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Authors: Karen King

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Chapter 14
Double Surprise

‘Hello, Amy.’ Joe greeted me with a friendly smile. ‘Connie has just phoned. My article’s going to be in the paper on Tuesday.’

‘That’s great. I’ve got some good news too.’ I took the bracelet out of my pocket and handed it to him. ‘It’s worth five thousand pounds and it was found on your land, so it’s yours. I want you to have it to help pay for the repairs to your cottage.’

Joe stared at the bracelet, then at me. ‘How did you get this back?’

‘Mr Smythe left it hanging around,’ I said. Well it wasn’t really a lie, was it? ‘It belongs to you. Please take it.’

‘I’m not sure I should. After all, you found it,’ Old Joe said. ‘But thank you. I’ll put it in a safe place while I decide what to do about it. Make yourself a drink, I’ll be back down in a minute.’ He went upstairs and I poured myself a glass of lemonade, walking into the front room just as a silver Mercedes pulled up outside.

‘Joe! You’ve got a visitor!’ I shouted. ‘Someone in a posh car!’

‘Not again,’ he grumbled, stumbling back down the stairs.

I watched as a smartly-dressed, dark-haired man got out of the car and strolled confidently towards the cottage. Joe arrived at the bottom of the stairs just as the man knocked firmly on the door. I switched on the recorder in my pocket and stood in the lounge doorway so I could hear everything but, hopefully, not be seen.

‘Afternoon, Mr Whittington,’ the man smiled as Joe opened the door.

‘You again. I’ve told you already that you’re wasting your time, I’m not selling,’ Joe snapped. ‘Leave me be, will you.’

‘I thought you would be interested to know that Mr Dawson has increased his offer by five thousand pounds and is also prepared to offer a significant discount on one of the houses he wishes to build here,’ the man said. ‘You’d be a fool to refuse. Not only will you get a good price for your cottage, but you can still live on the land.’

‘Yes, in some thrown-together box of a house with a load of strangers living around me,’ Old Joe retorted. ‘Look at all the land I’ve got around me now, and the lovely view I have. Why would I want to give that up to live on an estate?’

‘It’s an extremely good offer, and the last one Mr Dawson intends to make,’ the man said. ‘You should remember that this is an old cottage and, with all due respect, it’s almost falling down. When a property is this old it requires a lot of upkeep. Can you really afford to repair and maintain it?’

I didn’t like the bullying tone to his voice. This was obviously a man used to getting his own way. The sort of man who would stop at nothing to get what he wanted.

‘Remember, you have until Monday to accept the offer,’ the man said. ‘After that it’ll be withdrawn.’ He leaned in a little closer. ‘You can’t stop progress, Mr Whittington. People need homes to live in, and Mr Dawson intends to build them. He has already acquired the field adjacent to yours. I don’t expect your cottage could withstand so much as a heavy storm. That’s something for you to think about, Mr Whittington. Take my advice and accept the money.’ And with that, he nodded his head and walked back to his car.

I switched off my recorder and stepped into the hall as Joe closed the front door. ‘What a horrible man. It sounded like he was threatening you,’ I said. ‘Maybe he’s the one causing all this damage.’

Joe shook his head. ‘I don’t know, but I wish they would all just leave me alone. I can’t be doing with so much hassle at my time of life.’ He sounded so weary and dispirited, I felt sorry for him. He was a tough old guy, but the fall yesterday had really shaken him. ‘I think you should tell PC Lambard what that man said,’ I told Joe as I left. ‘He told you to let him know if anything happens.’

‘I’ll mention it next time he pops round. He’s too busy to bother with this,’ Joe told me. ‘After all, it’s not a crime to offer to buy someone’s house.’

No, but it was a crime to damage it to try and drive them out of it, I thought. I was sure that was Mr Dawson’s plan. When I saw PC Lambard again, I’d play the tape to him and see what he thought.

I was cycling home, thinking it over, when I bumped into Skinhead and his cronies again.

‘Well, if it isn’t our little Yankee Doodle! Been to visit the old man again, have you?’ Skinhead sneered, grabbing the handlebars of my bike. ‘You want to be careful who you mix with little girl. You could end up getting into big trouble with me and my friends here.’

