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Authors: Amy Myers

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BOOK: Classic in the Barn
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I decided I'd leave the great day until after the weekend, partly so that I wouldn't have to rush off anywhere if there was a chance of spending more time with Polly, and partly because Sunday was the classic car meeting at the Wheatsheaf, where I might pick up some interesting information about the Lagonda.
The Wheatsheaf was a fun pub, and its owner, Bill Mount, didn't mind too much whether one partook of his cuisine or not. He was only too happy to see a couple of dozen classics improving the look of his establishment, while his staff (usually Mrs Mount) slaved over the Sunday roasts. For me this kind of event is the fair face of the classic car world. The auctions present a tougher one, for one needs to be wary of to whom one's talking, and dealers are dealers, not just someone you're having a pint with. Not-so-honest traders might be hovering around like sparrowhawks.
At the Wheatsheaf I could kill two cars with one stone. I'd seen Andy Wells there once or twice, although we're not on close terms. He was just the sort of chap who could be useful for my police work, and he would also have been well in with the Davises as he'd taken over Mike's business. If the day went well, then a mention of Polly's Lagonda might conceivably bring forth fruit.
Pushing it? Maybe, but if I didn't push I would get precisely nowhere, and somehow I felt my passion for Polly was in extricably linked with that wonderful car. I'd still feel the same about either if that link were snapped, but at present it was going strong.
There was another reason that I could never resist the Wheatsheaf meetings. It was a chance to show off my beloved and venerable 1965 GT Gordon Keeble. I've never flown a Spitfire, but I'm told that glorious experience is only comparable to sex. For Spitfire, read Gordon Keeble in my case. Over the years I'd had some great times with it – and some great companions in it. Now merely driving in it reminds me of happy days and former loves. Such is life.
‘What do I do?' Zoe asked plaintively.
It was a rare concession for her to agree to accompany me to the Wheatsheaf, and this fake helplessness was one way of showing it. She's enthusiastic about her car detective role, but her methods and mine differ. She likes snooping around on her own, not arriving in state in a Gordon Keeble with the boss at her side – even if the boss is only me. Nevertheless, she had condescended to abandon her usual jeans for a posh mini skirt and matching cream jacket that went rather well with the orange spikes of her hair.
I took my revenge when I answered her. ‘Just look beautiful, my lovely.'
A scathing look as we drew up outside the pub, where a dozen or so cars had preceded us. My practised eye passed over several, but then the sight of Maserati Mexico cheered me up. Dan would be somewhere around, which could be good. He would be amiable company, without being inquisitive as to my doings. I wish I could record that there was a breathless stunned silence of admiration for the Gordon Keeble as it came to a standstill, but, as they say, it doesn't work like that. It didn't this time. I was going to have to fight for my admiration.
Zoe immediately marched off into the pub, so I raced after her to provide her with a glass of wine (as befitted the feminine outfit) and myself with a modest half of shandy. She immediately began work by buttering up someone I didn't recognize – or maybe it wasn't work, but mere pleasure. Who knows with Zoe? Anyway, I dutifully returned outside to start work myself. To my pleasure a Lagonda had now driven up, the one I'd seen here before. Post-war, but it was good news: a very rare 1950 DB 2.6, a car of considerable charm. The even better news was that Andy Wells was standing by it, talking to Dan Burgess.
‘Hi, Dan. Good to see you again. Hi, Andy. Nice.' I gave a nonchalant nod of approval at the Lagonda, hoping to flatter him by assuming him to be the proud possessor, although it was clear neither of them was.
Andy did not reply.
‘Quite a lady,' Dan agreed. ‘Not my cup of tea though. Make mine a Maser any day.'
I could see his point. His dashing dark handsome hero looks made him good Maserati material. I pressed on: ‘Always wanted one of these. Way above my price range though. I saw one advertised well into six figures.' True enough, I'd been doing my homework on the Internet. ‘Lagondas are your cup of tea too, aren't they, Andy?'
A nod. Andy, like Dan, is only in his thirties, but has even fewer words to spare than Len. He's OK, but keeps himself so tightly spannered in that I doubt if even his wife can turn the right nuts and bolts. In the village he's referred to as ‘good old Andy', because he runs an efficient good garage out on the Pluckley Road and can be relied upon to help out – or, rather, his stooge Jimmy can. Andy's most financially rewarding activity, however, must be online classics dealing – the business he bought from Mike – although quite a few classic beauties actually turn up in his forecourt, which sometimes allows me the odd drool as I drive by.
