Under orders, p.15

Under Orders, page 15

 

Under Orders
 


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  “Sure,” she said. “I am absolutely certain. I’m not going to hide for the rest of my life, so I’m not going to do so now. And another thing. I want you to take me to the races in future.”

  “OK, you’re on.”

  We went to join Charles for a pre-lunch drink in his expansive drawing room, with its large, open fireplace. He had lit the fire and was standing in front of it, warming his back.

  “Ah, there you are,” he said. “Have a glass of bubbles.” He gave us one each from a tray.

  “Lovely,” said Marina.

  “To you two,” said Charles, raising his glass.

  “To all of us,” I said, raising mine.

  “Now, when are you two going to get married?” asked Charles.

  Marina nearly choked on her champagne.

  “We haven’t discussed it,” I said.

  “You haven’t discussed the date?” he persisted.

  “We haven’t discussed whether.”

  “Oh, sorry. I’m a bit premature, then.”

  “You could say that.”

  I am sure that Charles had been a great sailor, but, as a diplomat, he still needed lessons.

  “I just thought,” Charles went on, digging himself deeper into trouble, “that you might want to get married from here.”

  “We’ll talk about it, thank you,” said Marina. “It’s a very kind offer.”

  We all smiled at one another, lost for words.

  Then into this domestic tableau, as we were discussing whether and where Marina might become the second Mrs. Sid Halley, walked the first.

  12

  * * *

  “Hello, Sid,” said Jenny. “I wasn’t expecting you to be here.”

  You neither, I thought. Surely she wasn’t due until much later? Not until after Marina and I had left for London.

  “Ah, hello, Jenny,” said Charles all of a fluster. “I thought you were coming for dinner.”

  “Well, we are, but also for lunch. Mrs. Cross knew. I spoke to her about it yesterday.”

  I wished Mrs. Cross had told us.

  “Anyway,” said Charles, “you’re here now. Lovely to see you. Where’s Anthony?”

  “Getting our things out of the car.”

  He went over and gave her a peck on the cheek. Charles and Jenny had never really enjoyed an intimate relationship. He had been away at sea for long periods during her early childhood, and even the untimely death of Jenny’s mother had not brought them close.

  Jenny was looking at Marina.

  “Oh, so sorry,” said Charles. “Jenny, can I introduce Marina van der—” He tailed off.

  “Meer,” I said, adding to Charles’s state of unease.

  “Yes, that’s right, Marina van der Meer—-Jenny Wingham, my daughter. Marina is Sid’s friend,” he added unnecessarily.

  Jenny’s eyebrows lifted a notch.

  While Charles and I had become somewhat used to the state of Marina’s damaged face, to Jenny, on first seeing the ugly black eyes and the still-swollen lip, it must have appeared shocking.

  “I hope Sid didn’t do that,” she said.

  “Oh no,” said Marina with a nervous little laugh. “Car accident.”

  “Who was driving?” asked Jenny.

  Unfortunately, both Marina and I said “I was” at the same instant into the sudden, small silence.

  “Really?” said Jenny sarcastically. “Collided with each other, did we?”

  Thankfully, Anthony arrived at that moment and the matter was dropped.

  Sir Anthony Wingham, Baronet, was something in the city, something in banking. I never had been sure what, nor cared. He had inherited pots of cash, which is why, I thought cynically, he had proved so attractive to my ex-wife.

  Introductions were made, and, as usual, Anthony was distinctly cold towards me. I couldn’t think why. On our brief and infrequent meetings, he tended to treat me as the enemy. Jenny and I had been separated for many years before she had met him, and while it was true that we had actually divorced in order for her to be free to marry, he had absolutely not been the cause of our breakup, so I found his attitude somewhat odd. I certainly did not reciprocate and shook his offered hand with a smile.

  The coldness he showed me was more than made up for by the warmth and concern he showered on Marina.

  “My dear girl,” he said in a most caring tone, “what dreadful bad luck.”

