A story of murder in the Yorkshire Dales
He drove the pick-up slowly through the bends and on up the hill. He glanced out of the window at the silhouette of the church. The moon seemed painfully bright. He wished sincerely that he didn’t have to be here. He vowed that this would be the last time. He had already told his partner and this time he was sure he knew he meant it.
He reached the crest of the hill and allowed the pick-up to free-wheel past the small pub and hotel and the three or four houses on either side of it. They were in complete darkness. A few seconds later the pick-up rolled slowly the last few hundred yards down the cobbled lane to the churchyard gate. He parked as close to the gate as he could and quietly applied the handbrake. He looked again at the church. Set apart from the rest of the small hamlet, it was a lonely spot for a church. He wondered why anybody would bother to build a church in such an isolated location. Then he remembered the area had once had a thriving lead-mining industry and quite large numbers of people actually lived this far up the dale. No doubt at some point in recent history this had been an active religious community. Certainly the churchyard had plenty of customers. His own sister was one of them. Nowadays people chose not to bury their loved ones so far from their communities. Unless they had the shame he had.
He left the warmth of the vehicle with some regret, looked from this high point down the valley then walked to the back of the truck. He leaned over the side of the pick-up and tugged the pick and shovel from under the tarpaulin. He quietly shut the door of the vehicle thinking how foolish this caution was when he was completely alone. Nobody awake for miles unless you counted his partner who would be on his way. He paused for a moment against the church gate. A feeling of unease he hadn’t experienced before caused him to linger for a few moments. He looked at his watch. Half past two. He should be home in bed, he thought. He pushed himself through the gate. It made no noise. He walked slowly, avoiding using his torch, to one of the headstones and lay his pick and shovel against the back of it.
With the moon behind it the church was entirely black against the night sky. It loomed above him. He felt its presence at his back as he slumped against one of the headstones they were shortly about to remove.
“It’s not my idea,” he said to the church. “And this is definitely the last time.”
The grass was damp and he could feel the cold earth rising up through his body. He tucked his waterproof coat further underneath him. Above two bats whirled silently seemingly indifferent to what he was about to do.
It had been a bright autumn day but with the sun long gone, it was now cold. He shivered. From where he sat he could see right down the valley to the reservoir. The moon illuminated its surface. He thought he heard the sound of a car in the distance but saw no headlights. Probably his partner, he thought. He pulled his woollen hat further down over his head and shivered again. It was getting more difficult each time. He would definitely tell him this time. After this time, no more. Definitely. He thought once again about his sister’s funeral and shivered. He glanced quickly in the direction of her grave. She hadn’t deserved to die. He shouldn’t have taken the car. He had been 14 and the car had been far too powerful. His sister was 11 when she died. It was no excuse but his life had never recovered and now he lived off the proceeds of small-time crimes such as this one. He pushed the thoughts from his head. After this he would straighten out. He really would.
He would go to London. He knew somebody who might give him a job – an honest job. He’d threatened often enough and now he would do it. His parents wouldn’t like it but then they didn’t like him much either. They’d never really forgiven him for his sister’s death, and who could blame them, he thought. He forced himself to think about London. He would leave this valley behind and all those who’d tried to drag him down. These thoughts cheered him and for the time that they filled his mind he didn’t notice the discomfort of the cold, damp ground. But they faded as they always did. He shifted his position and the full weight of his depression hit him again. He looked once again at the church. Now there were a dozen or more bats circling the spire. Somehow they seemed more judgmental now.
He wondered for a moment whether he had fallen asleep. He had heard nothing of his partner’s approach. Standing above him the moon showed him clearly against the view down the valley. He could not see his partner’s face because it was covered by the peak of the baseball cap he always wore on these occasions. He could see the tight arc of the peak of the cap that his partner frequently moulded even though he had told him that this was how young people wore their caps not old farts like him.
He was surprised to see that his partner was holding only a shovel. He usually brought a pickaxe as well. Then he saw that his partner had laid the pickaxe at the side of one of the headstones. He was about to comment on this when his partner spoke.
He began to answer but before he could his partner spoke again.
“ Bye, Jeff.”
The edge of the shovel sliced easily through his turned up collar and through the tissue beneath it. It juddered somewhat against the bone. The impact rocked Jeff’s head back against the headstone. His blood pumped from the severed artery and sprayed the mossy surface of the stone and was quickly absorbed. His sightless eyes stared up at the church and he no longer thought about London.
His partner dragged the body 30 or 40 yards to the open grave and threw it in. Then he covered the body with some of the earth that the gravedigger had stacked around the open hole. Nobody would notice that the grave was a foot less deep when he had finished. By the time he had done that his new partner would be here. He was sure he had chosen better this time.
“Do you know why I love this view?”
“Because in a few weeks, assuming estate agents, planning officers, solicitors, building society clerks, vendor and probably the man who sells The Big Issue on Briggate, get their act together, we will own three-quarters of an acre of it?
“Because this is soon to be the place where you will go down on one knee and present me with that huge diamond ring you forgot to give me when we got married?
“Not even close.”
“Help me understand.”
“The answer, of course, is because it reminds me of my Rupert Bear annuals”
“That was my next guess.”
“All quilted and cosy, full of potential adventures all with happy endings,” Jack said.
“It’s difficult to imagine there would be any adventures out here. It all looks very calm and peaceful,” replied Sarah.
“I want to die here,” said Jack.
“Steady, you’re 43 years old, I’d say dying was a long way off.”
They turned reluctantly from the view and looked at the little barn situated on the hillside above them. It would make a perfect studio and perhaps, in time, a place to stay. But all that was in the future. They walked up to the gate in the field at the side of the barn patting its rough stonework for good luck as they passed. Then they climbed the red, metal gate, took one last look at the view, then set off down the hill to the pub where they’d left their car. Living in the country gave them an opportunity to get fit, to break some of their old and unhealthy habits. Jack’s guess was that this would be the first and the last time they walked to the pub, but it was the thought that counted. Only the sounds of the birds accompanied them. The fields were empty. The sheep and the cows were all dead. A red car passed them but they were too besotted with the view to notice.
“Do you think it’s OK for a psychologist to be an advocate of escapism?” Jack asked, in an attempt to help him ignore his discomfort.
“Why would it not be OK?” She emphasised the ‘OK’.
“Just that I spend my professional life extolling the virtues of facing up to and dealing with reality. Seems a bit hypocritical for me to be trying to swim as fast as I can in the opposite direction.”
“You are a little worry-bug, aren’t you?”
“Hmm, I suppose, unfortunately, I am. It’s a childhood thing.”
“Your childhood years weren’t kind to you, were they?”
“They were a bit of a struggle, I suppose. Rupert was a big comfort though”
“Not easy when your father dies when you’re five,” she replied, ignoring his attempt at humour.
“You can’t blame it all on that.”
“My own cowardice might be a better target.”
“That old theme again.”
“It may be old, but it’s enduring. I’ve never really dealt with it as an issue, which is a pretty poor admission for a psychologist. So I try and escape all the grimy reality of my job and the urban environment by moving ‘out here’.
“Only partially ‘out here’. We’re not planning to leave the city completely, simply have a kind of balance in our lives.”
“Hmm, I suppose.”
“What do you think he’ll be like?” Sarah asked, in an effort to change the subject. She had been here before with Jack and, mostly, any conversation served to compound, rather than relieve, Jack’s unhappiness.
“Justin Blayney, of course.”
“What are architects generally like?”
“A bit arty but not completely weird.”
“Hmm, you wouldn’t want completely weird in an architect, I wouldn’t think.”
They walked on in silence for another hundred yards. The descent was putting painful pressure on Jack’s battered knees and his toes pressed against the ends of his new boots, bought specially for this trip. He winced a little hoping Sarah might notice without him appearing to be actually requiring sympathy. She did not. He was pleased when Sarah broke the silence even though it was not to give sympathy.
“How will we recognise him?”
“I would imagine he’ll be the only person in there wearing a bowtie,” Jack replied.
Five minutes later they reached the bend in the road. From here they could look up the valley. The small church at Middlesmoor broke the line of the horizon. Strange place for a church he thought. Then they turned and looked down the valley again. From above, the village of Lofthouse resembled a collection of unpainted cardboard boxes. There was none of the variety of the Mediterranean village with its rich, colour range of roof tiles, but, in the late autumn sunshine, to them, it looked beautiful.
Beyond the village Nidderdale stretched into the distance. The same red car drove slowly towards Gouthwaite reservoir. It barely registered.
“I love this view,” said Jack.
“Yes, you said so. Let’s just keep a little sense of proportion, we don’t own the barn yet,” Sarah cautioned.
“What can go wrong?” said Jack and heard his own voice carried on the breeze down the dale. He felt a slight regret at having gone public but he couldn’t say why.
Ten minutes later they had walked into the village. They passed the one shop – a village store / post office and everything else this small community might need in the short term, then the war memorial with the names of the men from the village who had died in each of the great wars. In front of them was the pub and the hotel where they were staying. It was called The Rose and Crown and was exactly 1.2 miles from the other pub in Middlesmoor also, for some reason, called The Rose and Crown. Jack knew because he’d measured the distance. You never knew when such information would be useful. They walked through the open door and turned left through another door that led to the bar. The bar had, thus far, been spared a modernisation programme by the brewery. There was a just a hint of horse brass but it wasn’t overpowering. The bar stretched half way down the right hand side of the rectangular room. At the far end of the room burned a huge, coal fire. To the right of the fireplace was an open door which, they could see from were they stood, led to another room. They didn’t explore this room. The room with the bar was full of a, seemingly random, assortment of tables, chairs, benches and stools. Jack felt at home immediately. It might not take the place of his local in his affections but it could run it a close second. After this brief inspection they looked around at the people in the bar.
Justin Blayney sat at one of the tables. They recognised him from his bowtie. It was 2.30 on a Wednesday and the bar was almost empty. In front of Blayney was a cholesterol-packed all-day breakfast and an almost empty pint of beer. It had to be said that he looked almost exactly like they thought an architect might look, not that they had got round to defining exactly what this look was. He was, Jack guessed, about 58. A good solid age for an architect, Jack thought. His bow tie and a faint smell of something herbal they noticed later spoke to his artistic side and his ruddy face suggested a man who spent a fair amount of time away from his drawing board and on the sites of the barn conversions in which he specialised. Beside him lay his beret, scarf and overcoat – all black. Not tall but well built, he looked like a man who had, at one time, been fit and athletic. Closer examination revealed an over-hanging stomach and a face that had, perhaps, spent too much time in pubs like this one talking about plans rather than actually supervising them. A friend of a colleague had recommended him to them as somebody who knew all the intricacies of the area’s planning laws and did sympathetic barn conversions.
He got up from the table as they came in and approached Jack with out-stretched hand. Before Jack could speak he said, “A pleasure to meet you.”
“How did you know who I was?” Jack asked.
“It’s not long before you get known around these parts. Especially when you’re buying property and especially the Hedderly Barn.”
“I didn’t realise I was famous,” Jack replied.
“Hmm, you may find that fame has a price and that not everybody around here will welcome you with open arms.”
“Should I enquire, why?”
“I think you may find that other people had plans for that barn and didn’t expect to be outbid for it. Then again the owner, Josh Barker, and his lovely wife can be something of a puzzle at the best of times”
Jack’s opportunity to follow up this enigmatic remark was cut short. Sarah walked across the room, her face a study in deep concentration. It would be a sin to spill any of their beer after Jack had so thoughtfully let her go to the bar.
“I’m sorry,” she said, looking at Justin Blayney, “I should have asked if you wanted a drink.”
“Don’t worry,” said Blayney, “I’ll get myself another one in a moment.”
“I take it the police aren’t hot on breathalysing folk around these parts?” Jack asked looking at the three empty pint glasses on the table in front of Blayney.
Blayney looked across the room.
“You can’t live the whole of your life worrying about what is or isn’t within the confines of the law,” Blayney replied. He had a degree of arrogance or perhaps it was merely certainty that Jack found strangely reassuring.
“That barmaid’s an impressive specimen,” Sarah countered, in an effort to change, what felt like, slightly awkward subject. She looked across at the bar. “She’s got arms like… ahmm.”
“Tree trunks?” Jack offered, helpfully.
“She used to be a champion swimmer, represented Yorkshire. She’s a bit past her prime now, but she still keeps it up. Goes swimming at the leisure centre in Harrogate 3 or 4 times a week. She’s one of the driving forces behind getting a lottery grant to build one at the Recreation Centre. You probably passed it on your way here” said Blayney.
“So that’s her in the pictures behind the bar, then?” asked Jack.
“She has put on a bit of weight since then,” Jack ventured.
“That’d be a great way to get on with our new neighbours. Kick off with – is that you in those photos, by heck you’ve put on some weight since they were taken, love,” said Sarah.
“Yes. That would be a mistake, she’s a passionate and powerful woman,” Blayney smiled as he spoke.
Thank God she’s gone to seed, Sarah thought. The last thing a wife needs in a closed community like this is a powerful and passionate woman on the loose. She realised that Jack was speaking about the barn. Before she could focus on what he was saying, Blayney’s mobile phone rang. Jack noted that the ring tone was disappointingly normal. Blayney excused himself while he answered it. Judging by his responses it was clear that he was talking to an irate client. Jack was impressed with the manner in which Blayney soothed the person on the other end of the phone. By the end of the five minute conversation Blayney appeared to have his client perfectly happy with whatever design feature Blayney was proposing and the client had been resisting. He had used a combination of conviction and reassurance to bring this about. For some reason he couldn’t put his finger on, Jack very much wanted to hear similar words of reassurance.
“So just how sure are you we’ll get permission to convert it?”
“Pretty good chance, I’d say, providing we don’t mess around with the exterior much, if at all. I’ve begun to make a few rough sketches and plans. ” He spread the drawings on the table next to them. Jack noticed he had a habit of stabbing his finger at the drawings as if to illustrate the point he was making. The skills of the psychologist, never at rest, thought Jack.
“There’s not much light in there at the moment,” said Jack.
“We want to, I want to use it as a studio. So the light will be important,” Sarah said, a little unnecessarily, Jack thought. Blarney spoke quickly and confidently.
“They’ll almost certainly let us put a couple of roof lights in providing they’re of the right kind.” He jabbed at the sketch to show them where the roof lights would go.
“The expensive kind, does that mean?”
“But of course, this is the Harrogate planning department, their motto : ‘It shall not pass.’
“You can understand their point of view,” said Sarah. “We’d bloody soon lose interest in buying round here if they passed every request to build apartment blocks or schemes to turn country barns into seven bedroom ranch houses.”
She affected a posh accent. “Darling, we’ve bought this super, little barn. We’re going to turn it into a 7 bedroom ranch style complete with swimming pool, sauna and theme park.”
Jack, his look of ‘shut up you’re embarrassing me’ having had little effect on Sarah’s diatribe, turned to Blayney “Sorry about this, she has strong feelings about protecting the countryside.”
“Yes, I picked that up,” Blayney smiled broadly. “That would make her very popular in one camp around here but not quite so admired in another. Can be tricky. Best to keep a bit of a low profile, in the short term, at least.”
“How low should we go?” asked Jack.
“Things have been difficult around here over the last 10 months or so. Foot and Mouth has affected not just the farmers but businesses like the pub here. Charlie and Joan are only just beginning to make money. Normally placid people can react strangely when strangers step out of line.”
With this Blayney excused himself to go to the bar. Something about his interaction with Charlie Mortimore struck Jack as odd but once again he couldn’t think why. He realised how out of place they were in this place. How restricted his usually good observational skills were. Blayney walked back carrying his pint. His face looked slightly redder than it had. Jack decided to let Blayney’s rather ominous warning lie.
“So what about this barn then?” he said cheerfully after Blayney had sat down with his pint.
The rest of the discussion was primarily around details of how they’d get services put in, what kind of windows and doors would look right and, more importantly, get passed by the planners, what plans they had for the interior, how much and what kind of paving would be accepted outside. By way of making polite conversation, they also spent some time talking about their childhood and education and how they had ended up as architect, psychologist and special needs teacher. They both noticed that Blayney continued to drink throughout their discussion with no apparent effect other than a gradual but significant reddening of the face. They’d been talking for about an hour and a half and during that time it had grown dark outside. At just after 4 o’ clock their meeting came to an end and Justin Blayney got up and left to drive back to his office in Skipton.
“Well, what did you think of him?” asked Jack, after Blayney had left and they were climbing the stairs to their bedroom in the hotel.
“He’s very smooth. A bit too sure of himself,” Sarah replied.
“He’s an architect, he’s supposed to be sure of himself.” Jack tugged at an imaginary bow tie attempted to affect Blayney’s honed down Yorkshire accent, “Yes we’re pretty sure it will stand up, you never can be 100% certain. A particularly high wind and it’s true the whole lot could come down, but that’s unlikely.”
They reached the door of their room. Sarah stopped. Jack thought she was about to react to his sarcasm. Instead she said, “He certainly was persuasive. I came away with the feeling that we were going to get what he wanted rather than what we wanted.”
“I wouldn’t say that. I liked the guy. Tomorrow, hopefully, we meet Josh Barker, finalise a few details of the sale, like what exactly is it that has right of access through our gate? Jack walked to the four-poster bed and sat down. He took off his shoes and put on his worn-out moccasins that he took with him wherever he went.
“Sorry, the gate, then Bob’s your uncle,” said Jack. “What can go wrong?”
The words hung in the air.
The next morning the weather was at odds with that small sense of anxiety Jack felt left over from the night before. Out of their hotel window the sun gave a sheen to the still green hillside. Its brilliance flattened out any hint of contours or undulations. The barn, high on the hillside above them, sat solid in this sunshine. A single, nearly leafless, tree stood on the horizon a further fifty yards or so up the hill. They had decided to explore the surrounding area a bit more before meeting Josh Barker in the bar at lunchtime. Despite the fact they had lived in Leeds for the last 18 years, neither of them was particularly familiar with this part of North Yorkshire. It would be fun to reconnoitre the new neighbourhood.
After the obligatory full, English breakfast, they walked to their car. They were equipped with their new Explorer Ordnance Survey map of Nidderdale no.298. The short walk did little to re-distribute either food or guilt. Despite the bright sunshine it was cold. Jack thought, not for the first time this autumn and now into early winter, how un-English the season had been; bright and cold rather than muggy and wet with some leaves still golden on the trees even now towards the end of November. Jack collapsed into the car like a man who just completed a five mile run rather than a two hundred yard stroll. The Volvo dutifully warmed up their seats, switched on its lights and started first time. Bless those Swedes, he thought.
They drove slowly through the village and then climbed the hill that, having studied their map last night, they now knew as Trapping Hill. They passed the barn. For some reason neither Jack nor Sarah looked at it. A hundred yards or so further up the hill they drove past the entrance to the drive of the house of the man they would be meeting in a couple of hours. The map identified it as High Lofthouse farm. A few minutes later they could see the dark outline of Moor Edge on their left. They drove along Lofthouse Level. With the boggy Jordan Moss and further away Lofthouse Moor on their left, they crested the hill. There, stretched in all its glory, lay Masham Moor. There were no signs of any settlement. In the course of half a mile and a climb of a few hundred vertical yards the landscape had changed completely. The green fields replaced with the grey, browns of the heather. A few weeks ago this would have been a mass of purple but with the coming of winter all colour had drained from the landscape. The sky, however, had a depth of blue they had rarely seen in England. It was almost completely cloudless. A solitary snipe, probably disturbed by some animal, carved its characteristic zig zag pattern low across the moor.
“Wow,” said Sarah.
“I love your powers of articulation. I think that’s what first attracted me to you. But I agree, ‘wow’”
“Pull over, I need to drink this in,” said Sarah. They crossed the cattle grid and pulled the Volvo onto a small area of gravel at the side of the road and climbed out of the car. They stood in respectful silence. Eventually, Jack broke their silence.
“I need a drink. Did you pack the hip flask?”
“Jack, it’s ten minutes past ten, in the morning, in case you’d failed to notice.”
Jack carefully inspected his watch. “You know, you’re right. But it’s cold,” he said, affecting that childlike voice he used when he wanted something.
“Just look at the view.” She looked upwards. “Lord help him to take his strength from your great works rather than those of the devil.”
“You know,” said Jack, one eye still on the view, “there is the strain of the killjoy in you, I..”
“Go on,” said Sarah, “I love it when you start a sentence with ‘I’ which, in fact, is the vast majority of your sentences.”
The sun disappeared behind a cloud Jack hadn’t noticed until now. He shivered.
“You do need a drink,” said Sarah, noticing the shiver. Jack did not reply. Puzzled, Sarah looked up at him. Jack was staring hard across the moor. His attention apparently completely caught by something other than the view.
“It’s not like you to miss an open invitation,” she said.
“That man is staring at us,” Jack said. Something in the tone of his voice stopped Sarah in her bantering.
“What man? There’s nobody up here.”
“There is now and he appears to be glaring at us.”
“Over there by the rocks.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, that is a rock,” she scoffed. But as she spoke she realised her mistake. Before she could correct herself, Jack spoke again, this time with more anxiety.
“He’s quite easy to pick out, he’s the only person up here except us. A further clue is he’s the one wearing a hood. You know like in the slasher movies.”
“You’re right. Jesus, he does look a little spooky.”
Jack made an effort to retain his sense of humour.
“A little! Reminds me of the sea creatures from that John Carpenter film.”
“He’s coming over.”
“They did that in ‘The Fog’.
“Have we got anything to defend ourselves with?”
“Only the cigarette lighter, but don’t take it out too soon, it loses its deterrent power when it’s cold.”
The man in the hood was a few yards away when he spoke.
“Good morning,” said the man. His voice was surprisingly normal.
“Morning,” they chorused a little too eagerly. Not that the man seemed to notice. “You scared us a little. I think it’s the hood. What is it, early English monk habit?” Jack asked more cheerily than he actually felt. Something about this man, he thought.
The man spoke again. “I only wear natural fabrics. I don’t go in for this synthetic stuff. Gore Tex is evil. A contributory cause of global warming” he said as naturally as if commenting on the weather. He pushed back the hood to reveal a thin, bearded face with dark, intense eyes. For a moment Jack thought they were slightly crossed but decided not to consider this too deeply. The man seemed to positively brood.
In an effort to lighten the moment, Jack said, “Sounds like another John Carpenter movie.”
“I don’t understand,” said the man, not at all lightened.
“Gore Tex is Evil, the horror movie.” The man stared at Jack.
The man still looked blank. He stared at them or, Jack thought, through them. The silence seemed to last a long time.
“Aha, ha,” said Jack, in his best Tommy Cooper voice, then, “Never mind.”
“Perhaps I should introduce myself since I know who you are. I’m Aaron Crisp, I own Dales Wines in Glasshouses. I often walk up here before I open up.”
“Good Lord,” said Jack, “you’re going to confess? We hardly know you.” He laughed at his own joke. Aaron Crisp ignored Jack and continued.
“You are Jack and Sarah Jacques you live in Leeds, you are a child psychologist and Sarah an aspiring artist and you are hoping to buy the Hedderly Barn to use as a studio and, if you are very lucky, or, duplicitous, a place to stay every now and again.
Jack said, “You left out shoe size and blood type,” again more cheerily than he felt.
“That’s good, you’ll need a strong sense of humour,” said Crisp. “You,” he paused and then seemed to decide against whatever it was he was about to say.
“Don’t get the wrong impression,” said Jack slightly worried that his flippancy might count against them in their efforts to buy the barn. “We intend to respect the integrity of the barn. We do not intend to flout any planning laws that might apply. We want to be good neighbours.”
“Hmm, maybe so. Others have said the same but they,” he paused, “Never mind, I’ll no doubt see you again.” With that he turned round and walked off. They watched him go, within a few seconds he seemed to have melted into the landscape.
“Bloody hell,” said Jack, a mixture of relief and embarrassment prompting the eloquent thought. “What the ‘ck was all that about? You’ll need a sense of humour, whooo, whooo. Yes, Count ve are from Lids. We come for the human sacrifice.”
“We are the human sacrifice, I’d say,” said Sarah. “He’d probably be in the ‘ve are not velcoming you here’ camp.
“He’d be wrong,” said Jack. “He has no idea how good we’d be for his business given the amount we drink.”
They realised they were still cold even though the solitary cloud had moved on and the sun beamed upon them as it had before. That seemed a long time ago. They climbed in the car and shut the door. The Volvo did all its usual tricks in an effort to cheer them up. Sarah gave Jack the hip flask, they both took a swig.
“Well they can huff and puff but they won’t blow our house down, ” said Jack, his courage restored.
With the windows wound up tight the words were retained safely in the car. For some strange reason, Jack felt glad about that.
The rest of their journey was, by comparison, uneventful. They went back to oohing and aahing as they drove to over the moors down into Masham. They parked the car next to the vandalised notice board just off the market square. Was nowhere sacred? Jack wondered. Being Wednesday and, therefore, market day, 20 or so stalls were arranged in seemingly random fashion around the square.
Jack loved the eclectic nature of the stuff on the stalls. There was the usual collection of fruit and veg stalls. In one corner a variety of shrubs were being sold from a very old VW van with the words ‘Happy Plant Nursery’ with the smaller words beneath, ‘all organically grown’. The lettering was hand-painted. Not exactly Homebase, he mused. Another stall sold home-made cakes and scones. Jack encouraged Sarah to buy an iced sponge cake, a treacle tart and several buns. Its neighbour sold that particular type of clothes exclusively found in markets. Alongside the pleasure of the cakes it was hugely gratifying to be able to sneer at market clothes stalls.
“Wouldn’t be seen dead in any of these,” he sneered.
“Will you stop with this talk of being dead,” said Sarah, probably, though she wouldn’t have admitted it, still unsettled from their earlier encounter with Aaron Crisp.
“I’m not,” he protested, “I’m simply stating that I wouldn’t wear those clothes, if I were.”
“That will indeed be a comfort to your grieving widow, to know that your last wish vis a vis burial clothes had been carried out to the full.”
“There you go again.”
“Shut up and look at the lovely things.”
Jack decided to change the subject. He looked around him. The faces in the crowd reflected the rich variety of life in a market town. The psychologist in him enjoyed the people as much as the stalls. His gaze flickered from face to face without focus. All life is here, he thought. The crowd had thickened even in the short time they had been in the square. He must have subconsciously registered the face on the far edge of the crowd before he recognised the source of his anxiety. But then the face was gone, disappearing down one of the small alleys that led off the square. For a moment he thought he had seen the face of Aaron Crisp. Was he following them? Don’t be so foolish, Jack told himself. If he told Sarah she would simply tell him not to be so paranoid and he hated it when she used his own professional language to describe the way he felt. Still a little spooked by the encounter with Crisp, he thought, irritated with himself. He dismissed the thought and moved on.
The next stall sold a bewildering variety of electrical goods – toasters, kettles, irons, heaters, sandwich makers, radios, hi fi systems and even one TV set. Did people really buy this kind of stuff from a market stall? Never knowingly beaten on price by any other market stall. Jack smiled to himself. Finally, there was the bookstall. Jack’s smile turned to a grin. Jack’s hobby was second-hand books, preferably sporting books but he’d buy anything that took his fancy. He bought a slightly tatty, second-hand paperback book by the detective writer Sue Grafton and another, smarter one, by James Lee Burke. He was fond of American detective fiction. This was not the kind of stall to find sporting memorabilia but it was exactly the place for second-hand detective novels. Nothing made him happier than a second-hand book bargain. When he got home he would write the date and place of purchase as he did with all the books he bought this way. In the future he would look inside the book and instantly recall the circumstances of its purchase.
It was 11.30 when they returned to their car and headed back to Lofthouse for their meeting with Josh Barker. If their spirits had needed lifting the return journey would have had this effect. Even though the sky had lost some of its colour and a few clouds complicated their view, the experience was still a joyful one. They chatted happily for the half hour journey. Only when they passed the spot where they had met Aaron Crisp did they fall silent. Sarah had expected some kind of jokey reference to The Count but none came. For a moment Jack’s thoughts went back to the market square but again he said nothing. A few minutes later they were heading down the hill, past the barn and into the welcoming arms of the village. Lofthouse seemed such a warm and friendly place.
The bar was about half full when they entered. Charlie Mortimore was taking orders for food. He was alone and, at this point, struggling to keep up. Some of the people were evidently walkers stopping off for the proper steak and kidney pie, one with pastry crust on the top and bottom. How do these people get away from their jobs? Jack wondered, conveniently forgetting he was doing the same. He noticed, with some irritation, that the walkers were blocking the fire from the rest of the room. Four or five people there were probably locals judging by the way they were dressed. That is with a distinct absence of Gore Tex or the equivalent. Gore Tex is evil, he thought. Jack remembered the conversation with Crisp and gave an involuntary snigger. The locals sat away from the fire or stood at the bar. Unlike the walkers, who chattered inanely, they said very little to each other. Jack walked to the bar.
“I’m looking for Josh Barker,” Jack said to the landlord as the walkers paused to consider the menu.
“Do you want anything to drink,” Charlie Mortimore asked. Given that they were guests at the hotel, Jack thought he didn’t quite exude the degree of required friendliness appropriate to the situation.
“Oh, yeah, definitely,” said Jack. “I’ll have a pint of lager and a half of Guinness for Sarah here.”
“Right then. That’s Josh over there talking to my wife,” said the landlord. Nodding his head but without raising his eyes from the pint he was pouring, as if he knew exactly were they both were. The two people in question stood at the end of the bar. Mrs Mortimore conspicuously stood in front of the bar rather than behind it.
Josh Barker was smaller than he had imagined. He wore a pair of green overalls that told tales, Jack liked to imagine, of the harshness of life in the dales. He had a thatch of dark hair and dark, blue eyes that, at the point, were fixed on Joan Mortimore, the landlord’s wife and the swimming champion of yesterday’s conversation. They were deep in conversation. Jack and Sarah finished their brief observation of Josh Barker and picked up their drinks.
“We’ll order food in a moment,” said Jack to Charlie Mortimore. He did not reply and they left him to attend to his other customers.
As they walked to the other end of the bar, looking at Josh Barker, Sarah whispered, “He doesn’t seem to think she’s past it,”
“Err, no, I’d say he was finding plenty to admire,” said Jack in what he hoped was a low voice. The way Josh Barker looked at them as they approached, he thought perhaps it hadn’t been quite low enough.
“Here come your city folk,” they heard Joan say, as she moved away from the bar to collect the empty glasses left by one of the groups of walkers. Not a woman to get on the wrong side of. Jack remembered Blayney’s words. As they agreed later, they got the feeling they already had done but they weren’t sure quite why or how. Powerful and passionate, again Jack recalled Blayney’s words.
“Now then,” said Josh Barker, “You’ll be Mr and Mrs Jacques.”
“And you’ll be Mr Barker?”
“That’s right. You want to buy my barn,” said Barker, wasting no more time on the pleasantries. “You’re probably wondering why I wanted to meet you?”
“Shall we sit down?” Jack suggested. They found an empty table and sat down, Jack and Saran on a bench and Josh Barker on a stool.
“No, I’m sure it’s the way things are done out here,” Jack continued. It took Jack all his time not to say this last sentence with an ‘ooh aah, farmer John’ accent.
“Yes, it is Mr Jacques. I wanted to get an idea of who I was selling Hedderly’s Barn to on account of the fact there are some folk who don’t think I should sell it at all and certainly not to outsiders such as, with respect, yourselves.” Josh Barker wheezed and sighed as he said all this. He was, they noted, a man who made a lot of noise, even when silent. He sniffed, cleared his throat with a rasp, exhaled and inhaled with commitment, smacked his lips, tapped his fingers. He was a walking sound effects machine.
“Why are you selling it to us?” Sarah asked a touch too boldly for Jack’s liking.
“You’ll be like my wife, one of those direct ladies with firm ideas of their own,” Barker said inclining slightly towards Sarah.
“That’s me, firm and direct,” said Sarah.
“And what about him? Barker asked nodding his head in Jack’s direction, is he firm and direct?
The question took them both by surprise.
Rather than let it appear that he was a man incapable of answering for himself, Jack answered the question.
“Probably a bit like yourself, Mr Barker I can be pretty steely when I need to be.” Good response he thought but Mr Barker was not finished surprising them yet.
“Ha!” The power of his laugh caused the group of walkers to turn around. None of the locals seemed to take much notice although, as they realised later when they discussed this strange meeting, both of them had the distinct impression that the locals were listening to every word that was being said.
“Ha,” he exploded again, “You’d be wide of the mark there. Too damn suggestive, that’s me.”
“You mean suggestible?” Jack said tentatively.
Barker appeared to ignore Jack’s attempt at correction and continued almost to himself.
“I’ve spent too long in my life being influenced by others, not doing what I need to do, but that’s going to change from now on. I won’t listen to the voices of others.”
Jack, embarrassed, looked around the bar. The room seemed caught in an unnatural stillness. It was, they agreed later, as if they were in a film and somebody had yelled ‘cut’. Joan Mortimore began cleaning the top of the bar and somewhere the director shouted ‘action’. The room returned to normal.
“Can I get you another drink, Mr Barker?” asked Jack.
This, somewhat predictable, tactic usually had a positive effect. This time was no exception. Josh Barker calmed down and, in a quieter voice, they began to discuss details of the sale. The barn was currently full of hay and they agreed that it would be Barker’s responsibility to clear that out. Jack agreed that whoever owned the land below the barn that Barker was also planning to sell, could have right of access through the gate next to the barn. They also agreed that the owner of surrounding land would be able to run any necessary irrigation pipes over, what they hoped would soon be, their land providing these pipes were buried at least 18 inches below ground. They were so desperate to own this barn with its incredible views down the dale that they would probably have agreed to a slurry tank on the roof and a grain silo by the front door.
They finished their meeting with an attempt at a few pleasantries and an effort to show Mr Barker how much they liked the barn.
“I love the view of the reservoir you get from up there,” said Jack.
“Too cold to swim in but good to look at”, said Sarah with a thought for Joan Mortimore and her swimming. “Do you like the water?” she asked with a touch of mischief.
“No, I bloody hate it. I can’t swim, unlike some people,” he said, with the briefest of glances at Mrs Mortimore. “I keep well away from water.”
“Yes,” said Jack thinking of the amount of bitter Josh Barker had consumed over the last hour or so. Then, to himself, I bet you do.
Again in an attempt to change the subject, Sarah said, “It’s so peaceful. We just love the fact that it’s so quiet, nothing happens here. Living in Leeds is fine but you know the noise, the dirt, the crime.”
“You don’t think we get crime up here, I suppose,” said Barker surprising them again.
“The odd bit of sheep stealing perhaps,” said Jack, attempting once again to be light-hearted. Boy, this man was hard to keep amused. “Is that about it?”
“And a few more things besides,” Barker replied mysteriously.
“Like what? Sarah said, intrigued.
“Well it wouldn’t do to say, just don’t arrange to have yourself buried in the churchyard up at Middlesmoor,” he laughed that harsh, explosive laugh again.
“Ooh, tell us more,” said Sarah.
As she spoke Jack’s attention was caught by Charlie Mortimore who was polishing a glass, holding it up the light as he did so. It may have been a coincidence but with the glass held in that position his gaze fell directly onto Josh Barker. Barker couldn’t have known this with his back turned to the bar but perhaps he felt the attention. Whatever the reason, Josh Barker would not say any more. He got up and left with an absence of the social graces they had come to expect of him on such short acquaintance.
When Barker had left they looked at each other with a mixture of concern and pleasure. They weren’t sure whether they had helped their cause but felt probably, on balance, they had.
“Strange man,” said Sarah.
“Hmm, he seemed a little tense, I thought,” said Jack.
“Well, we’re buying a barn from him, not employing him as our therapist,” said Sarah, in a manner that seemed to bring this particular conversation to an end.
They looked around the bar, by now all the walkers had left and only a few of the locals remained. Most of those who had looked like farmers had, no doubt, gone back to the toil of working the land, Jack thought. What exactly did farmers do? What does working the land mean? Strange expression, you didn’t work the office or work the sea or work the restaurant. If he was going to be a good neighbour he better find out what folk did out here.
“We’d better find out what these people do, if we’re going to be good neighbours,” Jack said voicing his thoughts.
“Well some of them don’t seem to be doing much at all,” Sarah replied. “Look at that chap standing at the bar. He came in shortly after we did and, I have to say, he seemed bloody interested in what we were talking about.” A tall, thin man with receding, blond hair leaned against the bar. He avoided their look and stared ahead.
“It would be hard not to be given Mr Barker and his suggestiveness.”
They giggled. Jack could restrain himself any longer, “Ooh, aah, ooh, aah I be suggestive, I be.” They giggled again before becoming aware that the man at the bar was looking openly in their direction. Jack looked across at the man for the first time. He had the feeling he had seen him before.
“Oh shit,” said Sarah “He’s coming across. Now we’ve done it, we’re never going to be accepted into the fraternity now. You and your ooh aahing”
For a split second Jack realised where he had seen the man before. In the market place at Masham. The thought was cut short.
“Good afternoon,” said the man.
He was dressed in an unremarkable fashion – blue Barbour waterproof, tweed sweater over a denim shirt, light brown cords and those half-walking boot, half trainer so beloved of town and country folk alike. His voice, however, was a surprise. It was the voice of a public schoolboy.
“I hear you’re trying to buy the old Hedderly barn,” said the man. Then, seeing the bemused look on their faces, said, “I’m sorry, I’m forgetting my manners, I’m David Bickerdyke. I own Nidderdale Balloon Adventures, or what’s left of it.” He laughed as he said the last part.
“Well, hello, we’re..” began Jack.
“Yes, I know who you are, you’re Jack and Sarah Jacques,” said Bickerdyke.
“Yes, we come from Leeds, he’s a psychologist and I’m an aspiring artist,” Sarah said.
“I imagine it has already been made clear to you that, in this dale, everybody knows everybody and, more importantly, they make it their business to know your business,” Bickerdyke laughed again. “The reason I came over was to offer you chaps a view of your place, sorry your potential place, from the air.”
“In your balloon, you mean?” asked Sarah.
“I thought that might be best,” Bickerdyke smiled again. It wasn’t an unfriendly smile but it had just a hint of the supercilious.
“That’s a relief, we thought you were going to tell us our kind weren’t welcome around here,” said Jack.
“Me? Good Lord, no. I’m an outsider myself. Trained to be a chemist, dropped out and ended up here. I know what that feels like,” he said with a hint, they thought, of bitterness. Certainly he didn’t laugh this time. “Just thought you might find it amusing. Business is a bit slow at the mo’. Apart from Josh’s 50th birthday trip, I’ve nothing much else on. Depends on the weather, of course. I’d have to charge you a bit of a nominal fee,” he laughed again, “for the gas, but that will only be about a tenner each. Think about it, let me know. Here’s my card.”
He had, Jack noticed, quite a little stack of business cards and he got the impression that he was pleased of the opportunity to give one away.
“Thanks very much, we’ll certainly think about it,” said Jack.
“Excellent,” said Bickerdyke, “I expect I’ll see you around. Hope you get the place.”
They exchanged a few civilised goodbyes, Bickerdyke finished his drink and left the bar, without, Jack noticed, saying goodbye to Charlie Mortimore.
“You don’t like heights,” Sarah accused, after he had gone.
“Fundamentally that’s true, but it might be a neat thing to do.”
“Neat? What language is that? Female Junior High?”
“I simply meant that we’d get a different perspective on our, sorry, the, little part of old Yorkshire from above.”
“With you barfing and clinging to the bottom of the balloon, you mean?”
“I didn’t say yes. I’ll give it some careful thought.”
Jack took a drink and thought about Bickerdyke and what might have prompted his apparently generous offer. Jack realised that Bickerdyke must have left Masham before they did and headed straight for the pub. Jack admired that kind of single-mindedness. He wondered why Bickerdyke hadn’t mentioned that he’d seen them there given that he clearly knew who they were. Perhaps he hadn’t seen them but that was a little unlikely given that the market wasn’t crowded. Probably he just found it easier to speak to them within a setting that he clearly felt more at home in. But then that seemed to apply to most of the locals. They all seemed very at home in The Rose and Crown.
“He was in the market place,” said Jack. “I wonder why he didn’t introduce himself then?”
“Probably just embarrassed.”
Before they could go any further with their analysis Charlie Mortimore came across to them. He seemed a good deal more relaxed now.
“I see you’ve met Dave,” he said.
“Yes, he offered us a trip in his balloon,” said Sarah.
“To have a look at the Hedderly Barn,” said Jack, taking care not to refer to it as their barn. “He said Josh Barker was going up in the balloon.”
“Yes, his wife arranged it. He doesn’t seem too thrilled about it. Then again he doesn’t seem too thrilled about anything right now. Perhaps turning 50 has made him even more depressed than he usually is.”
“Well,” said Sarah, “I’d love to see the barn from the sky. I would think it would be very..”
“Uplifting?” Jack offered.
“You think you’ll get it, then?” asked Mortimore, ignoring Jack’s attempt at humour.
“Well Mr Barker seems prepared to accept our offer,” said Sarah. Jack slightly regretted her openness. If he had responded he might have ooh aahed about the prospects of their success. Well maybe this and perhaps that. But they had played their hand and there was no going back.
“Don’t take too much for granted with Josh Barker,” said Mortimore, “He has a habit of responding to the last conversation he’s had. Drives his missus mad. Maybe this, maybe that.”
Perhaps the maybes wouldn’t have been the best tactic, thought Jack.
“No wonder she’s always threatening to leave him,” continued Mortimore.
They looked at each other. This last piece of information, and they weren’t above gossip of any kind, seemed somehow unnecessary. If Charlie Mortimore was trying to warn them about the perils of buying a dozen eggs from Josh Barker, he was doing a reasonable job.
“You mean he’s unreliable?” asked Sarah, a note of concern in her voice.
“Perhaps I’ve said too much. Just let’s say if I were you I wouldn’t count my chickens. Mind you, she’s an odd woman,” he continued quite unprompted. “I don’t really understand how they came to be married. I think the expression is ‘she married beneath her’,” said Charlie Mortimore. “Anyway, I dare say you’ll meet her soon enough if your plans go ahead.” He looked at them with an intensity well beyond rudeness.
“Right,” said Jack, for once completely lost for words in the beam of this unfriendly glare.
“What did Mr Barker mean when he said don’t have yourself buried in the churchyard at Middlesmoor? Sarah asked, attempting to change the subject.
“They’ve had some trouble, up there,” replied Mortimore, thankfully deflecting his stare.
“What kind of trouble?” Sarah continued.
“A few gravestones have gone missing, that’s all,” Mortimore replied
“Is that one of your quaint country customs?” Jack asked, attempting again to be humourous. Mortimore gave him a look which suggested his attempt had been wide of the mark.
“It’s no laughing matter, Mr Jacques. Some of us have family buried up there. We have an eleven year old daughter buried there.”
“Oh, God. I’m so sorry.” Jack felt like a complete idiot. His humour often misfired but never more tragically than this.
“That’s terrible,” Sarah said. “How did she die?”
“Killed in a car crash.” Mortimore stared unseeing into space. For a while he didn’t speak and neither of them felt they could speak again. Finally, he spoke again. In a voice so low that they had to strain to hear him, he said. “Killed by an irresponsible idiot.” He paused. “Aye, and he took the wrong one, left us with an irresponsible idiot. Otherwise known as our son. Not any longer, he’s buggered off to London to find fame and fortune, what a bloody irony life is.”
With this Mortimore stopped. He moved an imaginary piece of dust around the top of the counter. Neither Jack nor Sarah could find any words of comfort. Eventually Sarah broke the silence.
“We’re so sorry for your loss,” Sarah said with genuine feeling in her voice. They stood for a few moments longer, then Jack, who had been very quiet, spoke.
“Well, we’re off back to Leeds this afternoon. We’ll be back next weekend,” said Jack, much too cheerfully. “Ready to meet more fascinating locals.”
Sarah glared at him. Jack dropped his eyes to the floor.
“You have got our booking,” said Sarah.
“I’ve got it alright,” said Mortimore. With that he walked away.
They drove down the valley in silence. The weather was cloudy and there was a threat of rain in the air. As they pulled up the hill and out of the valley the mist thickened and even though it was only half past two it seemed almost dark. As they crossed Heyshaw Moor the sky lightened a little and a very pale sun skittered through the broken cloud. The massive ‘golf balls’ of Menwith Hill, the American radar station, stood out in the distance. Jack had heard that 1800 people worked on the base and it was Harrogate’s largest employer. No wonder, he thought, any attempts by the ‘Greens’ to have the station closed, was greeted with such hostility by the locals. They’d rather have a job even if it meant the possibility of nuclear incineration, radiation poisoning or, even worse, being run over by one of the many huge, people carriers that the Americans had shipped over – right hand drive and all. For some reason these thoughts cheered Jack.
He turned to Sarah. She was staring out of the window. She looked equally trapped in her own world. In an effort to lighten their mood, Jack spoke.
“Interesting people. A little strange, but interesting.”
“More than a little strange. Positively weird in some cases.”
“Well, Josh Barker seemed like he spent a little too long with the sheep. I’ll grant you that,” Jack replied.
“And the Mortimores. Not exactly convivial hosts.”
“I suppose the foot and mouth has affected them more than financially,” Jack offered.
“And what about Aaron ‘Gore Tex is evil’ Crisp, not to mention Dave Bickerdyke. What’s he doing in the dale? Not a sane one amongst the lot of them.” Sarah fell silent again. Jack felt helpless to penetrate her silence. He returned to his own thoughts.
He thought that the closer they got to home the more he felt pulled back to the countryside they had just left. What a strange little world they had begun to penetrate. Jack had never given much thought to the difference between city folk and country folk. He had, without thinking, assumed that people were people, wherever they were. But their trip and with it the possibility of, in some sense, becoming a part of a different, even alien, community, filled Jack with a variety of conflicting feelings. A part of him looked forward to what he fondly thought of, as a simpler life and yet their brief experience of the closed and insular community suggested there was nothing simple at all about this, apparently random, collection of people. In fact the more he thought about their experience of the last few days the greater the realisation grew in his mind that their brief presence within the community, as potential residents rather than tourists, had dropped a small pebble in a still pond the ripples of which were in some way gathering in strength. Jack could not escape the feeling that their attempt to buy the barn had set in motion a train of events that might yet come back to bite them
They drove past Sandwith and Lindley Moors and dropped down into Whafedale. In the distance the lights of civilisation twinkled and the increasing gloom of the November afternoon was partially counteracted by the lights of the city.
“I wonder if we’ve met all the key players in our little drama?” Sarah said, suddenly.
“Is that how you see it?” Jack asked, surprised at the similarity of their thoughts.
“It does all feel a bit mysterious,” she replied.
“Yes, I was just having pretty much the same thought,” said Jack.
“I hope we’re doing the right thing.”
“Of course we are. You’ll see. It’ll be right.”
Jack drove into the car park. In a past life it had been the school playground. Once children had played happily here. Now the building had been converted, if that was the word, into the location of the city council’s special needs offices. So many cars had been stolen from the car park or broken into that the city council, conscious, eventually, of their Investors in People tag, had finally realised that, as a general rule, staff did not feel invested in when their cars were constantly being vandalised or taken without their consent. A chirpy man with a glass eye and a yellow waterproof jacket with the word ‘security’ on it, had recently been appointed to patrol the car park. Jack had commiserated with him when he was first appointed. Jack was sure that a combination of the early winter weather and the sheer, mind-numbing boredom of walking around and around the same car park must make this the job from hell. The security man assured Jack that this was the best job he had had for ages. His exact words, Jack remembered very clearly. They were that he would ‘give blood and bollocks’ to keep the job.
At shortly before 7.30 Jack’s was the only car in the car park this morning. It was a toss-up whether he arrived first or Tony, one of the office’s administrative staff. On this Monday morning, Jack had the privilege. The security man didn’t start until eight o’ clock. So that meant that any early rising car thieves had approximately an hour and a half to work undiscovered. It was, perhaps, no surprise that the Volvo had never been either stolen or broken into or even tampered with in any way at all.
Jack was not looking forward to today. He was in the process of dealing with a colleague who was taking the management team, of which he was a part, to an industrial tribunal. She had accused management of bullying in the work place. The city council, seemingly incapable of stopping any number of thefts, appeared much more committed to the idea of taking the woman’s complaints seriously. As a consequence huge number of working hours, which could have been used to help children with special needs, were being wasted on checking out this woman’s, in Jack’s view, entirely spurious claims.
Jack looked through the woman’s file. She had concocted, again Jack’s view, a total of 8 different complaints in the last year. The complaints spoke of the tremendous strain she was under trying to do job whilst, at the same time, being subject to the most appalling forms of mental and emotional abuse. The last complaint and the one which had filled the final straw role, was that she had not been allowed to attend a course of her choosing. The fact that the course cost, £600, almost a third of the budget for the whole service of 22 psychologists and that the course was, in no way, in line with the service’s development plan, mattered, it seemed, not one jot. In 45 minutes Jack had a meeting with Brian Fellows another member of the service’s management team. It was clear that this colleague was not going to be placated by any reasonable offer or solution that the management team could come up with. They needed an altogether bolder strategy.
Fifty minutes later they started their meeting in Brian’s office.
“This woman takes up more of our management time than the rest of the service put together,” Jack said, by way of an opening remark. Probably not a very helpful one given this had been set up as a problem-solving meeting.
“We’ve tried all the usual strategies, haven’t we?” Brian said, equally unhelpfully.
“Certainly feels like we have. We’ve investigated each and every complaint. Taken each one seriously.”
“Too bloody seriously, if you ask me,” Brian said with a degree of, quite unprofessional, bitterness.
“I tell you what we should do,” said Jack suddenly.
“Kill her?” Brian said with some enthusiasm.
“Sort of. What we should do is go on the attack. Kill her professionally. All this time she’s had us on the back foot. We know for a fact that she’s abusing the system far more than the system is abusing her, don’t we?
“Well, we know that she probably fiddles her mileage claim.”
“I know for an almost certain fact that she leaves the office on the pretence of going into a school and does her shopping on the way.”
“And that she takes longer lunch hours than she actually puts on her flexi sheet.”
“There’s only one problem here. Whilst we may know or think we know what she’s up to, we can’t actually prove it.”
“True. So what do we do? We’re sitting on all this potentially damning information about Julie and have no way of using it.”
“We could hire a private detective.”
Brian stared at Jack. “You cannot be serious. How the hell would we account for a private detective’s fees in the budget?”
“It could go down under locum’s fees. We’re always employing people on short term contracts to cover for staff,” said Jack refusing to accept defeat.
“Staggering idea, any more of that quality in your intellectual locker?”
“OK I’ll ask Sarah to follow her,” Jack replied.
“Even dafter than the last idea,” was Brian’s reply. “I think until we come up with a strategy that doesn’t border on either the illegal or the unprofessional we’d better stick to more conventional methods of addressing Ms Blenheim’s accusations.”
“I will think of something,” said Jack defiantly. And he did but his strategy was to come later, long after this particular, frustrating meeting had finished.
The rest of the week didn’t improve. Jack spent the majority of Wednesday night at the Leeds General Infirmary with a colleague who collapsed after several pints and a huge curry. On Thursday, by way of light relief, Jack and Sarah went to the local Amateur Dramatics production of ‘The Business of Murder’. Jack, particularly had a passion for detective fiction but this would the first time, since they’d seen the Ghost Train at the Crucible in Sheffield, many years ago, that they’d been to see any kind of thriller-type play. As it turned out, the play was anything but thrilling. The audience was mostly over eighty and spent the majority of the play hacking and coughing. Even the man who did what might generously be called ‘the special effects’, barely hidden by a makeshift screen at the back of the church hall, coughed his way through the entire performance. The programme described the play as not so much a ‘whodunnit’ but a ‘did he do it’? They agreed it could, more accurately, have been described as a ‘who gives a shit whether he did it or not?’ More than once, as his mind wandered during the production, Jack thought he could probably write a better thriller himself, he just needed an idea to get started on. In an effort to dissolve the frustrations of a tedious and trying week, Jack spent parts of the weekend trying to write down possible murder mystery plots. Some, usually the ones involving the gruesome murder of Ms Blenheim, he really liked.
It was late Sunday afternoon when Jack wrestled the Volvo left at the lights and onto Alwoodley Road. Seats that warm your bottom, lights that come on without being asked, but no power steering. Funny people the Swedes. He parked the car on the road outside Standsmoor golf club. He was rather relieved that, barred by the club’s electronic security gates, he didn’t have to drive into the car park. Parking the Volvo next to the Jags, Porsches, Mercs and BMWs would have been too humiliating. If he ever did join this club he would need a new car as well as a completely new set of golf clubs and golf clothes. Guilty at thinking this way about he looked back at the car. The car said, ‘I don’t give a flying doughnut what they think of me in there’.
Martin Higgins, the club secretary, had a face of two halves. The top half was fundamentally bald and very white. The bottom half was rugged and brown. Clearly Martin Higgins was a man who spent a significant amount of time in the open air and wearing a cap. Jack thought of Peter Alliss’s commentary remark about never trusting a man with a white head. He wasn’t quite sure what Alliss had meant but he liked the feel of the observation.
“I’ve come to deliver my letter requesting an application form,” said Jack.
Higgins read through the letter while Jack waited. The wait gave Jack time to think again of the idiocy of the process.
“Right, then if you fill this in,” said Higgins, waving the form in Jack’s face, “the committee will consider your application. You’ll be invited for an interview and given the opportunity to play a round with a member of the committee or, more probably, myself.”
Jack looked at Higgins’s two-tone face to see if he could detect the slightest hint of humour in his sentence. He could not.
“If you do alright and, if we think you’re the kind of member the club is looking for, then you’ll be offered membership. We do set high standards of our members but when you do join you’ll find we’re a very friendly club indeed,” continued Higgins.
Jack knew this attempt to join one of the city’s most prestigious golf clubs was a weakness. It was snobbish and pathetic. The problem was, since Jack had been forced to give up playing cricket because of his bad knees, he was desperate for another sport, one, with any luck, he could play for the next twenty years. He had convinced himself that by joining one of the top clubs he would more inclined to take the game seriously and hence achieve the kind of respect, in this sport, he had so assiduously cultivated while playing cricket. He didn’t like himself for it but, he ran the argument again in his own head, everybody had their weaknesses and if this was his only weakness, then, that wasn’t bad. He had always had this need to belong. Sarah ribbed him mercilessly for it. She was far more independent than him, with her job with special needs children and her painting, she appeared to be perfectly content. Jack, on the other hand, was a social animal, he needed pubs and clubs and the company of his fellow human beings. He missed the cricket club but the golf club, if he was accepted, would compensate. He might even forget the relentless passage of time, moving chirpily towards death, as one of his psychologist colleagues had described his own attitude to life – and death.
He thanked Martin Higgins for the application form and left through the electronically-controlled front door. There were not, he noted as he left, many members drinking in the bar. Perhaps they were desperate for new blood. Somebody that could down a pint or two. He walked down the drive to the Volvo. With the form still in his hand, he looked at the car.
“Yes, I know it’s pathetic, I know you and Sarah don’t think I should join but it’s my life and if I want to pamper myself in this one way, then I’m bloody well going to. Alright? The car said nothing. Jack was a man who frequently talked to inanimate objects – doors that wouldn’t open, the lampshade in the bedroom that he frequently banged his head on, pens that wouldn’t work, even the shoe lace that insisted on resting inside rather than outside his shoe. It gave him great satisfaction and he nearly always came out on top except with computers which he loathed and depended on in equal quantities.
The fact that Jack was able to combine this visit to the golf club with another meeting with Justin Blayney slightly assuaged Jack’s guilt at the amount of grovelling he was going to have to engage in order to be able to play around with a member. Jack sniggered. Blayney’s house was only about half a mile further along Alwoodley Lane from the club. In a street full of large, traditional, surburban houses, so beloved of the English middle classes, Blayney’s house was something of a shock. Not because it was smaller than the rest, which it was, but because of its design. The house appeared from the road to be a single storey bungalow. It was square and boxy with simple lines and a flat roof making it quite unlike any of the other houses. Jack wondered how Blayney had got permission to build such a unique structure. He would have thought that the neighbour’s objections would have precluded such originality. The house had a double garage at street level and what appeared to be the main entrance to the house to the left of this. Jack rang the bell and waited. After what seemed like several minutes during which Jack began to doubt that he had made the appointment with Blayney at all, he saw him approach through the frosted glass of the door. The bow tie was missing. The denim shirt and chinos were presumably Blayney’s off-duty outfit.
Jack began to speak as Blayney opened the door, “Sorry I’m a bit late, I had to stop off at the golf club to pick up my membership application form. I…”
Blayney cut him short.
“I don’t need to know your personal life. I’m your architect not your social secretary,” he said somewhat gruffly. Jack made a mental note that he could go off this man although he softened as, what appeared to be, a spasm of pain crossed his face. Jack, to his own surprise, asked Blayney whether he was alright. Jack entered the house and walked through a practically bare hall into the surprisingly spacious living room. A few minutes later Jack was sat on Blayney’s expensive leather sofas, a glass of Riesling in hand. The room was immaculately furnished and decorated. White walls, good-looking art works, including, Jack noticed, a couple of signed Hockney prints, polished wooden floors and the leather sofas and an all-glass coffee table. The table had none of the clutter of a similar table in Jack’s house. There was a blue ceramic vase with half a dozen white lilies in it and a single glass half full of water which Blayney must have been drinking prior to Jack’s arrival. He was now also drinking the white wine. Blayney seemed to have completely lost his original tetchiness and was once again oozing charm and doing an excellent job of convincing Jack that the drawings he had prepared were exactly the specs he, Jack, had asked for even though Jack had the feeling that they were not. Jack felt pleased to be in this man’s company. Blayney had the ability to make Jack feel completely relaxed. After three glasses – he was of course, driving – he decided that, once again, he really did like Blayney.
“Does your wife expect to make a living out of selling her art?” Blayney asked, taking Jack by surprise with his change of conversational tack.
“Well, we don’t expect to become millionaires on the strength of her talents,” Jack replied.
“What kind of art does she make?”
“Mostly Yorkshire landscapes.”
“Mainly pastels and watercolours but she also does pencil, ink and charcoal drawings.”
“She’s just trying to pluck up the courage to paint in acrylics on canvas.”
“Maybe I could find her some clients,” said Blayney. “People are always asking for my advice about how to decorate their houses.” There was the arrogance again, Jack thought.
“I’d have thought they’d have their own ideas,” said Jack.
“No they don’t. You take the dopey buggers that live round here. More money than they know what to do with and not one ounce of taste to guide their spending,” Blayney laughed as he said this. There was, Jack thought, just the merest hint of bitterness in the laugh.
“Doesn’t that give you the chance to influence the way the inside of the house looks as well as the outside?”
“I don’t need a vacuum to exert influence,” said Blayney. Which Jack thought was a rather strange thing to say but didn’t pursue the thought.
Their meeting lasted for about 45 minutes and by the time they parted company Jack felt very good about the barn and supremely confident that it would be theirs, complete with planning permission within the next two months. Nothing could go wrong. Blayney was a strange man in some ways. He liked him though.
Jack drove home round the city’s outer ring road. Fifteen minutes after leaving Blayney’s house he pulled into the drive of his home in Headingley. He thought again what a lovely house it was and, somewhat guiltily, how he wished the bloody students weren’t moving in all around them. It was this feeling of being invaded that had prompted them, well him, to look for less populated spaces out in the Yorkshire countryside.
Sarah greeted him at the door. He could tell from the look on her face that something had gone wrong.
“I’ve just had a phone call from your new best friend, Justin Architect,” she said.
“But you can’t have, I just left him.”
“Yes I know. He said a few minutes after you’d gone he had a phone call from David Bickerdyke.”
“Josh Barker has disappeared,” she said. “Probably some very simple explanation. No doubt he’ll soon reappear,” and then, too quickly, “I’m sure it won’t have any affect on our buying the barn.”
“Fuck,” said Jack.
The intervening week had been difficult. Work continued on its, mostly irritating way. So far they had little or no evidence on Julie Blenheim. Josh Barker had not, as Sarah suggested, reappeared. Sarah had spent a number of frustrating hours trying to get in contact with Mrs Barker but with no success. They decided that, rather than sit back and let matters take their course, they would, as planned, drive up to Lofthouse again and see if they could make contact with the elusive Mrs Barker.
They made the journey in almost complete silence. The weather matched their mood. In sharp and, it seemed, significant contrast to last week, the rain fell steadily obscuring their beautiful views along the way. They drove along the valley into the village, parked the car and walked into the Rose and Crown. They had booked, what they like to think of as, their usual room. Charlie Mortimore stood where they had left him or so it appeared. They caught a brief glance of Joan Mortimore and Sarah would later say she was sure she had been crying. Perhaps at least one person other than them was sorry Josh Barker had disappeared. Charlie Mortimore didn’t seem to be.
“We hear you’ve been you’ve carelessly misplaced one of the locals,” said Jack.
Mortimore looked at them blankly.
“Josh Barker disappearing,” Sarah explained.
“Silly sod. I don’t think the balloon trip did him any good at all,” he said quite unprompted.
“What makes you say that?” asked Sarah.
“He disappeared straight after his trip,” said Mortimore.
“Perhaps the weight of reaching fifty was too much for him,” said Sarah.
“Never mind the weight of reaching bloody fifty, what about our barn,” said Jack quite unashamed of the possessive pronoun.
“Oh he’ll be back,” said Mortimore.
“How can you be so sure?” asked Jack suspiciously.
“This is not the first time,” Mortimore replied.
“You mean he’s done this sort of thing before?”
“Silly sod,” said Mortimore returning to his original hypothesis.
“Where did he go, the last times?” Sarah asked.
“Good question, that woman.”
“I reckon,” said Mortimore, raising his voice and turning his head towards the open door behind the bar, “He’s got another fancy woman tucked away somewhere.” He grinned at them.
“Where did he go before?” Jack persisted.
“He’s got this little club where he goes in Harrogate, plays snooker and drinks. Thinks it gives him an air of sophistication.” He snorted. “As if.”
“Would we be right in assuming you’re not exactly devastated by the disappearance of Josh Barker?” asked Jack.
“He’ll show up again, you see.” Which, in a way was true.
“We’re going up to see Mrs Barker. We want to know what the legal position is if he doesn’t show up again,” said Jack.
“You’ll get nothing out of her,” said Charlie Mortimore. “And that applies to Josh as well. It’s a bloody shame. If she’d have treated him a bit better, Josh Barker wouldn’t be roaming around looking for comfort and affection from other people’s wives.” With that Charlie Mortimore turned away and began polishing the bottles of spirits behind the bar.
They drove up the hill past the barn. Their feeling of sadness ever more present. “We’d be better off if he were dead,” said Jack.
“What an awful thing to say.”
As seemed appropriate they could see nothing of the view. The mist or low cloud, they weren’t sure which, swirled around the barn. It seemed a little less friendly than on previous visits.
They turned into the lane that ran down the hill towards Upper Lofthouse farm. They didn’t see the Land Rover until it was almost on top of them. It emerged from the drizzly mist like a giant, charging rhino. Jack pulled down hard on the wheel. The Volvo, for once, responded immediately. The car hit the ditch, their heads banging against the car roof and window. A flimsier car might have taken the impact badly but the Volvo ground to halt, inches short of the stone wall that boarded the ditch. The Land Rover roared past without pause, the driver crouched over the wheel, seemingly oblivious to the mayhem he’d caused. The vehicle disappeared into the mist as suddenly as it had appeared.
“What the hell was that?” gasped Jack.
“I’ll take a shot at who was that,” said Sarah, rubbing her head.
“Are you alright? Who?” said Jack torn between concern for Sarah’s well-being and a desire to get even with whoever had driven them into the ditch.
“Judging by the hood, I’d say it was Crisp.”
“Bastard. After we’ve finished here we’ll go straight round to his wine shop and break his glasses.”
“He doesn’t wear glasses.”
“I mean his wine glasses.”
“Let’s just go and see Mrs Barker, shall we? I think the bang on the head has done you harm.”
“Bastard,” Jack repeated. “Tell me this time I don’t have a right to get mad.”
“No for once I think your usual road rage is well-placed.”
“Bastard,” said Jack again, somewhat placated.
They finished the remaining 200 yards of the drive without further incident. The farmhouse, looking distinctly forbidding, appeared in the mist as they did so. They climbed out of the Volvo. Jack looked at the car,
“You stay here and don’t get into any more trouble,” he said.
The car merely stared back at him as if he were stupid. They walked towards the door.
“Spooky kind of place,” said Sarah, for once forgetting her views on men being the weaker sex, linking her arm in his. “I bet she’s a right old dragon, living with up here with Mr Chuckles.”
The woman who eventually opened the door was, Sarah noted, no dragon. She was a petite woman of about 38, nicely dressed in tight blue jeans and plaid shirt. Her hair black and shiny was cut in a neat, but fashionable, bob and framed a face that would reasonably be described as beautiful. OK, thought Jack, it had seen younger days, but it was still undeniably beautiful. Also she smelled nice. She smelled of lavender, Jack thought. Sarah was the first to recover and, noticing Jack’s open mouth, elbowed him gently in the ribs and, at the same time, said,” Mrs Barker?”
“Yes, that’s me. You are?”
“We’re Sarah and Jack Jacques,” said Sarah, continuing to fill the silence left by her inanimate husband. Mrs Barker stared blankly at them.
“We’re hoping to buy the Hedderly Barn, your Hedderly Barn that is. If you’ll sell it to us that is, of course,” said Jack returning to life but leaving some of his powers of speech in his fantasy land.
“We heard your husband,” Sarah paused searching for just the right word.
“Buggered off,” said Jack apparently uninterested in the ‘right word’. This woman seemed to have the power to make him say strange things.
“Went missing.” Continued Sarah. “We realise these are difficult times but we wondered if we might just come in for a moment and kind of get up to date with where things are at.”
“Yes, I heard you were desperately keen,” said Mrs Barker.
“We are, we are,” said Jack more enthusiastically than was strictly necessary.
“I’ve been trying to call you all week but there was no answer,” said Sarah.
“Yes I’ve been out quite a lot.” Not searching for your husband, Sarah thought unkindly.
“It must be difficult for you,” said Sarah.
“You’d better come in,” said Mrs Barker as if suddenly reaching a decision.
They followed her into a large sitting room. The room was a surprise. In a house which looked, at least in the current weather, from the outside, damp and grey, this room, at least, was warm, cosy and tastefully decorated. In some ways the room reminded Jack of Blayney’s style of decoration although more elaborate and somewhat more fussy. Jack wondered briefly if Mrs Barker had designed the room herself or was one of the mindless idiots Blayney had spoken of with such distaste. He decided that she would have determined the look of the room. Sarah and Jack sat side by side on the plush, blue, cord sofa now feeling slightly awkward at having barged in on this woman in the midst of her crisis.
“I imagine you’re worried that if Josh remains missing that will put a crimp in your plans to buy Hedderly Barn,” she said coming straight to the point.
“No, not at all,” Jack said, again too hastily.
“Well, to be honest, yes we were,” said Sarah. This time it was Jack’s turn to look amazed.
“It reminds me of Rupert Bear, Nutwood and all that,” said Jack in an effort to lighten the tension.
“I was always a Famous Five fan, myself. Five is just the right number for an adventure. Rupert had too many friends,” Mrs Barker replied.
“I expect it must have been your elder brother’s book. You’re too young to have remembered the Famous Five otherwise,” Jack replied, attempting to be gallant. Sarah stared stonily at him.
“I am worried about him,” she said with surprising emotion. “He’s never been away for this long before.”
“Charlie Mortimore said he’s got a club in Harrogate where he goes to get away from things sometimes,” said Sarah.
“Charlie Mortimore is a fool. He should be worrying about his own family not passing on information about others. It’s true though, Josh does sometimes seem to have this need to get away from things and sometimes that’s where he goes. He meets a few friends, has a drink and plays snooker. It could be worse.
“We’re going to Harrogate tomorrow. We could check it out,” Jack offered.
“That’s very altruistic of you,” Mrs Barker said, clearly not meaning it.
“No seriously, we’re going to a special needs conference. We’re both in that line of business so to speak, so we’d be there anyway”
“I’m sorry, you probably meant to be kind but there are so many people with their own little schemes in this valley, it’s hard to know who to trust.”
“That’s alright, we understand. We do have our own agenda, there’s no denying it. But we do want Josh to return home safe and sound,” said Sarah.
“You do realise that if he has done, anything, well, silly,” she paused seemingly shocked at what she was saying. “He has seemed very depressed lately. He’s getting older and with all his aches and pains he can’t get out on the land like he loves to. That gets him down.”
“You don’t mean he might have killed himself? Jack asked.
“If he had that would probably put an end to any transactions he had agreed with you. Not of sound mind, that sort of thing. It would give the lawyers a field day,” she replied, a little too matter of factly, Sarah thought.
“Plus he was worried about me. He’s always worried about me.”
“In what way?” Sarah said quietly.
“About losing me, I suppose,” she said simply. Their embarrassment at this woman’s frank expression of her concern was balanced by a curiosity about the man they were trying to buy the barn from and his relationship with his wife. In some way, though they didn’t like to entertain the thought, they felt the information they were gathering gave them an edge in any future transactions. Their professions meant that they had sat in many sessions during which clients had opened up and shared their innermost thoughts. They both waited in silence as they would have if this had been a professional session. They knew there was more to come and they were anxious to hear it. Another question now might break the spell.
“He was worried that I might run off with Aaron Crisp,” she continued.
“Oh, yes we met him on the way. He nearly ran us off the road,” said Jack, his anger getting the best of his commitment to silence.
“Yes, I’m afraid he left a little bit upset.”
“I’d say that was an understatement,” Jack said heatedly. Sarah silenced him with one of her looks and Mrs Barker continued.
“Aaron has been trying to persuade Josh and myself to plant vines on the land he’s been buying recently.”
“Vines, here?” said Jack in clear disbelief and forgetting about the steamier side of this information.
“Yes, Aaron has recently returned from New Zealand and believes he has found a hybrid of Sauvignon Blanc growing in South Island that would crop well here. The world of viticulture is constantly pushing back the barriers of what is possible. He’s been trying to persuade Josh to turn over the land he’s been buying to grow the vines organically. He’s a conservationist, back-to-nature kind of guy,” she said. “Now Josh’s disappeared he thought he would have a go at me. He knows I’ve got a weakness for anything organically grown.”
“He hasn’t wasted any time getting round here, has he?” said Sarah.
“We used to be close but then things changed but I suppose he thinks with Josh out of the way either temporarily or permanently he was in with a chance again.”
“Permanently?” Jack said sharply.
“Well, who knows, I suppose he might have decided I wasn’t worth the trouble and packed up and left for good,” she said.
“Hardly likely,” said Sarah, annoyed by Mrs Barker’s deliberate, she felt, underplaying of the power she held over her husband.
“Who knows what he’s been thinking. He has seemed under some pressure recently and who knows what might have happened. I don’t know what happened on that balloon trip but something seems to have sent him into a crisis.”
“We heard that he disappeared directly after the flight. So whatever he saw must have had some effect.
“I’d love to ask Dave Bickerdike what did go on up there but we’ve never been the best of friends. Bickerdyke owed Josh money. Dave rents the office from Josh and I think he got behind with the rent. I’m pretty sure of that but because Josh thought they were friends he would never ask him for it. We had a bit of an argument about the price of Josh’s trip even, so I don’t feel I could ask him now what happened.”
“Perhaps we could help,” suggested Jack. The devious part of his brain seeing an additional way of making a relationship with Mrs Barker that could be useful in the future.
“I hear that you’re a psychologist. Aren’t psychologists meant to be good at getting information from people?”
“Is there a single person in this valley that doesn’t know what we do?” Sarah asked incredulously.
“If there is it won’t be for long,” she replied.
“We could call in on Mr Bickerdyke on the pretext of discussing the free balloon flight he offered us last weekend,” said Jack
“A free trip, that’s a surprise. I heard he was having a lot of trouble paying all his bills. I’m surprised he’s offering charity trips.”
“He did say we’d have to pay for the gas,” said Jack. Perhaps, he continued,” He’s hoping we’ll give him free therapy at some point in the future.”
“He could certainly use it, if my experience of him is anything to go by.”
“Why do you say that?” Sarah enquired.
“Well, I just don’t think he belongs here. He’s a southern public schoolboy. He doesn’t fit in,” she replied.
Neither, Jack thought, do you but you’re here.
“In some ways I do suspect he had something to do with Josh’s disappearance.” She paused again and once more seemed to struggle to make a decision. “I would be very grateful for any help you could give.”
“As I said, we’re heading for Harrogate tomorrow so we could call in on him.”
“I can tell you where his office is. He does sometimes work on Sundays even if he’s not flying, which he certainly won’t be if the weather’s like this tomorrow, he may be at the office. It’s strange the weather was so glorious last week when Josh took his trip.” She didn’t say the words –‘ his last trip’ but it was implied.
She paused and then, as if making her mind up, she said, “He might not be there, of course.”
“Well, we’ll see what we can do,” said Sarah.
“That would be nice,” she replied simply.
That seemed to bring the conversation to an end and for a few minutes the three of them sat in silence. Eventually Sarah suggested they take their leave. Mrs Barker stood up and gestured towards the front door. As they reached the door Mrs Barker stood aside and let them pass. Sarah walked outside first. As Jack walked past her, once again overwhelmed by her sweet perfume, she pressed something into his hand. Jack looked at the object. It was a key. Jack raised his eyebrows by way of asking the question. Mrs Barker answered.
“I believe, though I haven’t tried it, that it is the key to David Bickerdyke’s office. At least that’s what Josh told me it was. He said he kept it for emergencies but didn’t elaborate as to what they might be and I never thought anything about it until recently. It might be helpful to you at some point in the future.” With that she stopped talking. There did not seem any point in pursuing the logic of all this so they said their goodbyes and walked out into the rain.
That evening they had booked a meal at The Sportsman’s Arms or the Sportspersons Arms as Jack had amusingly rechristened it. The food was good, better than the Rose and Crown and correspondingly more expensive, the wine list was extensive and, as was usually the case, they enjoyed each other’s company. If Sarah had any concerns about the key she did not mention them and Jack decided that, for now, the key was best left undiscussed.
They made an effort to talk about things other than the barn and avoiding talk about work as well. They managed to find other topics of conversation and the meal passed pleasantly enough although relatively quietly for them. A couple of hours later they stepped out on to the wet gravel car park of the pub. The rain of earlier had stopped and a damp mist had descended on the dale. The clouds blocked out the moon and the night was darker than the last few nights.
The Volvo waited for them and its heated seats were a welcome antidote to the evening. It was after 10 when they got back to the Rose and Crown. A few locals and one or two tourists remained in the bar with a man they didn’t recognise behind the bar. Must be Jack Mortimore’s night off they thought. They weren’t in the mood for any further alcohol and they were both tired so they went straight to their room. Tomorrow they would try and talk to Dave Bickerdyke and find out what happened on Josh Barker’s final trip.
They left the Rose and Crown just after eleven the next morning and drove down the valley towards Pateley Bridge. A light drizzle still filled the air. The Sunday morning bells from Middlesmoor Church rang a farewell. Jack, for reasons he couldn’t reach, felt a churning sensation in his stomach. They were going to pay a visit to David Bickerdyke. They had not called ahead preferring to have an element of surprise on their side. Jack wasn’t sure whether he hoped he would be there or not. Given the state of the weather, Jack guessed it was unlikely that Bickerdyke would be up in his balloon.
The office of Nidderdale Ballooning was located on the road between Pateley Bridge and Glasshouses. It was a part of a courtyard arrangement so beloved of developers trying to find a use for old buildings in the countryside. The drizzle gave the courtyard an austere and slightly eerie feel. Jack parked the car directly in front of the office. Being Sunday none of the other offices were open and neither, it was soon apparent, was Nidderdale Ballooning. The ‘closed’ sign on the door confirmed this. Nevertheless, they knocked on the door. They waited. There was no response.
“Bugger,” said Jack. There goes our chance of making great strides in our relationship with Mrs B.”
“Where does he live? Maybe we could go and visit him at home,” suggested Sarah.
“I think he said he lived over near Masham,” Jack said.
“Well, we’re not going over there. It’s not on our way even if we are trying to creep round the sweet-smelling Mrs B,” said Sarah a trifle acidly, Jack thought.
“She did smell nice, didn’t she?” he ventured, knowing this comment would pour petrol on the fire.
“Lavender,” said Sarah. “She smelled like she’d eaten a whole bloody Tuscan hillside. I’d be very grateful for any help you can give,” she mimicked. Jack wondered why none of this had come up last night. She didn’t want to spoil a pleasant evening, Jack decided. She was fit to burst now though.
“Jack, may I say with the utmost dignity, I don’t give a flying doughnut what you thought about her or her, rather overpowering, approach to bodily hygiene.”
“Gosh, golly, excuse me. I didn’t realise we were on such fragile ice. I…”
Sarah cut him short. “Do you have a back-up plan? The original plan of talking to Mr Bickerdyke seems to be floundering a little.”
“Funnily enough, I do.”
“Proceed with an explanation of the back-up plan.”
“What if Mr Bickerdyke has kidnapped him?”
“This is the back-up plan?”
“Listen to me. Bickerdyke, it seems by common consent, was the last person to see Barker. Bickerdyke owes Barker money. That’s what she said. Suppose, just suppose Bickerdyke kidnaps Barker – a shot in the arm of something chemical when they’re in the balloon, then, unconscious into the van, back here.”
“Brilliant, my dear Holmes. And the purpose of this kidnap is?”
“To persuade Barker to sign a form saying all debts are null and void.”
“You’re much, much madder than I had previously feared.”
“And so he releases Josh Barker into the community and Barker says what? I’ve been away for a few days but I’m back now?”
“No. He knows that Aaron Crisp is having an affair with his wife and threatens to embarrass and humiliate Barker by exposing this to the whole community.”
“Why doesn’t he just use this information to get Barker to sign?”
“You’re determin#|?ed to spoil my budding attempts at being a detective
“I’m trying to spoil your budding attempts at being certified insane.”
“Look, if we can find something out that’s useful to her we increase our chances of getting the barn. You do want the barn, don’t you?” he said playing his trump card
“You know perfectly well I do,” she said frostily.
“Right then, there’s nobody here. I reckon these offices must have back entrance because this door’s got a Yale lock. We’ll do a little breaking and entering, maximum sentence – 2 to 5 years.”
“But suppose we find something we didn’t bargain for?”
“That’s my girl, now you’re thinking like Watson.”
“In that case may I suggest that you conceal the car down the road just in case Dave Bickerdyke has the cheek to show up at his own office.”
