âJust the man I wanted to see, Harry,' I said as cordially as I could.
A chortle. âHeard you had a run in with old Guy the other day. Poking your nose into other people's business, as usual.'
âOther people's barns, actually.'
âBarns?' He looked blank. Oh hell, I'd wrongly assumed he knew all about Polly's Lagonda, as everyone else seemed to.
âBars,' I speedily recapped. âYou know, bar for drinks. It was a joke.'
He looked at me oddly, but I seemed to have got away with it. âPolly Davis, you see,' I added. âI met her at the art show.'
âAh. Now I'm with you, old chap. You can't afford to keep that lady going, I can tell you. Ready to talk turkey yet?' He poked me in the chest, and I wondered whether to poke him back a little more forcefully, but I would do myself no favours that way.
âNot even the parson's nose, Harry.' I sounded more confident that I felt.
âI can wait. You'll be along some day. We can do a deal. How about you running the old place for me? Prince's Restorations at Frogs Hill Barn. No breathing down your neck.'
As the bishop said to the actress. âI'll give it some thought,' was all I replied. Why not lie through my teeth? He does. âYou were a neighbour of the Davises, weren't you?' I added.
It might have been my imagination, but I thought his face paled a little. âNear enough. What about it?'
âWhat sort of chap was he?'
âWhat's that to you?'
âGot an early Bentley in the shop that had been through his hands once,' I lied. âSomething smells wrong.'
âOften did.' Harry was playing for time, and he tried to make a getaway by strolling into the pub.
No chance. I strolled right after him. âWas his business legit?' I hissed in his ear.
Harry's a cunning man, but it's a focused cunning. On money. He's not too good on the finer shades of psychological perception. He leaves that to his wife Terry â whom I like a lot, incidentally.
He stopped in his tracks, whirling round so suddenly that we were practically chest to chest. âAndy Wells is around here somewhere,' he told me, looking very defensive. âAsk him. He's running it now.'
âCome off it, Harry. You can do better than that. Let's put it another way. What was Mike's illegit line?'
He decided to give me full eye contact â suspicious in itself. âWhat illegit line?'
He had told me enough. Now I knew there must have been an illegit side to Mike â simply because Harry hadn't denied it â so Mike's classics to order business had probably included
to order. No proof, of course, but I didn't need it. After all, I knew the Lagonda was probably legit. Not stolen, anyway; I'd double-checked.
Harry was looking shifty now, obviously wondering whether to speak or not. In the end he gave a nervous cackle. âLook here, Jack, there are some odd people around, so my advice is to shut it. I'd rather buy the Glory Boot and Frogs Hill farm off
, not off your executors. See what I mean?'
I did, and it took me down a notch or two.
âTake care where Mike Davis is concerned,' he added conspiratorially. âHate you to step into a minefield. You might forget you promised the Glory Boot to me. And forget where that Bentley had been, get rid of it fast.'
âBentley?' I asked blankly, then remembered. âSure, I'll do that, Harry. Thanks for the warning.'
The day suddenly had an extremely nasty edge to it, and I decided I'd think about pleasant things â such as Polly. Even the Lagonda was beginning to have a very dark shadow over it.
I picked out one of Giovanni's paintings, which could have been a Van Gogh except for the Lamborghini speeding past the haystack. The day had come. Not too soon, not too late. I wasn't going to tell Zoe where I was going, but she guessed. I was wearing my best bib and tucker. Zoe had done some sterling work with Peter after my departure and had won a Lagonda friend for life, it seemed. It had transpired that he, too, had fallen in love with Polly's inheritance from her father and had offered several times to buy it during Mike's lifetime. Each time the offer had been refused. After Mike's death he had tried again, only for Polly to tell him it had been written off after an accident. He would have taken this at face-value, but various rumours about it made him follow up this statement. It had been without success. However, as far as the Swansea Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency was concerned, the car was alive and well and living in Kent. I should know â I'd checked.
âIs that gear for the Lagonda or Polly?' Zoe called over to me, having spotted my unusually smart attire.
