Recent Titles by Amy Myers from Severn House
The Jack Colby, Car Detective, Series
CLASSIC IN THE BARN
MURDER IN THE QUEEN'S BOUDOIR
MURDER WITH MAJESTY
THE WICKENHAM MURDERS
MURDER IN FRIDAY STREET
MURDER IN HELL'S CORNER
MURDER AND THE GOLDEN GOBLET
MURDER IN THE MIST
MURDER TAKES THE STAGE
MURDER ON THE OLD ROAD
Writing as Harriet Hudson
CATCHING THE SUNLIGHT
SONGS OF SPRING
THE STATIONMASTER'S DAUGHTER
TO MY OWN DESIRE
THE WINDY HILL
WINTER ROSESCLASSIC IN
A Case for Jack Colby, the Car Detective
This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.
This first world edition published 2011
in Great Britain and the USA by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
9â15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
Copyright Â© 2011 by Amy Myers.
All rights reserved.
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Myers, Amy, 1938-
Classic in the barn.
1. Murder â Investigation â England â Kent â Fiction.
2. Antique and classic cars â Conservation and
restoration â Fiction. 3. Lagonda automobile â Fiction.
4. Automobile dealers â Fiction. 5. Kent (England) â
Fiction. 6. Detective and mystery stories.
ISBN-13: 978-1-7801-0020-3Â Â (ePub)
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-8018-5Â Â (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-1-84751-340-3Â Â (trade paper)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
This ebook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited,
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.
car buff extraordinaire
One thing is certain: this novel would not have been written if it hadn't been for the full-hearted cooperation of my husband James Myers. It was his lifelong enthusiasm and knowledge of classic cars that brought Jack Colby, his team and Frogs Hill Restorations into being, and he has plotted their route with me every mile of the way.
We are lucky enough to live near the North Downs not far from where this novel is set. Pluckley is a real and beautiful Kentish village, with the reputation of having a great many ghosts, but some other place names, including the village of Piper's Green, are fictitious, as are Jack Colby's home, business and cases. The cars, however, are very real and can be seen both in museums and at classic car meetings all over the country. I am particularly grateful to Tony Condon, a volunteer at the splendid Haynes Motor Museum in Sparkford, who showed and discussed with Jim and myself their magnificent 1937 drophead Lagonda and their 1965 Gordon Keeble with its memorable tortoise emblem. My thanks are, as always, due to my publishers Severn House and in particular to its publishing editor Amanda Stewart and to Rachel Simpson Hutchens, and to my friend and agent Dorothy Lumley of the Dorian Literary Agency; their expert hands on the steering wheel enabled Jack Colby to take the chequered flag in print.
There had to be something weird going on. What sort of maniac leaves a classic Lagonda rotting in a barn in the middle of the Kent countryside?
I clambered over the ditch and undergrowth bordering the public bridleway to see if I could get a closer look. The ragstone outbuilding was on the far side of a hedge about six foot high, so although I'm a reasonably tall man, I needed a gap to peer through. I found one by an oak tree â and caught my breath: there she was in all her glory, waiting like a beautiful woman crying out to be loved. I could almost hear her whispering to me:
âJackÂ .Â .Â . JackÂ .Â .Â .'
The voice of the siren was summoning me. Fanciful? Not really. Len and Zoe tell me I have a nose for such classic car treasures â as well as a nose for trouble. They have to work with me, so they should know! Trouble is, I also lack a nose for storing up money, which at that moment was not so much
my mind as eating it up. And here, with luck, might be salvation.
This time it looked as if all three noses could be in cahoots, including the one I lacked. Either this car had been abandoned when the property changed hands and left to rot by the uncaring new owner â or, as I said, it was owned by someone very weird indeed. â
By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes
,' I said softly to myself, every antenna on the alert. To the average person riding or walking along this remote track, it would be just another old wreck of a car mouldering its final days away. But in the classic car world, it's a crime to see such prizes lost to the world through man's neglect; it's like storing a Leonardo in a damp cellar. And Leonardos, so nose number three reminded me, bring in large amounts of cash. If the owner could be persuaded to part with this one, my luck might be in.
