Shattered, p.8Dick Francis
While we occupied for another ten uninterrupted minutes the most private place on a racetrack—the Stewards’ friends’ viewing balcony in between races—I managed to persuade Lloyd Baxter to sit quietly and exchange detailed memories of the first few minutes of 2000, but try as he might, he still clung to the image of the scrawny man in the white beard who probably—or maybe it was some other man at some other time—asked for a videotape... perhaps.
He was trying his best. His manner to me had taken a ninety-degree angle of change, so that he’d become more an ally than a crosspatch.
One of the things he would never have said in the past was his reassessment of my and Martin’s friendship. “I see I was wrong about you,” he admitted, heavily frowning. “Martin relied on you for strength, and I took it for granted that it was the other way round.”
“We learned from each other.”
After a pause he said, “That fellow in the white beard, he was real, you know. He did want a videotape. If I knew more than that, I would tell you.”
I finally believed him. It was just unlucky that Baxter’s fit had struck at the wrong random moment; unlucky from white-beard’s point of view that Baxter had been there at all; but it did now seem certain that during the time I was out in the street seeing the year 2000 arrive safely, a white-bearded, thin middle-aged professor-type individual had come into my showroom and had said something about a videotape, and had left before I returned, taking the tape, and incidentally the money, with him.
I hadn’t seen any white-bearded figure out in the street. It had been a week too late for the Ho-ho-ho joker from the North Pole. Lloyd Baxter said he couldn’t tell whether or not the beard was real or left over from Santa Claus.
When we parted we shook hands for the first time ever. I left him with the Stewards and fell into step with Worthington, who was shivering outside and announcing he was hungry. Accordingly we smelled out some food, which he galloped through with endless appetite.
“Why don’t you eat?” he demanded, chomping.
“Habit,” I said. A habit caught from a scales-conscious jockey. Martin seemed to have influenced my life more than I’d realized.
I told Worthington while he saw off two full plates of steak-and-kidney pie (his and mine) that we were now looking for a thin man, late middle-age, white beard, who looked like a college lecturer.
Worthington gazed at me earnestly while loading his fork with pastry. “That,” he pointed out, “doesn’t sound at all like someone who would steal a bagful of money.”
“I’m surprised at you, Worthington,” I teased him. “You of all people I thought would know that beards aren’t automatic badges of honesty! So how does this sit with you? Suppose Mr. White-Beard gives a tape to Martin, which Martin gives to Eddie Payne, who handed it on to me. Then when Martin died, Mr. White-Beard decided to take his videotape back again, so he found out where the tape would be... that’s to say he turned up in Broadway. He found the tape and took it back, and on impulse he also whisked up the bag of money that I’d stupidly left lying around, and in consequence he cannot tell anyone that he has his tape back.”
“Because he would be confessing he’d stolen the cash?”
My bodyguard sighed and scraped his plate clean. “So what next?” he said. “What happened next?”
“I can only guess.”
“Go on, then. Guess. Because it wasn’t some old guy that gassed us with that cyclopropane. Young Daniel described the sneakers that the gas man wore, and nobody but a teenager, I don’t think, would be seen dead in them.”
I found I disagreed. Eccentric white-beards might wear anything. They might also make erotic tapes. They might also tell someone the tape was worth a fortune, and that it was in Gerard Logan’s hands. A few little lies. Diversionary tactics. Beat up Logan, make him ready to cough up the tape, or, failing that, whatever information had been on it.
What had Martin been going to give me for safekeeping ?
Did I any longer really want to know?
If I didn’t know, I couldn’t tell. But if they believed I knew and wouldn’t tell... dammit, I thought, we’ve almost been through that already, and I couldn’t expect Tom Pigeon and Dobermans to rescue me every time.
Not knowing the secret on the tape was perhaps worse than knowing it. So somehow or other, I decided, it wasn’t enough to discover who took it, it was essential after all to find out what they expected as well as what they’d actually got.