‘I’m not scared of you lot!’ I replied, glaring defiantly at them. ‘You’re just a load of bullies, picking on an old man like that.’

‘I don’t know what you mean. We haven’t done anything to the old man, have we lads?’ Skinhead gave my handlebars an extra jerk to try and knock me off, but I held on tight. ‘You and I both know that you’ve been terrorising Old Joe,’ I said. ‘Don’t blame us because his drainpipe fell down. His house is old, like this bike of yours. And old things break.’ He pulled the front brake cable until it snapped, then threw it to the ground. ‘Whoops, you’d better be careful riding that now!’ shouted Skinhead, as he and his mates all ran off, laughing.

‘Creeps!’ I screamed over my shoulder at them. There was a flash as the sunlight caught the studs on the back of Skinhead’s waistcoat, making them sparkle. I frowned. I’d seen that flash of light before, when I’d spotted someone running into the woods after Joe’s cottage had got flooded. Was it Skinhead?

I had to ride home real careful as I had no front brakes, so it took me a while. Max was waiting in his front garden for me.

‘Where have you been? I’ve sent you loads of text messages,’ he scowled, as I skidded to a stop. ‘What’s up with your brakes?’

‘Skinhead snapped the front cable.’

‘When? What’s been happening? Why do you keep going off without me?’

‘’Cos I don’t always want a little kid hanging around with me,’ I told him, getting off the bike.

‘Yeah, well, you’re happy enough to have me around when you want someone to keep watch for you,’ he sniffed. ‘Anyway, if you’re going to be horrible, I’m not going to tell you what happened.’ Max stormed off towards his house.

‘Hang on a minute!’ I called.

Max ignored me and carried on walking.

‘If you leave, I won’t tell you what happened today either – and it’s mega!’

He turned around. ‘Okay, but you tell first.’

I was so chuffed with myself for getting the bracelet back that I didn’t mind telling him all about it.

Max was listening in awe. ‘You sneaked into his house and took it out of his pocket while they were both outside?’ he gasped.

‘Yep,’ I grinned. ‘And I’ve returned it to Old Joe so he can sell it and use the money to pay for repairs to his cottage.’

Max scowled at that. ‘You shouldn’t have gone to Old Joe’s without me,’ he said. ‘He’s my friend.’

‘I wanted to give him the bracelet before I lost it again,’ I said. ‘Anyway, it’s a good job I did.’ I told him about the visit from Mr Dawson’s agent and my run-in with Skinhead. ‘I reckon any of them could be responsible,’ I said. ‘I’ve got them both on tape as well. I’ll play it back later and see if we can pick up any clues.’ Then I remembered that Max had something to tell me.

‘What’s been happening while I’ve been out then?’ I asked.

‘Mrs Langham’s son has turned up at the B&B!’

‘Wow! News alert! I can see why you couldn’t wait to tell me that piece of news.’

‘If you’re just gonna be sarky, I won’t tell you the rest of the story.’

‘Sorry Max. Go on.’

‘He looks
exactly
like Old Joe as a boy. You know, in those photographs we saw.’

‘Really, are you sure? We only saw black and white pictures.’

‘He’s in the house right now – go and see for yourself if you don’t believe me.’

But right at that moment Mrs Langham stepped out of the front door, closely followed by a young lad of about eleven. And Max was right, he was the spitting image of the photo we’d seen of Old Joe when he was around the same age.

‘Hey, you, are you related to Old Joe?’ I blurted out. ‘You look just like him.’

Mrs Langham went pale, grabbed the boy’s arm and led him down the path. ‘I said this was a bad idea,’ she muttered under her breath.

‘But I’ve got a right to meet my grandad!’

Grandad! I spun around and stared at them.

‘Get into the car, Ritchie!’ Mrs Langham half-dragged the lad by his arm towards her car.

‘What did he mean … grandad?’ asked Max. ‘Surely Old Joe can’t be his grandad?’

I was thinking the same. ‘He didn’t actually
say
that Old Joe was his grandad, did he? He said he wanted to meet his grandad. He could have been talking about anyone.’