I've never quite hit it off with Andy, and that isn't solely down to the fact that he is no Gordon Keeble fan.
‘I heard Mike Davis was a Lagonda aficionado,' I tried again. Nothing like pushing the boat out before you've tried the water. I sank.
‘You didn't hear it from me,' was Andy's reply.
‘Must have heard wrong. Perhaps it was Polly.'
Andy didn't deign to reply, so I tried Dan. ‘Mike was a good chap. You know Polly, of course, Dan. Mike too?'
‘Sure,' Dan agreed. ‘Everyone knew Mike. Not well – I painted a couple of their classics.'
I was in like a flash. ‘The Lagonda V12?'
Engines have their own way of telling drivers they're not happy, and so did my audience. There was an atmosphere that indicated that I'd landed on the hard shoulder without meaning to. Total breakdown. The way Andy was looking at me signalled all lights should be flashing, whereas Dan, a simpler soul, merely looked bewildered.
‘Wouldn't know about that,' Dan replied. ‘I remember doing an Alfa 1750 and a Porsche 356. Same time as I did paintings for a couple of others in Piper's Green. Lorna Stack, for one.' He caught me looking, well, let's say quizzical, and grinned. ‘It was a commission.'
For him or the picture? I wondered. Both, probably: art and artist in one haul. Fortunately, that grin of his suggested he was no dumb toy boy and could look after himself.
‘Give me Polly any day,' I murmured. I meant it as a light aside, but Dan replied seriously.
‘You won't hear Lorna saying that. There's no love lost between them.'
‘I'll stick to Polly then.'
A rare guffaw from Andy. ‘Don't get your hopes up, Colby. The lady's not for sale.'
He might as well have added, ‘And nor's her Lagonda.'
The bull terrier in the back of Andy's car (which was the Aston Martin DB5 next to the Lagonda) had been slumbering peacefully, until he picked up his master's voice, decided he had been mistaken about my intentions and woke up snarling. It was time for me to depart. As I made my way into the pub to touch base with Zoe again, I was aware that Andy was staring after me in a thoughtful kind of way.
I was thoughtful too. If Andy knew all about the Lagonda, why was he so cagey about it? Fair enough, he could rightly have assumed that I was making plans for it, but he wasn't in the restoration business himself, and if Polly did decide to sell it, he was in a much better position to make an offer than I was. A fact that, thanks to Harry Prince, must be no secret.
I found Zoe still chatting to the same chap, who was pleasant-looking and in his mid-fifties. He didn't exactly look the normal ball of fire that Zoe sought out. She noted my arrival and smiled graciously upon me, indicating that I could approach. I was impressed at this new Zoe. She was doing well with whoever her companion was, and presumably there was a reason for it.
‘Peter's the lucky owner of a beautiful Lagonda,' she cooed to me.
I picked up on my cue. ‘Not that gorgeous DB 2.6 outside?' I gasped.
I'd hooked him. I listened patiently to his blow by blow account of how and when and in what condition he had acquired his beloved, and empathized with his obvious pride in owning one of only 510 ever produced.
‘Peter lives at Holtham,' Zoe informed me as he handed me his card.
Great! It was Peter Winter himself, the missing-Merc man, though I wouldn't mention that now. He seemed a nice fellow, and with the Lagonda being his classic-in-the-garage, he might have known the Davises. Holtham wasn't that far away.
‘I heard there was a drophead V12 still around in the Pluckley area,' I remarked cautiously. ‘Someone told me it belonged to Polly Davis.'
Peter looked surprised, but was cooperative, bless him. ‘That's right. She and Mike went everywhere in it. It was her father's. Tim Beaumont, Spitfire pilot. A 'thirty-eight, one of the last cars produced before the wartime hammer fell on civilian car production. Beaumont and that drophead went through the Battle of Britain at Biggin Hill.'
‘He flew it?' I asked. Mistake. Don't make jokes about classic cars unless you know your audience.
‘No,' Peter replied with a puzzled look. ‘He used to pinch petrol and drive the lads to the pub in it.'
Zoe was eyeing me as if I should take off right now, though not in the Spitfire sense. She clearly saw another line of approach in which I would be hindrance not help, so I meekly murmured my excuse and left her with her prey. No problem. I'd be seeing Peter Winter again shortly, and, besides, I could see some interesting prey for myself sitting in the window seat, although where Liz Potter was concerned prey was not the right word.
