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Authors: Dick Francis,FELIX FRANCIS

Silks (9 page)

BOOK: Silks
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‘I’ll try,’ I said, not wishing to dash his hopes too quickly.

He marched round the room. ‘I didn’t bloody do it,’ he said. ‘I swear to you I never did it.’

‘Just sit down,’ I said. Reluctantly, he ceased his pacing and sat on a grey steel stool beside the grey steel table and I sat on a similar stool opposite him. These functional items, along with two more identical stools, were securely fastened with bolts to the bare grey concrete floor. The room was about eight foot square with sickly cream walls. The only light came from a large, energy-efficient fluorescent bulb surrounded by a wire cage in the centre of the white ceiling. Absolutely no expense had been wasted on comfort.

‘I didn’t do it,’ he said again. ‘I tell you, I’m being framed.’

As it happened, I believed him. In the past I’d had clients who had sworn blind that they were innocent and were being framed, and experience had taught me not to believe most of them. One client had once sworn to me on his mother’s life that he was innocent of setting fire to his own house for the insurance money, only for the said mother to confess that she and her son had planned it together. When she gave evidence against him in court, he had shouted from the dock that he’d kill her. So much for her life.

However, in Steve’s case I had other reasons for believing him.

‘Who’s framing you?’ I asked him.

‘I’ve got no bloody idea,’ he said. ‘That’s for you to find out.’

‘Who is Julian Trent?’ I asked him calmly.

‘Who?’ he said.

‘Julian Trent,’ I repeated.

‘Never heard of him,’ Steve said. Not a flicker in his eyes, not a fraction of hesitation in his voice. Asking questions for a living, I believed I was a reasonable judge of when someone was lying. But I was not infallible. Over the years I had frequently believed people who were telling me lies, but it was not often that I discovered that someone I thought was lying was actually being truthful. Either Steve was being straight with me, or he was fairly good at lying.

‘Who is he?’ Steve asked.

‘No one important,’ I said. It was my turn to lie. ‘I just wondered if you knew him.’

‘Should I?’ he asked.

‘No reason you should,’ I said. I decided to change the subject. ‘So why do the police think you killed Scot Barlow?’

‘Because they just do,’ he answered unhelpfully.

‘But they must have some evidence,’ I said.

‘It seems that it was my bloody pitchfork stuck into the little bastard.’ I could imagine that Steve referring to Barlow as ‘the little bastard’ hadn’t gone down too well with the police. ‘And would I be so stupid to have killed the little bastard with my own pitchfork? At least I would have then taken the bloody thing home again.’

‘What else do they have?’ I asked him.

‘Something about spots of his blood and some of his hairs being found in my car, and his blood being on my boots. It’s all bloody nonsense. I was never in his house.’

‘So where exactly were you when he was killed?’ I asked him.

‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘They haven’t told me when he actually died. But they did ask me what I was doing between one and six on Monday afternoon. I told them I was riding at Ludlow races. But I wasn’t. The meeting was abandoned due to the bloody course being waterlogged.’

That was really stupid, I thought. Lying wouldn’t have exactly endeared him to the police, and it was so easy for them to check.

‘So where were you?’ I asked him again.

He seemed reluctant to tell me, so I sat and waited in silence.

‘At home,’ he said eventually.

‘On your own?’ I pressed him.

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I was alone reading all afternoon.’

Now he was lying. I was sure of it and I didn’t like it.

‘That’s a shame,’ I said. ‘If someone was with you, they would be able to give you an alibi.’

He sat silently.

‘Do you know what the word “alibi” means?’ I asked him. He shook his head. ‘It’s Latin. It means “somewhere else”. An
unshakeable alibi is proof of innocence.’ I tried to lighten the atmosphere. ‘And even you, Steve, couldn’t be in two places at once. Are you sure you were alone all afternoon?’

‘Absolutely,’ he said, affronted. ‘Are you saying I’m a liar?’ He stood up and looked at me.

‘No, of course not,’ I said. But he was. ‘I’m just trying to make sure you remembered correctly.’

I rather hoped he would sit down again but he paced round the room like a caged tiger.

‘I’ll tell you what I do remember,’ he said to my back. ‘I remember that I’ve never been in Scot Barlow’s house. Not on Monday. Not ever. I didn’t even know where the little bastard lived.’

