Under orders, p.9

Under Orders, page 9

 

Under Orders
 



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  I threw the old machine in the trash, but not before extracting the cassette tape that still had Huw Walker’s messages recorded on it.

  I was hiding all the wiring beneath my desk when the phone rang. I thought briefly about letting my new machine do the answering, but instead I clambered up and lifted the receiver.

  “Hello,” I said.

  “Sid! Great. I hoped you’d be there,” said a voice. “I need your help and I need it fast.”

  “Sorry,” I replied, “who is this?”

  “It’s Bill,” said the voice.

  “Bill! God, sorry! I wasn’t expecting to hear from you.”

  “They haven’t locked me up for life yet, you know.”

  “But where are you?” I asked him.

  “At home, where do you think, Dartmoor?” He laughed, but I could tell even over the telephone that it was a hollow laugh, the worry very close to the surface.

  “They let you go?”

  “Yup, insufficient evidence to charge me, at least for now. I’m out on police bail. I’m not allowed to leave the country, and, more worrying, I’m not allowed on a racetrack.”

  “But that’s crazy,” I said. “How can you earn your living if you can’t go racing?”

  “Doesn’t really matter. The bloody owners are queuing up at the gate to remove their horses.” The forced cheerfulness had gone out of his voice. “That bastard Enstone was the first off the mark. Had two LRT horse vans here at seven this morning to collect them all. Taken them to that other bastard, Woodward. They’re welcome to each other. His bloody lordship still owes me two months’ training fees for seven horses. That’s a lot of cash I could really do with but probably won’t get now.

  “Three other owners came later, but Juliet was wiser by then and wouldn’t let the horses go until their bills had been paid. She did well but didn’t get it all because she didn’t have the details, the damn police had taken so much away. I got back here about two-thirty to find her having a stand-up row with one of the owners in the yard.”

  “How did they all know so quickly about you?” I asked. “Your name hasn’t been on the news.”

  “That bastard Chris Beecher wrote a piece in today’s Pump.” In Bill’s eyes, there were lots of bastards about. He probably didn’t know that I was a real bastard, my window cleaner father having fallen off a ladder to his death only three days before he had been due to marry my pregnant mother.

  “You don’t have to be a bloody rocket scientist to work out who he was writing about. And he had a copy of the paper couriered to each of my owners, with the article marked round in red. Messengered! He’s a bloody swine.”

  Indeed he was.

  “You didn’t tell him, did you, Sid?” he asked.

  “I wouldn’t tell Chris Beecher if his pants were on fire,” I assured him.

  “No, I didn’t really think it was you.”

  “Did you get any sleep last night?” I asked him.

  “None to speak of. I mostly sat in a room at the police station. They asked me a few questions about where I was last Friday. Bloody stupid. I was on television at Cheltenham races, for God’s sake! Yes, they said, they knew. Why did they bloody ask, then?

  “They also asked me about my marriage. Horrible things, like did I beat my wife? I ask you, what sort of question is that? I said of course not. Then they asked me if I had ever smacked my children? Well, I have, the odd little clip around the legs when they’ve been really naughty. Made me sound like a bloody monster. They implied that it was just a small step from abusing children to murder. Abusing children! I love my kids.”

  He yawned loudly in the receiver.

  “Bill,” I said, “you’re exhausted, go to bed and sleep.”

  “I can’t,” he said. “I’ve too many things to deal with here. And I want to go find Kate. I tried calling her mother twice, but she hangs up on me. I’m going round to her place in a minute. Sid, I love Kate and the children and I want them back. And I didn’t kill Huw Walker.”

  “I know that,” I said.

  “Thank God, someone believes me.” He paused. “Anyway, Sid, I called you because I need your help.”

  “I’ll help if I can,” I said.

  “I know the murder thing is the more serious, but I didn’t do it, and I can’t think that a murder rap will stick. There were far too many people who saw me all afternoon for me to have had the chance of getting a gun and finding a spot to do a bit of target practice on Huw’s chest. But this race-fixing stuff really worries me.”

  I didn’t ask him if that was because the allegations were true.

  “What do you want me to do?” I said.

  “You’re an investigator. I want you to bloody investigate.”

  “Bloody investigate what exactly?”

  “Why my horses look like they’ve been running to order.”

  “And have they?” I asked.

  “Now, look, Sid, don’t you start. I promise you that as far as I was concerned all my runners were doing their best. I’ll admit there were a few that I reckoned had no chance due to illness or injury, but even those weren’t sent out with orders to lose.”

  “Bill, I’ll not even think of helping you unless you level with me completely.”

  The tone of my voice clearly disturbed him. “I am bloody leveling with you,” he said. “I’ve heard the rumors, too, that my horses are not always trying, but it’s not true, or, if it is, it’s nothing to do with me. I promise you, on my mother’s grave.”

  “But your mother’s not dead.”

  “Details, details. It’s true, though. I never tried to fix a race by telling the jockey to lose, or any other way, either. Absolutely never.”

  I wasn’t sure if I believed him.

  “Why do you think that it looks like you were?” I asked.

