Shattered, p.3Dick Francis
Lloyd Baxter lay facedown, unmoving and unconscious, on my showroom floor.
Dumping my empty glass rapidly on the table that held the till I knelt anxiously beside him and felt for a pulse in his neck. Even though his lips were bluish he hadn’t somehow the look of someone dead, and there was to my great relief a slow perceptible thud-thud under my fingers. A stroke, perhaps? A heart attack? I knew very little medicine.
What an appallingly awkward night, I thought, sitting back on my heels, for anyone to need to call out the medics. I stood up and took a few paces to the table which held the till and all the business machines, including the telephone. I dialed the come-at-once number without much expectation, but even on such a New Year’s Eve, it seemed, the emergency services would respond, and it wasn’t until I’d put down the receiver on their promise of an instant stretcher that I noticed the absence beside the till of the ready-for-the-bank canvas bag. It had gone. I searched for it everywhere, but in my heart I knew where I’d left it.
I swore. I’d worked hard for every cent. I’d sweated. My arms still ached. I was depressed at that point as well as furious. I began to wonder if Lloyd Baxter had done his best, if he’d been knocked out trying to defend my property against a thief.
The black unidentified videotape had gone as well. The wave of outrage common to anyone robbed of even minor objects shook me into a deeper anger. The tape’s loss was a severe aggravation, even if not on the same level as the money.
I telephoned the police without exciting them in the least. They were psyched up for bombs, not paltry theft. They said they would send a detective constable in the morning.
Lloyd Baxter stirred, moaned and lay still again. I knelt beside him, removed his tie, unfastened his belt and in general rolled him slightly onto his side so that he wasn’t in danger of choking. There were flecks of blood, though, around his mouth.
The chill of the deep night seeped into my own body, let alone Baxter’s. The flames of the furnace roared captive behind the trapdoor that rose and fell to make the heat available, and finally, uncomfortably cold, I went and stood on the treadle that raised the trap, and let the heat flood into the workshop to reach the showroom beyond.
Normally, even in icy winter, the furnace in constant use gave warmth enough, supplemented by an electric convection heater in the gallery, but by the time help arrived for Baxter I had wrapped him in my jacket and everything else handy, and he was still growing cold to the touch.
The ultra-efficient men who arrived in the prompt ambulance took over expertly, examining their patient, searching and emptying his pockets, making a preliminary diagnosis and wrapping him in a red warming blanket ready for transport. Baxter partially awoke during this process but couldn’t swim altogether to the surface of consciousness. His gaze flickered woozily once across my face before his eyes closed again into a heavier sleep.
The paramedics did some paperwork and had me provide them with Baxter’s name, address and as much as I knew (practically nothing) of his medical history. One of them was writing a list of all the things they had taken from Lloyd, starting with a Piaget gold watch and ending with the contents of a pocket of his pants—a handkerchief, a bottle of pills and a businesslike hotel room key in the shape of a ball-and-chain deterrent to forgetfulness.
I didn’t even have to suggest that I should return the key myself to the hotel; the paramedics suggested it themselves. I rattled it into my own pants without delay, thinking vaguely of packing Lloyd Baxter’s things into his much-traveled suitcase and more positively of sleeping in his bed, since the paramedics were adamant that he would have to stay in the hospital all night.
“What’s wrong with him?” I asked. “Has he had a heart attack? Or a stroke? Has he been ... well, attacked and knocked out?”
I told them about the money and the tape.
They shook their heads. The most senior of them discounted my guesses. He said that to his experienced eyes Lloyd Baxter wasn’t having a nonfatal heart attack (he would be awake, if so) nor a stroke, nor were there any lumpy bruises on his head. In his opinion, he announced authoritatively, Lloyd Baxter had had an epileptic fit.
“A fit?” I asked blankly. “He’s seemed perfectly well all day.”
The medics nodded knowledgeably. One of them picked up the pill bottle whose contents were listed as phenytoin and said he was certain that this was the preventative for epilepsy.
