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Authors: Amy Myers

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BOOK: Classic in the Barn
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I didn't like the sound of this. There was no chance of a police guard without a specific threat once the crime scene was finished with, and the idea of Tomas creeping around either the farmhouse or the Lagonda barn was not a pleasant one for me, let alone for Bea.
‘I'll stay over too,' I told her, and Bea looked pleased. So did Zoe, in fact, but I doubted whether Rob would be. ‘What about the Lagonda, if he was making threats about it?'
‘The crime scene's lifted now, so I should check. I waited for you,' Bea said diffidently, which made me realize just how bad she was feeling despite the stiff upper lip. ‘I expect Tomas was only throwing out idle threats about it, though. He thinks there's a mystery over it because I told him Mum had never mentioned it to me.'
‘Let's go see,' I said, trying not to sound too eager.
‘It's a kind of test for me,' Bea admitted. ‘I haven't been down to the barn since it happened. So it would be good if we could go now.'
‘Fine with me,' I said graciously. Aware of Zoe's cynical eye on me, I was hardly able to believe my luck in getting to see it right away.
And so for the third time I walked down to the barn, only on this occasion we took the orthodox route, through the farmhouse, garden and fields, not over the fence. I could see Bea was having trouble as we drew nearer, and without a word Zoe and I positioned ourselves on either side of her. Physically, it provided little protection, but emotionally I hope she felt we were shoulder to shoulder with her.
We walked through two meadows, which I guessed were still attached to Polly's farm, then through a kissing gate by the bridle path, which also had broad padlocked gates for farm traffic, and then the apple orchards, which judging by the number of birds around were being sized up for their harvesting potential in the autumn.
‘The barn is officially on the land that Guy rents,' Bea told us, ‘but I doubt if he'll turn us off.'
I wasn't so sure and was glad Bea was with us. As Tomas had been given bail, he could well be back there at any time he liked, and I didn't fancy the idea of that. As the barn hove into sight, we all became quiet, as though Polly's death had marked the place for ever. As indeed it had for Bea and myself. I had to school myself not to run to it, to make sure that it held no corpse now – and that it did hold a Lagonda. The former crime scene was much trampled, with plenty of signs of former activity. It had a desolate look to it, with chalk marks still visible.
Bea stopped short. ‘I can't do it, Jack. You go across and see the old banger's all right.' Zoe stayed with her (nobly in the circumstances) and, carefully skirting the area where I remembered Polly's body had lain, I unlocked the padlock – to which Bea had given me the key – and pulled open the door.
There she was, still beautiful even in her uncared for state, and so innocent looking that it was hard to pull myself together enough to contemplate how she could possibly have had a role in Polly's death.
‘OK inside?' Bea called.
I pulled the door wide open so that she could glimpse the car from where she was standing.
She sighed. ‘I can't think why this was so important to Mum.'
‘Because of her family connections,' I said. ‘It was your grandfather's, after all, and she and your father had a lot of good times in it. It seems very natural it meant a lot to her.'
Bea didn't look convinced. ‘If I'm to keep it,' she announced, ‘I'll do the thing properly and have it fixed up.'
A week ago I'd have been right there with my sales pitch for selling it on commission, but not now. ‘Keep it, Bea; for the moment, at any rate.'
‘Would you restore it for me, or whatever you do to old cars? Would it start? Are the keys there?'
I went into it, feeling like a trespasser, and ferreted deeper into the glove compartment than I had on my first ill-starred visit. I felt like an intruder into Polly's past life.
‘No, but that's a problem we can deal with easily. I don't know if it would start – or even if that would be a good idea. We've got a low-loader if you don't mind it trundling through the farm.'
‘So you'll do it?'
‘Love to,' I said promptly.
‘As soon as you like then.'
‘There's no hurry,' I forced myself to say, thinking of all she had on her mind and plate.
‘There is,' Bea contradicted, to my relief. ‘I need to feel I can advance something. Actually get something accomplished, not something like paperwork and probate and whatever that goes on for ever. Look, I've had enough of this place,' she added abruptly. ‘I'm going back to the house. Do you want another look, Jack?'
