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Authors: Karen King

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BOOK: Sabotage
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Chapter 10
Stowaway

I tried not to think what Mr Smythe would do if he found me in the boot of his car. I couldn’t help recalling that sinister look on his face when he warned me not to mention the bracelet to anyone. I had to keep calm; it was my only chance of getting out of here.

I took a few deep breaths and tried not to panic. At least I was locked in the boot of a hatchback rather than the closed-in boot of a saloon. That meant I could see where we were going if I lifted a corner of the blanket. It also meant that Mr Smythe could see me if I wasn’t careful, so I had to keep as still as possible.

I doubted if he was going very far, not when he was so interested in Old Joe’s land. With a bit of luck, he might not unpack his car straight away, then I could sneak out without him being any the wiser. Meanwhile, I might still be able to search through the suitcase. Dare I risk it?

I was just about to wriggle my hand through the open zip when my cellphone bleeped as a text message came in. My heart raced. I could feel my mouth drying up with fear. But I’d got lucky. Mr Smythe had the radio on, so he hadn’t heard it. I quickly switched the volume to mute – not an easy thing to do when you’re crouched in the boot of a car with a rug over your head – then read the text. It was Max. I should have guessed.

I tried to shift to a more comfortable position so I could feel inside the suitcase, but it was hopeless. All I could feel were clothes, and I was petrified that Mr Smythe would see me in the rearview mirror. I’d just have to lie still, wait until he stopped, and hope he didn’t go straight to the boot for his suitcase. I tried not to think about what would happen if he did, or how I’d get home if I managed to escape.

Stay calm and think positive, I told myself. Max knows where you are. He’ll tell Gran if you don’t come home soon. All sorts of panicky thoughts were running through my head as I lay crouched in the back of the car, hardly daring to breathe in case Mr Smythe heard me. What if I needed to sneeze or cough? After all, if he was ruthless enough to damage Old Joe’s cottage to make him sell, what would he do to
me
if he realised I was on to him? It was a relief when the car finally stopped. I lifted a corner of the rug and saw that we were in a car park, then I glanced at my watch. It was 12.30 – we’d been travelling for about forty-five minutes. I heard the door open and braced myself, beads of sweat dripping down my face. If Mr Smythe opened the boot I’d have about five seconds to throw off the rug and make a run for it. I poised myself for action and waited for Mr Smythe to get out.

Instead, someone else got in. ‘You’re late,’ a man’s voice said. ‘Have you got the bracelet?’

I dropped the corner of the rug and lay as flat and still as I could.

‘It’s in my pocket,’ Mr Smythe replied. ‘Have you told the others? Are the funds ready?’

So he had the bracelet on him. I’d gone through all this for nothing!

‘Yes, and we want you to make the old guy an offer he can’t refuse. You can go over the amount we agreed, if necessary.’

‘What if he doesn’t want to sell?’

‘It’s up to you to persuade him.’

There was a pause for a moment, then the other man continued. ‘Shame you had to move out of that B&B. It was close to the cottage, convenient to keep an eye on things.’

‘Well I couldn’t really stay there once I’d taken the bracelet, could I?’ Mr Smythe retorted.

‘I guess not. Anyway, come on, the others are waiting inside.’

I heard them both get out of the car, then the doors slammed shut. I left it for a few minutes before peeking out from the rug, just to make sure it was safe. I threw back the rug and scrambled over the back, dropping onto the rear seat. For a moment I panicked – what if there was some kind of safety lock on and I couldn’t open the door from the inside? I took a deep breath, grabbed the door handle and pulled it. It opened! I jumped out, shut the door behind me and looked around to try and get my bearings.

I guessed by the
Red Lion
sign on the wall that we were in a pub car park. I knew I should probably make my way straight home, but I couldn’t miss this opportunity to find out who Mr Smythe was meeting and what they were planning. It would also be good to know where he was staying now. I was sure he didn’t intend to go very far if he was going to be pressurising Old Joe into selling up.

I quickly sent a text to Max to let him know I’d managed to get out of the car and would report back to him later, with a strict warning not to contact me or say anything to Gran. Then I went in search of Mr Smythe. I soon found him, sitting at a table inside the pub restaurant with another couple of men and two women, one of whom was wearing the reddest lipstick I’d ever seen. I itched to get closer to them and hear what they were saying, but I couldn’t risk Mr Smythe seeing me.

