Read Murder in Mind Online

Authors: Lyndon Stacey

Murder in Mind (8 page)

BOOK: Murder in Mind
7.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

He stalked off, leaving Matt staring after him in complete bewilderment. What on earth had prompted that reaction? It was true he hadn't held out much hope of winning Lord Kenning's support, but he had thought it worth a try. He certainly hadn't expected a rebuff on that scale.

While he stood in momentary confusion, a voice hailed him from behind.

'Matt. Hi!'

Matt turned. Harry Leonard was approaching, smiling up at him from his wheelchair.
Around thirty, with wavy brown hair and an engaging grin, he was a good-looking man who'd received plenty of attention from the ladies when he'd been a jockey and Matt thought that, now he'd stopped wasting to make his riding weight, he looked better than he had ever done.

'Hiyah,' he responded, putting Lord Kenning's strange behaviour to the back of his mind for the time being.

'Join me for a drink to celebrate Coneflower's win?' Harry suggested.

'Er, yeah, OK.' He'd wanted to get back at a reasonable hour, just in case Jamie suffered a relapse into his depressed state of the day before and decided to go out on the town again. Still, Kendra was going to be around and had promised to keep an eye on him, and it was a while since he'd had a chance to catch up with Harry, socially.

Ensconced in the owners' and trainers' bar, with a white wine spritzer in his hand, Matt relaxed with a deep sigh. A party of thirty-somethings were noisily celebrating a win on the other side of the room, and at the bar two or three solitary drinkers appeared to be doing the opposite, but there were more staff than customers around at this time of day, collecting glasses and wiping tables now the rush was over.

'Not a bad day, I suppose,' he said, as Harry manoeuvred his chair closer to the table. 'Although Panda Feet was a bit of a disappointment. I just couldn't get him interested at all. Have you spoken to Toby Potter since the race?'
Panda Feet was usually a reliable stayer, but today he'd trailed home twelfth of seventeen. His owner, a vet who'd been an enthusiastic amateur jockey in years gone by, normally collared Matt after the race for an in-depth discussion of his horse's performance, but today he'd been nowhere to be seen.

Harry shrugged.

'No, I haven't seen him. Perhaps he was on call and an emergency came up.'

'Where does he work?' Matt asked, helping himself to two or three peanuts from a dish on the table.

'Bristol vet hospital.' With a small smile, Harry moved the nuts beyond his reach.

'Didn't I hear he's started doing some new mumbo-jumbo therapy? Can't remember who told me.'

'Sounds like something Charlie might have said,' Harry said dryly. 'He doesn't believe in anything that hasn't been tested, re-tested, and the figures produced in triplicate for his scrutiny. Toby's a physio; you make him sound like a witch doctor! Anyway, you mad bugger, what on earth made you take the ride on Mick Westerby's no-hoper?'

'Well, obviously I was the only person on the racecourse who didn't know it
was
a no-hoper. I knew about Fletch, of course, but, for some reason, I just didn't connect the two. Peacock Penny was held out as a carrot, and I'm going to make damn sure he honours that promise.'

'I don't think Khaki Wotsit has finished a race yet – but I might be wrong. Still, it could have been worse.'

'Yeah, it was about a grade three,' Matt replied. In the years when they had both been riding, they'd formed a habit of grading their falls from one to ten, according to pain and damage, with grade one being a step-off, four a case of bad bruising, and five upward being broken bones of varying severity and number. It had all been a joke until Harry had suffered his crippling fall. Matt remembered the first words the trainer's son had spoken to him in hospital, whilst still hooked up to a myriad of tubes and monitors. 'Guess that was a ten,' he'd said sleepily, the morphine keeping his sense of humour alive. At that point, he hadn't been told the grim report of the surgeon. With an effort, Matt had smiled, but their joke had turned sour.

'So, where's Jamie today? Not riding?' Harry's query brought him back to the present.

Matt shook his head. 'No one wants to touch him at the moment with this Sophie Bradford thing going on.'

'Oh, that's a bit unfair!' Harry exclaimed. 'The police don't
really
think he had anything to do with it, do they? Seriously?'

'I'm not sure. They're certainly keeping the pressure on. And, you have to admit, it didn't look good, he and Sophie having that row less than an hour before she turns up dead. I mean, they couldn't have picked a more public place, could they?'