“Epilepsy”—the chief medic nodded—“and who’ll bet that he was overdue with a dose? We have all the other symptoms here. Alcohol.” He gestured to the depleted bottle of Dom. “Late night without sleep. Stress ... isn’t he the one whose jockey was done for at the races today? Then there’s the slow pulse and bluish lips, the blood flecks from where he’s bitten his tongue ... and did you notice that his pants are wet? They urinate, you know.”
The resident Dragon of the Wychwood Dragon Hotel being its fierce lady manager, I could ooze in and out of the halls unseen (as it were), owing both to the collection of small colored glass animals marching around her dressing table, and to her occasional invitations to bed. The glass animals weren’t so much trophies as apologies, however, as she was fortunately resigned to accepting that a thirty years’ difference in age was a fair enough reason for me to say no. Her habit of calling me “lover” in public was embarrassment enough, though, and I knew that most of Broadway believed she ate me with eggs for breakfast.
Anyway, no one questioned my takeover of Lloyd Baxter’s room. In the morning I packed his belongings and, explaining all to the Dragon, arranged for the hotel to send them to the hospital. Then I walked down and across to the workshop, where Martin, though vivid in my mind, refused to fly as a statement in glass. Inspiration operated at its own good speed, and many a time I’d found that trying to force it didn’t work.
The furnace roared in its firebox. I sat beside the stainless-steel table (called a marver) on which I should have been rolling eternity into basic balls of liquid glass, and thought only of Martin alive in the body, Martin laughing and winning races, and Martin’s lost message on videotape. Where was that tape, what did it contain and who thought it worth stealing?
These profitless thoughts were interrupted by the doorbell ringing early at nine o‘clock, when we’d said we’d open at ten.
On the doorstep stood no recognizable customer but a young woman in a vast sloppy sweater hanging around her knees, topped by a baseball cap over a shock of brass ily dyed streaky hair. We stared at each other with interest, her brown eyes alive and curious, her jaw rhythmic with chewing gum.
I said politely, “Good morning.”
“Yeah. Yeah.” She laughed. “Happy New Century and all that rubbish. Are you Gerard Logan?”
Her accent was Estuary, Essex or Thames: take your pick.
“Logan.” I nodded. “And you?”
“Detective Constable Dodd.”
I blinked. “Plainclothes?”
“You may laugh,” she said, chewing away. “You reported a theft at twelve thirty-two this A.M. Can I come in?”
“Be my guest.”
She stepped into the gallery spotlights and glowed. From habit I dramatized her in glass in my mind, an abstract essence as a conduit of feeling and light, exactly the instinctive process I’d tried in vain to summon up for Martin.
Oblivious, Detective Constable Dodd produced a down-to-earth warrant card identifying her in uniform and adding a first name, Catherine. I handed the warrant card back and answered her questions, but the police opinion was already firm. Too bad I’d left a bagful of money lying around, she said. What did I expect? And videotapes came by the dozen. No one would think twice about snapping one up.
“What was on it?” she asked, pencil poised over a notepad.
“I’ve no idea.” I explained how it had come to me originally in a brown-paper parcel.
“Pornography. Bound to be.” Her pronouncement was brisk, world-weary and convinced. “Unidentified.” She shrug
“It hadn’t any labels.”
I dug the wrapping out of the rubbish bin and gave her the wrinkled and torn paper. “This came to me by hand,” I said. “There’s no postmark.”
She took the paper dubiously, enclosed it in a further bag, got me to sign across the fold and tucked it away somewhere under the extra-loose sweater.
My answers to her questions about the stolen money caused her eyebrows to rise over the amount, but she obviously thought I’d never again see the canvas bag or the mini-bonanza inside. I still had checks and credit card slips, of course, but most of my tourist customers paid in cash.
I told her then about Lloyd Baxter and his epileptic fit. “Maybe he saw the thief,” I said.
She frowned. “Maybe he was the thief. Could he have faked the fit?”
“The paramedics didn’t seem to think so.”
She sighed. “How long were you out in the street?”