‘Are you with someone?’ a middle-aged waitress asked, kindly. ‘I’m afraid children aren’t allowed in here on their own.’

‘My mum’s in the car outside. I just wanted to go to the washroom,’ I told her.

‘Washroom?’ the woman repeated, looking at me with a blank expression.

‘Toilet,’ I quickly corrected. I thought I’d mastered most of the UK–US language differences, but every now and again I still slipped up.

‘Ah. Just down that corridor on your right.’ She pointed ahead.

‘Thanks.’ I headed down the corridor.

I thought that I might as well go to the toilet while I was here. As I was washing my hands at the sink, the two women who had been sitting with Mr Smythe came in. My first instinct was to dive into the cubicle before they saw me, but then I remembered that neither of them knew me, so I stayed put, hoping I might hear something interesting.

‘I really don’t see why we can’t just ask old Joe Whittington if we can use our metal detectors on his land,’ Red Lips said. ‘Why should we have to fork out all this money to buy his cottage when we don’t know for sure that there’s a Roman settlement there anyway?’

‘Because if we find anything, it will legally belong to the owner of the house,’ the other woman said.

‘Oh.’ Red Lips opened her handbag, took out a bright red lipstick and smothered her lips with it. ‘Well, I think it’s a shame,’ she said. ‘Alan said the old guy’s lived there all his life. He won’t want to move at his age and I don’t think we should try and force him to.’ She blotted her now even redder lips with a tissue and pouted in the mirror. ‘I find all this Roman stuff boring anyway, don’t you? I wish Alan wasn’t so obsessed with it.’

‘I know, but Neil said there’s a lot of money in it. If we buy that cottage and there is a Roman settlement under the grounds we’ll be millionaires!’

‘Really? Well, I guess the old guy would be better off in a home. He’s getting a bit too old to take care of himself anyway,’ Red Lips replied with a giggle.

Then they both walked out, leaving me seething.

There was no way I was going to stand by and let them try to force Old Joe to move into an old folk’s home. No way at all! I had to think of a way to prove they were behind this evil plot and put a stop to their plans once and for all.

First, though, I had to figure out how to get home.

Chapter 11
The Diary

Sometimes, being an American in the UK can be useful. Especially if you’re lost. I stopped a friendly looking lady in the street and asked politely, ‘Excuse me, ma’am, but what town is this? I’ve been doing a bit of sight-seeing and my folks are coming to pick me up, but I’m not sure where I am.’

‘It’s Tilmouth, dear,’ she said. ‘You’re from America aren’t you? Are you on holiday?’

‘Yes ma’am. I’m over for the summer.’ I gave her a big smile. ‘Thank you.’ Then I carried on walking before she could start asking me lots of questions.

‘You’re welcome,’ she called after me. ‘I hope you enjoy your stay.’

Okay, now I had two options. I could phone Gran and ask her to pick me up, which meant trying to think of some explanation as to how I got here – and Gran’s not easy to fool. She’s so suspicious it makes me wonder what Dad got up to when he was young. Or, I could text Max and see if he could talk his Mum into taking a trip to Tilmouth, then just ‘happen’ to bump into them.

Make that three options, I thought, as I saw Mrs Brewson, one of Gran’s neighbours, walk out of a shop over the road, carrying two bulging shopping bags. I couldn’t believe my luck. Mrs Brewson and Gran didn’t really get on, but I was sure I could persuade her to give me a lift home.

I ran up to her. ‘Oh, Mrs Brewson, thank goodness I’ve bumped into you. I’ve lost my train ticket home and have no more money on me. I wonder if there’s any chance you could give me a lift?’ I smiled sweetly. ‘I hope it isn’t too much trouble. I could phone Gran and ask her, but I hate to bother her when she has one of her headaches.’

‘Of course I will, Amy. I’ve just got a couple more shops to visit, then we’ll be off.’ She held out the bags. ‘Perhaps you’ll be kind enough to carry these heavy bags for me?’

A couple more shops? Mrs Brewson went in almost every shop in town, and guess who had to carry everything? By the time we eventually got to the car, my arms felt like they were about to drop off. I’d just collapsed on the back seat and was rubbing my wrist to get the blood supply back when I felt my cellphone vibrate in my pocket. I took it out and saw from the screen that it was Max. I’d missed four calls from him. I’d told him not to contact me, I thought in annoyance as I flicked the phone open to answer.