'No, I guess not, but, actually, I was out getting some fresh air. Typical, isn't it? The highlight of a dull evening and I missed it!'

'There wasn't much to it, really. She'd been winding him up all evening, flirting with an ex-boyfriend. Jamie grabbed her, to try and make her listen, and she slapped him and walked off. He went after her and the bouncer stepped in, so Jamie swung a punch at him.'

Harry chuckled. 'He's game, I'll give him that. I should imagine the bouncer wiped the floor with him, didn't he?'

'No, just frogmarched him out.' Matt took a sip of his drink. 'I gather you were still there when the police arrived.'

'Only just. I was out by my car. I'd had enough at that point and was on my way home, but I wasn't quite quick enough and ended up back inside. They wanted to question everyone, which took forever and was a complete waste of time, considering I didn't see the famous bust-up and I'm hardly in a position to have followed the poor girl down the road and attacked her. Would you believe the cops asked me if I actually needed the wheelchair? I felt like saying, "No, I just use it for fun!"' He shook his head at the memory. 'Lucky you left when you did. You were well out of that.'

'Yeah, except I got caught up in it anyway. It was me that found Sophie's body.'

'
You
did? I didn't know. God, how awful!'

'It
was
pretty grim. I was actually looking for Jamie, because I thought he might need a lift home. As you can imagine, I got stuck with the police for hours.'

'Have they got you down as a suspect, too?'

'Lord knows! I expect so. But they seem to be concentrating on Jamie at the moment.'

'So, what did old Kenning want, just now?' Harry was carefully balancing his wine glass on the arm of his wheelchair as he spoke.

'Oh, that.' Matt explained his abortive attempt to get the peer on Jamie's side. 'I must say, I didn't expect quite such a strong reaction,' he finished. 'Nearly snapped my head off!'

'Ah, I take it you didn't hear the rumours then?'

'What rumours?'

'Christ, Matt! You should learn to pay more attention to weighing-room gossip. Couple of years ago – just before my accident, it would have been – there was a rumour going round that our friend Kenning was more than just a doting uncle to pretty Miss Sophie Bradford, if you know what I mean. I can't believe you didn't know.'

'I don't remember it. Perhaps I was injured or suspended or something. No wonder he turned nasty when I asked him how close they'd been. Was there any truth in the rumours?'

Harry shrugged. 'God knows. It was a one-minute wonder, anyway. The lads had moved on to something else in a day or two. I think it was Razor who started it – it usually is – but I don't know where he got it from.' Looking at his watch, he drained his glass and stood it on the table. 'Well, I'd better be going – got a date.'

Matt raised his eyebrows. 'Well, well. Anyone I know?'

Laughing, Harry reversed his chair, then tapped his nose with his index finger.

'Ah, that would be telling. See you later.'

Left alone to finish his spritzer, Matt pulled the forbidden bowl of peanuts closer once more, helped himself to a handful, and gazed thoughtfully out of the window. Below, the horses were just being led back to the stables after the last race and the crowds were rapidly dispersing, leaving behind a mess of discarded betting slips, racecards, and food wrappers on the trampled grass.

Matt took some more nuts and wondered at the sheer laziness of the masses. Bins abounded, and yet it seemed that most people couldn't be bothered to walk the few steps necessary to use them. A disparate movement caught his eye – Harry in his wheelchair, moving swiftly along the tarmac path. The guy should try the Paralympics, he thought with a smile, watching his rapid progress.

The chair continued to follow the path, moving nearer to the building and almost out of Matt's range of vision. Idly, he leaned closer to the window to keep it in view and saw it come to a halt in front of the Tote kiosks, where a figure in a fiat cap and tweed jacket was standing waiting. With a sense of disappointment, Matt wondered if this was the date Harry had referred to. He'd hoped his friend had found himself a girl. Losing interest in the unheard conversation below, he was about to look away when the man in the flat cap glanced up momentarily at the sky as if considering something.

It was Toby Potter, owner of the disappointing Panda Feet, Matt realised in surprise. That was strange, after the conversation they'd just had. If Harry had known he was going to meet the man in a few minutes' time, why on earth hadn't he said so?

5

It seemed Matt was destined to be late home, for, as he headed across the now sparsely populated car park, a diminutive figure in skintight jeans and a pale blue Puffa jacket stepped out from behind a Land Rover and hailed him by name.