“Bells. ‘Auld Lang Syne,’ fireworks, happy new thousand years...”
“Getting on for half an hour?” She consulted her notebook. “You phoned the ambulance service at twelve twenty-seven.”
She wandered through the showroom looking at the small colorful vases, the clowns, sailing boats, fishes and horses. She picked up a haloed angel and disapproved of the price sticker under the feet. Her swath of hair fell forward, framing her intent face, and I again clearly saw the bright analytical intelligence inside the sloppy hippie-type disguise. She was through and through a police officer, not primarily a come-hither female.
Replacing the angel with decision on the shelf, she folded her notebook, stored it out of sight and with body language announced that the investigation, despite its lack of results, was over. It was the go-to-work version of Constable Dodd that prepared to step into the street.
“Why?” I asked.
“Why what?” She concentrated on her change of character..
“Why the too-big sweater and the baseball cap?”
She flashed me an aware, amused glance and turned back to the world outside. “You happened to have been robbed on my allotted beat. My assignment in Broadway is to spot the gang stealing cars on bank holidays in this area. Thanks for your time.”
She grinned with cheerfulness and shuffled off down the hill, pausing to talk to a homeless-looking layabout sitting in a shop doorway, huddling against the chill of morning.
A pity the hippie and the hobo hadn’t been car-thief spotting at midnight, I thought vaguely, and telephoned to the hospital to inquire about Baxter.
Awake and grumbling, I gathered. I left a message of goodwill.
She wailed miserably into my ear. “But darling Gerard, of course I didn’t tell Priam not to bring you with him. How could you believe it? You are the first person Martin would want to come here. Please, please come as soon as you can, the children are crying and everything’s dreadful.” She drew a shaky breath, the tears distorting her voice. “We were going to a midnight party ... and the baby-sitter came and said she wanted her full money anyway, even if Martin was dead, can you believe it? And Priam talked about the inconvenience of finding another jockey halfway through the season. He’s an old fool and he kept patting me ...”
“He was seriously upset,” I assured her. “A matter of tears.”
I frowned at the memory, but the tears had looked real.
“How long did he stay with you?” I asked.
“Stay? He didn’t stay long. Ten to fifteen minutes, maybe. My mother descended on us while he was here, and you’ve met her, you know what she’s like. Priam was mostly in Martin’s den, I think. He kept saying he had to be back for evening stables, he couldn’t sit still.” Bon-Bon’s despair overflowed. “Can’t you come? Please, please come. I can’t deal with my mother by myself.”
“As soon as I’ve done one job, and found some transport. Say ... about noon.”
“Oh yes, I forgot your bloody car. Where are you? Did you get home?”
“I’m in my workshop.”
“I’ll come and fetch you ...”
“No. First, fill your mama with gin and let the children loose on her, then shut yourself in Martin’s den and watch the tapes of him winning three Grand Nationals, but don’t drive anywhere while you’re so upset. I’ll find transport, but at the worst we could persuade your remarkable parent to lend me Worthington and the Rolls.”
Bon-Bon’s mother’s versatile chauffeur raised his eyebrows to heaven frequently at Marigold’s odd requirements, but had been known to drive a roofless Land Rover at breakneck speed at night across stubble fields, headlights blazing in the dark, while his employer stood balancing behind him with a double-barreled shotgun loosing off at mesmerized rabbits over his head. Martin said he’d been afraid to watch, but Worthington and Marigold had achieved a bag of forty and freed her land of a voracious pest.
Worthington, bald and fifty, was more an adventure than a last resort.
On New Year’s Day 2000 in England the world in general came to a stop. Saturday’s running of one of the best steeplechasing afternoon programs of the whole midwinter season was stuck in a silly halt because the people who worked the betting machines wanted to stay at home. There was no racing—and no football—to entertain the nonworkers on or off the television.
Logan Glass astounded the other residents of Broadway by opening its doors to the day-before’s customers, who arrived to collect their overnight-cooled souvenirs. To my own astonishment two of my assistants turned up, even though bleary-eyed, saying they couldn’t leave me to pack the whole delivery job alone; so it was with speed and good humor that my new century began. I looked back later at the peace of that brief morning with a feeling of unreality that life could ever have been so safe and simple.