âBoth.' I tried to sound casual.
She'd got me. âNo,' I yelled, at which she and Len both guffawed.
That made me feel even more like a schoolboy. When I had telephoned Polly, I discovered I'd scored an own goal by telling her I was intending to ask her to frame my Giovanni. I would have to wait an extra day as she did not open her office on a Monday, in compensation for working on Saturdays. The amusement in her voice told me she knew exactly why I was coming to Greensand Farm in company with Giovanni. The office was, however, open on Tuesdays, and I nursed a vision of her breathlessly waiting for me.
When I drove up the drive to Greensand Farm, the anticipation was making my mouth dry. The farmhouse itself was an old red-brick building from, I guessed, the early nineteenth century, and once I had reached the forecourt it was easy to see where Polly worked. In front of me was the house, to one side were what must have been the stables, now clearly a garage, and on the other was a barn, converted into what looked like an office and showroom. I strolled over to them, not wanting to seem in too much of a hurry in case she was peering out. I need not have bothered. Both doors were firmly locked, and there was no note to suggest where Polly might be.
I hung around for three quarters of an hour, and then went over to the house. No answer there either. Had she forgotten? With some people that might have been all too likely, but with Polly that couldn't have been the case. A deliberate no show? That, too, seemed unlikely. She had seemed friendly on the phone.
I was going to give up, but then the Lagonda loomed up in my mind. If for some reason Polly had gone out without remembering our date, or had been delayed, then the Lagonda and barn would be unguarded. The perfect opportunity for a snoop. I seized a car blanket in case it helped, left my Alfa where it was in order to provide a legitimate presence, and walked back down the drive to the bridle path bordering the Lagonda barn.
Being May, the path looked even more overgrown, but I was glad of its leafy cover. Ten to one, after my first visit, Polly had locked the barn up securely, or even â a nasty thought this â taken the car away.
What the hell did I think I was doing? I wondered as I set off. I wasn't sure. I'd checked through a police chum that the Lagonda had duly been registered to a Tim Beaumont until 1994, and then to Polly. Still was. Fair enough. But it was off-road, so why take the plates off? Maybe they'd just fallen off, along with the tax disc. Weird. And yet Polly had been anxious about the car itself, which hadn't looked as if it had been used since her husband's death. There must be something I'd missed. At the very least I wanted to check the VIN number and have a hunt for the missing plates.
Every step made me more and more certain that I wasn't going to turn back. Nevertheless, even though I could legitimately say I had business with Polly, I felt like a criminal, and I cursed my luck when I passed a dog walker. To her, I probably looked like a mad long-distance walker, except for my trainers, which weren't exactly Wainwright âCoast to Coast' path standard. They passed muster with her Alsatian, anyway.
At first I thought the barn had vanished along with the car. Surely, Polly couldn't have taken things that far? Then I realized I wasn't far enough along the bridleway. One clump of trees can look remarkably like another to a man in a hurry.
At last I saw the oak tree I'd stopped by before. Never since Charles II has anyone been more grateful to see one. I was sure it was the right one, even though the gap in the hedge had been filled in with fence posts. Fine. I'd scramble over the top this time. There through the leaves of the tree I could see the ivy-covered roof and glimpse the ragstone walls of the barn. I slithered across the ditch in preparation, stopped by the hedge to take my posh jacket off, and hoisted myself up the tree to decide my point of entry. Only then, from my elevated position, did I let my eyes go to the barn doors.
They were indeed closed, but I had more to think about than that. My eyes were riveted on what lay at their foot. A body lay sprawled on its back, covered in blood and with the face half blown away. I had no trouble in identifying whose it was.
It was Polly's, and she was dead.
I know crime scenes. I've seen several before, but this one was different. I'd had ten minutes or so after my call to prepare myself for the first PCs to arrive. Prepare? How? I'd thrown up several times and tried to get my mind into some kind of shape. I hadn't succeeded. My head seemed to be full of bees humming away to their hearts' content while I stared helplessly at Polly's body.
âDon't contaminate the scene,' I told myself.
I repeated the words over and over again like a mantra, but they were meaningless. How could I contaminate a scene already so ghastly? Half of me wanted to run like blazes and pretend it wasn't happening, and the other half was telling me I should stay put. I had forced myself as far away as I could and perched on the low branch of a tree, sufficiently near for me to be visible to the police when they arrived.
After I'd related my story to the two PCs, they kept a firm eye on me until the whole caboodle came marching in. That was the worst. I had told the PCs the truth, included my method of entry over the hedge, but they patently hadn't believed me. So we just waited. I tried to concentrate on who could have done this to my Polly, but my mind kept sliding past the issue.
Had there been a gun lying at Polly's side? I couldn't remember. Suicide? Not Polly. Oh, surely not. I hadn't stayed by that terrible sight long enough to look for powder burns, exit wounds and any of the other signs that would give any indication of murder or otherwise. She had been lying partly on her side, partly on her back. Would she have fallen that way if she'd shot herself? I didn't know, and I most certainly didn't want to think about it. I just wanted to get on with the whole ghastly police crime procedure that had to take place. After the SOCOs arrived and the cordon tape was up, it was slightly easier, as the tape seemed to distance me from the body. Think of it that way, I told myself: as a body, not as Polly. There was only one entrance to the crime scene now, and a grim-looking PC held an entry log to repel all strangers. That suited me. My trainers had been taken away from me â with my permission, it has to be said, but I knew they'd have been taken anyway. A pair of scene shoes had grudgingly been given to me in exchange.
It was like looking at an old sci-fifilm seeing all those scene-suited SOCOs going about their slow methodical business, but it was one I didn't want to watch. Who would tell Bea? I wondered. I thought of her, I thought of Polly, and then I thought of myself. Happy dreams had been just that. The fantasies that fate had first encouraged me to entertain and then torn away had left a gaping hole. Had Polly and I been soulmates? We had surely been on the brink of being so. I couldn't have been mistaken about that.
The senior officer in charge of this lot was DI Brandon of North Downs Area. I recognized him, as we had passed like ships in the night at police HQ in Charing near Ashford from time to time when I'd been there with DCI Dave Jennings. Brandon wasn't like Dave. Brandon got his man by being a bully. Not an obvious one. Too clever for that. But he bore down on you with such heavy determination that it was clear one's fate had already been decided â at least in his mind.
I was left in peace for some time â although peace was hardly the word in these circumstances â but that was about to end. Brandon was coming towards me, his sidekick (a weedy youth half his girth) a few steps behind him. I began to tell him I'd touched nothing â I couldn't have done â but he cut me short.
âPC Cartwright tells me you jumped over the hedge. Care to tell me why?'
First on the scene, natural suspect, I calmed myself, but my mode of entry â which the first crime scene search would have revealed anyway â didn't look good. I contemplated saying I'd spotted the body and leapt over the quickest way to investigate, but decided against it. I'd have to have a reason for clambering up to peer over the hedge. No, stick to the truth. After all, no one ever got slung inside if they were innocent, did they? Grim joke. Anyway, I told Brandon I had recently met Polly, that I knew she had a classic car in the barn, that we had a date for this morning at her picture framing office, that my car was in front of it complete with painting to prove it, and that as she wasn't in the office or farmhouse I thought she might be down here.
âWhy come down the bridleway and over the hedge? Why not walk through the farm?'
Sinking in quicksand immediately. âWasn't sure whose land this was. A neighbour objected to my looking at the car a few days ago.'
Weak, but Brandon was too clever to push it now. âThought it was her you came to see, not the car,' he said amiably.
Not too good, but not too bad, I suppose. But then Guy Williams came storming alongÂ .Â .Â .
An hour or so later I was being questioned at Charing Police HQ. I suppose having one's DNA taken is some kind of distinction, but it was the last straw for me. I understood that I had to be checked for scratches â luckily there was only one from my encounter with the bushes â but I was still in a state of shock, and although my brain might have been trying to tell me this was all routine, the message wasn't getting through.