Cherringham--The Secret of Combe Castle (9 page)

BOOK: Cherringham--The Secret of Combe Castle
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This’ll be fun, thought Jack.

“Terry sort you out?” he said, without looking across at Odysseus.

“What?”Jack turned to look at him.

“Whoa, wait — who? What do you mean, man?”

Jack turned and smiled.

“It’s okay Odysseus, I’m not a cop.”

Jack watched this information infiltrate the younger FitzHenry’s addled consciousness. The guy had clearly taken one free hit as a sampler out in the car.

“Wait a minute. You’re the guy that Pa hired to find the mystery attacker!”

“That’s right.”

Odysseus swayed slightly and peered at Jack through his long hair.

“So how’re you doing with all that, Sherlock?”

“Just fine. And how are you doing? Does dear old Dad know you buy your drugs right here in the village, in plain sight?”

Odysseus grinned. “I’m forty years old, man, I do what I want.”

“I’m sure you do,” said Jack, watching Billy return with his pint.

“One for yourself, Billy?” said Jack putting a ten-pound note on the bar.

“Cheers Jack, don’t mind if I do,” said Billy.

When Billy brought back his change, Odysseus asked for a pack of cigarette papers.

Jack watched the stoner pay slowly, counting out his coins, then put the papers in his pocket and head out of the pub without a word.

When he’d gone, Jack and Billy nodded.

“You see much of him?” said Jack.

“Not if I can help it,” said Billy. “He has a pint now and then if he’s up from London. I don’t ask what he does out there, in the car park. Alan should really be on
that
.”

“How about recently?” said Jack. “He been around?”

Billy looked away. Then: “Yeah. Friday night he was in with a couple of mates. And he had quite a few pints, now I think on it.”

Friday,
thought Jack.
The night of the vandals …

“Terry Hamblyn one of those mates?” said Jack.

“He was.”

“Don’t suppose you remember what time he left?”

“Round nine, I reckon. Couldn’t have been early enough for me. Drunk and loud — not the sort for a good Friday night crowd.”

Billy was called to the other end of the bar.

So Jack picked up a copy of the local paper and went and sat by the fire with his pint to wait for Sarah.

Thinking:
Nine o’clock. Just enough time to get home and vandalise Oswald’s little museum?

*

Sarah pushed her empty plate to one side and took a sip of lager to wash her dinner down.

“Remind me,” she said. “Diet in the New Year.”

“Not before?” said Jack, still finishing his shepherd’s pie.

“Well that would be just pointless, Jack. And no fun at all.”

“We having another drink?”

“Maybe one more.”

“My round,” he said, and she watched him pick up the plates and glasses and head for the bar.

When he came back he put the beers on the table. She saw him take a sip then casually look around to make sure nobody was in earshot.

“You look disappointed,” he said.

“I am. I went to a lot of effort to get that password. You would have been proud of me.”

“Mrs. Axelhoff, huh?

“Ms., please.”

“What is that — some kind of play on Axelrod and Hasselhoff?”

“You criticising my cover name?” she said, mock seriously.

“It’s a great name. I want to use it.”

“Don’t you dare,” she said. “I won’t be able to keep a straight face.”

She watched him laugh and immediately felt better.

“Seriously though, Jack, I thought I’d get more from their site, from the emails. The identity of the buyer, at least.”

“Well, that
would
have been a big deal. But you know — you got a lot more than you’re giving yourself credit for.”

“Such as?”

“For starters, we know the mystery buyer is worried enough about their identity to keep it concealed.”

“I suppose so …”

“Also, we know the survey was key to the whole deal.”

“Laser survey, too. The buyer specified laser. It had to be accurate.”

“Exactly. So — the buyer’s more interested in the dimensions of the house than the purchase. Which — based on your great research today — makes it sound to me like it’s the elusive treasure they’re after.”

“How does that follow? Maybe it’s like Anjii said — they want to do a lot of building work.”

“Without looking round the place in person first?” said Jack. “I don’t buy that.”

“Hmm, maybe you’re right.”