Once Worthington’s hunger had retreated temporarily and we had lost our money on a horse Martin should have ridden, we walked back to where the serried ranks of bookmakers were shouting their offers for the getting-out stakes, the last race.
With Worthington’s well-known muscle as guarantee of immunity from onslaught, we arrived in the living-and-breathing space of the 1894 Arthur Robins operation 2000. Norman Osprey’s raucous voice soared unselfconsciously above his neighbors’ until he realized we were listening, at which point a sudden silence gave everyone else a chance.
Close enough to see the scissor marks on the Elvis sideburns, I said, “Tell Rose...”
“Tell her yourself,” he interrupted forcefully. “She’s just behind you.”
I turned without haste, leaving Worthington at my back. Rose glared, rigid with a hatred I didn’t at that point understand. As before, the dryness of her skin echoed the lack of generosity in her nature, but earlier, at our first and last racetrack encounter, neither of us held the subsequent memory of fists, stone walls, baseball bats, a smashed watch and a whole bunch more of assaults-to-the-person, all orchestrated and encouraged as Sunday evening entertainment for the troops.
Being as close to her as a couple of yards gave my outraged skin goose bumps, but she seemed to think a black mask and leotard had made her invisible.
I asked again the question she had already refused to answer.
“Who gave a videotape to Martin Stukely at Cheltenham races?”
She answered this time that she didn’t know.
I said, “Do you mean you didn’t see anyone give Martin a parcel, or that you saw the transfer but didn’t know the person’s name?”
“Dead clever, aren’t you,” Rose said sarcastically. “Take your pick.”
Rose, I thought, wasn’t going to be trapped by words. At a guess she had both seen the transfer and knew the transferrer, but even Torquemada would have had trouble with her, and I hadn’t any thumbscrews handy in Logan Glass.
I said without much hope of being believed, “I don’t know where to look for the tape you want. I don’t know who took it and I don’t know why. I haven’t got it.”
Rose curled her lip.
As we walked away Worthington sighed deeply with frustration.
“You’d think Norman Osprey would be the ‘heavy’ in that outfit. He has the voice and the build for it. Everyone thinks of him as the power behind Arthur Robins 1894. But did you see him looking at Rose? She can make any blunder she likes, but I’m told she’s still the brains. She’s the boss. She calls the tune. My low-life investigator gave me a bell. He finds her very impressive, I’m afraid to say.”
Worthington, a practiced world traveler, said, “She hates you. Have you noticed?”
I told him I had indeed noticed. “But I don’t know why.”
“You’d want a psychiatrist to explain it properly, but I’ll tell you for zilch what I’ve learned. You’re a man, you’re strong, you look OK, you’re successful at your job and you’re not afraid of her; and I could go on, but that’s for starters. Then she has you roughed up, doesn’t she, and here you are looking as good as new, even if you aren’t feeling it, and sticking the finger up in her face, more or less, and believe me, I‘d’ve chucked a rival down the stairs for less, if they as much as yawned in my presence.”
I listened to Worthington’s wisdom, but I said, “I haven’t done her any harm.”
“You threaten her. You’re
Not to mention murders because of racism or religious prejudice, I thought, but it was still hard to imagine it applying to oneself—until one had felt the watch smash, of course.
I expected that Rose would have told Eddie Payne, her father, that I was at the races, but she hadn’t. Worthington and I lay in wait for him after the last race and easily am-bushed him in a pincer movement when he came out of the changing rooms on his way to his car.
He wasn’t happy. He looked from one to the other of us like a cornered horse, and it was as if to a fractious animal that I soothingly said, “Hi, Ed. How’s things?”
“I don’t know anything I haven’t told you,” he protested.
I thought if I cast him a few artificial flies, I might startle and hook an unexpected fish; a trout, so to speak, sheltering in the reeds.
So I said, “Is Rose married to Norman Osprey?”
