Under orders, p.14

Under Orders, page 14

 

Under Orders
 


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  “Jonny Enstone.”

  “Ah,” he said, “the good lord. What’s he done to ya?”

  “Nothing. In fact, I recently had lunch with him.”

  “Did ya indeed?” he said. “Did he pay?”

  “Absolutely. We were discussing business.”

  “What business?”

  “His, not yours,” I said with a smile.

  “Come on, Sid,” he said, “I’m the very model of discretion.”

  Indiscretion, is more like it, I thought. Paddy knew everything there was to know about racing and racing people, but he liked others to know he did, so he was forever telling little secrets to anyone who would listen. He didn’t do it with any malice; he just did it.

  “How about George Lochs?”

  “Ah,” he said again, “young Lochs. Bit of a calculator on legs, he is. Real whiz kid.”

  “What might connect George Lochs and Jonny Enstone?” I asked.

  “What’s this, a quiz?”

  “Do you know?”

  “Come off it, Sid. Ask me another. Dat one’s far too easy.”

  “What’s the answer, then?”

  “It’s make-a-wager.com.” He smiled broadly. He knew I was impressed. There was a swagger in his manner as he downed the rest of his pint.

  “Fancy another?” I asked.

  “To be sure,” he said. “I’m not driving today. Got a lift.”

  I ordered him another Guinness and I had another Coke. I was driving.

  “So what about the good lord and young Lochs?” he asked after testing the new pint.

  “I only wondered how they met,” I said.

  “Enstone helped Lochs set up his business. Years ago, now. Must be seven or eight at least. Apparently, he put up some money to help start the company and so he became a director. Still is, I think.”

  I nodded; I had learned as much from Companies House. “But how did George Lochs know him to ask for the help in the first place?”

  “What are ya up to?” Paddy looked at me quizzically. “What are ya investigating? Is there a fiddle going on?”

  “No, nothing like that, I’m just curious. I met them together at Cheltenham and thought them an odd couple.”

  “Both bloody ruthless, if ya ask me,” he said.

  “So you don’t know how they met, then?”

  “I didn’t say dat.” He smiled again. “Rumor has it that Peter Enstone knew Lochs first and introduced him to his father. I don’t know how Peter met him.”

  “Oh, interesting.” I made it sound as though it wasn’t that interesting. I finished my drink. “Thanks, Paddy. See you at Aintree?”

  “Absolutely. Wouldn’t miss the National.”

  “See you there, then. Bye.” I turned to go.

  “Is dat all ya want?” he said. “Was dat really worth a couple of Guinnesses?”

  “Not everyone measures things so precisely,” I said. “Maybe I just wanted to buy a mate a couple of drinks. For old time’s sake.”

  “Don’t be bloody daft,” he said and laughed.

  •

  I HUNG AROUND for the rest of the afternoon, managing not to run into Andrew Woodward. I saw in the racecard that he had a runner in the last, so I decided to leave immediately after the race to avoid meeting him again in the parking lot. I hoped that he would still be busy unsaddling his horse.

  Roadtrain, Peter Enstone’s mount, the no-hoper, the waste of space, won by ten lengths at a canter. I glanced at the Tote payout information. Roadtrain had started at odds of ten to one in a five-horse race. If that didn’t ring some alarm bells in the Stewards’ room, nothing would.

  I decided not to wait around to find out and made my way with the throng to the exits, coming up behind an unsteady Paddy O’Fitch.

  “Hello again, Paddy,” I said. “Are you all right?”

  “To be sure, I am,” he said with a slur. “But I tink I’ve had a bit too much. All your bloody fault, forcing drink down me throat.”

  He wobbled and grabbed hold of an iron fence.

  “Are you sure you’ll be OK?” I asked again.

  “I’ll be fine just as soon as the bloody ride arrives.” He peered into the faces of those behind me making their way to the parking lot.

  “Who’s giving you a ride?” I asked.

  “Chris Beecher. We’re neighbors.”

  Are you indeed? I thought.

  “I’ll leave you here, then.” I had no wish to see Chris Beecher today, or any other day.

  “Right.” He sagged against the fence. I left him there, still scanning approaching faces with unfocused eyes. He’d be fine.

  •

  MARINA WAS FEELING much better when I returned to Aynsford, although the bruising around her eyes looked even worse than it had that morning. She and Charles were in the little sitting room and had already started drinking.

  “Sun’s over the yardarm, I see,” I said, giving Marina a kiss.

  “Just a small sharpener before I change for dinner,” said Charles. He waved at the drinks cupboard. “Help yourself.”

  I poured myself a small Scotch with plenty of water. I was determined to take it easier that evening.

  “Have you had a good day?” Marina asked.

  “No, not really,” I said. “I had a row with a trainer that I should have kept as a friend, and I was cold and miserable all afternoon. Did you?”

  “Yes, as a matter of fact, we did.” She smiled across at Charles, who smiled back at her.

  “You two look as thick as thieves,” I said.

  “We’ve been talking about last night,” said Charles.

  “About the attack?” I asked.

  “Yes,” said Marina, “and also about your fears for me.”

  I glared at Charles, but he didn’t seem to notice.

  “Your Marina, here,” he said, “is a truly lovely girl. I think I’m falling in love again.”

  “You’re too old,” I said.

  “Sid!” said Marina, “That’s not very nice. I do believe you’re jealous.”

  “Nonsense.” But I was. However, not in the way she thought. I wasn’t so jealous of Charles liking Marina, more the other way around. Charles was my friend, my mentor. He was my agony aunt, or uncle, and had been now for years. I felt that our conversations should have been in confidence. Not that I would keep secrets from Marina. I just wanted to be the one to tell her myself.

  I shook my head and thought that I was being silly. These two people were, to me, the most precious things in the world. Why should I not want them to love each other? So why did I feel so resentful that they had been talking together without me there to act as the intermediary? I told myself to stop being such a fool, but I wouldn’t listen.

  “So what have you two decided?” I asked rather haughtily. I heard the tone of my own voice and I didn’t like it. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean it to sound like that.”

  Marina looked at me. I could feel her stare. She could usually read me like a book and I was sure that all my inner thoughts were, even now, passing through the ether between us.

  “We’ve decided nothing,” she said. “That’s for you to do.”

  She spoke softly and comfortingly and I knew that she knew what had just happened. It didn’t faze her one bit. She smiled at me and I felt like an idiot.

  “It’s all right,” she said.

  “What’s all right?” asked Charles.

  “Everything,” I said standing up. “Do you want a refill?”

  “Oh yes, thank you.”

  I poured a generous whisky and a splash of Malvern Water into his glass and he leaned back contentedly in his chair.

  “More for you, my darling?” I asked Marina.

  “Just a little.”

  I looked deeply into her eyes. “I do so love you,” I said.

  “I love you more,” she replied.

  Everything was indeed all right.

  •

  MRS. CROSS had left us smoked salmon and crea
m cheese cornets as a starter and a beef casserole in the Aga for our main course. The cornets were small and one mouthful size, so they didn’t need cutting. I silently thanked dear, thoughtful Mrs. Cross. She always took the one-handed embarrassment out of eating. Marina cooked some rice, and we ate in the dining room, formally at the table, with silver cutlery and cut-glass crystal. I had never once known Charles to have a meal on his lap.

  “So what did you two discuss today?” I asked while we ate the casserole.

  “I’m sorry if I broke a confidence between us but I told Marina of our little discussion last night about what it takes to stop you investigating someone.” I realized that Charles had been more astute than I had given him credit for. I should have known better than to think he hadn’t understood what had been going on over drinks. One doesn’t rise to the rank of admiral without being susceptible to vibes.

  “As I understand things,” said Marina, “you have a reputation. Villains know that beating you up won’t stop you investigating them. In fact, quite the reverse. The more they hurt you, the more determined you become to continue.”

