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Authors: Dick Francis,FELIX FRANCIS

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BOOK: Silks
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‘Who? Steve Mitchell?’ I said.

‘Umm,’ he said while ladling another spoonful of the pasta into his mouth.

‘The evidence seems to suggest it,’ I said.

‘What is the world coming to?’ Paul said. ‘When I used to ride there was always greater camaraderie than there is nowadays.’

I thought that Paul was wearing rose-tinted spectacles in his memory of how things used to be. Rivalry amongst jockeys had always been alive and well, and certainly had been in the nineteenth century, in the time of the great Fred Archer, when causing your rival to miss his steam train to the next meeting was as legitimate a tactic as out-riding him in a close finish.

‘Well, do
you
think he did it?’ I asked Paul.

‘I don’t know, you’re the lawyer,’ he replied.

‘He would have to have been incredibly stupid to have left all those clues,’ I said. ‘The murder weapon left sticking in the victim belonged to him. And he supposedly texted a message to Barlow that afternoon saying he was coming round to sort him out.’

‘I thought Steve Mitchell had more sense,’ said Paul, shaking his head. He had clearly convicted the accused before any defence witnesses had been called.

‘I’m not so sure,’ I said. ‘There are many questions that need answering in this case.’

‘But who else would have done it?’ asked Paul. ‘Everyone knew that Mitchell hated Barlow’s guts. You could cut the atmosphere between them with a knife.’

‘Reno Clemens has done well with both of them being out of the way,’ I said.

‘Oh come on,’ Paul said. ‘Reno might be a damn good jockey but he’s hardly a murderer. He hasn’t got the brains.’

‘He may have others around him who have,’ I said.

Paul waved a dismissive hand and refilled our wine glasses.

‘Do you know anyone called Julian Trent?’ I asked into the pause.

‘No,’ said Paul. Laura shook her head. ‘Is he a jockey?’

‘No,’ I said. ‘It’s not important, I just wondered.’

‘Who is he?’ Paul asked.

‘Just an ex-client of mine,’ I said. ‘His name has popped up in connection with Barlow a couple of times and I just wondered if you knew him. It doesn’t matter.’

There were a few moments of silence as we concentrated on our food.

‘Do you know why Barlow and Mitchell hated each other so much?’ I asked.

‘Wasn’t it something to do with Barlow’s sister?’ Paul said. ‘Mitchell had an affair with her or something.’

‘Such a shame,’ Laura interjected unexpectedly.

‘What’s a shame?’ I asked her.

‘About Scot Barlow’s sister,’ she said.

‘What about his sister?’ I said.

‘Don’t you know?’ she said. She went on when my blank expression gave her the answer. ‘She killed herself in June.’

‘How?’ I asked, wondering why Steve Mitchell hadn’t bothered to mention this to me.

‘At a party,’ Laura said. ‘Apparently she was depressed and injected herself with a huge dose of anaesthetic.’

‘How did she get anaesthetic?’ I asked.

‘She was a vet,’ said Paul. ‘Specialized in horses.’

‘Where?’ I asked.

‘Lambourn,’ Paul replied. ‘She worked in the equine hospital there and most of the local trainers used her practice. She was one of a team, of course.’

‘You must remember,’ said Laura. ‘There was a huge fuss on the television and the papers were full of it.’

‘I was away for the first half of June,’ I said. ‘I must have missed it.’ I had been away advising a client up on a money-laundering charge in Gibraltar. The long arm of the English law still stretched far to our remaining colonies and dependencies. ‘Whose party was it?’ I asked.

‘Simon Dacey’s,’ said Paul.

I again looked rather blank.

‘He’s a trainer,’ said Paul. ‘Trains on the flat only. Moved to Lambourn about five years ago from Middleham in Wensleydale.’ That may account for why I didn’t know of him. ‘He threw the party after winning the Derby. You know, with Peninsula.’

Now, even I had heard of Peninsula. Hottest horseflesh property in the world. Horse of the Year as a two-year-old and, this season, winner of the Two Thousand Guineas at Newmarket in May, the Derby at Epsom in June, the Breeders Cup the previous month at Santa Anita Park in California, and now on his way to some lucrative earnings at stud.

‘That must have gone down well with the guests,’ I said rather flippantly.

‘It certainly didn’t,’ said Laura seriously. ‘We were there. We’ve known Simon since our Yorkshire days. Paul worked for him as an assistant when we first started. The party was huge. Massive marquee in the garden with live bands and everything. It was great fun. At least it was until someone found Millie Barlow.’