  “The cops showed me a list,” he said. “All Lord Enstone’s horses. They won at long odds and lost at short ones. I told them not to be ridiculous, must be coincidence. But they said that I could go down to the slammer on coincidence and wouldn’t it be better to come clean and tell the truth. I told them I was telling the bloody truth, but they still refused to believe it. Then I sat in a cell for a couple of hours and did some serious thinking. Was someone else fixing my horses? Huw was riding them, so was he losing on purpose?”

  “And what conclusions did you come to?”

  “None,” he said. “That’s when I thought to ask you.”

  “Where did the police get the list of Lord Enstone’s horses?”

  “Search me.”

  “Was the list for the last two years?” I asked.

  “I think it probably was. Why?”

  “I think the police may have been given the list by the good lord himself.”

  “Bastard!” he said with feeling. “He’s a friend of mine—or he was.”

  Jonny Enstone didn’t have friends, I thought. He had acquaintances.

  “Anyway, Sid, I need your help to get me out of this hole. I’m not guilty of either thing and I intend to prove it.” He certainly sounded defiant. “Come over and let’s talk it through.”

  “I can’t just come over, I live in London,” I said.

  “Oh yeah, I forgot. Well, come tomorrow,” he said. “I know, come and ride out for me in the morning.”

  “Do you mean it?” I asked. I could still steer a straight course with one hand, but invitations to ride out were rare.

  “Of course I mean it. A one-handed Sid Halley is streaks better than most of my grooms. But you’d better come tomorrow since there may not be any horses left by Thursday.”

  “Don’t be ridiculous,” I said.

  “I’m not.”

  “OK,” I said, “I’d love to.”

  “First lot goes out at seven-thirty. Come at seven, or six-thirty if you want a cup of coffee first.”

  “Right,” I said, “I’ll be there at six-thirty.”

  “Good. See you then.” He hung up.

  I called Marina at
work to ask her to buy a copy of The Pump on her way home.

  •

  I WOKE AT four-thirty the next morning, took extra care attaching my arm and was on the road by a quarter past five.

  “Don’t break your neck,” Marina had mumbled in my ear as I gave her a goodbye kiss.

  “Try not to.”

  I enjoyed driving through the empty London streets at this early hour, rush-hour gridlock merely a memory. I whizzed down the Cromwell Road with every traffic light in my favor and was soon on the M4, with the dawn appearing brightly in my rearview mirror.

  I had brought the answering machine cassette tape with me to listen to in the car, but I could glean nothing more from Huw’s messages. They were the pleadings of a frightened man, a man who had realized that he was in way over his head and that he couldn’t swim.

  I also had a copy of the previous day’s Pump on the seat beside me, opened at Chris Beecher’s column.

  It has now been four days since the murder of top jump jockey Huw Walker at Cheltenham last week and The Pump can exclusively reveal that the police have someone in custody. But who is it? The police aren’t telling, but I can disclose that it’s a racing man, a trainer, and that he has also been arrested for race fixing. I can further assist any amateur sleuth in trying to determine who this chief suspect is. Try using a Candlestick to give you Leaded Light to show you the way.

  As Bill had said, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to piece those clues together.

  •

  I MADE GOOD time to Lambourn and pulled into Bill’s gateway at twenty-five past six. I was excited by the prospect of being back in the saddle on a Thoroughbred, doing what came naturally to both horse and rider, traveling at speed with the wind in my hair.

  So I was rather disappointed to find that I wasn’t Bill’s first visitor of the day. There was a police car in the driveway, with its blue light flashing on the roof.

  Bugger! I thought. They’ve come to take Bill back in for questioning. A dawn raid.

  I climbed out of the car and was met by a wide-eyed Juliet Burns.

  “Bill’s killed himself,” she said.

  8

  * * *

  I stared at Juliet in disbelief.

  “He can’t have,” I said stupidly.

  “Well, he has,” said Juliet. “He’s blown his brains out.”

  “What?! When?”

  “I don’t know,” she said. “I found him in the den about half an hour ago and called the police. He usually comes into the yard to see me at a quarter to six. When he failed to turn up, I thought he might have overslept after all the excitement of the last two days.”

  I didn’t exactly think that getting arrested constituted “excitement.”

  “I went up to his room but he wasn’t there and the bed was still made. So I looked for him in the office and then in the den.” She shook her head. “Pretty bad. I could see straight away that he was dead. The back of his head is missing.”

  Her matter-of-fact description made me feel quite queasy, but Juliet seemed perfectly fine and she had actually seen the carnage. Shock affects people in different ways and I suspected that Juliet was currently shutting out the trauma. In time, she might need help to cope, but not yet.

  I took her arm and sat her down in the passenger’s seat of my car. Then I went to the back door of the house. A young uniformed policeman politely informed me that no one was allowed in. He said that his superiors were on their way, together with the Scene of Crime Officer, and nobody, not even his superiors, could enter the house before the SOCO arrived.

  “Ah,” I said, “is it a crime scene, then?”

  “Maybe,” said the policeman. “All suspicious deaths are treated as if they are crimes until we know otherwise.”

  “Very wise,” I said, and retraced my steps to my car. I sat down in the driver’s seat.