  “Something like that.” It sounded rather implausible, but I knew it was true.

  “So the only way you protect yourself from violence is to not give up even if you are assaulted. Any potential attacker now doesn’t even bother trying because it won’t stop you, anyway, and will make things worse for them.”

  “That’s about it,” I said. “But it has taken a few bad beatings for them to find it out. Times I would rather not remember.”

  “But someone beating me up has now made you question whether you should go on asking questions about the murders. Is that right?”

  “Yes.”

  “Because that’s what was said to me by my attacker?”

  “Yes.”

  “So what makes you think that I don’t want the same protection? If you stop now because some vicious thug punches me a couple of times in the face, then every time anyone wants you to quit it will be ‘punch Marina’ time.”

  “She’s right, you know,” said Charles. “The same goes for me. If it’s not ‘punch Marina,’ it may be ‘punch Charles.’ Neither of us want that burden. Neither of us want our love for you—yes, our love for you—to be a cause for us loving you less. Does that make sense?”

  I couldn’t speak.

  “So let’s have no more of this nonsense about not asking questions about the deaths of your friends.” Charles was in order-giving mode. “They—or, rather, their families—they need you. So get on with it.”

  “And,” added Marina, “if I get beaten up again, then all the more reason for carrying on. Let me have the reputation, too.”

  “And me,” said Charles. “Come on, let’s have a toast.” He raised his glass of claret. “Fuck the lot of them!”

  I laughed. We all laughed. I’d never heard Charles use such “belowdecks” language, and certainly never in front of a lady.

  “Fuck the lot of them,” we echoed.

  •

  I SLEPT THE sleep of the reprieved. Deep, dreamless, refreshing sleep.

  We had all gone fairly early to bed, but not before some further conversation over coffee for us all, plus a brandy for Charles.

  “So what will you do now?” he had asked, with his nose deep in his balloon-glass snifter drawing up the alcoholic vapors into his lungs.

  “As the controllers of my life, what do you two suggest?” I had asked with a grin.

  “Well,” Marina had said, “if the decision is to not heed the warnings about keeping quiet about the deaths, I suggest that you get yourself a bell, go stand on street corners and shout about them. No point in doing things by halves. Go out there and make a fuss. Show the bastards who’s the boss.”

  “Good idea,” Charles had agreed with her.

  “I’ll sleep on it,” I’d said.

  So I had.

  I positively leaped out of bed the next morning with renewed vigor. The sun had even come back to echo my mood of optimism and I stood by the window looking out at the rolling Oxfordshire countryside, bright with a new day.

  I had been brought up by my single mother in Liverpool as a city boy, playing soccer in the street outside our council flat and going to school at the end of the road. I remembered seeing my first cow when I was aged about twelve and being astonished by the bulbous shape and the enormous size of its udder. For me, milk came out of bottles, not cows. And apples materialized from cardboard boxes in the greengrocer’s, not from trees, and the very idea that pork chops had once been walking, oinking pigs would have sent me into giggles.

  Then, during my racing years, I had lived first in Newmarket, where I had been an apprentice jockey, and then near Lambourn, when my weight had increased beyond that for the “flat” and I had converted to the “jumps.” I had grown to enjoy the rural lifestyle, but after my hand disaster I had soon moved back to the urban life in London, somehow needing a return to my childhood comfort of being surrounded by concrete, tarmac and brick.

  Now, with Marina, I would look again for a change. Back to this calmer, less stressful environment of hills and trees and meandering streams. Back to where a chaffinch may sing from an orchard bough, or a pear tree may blossom in a hedge. “Oh, to be in England now that April’s there.” Browning certainly knew what he was talking about.

  Marina was still sound asleep and I decided to leave her that way. When the body is healing, sleep is the best medicine.

  I quietly dressed, attached my arm, replaced its exhausted battery pack with one freshly charged and slipped down the stairs. I wanted some time to think and a wander through the village was just what I needed to energize my brain cells.

