'The press have picked him out as a suspect, purely because he was Sophie's boyfriend, but he hasn't actually done anything wrong, and I thought if you – as Sophie's uncle – were to demonstrate support . . .'

'Who
says
he hasn't done anything wrong?' Kenning demanded. 'Of course,
he
does – and you do too, I suppose, as he's a friend of yours – but how do
I
know that? As far as I know, he could well be her killer. He picked a fight with her in front of everyone at that party, and he was quite plainly drunk. Everybody knows he has a sparky temper; it seems to me he's the obvious suspect. The only thing I can't understand is why the police haven't got him under lock and key!'

'Because there's no evidence,' Matt countered. 'And that's because Jamie didn't do it. Look, I know Sophie was your niece, but how well did you actually know her? Were you close?'

Kenning's brows drew down over his pale grey eyes and his colour rose alarmingly.

'I think you've said enough, Shepherd! I'll not stand here and listen to you repeating unfounded rumours about my family, and, if I were you, I'd be careful whom I did speak to on the matter. Your career may be on a high at the moment, but it could just as easily go the other way, if you get my meaning. Good day.'

BOOK: Murder in Mind
10.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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