'I'm sorry. Do I know you?' Matt looked down at the tousled red hair and freckled face of the female who'd spoken and was pretty sure that he didn't. She looked to be about sixteen, and he waited for the expected autograph book to appear.

It didn't. The female put out a freckled hand to be shaken, and announced, 'Casey McKeegan,' as if it were a name with which he should be familiar. Her accent was every bit as Irish as Jamie's.

He shook the hand, because it seemed churlish not to.

'And what can I do for you, Ms McKeegan? I have to warn you, I'm in a bit of a hurry.'

'I'll walk with you,' she offered, not in the least put off. 'I'm a journalist, and I wanted to ask you –'

'A what?' Matt broke in, wondering if he'd heard right.

'A journalist.'

'A journalist, huh? OK. Can I see your press card?'

The girl frowned.

'Why?' she asked, tilting her head slightly.

'Because I don't just talk to
anyone
who comes up and asks . . .'

'OK.' The redheaded girl flashed a laminated rectangle in his direction and would have stowed it back in her pocket just as quickly if Matt hadn't clicked his fingers and beckoned for her to produce it again. He scanned it swiftly. The girl in the photo did indeed look like the one before him, but the name of the paper was a bit of a shock. The
Daily Standard.

'You don't look old enough. How did you wangle that? Does Daddy own the paper?' Matt enquired.

'I'm nineteen. Not that it's any business of yours,' she said hotly.

'You don't look it.'

'Are you always this rude, Mr Shepherd?'

Matt stopped and turned to face her.

'The
Standard
isn't exactly on my list of favourite papers at the moment – strangely enough. But then you knew that, didn't you? That's why you tried to whisk the card away before I had time to read it properly.'

'I thought you might not talk to me,' Casey admitted, looking up at him from under her untidy red fringe.

'And you were right, so don't bother trying the lost puppy dog act on me. It won't work.'

'I'm not!' she stated indignantly. 'Look, can we talk about your friend Jamie Mullin?'

'So you can drag him across the coals again? No, I think not.' Matt started to walk away. 'As I said, I'm in a hurry.'

Casey hurried to catch up. 'That wasn't me. That was Dave – Dave Rossiter – he's only interested in stirring up trouble,
I
want to get to the truth.'

'Well, you're probably in the wrong job then,' Matt told her, without stopping.

'
No
,' she cried in frustration. 'I
like
Jamie. I met him once in a pub. He bought me a drink. And, anyway, if he's your friend, don't you want to put his side of the story across?'

Matt slowed a fraction.

'Yes, if I thought for one moment it would be done straight. Give me one good reason why I should trust you . . .'

The girl's freckled brow furrowed.

'Well, what am I supposed to say? That I'm honest? You wouldn't believe me. What if I said I know something about you that you'd sooner I didn't tell? Would you talk to me then?'

'That would be blackmail,' he observed.

'But would you?'

'Depends what it was.'

'All right. I know it was you who found Sophie Bradford's body.'

Matt stopped and looked down at her through narrowed eyes. She looked as fresh-faced and wholesome as a kid in a Walt Disney film, but there was clearly a sharp brain behind those candid green eyes.

'Were you eavesdropping on my conversation in the bar?' He searched his memory but couldn't recall having seen her.

'I might have overheard,' she replied, meeting his gaze unashamedly.

'And that's supposed to make me trust you?'

'No. It's supposed to make you see that I mean business and I'm good at what I do. You want to clear Jamie's name and I might be able to help you.'

Smiling slightly, Matt shook his head.

'I was wrong. You're in just the right job,' he said. 'OK, I'm listening. What exactly do you want to know and how do you think you can help me?'

The following day was fine and dry, and Matt managed to persuade Jamie to accompany him to Rockfield to ride work for Leonard. His search for the MG had proved abortive and a couple of hours spent schooling novices over a line of low, stiff brush fences did more to restore Jamie's spirits than any pep talk Matt could have come up with. Unfortunately, chatting about the ongoing plans for the horses afterwards, over coffee in the Leonards' kitchen, only served to remind Jamie that those plans might well not include him, and he quickly sank back into gloom until Irene Leonard dropped a copy of the
Daily Standard
onto the table in front of Matt.