Pamela Jane, twittery, anxious, stick-thin and wanly pretty, insisted on driving me to Bon-Bon’s place herself, leaving me in the driveway there and departing with a wave, hurrying back to the shop, as she’d left Irish alone there.
Martin and Bon-Bon had agreed at least on their house, an eighteenth-century gem that Marigold had helped them buy. I admired it every time I went there.
A small van stood on the gravel, dark blue with a commercial name painted on it in yellow: THOMPSON ELECTRONICS. I supposed it was because I’d been working myself that I didn’t immediately remember that that day was a national holiday; definitely a moratorium for television repair vans.
Chaos was too weak a word to describe what I found inside Martin’s house. For a start, the front door was visibly ajar and, when I touched it, it swung wide, although it was only the kitchen door the family left hospitably unlocked, both for friends and for visiting tradesmen.
Beginning to feel a slight unease, I stepped through the heavily carved front doorway and shouted, but without response, and a pace or two later I learned why I had misgivings.
Bon-Bon’s mother, Marigold, frothy gray hair and floaty purple dress in disarray as usual, lay unconscious on the stairs. Worthington, her eccentric chauffeur, sprawled like a drugged medieval guard dog at her feet.
The four children, out of sight, were uncannily quiet, and the door to Martin’s room, his den, was closed on silence.
I opened this door immediately and found Bon-Bon there, lying full-length on the wood block floor. Again, as with Lloyd Baxter, I knelt to feel for a pulse in the neck, but this time with sharp anxiety; and I felt the living ga-bump ga-bump with a deeper relief. Concentrating on Bon-Bon, I saw too late in peripheral sight a movement behind my right shoulder ... a dark figure speeding from where he’d been hiding behind the door.
I jerked halfway to standing but wasn’t quick enough on my feet. There was a short second in which I glimpsed a small metal gas cylinder—more or less like a quarter-sized fire extinguisher. But this cylinder wasn’t red. It was orange. It hit my head. Martin’s den turned gray, dark gray, and black. A deep wel
I returned slowly to a gallery of watchers. To a row of eyes dizzily in front of my own. I couldn’t think where I was or what was happening. It had to be bad, though, because the children’s eyes looked huge with fright.
I was lying on my back. Into the blank spaces of memory slowly crept the picture of an orange gas cylinder in the hands of a figure in a black head mask with holes cut out for eyes.
As a return to awareness grew clearer I focused on Bon-Bon’s face and tried to stand up. Bon-Bon, seeing this minor revival, said with great relief, “Thank God you’re all right. We’ve all been gassed and we’ve all been sick since we woke up. Totter to the loo next door, there’s a chum. Don’t throw up in here.”
I had a headache, not nausea. My head had collided with the outside of a metal gas cylinder, not with the contents. I felt too lethargic to explain the difference.
Worthington, notwithstanding the muscular physique he painstakingly developed by regular visits to a punch-bag gym, looked pale and shaky and far from well. He held each of the two youngest children by the hand, though, giving them what comfort and confidence he could. In their eyes he could do everything, and they were nearly right.
Bon-Bon had once mentioned that Worthington’s top value to her mother was his understanding of bookmakers’ methods, because, as Marigold herself disliked walking along between the rows of men shouting the odds, Worthington got her the best prices. A versatile and compulsive good guy, Worthington, though he didn’t always look it.
Only Marigold herself was now missing from the sick parade. I asked about her, and the eldest of the children, a boy called Daniel, said she was drunk. She was snoring on the stairs, the elder girl said. So pragmatic, 2000-year children.
While I peeled myself slowly off the wood blocks Bon-Bon, with annoyance, remarked that her doctor had announced he no longer made house calls, even for those recovering from bereavement. He said all would be well with rest and fluid. “Water,” he’d said.
Shattered by Dick Francis / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes