âLook, would you prefer me to take it away and look at it at home?'
âNot for my sake. I'd rather know
if there's anything to find.'
I knew she was a brave lass, and this proved it. So we began again. At first I thought we were getting nowhere, but then a creepy feeling began to take me over. What had I been thinking just now? That the camera could indeed lie, and here, I thought, could be proof of that. Digital photos today can now lie to their hearts' content owing to on-screen editing, but a few years ago that was less common, especially back in the nineties when some of those photos were taken.
Oh yes, the camera could lie â with man's help.
âBea,' I said gently, âI think some, perhaps all, of these photos are faked. There are perhaps one or two genuine ones put in, but a lot of them are definite fakes.'
She was gazing at me as if I were Merlin waving a magic want. âDon't be daft â why on earth should they be?'
âI can't answer that, but look at this one. The Grand Prix Weekend show in Montreux, June 2001. That's genuine. Now look at this one. Look at the edges of the Lagonda, how sharp they are against the background. And look at this one. I'm pretty sure that's the same view of the Lagonda as in the other pic.
the same.' Another aspect struck me. âThis claims to have been taken at the Antwerp Classic Salon in March 2003, but it's the same background as the April Techno Classica in Essen a year earlier, although the Lagonda's at a different angle. This one has Mike standing by it, but look at the sharp definition round his head.'
âBut if you're right â if â why on earth bother? Why go to those lengths?'
âBecause this is a showcase album, designed as such.'
âWhy, why, whyÂ .Â .Â .'
I had no answer to that. How could I suggest money laundering to Bea? It was humming through my mind like an electric telegraph wire. Why fake car-show pictures if you were really there? Suppose you were actually at dirtier business than that? In Geneva, or AmsterdamÂ .Â .Â . And was there a
element too? I imagined Mike and Polly giggling together as they mocked up this album of their supposed lives together. Could I put that as a thesis to Bea â fun from which she had been excluded?
Bea poked agitatedly at the rest of the album, not really concentrating on what she was doing. The photos were mostly pasted in, but from between the last two pages a loose piece of paper slipped out. Automatically, I bent down to pick it up and handed it to her. But I could see what it was over her shoulder. âIt's that scrap of paper,' I cried.
âThe one I found in the Lagonda.' A very cold feeling was creeping up my spine. âIt's the receipt for two cappuccinos, isn't it?' There was no sign of the garage receipt, so there must have been something special about this one to make her keep it.
âYes.' She was staring at it.
âWhy would Polly have kept it? And, moreover, kept it so carefully tucked away?'
âPerhaps,' she said with difficulty, âbecause it's dated the day of Dad's death, four years ago, Wednesday tenth September.'
That did it. She burst into tears, and for a while it was me who played Mother Earth.
Bea had pushed the receipt into my hands in a frenzy as I left. âTake it away, and that album. I don't want to know.'
âFor better, for worse, Bea.'
âYes, I know I wanted you to find out the truth. And I still do. But just tell me when you've found it. And make it quick, Jack. I don't know what's happening or why, but I want it over. I want Tomas nice and securely behind bars, or if he didn't kill Mum, whoever did do so. It's beginning to feel as if there's a very black pit out there and I'm heading straight for it.'
âI won't let you fall in, Bea. You know that.'
âYes. I wishâ' She didn't finish the sentence. Perhaps, considering the difference in our ages and the emotional state she was in, it was better for both of us that she didn't.
Next morning I decided I'd have to go over to Andy Wells' garage. It would take some doing, because all I wanted to do was look at that album, then look at the Lagonda and try to make sense of what I was seeing and wonder whether it would take me any further. Try as I might, I just could not see Polly mixed up in something so unsavoury as money laundering. Why bother? Just for the hell of it? Because she was so much in love with Mike that she'd agree to his every suggestion? Was she still at it when she died? No way. The Lagonda had been firmly under wraps, and so, I guessed, had that side of her life. Any new life would have been completely different.
So why had she died?
Conclusion: someone had known about the money laundering.
And with that in mind I took myself off to Andy Wells and what remained of Frogs Hill Classic Car Restorations. There was a sort of subsidiary garage at the side, an overflow, and I found Zoe and Len there looking as content as possible in reduced circumstances. Cramped though they were, I found them hard at work on a suspension overhaul badly needed by a Sunbeam Rapier, which had originally been booked in for Frogs Hill. As there was only room for one car at a time, the pressure was on for a quick turnaround. What Len thought of this is not recorded.
I went to see Andy first, out of politeness.
âHow's Bea, Jack?' he asked.
âDoing OK. Glad when it's all over though.'
âYou mean that Polish chap?'
âYes. You knew him, didn't you?'
He struggled to think of an answer and finally came up with: âCame in for a bit of work on his old Fiesta. So what? Is that all you want to know?' He wasn't exactly aggressive, but I wouldn't have wanted to see Slugger Sam walk in at that moment.
OK, I'd take this bull by its horns. âNo. Mike Davis's death, Andy.'
I could see him stiffen. âWhat about it?' he shot back at me.
âI wasn't in England at the time. What exactly happened?'
âIt was straightforward enough,' he muttered. âThe way I heard it he was on the track of some car in Canterbury, his dream car. A Riley, from what I remember, an RME. They don't come up often, and Polly would have seen that idea off right away if she'd known about it. Which she didn't. He never made it to the dealer. Slumped over the seats, dead. Heart.' He was getting definitely truculent now.
âHe was on his own?'
He looked at me suspiciously. âYes.'
âIn a daily driver?'
âNo. The Lagonda.'
âWhy the station car park?'
He shrugged. âHow should I know? On his way to see the car, most likely.' His eyes slid past me.
âWho'd you hear this tale from, Andy?'
âInquest.' The reply came a bit too promptly, and I doubted very much whether a coroner would be gripped by the details of a dream RME.
âNo doubts at the time that it was natural causes?'
âAsk the bloody police. I don't remember no talk though. Straight heart attack.'
âCould it have been induced?'
I thought he'd hit me; he didn't. Instead he went as white as the proverbial sheet. âI'll tell you something, Jack. No one I knew of had an RME on the stocks around then. So don't go asking too many questions.' He wasn't smiling, and I knew it was time to stop. That receipt was for two cappuccinos. Mike could have drunk two cups. He could have treated a stranger. Or he could have paid for someone he knew.
Had Polly seen the date and realized it could mean something that had never occurred to her before? Something that had made her face very white and very abstractedÂ .Â .Â . Had it suggested to her that Mike had not died of a straight heart attack, but could have been murdered? And had that sudden awareness led to her own death?
It seemed to me that, contrary to Andy's advice, asking questions was precisely what I should do. As soon as I got back to Frogs Hill, I put in my long overdue call to Brian Woollerton about the Merc and slid in the name of Mason Trent just on the off chance it produced something. Brian evidently thought I was ringing to follow up on the headlights, and the pause and heavy breathing that followed his discovery of what I really wanted was suggestive in itself. The Merc didn't make much impression on him; it was Mason's name that set the sparks flying.
âSure you want me to?' he growled.
A nod's as good as a wink to a blind fool like me. âYes,' quoth I.
The frightening probability that Mike had been murdered was one subject I couldn't discuss with Bea â and yet who else? I was treading on scarily thin eggshells here, and if I wasn't careful I would end up as the omelette. There was no doubt I was putting myself in the frying pan with a vengeance; the problem was, when was it going to get too hot for my own good? It seemed a big jump from my âevidence' to probable murder, and yet it was a reasonable one â wasn't it? I mentally ran through the list of people who might know more about the circumstances of Mike's death than Andy Wells. There would surely have been more gossip at the timeÂ .Â .Â . or would there? Heart attacks happen. Maybe Mike had had known heart problems. I could talk to Andy again, I could talk to Guy, I could talk to Peter, Rupert, Lorna â even Slugger Sam â but which of them could I trust? Guy or Peter would be my preference â apart from Bea, of course, as a last resort. She'd had enough shocks already.
In the end the answer was simple enough. I needed a chat with Dave, and when I rang him, the next day, for once he was all for meeting. He had news for me and could I get my butt over to his Charing office soonest? Provided Brandon didn't reach out an arm and hoick me in as I passed his door, I was only too happy. Dave then changed his mind and suggested a pub in Charing. Charing is a pleasant village drowning in history and on the A20 a few miles from Pluckley. It's in the lea of the downs, and the short drive there was an enjoyable one. On the North Downs our ancestors had clashed with Romans, Anglo Saxons, and Normans all unsuccessfully and more successfully with Napoleon and Hitler. Carbon footprints from all ages abound in one form or another, and for me being there puts problems in perspective.
I found Dave sitting in the bar. He was looking more like the Spirit of Ecstasy than ever, as he was hunched up over a pint, looking grimly determined, his hair sleeked back as though about to zoom across the room. I didn't even have time to sit down before he fired up the engine.
âAnother job for you, Jack. A BMW lifted from Wye yesterday. Private residence.'
âWhat's so special you need me right away?'
His idea of an answer. âGot anything on Winter's Merc?'
âLines open, but nothing yet.' I'd tried, after all. âSo what about this BMW?'
âCould be the same outfit as Winter's Merc.'
âWith Kasek the spotter?'
âUm,' said Dave. âPossible.'
âNot so possible. Jury's out.'
I wasn't hitting the right buttons. âOK, Dave. Tell me what this is all about.'
âBig art theft in Norfolk last week.'
That took me aback, though I don't know why, as stolen cars are often used for crimes, especially cloned ones. âYup. I remember.' It was at Talbot Place, a medium stately home with a fine collection of classic art. Not your Leonardos, but good: Watteau, Van Ruysdael, and many others, plus a first-class collection of old master drawings. If I remembered correctly, about half a dozen paintings and quite a few drawings had vanished in this theft.
I was losing the plot. âThe BMW's only just been nicked.'
Dave looked at me pityingly. âNot the BMW, our Merc. It's turned up, abandoned four miles away. It was used for the getaway.'
âFalse plates, but the VIN number checked out. Keep this under wraps, Jack, till I give you the all-clear. It's being crawled over by the Serious Organized Crime Agency. It had one of the nicked drawings still in it.'
âOdd. They must have switched cars, but you'd think they'd have noticed something like that.'
âThat's up to SOCA.'
âAnd our lot?' I enquired.
âWe need a line on the car gang
on Mason Trent or whatever he's calling himself now.'
âI'm not with you.'
âThat's fair enough. I'll fill you in. Our chum Mason Trent went behind bars for three years for cloning cars and theft. At roughly the same time a gent called Harry Smith went inside for art theft. The Met were pretty sure that the two were connected: Mason Trent cloned stolen cars with innocent identities and took commissions to supply them for getaway cars for the series of art thefts from stately homes; and Harry Smith was involved in the robberies themselves. After they went inside, the robberies continued, but not quite so many. Not until the last year, when they perked up again. Harry Smith was only one of at least three operatives, under a central godfather, who the Met think could be Mason Trent â who, coincidentally, has been out of jug for a year. He could be up to his old tricks and working with Pole again. Hence the eagerness to find Trent and, for good measure, his current cloning base.'
âDone by tomorrow,' I said sarcastically, but it wasn't taken that way. Dave just nodded approval.
It was my turn now. âTalking about organized car theft, did you ever meet Mike Davis?'
Dave gave me what is known as a sideways glance. âHis website was clean.'
âOne can have more than one site.'
âSure. But we never found any links back to Mike on the dodgy ones.'