‘Where was she found?’ I asked.

‘In the house,’ said Paul. ‘Upstairs, in one of the bedrooms.’

‘Who found her?’ I said.

‘No idea,’ said Paul. ‘The police arrived and stopped the party about nine at night. It had been going since noon. Started off as Sunday lunch and just went on.’

‘What did the police do?’ I asked him.

‘Took our names and addresses and sent us home,’ he said. ‘Most of us hadn’t even been in the house. They asked for witnesses to tell them when they had last seen Millie Barlow, but we didn’t even know what she looked like so we left as soon as we could.’

‘And were they sure it was suicide?’

‘That’s what everyone thought,’ he said.

‘What was she depressed about?’

‘You seem very interested all of a sudden,’ said Paul.

‘Just my suspicious mind,’ I said with a laugh. ‘One violent
death in a family is unfortunate; two within five months may be more than coincidental.’

‘Wow,’ said Laura, perking up her interest. ‘Are you saying that Millie was murdered?’

‘No, of course not,’ I said. ‘I just wondered if the inquest had found that she had killed herself, and why.’

‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘I don’t even know if the inquest has been held.’

I hadn’t heard about the case, or read about it, but I knew that the Coroner’s Court system, like every other aspect of the law, was slow and tedious at times. It wasn’t unusual for an inquest to be opened and adjourned for many months, even years. I made a mental note to look it up on the internet.

‘So, how’s my horse,’ I said, changing the subject.

‘Slow and fat,’ said Paul, laughing, ‘like his owner.’

I toasted our slowness and fatness with good red wine, and added a few more ounces with a second helping of macaroni.

I adored riding out on cold, crisp winter’s mornings with my breath showing in the air and the frost white on the ground, glistening in the brightness of the sunlight. Sadly, this Friday was not one of those. Rain fell steadily, the plop, plop of the large drops clearly audible as they struck my helmet from high above.

Sandeman and I were number six in Paul’s string of ten horses as we walked through Great Milton on the way to the training gallops beyond the village, the horses’ metal shoes clicking on the hard roads. Both horses and riders were soaked even before we had left the stable yard with the dawn at seven thirty sharp, and now the water ran in rivulets down my neck inside my
semi-waterproof jacket. But I didn’t care and neither did Sande-man. I could feel his rippling muscles beneath me. He knew exactly why he had been roused from his stable in the rain, and exactly where we were going. We were both clearly excited in anticipation of the gallop we would soon share.

The wind tore at my jacket and the raindrops stung my face, but nothing could wipe the grin from my mouth as we tore up the gallop at nearly thirty miles an hour with me trying hard to stop Sandeman going any faster. He clearly had recovered fully from the three miles last Saturday and he seemed as eager as I to get back on a racecourse.

Paul sat on horseback at the top of the gallop, watching as we moved smoothly up towards him. I was attempting to comply with the letter of his instructions. Asteady three-quarter-speed gallop, he had said, keeping up-sides with one of his other horses. He had implored me not to ride a finish, not to over-tire my horse. I was doing my best to do what he had asked, but Sandeman beneath me seemed determined to race, keen as always to put his nose in front of the other horse. I took another tight hold of the reins and steadied him. In spite of Paul’s sometimes casual manner with his owners, he was still a great trainer of racehorses and very rarely did his horses fail on the racecourse due to over- or under-training at home. I had never questioned his judgement in that department.

I pulled Sandeman up into a trot and then a walk, laughing as I did so. What a magnificent way to blow the courtroom cobwebs out of my hair. I walked him round and round in circles while he cooled and the other horses completed their work up the gallop. Then the string wound its way down the hill and back through the village to Paul’s stables.

Oxfordshire was coming to life and the road traffic had
increased significantly during the time we had been on the gallops. Now, streams of impatient commuters roared past us on their way to join the lines of cars on the nearby M40 making the long drag into London. How lucky I am, I thought, to have this escape from the hurly burly of city life and, as I always did, I resolved to try to do this more often. Life here, deep in rural England, seemed a million miles from baseball bats and smashed computers. Perhaps, I mused, I should stay right here and let it all go away.

My dreams of leaving life’s troubles behind lasted only until we arrived back at Paul’s yard. Laura came out of the house as I was sliding off Sandeman’s back.