  That won’t endear him to Jenny, I thought, and I was right. Jenny glared at him.

  It transpired that they had always been coming to lunch but Charles had forgotten. Mrs. Cross, habitually one step ahead of her employer in domestic matters, had laid the table for five, and I found myself seated next to Jenny, opposite Anthony.

  It was not a memorable occasion, with dull, forced conversation. True sentiments were unspoken but communicated nevertheless. Only Marina had no previous experience with this family.

  Inevitably, in such circumstances, the discussion tended to be predictable and about Marina: Where do you live? What do you do? Brothers and sisters? And so on. What I really wanted to ask Jenny and Anthony would have been more interesting: How much is your house worth? How much do you earn? How’s your sex life?

  “Where did you study?” Anthony asked Marina.

  “I was at high school in Harlingen, in the Netherlands. That’s my home town, in Fryslân province, in the north, near the sea. Then I went to university in Amsterdam. I did my doctorate at Cambridge.”

  That shut Jenny up.

  “And you?” Marina asked back. So diplomatic.

  “I went to Harrow and Oxford,” replied Anthony. It rolled off his tongue, a much-repeated couplet.

  “Harrow?” asked Marina.

  “Yes, Harrow School. It’s a boarding school in northwest London. I went there when I was thirteen.”

  “So young to be away from home,” said Marina.

  “Oh no,” he said, “I went away to boarding school when I was eight.”

  “Didn’t your mother hate you going?”

  “I don’t think so.” He paused. “I think she was too busy doing good works for charities or going off to the West Indies for the sunshine. I remember being happier at school than I was at home.”

  So sad.

  “Harrow,” I said. “I know someone who was at Harrow. But he’s younger, so he’d have been there after you.”

  Anthony took that as an insult. “I keep in touch with the old place,” he said. “What’s his name?”

  “George Lochs,” I said. “But when he was at Harrow he was called Clarence Lochstein.”

  Anthony thought for a while.

  “Sorry,” he said. “Neither name rings a bell.”

  “How would I find out about his time at school?” I asked.

  “Not still doing that stupid investigating, are you?” said Jenny.

  “Now, now, Jenny,” said her father. “You know perfectly well that Sid does very well at it and he is much respected in racing circles.”

  Jenny didn’t actually say so, but I could read from her expression that respect in racing circles didn’t rate very highly with her. I was sure that she must have read somewhere about Huw Walker, and also about my having found his body at Cheltenham, but I was equally sure that she wouldn’t say so in case it was interpreted by Anthony or Charles as her still having some interest in me or in what I did for my living.

  “You could always contact the old boys’ association,” said Anthony, bringing us back to Harrow. “They have a resident secretary at the school, chap called Frank Snow. He’s a retired housemaster and there’s nothing worth knowing about Harrow that he doesn’t know.”

  “Thanks,” I said. “I’ll give him a call.”

  Anthony suddenly looked somewhat irritated with himself, something to do with collaborating with the enemy, no doubt.

  Finally, after soup, roast beef and then apple crumble, the lunch was over. Jenny had not failed to notice that Mrs. Cross had cut my roast beef into fine strips that I cou
ld eat in single mouthful portions, and that my Yorkshire pudding had been mini. She had said nothing, just rolled her eyes and smiled. But I knew that smile. It was more to do with irritation than with humor.

  My injuries had been one of the major factors in our lost love.

  Steeplechase jockeys get injured. It is an unfortunate but unavoidable consequence of the job. Horses do fall over. Sometimes they fall because they get too close to the fence and sometimes they fall because they stand off too far from the fence. Occasionally, they trip over other fallen horses, and every so often they simply stumble on landing. The reasons may be varied but the outcome is pretty similar. Half a ton of horseflesh traveling at up to thirty miles an hour crashes to the ground and the jockey goes down with the ship. Eating grass at half a mile a minute becomes an occupational hazard, along with the bruises and the broken bones, the dislocating shoulders and the concussions.