‘Yes, please.' I accepted gratefully and said I'd be along in five minutes. She and Zoe (who clearly had a tug of loyalties here) turned round to walk back to the farm, and I went back into the barn to see if I could recaptured the fleeting thought I'd had that something was strange about this Lagonda – apart from the headlights.
I went to where the princess lay still and quiet, waiting to be awoken from her long sleep. Unlike Polly, who would never wake. A sharp jab of physical pain hit me at the thought. I gave her an overall look, but nothing came to me. Another one, with the same lack of result. All seemed as it should for a classic '38 drophead. We could ask Brian Woollerton about those headlights. Not only did he run that useful team of informants, but he was a chum of long standing, long memory and a long storehouse full of every spare classic part imaginable. Oh the pleasure and joy at the thought of what Len, Zoe and I could achieve with the Lagonda's restoration job. It felt as though I would be doing at least something for Polly.
I bent over the rear seat.
I remember doing that but no more. It all happened so quickly. A feeling of something wrong, a shape behind me, a presence, a sense of danger – and then nothing. Blackness and falling into infinity . . .
NINE
Polly was bending anxiously over me in some place I could not define . . . I blanked out again, and when I next came to I was in little doubt where I was. There was no Polly and never would be. Instead I was in hospital, with a Formula 1 race going on inside my head and two old ladies, in beds on either side of me, regarding me with great interest. What came next? I wondered. In all the best films a ministering angel would appear out of nowhere, exclaiming with relief that I was conscious again. I clearly wasn't in a best film, unfortunately, because no such apparition did. One of the old ladies asked me what I'd ordered for lunch, but nothing came to mind. The other one asked me if I was Bing Crosby, but that didn't seem relevant either.
When my ministering angel did at last amble up, she was not clad in pristine white, but in jeans and T-shirt and was smelling of hand gel. It was Zoe, whose orange spikes of hair were the object of rapt disapproval from one of the old ladies.
‘Grapes?' I croaked. ‘Chocs? Flowers?'
‘Good. You're alive. We thought you were a goner yesterday.'
As greetings go, I felt Zoe was below form, but she did look genuinely worried. ‘I'm ace,' I assured her. ‘What happened?' There seemed a bit of a blank somewhere. I could remember the Lagonda, and I had a hazy idea that I'd been on my own.
‘You tell us. When you didn't turn up, Bea and I eventually wandered down to the Lagonda again to prise you away from it and found you on the floor out for the count. Not what Bea needed. She thought you were dead like Polly.'
There was reproach in her voice, and I scrabbled desperately to think what had happened. My fault? I was penitent over the shock to Bea, but still at sea. Then my memory obliged. ‘Someone coshed me.' This came out so loudly that half the ward looked at Zoe in pity at the maniac she was presumably responsible for.
‘You slipped and hit your head on the concrete,' Zoe corrected me. ‘Not a wise move.'
The Formula 1 race stepped up speed, but I was right at the wheel now. ‘I was coshed.'
‘You're muzzy-headed.'
‘Yes, but I was coshed. I'd checked the front end and was leaning over into the rear seat. Then I was hit from behind. I was
coshed
,' I repeated again to make my point.
Two brown eyes regarded me carefully. Hands on hips, gimlet-eyed, and ready to pounce, Zoe gives no quarter unless quarter is deserved. Thank heaven she decided it was on this occasion. ‘Who by?'
‘Daft question.'
‘Accepted. This Guy chap, maybe?'
‘Who knows – but I'm going to find out. I'm leaving—'
One slim brown hand pushed me back to the horizontal as I struggled to sit up. So far as I was concerned, the Formula 1 race was over and I was ready to depart even if a few cars were still doing a lap of honour in my head. ‘You're here for at least another twenty-four hours, sweetheart, and no kidding. I checked with the gaolers outside.'
‘You're not my next of kin.'
‘To them I'm your daughter.'
‘That does a lot for my self-esteem.'
Banter is all very well to pass the time, but the V12s in my head slowed sufficiently for me to think of the Lagonda, Polly lying outside the barn, and how I'd been coshed. My temperature gauge instantly shot up, and I grabbed at Zoe's hand in case she thought she was leaving. She wasn't. I needed her like I'd never done before.
‘Either I'm jumping ship now, or you have to be my co-pilot.'
‘What for?' I felt her hand tighten in mine. Action, she was thinking. Action. She was right.
‘The Lagonda. Tell Bea we have to get it out of there faster than we reckoned. By fast I mean today, this morning,
now
.'
Zoe looked doubtful. ‘She's got enough—'
‘Tell her if she wants to find out who killed her mother, the Lagonda must hold the clue. Now the crime scene's lifted it won't be long before someone else is nosing around: either my cosher or someone else. Get it out before it goes up in flames. Get it to Frogs Hill
today
.' I was calculating rapidly that it would take some time before someone might get down there with a can or two of petrol. Night was more probable, when there would be little danger of interruption by farm workers or passers-by.
Once Zoe is convinced, she doesn't waste time. ‘Drivable?'
‘Precious little hope. I know it's a Sunday, but call Bea, tell her the need for speedy action and organize it.'
‘Use Charlie?'
‘Yes. And right now. Get hold of Len somehow, and join him at Greensand farm to move that car out.'
Our venerable ancient low-loader, affectionately called Charlie, is used for picking up classics that are either too spotless to risk getting mud on their paws on our less than perfect roads, or are such clapped-out wrecks that this is the only way the old codgers can be transported to car hospital – in the form of Frogs Hill Classic Car Restorations. Len loves Charlie and has a special rapport with him. He likes nothing better than charging along dusty old paths in Charlie like a knight of old on his way to rescue someone's beautiful classic in distress. If King Arthur had had a garage at Camelot, Sir Leonard would be supping at the Round Table waiting for the next quest.
‘I'll be with you,' I said with some effort, ‘as soon as I'm out of here. Tell Len to take the long road home, and it needs a twenty-four-hour guard.'
We have good security at Frogs Hill, with burglar alarms galore and heavy locking devices. We're deep in the countryside, however, so if the alarms went off tonight it was all too probable that no one would come to gallop to our rescue without special precautions. The ‘long road home' was a security measure we'd set up but rarely used. It's a pretty simple one, and cheap, but one that in my car detective work I'd sometimes found useful. The Kentish lanes are narrow and twisting, and are a confusing complex until you know them. There's a particular combination of them round Piper's Green and Frogs Hill that's almost certain to throw off anyone in pursuit unless they know the area as well as we do, and even if they do they're unlikely to be as aware of every twist and turn as we are. The long road was designed for cars, but at a pinch Charlie could use it.
The race in my head had slowed to the point where I reasoned that if my cosher was anyone local they'd know all too well where the Lagonda would be heading. But, at the very least, it would be safer at Frogs Hill than in that field barn.
I watched Zoe's trim figure heading out of the ward with her usual terrier-like application now she had the scent of action in her nose. Cara, my true daughter, is in her twenties too, so Zoe could indeed qualify – odd, I'd never thought of her that way. The three of us – Len, my senior; Zoe, my junior; and me – make one of those triangles in which all three sides are equal. Age doesn't come into it, only cars.
I fretted once Zoe had left, especially when an official ministering angel turned up and briskly informed me I was to be transferred to another ward. A male ward, she emphasized, as though I'd been about to molest all the old ladies around me. ‘How long?' I asked. It came out as another croak.
She decided on a joke. ‘Oh, about another sixty years to go, I reckon.'
I tried a bit of banter too. ‘I feel fine,' I lied, ‘so I'll start them now. Can I go?'
‘Not till doctor says so. Tomorrow, probably.' A bright smile full of promise.
‘And when does doctor come?'
Tomorrow, it transpired. Hospitals are hospitals, and so it was another night's sleep for me right where I was. I tried to doze, I tried to ruminate. I trusted Len, and I needed to be in good shape once I did get back to Frogs Hill, so on the whole it seemed better to resist any macho impulse to rush out in my hospital pyjamas to hail a taxi to freedom. After all, I had one more card to play: Dave Jennings.
BOOK: Classic in the Barn
5.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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