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Authors: Lyndon Stacey

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BOOK: Murder in Mind
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'It's not actually against the law for me to try and clear Jamie's name?'

'No, of course not.'

'Then, I don't see a problem,' Matt said pleasantly. He stood up and went towards the door. 'Is there anything else?'

Bartholomew's eyes narrowed.

'Do you
know
something? Because, if you do and you withhold it, you'll be obstructing a police enquiry, and that – I'm sure I don't need to tell you –
is
against the law. Do I make myself clear?' He got to his feet and moved across to where Matt waited, dwarfing him in both height and bulk, but Matt stood his ground, looking him steadily in the eye.

'I'm not stupid,' he said quietly, opening the front door and stepping aside.

With a final cold glare, Bartholomew left the cottage.

Matt wasn't riding that day. It was Sunday, but the season had yet to get into full swing and the only National Hunt meeting was taking place at the other end of the country. As he'd only been offered one less than thrilling prospect to ride, Matt had made the decision, some days ago, to stay at home and catch up on a little DIY, but any plans he might have nurtured for a peaceful day after the DI's departure were swiftly routed. His attempt to plaster the walls of what was shortly to become the new kitchen were doomed to failure as one phone call after another left the plaster hardening on his mixing board.

The first couple of interruptions came from other newspapers, agog to know if the article in the
Daily Standard
was to be believed. The third, surprisingly, was from Matt's elder brother, Luke.

'Hello stranger, where are you?' Matt said delightedly, noticing that the display showed a London number.

'London. Got in last night. I'm renting a place in Putney until I get sorted out.' Luke's voice held a noticeable New Zealand accent, even though he'd been schooled in England. Matt pictured him – tall, blond-haired, and with a shy smile that masked a confident business brain.

'And Mum and Dad?' It was over a year since Matt had seen any of his family.

'No, just me.'

'So, are you coming to visit, then? It's ages since we caught up, and I want you to meet Kendra.'

'Yes, I will do, but I'm afraid it won't be for a day or two. I'm here to oversee the opening of the London office and I'm going to be tied up for a few days. Actually, I have a proposition for you, have you got a mo?'

Matt said he had, but, in the event, it was nearer half an hour before he put the phone down, and his unused plaster was useless. As he scraped it into the bin and made up some more, he was turning Luke's proposal over in his mind and wondering how Charlie Brewer would react to the idea.

Moments later, the phone began to ring again.

'Can you get that, Kennie?' he called. 'If it's another bloody newspaper, I'm not at home.'

The ringing stopped and, moments later, Kendra appeared, holding the handset out towards him.

'It's Dad,' she said, with an apologetic grimace. 'I think he's seen the papers.'

Matt rolled his eyes heavenward, wiped his hand on the seat of his jeans, and took the phone.

'Charlie. Hi. What can I do for you?'

'You can start by explaining just where the hell this bloody paper got that story!' Brewer said explosively. 'They've made it sound as though the reporter actually interviewed you – this Casey something-or-other. Please tell me she didn't.'

'Well, as a matter of fact, she did,' Matt admitted.

'Then she obviously misquoted you . . . ?'

'Well, they weren't my exact words, but the gist of it is right.'

'But . . .' The businessman was momentarily and uncharacteristically at a loss. 'What on earth do you think you're playing at? Isn't it bad enough that Mullin has got himself in the shit without you doing your best to join him? Because that's what will happen, Matt. Sophie was a popular girl.'

Matt quelled his first, instinctive, response to this somewhat surprising comment and said merely, 'Jamie hasn't done anything wrong.'

'Yes, yes – so you say, but mud sticks, you know. Best stay out of it, at least in public, don't you think? Lord Kenning says it's only a matter of time before the police take Mullin in; it won't look good if you're seen to be defending him and then that happens.'

'And it'll look better if I desert a mate when he's in trouble? Anyway, what has Lord Kenning to do with this?'

'I was speaking to him this morning, actually.' Kendra's father couldn't help a note of pride creeping into his voice as he reported this.

Bugger Kenning!
Matt thought. The man was clever and had gauged Brewer exactly right. Money he had, and aplenty, but it couldn't buy what he wanted most in the world, acceptance by the titled and landed gentry. Kenning had rightly guessed that a personal phone call would soon have Charlie laying the pressure on Matt.