  Jenny found she couldn’t live with both the deprivations required to keep my riding weight down and the need to pick up the pieces when things didn’t go to plan. Looking back, the injuries were always the catalyst for rows.

  •

  MARINA AND I made our escape soon after lunch, as we had planned.

  Jenny came out to my car as I was loading our last few things.

  “How did we ever come to this?” she said.

  “To what?” I asked, but I knew.

  “To trading insults whenever we meet, to scoring points over one another.”

  “It doesn’t have to be like that,” I said. “Are you happy?”

  She hesitated. “Mostly. Are you?”

  “Yes,” I said. “Very.”

  “Good, I’m glad. Life with Anthony is more predictable than with you.”

  “Less exciting?”

  “Yes, that, too. If you call spending nights on hospital sofas exciting.”

  We laughed. We laughed together. Something we hadn’t done for a long time. Marina, Charles and Anthony came out of the house.

  “Take care of yourself,” Jenny said. She stroked my arm, the real one.

  “Take care of yourself, too.” I gave her a kiss on the cheek and, just for a moment, there were tears in her eyes.

  Marina gave Charles a hug, which seemed to embarrass him somewhat.

  “Thank you so much,” she said. “This was just what I needed. I can go back now and face the world.”

  “It was nothing,” said Charles. “Come whenever you want.”

  “Thank you, I will.”

  Anthony gave her a peck on the cheek and Jenny didn’t seem to mind one bit. I shook hands with them both.

  “Thank you again, Charles.”

  He waved a hand.

  I drove away. In the end, I was thankful that we hadn’t avoided Jenny and Anthony.

  •

  THE FOLLOWING DAY, Monday, Marina decided not to go in to work. We had both become rather obsessed with security and decided that, for the foreseeable future, I would take Marina to work and collect her every day in my car. I told the reception staff downstairs that on no account were they to allow anyone up to my flat without calling up on the intercom first to check with me that he or she was welcome. Absolutely, Mr. Halley, they had said. They never would, anyway.

  I called Harrow School and asked to speak to Frank Snow. They were sorry, they said, but Mr. Snow is only in his office on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. Would I like to leave a message or call back? I would call back. Fine.

  I phoned Archie Kirk to give him an update on my lack of progress with the Internet gambling. I had a few questions still to ask and would get back to him soon, I said. Good, he replied, and hung up. Never trust anyone, not even a telephone.

  I sat for a while in my office tidying up my e-mail inbox. I was restless.

  Marina came in and caught me playing cards on my computer.

  “For goodness’ sake, Sid, go out and investigate. I thought we’d been through all this. Yesterday you were gagging to find the killer, so why this change of heart all of a sudden.”

  I shrugged.

  “I told you,” she said, “I want the same protection as you, I want the same reputation.”

  “Are you sure?”

  “Yes. Now, get a bloody move on and stop wasting time.”

  “Right,” I said, standing up. “Action stations.”

  •

  I DECIDED TO go to see Kate Burton and the children, and Marina came with me.

  I had telephoned Daphne Rogers to find out if Kate was still staying with her. No, she’d said, Kate and the children went home two days ago. So I had called Kate at home and she was delighted that we were coming.

  I drove into the familiar driveway and pulled up outside the back door. Immediately, the children came running out to greet us. Life seemed to be back to normal, deceptively normal.

  The children dragged us both into the kitchen, where Kate was waiting. She looked little better than when I had seen her last. Her eyes showed the signs of a great deal of crying and she looked thinner, almost gaunt.

  “Sid, how lovely to see you.” She gave me a kiss.

  “Kate, this is Marina—Marina, Kate.”

  “You poor thing, what happened to your face?”

  “A car accident,” said Marina.

  “How dreadful,” said Kate. “Come and have coffee.”

  The children went out to play in the garden while the three of us sat in the same kitchen at the same table where, just a week previously, a mere seven days ago, I had sat with Bill. It seemed like a lifetime since then. It was.

  “I thought you might still be with your mother,” I said.

  “I wanted to come back here as soon as possible. The police wouldn’t let me in until Saturday. They were doing tests or something.”

  And clearing up, I thought.

  “How about the horses?” I asked.

  “All gone,” she said, tears welling up in her eyes. “The last ones went yesterday. Nothing else for it.”

  I took her hand. “How’s the house?”

  “Oh, fine. Have to sell it now, I suppose. I don’t really want to stay here anymore, not after what’s happened. I wanted to come back to feel closer to Bill, but I haven’t been into the den, and I don’t think I want to. Just in case there’s …”

  In case there’s a mess, I thought.

  There was a long pause.

  “I was brought up in this house. Only for the first three years after getting married have I ever lived anywhere else. Bill and I moved in here together when Daddy retired. It will seem strange to sell the place and leave permanently.” She paused again. “How could he have done this to the children?” said Kate. “I’m so bloody angry with him that I’d shoot him myself, if he was still here.”

  She started crying, so I put my arms around her and held her close.

  “Kate,” I said into her ear, “I am absolutely certain that Bill didn’t kill himself. And I’m sure he didn’t kill Huw Walker, either. And I intend to prove it.”

  She pulled away from me and looked into my eyes. “Do you really mean that or are you saying it to make me feel better?”

  “I really mean it. I am sure that Bill was murdered.”

  “Kate,” said Marina, touching her arm, “I’m sure Sid will find out who did it.”

  Kate smiled. “I do so hope you’re right. At first, I couldn’t think why Bill would have killed himself. I am sure he would never leave the children in that way. It must have been a mistake or an accident, but the police have kept telling me that he did it because he couldn’t stand the guilt for having killed Huw.” She hung her head in her hands. “How I so wish that I hadn’t got involved with Huw.”

  “Would it be all right, Kate,” I said, “if I were to have a look in the den?”

  “What for?” she asked, raising her head. “I never want to go in there again. I locked the door when we got home and none of us has been in since. But yes, I suppose it’s all right. I mean, the police haven’t said we can’t go in.”
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  “I want to go look for something.”

  “What?”

  “Something that might show that Bill didn’t kill himself.”

  “Oh,” she said. “Go on, then.” She got up and took a key from the top shelf of the Welsh dresser and gave it to me. “But I’m staying here.”

  “Fine.”

  “And I’ll stay with you,” said Marina.

  “I may be a while,” I said.

  “That’s OK,” said Marina, “take your time.”

  I left them making themselves another cup of coffee and went through into the hallway, and then into the den.

  It was much the way I remembered it. A leather sofa sat along the wall next to the door and the far end of the room was filled from floor to ceiling with bookcases containing racing books of all sorts, together with one shelf absolutely crammed full of videotapes. A large, flat-screen television sat in one corner, with video and DVD players beneath.

  There was only one armchair where there used to be two. The other, I suspected, had been removed for forensic testing and then had probably been disposed of. Quite apart from the blood stain from the back of Bill’s head, there would have been a pooling of fluids in the seat due to the natural processes that occur at death. I shivered, whether from cold or from the thought of too much knowledge, I wasn’t sure.

  There was a paisley-patterned rug covering about half of the dark wooden floor and a few occasional tables dotted about.

  I looked at the wall where I had seen the blood last Wednesday morning. Someone had done their best to get rid of the redness from the cream paint, but thorough redecoration would be needed to remove completely the brown deposit that remained.

  I looked carefully at the stain. I could see, near the top, where the police must have dug the bullet from the plaster. It had passed right through Bill’s skull and embedded itself in the wall, but not very deeply.

  If Bill had not shot himself, then how did the gunpowder residue get on his hands? His hand had to have fired the gun. On the assumption that the gun wasn’t forced into his mouth with his finger on the trigger, then there had to be a second shot. In my opinion, this would have had to have been fired after Bill was dead. The murderer would have put the gun into Bill’s hand and used his dead finger to fire it.

 
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