FIVE
Liz runs the local garden centre in Piper's Green, and her other claim to fame is that for nearly a year after I returned to Kent she was the woman in my life. Inevitably, we split up, being far too alike in temperament for easy permanent togetherness.
Unfortunately, our now platonic friendship comes with a price – the dreaded Colin, a forensic scientist in a chemical lab, whom she married a year or so ago. A train enthusiast, his eyes only gleam when he sees the Flying Scotsman or anyone attempting to approach Liz. He's anti-cars and anti-Colby. Especially the latter.
Liz just laughs, as fortunately she has a mind of her own and is quite capable of telling him to stuff it – or, alternatively, giving me the same message. Liz is intelligent, alert and attractive. When we met she had been going through the dreary process of a marriage break-up, something I knew about. I was well over my bout, however. Now I chiefly remember wedlock (what a descriptive word!) because of my lovely daughter Cara, who lives and works in London. She's twenty-four now, older than her parents were when they so foolishly and tempestuously hurled themselves into marriage. Both Cara and I have lost track of Eva, my former wife. Cara was brought up by my beautiful Spanish werewolf until the age of twelve, when Eva promptly dumped her with her own parents and ran off to some remote Pacific Island with a Mexican bandleader. Occasionally, she has turned up roaring and bumping through Cara's and my lives like a Formula 1 car on a grass track, but we've been left in peace for many a year now.
‘Here to car-spot, are you?' I asked as I joined Liz, having made sure that Colin was safely at the bar.
‘You must be joking.' Liz's idea of a car is something that gets her from A to B without too much breaking down. She drives a Hyundai for choice.
‘Would I joke about cars?'
She grinned at me, and just for the moment I wondered what was so special about Polly. Then I remembered, and the world tipped back to normal. Just as well: the last time Liz and I were on lover terms, there was china and, as I recall, a large teddy bear and his family flying all around me.
‘Polly Davis,' I began. ‘Know her?'
‘Of course. That why you were talking to Peter Winter? He was a chum of the Davises. I wasn't.'
‘You don't like Polly?'
‘I might if I could get near her.' She glanced at me sideways. ‘Don't fall for her, Jack. Seriously.'
‘Too late.'
She sighed. ‘Ever fancied yourself as a lemming?'
‘No. I like to see where I'm going. Did you know Mike?'
‘I met him a few times. He was a rough diamond. Polly is too, underneath that “don't touch me” stuff. She adored him. He complemented her in some ways, and they suited each other like a pair of gloves in others. After his death she retreated into icicle mode, and it would take more than you to chip it away.'
‘You underestimate me, Liz.' She was probably right though.
‘No, I don't. But when Mike died, so did Polly.'
‘Wrong, Liz.'
‘I hope so for your sake, Jack. I really do.'
I believed her, because Liz is like that. Unfortunately, my time was up, as stentorian tones rang out behind me:
‘Colby!'
‘Colin,' I greeted him heartily. ‘Good to see you. Here to drool over the classics, are you?'
He stared at me as though analysing a particularly noxious larva at a crime scene. ‘No. We picked the wrong day to come.'
That ended that conversation, and I made a graceful exit – followed, I'm sure, by a suspicious scientific eye on me. My luck was out again, because I promptly bumped into Harry Prince. Like Colin, I'd picked the wrong day to come. He was just getting out of his monster canary-coloured American hardtop coupé. Just right for him. Big, showy and guzzles too much. I could have done without this reminder that the day of reckoning could not be far off unless I cheered up Frogs Hill profits.
Nevertheless, on a good day I can take Harry, and this, I supposed, could be reckoned a good opportunity. I'd been hoping for the low-down on a few subjects, and you can't get much lower than Harry. had to be my main target. how-soon-can-I-get-my-hands-on-what-I-want smiles. Confident smiles. I had a fleeting thought of punching that smile right off his plump rosy face, but suppressed it. Harry's a car dealer, but not just of classics – all cars, any cars, anything that spells money. He has a chain of garages, but that's not enough for him. He's always hankering to go upmarket and deal with the crème de la crème. He had that in mind when he married Teresa Clare, who is definitely a cut above him. As Polly with husband Mike, I can't see what Terry gets out of marriage with Harry, but they seem contented enough.
BOOK: Classic in the Barn
3.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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