'You'd think he would be pleased that someone wanted to help find Sophie's killer,' Matt said, mildly. 'She was his niece, after all.'

'I expect he thinks, as I do, that it's a matter best left to the police. Good God, Matt! I'm telling you this for your own sake. I don't want to see you mess up your career and neither does he. Quite apart from your marrying my daughter, you're a bloody good jockey and I need you to ride my horses; that's the bottom line.'

'Okay, I hear what you're saying,' Matt said wearily. 'Though I really don't know why everyone is getting so hot under the collar. I was only ever going to ask a few questions, that's all. I'm not planning a new career!'

'I knew I could rely on your good sense,' Brewer stated.

That's why you felt the need to ring, I suppose, Matt thought dryly, but, for the sake of family harmony, he kept it to himself.

'We'll see you this evening, then. Oh – yes, the girls have decided to have a barbeque, so, if you want to come over a bit earlier . . . ?'

Matt said they would, and Kendra's father put the phone down, no doubt satisfied that the matter was closed.

Matt turned to find that Jamie had come into the room.

'So, you've let him talk you out of it, have you?' he asked bitterly.

'No, I haven't said one way or another,' Matt responded. 'He just
thinks
I have.'

'So you'll still carry on?'

Matt sighed.

'Jamie, listen. I'll do what I can to help, but, in spite of what I said to Casey, I really don't know how much that's going to be. Please don't get your hopes up too far.'

In the late afternoon, at Kendra's suggestion, Jamie accompanied them to the barbeque at Birchwood Hall. It couldn't be said that he was a willing participant, but Matt wasn't keen on leaving him alone at Spinney Cottage in his current frame of mind. There had still been no word on the whereabouts of the MG, but he wouldn't have put it past Jamie to call a taxi if he were really determined to go out and drown his sorrows.

Things were just getting underway when they arrived at the Hall, and they rounded the side of the house to find the large, brick-built barbeque alight and being attended to by most of the male contingent; two long trestle tables groaning under the weight of enough food and drink to feed an African family for a year; and the ladies engaged in a light-hearted game of croquet on the lawn. With the backdrop of the Regency building and its immaculately kept formal gardens, the scene had enough upper-class Englishness to satisfy even the most ardent social mountaineer.

All the family were present, with the addition of Grace's new boyfriend, Rupert; John, Reney and Harry Leonard; and a muscular individual with a shadow of shaved hair and one earring, who had once been introduced to Matt as Niall Delafield, and who apparently took care of security for Kendra's father. He had, to Matt's mind, the look of an ex-soldier, and was dressed on this occasion in faded denim jeans, a whiter-than-white tee shirt, and a navy jacket. He appeared at ease mixing with the family and shook hands with a grasp that left Matt in no doubt of his strength and a smile that rivalled his tee shirt for brilliance.

In spite of his reluctance to attend, Jamie was a natural party animal and, once he was mixing with the Brewer family and their friends, he seemed to shed a little of his black mood and allowed Kendra to draw him into a riotous croquet game with her mother and all the younger members of the gathering.

Now that the barbeque was performing as it ought, Charlie drifted away to talk to John Leonard, and Reney, who could never resist the lure of a cooking range – in whatever form – was left with the tongs. Carrying a beer, Delafield retreated to the comfort of a swing seat, apparently content to watch the antics of the croquet players. All in all, Matt decided that the time would probably never be better to broach the subject of his brother's offer with Charlie.

His reaction was more or less what Matt had expected.

'Sponsorship? What do you want a bloody sponsor for? Why didn't you ask me if you wanted to parade some company's name on your breeches? You can have CRB Developments plastered on every part of your anatomy if you want to – but I didn't think you would, you're so bloody independent! Who are these cowboys, anyway?'

'Q&S Holdings.'

'I see.'

Matt hid a smile as Charlie almost visibly regrouped. Q&S Holdings were one of the top ten companies in New Zealand, and had branches on every major continent.

'Did they call you or did you contact them?'

'Actually, my brother is in charge of the new London office.'

Charlie grunted. 'Still can't see why you need a sponsor,' he said peevishly. 'Got everything you need at Rockfield, haven't you?'

'You said it a minute ago,' Matt told him evenly.
'Independence. But I don't see what the problem is – it won't affect my riding for you.'