They climbed back into the Volvo and turned left out of the courtyard and parked the car 50 metres down the road. The car regarded them with a ‘you must be joking look’. They moved through the fog which had thickened a little, Jack noticed with a strange sense of, something approaching, elation. The back of the building faced directly onto the surrounding fields. Fortunately, up until this weekend, the autumn had been a dry one and the mud squelched around their shoes rather than over them. A surprising number of people seemed to have walked this way, and, quite recently, Jack noted. He didn’t have time to dwell on what might be the implications of this because, a few minutes later, they were standing outside the back door of Nidderdale Ballooning Inc.
Jack took out the key given to him by Mrs Barker. It was the old-fashioned kind beloved of those gothic horror movies of which he was so fond. He inserted the key into the lock. To his surprise the key made no sound at all as it turned in the lock. Jack felt just a small sense of disappointment. In order to compensate for this he made his own creaking sound. This time he was ready for the elbow. The key turned easily and the door opened smoothly. Once again he amused himself by making the obligatory creaking sound.
“What if there’s somebody in there,” Sarah whispered. “Do you want them to know we’re here?” Chastened, he stepped through the doorway and into the room. They had entered a storeroom behind the main office. The room was full of what Jack assumed were empty gas cylinders. On top of the cylinders was a dirty and dog-eared exercise book with the words ‘Gas records’ written in black felt tip. Elsewhere in the room various bits of ballooning equipment lay scattered, carelessly, around. To their left was another room, they ignored this for a moment and walked through to the main office the door of which opened onto the courtyard where they had stood a few minutes earlier. As they pushed open the second door, the risk they were taking in breaking and entering the office occurred to Jack. Sarah had had the same thought for some time. The office was divided in two parts by a counter. Off to the left, on the ‘staff’ side of the counter, was a small toilet. Jack inspected this but it turned out to be, as far as he could tell – a small toilet. On the top of the counter was a computer which looked like it had been built just after the last typewriter had been taken out of service. Under the counter was a three drawer filing cabinet. A newish black desk lamp added a little touch of class but it was fighting a losing battle with the rest of the furniture. A battered set of chairs had been provided for customers who had to wait in the long queue wanting balloon trips. A small table sat in the middle of the chairs, on it, as on the counter, were a stack of brochures and the same business cards David Bickerdyke had given to Jack earlier. On the wall was a poster seemingly of late Victorian origin which gave the top ten do’s and dont’s of balloon travel. Do not lean over the edge of the basket, was number one top tip. The place did not speak of prosperity.
“Hey, what a surprise, no dead bodies,” Sarah said, a little bolder now. “What exactly might we be looking for?”
“Evidence,” Jack replied.
“Of what exactly?
“Any evidence that would tell us of the whereabouts of Josh Barker,” said Jack with as much of a Holmsian sneer as he could muster.
Jack crossed to the counter and pulled the top draw of the filing cabinet. It was not locked. Jack recognised a small feeling of disappointment. What chance of important clues in an unlocked filing cabinet? The drawer contained most of the things a person might reasonably expect to keep in a business filing cabinet – a note pad with telephone numbers scrawled on it, more brochures, brochures from other businesses in the area that, presumably Bickerdyke had not put on display for fear of sending customers away to pursue cheaper activities than ballooning. Buried under this pile of literature was Bickerdyke’s financial log. It was a simple record of trips taken and fees collected over the last 18 months. Bickerdyke had a system of recording the journey including the landing location of the balloon. In one or two entries two landing places were recorded. Jack assumed that occasionally passengers were dropped off in locations of their own choosing, perhaps on hill tops so they could walk down. Jack didn’t know much about the ballooning business but he could see that the Foot and Mouth outbreak had hit Bickerdyke hard. Comparing the month of July 2000 with the same month a year later the difference was startling. From 3 or 4 trips just about everyday during the first year with fees close to £10,000 by the end of the month to less than £1500 total in July 2001.
To further compound his problems, at the back of the same book, was a record of the money Bickerdyke was paying out to somebody with the initials JB. Presumably this was rental for use of the office and the field outside and was to Josh Barker. The rent was, apparently, £2000 a week – well over £100,000 a year. Considerably more than the business’s income. David Bickerdyke was in bad financial shape and unless he had some form of private income, he wasn’t going to be in business much longer. He noted that any trips taken over the last month hadn’t been recorded yet. Either there hadn’t been any fee paying customers or Bickerdyke hadn’t got round to filling in the log book yet.
Engrossed in the accounts, Jack didn’t immediately notice the car headlights sweep across the courtyard. Sarah saw the car first.
“Jack, Jack, there’s somebody coming and he’s parking outside and, Oh God, it’s Bickerdyke. For Heaven’s sake let’s get out.”
“There isn’t time,” he said aware that his voice had risen a couple of octaves. “Hide in the back room.”
They ran into the back room.
“Open that other door just in case we need another escape route.”
Bickerdyke burst into the room clearly in a hurry. Jack and Sarah backed further into the second storeroom. Jack had always read that people in hiding held their breath for fear of being heard. At this moment he realised it was true. Forced, eventually, to release his breath he let it out in tiny, silent streams. He looked at Sarah and made a foolish face which was meant to indicate that this whole adventure was nothing but simple, boyish fun. The look wasn’t convincing. As Sarah would later unkindly remark, he merely looked constipated. They could hear Bickerdyke moving around in the office. Realising that Bickerdyke hadn’t seen them and apparently wasn’t coming to look in the room they were in, Jack squinted through the partially open door. Unfortunately, Jack’s assumption was false, Bickerdyke had closed the filing cabinet drawer and was coming towards the room they were in.
“Jesus H Christ,” he hissed bumping into Sarah and nearly knocking her off her feet as he whirled round. “Into the other room,” he said pushing her in front of him. Gallantry wasn’t high on his agenda. They barely closed the door behind them when
Bickerdyke entered the back room, still, obviously, in a hurry. After a few moments of rummaging around he seemed to find what he was looking for. As suddenly as he had arrived Bickerdyke left slamming the office door behind him. They heard his car drive away into the fog.
“Bloody hell fire,” said Jack. “That was exciting.”
“Exciting, you idiot, we could now have a police record for breaking and entering. That would look good on your CV. Manchester University, Sheffield University and Her Majesty’s Prison Wormwood Scrubs.”
“Well, my career’s not going anywhere anyway,” he added somewhat weakly.
“Let’s not do this again, soon.”
“I wonder what he took. I’ll just have a quick peek.”
“For God’s sake, Jack, has what’s left of your poor, tortured brain completely lost all sense of reason?”
“Won’t be a mo’, You have a look in here and I’ll just have a look in the office”
Before she could protest Jack disappeared into the office. He went straight to the filing cabinet and opened the top drawer. The logbook had gone. Whatever was important enough to bring Bickerdyke here on a Sunday was obviously in the logbook. Jack wished he had taken a closer look but it was too late now. The bottom two drawers were empty, perhaps they had been before. He hadn’t had time to look through them before Bickerdyke’s arrival. If Josh Barker’s severed head had been in one of the drawers it wasn’t now. He decided there was nothing else here to find and called to Sarah. He noticed she had, for her, been strangely quiet. He called again. In a sudden panic he walked quickly into the room off the storeroom, calling her name. Sarah was bent over a pile of something, he could not see what exactly, only that whatever it was, was covered by a tarpaulin. Sarah was pulling it back over what ever she had found in the corner of this dusty room. Her voice, when she spoke, sounded quite calm.
“Is it common practice for a company that runs balloon trips to have a storeroom full of gravestones?”
Relieved that his wife was not looking at the dismembered body of Josh Barker, he replied,” Not usual, no but, in these difficult times, a company has to diversify or die.”
“These people didn’t diversify but they definitely did die,” she replied. “Some of them a long time ago.”
“You’re going to tell me,” Jack said, “That one of them has Josh Barker’s name on it. Whoooo, Josh Barker, born 1900, died November 21st, 2001. Epitaph : He really wanted to sell that barn.” Jack grabbed his throat and offered his version of Josh Barker’s dying words. “His last recorded words were – sell it to the Jacques.”
Ignoring him, she said, “Look at them, there must be nearly twenty headstones here. That can’t be right can it?
“Didn’t Josh Barker make some cryptic reference to the theft of headstones from Middlesmoor churchyard?”
“You know, you’re right, something about not being buried up there?”
“No, it was actually Charlie Mortimore who said they’d had some trouble up there, whatever that might mean.”
“We need to get out of here. Either Bickerdyke is going to come back or, worse still, the undead are going to return from the grave to claim their patio paving stones.”
They left the way they had come in, locking the door behind them. Jack paid more attention to the footprints in the mud. He thought if he were a real detective he would take the cast and, by determining the depth of the print, deduce which footprint had been carrying the headstones. The elbow in the ribs cut short his deductive reasoning.
“I don’t know what we’ve stumbled on to here but I can tell you, I have a need for a degree of normality. Country ways can be wearing,” said Sarah, as they headed towards the Volvo. The Volvo regarded them with a ‘when are you two going to grow up’, look. Secretly, they wondered the same.
They drove out of Pateley Bridge on the B6165. Jack’s initial chattering gradually gave way to thoughtful silence. His thoughtfulness largely fixed on how matters relating to the simple purchase of a barn seemed to be getting a little out of shape. His thoughts were occasionally punctuated with pleasurable and not so pleasurable reminiscences of cricket matches played in the valley– losing by the largest margin ever at Dacre Banks, the game where the opposition didn’t show up at Burnt Yates thanks to a cock up by the fixtures secretary and the game by the roundabout at Ripley, where the River Nidd ran onto to Knaresborough, on a ground that no longer existed. Jack remembered the ball spent more time on the roundabout, thanks to some big-hitting, country boy in the opposing team, than on the field of play.
Happy days, unfortunately now over thanks to his knackered knees. Hopefully golf would be a more-than-satisfactory substitute. If they let him join. His mind drifted briefly back to the meeting with Justin Blayney and his curt disinterest in Jack’s attempt to join Standmoor Golf Club. He didn’t, however, have time to dwell on this slightly odd interaction.
Half an hour later they drove into Harrogate. They checked into the George Hotel where the special needs conference was to be held the next day. Their room was suitably comforting after their recent ordeal. Jack arranged his battered slippers by the bed. The hotel had, the almost obligatory, leisure club which, in this case, included a swimming pool. They decided a pre-dinner swim might be just the answer to the tension that had built up over the course of their drive. What had seemed, at the time, a bit of an adventure to Jack now assumed a more serious dimension. It could have been serious for both of them. A thrash around in the pool, neither of them could properly be described as swimmers, would wash away their troubles.
The swimming pool was stylishly adorned with palms and Moroccan tiles. It was not in the Olympic size category and it was fairly crowded. It was Sarah who noticed her first.
“Isn’t that Joan Mortimore?”
“I do believe you’re right. She’s even more impressive in a cozzie in real life than in her photograph.”
“She seems to have a few fans, well mates at least.”
The group around Joan Mortimore had obscured her at first. They seemed to be, as far as they could tell, given they were in swimming costumes, an affluent bunch of swimmers or posers at least. None of the women looked overly keen to get their expensive hair dos wet.
“What’s the landlady of the Rose and Crown, a pub, by common consent, struggling to make ends meet, doing in the salubrious surroundings of the George Hotel?” Sarah asked voicing both their thoughts.
“I don’t know but she certainly seems to have got over her disappointment at Josh Barker’s disappearance,” said Jack.
“Probably putting on a brave face. Look at how red her eyes are.”
“That’s the chlorine, you foolish romantic you.”
“Makes you think though.”
She paused. “Makes you think what?” she said finally.
“Just makes you think, how does she do it? That’s all.”
“Come on, Sherlock, if that’s the best of your thinking, it’s time we went upstairs and….”
They retired to their room. Later that evening they had an indifferent dinner in the hotel’s restaurant – they hadn’t the energy to leave the hotel and walk around the town in search of a better place to eat.
They spent the whole of the next day listening to learned papers delivered by a variety of learned people in the field of special education. The day, they agreed was long, but, overall, worthwhile. They had decided they would spend one more night in the hotel, as a kind of post-conference treat. You can’t have too much pampering, they decided. They did, however, need to get out of the hotel. The conference, like most conferences, had produced a sense of claustrophobia and they needed fresh air.
Whether it was the headline on the billboard that first caught his attention, Jack could not say. Perhaps he had had the sense that Josh Barker would never sell them the barn right from their first and, now, only meeting. So when he saw the words ‘Farmer found dead in reservoir’ he knew immediately who that farmer was.
“Shit,” Jack said succinctly.
“You know, for an educated man, your language is appalling.”
“Buy a paper and read the front page.” The tone of his voice and the direction of his fixed stare cut short any further conversation. She bought the paper and began, as instructed, to read aloud the short report on the front page.
“The body of Joshua Barker was discovered today in Gouthwaite Reservoir. Mr Barker had been missing from his home at Upper Lofthouse Farm for several days. His body was spotted in the middle of the reservoir by walkers yesterday. It is not known how Mr Barker’s body came to be in the water but Detective Sergeant Michael Giggs said this morning that foul play was not suspected.”
“Foul play not suspected, you know what that means,” said Jack.
“It means they think he topped himself,” Sarah replied a little insensitively, Jack thought.
“Which we know, as trained students of human behaviour, is a complete load of bollocks,” said Jack.
“You’re not, by any chance, letting the fact that, in the words of the lovely Mrs Barker, if he has done away with himself, the sale of the barn would be in question?” Sarah asked mildly.
“Well, there is that to it, but more important, there is the need for justice.”
“Now it was Sarah’s turn to be crude, “Bollocks,” she said, you’re just worried about losing the barn.”
“Look, we know that man was the last person to kill himself by throwing himself in Gouthwaite Reservoir. He admitted he hated water. Why not just put a shotgun in his mouth and blow his head off?”
“Perhaps he didn’t want whoever found him to have the unpleasant shock of seeing a body with a stump for a head” offered Sarah. “Scattered brains can be offensive to some people.”
Jack ignored this impeccable logic. “I think we should talk to Detective Sergeant Giggs. I could offer him my professional opinion, as a psychologist, that Barker did not commit suicide.” said Jack.
“And he could offer you his professional boot out of the door,” Sarah said unkindly.
“Actually I used to know a policeman called Mike Giggs, he was the community constable for the area the special school I worked in was in. He used to visit the school, mainly, as I recall, to play football. He had gammy knees as well.
“I suppose you used to call him Ryan,” she suggested.
“You’re showing your lack of chronology, my dear. Man U’s Giggsy, if that is to whom you refer, was a, yet to be discovered, junior in his school football team, at the time. Don’t suppose it could be the same person. That was nearly twenty years ago.” Jack returned to the present. “Let’s go and see what we can see.”
Against her better judgement she was persuaded by Jack to visit DS Giggs. She hadn’t expected him to be at the police station. By tomorrow Jack would have thought of another daft scheme and the embarrassment of explaining to DS Giggs why Josh Barker couldn’t possibly have committed suicide because Jack had, on the basis of one meeting, determined Barker was not the suicidal type, would be avoided.
Unfortunately, DS Giggs was at the station and on duty and, even more amazing, agreed to see them. To complete the surprise, PC Mike Giggs was indeed now Detective Sergeant Giggs. They learned he had moved to Harrogate ten years ago after pounding the beat had taken too great a toll on his knees, and transferred to plains-clothes which he liked a lot and ‘no’ Harrogate wasn’t the doddle that everybody thought it was. There was, apparently, crime in Harrogate like every where else. As they traded favourite stories of pupils and staff, time spent playing football and how Jack had retrained to be an educational psychologist, Jack looked round the office, it was not huge. The room wouldn’t have won any prizes for minimalist chic. The traditional battered desk, on which sat a surprisingly new computer, metal chair and two filing cabinets took up one side of the small office. The other part of the room was filled with two slightly more comfortable but equally battered padded chairs with metal arms. Jack looked at the two, framed photographs on the desk. One was a photograph of an attractive dark-haired woman with two good-looking children. The other was a photograph of DS Giggs holding a golfing trophy won, by the look of Giggs in the picture, quite recently.
“I see we’ve both gone down the same route, sportswise,” said Jack pointing to the photograph.
“You a golfer too?” asked Giggs.
“Trying to be. I’ve only recently taken it up. After the cricket gave up on me.” Jack couldn’t resist the inevitable golfer’s first meeting question. “So what’s your handicap?”
DS Giggs looked at the photograph and, with all the modesty he could muster, replied, “I’m playing off 10 at the moment.”
“Hmm, that’s impressive, I’m still trying to break a hundred on a consistent basis,” said Jack.
“It’ll come. It’s a game you have to play regularly to get better at. With my office hours I can play in the week. That helps.”
“You a member somewhere?” said Jack asking probably the golfer’s second favourite question.
“Yes, we still live in Cookridge. Never could afford the move to Harrogate. So at the moment that’s where I’m a member. What about you? You need to join a club if you’re going to get your handicap down. Let’s see if we can fix up a round sometime”
Jack knew that this was simply the normal golfer’s banter and wasn’t intended to be a genuine invitation.
“Or even get a handicap in the first place.” Jack paused a moment, then went on, “I’m in the process of trying to join Standsmoor”
DS Giggs blew out his cheeks, “Expensive,” he said definitively.
“That would be right,” said Sarah, quiet until now, but seeing an opportunity not to let go by. “Jack has always had the classic Rolls Royce tastes on the Morris Minor income, haven’t you, sweetheart?
A good policeman knows when to pause and when to move on. Giggs recognised this as one of those moments between man and wife to move on from.
“Cup of tea? Coffee?”
They refused the offer. DS Giggs smiled politely and asked,
“So, you said you had information about the death of Joshua Barker. What kind of information?
“We have reason to believe he was murdered,” said Jack.
Sarah, who had known Jack over twenty years thought she had never, in all those years, heard him say anything so outrageous – and she had heard him say some very outrageous things, usually at parties when alcohol had led him to believe he was either a lot funnier or cleverer than he actually was. Here, he was stone–cold,
sober. She had, as they say, not heard nothing yet.
“What makes you think that?” asked DS Giggs with a remarkable degree of restraint and admirable politeness.
“We are trying to buy a piece of his property and we met him just over a week ago. I am, as I’ve said, a psychologist and in my judgement, he was not the type to kill himself by drowning.”
“So you’re not actually saying he was murdered just that he didn’t kill himself by drowning.”
“Yes, Detective Sergeant,” Sarah put in quickly, “that’s exactly what my husband is saying. You’ll have to forgive him. He desperately wants to buy this barn.”
“As a painting studio for my lovely wife,” said Jack in an effort to win back a little of the kudos he felt he had just lost.
“As a studio for his lovely wife,” Sarah agreed. “Nevertheless, no matter how admirable his motives, this desire has definitely turned his brain to mush.”
DS Giggs again smiled kindly, “Don’t let Mo, that’s my wife, hear about this or she’ll be wanting me to buy her a barn.”
“Don’t worry Detective Sergeant, our secret is safe with us even though my husband is turning into a full-weight idiot whose mouth seems to operating independently of what’s left of his brain.”
“Look,” said Giggs turning to, a slightly red-faced, Jack, “I’m not saying we’re closing the book on Josh Barker but you’ll have to give us a bit more than ‘I’m a psychologist and, in my professional opinion, he didn’t drown himself’. Criminal profiling and educational psychology are not quite the same thing. Even I know that and I don’t know much about the world of psychology’.
“How was he found?” Jack asked trying to reinstate himself in the adult part of the conversation.
“Two walkers saw his body floating in the middle of the reservoir and called us,” Giggs replied. He went on, “No signs of violence on the body. Looked like he’d been in the water for a few days and floated to the surface when decomposition caused the body to..”
“We don’t need the details, do we Jack?” She looked for confirmation from Jack but saw only a slightly disappointed look on his face. “Just the broad facts will do,” she went on, realising she was on her own in this matter.
“We’re going for accidental death or possibly suicide. We don’t know how he got there, right out in the middle I mean. We know he couldn’t swim. The local police reckon that the current wouldn’t have taken the body there from the shore. There’s the current from the Nidd but that runs right through the middle of the reservoir. In fact it was carrying the body down towards the dam wall. By the time we got there it was pretty much up against the sluice gates. Made it easier to retrieve, so that was stroke of luck.”
Any more luck and he’d have won the lottery, thought Sarah. Jack interrupted her thoughts.
“What would have happened to it when it got to the sluice gates?” he asked.
“I’m not sure, probably would have been dragged down by the current and slowly decomposed,” he paused, “sorry Mrs Jacques.” Realising he had once more gone into the world of gruesome detail, Giggs stopped talking.
“In which case it would probably never have been found,” Jack said gleefully.
“That doesn’t make it murder, Jack.”
No, thought Jack, but it doesn’t make it bloody suicide or accidental death either.
“We probably should go, Jack,” said Sarah. The poke in the ribs was implied rather than delivered.
“Look, Mike, we will get more evidence. We’re..”
“You’re,” Sarah interupted.
“We,” Jack insisted, “ have a strong feeling that there’s more to Josh Barker’s death than either suicide or accidental death. There are things going on up there that need some looking into.”
“Well, be careful, Jack. I don’t want to be looking at your body on the slab. It’s no position to improve your swing. If there’s evidence of foul-play bring it to us. We’ll deal with it. But without firm evidence we’re not going anywhere with this case.”
They were almost out the door when Jack decided to share with Giggs a thought that had been growing in his mind.
“You know I’m quite interested in criminal psychology. I’m half looking for a change in career. Perhaps you and I might talk again, however this case works out, about the possibilities?”
Whether he was just being polite or wanted to be genuinely and realistically encouraging Jack could not tell. Nevertheless, Giggs agreed that this would be a very good idea.
They left the police station and walked back to their hotel. Despite the fact they hadn’t eaten, they seemed to have little appetite and so abandoned their plan to find a restaurant. They took the lift to their room. Jack changed into his moccasins. They ordered a sandwich and a bottle of wine in their room. They climbed into bed and Jack tried to sleep. His head was crowded with ideas about how Barker had been killed and who had killed him and why they had. The problem was none of them made much sense and he had no evidence of anything – yet.
“Get more evidence”. The words repeated in his head like a mantra. He awoke at 5.30 cold and sweating simultaneously, the dream of Josh Barker’s bloated and now silent body surfacing repeatedly from the black waters of Gouthwaite Reservoir still filling his head. As in the stuff of dreams this image was seamlessly interspersed with a dream in which his laptop keyboard went soft and buckled so the keys overlapped but, in which, he kept on typing – as you do in dreams.
“Sorry. I’ve been thinking about Josh Barker.”
“No, really?” she replied sarcastically.
The landing light outside their bedroom door was still on, a sign that their 20 year old son had not returned from what ever form of nocturnal, social activity occupied him until the early hours of this morning. Jack’s capacity to worry about his son’s whereabouts was unusually diluted this morning by a preoccupation with Barker’s death. He scraped himself from the damp bed sheets. Surprising that, despite their unwelcome sweatiness, he found it almost impossible to get out of bed. His trip to the toilet confirmed that their son had not yet returned. The usual pang of anxiety gripped his lower abdomen. It was Friday night or rather Saturday morning. He had spent the week worrying about Barker’s death but until this morning he had had, with a heavy work schedule, little time to give any thought to how Barker’s body had got into the reservoir. Jack climbed back into bed but could not find a comfortable position. As he tossed and turned he ran through his list of suspects.
“I think she did it.”
“No really, I think it had to be her. He had to be taken out to the middle of the reservoir in a boat and then dumped. No signs of violence Mike said. Who else would he have got in a boat with?”
“Bloody, bloody, bloody hell, Jack. Why are we having this conversation now? It’s 5.30 in the morning.”
“My brain is at its most incisive at this hour,” he replied.
“Are you seriously telling me his wife killed him?”
“No, wake up. Not his wife but his lover, the steroid bound Mrs M. She probably just flipped him over the side and hit him with an oar. No, that won’t work, Mike said there were no signs of violence. She was clearly having an affair with him. She realised that their love was doomed and he intended to try and restore relationships with his wife. Rather than lose him she rows him out in the boat, probably on the pretext of a joint suicide pact. They jump out together, she swims back to the shore. Or he bottles out so she tips over the boat, he drowns, she swims back to shore. Done!”
“And this boat is now where, exactly?”
“Hidden in the bushes somewhere. If we walked round the edge of the reservoir I bet we’d find it.”
“So the boat, rowed itself back to the shore,” she said burying her face in the pillow.
“OK, so she righted the boat after Josh had gone to his watery grave and she rowed it back.” Jack pulled the pillow away to make sure Sarah had fully understood his clever refining of the method of Josh Barker’s murder. “Or, or, she had a way of getting the boat to sink, maybe she pulled the bung out or whatever they have in boats”
“If he was intending to go back to his wife, why in the name of all that is holy would he agree to a joint suicide pact?”
“Because, obviously, he had intended to go back to her but she said no way, he realised it was hopeless but she, Mrs M that is, not Mrs B, realised his heart was no longer in their love affair so decided to do him in. Da da,”
“Jack, go back to sleep. It’s 5.30 in the morning. We’ll talk about this on the way up to the barn.” With that she rolled over and, despite Jack’s efforts to engage her in further sleuthing, remained silent.
Four hours later they drove out of Leeds towards Otley on the first part of their trip to the barn. The weather had returned to its former glory. As they skirted the Chevin, Arncliff Craggs stood proudly in the distance across Wharfedale. They drove through Otley and up over the moors. Sarah felt her mood improve to the point where she actually felt that she might encourage Jack’s, apparently growing, belief in his role as psychologist / super sleuth.
“So Sherlock, what’s our next move?”
Despite the faint hint of sarcasm, Jack, delighted to be described in this manner, took up the conversation with enthusiasm.
“I think you should find out from Mrs M what she was doing in the George Hotel last Monday. Tell her you saw her there and wanted to say ‘hello’ but she seemed to be surrounded by lots of friends. Watch her closely. Like this.” Despite the fact he was driving he leaned over towards Sarah until he was a few inches away from her face and stared directly into her eyes.
“Jack, watch the road. I’d like to live to paint again,” she said forcibly moving his head so it faced forwards.
“Say how sorry you were to hear about Josh’s death.”
“Perhaps it would make more sense to start with that line, than, ‘oh by the way’, I saw you by the swimming pool and wasn’t it a shame that Josh’s decomposing body was found in the reservoir and, ‘oh, by the way’, were you, in fact, shagging him?”
“Yes, that’s the gist of it although it might need a little dressing up. Come on, you’ve been married to one of the world’s top psychologists, you must have learned something about analysing a person’s motives. Basic things like are they telling the truth, that sort of thing.”
“And while I’m doing this, you will be doing what, exactly?”
“I’ve decided that Bickerdyke is the dual key to this murder mystery. It’s Saturday..
“Excuse me, as it is Saturday, I will pay him a visit in the office and question him about Barker’s state of mind during the balloon trip. Say we need to know if he did kill himself because we might not buy the barn otherwise. If he won’t talk I’ll threaten to expose his illegal trade in headstones.”
“Won’t he be ballooning on a lovely day like this?”
“We’ll be there before 10.30 so I should catch him before he takes off, always supposing he has any clients to take off with.”
“And under the glare of your intensive interrogation he will tell you what?”
“That Barker was as happy as a sandboy, had no intention of committing suicide and that his life had been threatened by some mysterious stranger and he might just point us in the direction of that self same stranger. Hey Voila,” Jack ended with a flourish which involved taking both hands off the steering wheel.
“You do realise this is madness, I suppose?”
Before Jack could respond to this jibe, his attention was taken by a large four-wheel drive vehicle that pulled out in front of him.
“You stupid bastard,” shouted Jack pulling wildly at the lights stalk but succeeding only in washing the windscreen. “You idiot,” he said trying to see through the now smeared windscreen somewhat deflated.
“I love the way you attempted to dissipate your anger by washing the windscreen. Sort of aquatic therapy.”
“Well did you see the idiot?”
“You haven’t really mastered this road rage thing, have you?” Sarah suggested with a calmness that infuriated Jack even more.
“Bastard thinks he owns the road. Did you see how he just pulled out in front of me? Is it too much for him to wait until I’ve passed by?”
“For a psychologist there are some very murky corners of your mind that do not bear close examination.”
“Don’t psychologists have a right to get angry?”
“One of these days that temper of yours is going to get you into deep water.
It was hard to stay angry on a day like this with 360 degree views of the moors and, in the valleys, sunlight sparkling on their surface, Swinsty, Fewston and Thruscross reservoirs. Over the moors grouse half walked, half flew out of their way. Various other birds, they could not yet recognise but soon would, spotted the sky. They drove past Greenhow Hill part of the series of limestone anticlines, a system of folds of rock stretching from Skipton to Harrogate. The ugly gash of the quarry clearly seen on their left. Guide books reported that lead ingots have been mined in this area for the last 2000 years. Now the limestone formed, the less glamorous function, of aggregate for road surfacing. They turned towards Pateley Bridge. To their left beyond Raygill House Moor and Ramsgill Moor lay Nidderdale relaxed and welcoming in the winter sunlight. Today, despite its beauty, did the valley, Jack wondered, seem more sinister or was it merely his imagination. As usual they had approached today visit with little thought, now, as they approached the valley, a cloud of anxiety passed over them.
“Do you think we’re getting too deep into this?” Sarah asked, voicing his own thoughts. “We’re not exactly experts in the field.”
“Not yet but give us time and we will be the twenty first century’s McMillan and Wife,” he replied.
“But I don’t want to be anybody’s fictional detective wife. It’s dangerous, they get bashed on the head and nearly killed. I can get that at work.”
“Look all we’re going to do is talk to Mrs M and David Bickerdyke.”
“You. Tell her you’re interested in starting a get fit campaign and thought about swimming and you’ve heard she’s an expert. Tell her you were at The George last Monday and see if she admits to being there. Subtly ask her how she affords it. Say how surprised you were that Barker’s body was found in the water when he’d told us he hated the water. Watch her closely,” Jack did the staring thing again. This time Sarah didn’t’ react – a sign of her anxiety, he deduced.
“And what are you going to say to Bickerdyke?”
“I’ll start off with conversation about his offer of a balloon trip and I… haven’t quite worked the rest out yet. I’ll drop you off come back here and see Bickerdyke and then we’ll go for a nice long, relaxing walk up to Scar House reservoir.”
“That will be nice,” she agreed.
They drove along the valley on the winding and, partially resurfaced, road past Gouthwaite Reservoir. The water looked almost playful with the sunlight bouncing off its surface. It was unlikely Josh Barker thought of it as ‘playful’ as he sank, for the last time beneath it. The forty foot high dam holding back two miles of water would have thought little of the effort of restricting Josh Barker’s decomposing body until, assisted by the fish, the body would be no body at all .
“No way he got out there on his own,” said Jack conversationally, as they went by.
“I suppose I’d better give him a call on the mobile,” he continued.
“You mean Barker, I don’t think he’ll be taking any calls at the moment.”
“Funny. I meant Bickerdyke, of course. Make sure he’s at the office. No point me driving all that way back if he’s not there,” said Jack
“I’m surprised the mobile works round here,” Sarah replied.
“True, but its actually very good reception.”
“Have you got the number?”
“Yes, I’ve still got the business card he gave me when he offered us the free trip.”
“Are we going to take him up on his offer?”
“Oh, probably,” he replied with a vagueness that suggested he didn’t want to discuss this particular issue any further.
It turned out Dave Bickerdyke was in the office and, yes, he would be pleased to see Jack to discuss when they might take the trip. Business was still slow to non-existent apparently.
Jack dropped Sarah off outside the Rose and Crown. With the briefest of backwards glances he drove back down the valley. He passed The Yorke Arms in picturesque Ramsgill. One weekend they would splash out on a room here rather than The Rose and Crown, but not yet. His modest attempts at researching the history of Nidderdale had told him the now pub / restaurant had been originally the hunting lodge of the Yorke family who bought the land comprising this upper part of Nidderdale in1546 for the sum of £800 and kept it until 1924. According to Justin Blayney the current owners of The Yorke Arms had just spent £40,000 on one cooker or at least one cooking range. Must have been a hell of a cooker, Jack smiled at the thought. Fifty times as much as on one cooker as the cost of the whole of the valley. What would the Yorkes have made of that, he wondered?
Jack drove into the yard and parked the Volvo directly in front of the Nidderdale Ballooning office. Without any conscious effort his mind went back to the previous weekend. He realised, for the first time in a week, that he still had the key Mrs Barker had given him. With some guilt he looked in the glove compartment. It was still there. He had no idea what he would do with it and even less idea how he was going to get Bickerdyke to tell him how Josh Barker had behaved during the balloon trip.
When he entered the office Dave Bickerdyke was examining the same log book Jack had begun to scrutinise the week before on their little breaking and entering enterprise. He looked up as Jack entered and smiled.
“Hello there,” he said, in his plummy, public-schoolboy voice.
“Hi. Thanks for letting me come over.”
“Really not a problem at all, Jack. It’s not as if I’m up to my eyes in it.”
“So how is business?” Jack asked. He wasn’t sure where he wanted the conversation to go but he sensed some kind of opportunity to better understand the complexities of what he had begun to call ‘this case’. Maybe he would make a detective after all.
“Well, it’s pretty dire. I sit and wait for the phone to ring and while I sit I read my book. People are starting to come back to the countryside but with footpaths still closed off, they’re still reluctant to spend the tourist dollar in places they don’t feel entirely welcome. See for yourself.”
He pushed the log book across the counter towards Jack. To Jack’s mild surprise the log book had now been completed. Two or three entries where, previously, the page had been blank. Bickerdyke clearly wanted Jack to see the recent entries. He wasn’t sure why. The entry relating to Josh Barker’s trip now read – Base to Lofthouse. Jack wasn’t sure how a real-life detective would have proceeded so he followed his instinct.
“I see you’ve got Josh’s last trip in here.”
“What do you mean, last trip?” his voice losing a little of its plummy edge.
“I meant that he wasn’t seen after the trip, was he?”
“No, no. I see what you mean. Tragic. So much to offer” Jack let this go as being no more than the way in which the upper classes went onto some kind of sympathetic auto-pilot at times of national or local tragedy.
“Do you have to fill this log book in after every trip?”
“Absolutely, government regulations and all that. Next to VAT, bane of the small businessman’s life. They’re very strict on the record-keeping.”
“It says here that the trip went from here just to Lofthouse. Isn’t that unusual?”
“I do occasionally drop people off. Walkers who want to be put down on the top of Whernside, that sort of thing. It’s not always possible, depends on weather conditions. In Josh’s case I don’t think he was ever really keen on celebrating his birthday with a balloon trip. It was his wife’s idea really.”
“Strange present, one you think the person getting it won’t like.”
“ I think she was just trying to be helpful to me in my hour of financial crisis.”
“Really? I’d sort of heard that you two weren’t the closest of friends.”
“Where did you here that?” the accent slipping a little further.
“I believe Mrs Barker implied it. Perhaps I got the wrong end of the stick. I frequently do.”
Bickerdyke laughed. “Oh, right. She thinks Josh and I have, sorry had, some problems over money. Josh owns the land that we launch the balloon from. I got a bit behind with the rent. But it’s sorted now.”
I bet they are, thought Jack. From the moment he went into the water and didn’t come out again, at least not alive.
“So, he didn’t like the trip, then?” Jack asked, deciding that the previous line of enquiry – he smiled to himself at this detective jargon – wasn’t going anywhere.
“I don’t think he had a great head for heights, so we stopped near the farm and let him off. His wife dropped him off here so it wasn’t a problem”
“Poor sod, didn’t have much fun did he? Hated the water, didn’t like heights, relationship with his wife gone pear shape.”
Bickerdyke seemed unwilling to contribute any further to this discussion, so Jack tried another angle.
“How much office space do you have here? I suppose you have to pay rent to somebody. Is that to Josh as well?”
“No, this building is owned by the Westland Estate. They’re not out to kill off local business. In fact it’s in their interest if small business people like me survive, so the rent’s not bad.”
“Can I look around?” Jack couldn’t immediately think of a believable reason for this request. He could hardly say that he wanted to see if the gravestones were still in the back room. “I’m always interested in these old buildings,” he said lamely.
“Well, it’s nothing special. Walk this way.” He turned on his heels and walked into, what Jack already knew to be, the storeroom. “This is where we..”
“Well I’ve got this guy in Pateley Bridge who works for me when business is better. You need somebody to track the balloon to its landing point. Sort of had to lay him off over the last few months. I don’t suppose he’s very happy about that but, what can you do? Business is bad.”
Jack showed an appropriate interest in the various bits of equipment lying around. He noticed the tatty exercise book in which Bickerdyke kept a record of the amount of gas he had used was back on top on the cylinders were Jack had seen it on their last, illegal, visit.
“What’s through there?” he asked, nodding at the door, trying to sound casual but feeling like his voice had risen an octave or two.
He thought Bickerdyke gave him a strange look but he replied.
“Oh, just an additional storeroom, it’s empty at the moment. As I said when we’re busy it gets more use.”
With that the tour seemed to have ended. Jack couldn’t think of anyway he could casually ask Bickerdyke to let him see the inside of the second storeroom. Then in that curious and coincidental way that life has sometimes, Bickerdyke said, “Look I need to take a leak. I won’t be a moment then we can discuss next your trip.”
Bickerdyke walked through to the office and Jack seized the moment. The door was not locked. It opened silently but, to Jack, the noise was crushing. He could see without walking across the room, that the place where the headstones had been stacked was empty. So whatever use he had intended to make of their existence had probably, like the headstones, disappeared. He hadn’t really expected anything else.
He was back in the office and leaning on the counter as nonchalantly as any legitimate punter would. Bickerdyke took some time to explain how the trip would proceed, how the balloon worked, how safe it all was and how Jack would feel perfectly safe, even though he was, quote, scared shitless of heights. Until this conversation Jack had really no intention of actually taking up Bickerdyke’s offer of the ‘free’ balloon trip. It had merely been a way of prolonging the investigation of the possibility that Bickerdyke had somehow been involved in the disappearance of Josh Barker. He had, after all, by his own admission, been the last person, at least the last person to admit, that he had seen Barker alive. This meeting had both removed a material source of evidence and, with the filling in of the log book, convinced Jack that Bickerdyke had something to hide. The free trip now seemed the only logical way in which they could pursue this line of enquiry. Jack had two thoughts, one, that he was becoming seriously addicted to terminology like ‘line of enquiry’ and two, that reference to ‘they’ reminded him that Sarah might have had more success with Mrs Mortimore than he had had with Dave Bickerdyke. He decided to have one last attempt. He asked the obvious question.
“You know the police are thinking Josh’s death is either suicide or accidental. What about the suicide angle? You knew him pretty well. Would you say he was a man capable of killing himself?”
“He had seemed, somehow,” he paused, “different lately. Like he had something on his mind. Maybe it was just the dreaded fifty. Haven’t got there myself yet, but I’m told it hits some people quite hard. What have I done with my life? Where am I going? That sort of thing. Josh certainly seemed to have something bugging him. Whether that was enough to cause him to kill himself, I couldn’t say. They tell me you’re the psychologist, so perhaps you’d know better than I.”
“I only met him briefly but I would have to say, other than some strange reference to being too easily influenced, he didn’t strike me as the self-harming type. He struck me as pretty tough in the way that farmers do.”
“True but then, as I’m sure you know, the suicide rate among farmers is probably higher than most other professions. With,” he laughed, “the exception of doctors and psychiatrists, of course. Sorry”
“It’s perfectly alright, you can laugh away. In my professional view, not enough psychiatrists top themselves, we could do with more.”
“No love lost between the professions?”
“You could say that,” Jack replied.“ OK, then,” said Jack, making an effort to get back to the original topic of conversation. “So, when he left you, he seemed somewhat pre-occupied but not positively suicidal.”