‘What about the text message?’ I said. ‘The one saying you were coming round to sort him out.’

‘I didn’t send any bloody text message,’ he replied. ‘And certainly not to him.’

Surely, I thought, the police must have the phone records.

He walked around in front of me and sat down again.

‘It doesn’t look too good, does it?’ he said.

‘No, Steve, it doesn’t.’ We sat there in silence for a few moments. ‘Who would gain from Barlow’s death?’ I asked him.

‘Reno Clemens must be laughing all the way to the winning post,’ he said. ‘With Barlow dead and me in here, he’s got rid of both of us.’

I thought it unlikely that Clemens would go to the extent of murder and a frame-up to simply get rid of his racing rivals. But hadn’t someone once tried to break the leg of a skating rival for that very reason?

‘I didn’t do it, you know.’ He looked up at me. ‘Not that I’m sorry he’s dead.’

‘What was there between you two?’ I asked. ‘Why did you hate him so much?’ I thought that I wouldn’t ask him about the incident in the showers at Sandown. Not yet. Much better, at the moment, if absolutely no one knew I had seen Barlow lying in the shower, and what he had said to me.

‘I hated him because he was a sneaky little bastard,’ Steve said.

‘But just how was he sneaky?’ I asked.

‘He just was.’

‘Look, Steve,’ I said. ‘If you want me to help you, you will have to tell me everything. Now why was he sneaky?’

‘He would sneak to the stewards if anyone did anything wrong.’

‘How do you know?’ I asked. ‘Did he ever sneak on you?’

‘What, to the stewards?’

‘Yes,’ I said, imploring. ‘To the stewards.’

‘Well, no,’ he said. ‘Not on me to the stewards, but he was a bastard nevertheless.’

‘But why?’ I almost shouted at him, spreading my arms and hands open wide.

He stood up again and turned away from me. ‘Because,’ he said in a rush, ‘he told my bloody wife I was having an affair.’

Ah, I thought. That would account for the hatred. Steve went on without turning round. ‘Then she left me and took my kids away.’

Ah, again.

‘How did Barlow know you were having an affair?’ I asked.

‘I was having it with his sister,’ he said.

‘Do the police know about this?’

‘I bleeding well hope not,’ he said, turning round. ‘Now that would give me a bloody motive, wouldn’t it?’

‘When did all this happen?’ I asked him.

‘Years ago,’ he said.

‘Are you still having the affair with Barlow’s sister?’ I asked.

‘Nah, it was just a fling,’ he said. ‘Finished right there and then, but Natalie, that’s my wife, she wouldn’t come home. Went and married some bloody Australian and they now live in Sydney. With my kids. I ask you, how am I meant to see them when they’re half the world away? It’s all that bastard Barlow’s fault.’

I thought that a jury would not necessarily agree with his assessment.

‘And what about the betting slips found on the prongs of the fork?’ I said.

‘Nothing to do with me,’ Steve said.

‘But they had your name on them,’ I said.

‘Yeah, and would I be so stupid as to leave them stuck on the bloody fork if I had planted it in Barlow’s chest? Don’t be bloody daft. It’s obviously a sodding stitch-up. Surely you can see that?’

It did seem to me that the police must think Steve to be very stupid indeed if they were so certain he had done it based on that. Or perhaps they had forensic evidence that we didn’t yet know about. We would discover in due course, during pre-trial disclosure but, for the time being, we could only guess. Either way, it would be worth pursuing the matter at trial.

‘Were they, in fact, your betting slips?’ I asked him. We both knew that gambling on horses was against the terms of his riding licence.

‘They may have been,’ he said. ‘But then they wouldn’t have had my name on them. I’m not that bloody stupid.’ He laughed. ‘Least of my worries now, I suppose.’

‘Is it true that Barlow used to go through other jocks’ pockets looking for betting slips?’ I said.

‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘I doubt it. It was probably me that started that rumour.’ He grinned at me. ‘I’d have said anything to get at him.’

In truth, it was Steve Mitchell, and not Scot Barlow, who had been the sneaky little bastard.

‘I hope it wasn’t that rumour that got him killed,’ I said.

Steve looked at me. ‘Bloody hell,’ he said.


On Thursday night I stayed with my trainer, Paul Newington, at Great Milton.

I had left Steve Mitchell feeling very sorry for himself at Bullingdon Prison.

‘When can you get me out of here?’ he’d asked me as we had shaken hands.

‘I really don’t know, Steve,’ I’d said. ‘It is most unlikely that you would get bail on a murder charge.’

‘But I didn’t do it,’ he had repeated yet again.

‘The police don’t see it like that,’ I’d said. ‘And I’m afraid the court will take more notice of them than of you.’

‘But you will try?’ he had implored.

I had privately thought it would be a complete waste of my time.

‘I’ll get Bruce Lygon to make another application,’ I’d told him.

‘I want you to do it,’ he had demanded.

But I knew it wasn’t always a good idea for a barrister to appear at a bail hearing. It was seen as overkill. In some eyes, it tended to make the accused look guilty. Sometimes that very
fact could swing the decision against the award. And anyway, bail in murder cases was as rare as hen’s teeth.

‘I don’t really think it would make any difference,’ I’d told him.

‘So when can I expect to get out?’ he had asked in near desperation.

‘Steve,’ I’d said. ‘I think you had better prepare yourself for quite a lengthy stretch in here. The trial date will likely not be set for at least six months and it could be as long as a year away.’

‘A year!’ he’d exclaimed, going white. ‘Oh my God. I’ll go mad.’

‘I’ll see what I can do to get you out sooner, but I don’t want to build your hopes up too much.’

I had looked at him standing there with drooping shoulders, appearing much shorter than his five foot six. He may have been an arrogant ego maniac who annoyed most of those he encountered, but there was no doubt that he was one of the best in hischosen tough and physically demanding profession. He was basically a harmless victim and I was sure he was no murderer. And he didn’t deserve to have been thrust into this nightmare.

I had thought he was going to cry. Perhaps for the first time he had appreciated the real fix he was in and he was far from pleased about it.

I hadn’t liked leaving Steve in that state. Over the years I’d left clients in prison on remand in states of emotion that varied from utter rage to complete collapse. It was never easy, but this was the first time I’d felt real anger in tandem with my client. Hold on a minute, I thought suddenly, he’s not my client and, what’s more, he couldn’t be.

It was always an escape from my usual work to go to Paul Newington’s place. He was so different from the people I dealt with on a day-to-day basis. For a start, I don’t think I had ever seen him in a tie, and almost never in a jacket. When he was at home he habitually wore blue denim jeans with scuffed knees and frayed legs, and, on this occasion, he sported a black sweatshirt with ‘Motorhead’ emblazoned across its chest in lightning-strike letters. Perhaps it would not have been my choice of garb when entertaining one of his owners.

But I think that was why I liked him so much. He used to say that the horses didn’t care if he was in his dressing gown so why should their owners. I tactfully didn’t point out to him that it wasn’t the horses that were paying him for their board and lodging. It was one of the reasons why he had never quite broken into the big time. Rich owners want to be appreciated and, in their eyes, afforded due reverence by their trainers. And rich owners buy the best horses.

Paul’s richest owners had continually been wooed away by other trainers more willing to bow and scrape to their whims. I had resisted two such approaches myself because I liked the relaxed atmosphere of his stable. It was in such contrast to the old-fashioned formality I was all too familiar with in the courts.

Paul and I walked round the stables as his staff were busy mucking out and giving their charges food and water for the night. Sandeman looked wonderful in his box with his shining golden tan coat and showing no apparent ill effects from his race at Sandown the previous Saturday.

I walked over and slapped his neck.

‘Good boy,’ I said to him calmly. ‘Who’s a good boy?’

He blew through his nostrils and shifted his bulk, turning his head to see if I had a titbit for him. I never came to Paul’s
without some apples in my pocket and today was no exception. Sandeman gratefully munched his way noisily through a Granny Smith, dripping saliva and apple bits into his bedding. It was a satisfactory encounter for us both and I took my leave of him with a slap on his neck which caused him to lift and lower his head as if he were agreeing with me.

‘See you in the morning, my boy,’ I called to him as I left his box. I often wondered if our equine partners had any notion of the depth of our devotion for them.

Laura, Paul’s wife, cooked us supper and, as always, we sat round the bleached-pine kitchen table, eating her best macaroni cheese with onions. It wasn’t long before the conversation turned to the hot topic in racing circles.

‘So, do you think he did it?’ said Paul between mouthfuls.

BOOK: Silks
5.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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