'Yes – well, we'll see. We'll need to talk it over, but not now.'

'Actually, I've already accepted. Haven't signed anything, of course, but I've said I'd like to go ahead.' Matt smiled, affecting not to notice the heavy frown his announcement provoked. 'Can I get you another drink?'

As he turned away, he caught John Leonard's eye and winked; the trainer's expression was so aghast that Matt was silently laughing to himself as he went towards the drinks table.

As the sun sank slowly behind the oaks in the park and the patio torches were lit, the croquet players came laughing to the drinks table, Deacon and Harry arguing over whether or not a deflection off the wheel of the wheelchair should count as a foul.

'Well, I think
some
allowance should be made for the fact that I'm a disabled competitor,' Harry complained.

'That's rich!' Frances put in, handing him a glass of white wine. 'Considering you were thrashing the lot of us before it ever happened!'

'Luck, that's all,' Harry protested, looking up at her, and Matt was struck by the softness of the glance that passed between them.

Well, well, he thought. Was that the way the wind was blowing? If so, he was pleased for his friend, but with a slight reservation. Brewer had already had to come to terms with the prospect of one of his daughters marrying a mere jockey;
Matt had an idea he wouldn't readily take to the idea of Frances going out with a disabled ex-jockey who was, furthermore, the son of one of his employees.

Just at the moment, however, Kendra's father was fully occupied with the barbeque, from whence came the mouth-watering aromas of a variety of sizzling meats, sausages, mushrooms, and fruit and veg kebabs. Reney's influence had ensured that many of the offerings were suitable for jockeys with an eye on the scales, and Jamie and Matt were happily able to join the feast.

By mid evening, everyone was lounging in the cushioned cane furniture that Greening had brought out from the huge conservatory at the back of the house; drinking wine, talking, and enjoying the warmth of the calm September night. Moths fluttered round the patio lights, instinct drawing them heedlessly into danger, and overhead a pipistrelle bat whirled and dived, causing Grace to look up nervously.

Frances was quick to notice.

'Don't worry,' she said, with a sweet smile. 'It won't get caught in
your
hair. Even bats have to draw the line somewhere!'

'You cow!' her sister exclaimed, lobbing a rolled-up serviette in Frances's direction.

It fell woefully wide, but the one sent in reply hit its mark beautifully and a free-for-all threatened.

From the chair opposite, Joy spoke up.

'I think that's enough, girls! Fran, why don't you make us some coffee?'

'Where's Greening, then?' her daughter asked.

'Putting his feet up, I hope. I told him we'd manage this evening. Don't be so lazy!'

Grumbling, Frances slowly uncurled herself from her chair and stood up. 'OK, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, Horlicks, Ovaltine, milk – who wants what?'

There ensued a few chaotic minutes as she collected everyone's orders, in the midst of which it was discovered that both Harry and Deacon had disappeared.

'I'll find Deke,' Delafield volunteered, getting to his feet. 'I was just going in to fetch a jacket.'

'Harry's gone to the loo,' Frances said. 'I sent him to the workshop one, because it's easier access on wheels. Actually, that was a few minutes ago, I hope he found it OK.'

'Oh dear, I wish you'd told me,' Joy said. 'I had a delivery of hatboxes this afternoon and they're all stacked in the back room; he won't be able to get through with the chair. I don't want to offend, but do you think someone ought to go and see if he's OK?'

'We'll go,' Kendra said, getting to her feet and reaching a hand down to Matt, whose chair she'd been sharing. 'I wanted to show Matt the Hattery anyway. He hasn't seen the showroom since you've had it fitted out.'

'I wish you wouldn't call it a hattery. You've got me doing it now, and I nearly said it in front of one of the customers.'

'Give in and call it "The Hattery",' Frances suggested. 'You were looking for a good name for the business.'

Joy made a face.

'I was thinking of something classy,' she said.

Laughing, Kendra and Matt made their way round the back of the house through a brick archway to the old stableyard, most of which was now converted into garages and storage. Joy's workshop and showroom were located in what had originally been the coach house, a building with arched windows and a high ceiling, which provided ample light for working and space for her creations to be displayed to advantage. A light showed behind the blinds.

BOOK: Murder in Mind
7.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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