‘A Mr Lygon called for you about ten minutes ago,’ she said as I led Sandeman into his stable. She followed us in. ‘He seemed very insistent that you should call him as soon as you got back.’

‘Thanks,’ I said, wondering how he knew where I was. I looked at my watch. It was ten to nine.

I removed the bridle and saddle from Sandeman and replaced them with his head-collar and a dry rug.

‘Sorry, old boy,’ I said to him. ‘I’ll be back to finish you in a while.’

I shut the stable door before the horse bolted and went inside, dripping water all over Laura’s clean kitchen floor.

‘Bruce,’ I said when he answered. ‘How did you know where I was?’

‘Your clerk told me that you weren’t due in court today, and you had told him you wouldn’t be in chambers, so he said you were probably riding your nag.’ I could almost hear Arthur saying it. ‘After that it was easy. I looked up who trained your nag on the
Racing Post
website.’

If Bruce Lygon could find me so easily, then so could young Julian Trent, or, indeed, whoever was behind Julian Trent, the smooth whispering man on the telephone. I must learn to be more careful.

‘Do you often frequent the
Racing Post
website?’ I asked Bruce sarcastically.

‘All the time,’ he said eagerly. ‘I love my racing.’

‘Well, don’t tell me if you ever won or lost money on Scot Barlow or Steve Mitchell,’ I said. ‘I don’t want to know.’ And neither should anyone else, I thought.

‘Blimey,’ he said. ‘Never thought of that.’

‘So how can I help you?’ I asked him.

‘It’s me helping you, actually,’ he replied. ‘I’ve managed to get us a visit to the crime scene.’

‘Well done,’ I said. ‘When?’

‘Today,’ he said. ‘The police say we can go there at two this afternoon. But they say it will be an accompanied visit only.’

Fair enough, I thought. I was surprised they would let us in at all this soon.

‘That’s fine,’ I said. ‘Where is it?’

‘Great Shefford,’ he said. ‘Small village between Lambourn and Newbury. Place called Honeysuckle Cottage.’ It didn’t sound like a site of bloody murder. ‘Meet you there at two?’

‘Is there a pub?’ I asked him.

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I think so. There’s one on the main road.’

‘Shall we meet there at one o’clock?’ I said. ‘For some lunch?’

‘Ah.’ He thought. ‘Yes I think that will be fine. But keep your phone on just in case’

‘OK,’ I said. ‘See you later.’

‘How will you know which one is me?’ he asked.

‘You’ll have a rolled up copy of the
Racing Post
under your arm.’ I laughed, and so did he.

The
Racing Post
wasn’t needed. There were only three other people in the bar when I walked into the Swan Inn at one o’clock sharp and two of them were clearly a couple, heads close together and holding hands as if they were having a secret lovers’ tryst far from home.

The third person was a man who looked to be in his mid to late forties and who was wearing a light grey suit with white shirt and blue striped tie. He looked at me briefly, then his gaze slid over my shoulder back to the door as if expecting somebody else.

‘Bruce?’ I asked him, walking up close.

‘Yes?’ he said as a question, returning his gaze briefly to my face before again looking over my shoulder.

‘I’m Geoffrey,’ I said. ‘Geoffrey Mason.’

‘Oh,’ he said. He seemed reluctant to take his eyes off the door. ‘I was expecting someone…, you know, a bit older.’

It was a reaction I was used to. I would be thirty-six in January but, it seemed, I appeared somewhat younger. This was not always an asset in court, where some judges often equated age with ability. On this occasion I imagined that Bruce was expecting me to be dressed similarly to him, in suit and tie, while, in fact, I was in jeans and a brown suede bomber jacket over an open-necked check shirt. Maybe it was because I was still trying to tell myself that I couldn’t actually represent Steve Mitchell that I had decided against my sober dark suit when I had changed out of my sopping wet riding clothes at Paul’s.

‘Older and wiser?’ I said, adding to Bruce’s discomfort.

He laughed. Anervous little laugh. He, too, was not quite what I had expected. Ironically, he was slightly older than I had thought from listening to him on the telephone, and he was less confident than I would have liked.

‘What are you drinking?’ I asked him.

‘I’m fine,’ he said pointing at a partially drained pint mug on the bar. ‘My round.’

‘Diet Coke then, please,’ I said.

We also ordered some food and took our drinks over to a table in the corner, where we could talk without the barman listening to every word.

BOOK: Silks
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ads

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