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Authors: Karen King

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BOOK: Sabotage
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Chapter 8
A New Quest!

‘Hey, you!’

I froze. Mrs Langham was calling me. What should I do?

I fixed an innocent look on my face and turned around. ‘Did you want me?’

‘Yes. Are you staying here?’

‘Er … no … just visiting someone. Why?’

‘Didn’t I see you hanging around that old man’s cottage with a young lad? Is he your brother?’

I wasn’t sure how to play this. Why was she asking me all these questions? I thought about how Vince would handle this. ‘Keep cool and stick to the truth as much as possible’ he always told Mac. ‘That way you don’t get caught out.’

‘No, he is not my brother. He lives next door to me, and he knows Old Joe. That’s why we were visiting him. Why?’ I paused for a moment as if I was trying to remember. ‘Hey, aren’t you the lady who was taking photos over at the field?’

‘Yes, I’m down here on holiday and thought how pretty the cottage was. I just couldn’t resist taking a photo of it.’ She twisted one of the curly locks around her finger. She looked a bit nervous. ‘So, this Old Joe, does he live there by himself?’

I wished that I’d brought my micro-recorder with me. That way, I could have played this conversation back later. I was sure her questions were leading somewhere and I didn’t want to miss any vital clues.

I nodded. ‘His wife died years ago and he’s got no children.’

I saw something flicker across her face. She’d been hoping Old Joe lived alone. Maybe she thought it’d be easier to persuade him to move. ‘He loves that cottage,’ I added. ‘It’s been in his family for years. He’ll never move out.’

‘Can’t say I blame him,’ she said. She smiled, then walked off along the corridor.

She seemed friendly enough, I thought, but then it could all be an act.

I wasn’t sure what to do now. I knew the woman’s name, the hotel and room she was staying in, so I really ought to go. Hanging around here would only get me into trouble, especially if the woman on reception saw me and discovered that I’d been lying. I made my way to the stairs.

I was nearly at the bottom of the stairs, when I heard the receptionist’s voice.

‘Ah, Mrs Langham. Did that young girl find you?’

‘Young girl?’

‘American, about 13, said you’d dropped five pounds outside.’

‘I did speak to a girl like that, but she didn’t say anything about me dropping money,’ Mrs Langham replied. ‘When I left, she carried on walking along the corridor. Said she was visiting a friend.’

‘The young madam! I wonder what she’s up to? I can’t have her walking about the hotel like that. I’ll call Bert and have him look for her.’

I guessed Bert was the ‘heavy’. Fan-blooming-tastic! I was about to be hunted down and thrown out of the hotel by a big, hulking security guard. Gran would have a major fit if she got to hear about it.

There had to be a back entrance or something. An emergency escape – that was it. All hotels had to have one. I dashed back upstairs and along the landing. At the far end of the corridor I saw some double doors with
Emergency Exit
written across the top. I raced towards them.

‘Hey, you! Come back here!’ I glanced over my shoulder and saw a burly-looking man running down the corridor after me. Bert, I guessed. I pushed open the doors and bounded down the rickety fire escape steps. As I looked back to see if Bert was gaining on me, I lost my footing on one of the steps and came crashing to the ground. My head felt dizzy, but there was no time to sit about or I’d get caught, so I somehow picked myself up and carried on running.

‘I’ll remember you. I never forget a face!’ Bert shouted, leaning over the railings. I jumped down the last few steps and raced across the car park. ‘Don’t let me see you hanging around here again.’

Max was sitting on the grass verge, looking real fed up. ‘You’ve been ages!’ he glowered.

‘Yeah, and I nearly got thrown out too.’ I grabbed my bike. ‘Come on, let’s get out of here. I’ll fill you in when we get home.’

Gran looked real annoyed when I walked in. ‘Where have you been, Amy? I told you I needed those tablets urgently. Luckily Mr Winkleberry came home and fetched some for me.’

The headache tablets! I’d forgotten all about them! ‘Sorry, Gran, Old Joe had a burst pipe and we stayed to help him clean up. I completely forgot about your tablets. I’m really sorry.’

‘Well, at least you’ve arrived in time to help me get the room ready for our new guest. She’s arriving at seven and I don’t want to miss my WI meeting.’

‘What do you want me to do?’ I asked, knowing that if Gran missed her beloved WI meeting she’d be in a bad mood all weekend.

‘Just run the vacuum around, there’s a dear, and put some clean sheets and a duvet on the bed,’ Gran said. ‘You’ll find them in the airing cupboard. Make sure you use a pretty duvet cover … oh, and put an air freshener plug in the room, will you? A pleasant-smelling room always makes a good impression.’

It took me a good half an hour to do the room, but it was worth it to stay in Gran’s good books. If she got to hear about what I’d been up to at the hotel, she’d be so mad I’d be grounded for a month.

By the time I’d finished it was tea time, and Gran, looking a lot perkier, went to get ready for her WI meeting. ‘How do I look?’ she asked when she came back down, dressed in a pale blue twinset and a black pleated skirt.