'Well, you're a dark horse, aren't you? What's this? Matt Shepherd – Private Eye?'

'Let's have a look.'

Before Matt could react, Jamie had pinched the paper from under his nose.

'Wow!' He glanced sideways at Matt. 'Your pint-sized journo certainly came through with the goods. You've got a slot on the front page: "Sophie Bradford's Murderer – Top Jockey on the Trail!" When you say you're going to do something, you don't hang about, do you?'

'You're kidding! It doesn't actually say that, does it?' Matt had told Jamie about his meeting with Casey McKeegan on the way over.

'Yep.' Jamie began to read. '"When I caught up with top National Hunt jockey Matt Shepherd this afternoon, I naturally expected him to defend his fellow rider, Jamie Mullin, who rumour has linked with the murder – after all, they are friends, and Jamie sometimes lodges at Matt's Somerset home – but I didn't expect the twenty-six-year-old to be quite as fired up as he was. Although, perhaps 'fired up' is the wrong phrase to use. Matt, known in the weighing room as 'Eskimo Joe', was indeed ice-cool as he told me of his determination to find the culprit behind the senseless attack and bring him – or her – to justice. To be honest, jockey-turned-sleuth sounds like something out of a thriller, but take a good look into those steady brown eyes, and I, for one, wouldn't bet against him getting the job done."' He stopped and looked at Matt in awe. 'Wow! She really knows how to lay it on, doesn't she?'

Matt groaned. 'The words
with a trowel
spring to mind. I never dreamed she'd write all that rubbish. I just wanted a couple of lines to take the heat off you.'

Irene looked concerned.

'Was that such a good idea? What if the real murderer reads that and thinks you're coming after him?'

'I don't suppose for one moment that he will, but if he does, he'll probably laugh himself silly at the idea that I think I can do better than the police, as will a number of other people, I have no doubt,' Matt added, grimacing in anticipation of his next visit to the weighing-room.

'"Take a good look into those steady brown eyes,"' Jamie quoted with relish, slanting a look at Matt. 'If you ask me, she's got the hots for you, my friend.'

Matt pulled a face. 'She's not much more than a kid. Actually, you've met her. She said she'd met you in a pub.'

Jamie pursed his lips and shook his head. 'Don't remember it . . .'

'Don't know what Mr Brewer will think about this,' John Leonard said doubtfully. 'I don't imagine he'll be too pleased.'

Matt thought he was probably right, but the deed was done now, and only time would tell whether it had been a good idea or a bad one.

Back at Spinney Cottage, an hour or so later, the first layer of fallout from the article landed on the front doorstep in the person of DI Bartholomew. Jamie was out, having been persuaded to walk across the fields to the village to buy a pint of milk.

The dogs gave the alarm, performing a mass exodus from the kitchen and tearing through to the sitting room, where they began to bark furiously at the front door.

'I'll get it.' Glancing through the window on his way to the door, Matt saw Bartholomew's black BMW pulling up in front of the cottage. 'Damn!' he muttered, then called over his shoulder to Kendra, 'Can you call the dogs in there? It's bloody Bartholomew.'

By the time the DI jangled the bell a couple of minutes later, the dogs were safely in the kitchen, a fact that he ascertained before inviting himself in.

He ducked under the lintel and came into the low-ceilinged room, making it seem even lower than it was. His suit – the same brown one Matt had seen before – looked as though it had been slept in and his eyes were heavily hooded. He was on his own.

'Are you here to see Jamie?' Matt asked, shutting the door behind the officer. 'Because he's not here at the moment.'

'No, Mr Shepherd. As a matter of fact, this time it's you I wanted to talk to,' Bartholomew said, turning to face Matt. He produced a folded sheet of newsprint from his pocket. 'I see you've set yourself up as some kind of private investigator. Would you mind telling me what that's all about?'

'Ah,' Matt said, stalling for time. He should have guessed that the article would bring Bartholomew running. 'It's not really how it sounds – it's just a reporter getting a bit carried away. You know what they're like.'

'So you're not intending doing any nosing around?' Bartholomew's tone suggested that he would strongly advise against it.

'Well, that depends . . .'

'On what, exactly?'

'On whether you can convince me that Jamie is just one of many lines of enquiry you are actively following. Because it seems to me you've more or less decided that he's guilty and you think, if you put enough pressure on him, he'll confess.'