His face lightened to nearly a laugh. “Rose is still Rose Payne but she calls herself Robins and sometimes Mrs. Robins when it suits her, but she doesn’t like men, my Rose. Pity, really, but there it is.”
“But she likes to rule them?”
“She’s always made boys do what she wants.”
“Were you with her yesterday evening?” I asked him the question casually, but he knew instantly what I meant.
“I didn’t lay a finger on you,” he said quickly. “It wasn’t me.” He looked from me to Worthington and back again, this time with puzzlement. “Look,” he said wheedlingly, as if begging for forgiveness, “they didn’t give you a chance. I told Rose it wasn’t fair...” He wavered to a stop.
With interest I asked, “Do you mean that you yourself wore a black mask in Broadway yesterday evening?” and almost with incredulity saw in his face an expression of shame that he had.
“Rose said we would just frighten you” He stared at me with unhappy eyes. “I tried to stop her, honest. I never thought you’d be here today. So it can’t have been as bad as it looked... but I know it was awful. I went to confession first to ask forgiveness...”
“So there was you and Rose.” I said it matter-of- factly, though stunned beneath. “And Norman Osprey, and who else? One of Norman Osprey’s bookmaking clerks, was it?”
“No. Not them.”
Horror suddenly closed his mouth. He had already admitted far too much from his daughter’s point of view, and if the other so far unidentified black-mask shape were one of the other two clerks working with Norman Osprey at Arthur Robins, Est. 1894, Eddie was no longer going to admit it easily.
I tried another fly.
“Do you know anyone who could lay their hands on anesthetics?”
“Or anyone with a white beard, known to Martin?”
He hesitated over that, but in the end shook his head.
I said, “Do you yourself know anyone with a white beard who looks like a university lecturer?”
“No.” His reply was positive, his manner shifty.
“Was the brown-paper parcel you gave me at Cheltenham the selfsame one that Martin gave you earlier in the day?”
“Yes.” He nodded this time with no need for thought. “It was the same one. Rose was furious. She said I should have stuck onto it when Martin died, and I shouldn’t have mentioned it; we should have kept it ourselves and then there wouldn’t have been all this fuss.”
“Did Rose know what was in it?”
“Only Martin knew for sure. I did more or less ask him what was in it but he just laughed and said the future of the world, but it was a joke, of course.”
Martin’s joke sounded to me too real to be funny.
Ed hadn’t finished. “A couple of weeks before Christmas,” he said, still amused, “Martin said that what he was giving Bon-Bon—a few of the jockeys were talking about presents for their wives and girlfriends while they were changing to go home—it wasn’t a big deal—what he was giving Bon-Bon was a gold-and-glass antique necklace, but he was laughing and he said he would have to get you to make him a much cheaper and modern copy. He said you had a videotape to tell you how. But next minute he changed his mind because Bon-Bon wanted new fur-lined boots, and anyway he was mostly talking about the King George VI Chase at Kempton on December 26 and how much weight he’d have to take off by not eating turkey... I mean, he was always worried about his weight, like most of them are.”
“He talked to you a lot,” I commented. “More than most.”
Ed didn’t think so. He liked to chat with the boys, he said. He could tell us a thing or two about them. He winked on it, as if all jockeys were real sexual rogues, and with this confidence his manner more or less returned to the calm and efficient valet I’d met through Martin.
Worthington, driving us home, summed up the day’s haul of information. “I’d say Martin and the white-bearded guy were serious with this tape.”
“Yes,” I agreed.
“And somehow or other, through her father, Rose may have imagined that that tape showed how to make an antique necklace.”
I said doubtfully, “It must be more than that.”
“Well... perhaps it actually says where the necklace can be found.”
“A treasure hunt?” I shook my head. “There’s only one valuable antique gold-and-glass necklace that I know of, and I do know a fair amount about antique glass, and it’s in a museum. It’s priceless. It was probably designed in Crete, or anyway somewhere round the Aegean Sea sometime about three thousand five hundred years ago. It’s called the Cretan Sunrise. I did make a copy of it, though, and I once lent it to Martin. I also made a videotape to explain the methods I used. I lent that to Martin too and he still has it—or rather, heaven knows where it is now.”