  Mrs. Cross was already in the kitchen busying herself with the clearing up of last night’s dinner and making preparations for breakfast.

  “Morning, Mrs. Cross,” I said cheerfully.

  “Good morning, Mr. Halley,” she replied. “And it is a lovely morning, too.”

  “I know, I’ve seen. I’m going for a walk around the village. Back in about half an hour.”

  “Fine,” she said. “I’ll have your breakfast ready on your return.”

  “Thank you.” I unlatched the back door. “Oh, Mrs. Cross, Marina and I will be leaving right after lunch today.”

  Before the ex-Mrs. Halley arrives, I thought, but didn’t say so.

  “Right you are, sir,” she said.

  “I wish you’d call me Sid.”

  “I’ll try, sir.” She would never change and I realized that I liked her all the more for that.

  Aynsford was a peaceful west Oxfordshire village where the march of the metropolis had still to reach. The south of England was all too quickly becoming one joined-up housing estate, with thousands and thousands of boxlike town houses with postage-stamp gardens springing up around every town. The green belt was doing its best to hold in the expansion of the urban stomach, but, at the present rate, the belt would soon run out of notches and burst open altogether.

  But for now, Aynsford remained as it had been for decades, with stone cottages nestling around the Norman church, while the large and imposing old vicarage reflected the power and wealth that the clergy once wielded. Nowadays, the vicar was more likely to live in a small bungalow in a different village, such was the decline in the influence of the Church of England, the fall off of congregations and the uniting of parishes. I saw from the church notice board that services were on alternate Sundays. It could be worse.

  It took me only five minutes to walk to the far end of the village, so I continued on down the lane between the high hedgerows to the little humpback bridge over the canal. I sat on the parapet and threw stones into the still, brown water.

  Where do I go from here? I thought.

  Could I really disregard what had happened to Marina? She had been adamant that I should go on. But we had been lucky. A couple of nasty blows to the face could so easily have been a knife between the ribs. Would I be able to live with myself
if anything dreadful were to happen to Marina, or to Charles, as a result of my investigations? Conversely, would I be able to live with myself if I did nothing and stood idly by?

  What would happen, I asked myself, if I did nothing more? The inquest on Huw Walker would eventually conclude that he had been murdered by person or persons unknown. That on Bill Burton would say that he had taken his own life while the balance of his mind was disturbed. It would be implied that his mind was disturbed due to the fact that his wife had left him, coupled with his overpowering guilt at having murdered her lover, his jockey. And that would be that, end of investigation, end of story. A miscarriage of justice.

  I knew as well as I knew anything that Bill had not killed Huw. In my opinion, it just wasn’t possible. So if I did nothing more, then the real killer of Huw, and of Bill, would literally get away with murder, and the name of Bill Burton would forever be unfairly tarnished. Was I really considering leaving Bill’s family that legacy?

  In my heart, I knew that I would continue to search for the truth, but I didn’t want to be too hasty. I needed to be comfortable with the decision—at ease, if not exactly relaxed—about the possible consequences. I promised myself that I would be less reckless in the future. That is, if I remembered.

  •

  BY THE TIME I made my way back to the house, both Marina and Charles were in the kitchen, munching on toast and marmalade.

  “Beginning to think you’d left me,” said Marina.

  “Never.”

  “Where have you been?” she asked.

  “For a walk,” I said. “I went down to the bridge over the canal.”

  “Didn’t feel like throwing yourself in, I hope?” said Charles helpfully.

  “Not today,” I said. “Far too cold.”

  Mrs. Cross had made me scrambled eggs on an array of inch squares of toast, and I gratefully wolfed down the lot.

  “My,” said Marina, “that walk has given you quite an appetite.”

  It certainly had and not just for food. I was now itching to get back on the trail of a killer.

  After breakfast, Marina and I went up to pack our bags, which we put in the car ready for our quick getaway after lunch.

  “Are you sure you want to go back to Ebury Street?” I asked her.

 
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