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Authors: Dick Francis,FELIX FRANCIS

Silks (25 page)

BOOK: Silks
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Eleanor arrived at just before ten. She had been so distressed to hear me on the telephone describing the shambles that was now my home that she had driven up from Lambourn as soon as she could. She had only been back there an hour, having caught the train from London to Newbury at the end of the veterinary symposium.

I hobbled down the stairs to the front door to let her in and
we stood in the hallway and hugged. I kissed her briefly with closed lips. It was a start.

She was absolutely horrified at the damage and I was pleased that she cared. For me, over the past couple of hours since I had first discovered it, I had grown somehow accustomed to the mess, anaesthetized by its familiarity. Seen through a fresh pair of eyes, the true scale of the devastation was indeed shocking.

It wasn’t that I didn’t care about my stuff – I cared a lot. It was just that the loss of everything fitted in quite well with the feeling I had of moving on, of starting again. Perhaps it might even make things easier.

‘Have you called the police?’ she asked.

‘They’ve just left,’ I said. ‘They didn’t hold out much hope of catching whoever did this.’

‘But Geoffrey,’ she said seriously. ‘This isn’t some random attack by an opportunistic vandal. This was targeted directly at you personally.’ She paused and fingered a tear in my sofa. ‘You must have some idea who did this.’

I said nothing. It was answer enough.

‘Tell me,’ she said.

We sat amid the wreckage of my home for two hours while I told her what I knew about Julian Trent and his apparent connection with the murder of Scot Barlow. I told her how I shouldn’t be acting in this case and how I had withheld information from the police and from my colleagues. I told her about Josef Hughes and George Barnett. And I told her about seeing Trent standing behind her at Cheltenham races before the Fox-hunter Chase. I showed her the photograph I had received in the white envelope showing her walking down the path near
the hospital in Lambourn. I had kept it in the pocket of the jacket I’d been wearing, and it had consequently survived the demolition.

She held the photograph in slightly shaking hands and went quite pale.

I dug around in the kitchen and finally found a pair of unbroken plastic mugs and a bottle of mineral water from the fridge.

‘I’d rather have some wine,’ Eleanor said.

My designer chrome wine rack, along with its dozen bottles of expensive claret that a client had given me as a gift for getting him off a drink-driving charge of which he had really been guilty, lay smashed and mangled, a red stain spreading inexorably across the mushroom-coloured rug that lay in my hallway.

I went back to the fridge and discovered an unbroken bottle of champagne nestling in a door rack. So we sat on my ruined sofa next to the damp ceiling plaster and amongst the other carnage, and drank vintage Veuve Clicquot out of plastic mugs. How romantic was that?

‘But why didn’t you tell me about this photo sooner?’ she asked accusingly. ‘I might have been in danger.’

‘I don’t believe you are in real danger as long as Trent, or whoever is behind him, still thinks I will do as they say. It’s the threat of danger that’s their hold.’

‘So what are you going to do about it?’ Eleanor asked. ‘How can you defeat this Trent man? Surely you have to go to the police and tell them.’

‘I don’t know,’ I said inadequately.

‘Darling,’ she said, using the term for the first time, and raising my eyebrows. ‘You absolutely have to go to the authorities
and explain everything to them. Let them deal with the little horror.’

‘It really isn’t that simple,’ I said to her. ‘In an ideal world, then yes, that would be the best route, but we don’t live in an ideal world. For a start, doing that might cost me my career.’

‘Surely not,’ she said.

‘Oh yes,’ I said. ‘I have been very economical with the truth in a business where it is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but. In fact I have told outright lies to the police, and the law is pretty unforgiving of lies. I may have even been guilty of holding the court in contempt. I have certainly misled the court and that is the most heinous of crimes for a barrister. That alone is enough to get disbarred.’

‘But you have a good reason,’ she said.

‘Yes, indeed I have,’ I said. ‘I was scared. And I still am. When I saw Trent outside my chambers yesterday I was so scared I nearly wet myself. But all that will have little bearing for the court. I know. I have dealt with intimidation in some form or other almost every week of my working life and, until recently, I was like every other lawyer who would tell their client not to be such a wimp and to tell the truth no matter what the consequences. The courts are not very forgiving of those who fail to tell the truth, even if they are frightened out of their wits. I’ve seen witnesses sent to prison for the night because they refuse to tell the judge something they know but are too afraid to say. People don’t understand until it happens to them. And it’s happening to me now. Look around you. Do you think I wanted this to happen?’

I was almost in tears. And they were tears of frustration.

‘So what are you going to do?’ she asked finally.

‘I am going to defeat him by getting Steve Mitchell acquitted,’
I said. ‘The only problem is that I’m not quite sure how I’m going to manage it.’

‘But then what?’ she said. ‘He won’t just go away.’

‘I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it,’ I said with a laugh. But it wasn’t really a laughing matter.

‘But won’t that get you even deeper into trouble?’ she said.

‘Maybe,’ I said. ‘But at least if Mitchell gets convicted he would then have grounds for an appeal. And I’m sure he didn’t murder anyone.’

‘Does the picture of Millie help?’ she asked.

‘It might,’ I said. ‘Where is it?’

‘Here,’ she said, pulling out a digital camera from her handbag. ‘It’s not that good. That photo frame was in the background of some pictures I took in Millie’s room when we had a drinks party there for her birthday. I thought about it during a boring lecture this morning after what you said last night. I checked when I got home and there it was.’ She smiled in triumph.

She turned on the camera and scrolled through the pictures until she arrived at one of three girls standing with glasses in their hands in front of a mantelpiece. And there between the heads of two of them could be clearly seen the frame and the missing photo. Eleanor zoomed in on the image.

‘Amazing things, these cameras,’ she said. ‘Over eight million pixels, whatever that means.’

It meant that she could zoom right in and fill the whole screen with the picture of Millie Barlow with Peninsula’s head in her lap with the mare standing behind with the stud groom. At such a magnification it was a little blurred but it was just as Eleanor had described it.

‘Well?’ she said as I studied the image.

‘I don’t know,’ I said. ‘It surely has to be important, otherwise why was it stolen from Barlow’s house? But I just can’t see why. It must be something to do with the stud groom, but I don’t recognize him. You can see his face quite clearly in spite of the blurring, but I’m certain I’ve never seen him before. It’s not Julian Trent, that’s for sure.’ Somehow I had suspected that it might have been.

Eleanor spent her second night in my house and, this time, she didn’t sleep in the room with the teddy bears’ picnic wallpaper. She slept alone in my bed, or what was left of it, while I dozed fully clothed on the torn-up sofa downstairs with my crutches close to hand. Neither of us felt that it had been the right circumstance to make any further moves towards each other and I was still worried that, with a broken window in the utility room, my castle was far from secure.

I woke early with the daylight, and what it revealed was no better than it had been the night before.

Julian Trent had been vindictive in his approach to the destruction and had even cut up my passport. It wasn’t that I couldn’t replace what he had destroyed, but he had made my life so much more complicated and annoying. Where did one start to get rid of all this mess?

I looked in the drawers of my desk for my insurance policy. Clearly not all the wine was soaking into the rug. Trent had saved a couple of bottles to pour into my paperwork, which was now red and still dripping.

Eleanor padded down the stairs wearing my dressing gown.

‘Careful,’ I said, looking at her bare feet. ‘There’s broken glass all over the floor.’

She stopped on the bottom stair and looked around. ‘Must have been quite a party,’ she said with a smile.

‘The best,’ I said, smiling back.

She retreated back to my bedroom and soon reappeared, dressed and with her shoes on. I was a little disappointed at the transformation from my dressing gown.

‘I’d better be going,’ she said, more serious now. ‘It’s well gone six and I need to be at work at eight. Will you be all right?’

‘I’ll be fine,’ I said. ‘I have a car picking me up at eight.’

‘You’d better have this,’ she said, handing me her camera.

‘Right,’ I said. ‘Thanks. I may use it to take some shots of this lot for the insurance company.’

‘Good idea,’ she said, standing still in the middle of the hallway.

It was as if she didn’t really want to go.

‘What are you doing tonight?’ I asked.

‘I’m on call,’ she said miserably. ‘I have to stay in Lambourn.’

‘Then can I come down there and return your camera to you this evening?’ I asked.

‘Oh, yes please,’ she said with a wide grin.

‘Right, I will. Now get goingoryou’llbe late for your patients.’

She skipped down the stairs, and I waved at her from the kitchen window as she drove away, her right arm gesticulating wildly out of the driver’s window until she disappeared round the corner at the top of the road.

I used the rest of the free memory in Eleanor’s camera to take shots of every aspect of Julian Trent’s handiwork, right down to the way he had poured all the contents from the packets in my kitchen cupboards into the sink, which was now blocked. I didn’t know what good the photos would be but it took up the time while I waited for the car.

I found a clean shirt lurking in the tumble drier that young Mr Trent had missed with his knife and, even though there was no water in the bathrooms with which to shower or wash, I had managed to shave with an unbroken electric razor and I felt quite respectable as I hobbled down the steps and into Bob’s waiting Mercedes at eight o’clock sharp.

I had brought my mobile phone and the Yellow Pages into the car and, while Bob drove, I set to work finding someone to fix the utility-room window.

‘Don’t worry about the mess,’ I said to the first glazier I called, who finally agreed to do the job for a fat fee. ‘Just go through the kitchen to the utility room and fix the window.’

‘How shall I get in?’ he asked. ‘Is there someone there?’

‘I left the front door open,’ I said. After all, there wasn’t much left to steal. ‘The keys are on the stairs. Lock the door when you are finished and put the keys back through the letter box. I’ve got another set.’

‘Fine,’ he said. ‘Will do.’

Next I called my insurance company and asked them to send me a claim form. They might want to come and have a look, they said. Be my guest, I replied, and I fixed for them to come on the following afternoon at five o’clock. They could get a key from my downstairs neighbours, who would be back from their school by then.

Bob took me first to chambers, where he went in to collect my mail while I half sat and half lay on the back seat of the car. Bob reappeared with a bundle of papers which he passed in to me through the window. And he also had Arthur in tow.

‘Mr Mason,’ said Arthur through the window, formal as always.

‘Morning, Arthur,’ I said. ‘What’s the problem?’

‘Sir James is very keen to see you,’ he said. I bet I knew why. ‘He needs to speak to you about Monday.’ Monday was the first day of Steve Mitchell’s trial in Oxford.

‘What about Monday?’ I said. I, too, could play this little game.

‘He thinks it may be impossible for him to attend on Monday as the case he is on at the moment is overrunning.’

What a surprise, I thought. I bet it’s overrunning because Sir James keeps asking for delays.

‘Tell Sir James that I will be fine on my own on Monday,’ I said. ‘Ask him to call me over the weekend on my mobile if he wants me to request an adjournment for a day.’ I wouldn’t hold my breath for the call, I thought.

‘Right,’ said Arthur. ‘I will.’

Both he and I were plainly aware of what was going on, but protocol and good manners had won the day. So I refrained from asking Arthur to also inform Sir James that he was a stupid old codger and a fraud, and it was well past the time he should have hung up his silk gown and wig for good.

Next, Bob drove me just round the corner to Euston Road, to the offices of the General Medical Council, where I spent most of the day sitting around waiting and very little time standing on my right foot, leaning on my crutches, arguing my client’s case against a charge of professional misconduct in front of the GMC Fitness to Practise Panel. Each of the three accused doctors had a different barrister and the GMC had a whole team of them. It made for a very crowded hearing and also a very slow one. By the time we had all finished our representations and each of the witnesses had been examined and cross-examined, there was no time left in the day for any judgments and the proceedings were adjourned until the following morning, which was a real pain for me as I wanted to be in Lambourn.

I tut-tutted to my client and told him, most unprofessionally, that it would mean much greater expense, another day’s fees. He almost fell over himself to ask the chairman of the panel if I would be required on the following day. He seemed greatly relieved when the chairman informed him that it was up to the accused to decide if and when they had professional representation, and not the members of the GMC. I was consequently rapidly released by my client. My fellow barristers looked at me with incredulity and annoyance. Two days’ fees may have been better for them than just one but, there again, they hadn’t planned to go and see Eleanor tonight.

BOOK: Silks
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