“What if there’s another one?” Worthington asked.
“Are you talking about two tapes now? Or two necklaces ?”
“Why not two tapes?” Worthington reasoned, as if it had suddenly become likely. “Rose could have muddled them up.”
I thought it just as likely that it was Worthington and I who’d muddled everything up, but we arrived safely at Bon-Bon’s house richer with at least two solid new facts: first, that Rose, Norman Osprey and Eddie Payne had spent their Sunday evening in Broadway; and second, that an elderly, thin, white-bearded, university-lecture-type man had walked into my shop as the new century came in with bells, and had not stayed to help Lloyd Baxter with his epileptic fit.
As we scrunched to a halt on Bon-Bon’s gravel, Marigold came with wide-stretched arms out of the front door to greet us.
“Bon-Bon doesn’t need me anymore,” she announced dramatically. “Get out the maps, Worthington. We’re going skiing.”
“Er ... when?” her chauffeur asked, unsurprised.
“Tomorrow morning of course. Fill up the gas tanks. We’ll call at Paris on the way. I need new clothes.”
Worthington looked more resigned than I felt. He murmured to me that Marigold bought new clothes most days of the week and prophesied that the skiing trip would last less than ten days overall. She would tire of it quickly, and come home.
Bon-Bon was taking the news of her mother’s departure with well-hidden relief, and asked me with hope whether “the upsetting videotape business” was now concluded. She wanted calm in her life, but I had no idea if she would get it. I didn’t tell her of Rose’s existence or the distinct lack of calm she represented.
I asked Bon-Bon about White-Beard. She said she’d never seen or heard of him. When I explained who he was, she telephoned to Priam Jones, who though with his self-esteem badly hurt by Lloyd Baxter’s ditching of him, regretted he couldn’t help.
Bon-Bon tried several more trainers, but thin, elderly, white-bearded owners of racehorses seemed not to exist. After she’d tired of i
Worthington liked skiing, he said as we drove away. He liked Paris. He liked Marigold. He regularly admired her more bizarre clothes. Sorry, he said, about leaving me with the lioness, Rose. Good luck, he said cheerfully.
“I could throttle you,” I said.
While Worthington happily chuckled at the wheel, I switched on my mobile phone again to call Irish at his home to find out how the day had finally gone in the shop, but before I could dial the number the message service called, and the disembodied voice of young Victor W. V. said briefly in my ear, “Send your e-mail address to me at [email protected]”
Holy hell, I thought, Victor had things to say. Flopping could wait. The only computer I owned that handled e-mail was in Broadway. Worthington with resignation changed direction, at length stopping by my main glass door and insisting he come in with me, to check the place for black masks and other pests.
The place was empty. No Rose in wait. Worthington returned with me to the Rolls, shook my hand, told me to look after myself and left lightheartedly, again prophesying his swift return well within two weeks.
Almost at once I missed the muscle man, missed him as a safety umbrella and as a source of a realistic view of life. Paris and skiing attracted powerfully. I sighed over my inescapable bruises, roused my sleeping computer into action, connected it to the Internet, and sent an e-mail message to Victor, with my address.
I’d expected to have to wait a good long time to hear from Victor, but almost immediately, which meant he had been sitting at his computer, waiting, the screen of my laptop demanded, “Who are you?”
I typed and sent, “Martin Stukely’s friend.”
He asked, “Name,” and I told him, “Gerard Logan.”
His reply was “What do you want?”
“How did you know Martin Stukely?”
“I’ve known him for years, saw him often at the races with my granddad.”
I wrote, “Why did you send that letter to him? How had you heard of any tape? Please tell me the truth.”
Shattered by Dick Francis / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes