I decided silence was best.
âPolly went to him,' Mason continued, âabout Mike's death after your little escapade with the Lagonda. When she was hit, Andy got scared, knowing I had an interest, as they say. Quite right too. I reckoned that was where my cash might be stashed, and I didn't want no busybodies like you sniffing around.'
âSo you coshed me.'
âSorry, Jack. Slugger feels bad about that.'
âSo did I.'
âHe made it up to you. Saved your life, didn't he?'
âAnd my barn?' I managed to squeak.
âNot me, mate. Winter hired one of Slugger's mates because he didn't want people nosing round that car and maybe seeing what it was used for. That's what I reckon. He's a right villain, Winter is.'
âBut you and Slugger have morals?'
Another leer. âSure, Jack. Slugger was all for a nasty end for Winter over what he did to me. He's my man, you see. Loyal. But I'm smarter. I thought of a scheme with no pain for us and a dozen years inside for Winter over the art jobs. So I sort of leaned on my former chum Pole to put Winter's Merc on his list in April and get young Tomas to do the nicking. Tomas was one of Pole's spotters.'
âWhat did you want the Merc for?'
âPatience, Jack lad, patience. You're not a well man. It was like this: Winter was carrying on his business under a new team, but Barry's still doing the getaways. So under one of my pink card names I'd promised Barry I'd do the cloning for the next big do at Talbot Place in May; persuaded him he needed two, not just one, clones on this job, and I drove the Merc meself. I took the stuff to begin with, and the lads switched over to number two with the stuff after a mile or two; I left the Merc nice and noticeable, with a drawing inside to show where it had been, and went back in the number two with the lads.'
âSo what was the plan?' I murmured feebly.
A chuckle. âThe car I drove there was Winter's Merc, but I didn't exactly clone it.'
âYou used his own plates?' I began to see. Or did I? What message would that send the cops except that a stolen car had been used? It had been reported in April, and the art theft at Talbot Place was in May.
âIn a way, mate.' Mason looked smug. âSee, I nipped down here in April and paid young Tomas quite a bit of cash to get the identity details of Winter's Lagonda while he was busy nicking the Merc for Pole. Then I used the Lagonda numbers for the Merc.'
I had to struggle with this. âYou put the Lagonda DB plates on the Merc? Why?'
He shook his head sadly. âYou disappoint me, Jack, you really do. And you calling yourself a car detective.'
I struggled some more. âSo the police are left with the right car â VIN number checks out â but the wrong plates, all belonging to the same man.' I began to see it, and it was clever. âSo the Norfolk police think there's something odd going on here. Car stolen in April, reappears weeks later cloned to his own second car number. They think: could be a nutter, could be something rather more interesting. Better look into this chap Peter Winter.'
I began to laugh. It hurt, but it was worth it.
âRight, Jack.' Mason looked pleased. âThen enter your chums: Dave Jennings on law and order for cars, Rupert Stack on the art side. Not a word to Winter though. Result: bingo, Peter Winter appears bang in the middle of the frame â just what he don't want. He likes to keep even his own team at arm's length. Works through a middle man, but suddenly, little does he know, but the whole of the Met plus the Kent car crime chaps are looking into him very carefully indeed. They're just waiting for him to put a foot wrong.'
The laugh went on â until I realized that it was me who'd sprung the trap. âSo I was the foot! Thanks a lot.'
Mason looked embarrassed. âYeah. Well, wasn't meant to happen like that. I was right suspicious of you, when you went shouting your head off about a Lagonda. I just made a little mistake like we all do, not knowing Polly still had her Lagonda. I thought you were asking round after mine.'
âBy which you mean Winter's DB,' I commented.
âYeah, and after Polly got knocked off I decided you were getting too interested in Mike Davis's affairs. You might have done it, after all, and grabbed my cash into the bargain,' Mason explained virtuously. âStill, I sorted it out after Slugger coshed you. Can't blame me for giving you a bit of a hint that messing with me wasn't wise.'
âSorry about that,' I said sarcastically.
âOK, Jack. That's OK,' he reassured me. âMind you, I got a bit upset, like, when you told me Mike was bumped off. Hurried things along a bit.'
I remembered Polly, and Tomas too, and grew very quiet. âWinter killed Polly?'
âI reckon so. She was asking too many questions about Mike. After Andy, she must have realized who done Mike in and went to see Winter. He couldn't risk it. She might not have been able to prove he done Mike in, but she could prove he'd been running the art racket and probably still was. She'd kept that doctored Lagonda.'
Oh my brave Polly. I felt tears forming and could see Mason looking curiously at me. He didn't say anything. He's a good guy is Mason, I thought idiotically. âAnd Tomas?' I managed to say. âOr was that you?'
âMe? No, mate. I don't do killings, unless I have to. That lad got a bit too big for his boots, I reckon, like Mike. You don't do that with Peter Winter or Barry Pole, who isn't such a nice gent as I am. When I popped down here and explained to young Tomas how he could earn a lot extra by adding on that Lagonda job for me, he went round boasting to the likes of Andy and Harry that he was working for me. They knew nothing about Winter, but they did know about me. I've got a bit of a reputation â don't know why. I'm a gentle sort of chap, as you know. The kid must have wormed the story about me and Mike and Winter out of Pole, put two and two together over the Lagonda in the Davises' barn, and went shouting the odds at Winter asking for a cut and banging on about the missing cash. Winter then would have hired young Tomas to look for it, but no way would he take a kid like that as a partner, so he would have arranged to meet him and shot the poor blighter.' He eyed me thoughtfully. âFunny choosing the barn though. Almost as though my cash was really there.'
I made a strategic decision to close my eyes.
A day or two later I got much the same story from Dave, who seemed to be handing out pats on the back â apparently, he got one himself from the Met over the way he'd cooperated to trap Peter Winter. He had the grace to blush. âWe were all waiting there,' he assured me anxiously. âRupert was waiting for his boss to get there, but he was worried about you. Told his wife Lorna to stick with you throughout.'
âSorry, Jack. Couldn't put you right in the picture.'
âWhat about Brandon?'
âHe's waiting outside. Thinks he's got some kind of DNA match to nail Winter for Kasek and for Polly.'
âSo far as the record's concerned, you're raving. He died of a heart attack. Too many cappuccinos.'
And my Gordon Keeble? That took a lot longer to repair than I did, but it's now safely retired to a special barn at Frogs Farm. I don't drive it any more, because it's fragile after its brush with the criminal world.
So what do I drive on special occasions? What makes me the pride of the car shows? What gives me a glow every time I climb into it?
Bea's present to me: the 1938 drophead Lagonda.
âIt's my thank you, Jack,' she told me, handing me the keys after Rupert Stack's art chaps from the Met had finished crawling over it for trace evidence. And then she kissed me. A real kiss, not a thank-you kiss, but one with sadness in it. For our different reasons we were bidding our farewells to what might-have-been and saying hello to friendship.
I watched Bea drive out of Frogs Hill Farm and turned back to
Lagonda. And just for one glorious moment, by some trick of the light on the front passenger seat, I thought I saw Polly smiling.
Mike and Polly Davis's 1938 Lagonda V12 Drophead
The Lagonda company won its attractive name from a creek near the home of its American-born founder Wilbur Gunn in Springfield, Ohio. The name given to it by the American Indians was Ough Ohonda. The V12 drophead was a car to compete with the very best in the world, with a sporting 12-cylinder engine which would power the two 1939 Le Mans cars. Its designer was the famous W.O. Bentley. Sadly many fine pre-war saloons have been cut down to look like Le Mans replicas. The V12 cars are very similar externally to the earlier 6-cylinder versions; both types were available with open or closed bodywork in a number of different styles.
Jack Colby's daily driver: Alfa Romeo 156 Sportwagon
The 156 Sportwagon is a âlifestyle estate', which means that it's trendy and respectable to have on the drive, although it lacks the interior space of a traditional load-lugger. For those who value individuality, its subtle and pure styling gives it the edge over rivals such as the BMW 3-Series. It gives a lot of driving pleasure even with the smaller engines.
Jack Colby's 1965 Gordon Keeble
One hundred of these fabulous supercars were built between 1963 and 66 with over ninety units surviving around the globe, mostly in the UK. Designed by John Gordon and Jim Keeble using current racing car principles, with the bodyshell designed by twenty-one-year-old Giorgetto Giugiaro at Bertone, the cars were an instant success, but the company was ruined by supply-side industrial action. Ultimately, only ninety-nine units were completed, even after the company was relaunched in May 1965, as Keeble Cars Ltd. Final closure came in February 1966 when the factory at Sholing closed and Jim Keeble moved to Keewest. The 100th car was completed in 1971 with leftover components. Its emblem is a yellow and green tortoise.
Dan Burgess's Maserati Mexico
The Mexico, intended eventually as a replacement for the 5000GT, arose following the development of a customer car by Italian design studio Vignale, which was built as a 2+2 with a 4.9 litre V8 and appeared at the Turin Auto Show in 1965. The following year the definitive version of the car was presented at the 1966 Paris show with a 4.7 litre V8. Somewhat uniquely, the car was offered with the 4.2 litre motor from 1969.
Rupert and Lorna Stack's Bentley Mulsanne Turbo
A new level of achievement was represented by the Bentley Mulsanne Turbo. The Bentley Mulsanne Turbo offered really crisp acceleration. Driver and passengers were catered for in a unique environment dominated by a highly polished walnut veneered fascia, blemish-free leather and carpets, and headlining of pure wool. A radiator shell painted in the car's colour, light alloy wheels and âTurbo' labels attached to boot and front wing flanks distinguished the Bentley Mulsanne Turbo from the Bentley Mulsanne.
Peter Winter's daily driver: Mercedes Benz S500
The Mercedes-Benz S-Class is a series of the largest sedans produced by Mercedes-Benz, a division of Daimler AG. The S-Class, a product of nine lines of Mercedes-Benz models dating since the mid-1950s, has ranked as the world's best-selling luxury flagship sedan. As the foremost model in the Mercedes-Benz line-up, the S-Class has debuted many of the company's latest innovations, including drivetrain technologies, interior features, and safety systems (such as the first seat-belt pre-tensioners).
Peter Winter's 1950 Lagonda DB 2.6
The first new automobile produced by Lagonda after its purchase by David Brown in 1947 was the 2.6-litre. It was named for the new high-tech straight-6 engine which debuted with the car. The so-called Lagonda Straight-6 engine was designed by Walter Owen Bentley and would propel Lagonda's new parent company, Aston Martin, to fame. The 2.6-Litre was a larger car than the Aston Martins and was available as either a four-door closed car or, from 1949, a two-door convertible drophead coupÃ©, both with four seats.