'I can assure you, that's not how we work,' the DI said, coldly. 'Mr Shepherd, have you ever heard of Holmes?'

Matt frowned.

'As in Sherlock?'

'Yes, but more specifically, as in the computer programme that every police force in this country uses to run murder investigations?'

'No, I haven't,' Matt admitted. 'Er ... do you want to sit down?' Bartholomew was standing hunched slightly forward to avoid the stripped oak beams.

With no word of thanks, the DI moved across and lowered his burly frame into one of the armchairs. Matt settled opposite him and waited.

'HOLMES – or more correctly, HOLMES 2 – stands for Home Office Large Major Enquiry System,' the detective told him.

Matt nodded, inwardly cringing at the clumsy acronym.

'This system ensures that every possible line of enquiry is followed up. Every single detail of the investigation is entered into the computer: every statement, every fact and scrap of information.
HOLMES then generates hundreds of lines of enquiry, which are followed up and the results entered in their turn. For instance, this party last weekend – we entered the details of every single person on the guest list; anyone else who turned up uninvited; all members of staff at the social club, from the manager, bar staff and bouncers, right down to the caretaker and cleaners. It prioritises lines of investigation, links with other forces around the country, and even produces documentation for use in court.'

Matt inclined his head.

'Very impressive.'

'It
is
impressive, but my reason for telling you, Mr Shepherd, wasn't to impress you but to illustrate that, however much we may personally favour one particular line of enquiry, in this day and age, it simply isn't possible for us to ignore any of the others.'

'Computers are all very well, but they can't take character into account, can they, Detective? As far as your HOLMES programme can see, the facts about Jamie would be the same whether he was the popular, easy-going person that he is, or an unpleasant thug, as long as he hasn't anything on record. Isn't that right?'

'But that's precisely what makes it so valuable,' Bartholomew pointed out. 'It isn't swayed by personal prejudice. And, you must remember, it's only an aid to investigation – it doesn't replace the human element, merely complements it.'

'Well, it's the human element that's making Jamie's life a misery at the moment,' Matt countered.

'The fact remains that Mr Mullin is the one person who was seen to fall out with the deceased
– er. Miss Bradford – on the evening she was killed. Naturally, he becomes a prime suspect, and, if your view wasn't coloured by a natural sense of loyalty, you would see it the same way.'

'But what's to stop it being a purely random attack?' Matt asked. 'An attractive woman, dressed, er – to impress, shall we say? – walking along an unlit road late at night? Surely that's a scenario made for trouble?'

'And obviously that's a possibility we're following up, but there was no evidence of any sexual assault, and, in the vast majority of these cases, the killer is someone known to his – or her
– victim. I'd be failing in my job if I didn't investigate Jamie Mullin's involvement as thoroughly as I could. If he's innocent, he's got nothing whatever to worry about.'

'Except that, in the meantime – until you find whoever did kill Sophie – his whole life is going down the pan! Between you, you and the bloody papers have seen to it that no one in the racing world wants to be associated with him. There are plenty of able young jockeys around just gagging for a chance to show their worth. In our business you need rides to get rides, and the reputation he's been working his butt off for, over the past four years, will slip away in as many weeks if he's not riding. And you hounding his every move isn't helping.' Matt stopped, seeing nothing remotely resembling sympathy in the DI's face. 'Ah, what's the use?' he asked disgustedly.

'I do know what you're saying,' Bartholomew said, after a moment. 'But let's get back to the reason for my visit, shall we? My business is finding out who attacked and killed this young woman, and having an amateur bumbling around isn't going to help. I seriously advise you to get on with your own job and let me get on with mine. We have hundreds of people working on this; across the country – thousands. I don't know what the hell you think you can do that we haven't already done.'

BOOK: Murder in Mind
7.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

If Then by Matthew de Abaitua
Mystery of the Hidden Painting by Gertrude Chandler Warner
Claiming The Prize by Nadja Notariani
Ship It Holla Ballas! by Jonathan Grotenstein
Broken Together by K. S. Ruff
The Diamond Waterfall by Pamela Haines
Jack & Jill by Burke, Kealan Patrick
Ten Pound Pom by Griffiths, Niall
Ever Fallen In Love by Wendi Zwaduk