Honestly, I don’t know why she took so much trouble just to meet a group of old ladies and natter about jam-making or whatever. As usual, the whole effect was spoilt by the fact that one of her finely–pencilled eyebrows was higher than the other one. I’d been trying to pluck up the courage to tell her about it ever since I’d arrived, but had never found the right moment. This wasn’t it either.

‘Very nice,’ I said.

‘Thank you, dear. Now, our new guest will be arriving any minute.’

The doorbell rang, as if on cue. Gran put on her best smile and went to answer it.

‘Mrs Carter? I’m Mrs Langham.’

I froze as I heard the familiar voice. What was she doing here? Had she found out where I lived so that she could tell Gran how I’d sneaked into the hotel that afternoon? My mind was in a spin, trying to think of a reason I could give for being there, for lying about the five pound note.

‘Do come in, your room is all ready for you. I’m afraid I have to go out now for a couple of hours, but Mr Winkleberry and my granddaughter, Amy, will look after you. ‘Amy,’ she called. ‘Come and show Mrs Langham to her room, please.’

Chapter 9
More Trouble

There’s only one thing you can do when you’re caught in a corner, and that’s bluff your way out of it. So I fixed a bright smile on my face. ‘Hello, Mrs Langham. We met earlier, didn’t we?’

She looked a bit taken aback but quickly pulled herself together. ‘Yes, we did. The receptionist seemed to think you were looking for me to give me some money I’d dropped. Strange you didn’t mention it in our conversation.’

‘I thought it was you, but it was another lady. I saw her and gave it to her.’ I quickly changed the subject. ‘Why are you staying here now? Didn’t you like it at the hotel?’

‘You two have already met?’ Gran asked, surprised.

‘Just briefly.’ I said. ‘You go on to your meeting, Gran. I’ll show Mrs Langham to her room,’ I added before she could question me further.

Mr Winkleberry came out of the lounge. ‘And I’m around all evening if you have any questions, Mrs Langham. I’ve been staying with Mrs Carter for years, so I know all the ropes.’

‘Thank you, David. I’ll only be out a couple of hours, Mrs Langham. Do make yourself comfortable,’ Gran said, picking up her bag and making her way to the front door.

‘I will, thanks. Enjoy yourself,’ Mrs Langham called after her.

Mr Winkleberry immediately took charge. ‘You load the dishwasher please, Amy, while I show Mrs Langham to her room.’

Normally I’d resent Mr W bossing me about, but right now I was glad to make an escape before Mrs Langham could question me further. It would also give me a chance to think about this development.

What was she doing here? Of all the B&Bs in town, it seemed a bit coincidental that she ended up at the one I lived in on the very day she found out I knew Old Joe.

I didn’t see Mrs Langham for the rest of the evening, but when I came downstairs the next morning, she was in the kitchen talking to Gran, or rather questioning Gran, about Old Joe.

‘So, he’s lived in the cottage all his life then?’ she was saying.

‘Yes, and his family before him,’ said Gran.

‘It’s a lovely cottage, and such beautiful surroundings,’ said Mrs Langham.

‘Where do you live?’ I asked casually, pouring myself a glass of milk and spooning in some strawberry milkshake powder.

‘Oh, not far,’ she said with a shrug. ‘Well, I’ve kept you talking long enough, Mrs Carter. Thank you for a lovely breakfast. I’ll get my bag and be off.’ She smiled at me and then walked out.

‘What a pleasant woman,’ Gran said. ‘She booked one night at
Windward Hotel
to see if she liked the area, then decided to stay for a while, so came here. She said
was highly recommended to her.’

I was sure that Mrs Langham’s extended stay had something to do with Old Joe’s cottage. I’d have to keep her under close surveillance.

We’d promised to help Old Joe clear his attic this morning, so I sent a text to Max asking him to meet me at the back gate straight after breakfast. I wanted to get out before Gran or Mr W could find any jobs for me to do.

We had just cycled into Old Joe’s yard when we heard the splinter of broken glass. We raced around to the side of the house just in time to see a dark-haired lad running towards the woods and Joe’s kitchen window smashed. I just saw red.

‘Come back here you scumbag!’ I yelled, chasing after the kid on my bike. ‘You’re not going to get away with bullying an old man like this!’

Furious, I charged through the woods after him. Big mistake. I should have realised that he wasn’t alone. Not that I saw anyone else, but suddenly my bike hit something and I went flying over the handlebars like a rocket, landing head first in a nearby bush. My pride was damaged, but at least my body wasn’t.

‘Are you okay, Amy? Shall we pull you out?’

Great, just what I needed, Old Joe and Max to come along and see me upside down in a bush. Thank goodness I was wearing jeans. ‘No, I can manage thanks.’ I wriggled out and onto my feet with as much dignity as I could muster. My arm felt sore and I could already feel a big bruise forming. I rubbed it, then brushed the leaves off my clothes and looked around.

My bike was lying on the ground beside a large branch, which looked as if it had been deliberately dragged across the path.