‘Don’t you ever do as you’re told?’

‘Where are you?’ he sounded agitated. ‘I’ve been worried sick. Anything could have happened to you. If you didn’t answer this time, I was going to tell Auntie Sue what had happened.’

‘Don’t you dare do that!’ I shouted.

‘Is everything all right, Amy?’ Mrs Brewson asked.

‘Yes, thank you.’ I lowered my voice. ‘Mrs Brewson is giving me a lift. I’ll see you soon. Don’t call me again, okay?’

‘Mrs Brewson? But how … ?’

‘Bye, Max.’ I ended the call before he had the chance to say anything else.

When we finally arrived back, I had to help Mrs Brewson into the house with all her shopping before I could go home. Max must have been looking out for me because he ran to meet me as soon as I got to Gran’s back gate. ‘What happened?’ he asked. ‘Where did Mr Smythe go?’

Before I could answer him, Mr Winkleberry shouted, ‘Is that you, Amy? Your Gran’s been looking everywhere for you. Where have you been?’ He must have been standing at the kitchen door, just waiting for me to show up.

I sighed. Now for the inquisition. ‘I’ll speak to you later,’ I told Max. ‘Come around in an hour or so and rescue me.’

Gran read me the riot act about going off without telling her where I was going, and how she was responsible for me, with Mr Winkleberry chiming in now and again for good measure. They were both too busy lecturing me to ask where I’d been, so at least I was saved from having to come up with some excuse.

Thank goodness Mrs Langham came in and distracted them enough for me to make a retreat. Max sent me a text to say he had to go out with his Mum, so I made myself a sandwich and took it up to my room, deciding to keep out of the way for the rest of the day.

I surfed the net for a bit, but got bored. My friends back in the USA were still fast asleep, so I couldn’t speak to them on messenger. I lay back on the bed, thinking about my eventful day. I was so angry about everything I’d heard in the pub. But what did it all mean? My mind was in a complete muddle.

I knew that I would feel better if I got my head around all of this new evidence. So, I reached into the drawer of my bedside cabinet, took out my notepad and lucky green pen and started making fresh notes.

I chewed the end of my pen as I mulled it over. Were any of them desperate enough to deliberately wreck old Joe’s roof and flood out his kitchen? If so, how far would they go in their attempt to make him sell? Would Joe eventually give in? I hoped not. I hated to think of that lovely cottage being demolished. Joe’s family had lived there for years. It would be nice to think that they would still live there in years to come. However, Old Joe didn’t have any family to pass it on to, did he? I thought of all that stuff in the attic; the painting, the clothes, the diaries. The diaries! They were still in the basket on my bike. Thank goodness it hadn’t rained.

Max and his mum returned as I was taking the diaries out of the basket.

‘I’ll come round straight after tea,’ he promised. I could see he was dying to find out what had happened that afternoon.

‘Okay.’ I took the diaries upstairs, sat on my bed and opened the first one. The name Samuel Whittington was written in black handwriting on the inside cover, with the date 1920 underneath. I remembered Gran mentioning Joe’s name was Whittington, so guessed that Samuel must be his father. There was a date at the top of the first page – I couldn’t make it all out, but it looked like April. It was filled with old-fashioned black handwriting, with loops and curls that made it difficult to read.

I glanced through a couple of pages. Evidently Old Joe’s parents ran some sort of smallholding. I guess a lot of folk did back then. His father wrote about crops and how the chickens were faring, and that a cow had just given birth. I read a number of similar agricultural anecdotes before one particular entry caught my eye.

‘Amy! Max is on his way up!’ Gran shouted. Not that I needed telling: I could hear his footsteps on the stairs.

‘What’s up, Amy?’ he asked as I opened the door.

‘Look at this,’ I told him. ‘I think it could be another piece of evidence.’ Max eagerly picked up the diary and read out the entry.

PODCAST 3

Go to
www.amycartermysteries.com/sabotage-3

Max looked up from the diary, wide-eyed. ‘Wow! Wait until Old Joe hears about this.’

‘We must show him this before he thinks about accepting an offer for his cottage. We’ll go round first thing in the morning,’ I said.

BOOK: Sabotage
6.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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