‘But did you see Mrs Langham’s face when you said he looked like Old Joe?’

‘I know. But Old Joe doesn’t have any children. Unless …’

‘Unless he doesn’t know he has children. Maybe he split up from a girlfriend and she didn’t tell him.’

We both looked at each other.

‘It’s possible,’ I said thoughtfully. I’d heard of people finding out they were adopted and trying to trace their biological parents. Maybe Mrs Langham found out that Old Joe was her real father. That could be why she was taking photos of his house and why she wanted to know so much about him.

‘Then why didn’t she tell Joe who she was?

Maybe she didn’t want him to know.

Perhaps she was so mad at him for not being there when she was a child, that
she
was the one responsible for damaging his cottage after all?

Chapter 15
Evidence

I was astonished when Gran announced at breakfast the next day that she was taking me out.

‘I feel I’ve been neglecting you a bit, Amy,’ she said. ‘We’ve hardly done any sightseeing since you arrived, so I’m going to take you to Peryn Cove. You’ll love it there. We can visit the market and have lunch in the restaurant on the seafront.’

‘It sounds lovely, Gran.’ I didn’t want to upset her by saying I’d planned on visiting Old Joe again. I could pop over when we came back. And, actually, I did fancy a bit of a day out. It was a lovely sunny day and Gran was right, I hadn’t seen very much of Cornwall.

We had a fantastic time. Peryn Cove was beautiful, like a picture postcard. I took lots of pictures with my digital camera to email over to my parents later. Gran treated me to some little knick-knacks from the market, souvenirs to take home for Mum and Dad, and for myself too. Gran was in a really good mood, telling me all sorts of stories about Dad when he was little, and about Grandad too. I could tell that she missed Grandad. I knew that he sent her the odd postcard and had asked her to take him back, but she’d refused.

‘I miss Grandad,’ I blurted out. ‘It’s a shame you two can’t get back together.’

Gran’s eyes filled up immediately. Oh, why did I open my big mouth? After all, it was none of my business and Grandad was the one who’d left in the first place.

‘When the trust’s gone, Amy, you can’t get it back,’ Gran said. Then she smiled brightly. ‘Come on, let’s go and have spot of lunch. I think we deserve a treat.’

I smiled at her, glad that I hadn’t ruined the day. ‘That’d be great, Gran. Thanks.’

The restaurant was very posh, with polished wooden tables, red velvet seats and reproduction oil paintings on the wall. One of them caught my eye – an autumn woodland scene, just like the one Joe had in his attic.

‘Do you like it?’ Gran asked when she saw me staring at it. ‘It’s lovely, isn’t it – by an artist called Mondigo. The original must be worth a lot of money.’ She pointed to a table by the window. ‘Let’s sit there, shall we?’

I took a quick picture of the painting to show Old Joe, and another shot of the view from the window. It was awesome – you could see right across the bay. We sat down and Gran passed me the menu. ‘Order anything you want,’ she told me. ‘I want today to be a real treat.’ She leaned towards me. ‘I know I’m preoccupied with the B&B, Amy, and I probably seem a bit strict and old-fashioned to you, but I am glad of your company. It’s lovely to have you staying with me, and I hope that you’ll come and stay again. I don’t want us to be strangers.’

Well, I was touched, I can tell you, and a bit embarrassed. I don’t really do all that emotion stuff. ‘Of course I will,’ I promised. Then I buried myself in the menu.

‘Can I have the roast chicken, please, Gran, and Strawberry Heaven to follow?’ I asked, looking up. I almost dropped the menu when I saw the smartly dressed man I’d seen at Joe’s house yesterday walking towards me, accompanied by a fair-haired woman. I buried my head in the menu again, hoping he wouldn’t recognise me, then remembered that he hadn’t actually seen me because I’d been hiding in the doorway.

‘We’ll sit here, shall we, Mrs Morris? Mr Dawson will be here in a moment.’

Mr Dawson was joining them! What an amazing coincidence that we should all be eating in here. And by lucky chance, I still had my recorder in my pocket. All I had to do was place it under their table and I could record their entire conversation. Then I’d really find out what was going on.