‘I almost caught him,’ I said, ‘but someone tripped me up – with that branch, by the look of it.’ I went over to inspect the bike. The front wheel was a bit bent, but it was rideable. Grandad said they made things to last in the olden days and it looked like he was right. My bike back home would have been seriously damaged if I’d crashed it like that.

‘Some toerag has put a brick through my window!’ Old Joe was fuming. ‘Did you get a good look at him?’

I shook my head. ‘He had his back to us, but I’m pretty sure he was one of those yobs who have been causing trouble for you.’

Old Joe was furious. ‘First my chickens and now this! Well if they think they’re going to frighten me into submission they’ve got another think coming. I’ll report this latest episode to PC Lambard and let him deal with them.’

‘But then they’ll probably do something else.’ Max looked worried.

‘Then I’ll report them again. And I’ll carry on until they stop. I’ve fought on the front line, lad, and I’ll not be bullied by a gang of youngsters who don’t think anyone has the right to correct them.’

He was right, but I couldn’t help feeling worried too. Skinhead and his cronies were a tough bunch and they could make things very awkward for Joe if they wanted to. I wondered if they were responsible for the burst pipe and missing roof tiles. If this was part of their plan to get revenge on Old Joe for reporting them to the police, they were taking things way too far in my opinion.

The more I thought about it, though, the more unlikely it seemed. Letting chickens loose and throwing a stone through a window was just the sort of behaviour I’d expect of them, but I doubted if they had the brains to think of doing the other stuff, let alone the ability to carry it out.

We helped Old Joe clear up the broken glass and board up the window until he could get it replaced, then we went up to the attic to start sorting things out.

We placed the old photos, newspapers and letters into separate piles so that Old Joe could look through them later and decide which ones he wanted to keep.

If I was him, I couldn’t bring myself to throw anything away. It was all so fascinating. I’d never really liked history at school, but this was different. It was ordinary people’s lives, not the civil war or how the Wild West was won. I wondered if Gran had stuff like this in her attic. I’d seen some photos of Dad when he was younger, of course, but it would be really cool to see ones of Grandad and Gran when they were young, and maybe their parents too.

We found some of Joe’s old school reports, which made us chuckle – ‘could try harder’ and ‘lacks discipline’ were repeated comments. Joe scowled and said teachers were a lot tougher then and would cane you if you so much as coughed in class. Then I came across a pile of threadbare diaries, tied together with lots of thick cord.

‘Are these your dad’s?’ I asked. ‘Is it okay if I read them?’

‘Go ahead, Amy,’ Old Joe replied. He glanced at his watch. ‘I have to go out soon, so why don’t you take them with you? You can bring them back when you’re done.’

‘Really? I’ll look after them, I promise!’ I carefully picked up the books and carried them down from the attic.

‘Can I read them too?’ asked Max.

‘Sure, come around after lunch and we’ll read them together,’ I told him. ‘We’ll get through them quicker that way.’

I put the diaries in the basket on my bike and we set off home.

Gran had said that Mr Smythe was staying for two weeks, so I was surprised to see his car parked behind
, with the hatchback open. As we got nearer I could see that his suitcase, a couple of rugs and a folding chair were inside the boot. It looked like he was leaving. And I could guess why. He’d been avoiding me since I tackled him about stealing my bracelet. I bet he was doing a runner with it. Well, he wasn’t going to get away with it!

‘Have you got that whistle on you?’ I asked Max. For some reason he carried it around everywhere.

‘Yeah, why?’

‘’Cos I’m going to find my bracelet before Mr Smythe disappears with it. Go into the backyard and blow your whistle to warn me if he comes out.’

‘What am I supposed to do in the backyard?’ Max grumbled.

‘I don’t know. Use your brains. Pretend your bike chain has come off and you’re fixing it. And if he comes out, try to keep him talking, it will give me time to have a good look through his suitcase.’

‘Why do I get all the lousy jobs?’ Max grumbled, wheeling his bike into Gran’s backyard.

I ignored him, leant my bike against the fence and hurried over to the car. I had to be quick but thorough. If I let Mr Smythe go off with the bracelet, I’d never see it again.

The suitcase was right at the back of the boot. I grabbed it, but it was jammed between the folding chair and a toolbox. I glanced around to make sure the coast was clear, then climbed into the boot and unzipped the case. It was full of clothes; some of them didn’t smell very clean. I opened a plastic bag and caught the whiff of dirty socks. Gross!

‘Fancy leaving a car parked here, some people are so thoughtless.’

‘I know, there’s barely enough space to walk around it.’

It was the Arnold sisters. They lived next door to Max. I couldn’t let them see me looking through Mr Smythe’s suitcase! I quickly crouched down as low as I could, grabbed one of the rugs and threw it over me.

Then I heard three sharp whistles.

It was Max, warning me that Mr Smythe was on his way out.

Okay, I had to get out of here, and fast. But before I had the chance to do anything, I heard the boot slam shut, then someone got in the car and started the engine. Next thing I knew we were moving. Mr Smythe was off … and he was taking me with him!

I was trapped.

BOOK: Sabotage
2.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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