No question about it: I had to know more about that car. Like
. Len and Zoe jokingly call me the car detective, and right now my nose was twitching like a water-diviner's dream. I had been walking along this bridleway to Charden, where the great Harry Prince lives. It was a Thursday and a bright May day, but I was in a far from happy mood. I'll explain later, but for now let's just say Harry Prince had seemed the only way out of my problem. The worst possible scenario. Now lovely, kind, fate had thrown out a glimmer of hope.
This path is several miles from where I live, but I'd strolled along it several times before and could swear I'd never once seen the doors of that barn open. They looked in none too good shape, and we'd had a bad storm two nights ago; it could be that they'd blown apart then, revealing the Lagonda in all her nude decaying glory â the swine who owned her hadn't even had the decency to put a tarpaulin over her.
First, whose farm was this? No, make that second. First was to take a closer look at the object of my lust. Dad always told me I never know when to give up, and I guess he was right. I used to be a geologist for a big oil company before I came to my senses; there you learn not only to sniff oil, but also to have the determination to believe you're right when every idiot in the business is telling you otherwise. It's the same principle whether it's oil or a dark-blue 1938 or '39 V12 drophead coupÃ© Lagonda with â if the sun would only stop getting in my eyes â what looked like tan leather upholstery. No number plate, and the headlights were surely wrong, but even so she was a beauty. I could only see a glimpse of the interior through the dust-covered windscreen, although the temptress was only a tantalizing six feet from me. I could imagine the purr of her engine though.
This was a lady who needed someone at her wheel, not to die of old age alone and unloved in a field. Even a Kentish field. She needed a knight on a white charger to rescue her.
OK, Jack, I told myself as I persuaded a thin part of the hedge to become a gap, a forty-eight-year-old classic-car sleuth in a silver Alfa Romeo Sportwagon (and with a Gordon Keeble at home under wraps) would do nicely as a knight to rescue a princess like this. Trouble ahead? I had left the oil business, but I still knew how to play tough-guy â and in any branch of the car business this can come in handy. Right now my accelerator pedal was saying:
Result: I turned off the competing tiny warning signal that was saying: â
Stay right where you are,
'and found myself on the other side of the hedge, only a few leaves and twigs the worse for wear.
And there she was. My beauty.
I managed to take my eyes off my quarry for long enough to look around me for spies. To my left, back the way I had come, was a large meadow; in front and to my right were apple trees, stretching as far as I could see. The pathway running along beside the hedge looked nicely deserted, at least as far as the bend some way ahead, and so I turned my attention to the lady in question, to explore the most beautiful body I'd seen in a long while.
She was looking at me in appeal â or was that the headlights? They were post-war, and this was definitely a pre-war lady. Not a big blemish; only a purist would object to slightly undersized breasts on an otherwise perfect Venus. In all other respects she looked in grand nick. Uncared for, certainly, but not so decayed as I'd feared. For some reason, her nether regions were packed in hay, which must have tickled her blue paint here and there.
I decided to have a squint. No number plates, but they might be lying around; was the chassis rusting away? So far as I could see, neither was the case, and nor was there any sign of a tax disc. The concrete floor was mucky, but the car wasn't jacked up, so I had to lie on my stomach to peer underneath her. There I could see the underside of a lady who needed attention, although she certainly wasn't rusting away.
I scrambled up with the help of the driver's door handle â and, glory be, it moved. The lady was unlocked and invitingly lay open before me. I had no choice. I slid on to the seat and had a few moments of make-believe vroom-vroom, gazing at that slinky bonnet spread out before me and wishing I could just drive her out here and now.
Even I knew that wasn't on the cards. I didn't even know the owner's name. I rummaged in the glove compartments, but they were empty of clues. No logbook either. My eye fell on some pieces of paper stuffed down in the door map-compartment, so I fished them out, hoping they might give me a clue to the reprobate who owned this vehicle.
They didn't. Merely a garage receipt, and one for a couple of cappuccinos dated way back. Could the car be stolen? It would explain the lack of number plates, but not what she was doing here. If stolen, she'd have rapidly sold on, so she was probably pukka â which meant I needed to meet the owner.
Which was sooner than I'd have wished.