‘Amy? You’re miles away. Don’t you want a starter?’ Gran asked.

‘Er … cheesy potato skins please,’ I said, trying to think of a way to get the micro-recorder under their table without anyone cottoning on to what I was doing.

A fair-haired man was walking towards us now, with a smug grin across his face. He and the woman looked similar, I thought. There was something about their eyes. I wondered if they were related.

‘Robert.’ The woman stood up and hugged him. ‘You’re looking well.’

‘So are you, Anita.’ They both sat down. ‘And how’s Terry?’ he asked. ‘Do you think he’d like to help out on one of my building sites again this summer? He surprised me last year: seemed willing to turn his hand to anything. And now he’s more experienced, I’d be able to pay him a bit more.’

It was Robert Dawson. I had to act quick. I took the recorder out of my pocket, switched it on, concealed it in my hand then ‘accidentally’ knocked my cellphone off the table. It fell under the smartly dressed man’s chair. ‘Sorry!’ I mumbled, jumping off my chair and bending down to get it. I slipped the recorder under the chair as I picked up the phone.

‘I think you’d better turn that phone off and put it away until we’ve finished our meal, Amy.’ Gran sounded a little irritated.

‘Of course, Gran. Sorry.’ I turned the phone off and slipped it back into my pocket.

The restaurant started to get more crowded and noisy. I tried to hear what Mr Dawson and his friends were talking about on next the table, but couldn’t really catch anything amongst the chatter and the clinking of glasses. Hopefully my recorder would pick up the whole conversation.

Gran was nattering away ten-to-the-dozen, and I tried my best to keep the conversation going too. I wanted to make sure we left after Mr Dawson and his friends, but despite eating very slowly, we’d finished before they showed any signs of leaving.

‘Can we have the bill please?’ Gran asked as the waitress came over to collect our plates.

‘Are you sure you don’t want another coffee, Gran?’ I asked, playing for time.

‘No, I have to get back. I don’t want to leave Fluffy with David too long.’

I wracked my brains, trying to think of a way to get my recorder back without drawing attention to what I was doing.

Just then, the smartly dressed man stood up. ‘Well, I must go to the little boys’ room,’ he said, pushing his chair back.

As soon as he’d walked away from the table, I stood up and, ‘clumsy me,’ knocked the menu on the floor, right under his chair.

‘Goodness, you are a butterfingers today,’ Gran said as I bent down to pick up the menu, concealing the recorder in my hand at the same time and flicking the switch off.

‘Sorry … again,’ I smiled brightly to Mr Dawson and the fair-haired woman. They smiled back, so I think I got away with it without arousing too much suspicion.

After that, I couldn’t wait to get home. As soon as we got back, I deserted Gran and ran up to my room to play the tape.

PODCAST 4

Go to
www.amycartermysteries.com/sabotage-4

I could hardly believe what I’d just heard. Now I really did have a good idea who was causing all this trouble for Old Joe.

I switched on my phone and saw that I had about a zillion texts from Max. One said that he’d read more of the diaries and discovered that Old Joe’s grandfather had bought some Roman memorabilia, including a bracelet and a ring, and that Joe’s grandmother had lost them. Joe’s father found the ring, and now I’d found the bracelet! So, there probably isn’t a Roman settlement under Old Joe’s land after all. Well, at least that will get Mr Smythe and his friends off Joe’s back.

‘Amy! Max is here,’ Gran shouted.

I slid off the bed and opened the door. ‘Hey, guess what …’ I started to speak, but stopped when I saw the look on Max’s face. ‘What’s happened?’

‘Joe fell down the stairs today and he’s in hospital,’ he said.

‘Oh no! Is he badly hurt?’

‘He’s sprained his ankle. They’re keeping him in overnight to keep an eye on him, but Amy …’ Max gulped. ‘One of the stair runners was loose, that’s how he tripped. He said he’s going to sell now. He can’t afford any more repairs and he’s fed up with all the hassle.’

‘No, he isn’t going to sell,’ I said firmly, ‘because I know who’s causing all this damage, and why, and I’m going to put a stop to it.’

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