“I think our buyer believes the treasure’s been hidden at the house, and that it’s somewhere that’s not shown on the plans.”“But Jack — how does that fit with the hate mail and the attack on the museum?” she said.

“Hmm, good question,” said Jack. “That doesn’t make sense — yet.”

“The buyer might be genuine. Don’t forget — there’s no shortage of people who want the FitzHenrys out …”

“You’re right. There’s Pelham. The brother, Rufus …”

“Edwina — she hates living there.”

“And — let’s not forget Odysseus … Could be a big payday for him!”

“I doubt he can find his way to bed most nights — let alone sabotage the museum.”

“True,” said Jack. “But we can’t discount him.”

“The buyer might be just that — a buyer. Or they might be a treasure hunter. But either way, if they’re not behind the threats — then they’re nothing to do with us.”

“You’re right,” said Jack. “We should stay focused.”

“Of course, I’ll take a look at the 3D model in the morning. Just in case there’s something obvious on there.”

“Yeah, that’s a good idea.”

“But apart from that — what do we do now, Jack?”

She watched him ponder that.

He took a breath. “We could wait for something to happen. We’ve stirred a lot of pots. Think … we see what all that does. And if nothing happens, we go through all the evidence we have, all over again.”

“Okay,” she said. “But you have another idea?”

He laughed at that. “That transparent am I? You mean, in addition to waiting?”

“Yes.”

“I think … I do. Pudding?”

“Why not? New Year’s weeks away.”

And she reached out for the menu. “And that will give you a chance to tell me your idea.”

A big laugh from Jack.

He is
so
much fun,
Sarah thought.

“That it will,” he said.

13. Jack’s Plan

Headlights off, Sarah watched Jack steer his Sprite off the gravelly road that led to Combe Castle, parking tight against a large bush before he killed the engine.

“You okay with this?” he said.

She took a deep breath. With the engine and heater off, the car quickly turned cold. And that chill added to the spookiness of what they were doing.

Sure — they could have waited for things to happen.

They had — as Jack said — stirred a lot of pots. Like putting a stick into a wasp’s nest, everyone who had an interest in seeing the FitzHenrys gone would be agitated — all of them feeling the icy net of suspicion.

But she knew that — for Jack — that wasn’t going to be enough.

So here they were, hiding down the road from the manor house, the castle building and ruins in sight. But invisible to anyone in the manor house who might look out the window.

Jack had a plan.

But now she also had some ideas.

“Jack, I
get
that you want to see how easy it is to break into the castle …”

“Right. I mean, that might tell us more about who did it, yes? And best Oswald knows nothing about it. Be just like the night they were vandalised. Is it easy, could anyone just walk in — or would it have to be someone who knows the place cold?”

“Like Odysseus?”

“Precisely.”

“Okay.” Sarah looked up at the lit windows of the manor house. She had called Chloe and told her to tell Daniel she’d be back late.

Not a big deal … the pair of them were pretty independent these days.

“But if it is Odysseus, he might not be too happy with you prowling around?”

“True fact. And?”

“So — keep your phone connected to me. I’ll keep watch and can let you know if I spot anything. Just to be safe.”

“You got it.”

Now she watched as Jack looked up at the house. “So while we wait for the wonderful FitzHenrys to go to bed, you think you can show me how to work the 3D model of the place on your iPad?”

“Sure. Hey. Wait a second, you’re—”

“Looking for anything odd about the building? Why not? If there’s a treasure, those lost doubloons could be … if I explore a bit, might find somewhere where the quickly departed Basil might have hidden them.”

She laughed. “Okay. Better you than
me
walking around that place. You have a torch?”

He held a pencil-sized light up. Clicked it on, then as quickly off.

“So I won’t be in the dark. At least in the house. As to who is threatening Oswald; well that’s a different story.”

Sarah pulled up her bag and took out her iPad mini.

She slid her fingers across the screen and the model of the castle and manor house appeared, all transparent walls, just lines and vectors.

“Okay — ready to see how to use this?”

“Always up to learn new things …”

And Sarah made Combe Castle slowly rotate on the screen.

*

“With time, I could have made this work so it would track you as you walked through the building.”

“I think … I can follow it. Like a map, really …”

“Yes, but one in 3D. Might be easy to get lost.”

“That happens I’ll just backtrack to get out. So — this, um, ‘model’ shows everything structural, the layout, dimensions, rooms, closets, hallways, chambers …?”

“Everything.”

He paused at that. “Interesting. Let me have a go …”

She handed him the iPad. The tablet seemed even smaller in his hands. Jack nodded as he used an index finger, sliding left then right, then up and then down.

“Oh,” she said, “there’s a little curved arrow at the top left that will return you to the previous view if you do a spin and lose where you are.”

She watched Jack tap the arrow. Another nod.

“Good. Think I got it.”

“What if you can’t get in?”

He turned to her.

“I did spend years breaking into places, all in the service of the law. Doubt Oswald would have anything so sophisticated that it could keep me out. But if so, I’ll hurry back. Nothing ventured, hmm? And we’ll have a bit more information.”

Sarah nodded, then she looked back at the castle, to the turret bedroom of the FitzHenrys … now dark.

“Lights out,” she said.

“Right. Let’s give them a few … then off I go.”

He slid the iPad into his large jacket pocket, the small tablet just fitting.

Then he picked up his phone. “I will call you just before I go in.
If
I get in.”

She smiled. “Good. You know,” she said, “we’ve done some scary things.”

“That dive you did? I still have nightmares about that!”

“Right, But this may just be the scariest.”

“Certainly the weirdest.”

He took a breath.

“Okay. Enough time for them to start snoring.” A big smile. “I’m off. Wish me luck.”

“Good luck it is.”

Though as he popped open the door, and hurried through the moonless night to the castle, she knew that with Jack — it was never completely about luck.

And she also quickly realised … she might have the harder job.

To sit. To wait.

She rubbed her hands together.

Not easy at all.

14. Into the Castle

Standing at a back door of the castle, framed by boulder-sized stones, Jack took out his phone, plugged in the combination microphone and earpiece, then hit Sarah on his contact list.

She answered on the first ring.

“Okay, I’m at the door,” he whispered. “You hear me okay?”

“Fine. You hear me?”

“Like you’re in my head. Okay … going to start … but will be quiet. Just in case.”

“Got it.”

Jack put the phone into an upper pocket. It would be interesting doing this knowing Sarah was back there, listening.

Must be the same thrill that robbers feel. Knowing that any second you could get caught, that someone could come along …

Exciting. That, and grabbing any jewels and money.

Now to the door.

Enough ambient light here to see that the door — sturdy, wooden — had an ancient lock mechanism. But in addition, a heavy chain looped through the bow-shaped handle then padlocked to a thick black metal ring screwed into one of the framing stones.

At first he thought he’d pick the padlock first.

With a chain and padlock like that he guessed Oswald didn’t use this subterranean entrance much — if at all.

Then he looked at the black metal hoop holding the chain. He reached up. Gave it a tug and — like a loose tooth — it wobbled in the stone.

And after few quick turns to the left, with a grinding noise and a shooting spray of stone to the ground, the screw popped out as if it had been weathering loose for decades.

So much for this first line of defence.

Now to the actual door lock.

For this, he used his small torch to get a good look at it.

Had to be a hundred years old, and Jack knew exactly how such old locks worked. He had to negotiate a series of chambers into which tumblers fell. Usually three. The bigger the lock, the more tumblers there would be.

A simple hooked pick should let him ‘feel’ each chamber, pop it open, then move onto the next.

“This is too easy,” he whispered, knowing Sarah could hear.

“And no motion detector.” Jack smiled at that. “Not if it was created in the 1890s.”

He didn’t have to keep the light on the keyhole since, when using a pick, it was completely a matter of listening and feeling.

Click
. The first chamber popped open. Two more to go. He worked on the second, and again easily, another click.

Onto the last one.

But the third seemed stuck.

As much as he levered the fishhook end of the point to get the tumbler to click open, nothing happened.

BOOK: Cherringham--The Secret of Combe Castle
8.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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