  “Juliet,” I asked, “is Bill still in the den?”

  “Yes, I suppose so. That policeman was here pretty quickly, but no one else has arrived. I mean, there’s been no ambulance or anything.”

  “I expect the policeman will have called one.”

  “Suppose so.” She appeared to be going into shock, staring straight ahead and hardly listening to what I said.

  “Juliet!” I called loudly to her and she slowly turned her head. “Stay here in the car and I’ll be back in a minute and take you home.” She nodded slightly.

  I picked up my camera from the glove compartment, jumped out of the car and, avoiding the policeman by the back door, made my way around the house to one of the windows of the den and looked in.

  Bill was indeed still there, although I couldn’t see him very well as he was sitting in an armchair with its back towards the corner of the room between the two windows. I could, however, see his right hand hanging limply down. In the hand was a black revolver, now pointed harmlessly at the floor. I took some pictures.

  I shifted around to the next window, but it didn’t give me a much better view of Bill. However, it did allow me to see and photograph a large red stain on the wall above and behind his chair.

  The room was well lit by the early-morning sunshine and I could see that the stain was dry and there were no shiny droplets in the rivulets running down the cream paint. Bill had killed himself some time ago.

  But why? Why would he kill himself after all that he had said to me yesterday? He had seemed then to be so positive and determined. Had he been rejected by Kate? Did that tip him over the edge?

  And where did he get the gun?

  I went right around the outside of the house, looking in all the ground-floor windows. Nothing seemed to be unusual or different than I remembered. Except, of course, everything in this house would now be different, the disaster in the den would see to that.

  I stopped by the policeman standing guard at the back door and told him that I was taking Juliet Burns home and that his superiors could find her there.

  “Don’t know about that, sir,” he said rather hesitantly. “I think she should stay here until the others arrive.”

  “Well, I don’t,” I said. “She’s going into shock and needs a hot drink and a warmer place than sitting in my car. And since you won’t let us into the house, I’m taking her home.”

  He thought for a moment and clearly decided that it was better to let her go home than into Bill’s house. But he wasn’t keen.

  “All right, sir,” he said at last. “But I need your name and a telephone number where Miss Burns can be reached.”

  I gave him my name and my cell phone number and drove away. Just in time, too. As we went down the road, a convoy of police cars passed us going the other way. Violent death had roused a posse from their beds.

  Juliet’s home was one of four identical little cottages standing in a line right up against the Baydon Road on the southwestern edge of Lambourn.

  “Number two,” she mumbled.

  “Give me your key,” I said.

  “It’s under a stone in the window box,” she said. “No pockets in my jodhpurs, so I leave it there when I go to work.”

  “You should put it on a string round your neck,” I said.

  “Tried that, but I still lost it. String broke.”

  Use stronger string, dear Liza, dear Liza. But I didn’t say so.

  I helped her out of the car, found the key and took her in.

  Juliet went upstairs to lie down while I made her a strong sweet cup of tea in her tiny kitchen. I took it up and sat on the edge of her bed as she drank it. She seemed to have recovered somewhat and the tea helped further.

  “Why would he do such a thing?” she asked. “Now I suppose I’ll need a new job. Oh my God, the job!” She sat up with a jerk and started to get off the bed.

  “Juliet,” I said, “lie down. You don’t have to be at work today.”

  “But who will look after the horses?”

  “I’m sure Fred will work out that the horses need to be fed and watered, but they won’t be going out th
is morning. They’ll survive without you for a while. You are staying here and that’s an order.”

  I picked up her jacket from where she had dropped it on the floor and went to hang it in the wardrobe.

  “That’s OK,” she said. “Leave it on the bed, I’ll do it.”

  “It’s no problem.”

  I opened the wardrobe and found some space for the jacket. Juliet always gave such an impression of being an out-and-out tomboy that I was surprised to find that she had a row of dresses hanging there, many in their designer-name plastic covers. There was also a line of fancy shoes in colors to match the dresses. In a funny sort of way, I was pleased to glimpse her feminine side. I closed the wardrobe without comment and sat down on the bed.

  “Juliet,” I said, “I’ll go back to the yard and sort out any problems that Fred has with the horses. I think you should rest here as long as you can. The police will be down to see you soon enough.”

  “Thanks, Sid.”

  I drove back to Bill’s place, not to the main drive but around the back, to the far end of the stables. I hopped out and went into the yard to find Fred. He was there looking slightly agitated, checking his watch. It was already ten minutes after the allotted time for the horses to go out and there was still no sign of Bill or Juliet.

  “Fred, hello,” I called to him.

  “Oh, Mr. Halley, good morning,” he said. “I’m sorry but Mr. Burton and Miss Juliet aren’t here yet. I can’t understand it—they should have been here about half an hour ago, at least.”

  “They won’t be coming, Fred,” I replied. “The horses aren’t going out this morning. Tell the lads to remove the tack and leave them in their stalls. Give them some hay and water.”

  “But surely—”

  “Just do it, Fred, please.”

  He wasn’t sure and kept glancing towards the gate through which he still expected Bill to appear at any second.

 
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