“I’d say that was a fair summary.” Then, as an afterthought, “You could always ask his wife, she’d probably know more than I.” With that the conversation ended. For whatever reason Bickerdyke seemed definitely reluctant to talk any more about Josh Barker’s first and last balloon trip.
He said goodbye to Bickerdyke and arranged to meet him at 10 o’clock next Saturday morning when they would, weather permitting, take a trip to remember along Upper Nidderdale. Bickerdyke wrote down the time on one of his business cards. Any excuse, it seemed, to use them up.
Jack drove back towards Lofthouse and thought about what he knew. He was sure Josh Barker hadn’t committed suicide by throwing himself into Gouthwaite’s cold and dark waters. He might have his shortcomings as a psychologist but he could recognise a man afraid of water when he saw him. Somebody had killed Barker and then contrived to get his body into the middle of the reservoir then dumped it. Whether this person was unaware that a body rises to the surface as it begins to decompose or whether they were so certain that the police would believe Barker had committed suicide when the body surfaced, he didn’t know. Bickerdyke owed Barker money and so had a reason for wanting Barker dead. From what he had seen of Bickerdyke’s books the sum involved could be a couple of hundred thousand pounds. Worth killing for? And he had other nefarious dealings with the, now removed, headstones. Bickerdyke would be strong enough to knock him unconscious, even if there were no bruising to the back of the head, Jack was sure that a man could be rendered unconscious without any greater signs of violence than as if he had banged his head on the side of the boat as he supposedly threw himself over the side. Then again, if Josh Barker thought he was on a suicide mission with his ex or current lover, depending on the weight of evidence, he really would have gone into the water without bruising but this came back to the fact that Barker would not have chosen this method of suicide. Why would he have got into the boat with Joan Mortimore. No boats were allowed on the reservoir so they must have gone out under cover of darkness. Perhaps they had met near the reservoir, she had then injected him with some secret poison or sedative, the pathologist had failed to notice the pin-prick mark, she’d bundled into the boat and hey presto – dead farmer.
Jack was finding this first excursion into the detective world a lot harder than he had imagined. He would wait and see what Sarah had to say but it was clear to him that he would have to lengthen his list of suspects. He needed somebody he could trust to develop his further theories. He couldn’t go back to Mike Giggs, not yet, not until he had more proof of something, anything! He would talk to Justin Blayney. He clearly knew about the community and yet would be far enough removed from it to offer unbiased opinions about the possible suspects. As he drove his thoughts were divided between admiring the beauty of the valley and wondering how Sarah had got on with Joan Mortimore. He smiled as he thought of Sarah questionning Joan Mortimore. She should be excellent at asking questions. She did enough of it when she was with Jack. At times she would drive him crazy with a string of unending question about any and every topic. Sometimes he had to limit the number of questions she could ask. He thought of a recent example when he had told her he’d been talking with a colleague about marriages that lasted. Who was that? He gave her the name of the colleague. How did that topic come up? Just in conversation. Did she think that was a good thing? Yes, certainly. How long has she been married for? Right that’s it, no more questions. Sometimes they did the ‘I didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition’ sketch. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition, and so on. As he replayed this trivial domestic drama in his head, he realised that he was anxious about his wife. Asking Sarah to get involved in questioning Joan Mortimore suddenly seemed like an unacceptable risk. Perhaps they were getting into something they wouldn’t be able to easily extricate themselves from. Maybe there would a cost to their dabbling and maybe it would be a high one.
Jack forced himself to look once again at the contours of the dale. One of his favourite games of late had been tracing the route of the old railway that had run along the dale until its closure in 1929. If the train had been running today perhaps somebody might have seen how Josh Barker got into Gouthwaite Reservoir. He followed the imaginary track into Lofthouse, parked the Volvo in the pub car park. There were four or five cars there. Jack did not pay them any attention. He walked quickly inside. With some relief he found Sarah sitting in the hotel lounge. Jack raised a questioning eyebrow. Sarah replied with a sideways jerk of her head which either meant, talk to you outside or indicated she was having an epileptic fit. Jack decided it was the former.
They had decided, in an effort to reduce the amount of cholestrol, starch and general all round calories, not to eat another pub lunch. They had their sandwiches, cake, biscuits and a flask of coffee in their rucksack. They were intending to walk up to Scar House reservoir and have their picnic overlooking the water. They’d never been there before but the guidebook made the walk sound both pleasant and achievable for people not at the absolute peak of fitness. They left the Volvo at the side of the road, just below the barn on Trapping Hill, climbed the stile and set off across the fields. The day was still beautiful and, not for the first time, they thought how fortunate they were to be a part of this designated area of outstanding natural beauty. Jack broke the silence first.
“OK, then, let’s have it. What did she have to say?
“Well, I can honestly say she was politeness personified. She’s invited me to go skinny dipping with her.”
“That’s great,” said Jack absent-mindedly. “She what?” he said, suddenly realising what she had said.
“Joke. It was a joke.”
“I knew that,” he laughed unconvincingly. “So, really, what did she have to say? Is she guilty as hell or merely the innocent victim of a blighted love tryst?”
“Do you ever feel you missed your vocation? What about headline writer for The Sun?” Then Sarah told Jack what she had learned.
“Well, first of all, the reason she was hob-nobbing with the rich and famous of Harrogate was because she was trying to raise funds to build a swimming pool next to the recreation centre. The one we pass when we drive out here. Apparently a few of them have got a bid together for a lottery grant but they need to raise half the money. She rounded up a few tame socialites and was tapping them up for the money. Quite successfully too.”
“Maybe,” Jack said brightly, “she killed him for his money. Maybe he’d left her some in his will. Probably for their secret love child.”
“I do have to say that, when I cunningly worked the conversation round to Josh Barker, there is definitely something murky there. She quite filled up at the mention of his name. Seemed quite bitter about something but I couldn’t get out of her what it was. Even sister to sister. All she would say was that Josh Barker had been much misunderstood and people would realise what a mistake they had made.”
“Is that all?”
“Only that she seemed to hint that his selling the barn to us had somehow set off whatever, whoever had killed him.”
“She doesn’t believe he killed himself either, then?”
“No she certainly doesn’t. I think she has an idea about who did but she wouldn’t say anything to me. Not surprisingly I suppose.”
“Does she know that we’re hot on the trail of whoever did do it?”
“I sort of hinted that we were quite keen to prove he didn’t commit suicide because that would call into question the sale of the barn.”
For no reason she could determine, Jack suddenly changed the subject.
“Did you tell her where we were going on our walk?”
Something in the tone of his voice made her look up.
“Why do you ask that?” she asked, unable to keep a note of anxiety out of her voice.
“Oh, nothing, I suppose. Just that for the last five minutes or so I’ve had the strange feeling that we’re being followed,” he replied.
They both looked around involuntarily. The path behind them was empty, so was the hillside above them. On the other side of the path, above them, ran the road to the reservoir. A red car drove slowly past without stopping. A few clouds had begun to fill the, otherwise blue, sky. The sun went behind one of these clouds and Sarah shivered.
“Come on, we’re letting this spook us. Walk on, oh intrepid one,” said Jack, more brightly than he felt.
They quickened their pace. Because they were walking quickly their conversation all but stopped. In less than half and hour they approached Goyden Pot. This was the place where the River Nidd, after substantial rainfall, disappeared into caves and ran underground for a few miles. There had been relatively little rain over the last few weeks and, as a result, the Nidd was little more than a trickle as it disappeared down the Pot. They studied the entrance to the cave system with interest.
“People climb down there for fun,” Jack said, almost absent-mindedly.
“Not sure I’d want to be caught in there if it had been raining,” said Sarah looking further into the mouth of the pot.
The noise came up from the ground with a suddenness that caused both of them to jump backwards.
“What the bloody hell was that?” asked Jack, for once quite willing to show his fear.
“There’s somebody or something down there,” he went on, his voice rising an octave or two.
“You’re not entirely cut out to fill the brave detective role, are you?”
“Did you hear it? That sound wasn’t made by anything human. Not down there it wasn’t.”
“I thought you were the one who’d been reading about this area and all its folklore. Haven’t you read that when people go pot-holing down there and that when they talk their voices float up to the surface with a ghostly quality. That is in one of your very own guidebooks.”
“Ha, I knew that, I was just f-f-fooling around.”
“Of course you were. Come on, Sherlock. It’s looking a little bit greyer overhead and so, actually, are you. Let’s move on.”
Instinctively, as they left the mouth of the pothole, they looked along the path in both directions and above and below them. No other human being could be seen. Above them, on the road, another red car or perhaps the same one drove down the road without stopping. Only the disembodied voices of the unseen pot-holers stayed with them, actually for a few yards and, in spirit, for the rest of the journey. A few hundred yards further on the vast majority of the waters of the, still fledgling, River Nidd sank, without ceremony, beneath the ground at Manchester Hole. Above them the steep wooded hillside of Beggar Moat Scar threatened to block out the rapidly fading sunlight. Despite the fact that it was barely lunchtime, the day had turned cold.
“I suppose it is winter,” said Jack, by way of acknowledging the change in the weather.
“They do say that the weather changes incredibly quickly up here,” Sarah said, pulling the drawstrings of her jacket a little tighter.
“So,” said Jack, by way of taking Sarah’s attention from his rather timid behaviour back at the pot the cave, “don’t you want to know what happened with Bickerdyke
“Do you know what with being spied on from above, attacked by ghosts from below, I’d completely forgotten about Bickerdyke,” Sarah said with more than a dash of sarcasm. “So tell me, what’s the story with him? Did you confront him about his sideline in grave robbing?”
“Well, would you believe that the stones were no longer secreted in his storeroom. So that seemed to make the accusation a little lacking in weight.”
“I hope you told him, that forensic traces could still be found and that no two rocks are exactly the same and that we could still arrest his ass if we so desired.”
“Actually, no. But I did notice that the flight logbook has now been filled in. But I still don’t know what stopped him from filling in it in the first place. He made a big point of saying that the logbook had to be filled in after every flight but, as we know, that wasn’t the case. He was very keen to show me the book.”
“But why, one wonders?”
“I guess he wanted me to be some kind of witness or something. I don’t know. Some confirmation of innocence?”
“Maybe he knows we broke in and is testing you.”
“Hang on, what’s this bit about me being an accomplice?”
“Well, if he knows you’ve been there and seen the logbook but now doesn’t admit that he’s filled it in whereas before it wasn’t, then he knows that you’re kind of in it with him,” she ground to a halt.
“The oxygen up here must be much thinner than is commonly thought. Now whose brain has turned to mush?”
“You’re right and it’s all your fault. You’ve got me spooked and now I’m not thinking straight either.” Jack ignored all the obvious put-downs.
“So far we’ve not got a lot but we’ve got a pretty fair idea that Bickerdyke’s covering something up and Mrs M knows more than she’s prepared to tell us. We can try Bickerdyke again next week but I don’t see how we can go much further with Mrs Mortimore.” He paused looking slightly downcast then suddenly became more cheerful. “We can come back and see Mrs Barker. We can use the pretence of returning the key. We can ask her why she gave me the key and commiserate with her about her husband’s death. Not that she probably needs any comforting.”
“I’m sure you’d be the man to do it, if she did,” Sarah said with a hint of irritation.
“What can you mean?” Jack asked.
“Oh, I’m simply thinking of your professional counselling skills, that’s all.”
The path was uneven and in parts sloped down to the river. This kind of terrain hurt Jack’s knees. He thought back, with a smile, to his past sporting triumphs and failures. They walked on in silence towards the reservoir each with their own thoughts. After 45 minutes walking they could see the dam wall ahead of them.
“Have you still got that feeling that we’re being followed?” Sarah asked. Jack paused and looked around him. His gloomy thoughts of conspiracy to murder, which had competed with his sporting thoughts, lightened as he realised they were alone on the hillside.
“Funnily enough, I haven’t,” Jack replied.
They stood for a few minutes and admired the stark beauty of the dam wall and the, reportedly, 2,200 million gallons of water it held back. This was the maximum amount the reservoir held when full, which was obviously now the case. Although recent rain had been light it was enough to have filled it and the wind which, they noticed, was now blowing more strongly, was beginning, with a deceptively gentle rhythm, to push small amounts of water over the edge of the dam wall. It fell in a froth of white and the occasional peat brown 170 feet to where it became the River Nidd. Or so it seemed to them.
“Wouldn’t like to be in the way of that lot if the wall ever burst,” said Sarah.
“Started in 1921, finished in 1936. Largest stone built dam in Europe. 700 men to build. Cost 2 million quid. All this ends up in Bradford.” Jack reeled off his guide book facts with pride.
“Well, I’ll go to Bradford, as my grandma used to say,” Sarah said with a subtle attempt to jolt his smugness. “And I still wouldn’t want to be in the way of it if it burst.”
Beyond Scar House reservoir they could see the smaller Angram Reservoir, the first of the two bodies of water, (Gouthwaite didn’t, it’s job was to keep the Nidd flowing), that provided water for the, then thriving, Bradford. It still did but Bradford was no longer thriving, unlike its neighbour Leeds. In the distance to their right they could see grey slopes of Little Whernside, about a mile away they calculated, 1,984 feet high. Further away on their left, Great Whernside, the taller, as one would guess from the name, at 2,310 feet high. They shivered despite the pleasure of the view. It looked bleak over that way.
“We need to eat, it’s getting a bit colder,” said Sarah, ever practical. “Where do you want to eat, overlooking the reservoir this side or shall we walk across the dam wall and sit at the picnic tables?”
“The ground isn’t actually wet and we can sit on our coats. The views better this side,” Jack replied.
They found a spot a few hundred yards past the entrance to the narrow road that ran across the top of the dam. No more than the width of one car and a few feet and enclosed on either side by a chest high wall, it had a rather forbidding look to it.
“I..” began Sarah.
“Wouldn’t like to be on there if it collapsed, yes we know,” Jack interrupted. “Picnic time.”
They spread their waterproofs on the ground and Sarah took out the sandwiches and poured them both a half a mug of coffee. Any more and the coffee would be cold before they’d finished it. As is always the case out of doors, the cheese and onion and pate sandwiches tasted great and the coffee was fantastic. The small treacle tarts, bought earlier, and the chocolate biscuits tasted even better. With genuine regret they finished their food, saving 1 sandwich and 4 chocolate biscuits for the walk back to Lofthouse. Half an hour after they had sat down they stood up. It was too cold to stay longer even if they’d wanted to. They packed the flask and mugs and, what was left of, the food into the rucksacks. They put on their coats, grateful for their additional warmth. This time Jack pulled up his hood against the cold. They started down the hill towards the dam wall.
Refreshed after their picnic, they walked briskly between the narrow confines of the two walls. The tarmaced road easier on their feet than the uneven, grassy, sloping hillside they had walked on so far. The height of the walls protected them from the wind still sweeping the expanse of the reservoir. The wind seemed to them to be stronger now. The white-crested waves they could see, now they were close, were about 12 to 18 inches high. Along the dam wall, approximately 600 yards apart were three viewing platforms. By climbing the half dozen steps and peering through the castellations, it was possible to see the water cascading over the dam wall. It was as they climbed down from this platform and rejoined the road they noticed they were no longer alone on the dam wall. The figure was at about the same spot as they were at the other end of the wall. The figure seemed to have materialised out of thin air. The person had not yet reached the platform at that end of the dam wall so it didn’t seem that they could have stepped down from this position. From this distance the figure, either male or female, appeared to be wearing a hood. Jack spoke first.
“Not another bloody, hooded figure. Do they breed them round here?” As Jack spoke the figure raised a hand. It was not exactly a wave, more a signal. Whether to them or some other person they could not tell. For some reason they did not return the wave, if that was what it was. They walked on perhaps slightly slower. Sarah attempted to lighten the mood.
“It’s the ghost of an old monk, he’s waving to his dead comrades. There used to be a monastery at this spot but when they built the dam the monastery was submerged and all the monks in it were drowned. They still haunt the wall when the moon is full. Didn’t your guide books mention that?” Sarah asked.
“You are a very funny woman. Did anybody ever tell you that?”
He had to admit that Sarah’s humour helped somewhat lessen the mild anxiety he felt but could not explain. They hadn’t seen anybody, actual or imagined, for the whole of their walk and this seemed like an unlikely spot in which to meet somebody.
“It’s not bloody Crisp again, is it?” Jack asked not sure whether this thought comforted or alarmed him but the wind seemed a little colder as he said it. By now they were more than half way to the next platform but still couldn’t tell whether the hooded figure was male or female.
Before Sarah could respond to his question the situation changed dramatically. A red car appeared at the other end of the wall. The road across the dam was off limits to the general public. Jack’s first thought was that a water company worker was using the road. Two further thoughts contradicted this idea. One, the red car did not look like an official water company vehicle and two, this car seemed to be travelling very fast for an official vehicle.
“Jesus, it’s going to run him over,” Jack shouted, apparently decided on the gender of the figure. The car bore down on the hooded figure and whether it was the hood or the sound of the wind and the water, the person, whoever it was, didn’t seemed to be aware of the danger they were in. They stood still and watched the gap between the car and the hooded figure narrow at an alarming rate. If the figure had turned round he or she would have seen the car and could probably have run the few yards to the viewing platform. He did not turn round. Just when it seemed that the car would crush the man it braked hard. They could not hear the screech of the tyres given the distance between them but they were sure that it would have happened so violently did the car come to a halt. With barely a pause, the hooded figure climbed in the car and the car accelerated again. This time towards them.
“Bloody hell, fire,” said Jack. “It’s coming at us now. Quick run to the next platform. It’s nearer than going back.”
Even though they felt a little foolish, they ran, Sarah matching Jack stride for stride. He really would get fit if they survived The car couldn’t possibly be trying to kill them but, if it was, it couldn’t have chosen a better spot. There was nowhere to get off the road other than the three viewing platforms. They were no more than twenty yards from the platform and the car was still over a hundred yards away but it was travelling with alarming speed, at times only inches from either wall. The driver did not seem to have any intention of slowing down. The gap between the car and Jack and Sarah narrowed. By now they were running as fast as they could, the rucksack banging against Jack’s back. They were ten yards from the platform but the car couldn’t have been more than thirty or forty yards away. Whether the confines of the wall gave the impression of greater speed, Jack could not say but it seemed to be travelling at 60 or 70 miles per hour. If it hit them it would most certainly kill them both, probably flipping their bodies over the wall either to a drop of one hundred and seventy feet or into the cold waters of the reservoir. Either way it didn’t matter much because they would be dead.
They ran, they thought they would make it – just. They leapt up the steps and crumbled against the wall of the viewing platform ten or fifteen yards ahead of the car. The car shot by without slowing. Despite the pain in his chest and legs and the feeling of overwhelming relief he felt at being alive, Jack jumped down the steps. The car was by now fifty yards away. Close enough to see that the car was a red Sierra but not close enough to get anything other than the first letter of the registration. A K reg Sierra with two, maybe three, presumably, men in it. Sarah had the feeling that she had seen the car before but couldn’t remember where. The car continued on until it was only a few yards from the end of the dam wall.
“It’s not going to make it,” Sarah shouted.
As she spoke the car braked violently once more and this time they could hear the squeal of the tyres quite clearly. Tipping onto two wheels, or so it seemed, the car screeched crazily round the end of the wall and disappeared from view.
“Unfortunately, it did make it. But where’s it going? There’s no way out that side of the dam.”
“Leading to the obvious thought that it might come back and try and mince us once more,” said Sarah, more calmly than she felt.
“A cheery thought indeed,” Jack replied not at all cheerfully.
“So what do we do? I don’t even feel like making a break for the next point of refuge.”
“We’ll get a taxi,” Jack said suddenly.
“Oh, brilliant scheme. Can’t think why I didn’t think of it. We’ll just step out and hail one there should be one along, in say, 500 years.”
“I’ve got the mobile. I’ll call directory enquiries. There’s bound to be a taxi firm in Pateley Bridge. They can come and get us.”
“It’ll cost a fortune.”
“Look, my little rosebud, and I mean this kindly, I don’t care how much of a fucking fortune it costs, I am not going back the way we came, I am not walking back down the road and I doubt if I’m even leaving this refuge, with mad Max somewhere behind us.”
“They won’t pick us up here,” Sarah persisted.
“Point. We’ll have to get to the car park. It’s only a few hundred yards away. We can make that.”
“There won’t be a signal,” Sarah whispered.
Jack looked at his phone.
“I have a signal,” he shouted. “So, here we go.” Jack called directory enquiries, got the number of the taxi firm in Pateley Bridge and arranged for somebody to pick them up in half an hour by the picnic tables in the car park. This being was indeed as close as the driver felt he could come to their current location.
“Almost too simple,” said Jack.
“So let’s see if we can live that long and get there without being squished.”
“Let’s do it,” said Sarah. “The speed he was going when he cornered at the end there, it would take him a day and a half to slow down and turn round.”
With a long look at the end of the dam wall and with no sign of their nemesis they half walked, half trotted along the wall towards the next platform. For some bizarre reason, it reminded Jack of a game he used to play as a child. If you were on the ground you could be tagged or ticked as they had called it, but if you could get off the ground, you were safe. As they had reached the final platform they paused briefly, tempted by the temporary safety it offered, then walked on. They began to believe they were safe. Assuming the red Sierra had not completed some miraculous circuit of the upper part of the dale, the car would have to come at them from the other end of the dam and even if it came now… Jack looked back and grabbed Sarah’s arm.
Sarah screamed. “God, don’t tell me he’s coming again.” She whirled round, the road was empty.
“Just testing your fight or flight reflex.” Jack grinned at her.
“Bastard,” Sarah replied. “You will pay the price for that.”
They walked on, their anxiety reducing with each step they took although the lurking thought that whoever it was might somehow appear at this near end of the wall, stayed with them until they had left its confines and were walking up the road towards the car park. They could see other cars parked in the car park. No red Sierra and no people either. All looked apparently normal. No hint of the danger they had been in.
They calculated they had about twenty minutes before the taxi arrived. They both needed to go to the toilet. Each having to stand outside while the other went to the toilet rather than both going at the same time – for protection. The rest of the time they spent sitting at one of the picnic tables, with one eye looking for the taxi and the other looking for the return of the red Sierra, finishing off the remains of their food. Surprisingly, they both felt famished.
“Did you tell Bickerdyke we were coming up here?” Sarah asked suddenly, as they finished their food.
“Err, I might have mentioned it, yes,” he said, embarrassed.
“Call him now, on the mobile. Tell him you’re just checking what time next week we are supposed to be ballooning. Tell him you lost the card.”
“Why would I do that?”
“Because, dummy, if he’s at the office, he couldn’t have been here trying to mash us, could he? Elementary, my dear.”
Bickerdyke answered the phone on the fourth ring. Yes he was still at the office and yes 10 o’clock next Saturday was the agreed time and no it wasn’t a problem at all for Jack to have rung him.
“Innocent, I guess,” said Jack, turning off the phone.
“Hmm, maybe so,” Sarah said, thoughtfully.
Almost to the estimated minute of a half an hour, a shiny, blue Nissan with a taxi plate drove into the car park. The driver, seeing them, pulled up alongside their table. Sarah leaned over to Jack and whispered in his ear, not that the driver could have heard her had she spoken normally.
“What if this is some kind of elaborate, kidnap operation? she hissed.
“Then let it proceed, I’m not taking another step,” Jack replied.
Despite Sarah’s slight misgivings they climbed into the taxi. Her fears were ill-founded. Their taxi driver turned out to be a small and distinctly unthreatening man called Jimmy Hill. After they had established this really was his name, Jimmy chatted amiably about the weather they’d been having. Jack told him how they were hoping to buy the Hedderly Barn. Jimmy wished them well.
“Many red K reg Sierras round here?” Jack said changing the topic of conversation. If Jimmy was surprised by this unusual change in conversational subject matter, he didn’t show it.
“Quite a few I’d say,” he replied. “Farmers round here, or anywhere else probably for that matter, keep their cars a good, long while. Of course, there’ll be rich ones who do well, there always are aren’t there? Generally, farmers are not rich people like the rest of the population seem to think they are. Not if my tips are anything to go by.” He laughed.
“So quite a few?” Jack said, reminding Jimmy of his original question.
“I reckon, one or two,” Jimmy said, revising his original estimate. “Most of ‘em have four-wheel drives but some of the younger fellas will have old Fords or Jap cars like this one, although not as new,” Jimmy said proudly.
In less than ten minutes Jimmy had dropped them by the Volvo. Somewhat to their surprise, it was exactly where they had left it. It shook its head and politely enquired where the heck had they been and why had they travelled in a taxi when they had a perfectly good car right here. Jack simply said it was too long a story to go into right now.
By way of restoring their spirits and even though, on this, now grey, afternoon, it was starting to get dark, they decided, before going back to the hotel, to visit, what they hoped would soon be, their barn. They drove the few hundred yards up the hill. Even if they hadn’t been tired, Jack was not keen to provide any more opportunities for hit and run scenarios. They parked on the small tarmaced area just outside of the barn taking care not to flatten the pile of grit placed there, presumably by Harrogate District Council, for those times when the hill was icy. They climbed the gate and stood and looked at the view. As had always been the case, the view restored their spirits but did not remove their worry about having been singled out in some way.
“Do you think they were actually trying to kill us or just scare us,” asked Sarah, “And why? What did we do?
“Who knew we were going up there beside Bickerdyke? Did you tell Joan Mortimore?
“Yes, I did mention what we were planning to do, but who’s to say she didn’t tell other people or that we were simply followed up there after leaving the village.”
“Maybe,” said Jack looking out across the valley, “it was some kind of warning, which would suggest we’re getting close to something. Presumably somebody or bodies don’t want us stirring up interest in Josh Barker’s death.”
“So what do we do now?”
“Proceed with the utmost caution, I suppose.”
“But where do we go from here?”
“We go and see Josh Barker’s grieving widow tomorrow, see if we can pick up any clues that way, and I wouldn’t mind a visit to Aaron Crisp’s wine shop, if only to buy a couple of bottles of wine. Also we could confront Bickerdyke with what we know next weekend. I want to talk to Justin Blayney, see what he makes of all this. He might have a balanced view as something of an outsider. All that is in the future. Tonight we eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we…”
“Shut up now,” she warned, flexing the elbow. They stood in silence. Sarah broke the silence. The tone of her voice took him by surprise
“Jack,” she said, “why are you doing this? You’ve always said that you think of yourself as a coward. Remember the Horace whatisname story and the boys in the playground who beat you up and the scene in the pub?”
“Are you trying to make me feel like a complete shit, or is this merely your idea of making conversation?”
“I’m simply asking, if you’re so scared of all the nasty things in life, even to the point of buying this barn to get away from it all, then why are we continuing on with, what you’ve started calling, ‘this case’ even though it’s putting us both in danger?”
“The obvious answer would be that, until this very afternoon, I’d never really thought of this ‘case’” he emphasised the word, “as being dangerous.”
“Yes, but now you know it is and you’re still chattering merrily along about who we’re going to see next , da, de, da.”
“Perhaps I’m just trying to prove something to myself.”
“Any sign of you achieving that laudable goal?”
“Probably not,” he said, gloomily.
“Yes, my little probey one.”
“When we were running towards the platform up there. Did you, at any point, think of running ahead and letting me take my chances? Of saving yourself but not me?”
“Are you joking, you were ahead of me, I could barely keep up.”
“That’s, actually not true. You were waiting for me even though it meant there was more chance of you being killed. Not quite the behaviour of a quivering coward, I’d say, if I were a psychologist, although, of course, I’m not, so what do I know?”
Sarah did not continue the conversation, she knew her point had hit home. It wouldn’t change Jack’s perception of himself, but it would chip away at the edges.”
As, in the brief period of time they had known the barn, had become their habit, having admired the view, they now looked inside the barn and spent some more time idly dreaming about how the barn would look when they had worked their design magic upon it. At this time the barn was half full of, what they took to be hay or was it straw? They were city folk and not sure of the difference. Jack had decided he would make it a condition of the sale, assuming there was a sale, that the straw or hay should be removed. It would presumably be a simple task for somebody with the right equipment but major undertaking for them.
“I’m going to hang that old paraffin lamp of my grandfather’s, you remember the one I found in my mother’s shed and carefully restored..”
“You mean,” Sarah interrupted, “the one you couldn’t throw away along with all the other things ‘well-past their sell-by date’, that you can’t bring yourself to throw away, like those bloody slippers.”
“Yes,” Jack replied with irritating calmness, “That’s the one. As I was saying, before that rather rude interjection, I’m going to bring it up here and hang it as a kind of advance indicator of our intentions to occupy said property. It’ll be a kind of talisman.”
“And the perfect accessory for a barn full of highly inflammable straw or hay.”
“Let’s decide to call it straw, we can’t keep calling it straw or hay,” Jack said, by way of distracting her from her sensible observation. But Sarah was right, the barn needed some work but the roof was in good condition and the straw was completely dry. A spark in the wrong place and the whole lot would go up.
“I’m going to give Justin a call. See if he can meet us for a drink maybe Wednesday night,” he said, changing the subject.
“What do you think he’s going to contribute to this skullduggery?”
“I’d be interested to hear his views of Josh Barker and his wife.”
“What makes you think he has one?
“Oh, just something he said when we first met him in The Rose and Crown.”
“We’re going on with this then?”
“We’ll just try a little bit more to sort out what might have happened up here, then if it looks like we’re out of our depth, we’ll go to Mike with what we’ve got and leave it at that. Come along now, my little assistant PI, time for dinner.”
They took one last look at their view, climbed back over the metal gate, reversed the Volvo in the narrow lane that was Trapping Hill and drove the short distance down to the car park of The Rose and Crown. They both had the feeling that this had been one of the most difficult days of their lives, they also felt that it was now over and they could relax. They were quite wrong.
“God, I’m knackered,” said Jack, somewhat stating the obvious, as they drove into the car park.
“Jack, I’ve just remembered where I’ve seen a K reg Sierra before.”
“Where?” said Jack, his tiredness evaporating at a stroke.
“Here in this car park. It’s over there. There, right now.”
Jack looked in the direction Sarah was pointing. In the corner of the car park he could see a red Sierra. He drove the car closer and parked as close to the car as he could get. It was a K reg Ford Sierra, of that there was no doubt. He looked hard at the car looking for distinguishing marks. He could not see any but, nevertheless, he had the strong feeling that this was the car.
“It wasn’t there 30 minutes ago when we drove up to the barn. I’m nearly positive about that,” said Sarah
“Which means that whoever was driving must have followed behind us when we were in the taxi. Scary!”
“Does this mean our potential murderer is in there now?” Sarah asked. It seemed to Jack that her voice quivered a little but he could not be sure.
“Well, we’d better go and find out. Take a note of the registration.”
To their relief, even though it was now after 5 o’clock, the bar was almost empty. Only half a dozen people, most of them sitting close to the fire, were in the room. All of the room’s occupants looked up as Jack and Sarah entered. Jack scanned the groups looking for their potential assassin. Four of the six were obviously walkers. Their expensive Gore Tex jackets lay casually on the seats beside them. They looked like Jack expected middle class walkers to look and he found it difficult to believe that they were capable of running other middle class walkers down in cold blood. Or, more telling, that they would drive a K reg Sierra. Jack felt some relief his sense of humour seemed to be still functioning even in this most stressful of situations. The other two drinkers were both young males. They looked like they were locals. Jack stared hard at both of them, looking for some sign of recognition. He saw none. After a few moments, they noticed his staring and glared back at Jack. Jack turned away and spoke to Sarah.
“I haven’t quite worked out how we’re going to do this. Those lads over there look like possible suspects but I don’t fancy walking over there and accusing them. You might think my propensity for cowardice is a thing of the past, I know for sure that it isn’t.”
“A little circumspection never did any harm,” Sarah replied.
As they were deliberating on their course of action, Charlie Mortimore emerged from the door behind the bar, alerted by some secret signal that people had entered his domain. He seemed neither pleased nor displeased to see them. He did not seem particularly surprised.
“What can I get you people?”
“I’ll have a pint of Stella and Sarah will have a Guiness,” then realising he hadn’t actually asked Sarah what she wanted to drink. “Is that what we want?”
“Yes, that is what we want, Mr Mortimore. By the way, do you happen to know whose that Sierra is, registration K112 TLM? The one that’s parked in your car park?”
Jack could only admire Sarah’s seamless move from one topic of conversation to the next. He would have spent ages agonising about how to broach the subject, she just went straight to it. How he loved her. Sarah had asked the question casually enough but had others in the bar cared to listen they would have had no problem hearing what she was saying. Jack waited for the two men to walk across to them, grab him by the throat and ask who wanted to know about their car.
“That’s Joan’s,” he said, with a voice that seemed far away. So far way that it took some time to register with Jack what Charlie Mortimore had said. For some peculiar reason, he felt relieved. The nasty men were innocent and weren’t, therefore, about to do him physical harm. Unless, of course, they were related to Joan Mortimore and, in this valley, that wasn’t beyond the bounds of possibility. The men appeared to listen but sat quite still.
“It belongs to Joan, you say?” Sarah continued.
“Yes, to her and anybody else who cares to use it. She’s always leaving the keys in it.”
“Do you happen to know whether she or anybody else used it this afternoon?” Jack asked.
“No idea. We’ve both been here all afternoon, so we haven’t used it.”
“Have there been people in all that time?” Sarah enquired, as casually as she could.
“No, not all the time, there’d be about an hour or so mid-afternoon when we had nobody in.” Just about the time said car was being used in a human ram raid, Jack thought, and long enough to get up to the dam and back.
“Why do you want to know?” Mortimore asked. He struck a somewhat indignant pose but rather too late in the process, Jack felt. Surely, he should have asked why they wanted to know sooner. Sarah was speaking.
“We’ve just been up at the dam and had the strongest feeling somebody, driving a car just like Joan’s tried to turn us into fish food.”
“Did you get the registration?” This time Mortimore was not slow in asking the question.
“No, we were too busy trying to avoid being squashed to get the number.”
“Shame,” said Mortimore without conviction. “Probably somebody’s idea of a joke, there’s some wild kids around here. Or mistaken identity,” he added. “What were you wearing?”
“The same clothes we’re wearing now.”
“With the hoods pulled up like?”
“There you go then, you could have been anybody dressed like that with the hood up. Not exactly uncommon clothing round these parts these days.”
That seemed to end this particular topic of conversation. Mortimore gave Jack his pint of Stella and Sarah her glass of Guinness. They handed over £5 and received their change. They found an empty table. Jack felt compelled to affect his Tommy Cooper laugh as he walked past the two men who, only moments before, were the prime suspects in their attempted murder. The two men stared for a while but then went back to their pints and their conversation. They were clearly convinced that the arrival of Jack and Sarah in this part of the dale had added little by way of quality.
“What do you think?” Jack asked in a low whisper, after they had sat down. “Does this mistaken identity line carry any weight with you?”
“It’s possible, I suppose but if it wasn’t us they were trying to scare then who were they trying to scare?”
“Or kill,” said Jack.
They sat in silence and thought about that a while.
“So where does that leave us?” Sarah said finally.
“It has to be the Mortimores that were up there. It’s just too much of a coincidence otherwise.”
“But we’ve no way of proving it and even if we could they’d probably just say they were having some fun or testing us to see if we were suitable material to join the local bungy-jumping team. Without the rope,” Sarah, against her better judgement, laughed out loud. The two men looked at them but quickly lost interest once more.
“They’re definitely going on our list of subjects. So that’s them and Bickerdyke. Tomorrow we’ll go and check out Crisp and Mrs B. Until then let’s go up to the room and get changed then go out for dinner.”
“Do you mind if we don’t eat here?” Sarah asked. “I’ve lost my appetite for Joan Mortimore’s cooking.”
Despite the worries of the day, they had enjoyed their meal at the little bistro in Pateley Bridge. They’d probably drunk too much but, under the circumstances, they felt it was excusable. This morning they felt tainted by a combination of last night’s excesses and that feeling which comes when wakening up and the traumas of the day before come flooding into the mind. Neither of them felt comfortable with what was happening to them and, for once, the view of the barn out of the bedroom window did little to lift their spirits.
“Who shall we visit first?” asked Jack, getting dressed and attempting to sound more cheerful than he felt. When Sarah did not immediately reply, he took this as a sign she was not happy with him and his little boy detectivising. His guilt drove him on.
“I think we should probably visit the delectable Mrs B, first.” For once his joke failed to make her smile. “I mean the smelly Mrs B,” he said, trying again. This time she rewarded him with a smile.
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” she said, with the accompanying elbow as she walked past him to their very large bathroom.
“I just think it would be interesting,” he said as she disappeared into the bathroom, “to find out what kind of pressure she is under from Crisp now that she, presumably, owns all the land her husband once owned. Also I want to know why she gave me the key the Bickerdyke’s office, how she got it and what she expected me to find there. I want to know, generally, how she holding up and whether she thinks her husband was murdered. Little things like that.”
“You have been a thoughtful, little detective, haven’t you,” she said poking her head around the door and attempting to sound annoyed.
“I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t back to sleep so, while you snored majestically on, I had plenty of time to think.”
“I don’t snore,” she said firmly.
“Is that your only comment on my grand plan?”
“Until I’ve had breakfast it is.”
“You can’t possibly be hungry after all that pizza you put away last night.”
They walked down the stairs to the hotel dining room where they ate, without much conversation, their traditional full-English breakfast. They never ate big breakfasts at home but Jack’s view was that, as they’d paid for it, they would bloody well eat it. And so they did.
“Let’s walk up to the farm. It will burn off a few calories, lift our spirits and give us time to think,” Jack suggested as they left the hotel.
“I’m not sure that thinking and lifting spirits necessarily go hand in hand but you’re right about the calories, we’ve plenty of those to spare.”
They left The Rose and Crown and walked past the car park. The Volvo looked relieved at not being asked to climb Trapping Hill once and so said nothing. The wind of yesterday had dropped and the sky was partially cloudy. They continued past the war memorial fountain and the derelict house with the stone steps outside. The steps and one side of the building were partially supported by some make-shift scaffolding. The house looked particularly sad next to the rest of the well-maintained buildings in the village. Jack had heard that somebody, he didn’t know who, had bought the house but then run foul of the planning regulations. Any ambitions the owner had had were, temporarily, he hoped, as ruined as the building itself. As they walked through the village Jack thought, not for the first time, that whilst Lofthouse didn’t make a favourable impression initially, for those who turned off the main road, it was a hidden delight. The winding street and tightly packed variety of houses could have qualified for any one of his old Rupert Bear annuals. This thought cheered him immediately. He remembered Mrs Barker saying she was a Famous Five fan, herself. The remark had seemed slightly odd at the time and, as events often do, this one had grown in his mind without him quite realising it had done so. A thought struck him that Mrs Barker might not be at home and if they were going to walk all the way up the hill, he wanted to be sure that their journey was not in vain.
“I’ll call her and check. Make sure she’s in. I’ve got her, I mean his number or what was his number” Jack took out his mobile and called. After several rings the soft voice of Mrs Barker answered the phone. Jack wondered what her first name might be – Chloe? Floella? He’d better ask her at some point. He finished the conversation, turned off the phone and turned to Sarah and said, “She says that’s fine, to come right on up. I told her we were walking and would be there in about half an hour.”
“I bet she thought it was fine. You did tell her you’d be dragging along the old trouble and strife, did you?”
“Of course I did and that’s fine too.” Jack smiled. “What an understanding woman.”
The flying elbow came as no surprise.
As they came to what, so far, they thought was the only shop in the village, Jack had an urge to stock up on provisions. Given their calorie-laden state this surprised both him and Sarah.
“I need the security of provisions. A chap should never set off on an adventure without provisions.” With that Jack went into the shop and Sarah followed him albeit reluctantly.
The owner of the shop was called Tilly Johnson. The shop itself was, to their eyes, a delight. Little seemed to have changed in the last hundred years or so. It was one of those shops, long since disappeared in Leeds, that sold a little of everything. All placed on blue-painted shelves. Everything except newspapers, that is. Jack admired the shop and all its contents. He told Mrs Johnson and her husband who popped in and out as they were talking, how much the shop reminded him of those shops he used to buy his sweets from as a child. Somewhat to Sarah’s surprise Jack introduced them as the couple hoping to buy the Hedderly Barn. This did not seem to evoke any negative reaction from Mrs Johnson. In fact she seemed delighted to hear the news and every other little detail of their lives and what they planned to do with the barn. In return
Tilly Johnson gave them a potted history of the village. She told them that name Lofthouse came from the Norse word meaning ‘house with a loft or second floor. Apparently the first buildings were a grange and dairy farm which provided butter and cheese to the monks of Fountains Abbey. She told them how, in the October flood of 1892, the River Nidd which flows underneath the village welled up through the fire grate in the blacksmith’s shop and eventually flooded the whole of the village. She told them about past landlords of the Rose and Crown including the famous Tom Bradley who complained about the roughness of his customers, the workmen building the reservoirs in the valley.
“We’re staying at the Rose and Crown,” Sarah said, speaking for the first time. “With the Mortimores,” she added by way of unnecessary clarification, or so Jack thought. Then he realised where Sarah was going with the, apparently, innocent, remark.
“Did you see them yesterday afternoon by any chance? We wondered whether we’d seen them on our walk but they’re so busy serving and cooking we never got chance to ask them. I bet you see quite a lot through those windows of what goes on in this village. When you’re not working of course.”
Mrs Johnson paused before answering. “I did see them yesterday, as a matter of fact, but not from the shop. I saw them as I was walking down to the village hall. They were heading down to the main road.” In the direction of the reservoir, thought Jack, but he said nothing.
“When would that have been?” Sarah asked. Jack recognised the edge in her voice but Mrs Johnson appeared not to notice. The question seemed to hang in the air for ever.
“About half past two I’d say. Would that have been the people you saw?”
“I’d say it probably was,” said Sarah, slowly releasing the breath she had been holding.
“Bloody hell, then. What do you make of that?” Sarah gasped as they stepped outside.
“I’d say that pretty well confirmed what we thought. The Mortimores were either trying to warn us off or kill us or include us in some unusual, ancient welcome ritual.”
“But what do we do with the information? I can’t see how we can make use of what we know about them.”
“No, nor can I, but it does make me think that, if we carry on collecting bits of information, all will become clear.”
They walked on up the hill. Somehow it seemed steeper than they had remembered it from the car. Despite their tiredness, the walk lifted their spirits. They had enjoyed their brief history of Lofthouse. Mrs Johnson had seemed welcoming which was a feeling in short supply just recently. The barn looked solid and reassuring and exactly where they had left it. They paused at its gate, partially to admire the view and, more importantly, to get their breath before the remainder of the increasingly steep climb towards Upper Lofthouse farm and their appointment with Mrs Barker.
It was just after ten thirty when they walked down the drive to Upper Lofthouse farm. Sarah spoke. “If you can restrict your drooling and maintain control of your bodily functions, what are you going to ask her?”
“I’ve told you. Why she gave me the key and what did she expect me to find. Then follow my instincts.”
“For God’s sake don’t do that. You’ll end up on a sexual harassment charge.”
“Very droll. Watch and learn, my love.”
Sarah had the definite feeling that Mrs Barker had been expecting them to call. She did not have the look of a woman recently bereaved but then people show their grief in different ways. To Jack’s eye Mrs Barker looked good and she still smelled good. Sarah refused her polite offer of coffee and biscuits somewhat to Jack’s disappointment. Jack spoke first.
“Thank you for agreeing to see us. This must be a difficult time for you. I’m sorry we missed the funeral. How did it go?”
“In the usual way I suppose. Somebody dug a hole and we dropped his coffin in it. Everybody said how sorry they were and we went home”
As she spoke, Mrs Barker looked across at Sarah who was having difficulty trying to keep a look of disdain from her face.
“I know what you’re thinking,” she continued, looking straight at Sarah. “You’re thinking I don’t sound like a grieving widow.”
“We all have different ways of showing our grief,” Sarah replied, coolly.
“I can’t pretend that my husband and I were close, these last few years, but I did love him in my own way.”
“And that way would be having an affair with Aaron Crisp, I suppose.” Jack felt his jaw drop and he struggled to say something to take the heat out of a conversation that was moving in a direction he hadn’t quite planned for.
“I think I resent that remark,” Mrs Barker replied, coolly.
“And quite right too,” said Jack. “My wife has been under something of a strain these last few years, sorry, days,” Jack continued, resorting to the comfort of his Tommy Cooper persona.
“Yes, it started about the time I married you,” Sarah replied quietly.
“So,” said Jack, “we were sorry to hear about your husband’s death but we do admit to a vested interest here. We do want to buy the barn and, we’d have to admit, if his death was suicide and got in the way of that, well, that would be a shame,” Jack’s sentence trailed away.
“It wasn’t suicide,” she said, firmly.
“Well that’s what we think and we’re talking to a few people about Josh and what might have happened but we seem to have stirred up something of a hornet’s nest particularly with the Mortimores.” Sarah gave Jack a look that said, ‘you’re a blabber’, but Jack continued. “They seem, possibly, a bit upset that we’re interested in Josh’s death. Do you know if they have any particular interest in us not getting the barn?”
“No, I wouldn’t think so.” Jack had the slight impression that Mrs Barker had been a shade too quick in her response but he didn’t have time to dwell on the matter. “No, I’d think you were barking up the wrong tree there. You would use your time and interest better if you looked either at David Bickerdyke or Aaron Crisp.”
“Hmm, we guessed you’ve got some theory about Bickerdyke, hence the key but Aaron Crisp, where would he come into this?
“I suppose you could say he was involved in two ways. First, he was trying to persuade me to have an affair with him and second, he was putting pressure on me to persuade Josh to use his land to grow grapes. You remember I mentioned that Aaron was very keen on making organic wine and selling it through his shop and other better quality wine shops in Harrogate and round about and after that, the world. He’s a man of deceptive ambition”
“You managed to resist his overtures in both cases?” Sarah asked.
“In some ways, and not the way you’re thinking, Mrs Jacques. What are your names, by the way? We can’t keep on addressing each other as Mr and Mrs. My name’s Jacqueline.”
“Just as well we’re not married,” said Jack, Jack Jacques and Jaqueline Jacques would be something of a mouthful.”
“So you’re Jack and you are?”
“I,” replied Sarah with a hint of sarcasm, “am Sarah.” Jacqueline Barker appeared not to notice Sarah’s mild hostility.
“Where was I? Yes, I did resist his sexual overtures, but Josh either was impressed with Aaron’s ideas or he wanted to impress me because he thought that is what I wanted and, in some peculiar way, by doing what I wanted this would bring us together again. I think Josh was having a bit of a fling with Joan Mortimore but, and I know this sounds a bit arrogant,” she smiled at Sarah as she spoke, “but I think it was me he really wanted.” I bet he did, thought, Jack.
“Yes, men do funny things for the woman they love or think they love,” Sarah said, eyeing Jack, as she spoke. Jack smiled at her.
“So if Josh was thinking about turning his farm into a Provencal vineyard, why did he agree to sell the barn to us?” asked Jack
“Good question. I think he needed money and selling off that small part of the farm to you was one way to raise the money. As you know there’s only a small parcel of land with it so it didn’t really have much impact on the vineyard scheme but I think, for some people, it felt like a bit of a betrayal. Thin end of the wedge, that sort of thing.”
“Some people?” Sarah asked.
“Oh, you know what it’s like, some people think they own the countryside.” She laughed gently, “And, in some cases, they do.”
“You wouldn’t care to be more specific about who these people are that, first Josh and now, possibly we, are pissing off?”
“No, I wouldn’t want you to get over anxious.” Jack decided not to pursue this line of questioning by pointing out to Jacqueline Barker that, since someone had tried to squash them on the dam wall, they were already quite anxious. To his surprise, Sarah also remained quiet.
“So, do you intend to go through with the sale of the barn?”
“Yes, we can’t see any reason why not, now you’ve got this far.”
“We?” asked Sarah.
“Sorry, I haven’t quite got used to the singular, I mean, ‘I’.”
“To us?” asked Jack.
Jack felt a curious mixture of relief and some disquiet that this should be his initial reaction. This barn business seemed to be bringing out the worst in a number of people, himself included. Despite his unease he felt, with this commitment from Mrs Barker, under their belt, that this might be a good time to change the subject.
“You said earlier that you didn’t think the Mortimores would try and stop us getting the barn, why are you so sure?”
“What would they have to gain. They don’t want to own the land. There may be those that do but I can’t see those two as being contenders.
“But Bickerdyke and Crisp are?”
“Not Bickerdyke, no. I just think he wouldn’t be heart-broken that Josh is dead. As I told you, he owed Josh money. Aaron didn’t like Josh selling the barn, he wanted as much land as he could get his hands on, even your little patch.”
“Why did you give me the key to Bickerdyke’s office? What were you hoping we’d find there. And how did you get the key anyway?”
“Josh had it lying around. When I first saw it, it had a little label attached with the word ‘office’ on it. I asked him which office and he said Bickerdyke’s in case he ever needed access for whatever reason he didn’t say. He took the label off I don’t know why. As for what I thought you’d find there, well, probably exactly what you did find there,” she replied coolly.
“Which would be?”
“The headstones, I imagine.”
“How would you know about those?”
“Because Aaron told me. Headstones have definitely been disappearing from the churchyard up at Middlesmoor. Aaron’s been watching the churchyard. He hates that kind of desecration. He’s convinced that Bickerdyke was the person who was stealing them and then selling them on but he could never find out who Bickerdyke was hooked up with, the receiver of the stones. Aaron couldn’t get anybody to back him up in catching Bickerdyke. He wanted a witness to the churchyard theft but people just saw him as a do-gooder and an outside one at that, so no go . I’m pretty sure Josh knew about the gravestones Bickerdyke has been stealing. He did have the key to the office but perhaps Bickerdyke wouldn’t have known that. Maybe Josh told Bickerdyke he knew. Maybe that would be motive enough to kill Josh to keep him quiet. All speculation of course. I thought it might be interesting for you to have a rummage around. Might stir things up a bit”
“So we find the headstones and then what?” Sarah asked staring at Jacqueline Barker.
“Well, at the least, Aaron has his witness which takes his mind off the organic vineyard, gives him another crusade. Better still, it might give you some, what do you call it, leverage, in dealing with Bickerdyke. We both think he might be tied with Josh’s death, so who knows what you might find there.”
“I don’t suppose you could have taken us into your confidence in this little matter?”
“Would you have gone to his office if I had?
“What would you say if we told you that we think the Mortimores tried to kill us yesterday afternoon?”
“Think? Kill you? How?”
Jack explained the circumstances of the afternoon
“I’d say a man with your intelligence would realise that would be purely circumstantial evidence.”
“We get attacked by a red, K reg Sierra, they own a red, K reg Sierra, they’re seen driving out from the village about the same the attempt is made and, and I repeat, and they deny they even left the pub. Pretty strong circumstantial evidence.
She shrugged. “People forget.”
“How very convenient for them,” said Sarah.
“The Mortimores aren’t capable of killing anybody, believe me.”
Sarah pursued the issue. “Why should we believe you?
“Because I know them better than you do. I would suggest that you leave the matter to the police from now on, but if you’re determined to get involved, then, as I’ve suggested already, focus on Bickerdyke and Aaron Crisp”
Despite the fact that he wanted to find out exactly why Jacqueline Barker was so convinced that the Mortimores couldn’t have tried to kill them, he was also aware that he didn’t want to upset this woman. Despicable though it was, he didn’t want to upset her to the point of her changing her mind about selling them the barn. He had the feeling that everything she had said so far had been carefully released, nothing seemed to have ruffled her, she was giving away only what she wanted to and wasn’t likely to give away anything she didn’t want to. She seemed like a woman in complete control, despite the developing flush on her cheeks and a corresponding increase in the smell of her lavender-scented skin. Jack decided they would get very little else from her and so, with some regret, he suggested to Sarah that it might be time for them to leave.
As soon as they were outside, Sarah whirled round. She spoke with some passion.
“You do know that’s all a pile of crap, don’t you? Please tell me you haven’t so completely lost your mind that you can’t see that.” She mimicked Jacqueline Barker. “A man with your intelligence would realise, blah, blah. Makes me sick.” She looked into the distance.
“Sounded quite reasonable to me.”
Sarah could see the gleam in his eye and Jack could see the famous, flying elbow. “OK, OK. I’m kidding. All that was as fishy as a packet of fish fingers. Probably more so. I think she’s trying to throw us off the scent, if you’ll pardon the pun.”
As they walked down the hill, Jack continued, “I can’t believe that Josh Barker knowing about the headstones is motive enough for Bickerdyke to kill him.”
“If what she said about Crisp is right, he’d have more of a motive.”
“How so?” Jack asked.
“Well with Barker out of the way, perhaps he thought he’d have more chance of persuading the lovely Jacqueline to go organic,” she laughed.
“So what have we learned?”
“Well,” Sarah sighed, “we’ve learned that she’s a very cool lady. She’s trying to fit up Bickerdyke and she’s not beyond doing the same to Crisp. She has probably confirmed her earlier view that you are a gibbering idiot. What else have we learned?”
“She was too quick to defend the Mortimores, I thought”
“Damn right. We’ll be keeping those two on our list of suspects.”
They were near the bottom of the hill when they turned their attention to Aaron Crisp again. Sarah spoke first.
“What are you going to say to him, Sherlock? How are you going to flush him out, oh master detective?
“Let’s see how he responds to the suggestion that he’d be pleased to have Barker out of the way. I think we might use the fact that’s she’s tried to incriminate him. It could work in our favour. Watch him closely. Let’s see if he’s got something to hide.”
The Volvo gave them a quizzical look as they climbed in. The ‘good morning, hope you slept well and where have you been?’ was unspoken. The day had brightened since they started out and as they drove along the valley, the patchwork of greens and browns covered every shade imaginable. They decided to have a bite to eat in the Foster Beck pub. The huge waterwheel on the side of the building left no doubt about its earlier heritage. It had been one of the last of the mills in the area to use a water wheel and had closed in 1967. The building had lain empty for a number of years but now was a decent pub which, they had been told, did a pretty good Sunday lunch. Their information turned out to be accurate. The traditional roast beef and Yorkshire pudding was excellent, made the more so by a virtuous feeling, the result of their walk up Trapping Hill.
It was half past two when they walked out into the sunlight. Neither of them quite believed that Aaron Crisp was a murderer but there had been enough, in terms of their recent experience of him, to suggest he was capable of some impetuous actions. They thought back to the incident in the driveway of Upper Lofthouse farm when he had run them off the road. They hadn’t seen him since that day and Jack, felt slightly nervous at the prospect of meeting him again, particularly under these circumstances. Jack’s dreaded feeling of his cowardice lurked somewhere at the back of his mind. He pushed it away. You’re a psychologist, he told himself, think positive. With that thought in mind they drove towards Pateley Bridge. They turned right at the T junction and then almost immediately left towards Bewerley.
Aaron Crisp ran his wine business – Dales Wines from the old mill buildings at the side of Glasshouses bridge. The shop had an almost Dickensian feel to it. Crisp might be a short-tempered lunatic but he had an impressive collection of wines on the shelves of his shop. The shop also sold other deli items – smoked cheeses and meats, biscuits and cakes. The whole shop had a powerful and pleasing aroma of herbs and spices. Despite this there were no customers in the shop when they entered and Aaron Crisp sat behind the counter, reading a book. Jack strained to see the title of the book. For some reason, it was important to him to know what Crisp was reading, but Jack could not make out the title. Crisp looked up as they walked towards him.
“Very impressive,” said Jack, nodding in the direction of the shelves. “I wouldn’t have thought you’d get enough custom out here, but obviously I’m wrong.”
“It can be slow at times and the foot and mouth hasn’t helped at all,” Crisp replied. “How’s the barn buying going?” he continued.
“As we understand it, you’re not greatly in favour of us getting the barn,” said Jack.
“Where did you hear that? Crisp asked, looking genuinely surprised.
“Who do you think might have shared that with us?” teased Jack.
Jack could see the flare of anger in Aaron Crisp’s eyes at his crude attempt to play the psychologist. He was struck again by the intensity of his pupils and the contrast between the pupils and the pure whiteness of the iris. It was almost painful to look him in the eye. Jack looked away and made a note that Crisp was a man who was quick to anger. He wasn’t sure he wanted to be there if that anger ever did fully overflow. Crisp regained control and spoke calmly.
“I’ve absolutely no idea. This dale is full of people who would stab you in the back if it suited them.”
“I suppose BSE and foot and mouth are a pretty deadly combination,” said Sarah, speaking for the first time.
“How so?” Crisp asked.
“Well, the foot and mouth means you’re poor and the BSE means you’re mad enough to try anything to get rich.”
“You have a point,” Crisp replied. He stared into space for a moment, as if considering the rightness of Sarah’s statement.
“We hear you’ve got a theory about Dave Bickerdyke and his scheme for making ends meet while his business is slow,” said Jack, seizing what seemed to be an appropriate moment to introduce the topic.
“It’s more than a theory,” said Crisp without hesitation. “It’s a fact. Problem is either they don’t believe me or they don’t care that the heritage of the dale is being frittered away.”
“We believe you,” said Sarah.
“We’ve seen the evidence,” said Jack.
“In Bickerdyke’s office.”
“Is it still there?” asked Crisp with genuine enthusiasm.
“Unfortunately not. It’s been moved on to wherever it gets moved on to,” Jack replied.
“We could get him again,” said Crisp quietly. “If you’re up for a bit of real detective work.”
“Like what exactly?”
“Like staking out the churchyard at Middlesmoor next Saturday night.”
“How do you know he’ll be there?” asked Sarah.
“I don’t for absolute certain but I’ve been keeping a record of when the stones disappear and Saturday night has been a definite favourite.”
“OK, but why this Saturday as opposed to next Saturday or the Saturday after that? I don’t intend to spend the rest of my Saturday nights in Middlesmoor churchyard,” said Jack, laughing.
“I think Bickerdyke, has, what you might call, a regular demand from whoever he’s selling the headstones to. There has often been three or four weeks between the thefts. I’m pretty sure nothing happened last night because I’ve been up there to check this morning before I opened the shop.” He paused, “Although I must admit it’s hard to tell, there’s so many of them you can’t always tell whether a couple have been taken. That’s how he gets away with it. Nobody notices and nobody, it seems, cares. Anyway, next Saturday would seem to be a definite possibility.”
“What made you suspect Bickerdyke in the first place?” asked Sarah.
“Let’s just say, I got a tip off,” he said fixing them with his dark, hypnotic eyes. It was clear he wasn’t about to elaborate on this juicy titbit of information. He changed the subject and turned the beam of inquisition upon them. “Pleased as I would be of your assistance in the absence of any other interested partner, I have to ask, why are you interested in bringing Dave Bickerdyke, stealer of headstones, to justice?
It was a very good question and Jack wasn’t entirely sure he knew the answer. The answer he did have, he didn’t much care for. He decided to run up the flagpole and see if Aaron Crisp saluted it.
“We think Josh Barker’s death was neither accident or suicide and we think Dave Bickerdyke knows more about it than he’s telling.”
“Yes, I’d heard you were developing a little theory about Josh. Be careful, you might easily become unpopular. You don’t want to piss off your new neighbours do you? That’s what Bickerdyke did and look at him.”
“I hear from a little bird that you’re in danger of getting on the ‘most unpopular residents in the dale’ list with this scheme of yours to turn farm land into vineyards.”
“That’s Jacki gossiping again, I suppose.”
“I didn’t mention any names,” said Jack.
“You don’t have to. There are very few people who know about the idea and Jacki would be the only one indiscreet enough to talk about it.”
“Why Josh Barker’s land? Aren’t there other land owners who might be interested?”
“There may be but Josh, for some reason clear only to himself, has been buying up quite a few parcels of land over the last year, as they’ve come on the market. Farmers are giving up. Foot and mouth has been the last straw. He doesn’t seem to have much idea as to what he’s going to do with it and I certainly don’t understand why he needs more land when he can only just make ends meet with what he had. So, I thought, see if he’s interested.”
“And, was he?” Sarah enquired.
“No, not at all.”
“So you tried putting a little pressure on Mrs Barker?”
“You might say that.”
“Did you have any more success with that plan?”
“I thought I was getting somewhere but when I pressed her, she seemed to be implying that the land he’d bought, he bought on behalf of somebody else, which would make some sense. I never did understand how he could afford to buy more land. What bank would lend to an, already over-stretched, farmer in this day and age?”
“So you’re saying the land wasn’t his to sell.” Jack said, stating the obvious in his rising anxiety.
“Did she say who Josh Barker was buying the land for?” Sarah asked.
“I don’t think she knew. She seemed as puzzled as me. That or she is a bloody good actress.” He changed the subject. “You said I’d be unpopular for changing farm land into vineyards, but that’s not true. Of course there are a few traditionalists who wouldn’t want to see that happen, but most people couldn’t give a flying fig for what’s grown as long as it means they get to make money out of it.”
“That,” said Sarah, “is a very cynical view.”
Crisp shrugged and looked along the shelves packed with wine. “That’s life, not cynicism” he said finally. Jack followed his gaze. “Surely you’d only be able to make white wine in the German style wouldn’t you? I can’t imagine there’s much demand for that.”
“You don’t know much about modern-day wine-making techniques do you?” Jack blushed at this indictment. In fact he considered himself quite knowledgeable about the subject. Crisp continued, “I’ve spent quite a bit of time on New Zealand’s South Island. They’re doing marvellous things with Pinot Noir and oak barrels.”
“I just bet they are,” said Sarah, under her breath.
Perhaps Jack was stung by Aaron Crisp’s arrogance. He decided to play his trump card and see how self-assured Crisp would be when he told him what Jacqueline Barker had said about him. He took a deep breath and spoke quietly.
“Mrs Barker seemed to be suggesting that you wouldn’t be exactly heart-broken to see Josh dead.”
Jack could see Crisp struggle to retain his composure but the anger, once again, nearly got the better of him. “What did she mean by that?” he asked equally quietly.
“Well,” Jack said slowly, “she said two things that might relate, one that you were trying to have an affair with her and two, that you probably thought you had more of a chance persuading her to plant vines with Josh dead.”
“That little bitch. Let me tell you two things. One, she flatters herself. She’s an attractive woman but nothing particularly special.” Sarah thought perhaps she could warm to this man. He continued, “And two, perhaps she should look in the mirror when she’s passing judgement about who stands to benefit from Josh Barker’s death.”
“In what way?” Sarah asked innocently.
“She is the main person who stands to benefit from Josh’s death. She inherits the farm.”
“How did you get on with Josh Barker,” Jack asked. He was almost enjoying this two-pronged attack. Not quite Holmes and Watson but they were developing a certain style.
“What do you mean, ‘how did I get on with him’? Where are you going with this line of investigation? Which role are you playing now, psychologist or amateur detective?”
Jack pondered the question and decided perhaps their new careers weren’t going quite as smoothly as he had, a few seconds, before thought. Sarah came to his rescue.
“We’re more in the role of two interested parties who want to buy a barn, that, as we hear it, you are not ‘keen’”, Sarah emphasised the word, “on us ‘acquiring’” again she emphasised the word. “We would be interested in your comment on that, if nothing else.”
“It really isn’t anything to do with me. I simply commented at some stage that it would be wise to keep all possible land available to the project. Jacki seems even less interested in using the land wisely now Josh is dead than she was when he was alive. Whether this mysterious third party has something to do with this decision, if that’s what it is, I couldn’t say.”
“Incidentally,” Sarah said, with deceptive charm, “How were you planning on financing this bold venture, had you been able to persuade Jacqueline Barker to co-operate?” Jack looked at his wife with increasing respect.
“Let’s just say I had a backer who also believed in my vision.” Once again, Crisp would not be drawn any further.
“Do you think Dave Bickerdyke is capable of killing Josh Barker?” Jack asked, taking a leaf from Sarah’s bold approach.
Crisp laughed. “I suppose I should say, yes. I suppose I should say that a man who is capable of abusing the heritage of this country is capable of any crime. I suppose I should say that but, the fact of the matter is, I can no more see Dave Bickerdyke as a murder suspect than you or I.”
“He was the last person to see him alive,” said Sarah.
“That doesn’t make him guilty of murder,” Crisp replied.
“What if we told you that we suspected the Mortimores of being involved?” Jack asked.
“Then I’d say you were clutching at straws. I’d say you’d got nothing to hang your theory of foul play on.”
The man had a point. So far they’d got very little other than their own conviction that the Mortimores had tried either to kill them or, at the least, to frighten them away from their investigations. Jack persisted. “They tried to run us over, up at the dam.”
“Well, if they had to choose an appropriate method of disposal, that would make some sense. Joan and Charlie were both champion amateur rally drivers in their younger days.”
“In that beat-up Sierra of theirs?” Sarah said in disbelief.
“No, don’t be fooled, that’s not their real car. They’ve got a souped up Toyota stashed away somewhere. It’s so pacey, they don’t let it out often.”
“So they know how to handle a car then?”
“I’d say so.”
“That would explain how they got round the corner on two wheels then,” Jack said, turning to Sarah and, for the moment, forgetting Crisp was there. Crisp took this moment to end this topic of their conversation and change the subject. For whatever reason, he had had enough of the topic of murder.
“Did you get what you came for or are you actually interested in buying any wine?”
Jack did not want to finish the conversation with Crisp occupying the moral high ground. He would, he decided, buy two of bottles of wine. The question was which ones or more importantly, what price? He certainly didn’t want to appear to be a cheapskate but, on the other hand, he knew that if he bought anything expensive, Crisp would realise he was just trying to prove he wasn’t a cheapskate when really he was. He selected two bottles of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, quite expensive, but a sensible and not over-flashy choice. As Crisp was wrapping the bottles, more customers entered the shop, consequently, and somewhat to Jack’s relief, they were not able to go back to Aaron Crisp’s suggestion that Jack accompany him on his midnight vigil. Jack agreed to call him later in the week and confirm, or not, that he would be his partner in combating crime. Nor, Jack realised, as they left the shop, had he been able to confront Crisp about his dangerous driving habits.
As they walked across the car park, Sarah turned to Jack.
“He didn’t seem particularly phased by either of your propositions. I thought he dealt with it all rather well. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that, I quite liked him.”
“Yes, I thought that might be your conclusion after his deprecating remarks about that lovely and charming woman, Jacqueline Barker. Did you see the anger in his eyes when we asked him questions though. I’d say that was definitely a man capable of serious violence. He frightened the shit out of me.”
“Darling, as you yourself have commented, that doesn’t necessarily prove anything.”
“What do you mean by that remark?” asked Jack only partially pretending to be angry.
“Nothing, my love,” Sarah replied with irritating calmness. “What are you going to do about his offer of nocturnal jollies?
“I’ll sleep on it,” Jack replied. He felt slightly irritated by the events of the last 20 minutes or so but he couldn’t quite say why.
“So, oh masterful one, what have we learned about Mr Aaron Crisp? I noticed you, very wisely, decided not to raise the issue of his lack of courtesy on the King’s Highway. Obviously that would have distracted him from your cunning plan.”
“It wasn’t the King’s Highway, it was a private drive and, you’re quite correct, I wanted him to be co-operative with us, not adversarial.”
Sarah could tell that, despite Jack’s outward calm, he was somewhat ruffled by his meeting with Aaron Crisp. He was probably irritated with her for implying that she thought Crisp had handled the whole exchange quite coolly. She decided to placate her troubled partner.
“OK, we know that he isn’t hopeful of fulfilling his dream of owning his own vineyard and producing his own wine. Do you think he was just saying that to put us off the scent? Do you think Mrs B really does have other ideas about the land.”
“Well, if she did, they didn’t seem to include the barn,” said Jack, cheering up slightly.
“True, but if she’s got plans for the surrounding land, that might make a big difference to whether we wanted the barn.” Sarah’s reminder struck a chord.
“True. I hadn’t thought of it like that.”
They unlocked the Volvo but Jack did not turn on the ignition. Sarah continued the conversation.
“He didn’t seem too keen on casting Bickerdyke in the role of the murderer. Which is something of a surprise because he’d clearly like to get him for stealing the headstones. You might have thought he’d be happy to have another incriminating option to bring Bickerdyke down.”
“Perhaps he saw Bickerdyke as competition for the hand of the lovely Jacqueline,” Jack mused.
“Not if the way she speaks about him is anything to go by. She gave us the key remember.”
“Maybe they’d had a tiff and this was her way of getting even.”
“Not a woman to be messed with, if that’s her form of revenge. You remember that Mr Jacques.”
Jack ignored the barb. “That little tit-bit of information about the Mortimores might be important.”
“Yes, that does somewhat put them back in the picture. Not that they ever really left it, even with Jacki,” Sarah emphasised her name, “as a character witness.”
“Just what have you got against the woman, apart from the fact that she’s not crying buckets over her husband’s death.”
“She smells, she..” Before Sarah could go any further, Jack grabbed her arm.
“Do you know, I’ve just realised something that’s been bugging me about Aaron Crisp.”
“Other than his rugged good looks?” She stopped when she realised Jack was serious.
“I think he smelled of lavender.”
“So, what does that prove?”
“That they’ve been together more recently than he or she is letting on.”
“Darling, I think your drool rating has gone up again and it’s affecting your brain.”
“OK, if you think so, let’s go back inside and find out.”
“What? Are you seriously suggesting that we go back in there and smell him. The whole shop was full of herbs and spices. You’d have to stick your nose right into his ear and then what? Supposing he did smell of lavender, it wouldn’t prove a thing. Turn this thing on and let’s get out of here while we still have our freedom.” Jack wasn’t sure the Volvo liked being called a ‘thing’ but slowly, reluctantly, without answering, he turned on the ignition and they drove out of the car park.
They both felt drained and decided to drive back to Leeds even though it was still only mid-afternoon on Sunday. This had been, to say the least, an eventful weekend. Both of them had heavy weeks coming up and the thought of sleeping in their own bed tonight felt curiously comforting. They drove up the hill to the main road and then turned right towards Dacre Banks. Then they turned right on B6451 and took this road over the moors to Otley. Traffic was light and the drive home was uneventful. Neither of them spoke much. The distance between them and the valley gave them a different perspective on the events of the weekend. The perspective was a sobering one. They had almost been killed and their further questioning of other so-called suspects would have indicated that they had no intention of giving up their quest. Perhaps, even now, someone, somewhere was plotting another attempt on their lives.
They were almost home when Sarah spoke, “Sometimes I wonder if we’re really cut out for a life in the country.”
Jack squeezed her arm in, what he intended to be, a comforting fashion. She was too polite to complain even though she winced at the strength of Jack’s grip. The grip, she noted, suggested a certain tension in Jack.
“Well, it’s not quite the idyllic experience we’d anticipated, that’s for sure, but it will work out. I know I said I wanted to die up there but I’ve no intention of doing that just yet.”
She squeezed his arm in return. In an effort to change the subject but also to exorcise a subject that had been growing in his mind as they had got closer to Leeds, Jack also took the opportunity to tell Sarah about a plan he had been hatching for dealing with his difficult colleague at work. Given the madness of the plan, Jack thought Sarah took the idea quite well. They drove into Leeds with a certain, fragile calmness.
It was, however, short-lived. All the stresses and strains of their lives in Leeds, those that had encouraged them to search out the quiet life in the country, soon returned. On the domestic front their daughter continued her on off relationship with her latest amour and their son continued to stay out late without much attempt to keep them informed of his whereabouts. Let none of his clients say that he couldn’t possibly know how they were feeling. In that sense, he had paid his dues.
It was 5.30 on another cold and damp Monday morning in early December. Jack, once again, lay in bed tossing and turning. What Sarah insisted on referring to as the vrittas of the mind, fought the second world war inside his head. Sarah was already out of bed and in the attic, doing her yogic, calming, mind-clearing exercises. He envied her but long ago he had decided yoga was not the way to peace of mind for him. The fact that he had no alternative approach to achieving the desired state, remained a significant concern to him. Significant, though not sufficient to motivate him to find a way. In the meantime he would toss and turn. The events of the weekend battled with his concerns about his children who, in turn, skirmished with the worries of life at work. Reluctantly, he climbed out of bed and began the series of activities that would lead him, inexorably to the office. One hour later Jack and his management colleague, Brian sat glumly in Brian’s office. They had been, despite much effort, unable to find any evidence of malpractice on the part of their colleague who was pursuing her grievance about their professional conduct. The joys of management, thought Jack. Brian spoke.
“So, what are we going to do about her? We’ve tried everything legal.”
“OK, then, time to try something illegal.”
“Well, not illegal in the sense of murder or kidnap.”
“Pity, I thought you might be on to something there.”
“We need to go back to our original plan. The down and dirty plan.”
“The one in which we have her followed.”
“But we decided we couldn’t get anybody to do it.”
“That’s true but I think I’ve got somebody for the job.”
“What you mean that entirely sensible woman in every other respect than she insists on being married to you, has agreed to take part in a scheme of lunatic proportions?”
“Why, for God’s sake. It’s a crazy plan, although I like it. But why did Sarah agree?”
“I promised her a little something in return.”
“Now you have my interest. What?”
“I’m sorry, Brian, in the short term, that is going to have to remain something of a secret.”
“Something of a secret?”
“Completely a secret.”
On Tuesday night Jack had arranged with Justin Blayney to meet him in Woodies, a pub in Headingley which, over the years, had come as close, as anywhere, to providing Jack with the peace of mind he was seeking. For some reason Jack had felt happier at the prospect of talking to Blayney about events in Lofthouse on neutral territory. Whilst Jack couldn’t put his finger on why, he felt more in control, less stupid here than at Blayney’s house. He needed Blayney’s saner, more detached view of events. He needed to know whether his ambitions to be a detective were running away with him.
Jack had arrived five minutes early. The prospect of a pint of Stella often had that effect on him. He scanned the familiar features, primarily the human variety. He was on passing acquaintance terms with about half the people in the pub. None were close friends but, at an accepted level, they knew him and he knew them. Sometimes, he mused, life doesn’t get any better than that. Wherever they had gone in the world, Jack’s first task had always been to find a local, the equivalent of Woodies. In Lofthouse it had been The Rose and Crown. He wondered if his new local or, at least should he say, potential local, would ever hold the same place in his heart as Woodies. Of course Conrad, the landlord of Woodies, had never attempted to run him over so probably the relationship would be different. His ruminations were cut short by the arrival of Justin Blayney. He looked like he had come straight from work, unless, of course, he wore the bow-tie all the time. Jack accepted his offer of a second pint of Stella. By way of equalising their drinking Blayney bought himself two pints of Black Sheep Best and two packets of salted nuts. Jack noticed, once again, that Blayney looked quite flushed. He had a faint smell of some kind of cologne or after-shave which his slightly sweaty complexion seemed to bring out. After the usual, minor pleasantries Jack began to tell Blayney about the events of the last couple of weeks and particularly about their adventures at the weekend. He even mentioned the proposed balloon trip. He couldn’t remember whether Rupert Bear had ever been run over by a speeding automobile. He doubted it but he’d certainly been up in a balloon.
“Are we crazy, or is somebody really trying to kill us?” Jack asked, after he’d given Blayney his version of what had happened to them.
“You probably are, but I suppose it is possible that somebody wants to stop you buying that barn. Your list of suspects is fairly short. I suppose you should ask yourself whether there might not be others who would have a vested interest in stopping your purchase.
“That’s a comforting thought,” said Jack, sarcastically. “Even more maniacs out there in the hills trying to kill us off.”
“I don’t think you can be certain that anybody was trying to kill you off. There’s pure coincidence, reckless driving, a warped sense of humour and extreme form of warning to take into account before arriving at the conclusion that murder was the object of the exercise.” Jack wasn’t sure whether he found Blayney’s smooth reassurance a comfort or a source of irritation. He decided to try another focus for the discussion.
“What do you think about Josh Barker’s death? Do you think he was murdered?”
“Once again, I’d have to say that accident or suicide would probably rank higher in a list of probable causes of death than murder. Why would any of those people you’ve already named chose this particular moment to murder Josh Barker?”
“Well, if I were a detective rather than a humble psychologist.” Blayney’s laugh took Jack by surprise.
“Is there such an animal as a humble psychologist?” he asked with a hint of his characteristic arrogance. Jack thought he saw a hint of anger underneath the laugh but if there was Blayney controlled quickly and returned to his normal, urbane persona.
“Anybody would think you’d had bad experiences with psychologists,” Jack prodded. But Blayney had regained his composure. “Well you’re not the first but no, my experience with psychologists has been fine. What were you saying?”
“I was saying that if I were a detective and I was trying to find an explanation as to ‘why now?’ I’d say something in the valley has changed. Probably the foot and mouth has made people do strange things. Seemingly somebody didn’t want Barker to sell us the barn and therefore we could deduce that somebody or bodies didn’t want any of the land in the valley changing hands, not even our little patch.”
Blayney had finished his first pint of bitter and was well into his second before Jack was three quarters of the way through his first but then Jack was doing more of the talking. Jack continued.
“One or two people have suggested that Jacqueline Barker could have had something to do with her husband’s death. Do you think that is a possibility?” As he spoke he became aware that Blayney was staring at him. The realisation caused a slight shiver. It was, he realised, the same kind of feeling he had had when talking to Aaron Crisp, he just hadn’t recognised it until this very moment. He realised that Blayney was speaking to him. For one moment Jack had the feeling that he had fallen to the bottom of a deep well from which he was now climbing out. Woodies seemed a long way away. Those familiar faces appeared to him to be sitting the other side of a thick, plate of glass.
“What?” said Jack. “I’m sorry, for some strange reason my mind went back to the meeting we had at the weekend with Aaron Crisp. I had a kind of flashback. I suddenly had the strongest feeling that he’d done it. I knew that he’d killed Josh Barker but I can’t for the life of me think why I thought that, if you see what I mean.”
“The mind, as you would know far better than I, can play funny tricks,” said Blayney. “But if you’re determined to play detective I think you’re right to suspect Crisp. I’d say he had plenty to gain from Josh Barker’s death. As I hear it he was desperate to start a new business to compensate for the downturn in his current venture. I’m pretty sure he thought he could persuade Jacki, Mrs Barker, to take on his hair-brained scheme if he could get Barker out of the way. He’s probably wise enough to know that with farmers on the uppers he could buy more land if he needed to at a knock down price.”
“So you think we’re right to suspect foul-play?”
Blayney laughed again at Jack’s eagerness.
“Maybe, but I can’t see the Mortimores being involved. I can’t see a connection between Crisp and the Mortimores and anyway, the Mortimores are just too dull to try and kill anybody. All Joan cares about is getting her beloved swimming pool built and all Charlie cares about is seeing Joan happy.”
“But wasn’t there talk of Josh and Joan having some kind of affair? Wouldn’t that be motive for murder?”
“You mean Charlie takes out Josh Barker in order to save his marriage. BSE might have entered the human food chain but that seems like taking the insanity theory just a touch too far.”
“Hmm, I suppose you’re right.”
“And of course there’s the slight problem of method of murder, if it is murder, not to mention time of death. Without time of death it’s rather hard to check alibis.”
“Do you think I should go to the police again?”
“My response would have to be – with what? You haven’t exactly got any hard evidence have you?”
“OK, so what is my next step?”
“Well, if you’re not prepared to forget all your theories of intrigue and skull-duggery, which for whatever reason you psychologists are motivated to understand human behaviour, it seems, you’re not, then I’d concentrate on Crisp. He’s brighter than the rest, he’s got a motive and, as you may have noticed, he has something of an impulsive nature.”
“Yes, I’d noticed that. I’d think he could be quite quick-tempered.”
“You’d need to keep an eye on that, it could be a problem.”
“I’d certainly have the opportunity to do that. He’s invited me to spy on Dave Bickerdyke who he is convinced is nicking headstones from the cemetery up at Middlesmoor.”
Justin Blayney was clearly surprised by this information. Jack felt almost relieved to have shared it with Blayney although he wasn’t sure why he had the feeling. After a pause Blayney responded.
“That’s new. When does he want you to do that?”
“Next Saturday night.”
“Are you going to do it?”
“I suppose in view of what you’ve just said, I’d better. Use my psychological, observational powers to get more of a picture of the man.”
Justin Blayney fell silent for a few moments while he appeared to consider the implications of what Jack was proposing.
“OK, but be careful. You could be getting into deep water.”
“Like Josh Barker?” Jack laughed.
Blayney smiled. “You’re a long way from any water up there so you should be safe on that account, at least. But there are other ways of…” he paused.
“Getting murdered?” Jack offered.
“Just take care, that’s all I’m saying and Jack..”
“I wouldn’t tell too many people about this. They could think you were taking your interest in the Hedderly barn a little too far.”
“You’re right, I’ll keep it quiet.”
“Even Sarah might think you were in danger of losing your marbles if she knew. Does she know?”
For some reason he didn’t understand, the thought of falling short of this man’s expectations, of, in some way disappointing him, caused Jack to deny that he had already told Sarah about Crisp’s offer.
“She’s thinks I might be up to something but she’s not sure what,” Jack laughed.
“Keep it that way,” Blayney replied. Before Jack could respond their conversation was interrupted by a call from a client. As seemed to be his way, Blayney managed to assure the client that everything was, and would continue to be, fine. After the call Blayney switched the mobile off then turned to look at Jack.
“What about your balloon trip? Are you looking forward to that?” Blayney continued without explaining or apologising for the interruption
“Sarah is, I’m not. Believe it or not I don’t like heights.”
“Interesting choice of activity then for a man who’s afraid of heights.”
“Not so much afraid,” said Jack, slightly needled by Blayney’s hint of scorn. “More respectful of heights.”
“No bad thing I’d imagine. They can kill you.”
“There’s that word again.” Jack paused. “I haven’t ruled out Bickerdyke as being involved in this somehow but I haven’t worked out how.”
“What makes you suspect Bickerdyke?”
“For a start the same thing as Crisp – money problems, then there’s the headstones, not to mention he was, seemingly, the last person to see Josh Barker alive.”
Blayney considered this for a moment. “I guess that does add up to some kind of evidence against the man but do bear in mind, Jack, we aren’t absolutely sure that Josh Barker’s death was anything other than accident or suicide.”
“True, but just supposing it was murder and just suppose Bickerdyke did have something to do with it, what would be his Achilles heel, so to speak? What’s my point of attack?”
“I don’t know how you’d get to him.”
“Wouldn’t the headstones be the obvious starting point. Threaten to expose him to the police unless he tells us all he knows about Josh Barker’s death.”
“Why would he admit to a greater crime in order to cover up a lesser crime?”
“Good point. Maybe he didn’t kill him but simply has some information about who did. That way he wouldn’t be actually admitting to anything.”
“Well, OK, but you don’t actually have any firm evidence at this stage that Bickerdyke is involved in stealing the headstones.” He paused. “That is unless there’s something you’re not telling me.”
Jack took a deep breath. So far he’d made no mention of their breaking and entering career. It would be taking an awfully big risk to confess what they’d done to Justin Blayney. There was, however, something about the man that encouraged Jack to be honest. He had a way of prompting certain responses from Jack. Almost in spite of his better judgement, Jack told him about the headstones in Bickerdyke’s office, he even told him about getting the key from Jacqueline Barker. He told Blayney how they had disappeared but also how they thought that there would probably still be evidence that the stones had been there. Any direct observation of Bickerdyke’s nocturnal activities would merely serve to confirm his view that Bickerdyke was, at least, the thief and possibly a murderer. When Jack had finished, Blayney said nothing for a few seconds, Jack wondered if he was about to tell him that he was going straight to the police. After this pause when they both sat and stared at each other, Justin Blayney seemed to make a decision. He looked Jack in the eye and spoke quietly.
“OK, Jack. I can see you’re determined to carry on with this. I just want to say that I’ll give you all the help that I can. Go up there next weekend and dig around some more. We’ll meet again next week some time to see what you’ve got. Maybe I can see things that you can’t. Either way, I’d like to help. You’re probably off on a wild goose chase but at least you should have some company.”
Jack felt as if a weight had been lifted from his shoulders.
“I’d appreciate that,” he said simply.
They spent another half an hour talking about the barn and the plans Jack and Sarah had for it, then they said their farewells. Jack left the pub, not for the first time, feeling like a new man. Justin Blayney did that to him. Yet he did not know why and, had he been asked, he would have denied it.
He had reduced the variables in his swing. It was, he liked to think, compact and economical. He had also eliminated all unnecessary swing thoughts. As he stood over his ball on the first tee he told himself, ‘just focus on the ball and the club head coming together over the last 6 to 8 inches. Hit the ball gently, don’t try and wack it.’ Jack knew there was nothing elegant or powerful about his swing. He realised that he probably wasn’t the kind of low-handicap golfer the club was looking for but he was a pretty decent sort of a chap, didn’t throw his clubs when things went wrong or slag off the opposition. He’d pay his fees on time and, more important, pay for his round in the clubhouse. And he did have an excellent set of clubs. He’d bought the Calloways after his last, less-good, set had been stolen from his car. Expensive but worth it, he reasoned. There was, he reckoned, an acceptable correlation between getting older and spending more money on better sports gear. He wouldn’t be found wanting on the equipment front at least. They could do a lot worse than to take on Jack Jacques as a member of Standsmoor Golf Club. ‘Relax’ he told himself, ‘just get off the first tee and you’ll be fine’. He was sweating even though it was a cool afternoon. He hoped that his cap would conceal this fact. He told his heart to stop pumping and to return to his chest where it belonged rather than in his mouth where it currently resided. A smooth swing would, with the help of Big Bertha, carry the ball, with roll, the best part of two hundred yards. Not flash but a good enough start to any hole.
Jack had arranged to take the afternoon off from work with some elation and, of course, some trepidation. He had received the call. He had been asked to come up to the club and play a round with the club secretary. He smiled, as he always did, when he considered the phrase ‘play a round with’. Childish he knew but it made him smile. He wouldn’t share his pathetic and predictable joke with the club secretary. That would certainly single him out as not Standsmoor material.
The ball, God bless it, left the tee and sailed efficiently, if not spectacularly down the first fairway, a straight par four.
“Good shot,” said Martin Higgins.
“Thank you. It’s a little shorter than I usually hit,” Jack lied. “But I’m happy with that.” Higgins stepped confidently up to his ball, waggled his substantial hips once and struck the ball 280 yards down the fairway.
“Great shot,” Jack said, with genuine admiration.
“Thanks,” Higgins replied with maddening casualness. “Let’s walk on.”
The course looked beautiful even at this time of year. It was, without question, in Jack’s opinion, at least, one of the, if not the, most beautiful course in the area. Those holes which ran alongside Eccup reservoir were particularly pleasing. There were only a few members on the course this afternoon. Jack assumed they were members, at over £50 a round the club didn’t get many visiting players. Recent weather had made the ground a little bit soggy and the rest of the members could probably afford to wait for the better weather. For Jack it was a privilege to be here in any weather and any way it was ten times drier than the municipal and newly-opened, private courses he had been playing on. They walked briskly, even though there were no players behind them. It was simply regarded as good golfing etiquette to walk smartly to your ball and not linger too long over your next shot. Jack was keen to portray himself as a brisk and efficient golfer.
With another two hundred or so yards to the green Jack decided he would try his fairway wood. It was a slightly risky shot but he liked the club and generally hit it well. He wasn’t as confident of hitting one of his long irons that distance. He hit the ball about one hundred and eighty yards finishing in the rough at the edge of the fairway. Once again, though he did not say so, he was pleased with the shot. Higgins put his shot with a three iron onto the front edge of the green and, eventually, completed the hole in the regulation par.
Jack’s chip out of the light rough was too strong and carried over the flag to the far edge of the long green. It took Jack three putts to get down from that position. That meant he’d got a 6 on a par 4. He wouldn’t admit it, and had taken Martin Higgins’s condolence of unluckily landing in the rough as comfort, but he was pleased with his performance on the first hole. On the second hole, another par four, he again took a 6. He wasn’t, by his own standards, playing badly at all. Question was, would those standards be good enough for Martin Higgins? By hole five, with nobody behind them their pace had slowed somewhat and Jack had begun to relax enough to begin the combination of banter and idle chit chat which typifies a friendly round of golf.
“Not many people out today,” Jack said by way of light conversation as they walked down the fairway.
“No, a lot of our members are a fairly fickle lot. They’re either retired or rich or both. They can afford to choose the times they want to play and if they don’t play they’re not too concerned about not getting their money’s worth.” By way of continuing the conversation, Higgins said, “You’re a psychologist I understand.”
“That’s right,” Jack replied with a little pride.
“Private or state?” Higgins asked without waiting for Jack to elaborate.
It worried Jack, when he thought about his reply later, how desperately he wanted to say he was in private practice. Instead he answered truthfully, “I work for Leeds City Council as an educational psychologist.” Higgins’s reply was, Jack thought, a predictable, “Oh, I see.” Jack thought he detected a slight hint of disappointment but he couldn’t be sure. Higgins’s next statement was friendly enough. “There’s an awful lot of psychology in golf, so you should be fine. Who was it said, ‘golf is a game played on a five inch course – the distance between your ears’?”
“That was Bobby Jones, “ Jack replied, feeling pleased with himself. He decided to pursue his advantage, “Or, as Arnold Palmer said, ‘ninety per cent of golf is played from the shoulders up’”.
“That’s quite right,” Higgins responded. “So you’ll have a head start on some members,” he laughed.
“Because they aren’t aware of the psychology you mean?”
“Well, in some cases, yes. But I’d also say some members are a bit too aware, if you follow my drift.” Higgins continued.
“Fascinating,” said Jack not having to pretend he was interested in the way the conversation had developed. He was too experienced a psychologist to do any more than prompt Higgins to further revelations. “In what way, exactly?”
“Let’s just say it’s a fine line between gamemanship and what I’d have to call cheating. It’s perfectly fine, in a friendly game, for a chap to put a little pressure on their playing partner by suggesting, for example, that this is a much harder putt than it looks? Look out for that bunker, is always a favourite. As you will be more aware than I, that plants the negative thought in the opponent’s mind and, more often than not, that’s were they end up. That’s all part of the rough and tumble of friendly golf but in a competition situation where prizes are at stake that can be a different matter.”
“And you’re saying,” with all the innocence he could muster, “That some members don’t stay the right side of that fine line?”
“Some, yes. I suppose every club has them. We get all kinds of people here, as I’ve suggested. I may have given you the idea that we’re an exclusive kind of club and that’s true in the sense that we make sure we keep out the riff raff, but I wouldn’t want to give the wrong idea. We have a lot of professional people, ordinary people who work hard to make an honest living. Apart from the lawyers and the estate agents of course.”
They both laughed and Jack appreciated the fact that this man was making an effort to make him feel welcome.
“You’ve obviously had first hand experience.”
“True, although it’s not always the people you expect to be a bit fly when it comes to adding up their scores, who are the ones you need to watch.”
“It would be very interesting to do a study of the most dishonest professions on the golf course.”
“You’d be surprised. We had one chap here, who happened to be an architect by the way, who took gamesmanship to new levels.”
“I hope it’s not the same architect I’m employing to do some design work on a barn we’re buying. Chap by the name of Justin Blayney.”
Martin Higgins stopped dead in his tracks.
“As a matter of fact he used to be a member here. Nothing wrong with him as an architect, I hasten to add, but he had some interesting approaches to winning at golf.”
“He never let on he’d been a member here when I mentioned to him I was applying to join.” Jack hit his drive into the trees but managed to resist the kind of expletive which would have characterised his golf on less prestigious courses.
“I don’t suppose it’s the kind of thing you want to shout too loudly about. Not good for your professional image. These things quickly get around even from club to club.” Higgins hit his drive with metronomic accuracy down the fairway. He bent to pick up his tee.
“What exactly was he banned for?”
“I’m afraid I’ve already said rather more than I should about a specific member. Let’s keep the conversation at a broad level. You’re over there, you’ll need to hack it out. Don’t try anything fancy, just chop it out.” He walked on down the fairway towards his own ball and, despite Jack’s efforts to further engage him in conversation about Justin Blayney, Higgins resisted any temptation to elaborate. Obviously, Jack thought, Blayney was keen to hide his slightly unscrupulous past but did that mean that there were more dirty secrets in the architect’s filing cabinet?
The rest of the round continued to go quite well for Jack. He scored a 98 in total for the round. He was always happy when he broke a hundred. It was a rare event as he’d told Mike Giggs but he’d done it today. Jack realised he wasn’t going to set the world of golf alight but if he could keep scoring at this level consistently enough he could begin thinking about getting handicap. If he did get accepted here, as a member, his golfing ambitions were definitely moving in the right direction. He did want to be allowed to join this club.
Jack had showered and changed and sat down with Martin Higgins in the clubhouse bar. There were three or four groups of mostly older men who looked like they had recently come off the course. A couple of them looked like it had been quite a time since they had finished their round. In one group two, older women were contributing to, what Jack took to be, their husbands conversations about golf. They were more than holding their own in a discussion about what work they felt the club needed to undertake to return the course to its pristine, early summer condition.
Higgins began the conversation.
“So what did you make of our little course?”
Jack thought for a second, he didn’t want to come across as too sycophantic but, on the other hand, this was no time for recalcitrance.
“I thought it was absolutely beautiful, well-kept, well-drained and well, just great,” he ended, weakly.
“Thank you, not quite as well-kept as it used to be, some members think. To be honest that’s why we’ve decided to open the club membership up to just a few more members, like yourself.”
Jack’s heart returned to his mouth. He said nothing and sat perfectly still so the spell would not be broken. Higgins continued.
“Of course some members don’t approve of that either. They want the course returned to its former glory but don’t want to pay for it nor do they want new members.”
“Human nature, I suppose,” Jack replied, still trying to stay away from the sycophantic.
“Yes, I suppose so. Anyway Jack, technically I should tell you now that your application will go before the committee. The committee members like to hang on to the notion that they make the decisions but, in this case, I think I can tell you that your application will be accepted. Congratulations.” He reached across to Jack and held out his hand. Jack wished he had had the opportunity to wipe his hand on his trousers before clasping Higgins’s hand.
“That’s fantastic,” said Jack, the sycophancy winning out. “I’m so pleased. Thank you.”
Higgins extricated his hand from Jack’s.
“Welcome to Standsmoor. If you can come back in about a week we’ll fix you up with your membership card, your security card, your credit card for the bar, all that sort of thing.”
Jack walked out of the clubhouse – his clubhouse, his step as light as it had been in recent memory. He was in, yesirree, Bob, he was in. He thought of Sarah’s reaction. She wouldn’t share his delight but she’d be happy for him, if this was what he really wanted. And he did, he really did. He would, however, play it cool. She didn’t understand his desperate need to belong to this club and she wouldn’t appreciate his infantile joy at having been accepted. He really did hope that the barn happened. The barn would be Sarah’s equivalent to his joining the club. She could hardly complain about his joining, admittedly, an expensive golf club, if they were paying out tens of thousands of pounds on buying her a studio in which to paint.
His euphoria at being accepted as a member at Standsmoor maintained his spirits even though Sarah afterwards had sniffed something about supposing he’d now be wearing pullovers with diamonds on them and tweed plus fours. The euphoria survived the trials and tribulations of work, even the surprise at Sarah agreeing to follow his irritating colleague to see how she spent her, so-called, working hours. It had survived all the ups and downs of their life with their children. In fact, it had carried him through, until now. Until this very moment. Now the reality of what he had agreed to do reached down into his stomach and pulled his insides out. He felt genuinely sick. Perhaps it was true. He was, after all, a coward. His paradoxical voice replied. To be fair, he had never liked heights. He could cope, just about, if he were in a high, but enclosed, place but any high place that was in some way exposed – cliffs, high-rise balconies, even, in a strange way, theatres with balconies – any place that offered the possibility of him jumping from them, basically terrified him. He had used all his skills as a psychologist to try and understand why. It seemed to be something to do with a conviction that the thought would enter his mind, an uncontrollable thought, that it would be entirely possible for him to fly from this high place. He could, as he did occasionally in his dreams, swoop over the landscape below and touch gently down on terra firma at a time of his choosing. He also knew that the reality would be one second after take off he would he shouting ‘oh, shit’ and he would be plummeting to the sharp rocks or concrete or, in the case of theatres, the surprised heads of the clientele in the stalls. Despite this frequent and appropriate reality check he was, in these high places, consumed by a fear that he would be unable to resist that small voice in the back of his head quietly chanting – ‘go on, you can do it, just step over the edge, it’s easy’. In that split second between ‘ah, why not?’ and that irrevocable step off the edge, there would be no moderating influence, no one able to intercede on his behalf, no moderation of his irrational response to the challenge he intended to meet. The concept would be irresistible. He’d be gone with no coming back, just the question – ‘why the hell did I do that?’ and the thought ‘this is going to hurt’ to keep him company on the way down.
Now he was about to add one more facet to the terror brought about by his fear of heights – hot air ballooning. In fact from where he currently stood, or rather cowered, it seemed entirely possible that hot air ballooning was about to assume the number one spot.
“You look a little pale around the gills, old chap,” said David Bickerdyke in, what Jack now felt was, an entirely irritating plummy voice. Jez Cooper, Bickerdyke’s assistant, laughed. He was holding onto the basket and, no doubt, serving some useful function.
Sarah replied on his behalf. “He’s not one hundred per cent enamoured of heights,” she said with a touch too much lightness, Jack felt.
“You’ll love it when you’re up there. It won’t feel like the real world. You’ll think you’re in a dream world.”
“That’s what I’m worried about,” Jack said beneath his breath.
The three of them stood now in the basket beneath the balloon. David Bickerdyke was fiddling with the valves through which a stream of ignited gas passed into the mouth of the red and orange balloon directly above. Jez Cooper was still holding the balloon steady. There was a light but steady wind teasing the fabric of the balloon.
“Oh, my God,” Jack said finally.
The balloon, finally filled with all the hot air it could take, flapped once, the basket dragged briefly along the ground, Cooper, having taken a few steps, let go of the basket and released the rope he was holding. Balloon, basket and people rose majestically into the pale blue, cloudless sky. The Volvo shook its head and looked sadly at Jack.
In seconds the relationship between Jack and the planet Earth was broken.
“Oh, my God,” Jack said once more.
“Look, Jack,” Sarah exclaimed, “It looks just like Rupert Bear countryside. Just like you said. It’s so pretty. I love it.”
“Oh, my God,” said Jack, unafraid to repeat himself. His knees were bent such that the side of the basket came to just below neck level. The courtyard and its offices assumed the dimensions of small shoeboxes. The basket rocked gently under its huge, coloured ball. The coloured ball climbed higher. They went inexorably with it.
“What do you think?” Bickerdyke asked of nobody in particular.
“Well, I think, it’s inspiring and I’m confident my brave husband will do too but it may take him a moment or two.”
“Don’t mind me,” Jack replied, between clenched teeth. Beneath them the town of Pateley Bridge glided serenely by. Jack could see several people, on the ground, standing, staring open-mouthed up at the balloon.
“Bastards,” said Jack, primarily to himself. Why can’t they be up here and me down there, he thought.
“I bet they wish they were up here,” Sarah chirped, looking down on their small audience.
“They’d be very welcome,” said Jack, teeth still firmly clenched.
“Come on, relax, enjoy,” said Bickerdyke. “You’re getting a free trip. Why’d you take up the offer, if you hate it so much?”
Jack took a breath, “I didn’t know it was going to be this painful.”
“Look ahead to where we’re heading rather than straight down. Some people find that helps.” Jack, for once, did as he was advised. He raised his eyes to look up the valley in the direction they were moving. At once he lost the sensation of movement and with it, his naked fear of being suspended like a gibbering idiot, 500 feet above mother earth. They were moving, wind permitting, directly along the upper Nidd valley. His knees straightened slightly and he issued his first, fear-free words since leaving the ground. He had some making up to do if Bickerdyke was not to finish this trip thinking Jack was a man located somewhere between snivelling coward and congenital idiot.
“Jack has this fear that the voice of God will speak to him and order him to bail out without the parachute,” Sarah said, turning to Bickerdyke. Jack felt his knees re-buckle slightly under the weight of this shared confidence or, as he saw it, embarrassing admission.
“Do you ever get that feeling?” she continued.
“Can’t say that I do, really” Bickerdyke replied briskly but not unkindly.
“No, I don’t suppose you’d have chosen a career as a balloonist, if you did.”
“I wouldn’t say I actually chose this as a career, more a case of Hobson’s choice. My father had other ideas for me, he wanted me to follow in his footsteps as something in chemistry. I suppose I disappointed him. Anyway they helped me buy the business. Got me out from under the family’s feet. I wasn’t particularly keen on school, scraped through university with a poor two-one in chemistry, little idea of what I wanted to do, so this was a bit of a God send, you could say.”
David Bickerdyke and Sarah continued to chat amicably with each other. At the same time Sarah watched the landscape passing directly beneath the basket as they talked. Heights held no fear for her. Jack, now almost upright in the basket, fondly remembered their ferry trip across a particularly rough stretch of water on their last trip to New Zealand. He nurtured the memory of Sarah clinging sweating and green to the side of the boat. Water was to Sarah what heights were to Jack. He made a note that, if he ever got out of this alive, he would surely take Sarah on the water again and make her suffer. Yes, he would make her suffer. The Sportsman’s Arms slipped serenely beneath them, the moorland tops, seemingly almost at eye level, to either side. Birds that Jack thought were sea gulls, rose and fell with effortless ease above and below them. How he envied them. Free of all earthly constraints. For some reason the words of Bob Dylan floated back to him over the years- ‘but is a bird free from the sky?’ Perversely this cheered him. In fact, the thought had entered Jack’s head that he was no longer completely terrified just merely moderately anxious. If he kept this up he might even start to enjoy the experience. Of course the thought that beneath his feet and a relatively flimsy, in his view, bottom of the basket, was nothing other than 500 feet of nothingness, was never far away as a source of fear. His thoughts about the birds brought him with a slight jolt to a realisation that the fields below them, now they had left the town, were empty.
In the way that married couples have, Sarah voiced his thoughts.
“It’s quite a shock when you realise that these fields should be full of cows and sheep,” she said.
“Yes,” Bickerdyke replied, “it’s a complete bastard. It’s still beautiful but, it’s a dead country.”
The words stuck in Jack’s head. ‘Dead country’. Somewhere in his sub-conscious the words found a resting place.
By now, approximately 20 minutes into the flight, they were approaching Gouthwaite Reservoir. On balance, the thought comforted him. Surely it would be less deadly to fall 500 feet into water than onto concrete or earth. Immediately this thought was replaced with the knowledge, based on his careful reading of what happened to people who, for example, jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge, that hitting water from any height was, to all intents and purposes, pretty similar to hitting concrete. Could you hit the waters of Gouthwaite and live? He didn’t want to be the first person to find out. They passed the dam wall against which Josh Barker’s body had eventually come to rest after being spotted by walkers and pulled out by the police.
On reflection, they agreed that the thought must have occurred to them both at approximately the same moment. Jack didn’t know how long Sarah had been growing the thought. Though he would not admit it, she had always been slightly quicker than him to work things out, to draw conclusions. The fact that, in his frequent opinion, they were, as a result, wrong, seemed not to matter to Sarah. Left to his own devices Jack would not have chosen either this particular moment and certainly not this location to share his thoughts with Dave Bickerdyke. Sarah had no such compunction.
“Bloody hell. I know how you did it,” she shouted. Jack knew exactly what she meant. Not now Sarah, not now, he thought. Bickerdyke looked genuinely perplexed.
He checked that Sarah was talking to him.
“Did what?” he asked, finally.
“Killed Josh Barker, of course.”
Bickerdyke laughed. Jack thought it seemed quite a genuine laugh but then, given the circumstances, he probably wanted it to be. But Sarah wasn’t finished.
“This is the route that you took with Josh Barker, isn’t it?”
“More or less, I suppose.”
“And that’s how he got in the middle of the reservoir, isn’t it? It’s so obvious, can’t think why we didn’t see it before.”
The straightening of Jack’s knees, which had been going well, ceased and he felt them begin to buckle once more. Sarah seemed to be confident of the direction she was taking. He felt powerless to stop her. It demonstrated his manliness to let her, a female, run with the ball in this way. It certainly didn’t make him look bad, no, sirree, Bob.
“You must have thrown him out somewhere in the middle. He sank, decomposed a bit and then floated towards the dam wall. He couldn’t swim so even if the fall didn’t kill him, he’d certainly have drowned.”
“Do you seriously believe that I could have thrown him out of the balloon without anybody seeing the struggle?”
“It doesn’t take long for a man to fall 500 feet into the water. I don’t suppose he would have been doing much talking with a reservoir full of water in his mouth. I don’t know what time of day you took the trip but if you’d made sure it was early in the day, you would probably gamble that he wouldn’t be seen.”
“For goodness sake, that’s ridiculous.”
Sarah ploughed on with her theory. Jack tried to speak but the words, ‘Sarah, please’ were stuck somewhere in his chest.
“It’s not that ridiculous. We know you owed him money. Pretty simple way to clear your debts.”
Jack could see the colour rise in Bickerdyke’s face. He wasn’t sure how this was going to end. His knees sagged a little more. He braced himself, rising to his full 5 feet 11 and a half inches.
“You’ve spent too much time sniffing the fixative, Mrs Jacques. You’re having wild fantasies. There’s no way I could have thrown Josh Barker out of this balloon without being seen.”
“How hard can it be to tip an unsuspecting man over the side?” Sarah asked, calmly.
Bickerdyke took a step towards Jack. “I’ll show you.” Jack sank to the bottom of the basket. He would later deny that he had screamed. Bickerdyke seized him by the lapels and attempted to pull him to his feet. Jack felt a strength come from within him, a strength he had never before recognised in himself. As Bickerdyke bent over him Jack rammed the heel of his out-turned palm hard into his face. Bickerdyke staggered backwards grabbing the ropes that held the balloon to the basket as he did so. Sarah stepped between them. Jack’s blow had impaled Bickerdyke’s lip onto his teeth. Bickerdyke attempted to staunch the flow of blood running down his chin from the cut with a handkerchief he produced from his pocket. He snarled but not in anger.
“Do you get the idea? It would be impossible. There’s too much to hang on to.”
“I’m not sure my husband counts as ‘unsuspecting’ and perhaps there were two of you. That might make matters easier.”
“For God’s sake, Mrs Jacques. Who else would I have up here as my accomplice?”
“Could be any number of people.”
“Charlie Mortimore, even Joan Mortimore, she’s built like a brick outhouse. Aaron Crisp. Who knows.”
“Think about it, Mrs Jacques. This person would be seen by somebody as we took off or went over Pateley Bridge. He could hardly be hidden on the floor of the basket, could he? I think Josh Barker might have noticed him and he might have asked ‘what the hell are you doing hiding down there’? Don’t you think?”
“He does have a point,” said Jack, speaking for the first time. Once he realised that Bickerdyke didn’t intend to tip him over the side, his brain began to function again. “That would be fairly unlikely,” Jack continued.
“Jack, I’m telling you that this man knows something about Josh Barker’s death that he’s not telling us about.”
“And if I don’t choose to tell you the truth, whatever you think that might be, then what?” Bickerdyke asked, regaining his composure but with his handkerchief still held to his mouth . The boldness of the statement took the wind out of Sarah’s sails. They looked at each other. Would she tell Bickerdyke what they knew about the headstones? Jack passionately hoped she would not. He wanted to keep this trump card up his sleeve until a safer moment.
“Then nothing,” Jack replied, giving Sarah a look which said not now, not now. Sarah seemed to make her mind up.
“Well, we tried. I’m sorry I seem to have created a bit of a crisis. I hope I haven’t spoiled the trip.”
“I’m sorry too,” said Bickerdyke through the handkerchief. “For choosing a rather inappropriate method of proving how difficult it would be to tip you over the side.” He removed the handkerchief and smiled at Jack as best his lip would allow. “It was doubly unfair knowing your fear of heights.”
“I suppose I should also apologise but it hardly felt like over-reacting when somebody seems to be intent on throwing you five hundred feet to your death.
“I still think you know more than you’re telling us about Josh Barker’s death,” Sarah persisted.
“Let it go, for now, at least. If we think we have more evidence at a later date,” said Jack thinking of what might be to come this evening,” We know where to find him. Now, as we are trapped here the three of us, for the next hour or so, given my fear of heights has been somewhat redefined, let’s try and enjoy it.”
The sentiment was a good one. The problem with having an argument in the basket of a hot air balloon as opposed to, say, a restaurant or one’s own front room, was that it is practically impossible to leave afterwards. Jack probably felt more irritated with Sarah for this, very un-British ignoring of social etiquette than the fact that, a few minutes earlier, he felt his life was under threat. They would simply have to make the most of it.
The balloon had drifted to almost the far end of the reservoir. The sunlight on the water had, thankfully, a soothing effect, seemingly on all three of them. The day continued bright and only moderately windy. The shadow of the balloon chased them growing and shrinking as it passed over the contours of the land. It had a strangely hypnotic effect. Fifteen minutes later first High Lofthouse farm and then, shortly afterwards, the barn came into view. From above it looked predictably small. Both their thoughts turned to the first time they had seen it as a photograph in the estate agents window and then later that day seen it ‘for real’. The building itself was in basically sound condition but unspectacular in its design. It was, when all was said and done, a barn, full of hay or was it straw? It had been the view that had taken their breath away. From above the landscape looked like a large map. Undoubtedly the landscape had charm but lost some of its grandeur from this perspective. Even Rupert had been up in the mad professor’s balloon, Jack recalled. Below them the hillside fell away and rose a few minutes later with, what they agreed was something close to sweeping majesty to Middlesmoor. The balloon climbed slightly as the hill grew before them but overall their height above the ground lessened until, as they reached the church, they felt like they could reach out and touch the spire. The fact that Jack even considered this possibility seemed to suggest that he was beginning to feel quite at home in the basket now hung about one and fifty feet above the ground. Jack even smiled to himself as he recalled an old episode of Dad’s Army. He couldn’t remember the details but either a German parachutist or Corporal Jones had ended up hanging from a church spire. People in the village stood and gaped up at the balloon. They could see their faces quite clearly. They looked up in admiration at what they, no doubt, thought to be a typical balloon flight along this picturesque dale. With the journey nearing its end, the tension in the basket intruded again on the pleasure Jack was just beginning to get from the trip.
“I’d have to say, this has been one of my more unusual trips,” said Bickedyke.
“We couldn’t disagree with that,” Sarah replied.
Bickerdyke began making the kind of adjustments that presumably balloonists made when bringing their huge, flapping charges to earth. Jack didn’t understand what was happening other than, he supposed, he was letting hot air escape from the balloon. An appropriate metaphor for what had happened up there, he wondered? Had they done little more than let out a little hot air or had they significantly disturbed the equilibrium of this case to the point of the whole thing breaking wide open. Probably the hot air, Jack thought.
Their touch down spot was in a field at the side of the track that was the continuation of the road that ran through the village of Middlesmoor. Bickerdyke had parked his Land Rover with trailer attached here earlier in the day. Jack was relieved that they had decided to make this a one-way trip rather than some form of, wind-permitting, circular tour. The ground, Jack felt, rose up to welcome him. The closer they came to the ground, the more relaxed he felt. It looked like he was going to survive. He thought he’d demonstrated his masculinity quite effectively. He would tell Sarah so when the opportunity presented itself. The basket hit the ground once, bounced then dragged slowly along the ground and came to a halt with none of that faintly embarrassing dragging along the ground. With all the elegance they could muster, they climbed over the side of the basket. Jack resisted the temptation to kiss the ground.
“Do you want to walk down to the pub? I’ll do what I’ve got to do here and pick you up in about 30 minutes. Then I’ll take you back to your car.”
“That’s very accommodating of you,” Sarah said.
“Customer satisfaction is important to me,” Bickerdyke smiled. Jack was slightly disappointed that his blow hadn’t caused Bickerdyke more permanent damage. Not that he bore the man any particular ill-will. He simply wished his capability for striking an opponent had been somewhat greater than it apparently was. They left Bickerdyke walking across to his Land Rover.
“Bloody hell.” The words were heart-felt. Free from the confines of the basket a wave of emotion rolled over him. “Why, in the name of all that is holy, did you have to choose that moment to confront him? I mean, obviously, I had exactly the same thought as you about how Barker’s body got in the water but I didn’t go blurting it out. You could have got us both killed.”
“Not with my big manly hulk to protect me.” She squeezed his arm with genuine affection. “I am sorry, you’re quite right. It came to me and I said it, Bingo.”
“Bingo? Bingo? We’re working on becoming the twenty-first century’s answer to MacMillan and wife and you’re thinking ‘bingo’?” With his ego somewhat restored to its former glory, Jack’s sense of humour returned. Sarah, in the way that partners do, attempted to restore the balance in her favour.
“I particularly liked the way you adopted the crouching tiger position when under threat. Coiled on the floor of the balloon, poised like a cobra, ready to strike. Very effective.”
“Well, I smacked his chops, didn’t I?”
“You certainly did, my big, brave boy. Nobody was sending you on free flying lessons without your consent. I thought the scream was particularly effective.”
As they walked across the small car park of the Rose and Crown at Middlesmoor, Jack turned to Sarah and said,
“That was no scream that was the unleashing of my psychic energy.”
“Damned effective it was too,” she replied.
They walked into the pub. It was shortly after 11.30 and they were the first customers.
“You get the drinks. I’m quite drained after that little adventure.”
“That will because you’ve released a tad too much of your psychic energy.”
“Probably you’re right. A pint of Stella should replenish it and get yourself a lemonade while you’re at it.” She hadn’t even got the strength to use the elbow. With their drinks and two packets of dry roasted peanuts in front of them, they considered what they had learned about David Bickerdyke. Sarah spoke first.
“I have to say, I almost believed him. It would be very difficult to drag an unwilling victim out of that basket. Josh Barker was no seven-stone weakling.”
“True, and if there had been somebody else in the basket with the two of them, he or she would have been seen from the ground.”
“And presumably Barker would have been suspicious.”
“Unless he was expecting another person to be on the trip.”
“But then we’re back to the risk of that third person being seen.” She paused, took a drink, slowly munched a peanut, then continued. “What about the suicide theory?”
“I cannot,” Jack replied, “See Josh Barker choosing that method of bringing about his demise. Why not just take a shotgun and blow your head off?”
“Respect for whoever finds your headless body?”
“It’s all very frustrating.”
“It is. You might not have been aware of it, from your position hugging the bottom of the basket,” Jack let that go. He sensed she was about to say something important. “But when I accused him of the murder, I saw a flash of genuine fear in his eyes. At that point I was on to something. I’m sure Josh Barker went out of that basket. But then I lost him. Whatever I said next let him off the hook.”
“I think, if I remember correctly, that was the point you said something fantastically helpful like- ‘how hard can it be to throw a man over the side?’”
“Right, so he wasn’t thrown over the side and he didn’t kill himself. What does that leave us with?
“Maybe he heard the voices too.”
Their conversation was cut short by the early arrival of David Bickerdyke.
“Drink?” Jack asked. Only the British, he mused, could have a life-threatening argument which involved the possibility of one party being hurled to their death and then sit down as a group and have a drink. Somewhat to their relief, Bickerdyke refused the offer.
“No thanks. Nothing personal but I need to get back to the office.”
Something about Bickerdyke’s reply made Jack think of that evening and what Aaron Crisp had suggested.
“Yes, of course, you’ll have other matters to attend to,” Jack replied cryptically.
Bickerdyke gave Jack a curious look but said nothing.
“He won’t hit you again, if that’s what you’re worried about,” Sarah offered. Bickerdyke laughed in a genuine way, a little to Jack’s disappointment. When he hit a man he should stay hit, there should be no laughing shortly afterwards.
“No really, I do need to get back, so I’ll take you back to your car…”
“Actually,” said Sarah, “Perhaps you could drop us off at The Sportsman’s. We could probably both do with a nice bottle of wine and a good lunch, in that order. We can get a taxi back to our car from there.”
“Whatever suits you best,” Bickerdyke replied amicably.
Ten minutes later Jack and Sarah were sitting in the bar of The Sportsman’s Arms. It was only just after twelve and they had no difficulty getting a table. The French waiter and/or barman came as close as a French person ever does to seeming to be glad to see them. To celebrate this new found understanding Jack ordered an expensive bottle of 1998, Chateauneuf de Pape. It cost £23.95. They deserved it, he reasoned. He had the venison casserole and Sarah the pork escalopes. Both, as usual, were delicious. By the time the pudding arrived – sticky toffee pudding and summer pudding with ice cream – they were both feeling like their lives were returning to, something approaching, normality.
“So will you go tonight?” Sarah asked.
“D’you know, I think I will. At worst, it will be a night wasted and, at best, we’ll learn more about where David Bickerdyke fits into this whole thing. Yes, I’ll go.”
From the snug comfort of the bar, the ramifications of this decision seemed likely to be trivial. Perhaps a small voice, somewhere at the back of his head, told Jack that it might not be so.
“Let’s book into The Rose and Crown at Middlesmoor. We’ll be closer to the action if we stay there,” Sarah suggested.
“We have a mission to complete first,” he said with a degree of pomposity.
“I hardly dare ask what it might be,” Sarah replied.
“The hanging of grandpa’s symbolic oil lamp.”
“You’ve brought that old thing with you?”
“Yep, and now I intend to go to the barn and hang it up.”
“But Jack are you perchance forgetting one thing.” She paused. “That we don’t actually own the barn. It isn’t ours to hang anything in.”
“Don’t you see the lamp is our talisman. It practically guarantees we’ll get the barn. It will give off our aura and frighten away competing spirits.” He attempted to imitate their aura emanating from the lamp.
“I don’t know about frightening away competing spirits but you’re certainly frightening me. Have you filled it with paraffin?”
“Of course. I’ve restored it, cleaned the twiddly thing, replaced the wick and the little cap where you put the paraffin in.” He repeated the last two words with his Tommy Cooper voice. “No point having it there if it doesn’t work.”
“But Jack the barn is full of hay. I hardly think Mrs Barker is going to welcome the possibility that the whole lot could go up in flames.”
“She’ll never know. You don’t think she inspects it do you? Look at her, she has no interest in anything mucky and agricultural. She’d never go near the place.”
“And nor should we. At least not with that lamp. It’s not safe. The glass could crack and the paraffin could leak out.”
“Stop it, my little love bud, you’re merely demonstrating your ignorance of manly, mechanical objects. The glass and the paraffin are in quite different parts of the lamp.”
“Oh, silly me that’s stopped me worrying then.” She paused and Jack took this as a sign that she was about to agree.
“Come on you’re the one that believes in all that karma stuff. Let’s do it. It will be a positive gesture. I’m in a positive mood I want to build on it.”
“You’re always the same when you’ve had food and drink at lunchtime. If you’re not rushing off to Austin Reed to spend huge amounts of money on clothes you never wear after the effects of the alcohol disappear, you’re wanting to hang old oil lamps in even older barns. I despair.”
“Right then, you agree. I’ll order the taxi. We’ll go and pick up the car first. I don’t think we want any witnesses to our mission. They might not understand.”
“Oh surely they would. I mean it’s the most natural thing in the world. Two people…”
“OK, you’ve made your point. Go and get us just one more drink from the bar. The taxi probably won’t be here for half an hour or so. I’ll make the call, you pay the bill, then we’ll work out what kind of blessing to give the lamp and, of course, the barn.” Sarah shook her head but realised it was going to be impossible to put Jack off the idea. In one way, and she could not describe why, she thought there might actually be something helpful about the idea.
Jack ordered the taxi. It would be there in twenty minutes. They sat comfortably and discussed various forms of blessings for the lamp and the barn. Jack came up with,
“Oh oily, oily lamp, use your life giving oil to protect this barn from all comers except your owners.”
Sarah suggested that was a little silly and hardly likely to be taken seriously by the lamp or the barn or any visitors. In the end they settled for Sarah’s much more sensible version – “Keep this barn safe for us until we return as the rightful owners.”
“Then it can keep the rightful owners safe,” Jack said, mostly to himself.
The taxi arrived as promised. They picked up the Volvo where they had left it outside Bickerdyke’s office. It made no comment. There was no sign of Bickerdyke. They drove back along the valley and up to the barn. That also was just where they had left it. Even though the barn was small, approximately 15 feet by 30 feet, it had two entrances. Only one was currently useable because hay filled the rest of the barn and blocked the entrance in the middle. At the end of the barn where they had entered the hay was only a few inches deep but it increased rapidly in height towards the other end of the barn. In addition to the two doors the barn had three windows. One large one on the roadside, another large one at the far end of the building which the hay was level with and a much smaller one on the front wall next to the doors. Inside the building had a platform about 8 feet from the ground and which jutted out into the space for about 10 feet. This also was full of hay. The beam which supported the platform was an ideal place to hang the oil lamp. Jack had even brought a hook with him which easily screwed into the slightly wood-wormed beam. The lamp swung freely about 6 inches above head height. They stood for a few minutes and admired their handiwork. Jack was right, Sarah decided, the lamp added a certain something to the barn. She was not yet sure what.
“Right,” said Jack. “That’s done, now we can rest.”
“Thank God for that. Let’s go back to the hotel and lie down. We could both do with storing up some additional sleep in view of the night ahead.”
“Even Rupert had to sleep,” Jack said, absent-mindedly.
They drove back to the hotel. On the way Jack called Aaron Crisp at his wine shop and told him he would join him that night. They arranged to meet at 1.30 by the church yard gates. Then they both climbed into bed and fell asleep. They did not wake up until nearly quarter past six. It was dark outside and for a few moments Jack could not remember where they were. Then the thought of what lay ahead came back to him. He did not relish the idea but he was committed to it now. He couldn’t be a cowardly, cowardly custard, could he?
The palest of moons teased the shadows in front of him. The road to the church was uneven beneath his feet and Jack needed to concentrate on where he was placing his feet. Breaking his concentration he looked up for a second. He could just make out the valley laid out grey and silent beyond the village. The church rose high above him dark and unsympathetic. Why had this seemed a good idea at lunchtime? He thought of Sarah buried beneath the blankets in their hotel bedroom and, for a brief moment, he allowed his brain the luxury of turning round and climbing in beside her.
He did not see Aaron Crisp at first. Jack’s anxiety increased a little as he scanned the graveyard. This might be some kind of plot to… His thoughts trailed away, to what, he wondered? Before he could reconsider the sense of his actions Crisp stepped out of the shadows in front of him. The walk from the hotel, although only a few hundred yards, had taken him slightly longer than he had anticipated and he was, as a consequence, just a few minutes late.
“I was beginning to think you’d changed your mind,” Aaron Crisp hissed. Even in the darkness the pupils of Crisp’s eyes seemed to glow.
“Wouldn’t miss this for the world.” Jack smiled, not that Crisp would see his smile. Just as well, he thought, if it looked as false as it felt, Crisp might think he was afraid. He was. The churchyard had a certain damp morbidity in the daylight, at night it was decidedly forbidding.
“Where do you suggest we establish the stake out? Jack whispered in Crisp’s ear.
“Over there by the bench, that way we’ll see pretty much the whole of the churchyard.”
“Let’s hope Bickerdyke doesn’t see us,” he said with a lightness of tone which, in no way, matched the way he was feeling. He could see now that this was foolishness. Nobody would come. Worse still somebody might.
Jack hadn’t thought to bring anything to sit on. He wasn’t sure what the protocol for stakeouts was, after all he wasn’t a professional stake out expert. Something to sit on was probably on the shortlist of required items. At least he had the torch and to prove it, he banged it against the palm of his gloved, left hand. It made no noise against the glove, a part of him was sorry it hadn’t, he needed the comfort a good thwack might bring.
Crisp had seemed to make himself comfortable. He sat cross-legged on the grass apparently unaffected by the cold dampness coming up from the earth and currently penetrating Jack’s rear. Jack noticed, in a brief brighter moonlight interlude, the sheen of Crisp’s waterproof trousers. So much for natural fibres, he thought. The man was completely clad in synthetic fibre. What happened to the ‘Gore Tex is evil’ theory, he wondered. This was particularly irritating given that Jack had put on woollen garments on account of his waterproofs being a bright yellow. Dark browns and black was less likely to be spotted, he had reasoned. Irritated by this role reversal he pulled his hood over his head. Crisp, he noticed, had already done the same. He spoke into Crisp’s hooded ear.
“Jesus, if we stay here long we might as well just crawl into one of those,” he nodded at the graves.
“Quiet,” said Crisp.
“Sorry, just making conversation,” Jack replied, slightly stung by Crisp’s curt reply.
“Do you want the world to know we’re here?”
Well, Jack thought, if that meant they wouldn’t be killed, maimed or seriously injured, then yes, he probably did.
“Do you think he’ll actually come?” he asked, risking the scorn again.
“He’ll be here alright,” Crisp whispered. “Now shut up.”
Jack wondered later how Crisp had managed to be so certain but, of course, he never got the chance to ask him.
Jack had lost track of how long they’d been there. Long enough that his attention had wandered. Instead of concentrated surveillance of the churchyard his gaze had wandered to the valley bottom and the moon’s occasional illumination of the reservoir three or four miles down Nidderdale. The sparkle offered little comfort, the water looked cold and austere even at this distance. He thought, not for the first time, of Josh Barker disappearing into the dark, cold waters. One of those involuntary shivers ran down his spine. He thought again of Sarah tucked up warm and snug in their bed. She had threatened to come and find him if he wasn’t back in an hour. Hollow words, he thought, she would never get out of a warm bed to come looking for him. He didn’t want to risk switching on the torch to check the time but he suspected that if they were here much longer Sarah’s threat would be put to the test.
He shifted position and somewhere in the trees the local owl hooted. Jack would probably have enjoyed the cry, mournful though it was, were it not for the fact that Crisp had his hand locked onto his arm with a strength that surprised him. Later Jack would wonder how they murdered him with such apparent ease.
“Here they come,” he hissed.
“They? You didn’t mention ‘they’. I can’t see..”
Crisp increased the pressure, which Jack took to mean be quiet. He could see the shapes now almost appearing to hover at the gate to the church. Crisp was right about the ‘they’ there seemed to be at least two men one further back from the gate than the other two. For one moment Jack thought they were wearing cowls. The shapes looked positively spectral. He didn’t think he could feel any colder than he did, but he was wrong.
Jack rubbed his eyes. Perhaps he had been mistaken, now he could see only one man. Perhaps his brain, which would normally have been closed down at this time of the night, had gotten its revenge by inducing hallucinations. The one man he could see seemed to be pushing something in front of him. As the blackness of the churchyard was fleetingly illuminated by the winter moon, Jack saw the object. Despite a significant feeling of terror Jack could barely suppress a laugh when he realised what it was the man was pushing. It was a wheelbarrow. He was struck by the banality of the object, but he supposed Bickerdyke would have to have some way of getting the headstones out of the graveyard, presumably into his waiting Land Rover. Jack realised, at that moment, that he had not heard the vehicle arrive. Probably because Bickerdyke had concealed the vehicle higher up the hill through the village and then free-wheeled down to somewhere close enough to load without being seen. Of course there would have to be two of them, Jack thought. Bickerdyke would never have been able to load the heavy stones onto the Land Rover unaided. It occurred to Jack that he was assuming the man he could still see was David Bickerdyke. With the hood pulled over his head, it was impossible to be sure. Despite the seriousness of the occasion Jack could not resist a smile. If this were a proper detective thriller, the two men or one man should be using the wheelbarrow to bring a body into the graveyard at dead of night. He sniggered at his own poor sense of humour despite the cold sweat running down his back.
Bickerdyke, if it were he, had pushed the wheelbarrow up to one of the large headstones, about 25 feet from where they crouched. He briefly shone a small torch on the headstone and then began to rock one of the large stone backwards and forwards. After several minutes the man stopped. He looked around, presumably for his partner. As he did so either because he was sweating from the exertion of trying to move the stone or so that he could get a clearer view of where his partner was, the man pulled off his hood. Jack was not sure what he had been expecting. It was not a skull with red eyes. He peered hard through the darkness. The man was speaking, for a moment he thought the man was speaking directly to him. The man was David Bickerdyke. Crisp had been right. He reached out to grab Crisp’s arm. The arm was not where he had left it. Jack noted this but his attention was taken by what Bickerdyke was saying. It sounded like Jake or Des, he couldn’t be sure. He thought he heard Crisp whisper what sounded like ‘of course’, but again, he couldn’t be sure. Jack recognised a familiar smell he couldn’t identify, as the stone moved under its own weight. Crisp was crouching now. He bent forward and whispered in Jack’s ear.
“I’m going round to the back of the church. I want to follow them, see where they take the stones to.”
“How the hell are you going to do that. They’ll see you.” Jack whispered into the side of Crisp’s hood.
“I’m going to plant an electronic bug on their car. They must have left it at the front of the churchyard.” With that, still crouching, Crisp left Jack where he sat. Strange man, thought Jack. That was pretty much the last thought Jack had. He felt the blow on the back of his head and for a while he thought he might not pass out. Then an overwhelming wave of nausea washed over him, he pitched forward and the blackness took over. He wondered if this might be his death.
Somewhere far above him somebody was shining a light. Jack thought about this for a while but decided it was far too difficult to work out who or why they might be doing such a thing. After, what seemed like, several days, Jack noticed the lamp again and became aware that this time it had a voice attached to it. Jack thought about this for a few more days. He gave the matter further consideration. It seemed the voice was actually calling his name, from a long way away admittedly, but it was definitely his name. Jack decided to think about this some more, no hurry, he told himself.
“Jack, Jack,” more insistently, “Jack, for God’s sake will you speak to me?”
Jack squinted then looked at Sarah crouching over him shining a torch on to his face. He decided to speak.
“Take that fucking thing out of my face,” he said with some dignity.
“Oh, thank God, I thought you were dead,” Sarah said, relief soaked through every word.
“Well, that would be pretty damn convenient for you wouldn’t it. Just roll me into one of these holes, cover me over, quick dust to dust and hello is that my insurance money.”
“You’re feeling better, I’d guess. What the hell happened? You’ve been gone nearly two hours and I come down here, from, I might add, my warm bed and find you face down mixing with the stiffs”
“It’s good to see you. Just one question.”
“How come, you waited all this time before coming to find me, I could have been lying here dead or, at the very least, brain-damaged.”
“In the first instance my arrival wouldn’t have made much difference then and in the case of the second eventuality, who would notice the difference?” Jack changed the subject.
“I can now tell you officially,” he said, rubbing the back of his head, “That churchyards are not good places to be at night unless you’re a spook. Ask Crispy.”
He realised his voice was slurring but couldn’t quite seem to achieve the clarity he was looking for.
“That blow on the head obviously affected more than your unfailing good nature and your serene temperament. ‘Crispy’ is not here.”
“Of course he is. Aaron Crisp, you know the ‘Gore Tex is evil’ man.”
“Yes, I guessed that was who you were referring to.” She helped Jack climb to his feet. He swayed gently for a short while. He decided to lean against one of the headstones.”
“But, as you can see, there’s nobody here except us and about three hundred dead people.”
“Of course he’s here,” Jack persisted grabbing the headstone a little more firmly. He was here with me while we watched the tombstone robbers.”
“You were right about the brain damage.” She paused then repeated her statement. “There’s nobody here, Jack.”
“May I explain?” Jack asked with enormous patience.
“No, you may not explain. Whatever you’ve been up to out here may wait until the morning for an explanation. We’re going back to the hotel. You clearly need rest.”
Sarah was not quite sure how she got Jack back to their hotel, up the stairs and into bed. She realised that the human spirit is capable of great things when it wants to climb back into a cosy, warm bed.
The next morning dawned bright and clear. It was cold in the room but the view down the dale from their bedroom in The Rose and Crown at Middlesmoor made up for any discomfort. In fact, for Jack, there was a fair amount of discomfort because his head felt like it had been nailed to the pillow by a person who would have or perhaps actually did, fail ‘O’ level woodwork.
“My bloody head hurts like buggery,” said Jack as he attempted to achieve a roughly vertical position.
“If you will spend your Saturday nights prancing round churchyards with a bunch of grave-robbing nut cases, I’d have to say a sore head would seem like a fairly predictable outcome of such adventures. It happened to Rupert all the time, as I recall.” He had expected little sympathy and got even less.
“You’re quite wrong,” said Jack with dignity, reaching for the paracetamol. “Rupert was never rendered unconscious despite much more dangerous adventures than the one I undertook last night.”
“Well, if true, that would probably be something to do with the fact that Rupert clearly had a much higher IQ than you.”
“He certainly does now. I lost at least 20 IQ points last night.”
“OK, what actually did happen to you last night? I can contain my curiosity not a moment longer.”
Jack, with frequent pauses for sympathy, explained as much as he could remember of the previous evening.
“So it was Bickerdyke, Crisp was right,” Sarah said as Jack paused to rub his head and complain, once more, about the pain he was suffering.
“Question is, what happened to Crisp?”
“Could he have been the one who clonked you on the head?”
“It’s possible, as Bickerdyke began to speak I reached out for Crisp and he wasn’t where I’d left him. I didn’t actually look around so he could have been there just sort of moved position or something. Then again, there’s the mystery of the second man. I’m sure there were two men, even Crisp said so when they arrived but when I looked again I could only see Bickerdyke. So the second man could have, as you put it, clonked me.
“Why would anybody clonk you anyway? You’d already seen Bickerdyke.”
“Beats me. Perhaps whoever was there with him didn’t realise I’d identified Bickerdyke and was trying to stop me seeing him.” Jack paused for a moment. “What we should do is go and ask Crisp. More to the point I’d like to ask him why he left me lying unconscious in the churchyard.”
“We don’t actually know where he lives but the shop will be open today. It was the last Sunday.”
“In the meantime I need breakfast. A huge plate of cholesterol will aid my recovery.”
They were the only guests in the dining room. It was nearly 10 o’ clock so either they were the only guests in the hotel or, more likely, the rest of the guests were striding across the moors in pursuit of a long and healthy life.
Trevor Noone, the landlord of the Middlesmoor Rose and Crown took their breakfast order. He was as different from Charlie Mortimore as his wife, Mary, was similar to Joan Mortimore. Where Charlie Mortimore was tall and red-faced with wild, grey hair, Trevor Noone was short, pale-faced with tight, curly hair. Mortimore was a local boy and Noone was another incomer. They were both landlords but where Charlie Mortimore had always seemed to them the archetypal, gruff Yorkshire man, Trevor Noone was an affable, smooth and experienced hotelier. He had, they discovered, owned a hotel in Cornwall for a number of years before being persuaded by his wife, who had been born and raised in Skipton, to return to the north. Jack and Sarah had not met Mary Noone until this morning when she appeared briefly in the dining room. It was the first time they had stayed anywhere else on their visits to the area other than The Rose and Crown at Lofthouse. With their nocturnal adventures in mind they had decided to stay as close as possible to the churchyard. As an added bonus, this Rose and Crown was a few pounds cheaper than its Lofthouse rival. Admittedly, the room was a little smaller and the bathroom was half the size but, given that Jack had spent only limited time in the room, this didn’t seem to matter a great deal. Mrs Noone probably thought the Jacques were not, as was sometimes said, the full shilling. Both their mouths dropped open as she entered the dining room. The resemblance of Mary Noone to Joan Mortimore was amazing. Mary had retained her figure rather better and was more attractive than Joan Mortimore but the resemblance was clear. Sarah felt compelled to ask Mary Noone whether there was any family connection between the two of them. Mary Noone clearly didn’t like the question. She had probably been asked before. Her response was vague. The implication was that they weren’t related but there was something about her answer that left room for doubt in their minds. Now they would have to excuse her and with that she left the room to cook their breakfasts. Fifteen minutes later they were served by a young man of about 18 with spikey, gelled hair. Jack wondered briefly what it would be like for an, obviously fashion-conscious, young man out here. Sarah thought he was probably the Noone’s son but, after Mary’s earlier reaction, they decided not to ask. Clearly, Mary Noone had no intention of returning for further cross-examination.
After breakfast they took a walk through the village and along the track to the point where, only yesterday, they had climbed out of the basket of Bickerdyke’s balloon. Jack smiled at the alliteration but the smile hurt his head.
“God was it only yesterday?” said Jack, voicing both their thoughts.
“You do realise, I suppose, that you could have been killed last night?”
“No, I don’t think so. If somebody had wanted to kill me, they could have hit me harder or hit me several times rather than just once.”
“How do you know it was only once? I imagine after the first clonk you pretty much lost interest in the subsequent blows.”
“I can tell by the lump on my head that I was only struck once,” Jack replied haughtily.
They turned and began to walk back towards the village. The wind had risen, bringing with darker clouds and a spit of rain. Instinctively they pulled their coats tighter around them. Jack was wearing his bright yellow, Berghaus waterproof coat.
“Would you believe that bastard Crisp showed up last night in an all waterproof outfit, not a natural fibre in sight. Bloody hypocrite. There’s me all dressed in your natural fibres, wool and cotton and he, the Gore Tex is evil man, is dressed in synthetics.” Sarah untypically did not respond. He was surprised. “What do you think of that?” he prompted. She remained obstinately silent. “Well, say something. I’m telling you about Crisp and his outfit, what do you think of that?” He turned to look at her. A small drop of water rolled down her cheek. Assuming it to be a drop of water, Jack wiped it off her face.
“Did you have your hood up?”
“That wasn’t the response I was expecting.”
“Did he have his hood up?”
“You’re starting to worry me now.”
An errant snowflake landed on Jack’s head adding a comic touch to the moment.
“Yes, he had his hood up as well, it was cold. WE had our hoods up. The least of our sins last night I would have thought.”
“I think whoever hit you thought you were Crisp. I think Crisp is dead and I think they were trying to kill you not Crisp. They killed the wrong person”
“Whoa there! How the hell did you arrive at that conclusion? I’m all for a bit of speculative detective work. Even the great Sherlock was known to speculate from time to time, to go beyond the firm basis of the evidence but that, my love, is completely bonkers.”
“You said it was dark. You said Crisp was wearing the synthetic gear and you were wearing the woollen stuff.”
“Fine, so they hit the wrong guy, that doesn’t mean they were trying to kill either of us.”
“True but supposing Crisp does turn up dead, you’d have to entertain the slight possibility that he wasn’t the one they were after. How could they be sure. Maybe by now they realise they’ve killed the wrong person and so they’ve hidden the body. If it had been you they killed there would have been no point concealing your body because I might have noticed you were missing. This way Crisp gets suspected of clonking you and leaves the area or even the country to escape arrest. We’ve already got the idea that with his vineyard scheme on the rocks and his love affair with Mrs B thwarted, there’s not much for him here. Perhaps the plan is to make people think he’s gone back to New Zealand or some such exotic place.”
“Phew, have you just made all this up, right here, right now, on this spot?”
“I was thinking about it last night after I found you. I wondered what might have happened if I hadn’t come along at that moment. Would you be dead now? Then you start going on about how you were wearing the wool etc. etc and I just put two and two together.”
“You’re not even close to four. You’re way past six approaching seven.”
“OK, you pick a hole in the possibility, possibility I repeat that I’m right.”
They had stopped on the edge of the village. The temperature seemed to be dropping by the moment. Either it was getting colder or the conversation was chilling.
“Here’s one rather large hole. We don’t even know that Crisp has disappeared. The chances are that we’ll go along there this afternoon and find him happily giving out or rather selling off the Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc.”
“Maybe, maybe not.”
“Look, do me a small favour.”
“No it’s too cold and anyway, that would be a big favour.”
“You’re a very funny woman, anybody ever tell you that?”
“What’s the small favour?”
“Wait and see if Crisp is there this afternoon. I think I remember reading on the front door that the shop opens at 2 o’clock. It’s twenty past eleven now. Time to go and have a look at the churchyard, see if we can see any bodies lying around or even something more banal like headstones missing.”
They started to walk down the road through the village towards the church. They might have frightened themselves but the temperature had definitely dropped. What had started out as a bright and clear day was turning into a more typical mid December day. At least it was typical, as they were coming to understand, of the weather up here in the Yorkshire Dales. In a word, it was changeable. The wind had increased and the snow was falling a little heavier as they walked down the cobbled road towards the churchyard. The gate opened without a sound. Last night it had seemed, somehow, noisier. Jack walked to where he and Crisp had held their stake out. Even with the covering of snow, he could see the depression in the grass where they had squatted. Jack looked at Sarah and then again at the ground.
“It’s true then. I really did come here in the middle of the night.”
“It’s true and that’s where you were having your little nap. Just across the grave of James and Elizabeth Metcalfe. I’m sure they were thrilled to have you join them.”
“I know I was,” Jack replied. He grimaced and looked around him. The weather was deteriorating to such an extent that they could hardly make out the outline of the reservoir down the valley. It occurred to Jack that he had been able to see it more clearly last night by the pale moonlight. He shivered once more. Sarah noticed his shiver and said,
“Perhaps you’re in no state to be prowling round churchyards. Maybe you’ve got a mild concussion.”
“There is nothing mild about the way my head is feeling this morning. Anyway we’re here so let’s see what we can see.”
They examined the spot where he reckoned David Bickerdyke had been working on the headstone. The headstone was still there but it showed signs of having been disturbed. The grass around the stone was curled at the edges and some soil lay on top of the grass.
“And I didn’t dream Bickerdyke either. There are clear signs here that somebody’s been messing around here. Presumably we disturbed them so they left without their booty.”
“So where’s Crisp?” Sarah put both their thoughts into words.
“I don’t know.”
“Do you want to hear my theory?”
“I imagine it would be impossible to stop you.”
“His body lies underneath this earth.”
“Will you stop it with all these,” Jack struggled for words. “death theories. We are not digging up this hallowed ground searching for bodies just on your fanciful whim that Crisp has been done in. And, and, even worse, that it should be my body not his that lies there.” Jack came to a sudden halt. “Do you really think that’s possible?”
“No, probably not,” she replied, seeing the alarm on Jack’s face. “Let’s do what we said we’d do and go and see if he’s in his shop. If he isn’t then we can start worrying. I do have one other question though.”
“How much snow do you think would have to fall for us to be trapped up here?”
Jack looked up at the sky. It was grey and heavy with snow. He looked then down the valley. The snow was falling thick and fast now. Either side of the valley the hills had changed from a sparkling green to a distinctly chilly white. The snow was settling on the tops of the dark headstones making them look, Jack thought, like choc ices with the ice cream revealed by an initial bite.
“I don’t know. It depends on how good the road gritting system is around here. I’d say getting down the hill could already be tricky and I wouldn’t fancy the road along the valley with its twists and turns if it got any deeper.”
“Jack,” said Sarah. “I really don’t want to be stuck here, not tonight. Tonight I need the comfort of my own little bed in my own little house, in my own little street, in…”
“I got the point three littles ago. You’re saying we should get back to the hotel, pack our bags, check out Crisp and head home.”
They walked back to the hotel, arm in arm. The snow had given the village an early Christmassy feel. Only the wind reminded them that the weather this far up the dale could be seriously inconveniencing. The photographs on the wall of The Middlesmoor Rose and Crown of the blizzards 1965 were visual proof of that. It took them just under half and hour to pack their bags and pay their bill. Trevor Noone made his farewells to them in a manner that suggested he had genuinely enjoyed their company. The Volvo moved gingerly down the slope of the pub car park. The car suggested that it was perfectly capable of handling these Swedish conditions but, of course, if Jack couldn’t handle it, then he would go slowly. They went very slowly down the hill towards Lofthouse. A few inches more snow and, to Jack at least, the road would have been impassable. The Volvo snorted with derision. With some relief they drove past the cricket field on the left at the bottom of the hill. It was completely covered by the white blanket of snow. They drove through the village, it was deserted. Several parts of the road, where the wind had already begun to blow the snow into drifts, almost defeated them. They slithered and slid their way down the valley.
As they got nearer to Pateley Bridge the fall of the snow lessened and the road became clearer. Their anxiety reduced and with it their desire to head for home. Jack unhinged his hands from the steering wheel where they had been clamped for the last half an hour. For the first time he unglued his eyes from the road ahead and he allowed himself to look sideways at Sarah and smile.
“Piece of cake,” he said with only moderate conviction.
“Yep, I was never worried. Well only once.”
“When was that?”
“From when you started driving until about now.”
“Ho ho. Glad you haven’t left your sense of humour up there.”
“No chance of that as long as I’m married to you.” She changed the subject before he could reply. “It’s nearly 12.30, which means we have at least an hour and a half before Crisp opens his shop. Any suggestions?”
“We’ll take a walk around the charity and junk or rather antique shops, then we’ll have a pint in one of the pubs in the town.”
“Books and beer. It’s comforting for me to know that the bang on the head hasn’t apparently radically affected your personality.”
“Be careful how you use that word.”
“Personality. That’s a contentious concept in the world of psychology.”
“Everything’s a contentious concept somewhere in the world of psychology.”
“Yes, that’s true.”
They finished their banter as they drove over the bridge into the main part of the town. They turned right and, with some resentment, parked the Volvo in the paying car park. By way of getting good value for their money they used the car park toilets even though they didn’t need to. The Volvo watched them go with a look somewhere between ‘and don’t be long because it’s cold’ and ‘ I can handle this because I’m Swedish’. Even the car was confused. The town was quiet even for a Sunday in December. Jack supposed that many people, unlike them, must have listened to last night’s weather forecast and have been put off by the threat of snow. The odd flake of snow swirled around them but showed little inclination to settle on the now wet ground. The cold and damp made them hurry where, under different climatic conditions, they would have strolled. In ‘Help the Aged’ Sarah found an overcoat she didn’t need but positively had to have because it was cashmere and only £4.50. Jack was grumpy about this. He was the one with the headache and she was getting the presents. His humour improved significantly in the bric a brac shop further up the high street when he found and, of course, purchased two Wisdens, 1976 and 1978 editions for £5 each. He already had both in his collection but they were a bargain and, he reasoned, he could always trade them at some later date. Jack knew this would never happen but that’s what he told himself. Both happy with their respective purchases they bought The Observer and some more paracetamol and headed for the Red Lion pub halfway down the hill.
There was absolutely nothing Jack liked better than sitting in a pub on a Sunday lunchtime with the papers, a pint of Stella and the prospect of home made steak and kidney pie, the type with a lower and upper crust. With the Wisdens as back-up reading material and with the exception of his still slightly aching head, he felt happier than at any point in the last 48 hours. Unlike the baskets of hot-air balloons and churchyards at night, this was his turf. He was comfortable and relaxed in pubs. He knew the subtleties and the nuances of pub behaviour. He knew where to sit to avoid banging doors or smelly toilets. Whilst he couldn’t control who sat next to him he recognised the danger signs – groups of people, particularly young women who had the capacity, with their shrieks and giggles, to disturb his equilibrium – and had the certainty to move position before it got to crisis point. None of these factors applied here. As it was still relatively early, the pub was only partially full. Their order of steak and kidney pie, chips and vegetables came promptly. They ate and drank and read, their sense of well-being increasing by the moment. They did not talk about the events of the weekend but each of them, in their thoughts, had the growing feeling that they were getting deeper into a situation that was beyond their control. Jack realised that he was feeling that being a detective was not quite the jolly jape it had first promised to be. He would have liked to climb in the Volvo and have driven back to Leeds. After this weekend it didn’t seem quite such a dangerous place to be. He knew that he had to check out what had happened to Crisp. He was coming to the view that Crisp had been the one who had hit him. Who else would have known he was there? He tried hard to think of who else he had told but no one came to mind.
“Did you tell any one else what I was planning?” he asked Sarah.
“Hmm?” she responded, her head still buried in the colour supplement.
“Did you tell any one else what I was planning to do last night?”
“Do you think I’m crazy?” she said, without looking up. “You may be one sandwich short of a full picnic but I’m not about to broadcast that fact to the whole world.” He took a drink from his glass and returned to his thoughts. Of course Bickerdyke’s accomplice, whoever he was, could have sneaked behind him and hit him. That would make a certain kind of sense. Facilitate their get away. But just knocking him unconscious meant that he could still identify Bickerdyke. Although maybe they didn’t realise he’d seen Bickerdyke and had hit him before he did. But it had to be Crisp because if it wasn’t where was he? He would have stopped to make sure Jack was alright, wouldn’t he? Sarah’s theory about him being dead and buried was just too fanciful.
“Utterly fanciful,” he said aloud.
“Come on, unfortunately it is time to leave the comfort of this place and disprove your utterly fanciful theory about Crisp being dead.”
Despite Jack’s clear conviction that Crisp was alive and well and working in his wine shop, there was no sign of him. The shop was closed and remained so for the 45 minutes they sat in the car park and waited for him to arrive. There was no note saying ‘back soon’ or ‘having an afternoon off’. Other potential customers seemed as puzzled as they were that the shop wasn’t open for business. They waited. The snow was showing some interest in covering the ground this far down the valley but, as yet, it didn’t seem like it was going to prove hazardous for them on their way home.
“He’s not here,” said Jack stating the obvious.
“Well, perhaps he did get a bang on the head and he’s at home recovering. That could happen.”
“How do we find out?”
“There can’t be that many Aaron Crisp’s in the phone book. Call directory enquiries and get the number.”
“They won’t find it without an address.”
“Then call Mrs B and ask her for his address. I’m sure she’ll have it.” Sarah couldn’t quite keep the sarcasm out of her voice whenever she said Jacqueline Barker’s name.
Jacqueline Barker was at home. Jack got the impression she was surprised to hear from him. But if she was she quickly recovered any slight composure she may have lost and yes, she’d be delighted to give them Aaron’s number. Jack thought, we’ve already got his number. He had lured him to the graveyard so his partners in crime could either kill him or frighten him so badly that he would not want any further involvement with the affairs of this valley. The possibility that Crisp was actually involved in the headstone stealing came as a shock to Jack. It had not occurred to him before this very moment that he’d been set up by Crisp. He thanked Jacqueline Barker for the information and said they’d be in touch soon about the barn. He turned on the Volvo’s engine and pushed the heater switch to the maximum position.
He realised his mind had already wandered from the thought of a few seconds ago. Must be the bang on the head, he said to himself. Must have affected my short-term memory.
“I’ve just had a thought,” he said turning to Sarah and making an effort to concentrate.
“Please do share it with me,” she said, with a touch of grumpiness that Jack didn’t understand.
“Maybe Crisp lured me up there to kill or scare me.”
“Neither of those outcomes seem to have been achieved. I mean here you are alive and, despite all your concerns about your own bravery quotient, carrying on with your grand plan to become a detective.”
Jack’s fate was sealed at that very moment. His battered ego accepted the compliment with gratitude. Sarah thought he was brave and, perhaps he was. He knew now he couldn’t let this case go. It would be a complete admission that he was a coward. He didn’t, of course, want Sarah to see how pathetically grateful he was to her for this crumb of comfort.
“Funnily enough, I have been thinking about doing some retraining in the area of criminal psychology.”
“Does that mean you’ll get your head bashed in on a more regular basis?”
“No I shouldn’t think so. Only by my colleagues. I’ll have a word with Mike when we see him again about possible career prospects.”
“Speaking of whom,” she interrupted. “At what point are we going to share our intelligence with the police?”
Jack lapsed into silence while he tried to work out what their next steps might be. Finally, he spoke with a clarity that Sarah had rarely heard from him outside of professional settings.
“We’ll call Crisp first. If there’s no answer I think we should go and check his home as we now have the address. I also think we should pay Bickerdyke another visit, assuming he’s in the office. He certainly won’t be ballooning. Even if he’s not there I think we should call him and bloody well insist that he is or we go to the police with what we know.”
“Which we will do anyway, won’t we?”
“I suppose we have to but, if we can rattle him, he might not work that out.”
“You’re going for it then?”
“No, we’re going for it. I can’t do it on my own, I need my supportive Watson by my side.”
“I thought you wanted to go home.”
“I do want to go home. I want to go home very, very, very much.” He paused, “but I can’t until I’ve put this whole business to rest in some way.”
“Let’s hope it’s ‘this business’ that gets put to rest and not you, sorry, us.”
Either Aaron Crisp was not at home or he wasn’t choosing to not answer his phone or he was unable to answer it. They called David Bickerdyke at his office. He answered the phone after the third ring. He was, he said, doing his paperwork. It occurred to Jack that, for a business that was supposed to be in the doldrums, it generated a fair amount of paperwork. They hadn’t needed to threaten him. He agreed to meet with them without any coercion. If he was surprised to receive their phone call, he didn’t reveal it on the phone. Perhaps he agreed a little too readily, Sarah thought. Perhaps they should have just showed up and surprised him. Now they had given him the time to reorganise his thoughts and have his answers ready.
Ten minutes later they were driving into the courtyard of the building in which Nidderdale Ballooning was based. They parked the car directly outside the office. Jack was nervous. He had no clear idea of what he was going to say and even less of an idea about how David Bickerdyke would react. He’d given him a punch in the mouth once but he might find it more difficult if Bickerdyke was expecting the assault. Well, he thought, it’s too late now for such delicate considerations. Bickerdyke greeted them with remarkable warmth or at least he made it seem so, especially given that he must know there was a strong possibility that Jack had recognised him in the churchyard. But that, he thought, was dependent on Bickerdyke being the one who had hit him, not Crisp. His train of thought was interrupted by Bickerdyke.
“Well, you two don’t give up do you? You must want this barn a great deal.”
“That’s true,” Jack replied. “But it’s become bigger than the barn now.” He let the words hang in the air for a moment. He used the same techniques of questions and statements followed by periods of silence that he used in his counselling sessions. Here, at least, he was on familiar ground. Bickerdyke took the bait.
“Bigger, in what way?” There was a wariness now.
“Where were you last night?” Jack asked, noting the wariness.
“What do you mean where was I last night? What the hell has that got to do with you?”
“I’d say, judging by this lump on the back of my head, it’s got everything to do with me.”
“You’re not making any sense, Mr Jacques. Please tell me why you’re here, I’ve got things to do.”
“Yes, we just bet you have Mr Bickerdyke,” Sarah interjected. “Would that be disposing of the headstones you stole last night or are there even more dark secrets you need to cover up?”
“And the madness has spread to you, shame.”
Bickerdyke should have been, at least slightly, ruffled by their questions but he seemed quite calm. Too calm, Jack thought.
“We know where you were last night.”
“Presumably, judging by your first remark, you think I’ve something to do with the headstones that have been disappearing up at Middlesmoor,” he smiled, infuriatingly. Jack attempted to recover the initiative.
“Not only did I see you there, last night but we also know you store them here on their way to wherever or, more importantly, whoever.”
“You think I’ve stolen the headstones and now I’ve got them here. Is that what you’re saying?”
“That’s the flavour of it, yes.”
“And where do you think they are?”
“We think they’re in your storeroom.”
“Well, please feel free to have a look,” Bickerdyke said with the kind of confidence that suggested they would be wasting their time looking.”
“You think just because they’re not there now there won’t be traces of the stone? If we call the police they will find traces of the stone that they can identify as coming from Middlesmoor. So if you don’t want us to walk straight out of here and call the police and I will testify that I saw you last night and, by the way, I do have a very good relationship with the officer who’s investigating this case, so unless you’ve got a cast iron alibi, which I doubt, I need to know two things.”
“That will do for a start,” Jack replied trying, in this game of bluff and double bluff, to appear equally calm.
“Well, just suppose I know the answers, what are your questions?”
“Who hit me last night?”
“I couldn’t see from where I was, at home, asleep, with my eyes shut.”
“You think we won’t go to the police?” Sarah even convinced Jack she intended to do just that.
“With what evidence?”
“I saw you there,” said Jack. “If we tell the police they’ll search the graveyard. What will they find?” For the first time since they started the conversation Jack thought he saw a slight element of doubt in Bickerdyke’s eyes. He pursued this small advantage. He took a long shot. He had no idea why.
“How would your father feel about that? Would he be even more disappointed with his son than he already is?”
“I never said my father was disappointed in me,” Bickerdyke countered. But Jack knew Bickerdyke’s response had been too quick and a little too sharp. He had found a weak spot in Bickerdyke’s urbane armour.
“No, you didn’t, but you have now. So what’s it to be? You’re already in financial difficulty if we go to the police and they investigate you I would say that, even if they find nothing, the inconvenience could just tip you over the edge financially. So, do you tell us or do we go to the police?”
Bickerdyke made an effort to regain his calm. Jack had a small qualm about deceiving Bickerdyke into believing that if he told them they wouldn’t go to the police but then again he was sure Bickerdyke would tell them only the bare minimum and would lie if he thought he could get away with it. He pursued his advantage.
“So what do you want to know?”
“Well, first of all, who hit me and why?”
Bickerdyke hesitated for a moment then began to speak.
“That was Jez.”
“Jez Cooper was there?”
“He’s my assistant in our little business on the side as well as our kosher business. You don’t think I could lift those headstones on my own, do you? They weigh a bloody ton.”
“Why did he hit me?”
“He thought you were Crisp. A little bird had told him Crisp might be there. Jez doesn’t have my sensibilities. He’s very keen on supplementing his income in these difficult times. So he wanted to warn Crisp off.”
“With a light thwack around the head,” said Sarah joining in the conversation for the first time.
“Exactly, just a little warning tap, that’s all.”
“But how did you know which one of them was Crisp?” she continued.
“There was only one person there when Jez got round the back of you. You were wearing that woollen stuff so ergo, you were Crisp and whack. It was only when he turned you over we realised Jez had made something of a mistake.”
“Crisp was there right by my side. He gripped my arm as you arrived.”
“Are you sure that was Crisp?” Bickerdyke laughed. “Could have been one of the stiffs.”
“Actually, now you mention it, Crisp wasn’t there when I was hit.” Jack decided not to tell Bickerdyke about the bug and, of course, he had no idea whether Crisp had been able to plant it.
“We never saw Crisp. After we realised we’d got the wrong guy, we pulled out. We went out the back gate as you, Mrs Jacques, came in the front. We heard you calling your husband’s name.”
“Yes, you stupid bastard,” said Sarah with a surprising but, from Jack’s point of view, pleasing amount of anger. “You could have killed him. I thought you had killed him.”
“Fortunately you hit me on the head,” Jack said in an attempt to be funny and hide his embarrassment at his wife’s concern.
“OK, we’ll accept what you say about last night but what about Josh Barker’s death?”
“Look, I’ve told you before and I’m going to say it once more, I don’t know anything about Josh Barker’s death. We finished that trip near to his farm. I put him down and carried on with the flight myself. That was the last I saw of him.”
Jack pushed him further. “Do you want us to go to the police with what we’ve got?”
“You do what you’ve got to do, Jack, because you will get no more information from me because I don’t have any more information to give you.”
Jack looked at Sarah. He could see from the look on her face that she believed they would get no more information from Bickerdyke.
“OK, Mr Bickerdyke but I warn you we said we’d go back to the police when we had more information and now we think we have it.”
“And what is it?” Bickerdyke asked, still calm.
“That you’ve been stealing headstones from the churchyard and selling them on.”
“That’s up to you, Jack, that really is up to you.”
They left Bickerdyke where they had found him, poring over the papers in his office. They felt flat. They seemed to have learned little or nothing from Bickerdyke. They walked the short distance across the courtyard to where they had left the Volvo, climbed in and began the drive home. They both wanted to go home very badly. To say the weekend had been stressful would be an understatement. All Jack wanted to do was lay out his own slippers at the side of his own bed in his own bedroom and climb in with a golf magazine and Sarah of course. Instead he said,
“Call Mike and see if he’s on duty. If he is we’ll go and see him now. I think Bickerdyke is pulling our chain and I don’t like it.” Jack assumed his Corporal Jones voice. “I don’t like it, sir, I don’t like it at all.” Sarah accepted this decision with greater understanding than either he or, for that matter, she could have predicted.
Mike Giggs was on duty. Sunday night seemed to be a regular stint for him. Yes he would be pleased to see them again and to listen to their latest adventures. He would meet them in about an hour which would give them time to check whether Crisp was at home. Crisp lived about a mile up the hill on the road out of Dacre Banks to Otley. The Volvo took the turn gladly thinking they were going home. They understood how it felt. Crisp’s home was a surprisingly ordinary stone bungalow on a small estate. There was nobody at home or, at least, nobody answered the bell. While Jack checked with the neighbour on one side, Sarah checked the other. Neither had seen any sign of Aaron Crisp since early Saturday morning when he had set off as usual to open his shop. Both agreed that it was unusual for them not to see him on Sunday mornings when he always went down to the village to buy a paper before setting off to open the shop in the afternoon. No, they had no idea where he might be. Whilst Jack wasn’t above the idea of breaking into Crisp’s house, it seemed fruitless to do so at this point. They turned the Volvo and all three headed, with some reluctance, towards Harrogate and the last acts of the drama.
Mike Giggs seemed genuinely pleased to see them again. Jack thought to himself that in a Raymond Chandler book, the police would have verbally and probably physically abused Philip Marlowe for his interference in, what would have been regarded as, strictly police business. Still with current today policing methods – civilian officers, community wardens and one hundred other forms of policing on the cheap – perhaps it should have been no surprise that Mike seemed to welcome their input. They began with their trip in the balloon and their conviction that Barker had been somehow thrown from it. Jack once again expressed his professional view that Josh Barker would not have chosen this method of suicide and if it had been an accident then why would Bickerdyke not report the matter to the police? Jack described briefly his short squabble with Bickerdyke in the balloon. They all agreed that it would be extremely difficult to throw a man from the balloon if he didn’t want to go. This part of the mystery would need more work. They accepted this as a given and moved on.
Jack then told Mike Giggs about his exploits in the churchyard. If he disapproved of the venture, he did not show it. Jack gave Mike as much information about last night as he was able to given that he was unconscious for much of it. He described how Bickerdyke had admitted to them that he and Cooper had been about to steal more headstones when they had been distracted from their task by the decision to criminally assault Jack. The question was, did the police have enough proof of Bickerdyke’s illegal activities of the night before to squeeze him for information about Barker’s death? They didn’t have enough evidence to arrest Bickerdyke or Cooper for assault. The problem was, in the end, it was simply Jack’s and Sarah’s word against Bickerdyke’s. His alibi would, no doubt, be that he was in bed. Not an unreasonable suggestion given the lateness of the hour. This avenue also seemed to be a dead end. They sat in silence for a few minutes.
“Just go back to the balloon trip again,” said Giggs. “Perhaps Barker did fall but perhaps Bickerdyke thought, if he admitted it, that might lead to an investigation of his business practices which, in turn, might lead to his criminal activities.”
“Maybe,” Jack replied. “But why tell us about Cooper?”
“Well, as you’d seen him, short of killing you to keep you quiet, I suppose he felt he had no choice to confess to that part of the plot,” Mike suggested.
“And,” Sarah interjected, “by so doing distract us from more serious crimes.”
“Go on,” Mike said unnecessarily.
“I think he coughed up that information about Cooper too easily.”
“Go on,” he said again.
“OK, but you’re not going to like it, either of you.”
Jack groaned. He had an idea of what Sarah was about to say. He was right.
“He or rather they killed Crisp and buried him in the graveyard.”
“Sarah,” Jack interjected before Giggs could. “You have absolutely no proof of that at all.”
“What makes you say that?” asked Giggs more kindly than Jack thought she deserved.
“He’s disappeared hasn’t he?”
“We don’t even know that. He might just have taken off for a short break,” Jack said, weakly.
“Yeah, sure. He persuades you to stake out the churchyard and then, by an amazing coincidence, after this without telling anybody, he takes off for a short holiday. I’m telling you the grass had been disturbed..”
“Who’s the grass?” Jack said by of trying to be funny.
“The grass in the graveyard,” she said refusing to be deflected from her exposition.
Again Jack interrupted her. “That’s just where a headstone was removed.”
“But, don’t you remember, Bickerdyke said they didn’t take any more stones..”
“Because we interrupted them,” Sarah continued, again refusing to be distracted.
“Why would they kill Crisp?” Mike asked.
“He was going to expose them,” she replied with confidence.
“Sarah,” Jack said with exaggerated patience, “they’re not going to kill him to cover up the crime of stealing headstones, for God’s sake.”
“Maybe, maybe not. Maybe they were protecting more than that. Maybe Crisp knew about other dark secrets,” she concluded.
“About?” Mike prompted.
“Well, I’m not sure but maybe about Josh Barker’s death, for example.”
“Sarah, that is the most ridiculous, over-hyped piece of speculation I have ever heard.”
Sarah spent some time on Tuesday and Wednesday morning following Jack’s colleague. She thought it was pretty stupid but if Jack could play at being a detective then so could she. As Jack and Brian had predicted Julie Blenheim had arrived at the office at 7.30 in the morning and signed the service’s time sheet. On each morning she had then left the office at 8 o’clock, driven to a café near to her patch of schools and spent the next hour or so drinking coffee and reading a book. On the second day Sarah had the strong feeling she was waiting for somebody but whoever it was didn’t show and eventually, with one last look at her watch, Julie Blenheim left the café. On both days, at approximately 9.30, she had left the café and driven to her schools, presumably to begin her day’s work. On that basis Julie Blenheim was cheating Leeds City Council out of about, Jack calculated, £200 a week. Jack and Brian received the news late on Wednesday. Having the information and using it to good effect were not the same thing. They agreed they would do nothing at this stage but retain the information for some future, as yet unspecified, use.
Four days after Sarah had made the ‘most ridiculous, over-hyped piece of speculation’, Aaron Crisp’s body was found buried under the exact headstone she had predicted. He had been bludgeoned to death. Jack and Sarah heard about the discovery of the body when Mike Giggs called them at home on Thursday night. When Crisp had failed to show up after four days the police, acting on Sarah’s hunch, decided to search the churchyard at Middlesmoor. Sarah, to her credit, made very little capital out of her, as she called them, superior powers of deduction. As Jack placed his hand over the receiver to give her a brief version of what he was hearing, there were no ‘I told you so’s’ only the infuriating quietness of a person proved, against the odds, to be right. And, perhaps, a thought that the body could have been Jack’s.
Bickerdyke and Cooper had been arrested and were being held, without bail, at the police station in Harrogate. They were both vehemently denying the charge of murder whilst admitting to stealing the headstones although not on the presumed night of the murder. Both had been instructed by their solicitors to say very little. Jack would at some point be asked to give a witness statement. After the shock or, at least, Jack’s shock, at the discovery of the body, none of this came as any great surprise. What was a great surprise was that Bickerdyke had asked to see Jack.
“Can he do that?” Jack had asked Mike when he, Jack and Sarah met the next day. “I mean isn’t it illegal or something for the chief suspect to meet the chief witness?”
“Yes, it is unusual but not, if the outcomes would seem to merit it, completely unique. And anyway since he admitted to being in the churchyard your testimony that he was there isn’t crucial.”
“He seems to be implying that the whole of this case, Barker’s death included, can be cleared up if you’re prepared to meet him.”
“If I’m prepared to meet him?” Jack echoed. “He makes it sound like some kind of challenge.”
“I think,” said Mike, “that’s exactly how he sees it. He clearly sees you, with your psychological hat on, as somebody to banter or barter with.”
“Do you think I should do it? Agree to meet him?”
“Depends on whether you think you’re up to it,” Mike said with a smile. Jack took this to be one of those small macho challenges that chaps laid down before each other from time to time. As far as Giggs was concerned this was on a level with an ‘I bet you can’t clear that water hazard with your 9 iron’ kind of challenge. Jack felt exhilarated and anxious at the same time. He had no idea why Bickerdyke would want to speak specifically to him and that worried him. But on the other hand. Giggs interrupted his thoughts. He clearly wanted Jack to talk to Bickerdyke and he played his trump card.
“You said the last time we met that you were interested in the possibility of becoming more involved as a psychologist in police work, well, this might be a good in for you. You can always think about it and let me know. If I don’t hear anything from you in the next twenty four hours I’ll assume you’re not interested.”
“If I can go up in that bloody hot air balloon with him I can certainly deal with him here on earth. What do you say, Sarah? Should I meet him?”
“Well, I can’t see what harm it would do. He can only throw you out of the interview room. That couldn’t hurt that much.”
“If you’re going to hit him again just let us know and we’ll turn the cameras off. Just like we normally do,” said Mike joining in with Sarah’s bantering.
“OK then, let’s do it.”
They left Sarah sitting in Giggs’s office. She winked at Jack as he left and wished him luck not that, of course, he’d need it she said. Jack and Mike walked down a winding maze of corridors to the back of the building were Bickerdyke was being kept. Mike produced, from somewhere about his person, a set of keys one of which he used to open the door of the cell.
“Shouldn’t this happen in an interview room or something?” Jack whispered. He did not know why he was whispering but he did know that he felt somewhat at a disadvantage talking to Bickerdyke in his cell. It felt like he would start at a disadvantage. He realised that he was seeing this meeting in a distinctly adversarial light. Why did this feel so much like some kind of trial of strength or, in this setting, mental ability? Giggs answered his question and it didn’t help.
“He specifically requested the meeting take place in his cell. Not sure why. Wanted you on his own terms, maybe.” Giggs laughed.
Bickerdyke was sitting on the lower of two bunks in the cell. The only place Jack could practically sit was at the other end of the same bunk. Sitting on the top bunk would have been awkward and have indicated a desire to dominate. This would seem like a sign of weakness, Jack reasoned. He sat on the bunk as far from Bickerdyke as he could without seeming like he was afraid of the man. Jack felt strangely unsettled by this arrangement. Bickerdyke greeted him with an unconvincing degree of affection.
“Jack, good to see you,” his plummy voice sounding even more out of place in this cell than it had in the wilds of North Yorkshire. He continued with a statement that took Jack completely by surprise.
“I wonder what my old man would think of me if he could see me now?”
“You worry a lot about your father don’t you?” slipping easily into his role as psychologist.
“Don’t psychoanalyse me, Jack. How would your father feel if he could see you now? Would he be proud? Oh, I’m sorry, of course he died when you were five, didn’t he. I forgot.
Jack couldn’t hide his surprise.
“How did you know that?”
“Somebody mentioned it. It’s no big deal Jack. Not as if it makes you a bad person or anything. Still it must have been hard growing up without a role model. Not easy to know how tough to be is it? I’d say you worry about your masculinity if your behaviour in the basket is anything to go by.”
The conversation wasn’t going to plan at all. Jack’s idea of prompting and prodding Bickerdyke cleverly towards confession wasn’t working at all. Jack attempted to recapture the high ground. “I understand you asked to see me.”
Bickerdyke’s response was immediate “Anxious, Jack? Or merely in a hurry?”
Bickerdyke seemed to have already sensed Jack’s unease. Jack retaliated with what he knew was a cheap and rather desperate response.
“I’d have thought you’d be the one who would be anxious although not, of course, in any great hurry.” Jack looked around the cell.
“Cheap shot, Jack,” Bickerdyke countered.
“I’m sorry but have you asked me here for a particular purpose or are you merely trying to prove what a smart twat you are?” Way too strong, Jack knew. He’d only been talking to Bickerdyke for a few minutes and already he’d got him rattled. Bickerdyke seemed content to let Jack stew in the over-statedness of his response. He remained silent for several moments. Jack knew he could not make the next move. He sat without speaking in the manner he had been trained as a therapist and counsellor. Eventually Bickerdyke broke the silence. He did so with irritatingly good grace.
“That’s good, Jack. Let the client brood a while.”
“You aren’t my client and this is not a psychologist- client relationship. You asked to see me. That’s the weakness of your position here, Bickerdyke.”
“Weakness? Position? What kind of conversation do you think we’re having here, Jack. You seem to think it’s some kind of military engagement.”
Score another point to Bickerdyke, Jack thought irritated once again. Why was he finding this so difficult, he asked himself. He’d been in this kind of position a hundred times before. Why was this man getting to him? What really irritated him was the way Bickerdyke kept using his name.
“I really have no idea what kind of conversation we’re having. As I keep repeating, you were the one who asked to see me, David.”
This response felt rather better, more balanced except for his sarcastic emphasis of Bickerdyke’s name at the end. If Bickerdyke noted it, he didn’t show it. Just as Jack began to relax, Bickerdyke once again seized some of the initiative.
“How’s that lovely wife of yours, Jack?”
“She’s just fine, thank you.” His response was brief and revealed nothing about how he felt about Sarah being introduced into this conversation. In fact, in some way, he reflected, he had half expected it.
“It’s a shame she couldn’t be here,” Bickerdyke said. Jack told himself there was no need to respond to this apparent jibe. Although Bickerdyke probably hadn’t meant it, there was a suggestion that Sarah would have been better opposition than he was providing. Despite his feeling of unease, he was still curious as to why Bickeryke had asked to see him and why he felt the need to engage with Jack in this, Jack searched for the words, psychological banter. Jack tried again.
“Do you want to talk to me or shall I leave you in peace?”
“Of course I want to talk to you,” Bickerdyke said eventually. “Why else would I have asked to see you?”
“Then fire away.”
“I didn’t kill Crisp and Cooper didn’t kill him either.”
“Let’s just suppose for a moment that I believed you when you said you didn’t kill him, how can you be so sure that Cooper didn’t kill him? You said Cooper saw his interference as a threat.”
“Because Cooper was with me after we left the churchyard and, as far as I’m aware, Crisp was alive then. We went back to my place and had a few beers.”
“What’s to stop him going back after that and killing Crisp?”
“Do you think Crisp was waiting there for us to return?” Jack realised he had asked a stupid question and, once more had given Bickerdyke an advantage. He wasn’t sure exactly what kind of advantage. He attempted to recover lost ground.
“Why would I, or the police for that matter, believe you when you say you both left together?”
“Because since we were arrested we haven’t been allowed to speak to each other, obviously, but our stories will be exactly the same.”
“That’s not so amazing, you probably spent the rest of the night making sure your stories tallied.”
“But we didn’t need to because we hadn’t killed him.”
“We’re getting somewhat cyclical now.” For the first time in this conversation Bickerdyke let his eyes fall from Jack’s face and a look of frustration crossed his face. Jack almost felt sorry for him. With a little of the moral high ground occupied Jack felt that their relationship assume one more closely resembling that of a client and counsellor. He felt more at ease.
“Look, David,” he used Bickerdyke’s first name deliberately. “If you didn’t kill him then who did?”
“You won’t like the answer.”
“Well, we’ve got this far, we might as well try for the full Monty.”
Bickerdyke looked down at the floor again, he seemed to take a deep breath and make a decision. But he had one last defence.
“Look, let’s be clear about this. It pains me greatly to ask you for help. I may not be a bloody psychologist but then much good did they do me when I was a child and my father sent me to see one. I started out thinking I was normal but by the time he’d done with me I was convinced I was mad. Sorry, as I said, I may not be a psychologist but it’s obvious to me that you’re driven by some dark forces that probably even you don’t understand. What is it Jack? Why are you pursuing this business even at risk to yours and Sarah’s well-being? Is it an intellectual exercise, prove you can out-think the other chap? Is it some point of principle, nobody is going to take the barn away from you and your family? Or, worst of all, is it a macho thing, can’t let the missus think you’re a coward?” Bickerdyke held up his hand. “ You don’t need to answer. The fact of the matter is I need help. The police aren’t going to exert themselves. They’re convinced we killed Crisp. I may have killed Barker or he may have jumped and they’re not particularly bothered either way. I need your help and you’re just stupid enough to give it, Jack.”
Bickerdyke had a way of pressing Jack’s macho buttons. Even this last remark that would have caused most sensible people to say, ‘well, I’m not stupid so get somebody else’. Jack, however, was pleased, it was one of those subtle manifestations of male bonding that was unexplainable to women and sane men.
“Well I’m flattered of course but if you want my help why don’t you just ask for it instead of waging psychological war?”
“Because I don’t find it easy to ask for help or to say what I’m about to say.”
Bickerdyke was right, Jack didn’t like what he had to say at all.
“I think Justin Blayney murdered Aaron Crisp and I also think he had something to do with Josh Barker’s death although I don’t know what.”
“Phooee,” was all that Jack could say. He took a minute to compose himself then asked the obvious question.
“Why do you think it was Blayney?” It wasn’t an original question but it was the one Jack wanted an answer to.
“I think he was there Saturday night.”
“I think he’s the one who’s buying the headstones.”
“Well, we’ve been selling them to Charlie Mortimore and he’s been selling them on. He would never say who to but I’ve seen the two of them deep in conversation which comes to a sudden halt when anybody else gets close. Blayney sends stuff abroad. He’s got contacts in Europe and the USA. I’ve seen crates and stuff in his office with foreign addresses. Not the headstones of course but if he can send other legal architectural items it couldn’t be that difficult to smuggle out the headstones as well.”
“Do you think he’s sending other illegal items out of the country?”
“I don’t know, drugs, porn, nuclear war heads?”
“Unlikely, but all our architectural heritage, particularly the religious stuff from churches, fetches big money in the right places.”
“Are you seriously saying that Blayney killed Crisp because he was getting in the way of his religious artefacts export trade?”
“I know it sounds weak but it could happen.”
“OK, let’s suppose, just for a moment, it were true, what makes you think he was there Saturday night?”
“I promise I won’t laugh,” Jack said holding back a smile.
“I could smell him.”
Jack laughed out loud.
“Sorry.” Jack attempted to look contrite. “Sorry, but that is the most surprising statement I’ve ever heard. Smelled of what?”
“I promise, this time, I promise I won’t laugh.”
Jack didn’t laugh at all.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure he was there.”
“I meant the lavender.”
“Why is that so important?”
Jack remembered the night and the faint smell he hadn’t been able to place. Now he knew what that smell was. The further implications of this revelation came to Jack in a tumble. Blayney and Jacqueline Barker. Was it possible there was a relationship there they had completely missed? He didn’t want to share this knowledge with David Bickerdyke and attempted a non-committal response that, in hindsight, was only partially successful.
“Oh, just that somebody else has a distinctive smell of the same herb”
“You mean Jacqueline uses the same scent. Presumably Blayney smells of the same stuff because they’ve been uptight and personal, you might say.”
“You know that for a fact?”
“No, but I think it’s true. What do you think?”
Jack remained non-committal and made an effort to refocus the conversation.
“That’s pretty flimsy evidence on which to conclude Blayney was there that night and even flimsier if we’re concluding that he was the one who killed Aaron Crisp.”
Bickerdyke looked at the floor again.
“Yes, I know it is. That’s why I’m telling you and not the police. You can imagine how they’d receive my theories.”
“But what the hell do you expect me to do with your theories? I’m a psychologist not a detective.”
“I suppose I think that’s the way to get Blayney.”
“Well, I don’t know exactly. Find out more about him. I was interested in how you’d respond to my psychological sparring because I think Blayney might be susceptible to the same approach. He’s an arrogant man who’d probably enjoy the tussle. You might trap him into some kind of admission of guilt.”
Jack resisted the temptation to ask Bickerdyke how he thought he’d fared in their psychological jousting. He thought he knew. Bickerdyke probably thought Jack to be a rather poor opponent but the best, indeed the only, hope he’d got. He’d let this lie for a while. He changed the subject.
“What about Barker’s death?” Jack asked. “What makes you think Blayney was involved in that?”
“Well, the evidence is even flimsier there.”
“Is that possible?”
Bickerdyke laughed. He made an effort and continued.
“As you said, it’s not likely that Blayney would have killed Crisp simply to avoid his export enterprises being scuppered. There must be more that he has to lose and that, I think, is where the link to the Barkers comes in.”
“You don’t buy it do you?”
“Are you surprised?”
Bickerdyke lapsed into silence again. Once more he seemed to make a decision.
“OK, I do have more. I realise that you’ll have to tell the police and I also realise if they decide to put the worst possible construction on it, for me that it is, then I’m in even deeper shit that I am now. So promise me that you’ll help, Jack.”
“That rather depends on what you’ve got to say but, if I can help, I will, you have my word.”
Bickerdyke smiled briefly. He then told Jack what happened that day on the balloon trip. As he began his face lost the smile.
“It was just Barker and I up there. His wife had booked the trip for him as a 50th birthday present. His birthday was actually a few weeks ago but this was the first time he was able to do it. I don’t think he was that keen but I suppose he couldn’t resist seeing all the land he owned from the air. Everything was going fine. We were chatting away amiably enough. Like you, he was a bit anxious at first. Well perhaps not quite as anxious as you, but he was beginning to relax about the time we approached the reservoir. Then it happened.” Bickerdyke paused, whether for effect or because he was ordering his thoughts, Jack wasn’t sure.
“Go on,” Jack prompted.
“His mobile rang.”
“So, that’s not exactly a major event.”
“Just listen, like you’re supposed to do.”
“His mobile rang, he answered it. For a long time he said nothing. He just stared ahead. Finally, he spoke, he said, ‘yes, Jacki,’ and then ‘I will Jacki’ and then, finally, ‘that’s perfectly clear, Jacki’. He was like a zombie. I don’t know what she said to him, I couldn’t hear, but she was certainly doing all the talking. Whatever it was she said to him certainly must have upset him.”
“Why do you think it upset him?”
“Well, I’m just speculating but it’s on account of the fact that he straight away climbed over the side of the basket and plunged to his death. That’s why I think he was upset.”
Jack, for once, couldn’t think of any immediate quip.
“Yes, I see,” was all he could say. “Why didn’t you raise the alarm?”
“That’s a fair question and now, of course, I wish I had but at the time, I looked over the side of the balloon, his body hit the water with a smack and immediately sank. I didn’t have my mobile with me and he’d taken his with him. By the time I’d summoned help, he would certainly be dead if he wasn’t the moment he hit the water. I looked down on the ground for somebody to help but there was nobody. I suppose, at that point, I thought I could get away with saying he’d finished the journey and gone home or disappeared. He hadn’t been exactly ecstatic at reaching 50, his marriage wasn’t going well and he seemed pre-occupied with something. If he disappeared there was a good chance people would think he’d killed himself, which, of course, he had. I just thought that nobody would believe me if I tried to describe what had actually happened. I was convinced that everybody would think I’d pushed him like you did.”
“Why would they think that?”
“Because of the money, that just about everybody in the valley knew, I owed him. Back rent for the use of his field.”
“Well, I can see your predicament but you made a pretty poor decision when you decided to try and cover up his death.”
“Yes, Jack, I know that now but, at the time, it seemed like the best option. After all who would know?”
“Well now the police will have to know.”
“Yes, I realise you can hardly keep this information to yourself but what I’m thinking is that if you can get Blayney,” he paused.
Or anybody at all, Jack thought. Bickerdyke continued, “for the murder of Aaron Crisp then they’ll be more willing to listen to what I have to say happened in the balloon.
“Might look good on your leaflets – take a hot air balloon trip; the original way to commit suicide – I suppose it might attract a different kind of business,” Jack smiled.
“I know psychologists are supposed to help clients to positively reframe their problems but that seems like stretching the concept a little too far.”
Jack laughed, he realised, for the first time in the conversation they were having, he felt in control. He didn’t like himself much for feeling better because he had Bickerdyke completely at his mercy but then he hadn’t liked himself much the way he had felt before. On balance he preferred this version of not liking himself. Bickerdyke looked at Jack, he didn’t seem to resent the laughter but it clearly caused him some discomfort.
“Jack, don’t increase my anxieties. You’re not supposed to do that. Don’t make me question my choice of assistants.” Jack felt a twinge of annoyance at this last sentence. Bickerdyke, even now, couldn’t resist defining the relationship between them on his own terms.
“I haven’t said I’ll take you on as a client yet.” He immediately regretted his attempt to slap down Bickerdyke when he saw the look on his face.
“Will you?” Bickerdyke asked, anxiously.
“How could I refuse?”
Jack left Bickerdyke in his cell. He wasn’t sure whether Bickerdye had a lawyer yet or whether he would get bail but once again, and why he wasn’t sure, Jack thought, he felt sorry for him. In fact, as Jack walked along the corridors of the police station, he realised it wasn’t pity that was involving him in helping Bickerdyke, he felt compelled to help him. Even if it meant his safety would be threatened, he had to meet the challenge Bickerdyke had set. His motives for wanting to help were probably dubious. They probably had something to do with wanting to prove to Bickerdkye that he, Jack, was a man of substance…. And not a coward.
Jack reported to DS Mike Giggs and Sarah everything that Bickerdyke had told him. Giggs was clearly impressed. It was obvious that he thought Jack had teased the information from Bickerdyke by use of cunning psychological ploys. He didn’t seem to realise that Bickerdyke had basically given the information freely. Jack did not correct him.
“So,” said Jack, addressing the question to Giggs and Sarah. “What do we do now?”
“Obviously, we have to go and interview Mrs Barker. It’s all very flimsy but we have to follow it up,” said Mike.
“What about the Blayney theory?”
“That,” Mike replied, “Is ridiculous. We’re not going to waste tax-payers money by investigating Blayney on the basis of having a criminal smell!”
“Yes, that’s what Bickerdyke said you’d say.”
“Did you expect any other response?”
“Not really,” Jack replied after a short pause.
“So then?” Sarah said, trying to prompt both men out of their silence. “What do we do?”
“You could just do nothing at all. There’s no reason why should get involved any further,” said Mike.
“You don’t think my husband, a man of steel, will allow himself to be bashed on the head without seeking the culprit, do you?”
Mike smiled, so, eventually did Jack.
“There may be a couple of buttons we can press that you can’t, both with Mrs B and with Justin Blayney. I have a thought about Blayney but I don’t want to share it just yet. Give me a few days to check it out. I suppose your lot,” said Jack, turning to Giggs, “Could check out Blayney’s export business, see if anything comes up there. But, to be honest, I doubt it. Can you get customs to open one of his crates on some kind of pretext. Exporting the foot and mouth virus, something like that.”
“I do like your creative inclination to ignore any kind of legal contraints. You’d go far in the police force.”
The three of them laughed together. Jack’s laugh might have been slightly less voluble because he was thinking ahead to his plan to trap Blayney. It was pretty wacky but then it would probably take something bizarre to trap Blayney, assuming, of course, he was guilty.
Mike Giggs interviewed Jacqueline Barker the next day. That night Mike called Jack at home and recounted the interview with Mrs Barker. She had not, as Jack had expected, denied that she had called her husband at the time Bickerdyke had stated. She had called him to see if he was enjoying her present to him. No, she did not know that her husband had immediately jumped to his death. Not until Mike had just told her he had. No, she had no memory of having talked about their marriage and no, she had not given him the impression that the marriage was over. Yes, Josh had been a little down in the dumps recently but not to the point he would have wanted to kill himself. And, yes, as a matter of fact she did have somebody who could confirm what she had said. She was with somebody at the time of the call. No, she would not disclose the name of the person as it would put that person in a rather awkward position given the time of day. Unless they were issuing a warrant for her arrest, she would not tell them who the person was but she could assure the police that she did have and could produce, if necessary, the name of the witness. And, finally, yes, she supposed it was possible that Josh knew she had somebody with her at the time of the call and that might have had an effect on him but not to go as far as jumping out of the balloon, of that she was sure. As Mike pointed out, while they might think that Jacqueline’s morals were somewhat suspect, given her husband had only recently been put to rest, they couldn’t arrest her for that. Mike agreed that Jack and Sarah might have one more go at getting something out of Mrs B when they went up at the weekend.
The next day was Saturday. They decided that, although it had recently become their habit, they wouldn’t, drive up to the barn today. They would go, as agreed with Mike, up to Lofthouse on Sunday. The weather had remained remarkably sunny although cold. One of the reasons Jack had rationalised paying large sums of money to Standsmoor Golf Club was that it was well drained and, consequently, playable throughout the most of the winter. They were now just a couple of weeks from Christmas. Sarah wasn’t a huge fan of Christmas shopping but, compared to Jack, she was besotted. They agreed that her life would be less miserable if Jack went off to his new club rather than be dragged whinging and complaining around the shops of Leeds. Their two children, who were old enough to be almost totally independent socially, remained steadfastly dependent when it came to anything relating to financial matters. Though both in their early twenties they retained high expectations of the kind of presents they would get from their parents and suitably low, or cheap, expectations of those they would give to their parents.
All Jack’s negative thoughts, relating to the short-comings of his children, were soothed as he inserted his swipe card into the machine that allowed access to the hallowed car park of Standsmoor Golf Club. Now he was a member – how he loved the sound of those words – they could fit him in this morning at short notice. He would have to make up a four but, Martin Higgins had reassured him, he would fit in well with the three gentlemen in question. They were all high handicappers. Jack didn’t like that part quite so much but, in a few months, with regular golf, he was sure his handicap would plummet. He parked the Volvo as far out of sight as was possible. The Vovlo said loudly ‘if you think I’m staying here with all these posh dickheads, you’ve got another think coming’. Jack ignored the message and opened the boot almost brusquely. He took out his set of Calloways and trolley and set off to the changing rooms. After years of getting changed in the car parks of cold municipal golf course car parks, the prospect of getting changed and later showered in a proper clubhouse made him almost giddy.
Amazingly, for life didn’t often seem so sweet, the round went well. Jack played above his usual standard although, of course, he didn’t say so. He might be found out the next times he played but, for now, he would take the well-meant accolades of his playing companions and bask in the, albeit temporary, glory. After the round there was, as promised, the pleasure of the well-earned shower. Jack felt he had earned every warming drop of the club’s hot water than bounced from his skin. The droplets, Jack thought, said ‘you’re welcome here. Any doubts about the cost of each droplet was pushed firmly to the back of Jack’s mind.
Jack had enjoyed himself so much that it was only the sight of Martin Higgins entering the clubhouse bar that reminded him of his less enjoyable reason for being here. With some reluctance, Jack walked over to where Higgins was standing chatting aimiably to a group of fellow club members.
“Martin, I wonder if I could have a word with you.”
“Of course, Jack, good to see you here, nothing wrong I hope.”
“No, no,” Jack nearly fell over himself in an effort to counteract the ungodly view that there might just be something wrong with this holy configuration. “Nothing wrong at all, it’s just that,” Jack paused. “Could we go somewhere a little quieter, what I have to discuss is a somewhat delicate.”
“Let’s go into my office in that case. We can talk privately there.”
They walked across the hallowed carpets and into Higgins’s office. Jack sat in the chair Higgins indicated with a gentle sweep of his hand. ‘Beautiful swing’ Jack thought. Reluctantly he began to speak.
“Do you remember the conversation you and I had when you took me round the course on the occasion of my interview?”
Higgins looked blank. Jack doubted that he even remembered the round let alone the conversation they had had that day.
“We were talking about a member who had been asked to leave the club because he was engaging in some,” Jack paused, searching for the right word. “Ungentlemanly behaviour.”
“Hmm,” Higgins said non-committally.
“I’m sorry but I need to know whether that person was, in fact, Justin Blayney and I also need to know exactly what was the nature of his ungentlemanly conduct.” Jack took a deep breath. He’d sounded much more professional than he felt.
“I thought I’d made it clear that I wasn’t in a position to discuss the reason for member’s being asked to leave the club,” Higgins replied with some degree of hauteur.
This hint of arrogance made it much easier for Jack to proceed.
“Absolutely, I completely understand that but, in this case, the matter has become more serious and, I’m afraid, it’s either talk to me or to the police. I am acting with their full knowledge but we both thought, the Detective Sergeant in the case, is a golfing man and understands the sensitivities of matters like these.”
“Case? Sensitivities? What exactly are you talking about, Jack?”
Jack was glad that Higgins hadn’t resorted to the use of his last name instead of his first. Higgins seemed to have lost any arrogance he had recently had.
“Trust me, Martin, I’m simply trying to do the best for the golf club. If I don’t get helpful information it could result in the club being involved in some unpleasant publicity.”
“In that case, ask away.”
“Was the person in question, the architect, Justin Blayney?”
“Yes, Jack, as you ask so directly, it was.”
“What exactly was the nature of his behaviour that led to him being asked to leave the club?”
Higgins replied without pause.
“He had a capacity, a talent I suppose it could be said, of planting negative and inappropriate thoughts in the minds of his playing partners that they neither recognised and, therefore, nor were unable to resist. He took the tried and tested golfing tactic of unsettling your partner by saying ‘watch out for the rough on the left’ or ‘make sure you don’t go in the bunker on this shot’ to extreme lengths. We didn’t know whether he had had any experience of hypnosis, perhaps on the stage at some time in his past. The fact was he was extremely good at getting into another player’s subconscious. Certainly I’ve been around the game for many years and I’ve never come across anybody with a skill, if that’s what it was, like his. It took us a long time to work out what he was doing. Members didn’t like to say anything, first because they couldn’t believe it was happening and second nobody liked to say it in case they were thought of as whingeing or being bad losers. Certainly he did manage to win more than his fair share of tournaments. He wasn’t a bad golfer at all. Handicap of 7 or 8 but he wasn’t as good as his results is you know what I mean.” Higgins stopped. He looked almost surprised at what he had just said. Jack, in time honoured tradition, had listened as the words tumbled out. He made no immediate comment to the information Higgins had provided. He was too busy with the thought that now he knew exactly how Josh Barker had been persuaded out of the basket. He would call Mike later and tell him what he thought he had discovered.
He told Sarah as soon as he got home. She had spent the majority of the day fighting through the crowds in the city in an attempt to purchase irrelevant Christmas gifts at inflated prices. She was not in good humour but listened to Jack’s theory about Blayney with growing interest and excitement. Contrary to expectations she did not tell Jack he was mad and needed his head examining. Nor did DS Giggs. They agreed that there were three possible next steps. One, that they could have another go at the Mortimores. Now they knew, assuming Bickerdyke was telling the truth and there seemed no reason for him not to, that the Mortimores were receiving stolen goods. They ought to be able to use that information to their advantage. Two, they would talk to Jacqueline Barker and try and, as Jack put it, sweet-talk her into making a mistake. Sarah thought Mrs B would very much like being sweet-talked by Jack. She made no attempt to disguise her semi-serious contempt for this plan. Third, and probably last in the scheme of things, they would try and use Jack’s theory about Blayney’s part in this to trap him into an admission of some kind. Jack was quietly confident that, whilst they might not bring the case to a conclusion, they did have enough information to significantly move it along to its next phase.
It had been a long day for both of them and by 9 o’clock they were both ready to climb into their warm and comfortable bed. Jack wished that they would never have to leave it. Their involvement in what now appeared to be a double murder case had been only a matter of a few weeks yet it seemed to have been with them the whole of their lives. A part of Jack sincerely wished they had never seen the Hedderly barn. Another part of him reasoned that they loved it and would fight for it. When all this was over and they sat in the barn Jack with his writing and Sarah with her paintings, they would be sure it had all been worthwhile. Right now, he wasn’t sure. Before they climbed into bed Jack called Charlie Mortimore and suggested that it would be to his definite advantage for him to meet them tomorrow. Mortimore agreed with surprisingly little enquiry as to the reason for the meeting. He didn’t, however, want to meet at the pub and suggested they should meet up at the reservoir where ‘nobody could overhear anything of a problematic nature’. The phrase made Jack laugh and perhaps that’s why he agreed to the arrangement. His final act of the day was to call Jacqueline Barker. He apologised for the lateness of the call even though she seemed almost pleased to hear his voice. He felt a little tingle of pleasure as he listened to her voice. He knew it was wrong to have the feeling but, what the heck, it had been a hard day. She was glad they’d called and it would be perfectly fine for them to come round tomorrow afternoon, in fact she had something for them that they’d like but would not say what. Jack felt the tingle increase but didn’t delve too deeply into why he felt it or exactly what kind of feeling it was. They arranged to meet at two o’clock. As he lay on the edge of sleep he wondered why he had agreed to meet the Mortimores at the dam and, even more, he wondered why Jacqueline Barker made him tingle.
Fog hadn’t been forecast the night before but, at this time of year, early morning fogs were common enough not to excite much comment between the two of them. It looked like it would be thick enough to slow their journey but not to make it unsafe. By 9.30, when they left their home, the fog showed no sign of clearing and, as they drove over the moors to Pateley Bridge, it seemed to be getting slightly thicker. Neither, however, had any thought of turning back. They had made their date with destiny, Jack laughed at his own melodramatic turn of phrase, and now they must keep it. In less than an hour they drove into the town. Here the fog seemed almost to have cleared. They decided they needed coffee and cake before meeting with the Mortimores. As they sat in the small café drinking coffee and eating a Danish pastry, their vision of what their meeting with Charlie and possibly Joan Mortimore might look like, did not, at this point, have, as its back cloth, a swirling, Sherlock Holmes type fog. Along the valley road, however, the fog, in playful mood, closed in around them. Sarah shuddered despite the Volvo’s excellent efforts at keeping them all warm. They drove through Lofthouse and turned right onto the private road that took them up a gradual incline to the top of the reservoir. The road followed the track of the old railway that had carried raw materials, men and equipment up to the dam wall between the years of 1893 and 1901. The only place along the lower half of the route where the current road and the original railway parted company was the tunnel just before the road bent to the left after passing Goyden Pot. The tunnel entrance and exit had been rather unsympathetically, Jack thought, blocked up with brieze blocks. They drove past it now. As they climbed higher up the valley the wind, as it usually did, increased and, as a result, the fog was thinner here.
“I wish it would make up its mind,” Jack said to nobody in particular.
They had agreed to meet the Mortimores at 11 o’clock. The journey had taken them slightly longer than usual because of the fog and, with their short break in the café, it was now just after 11.15.
They could see the Mortimore’s red Sierra parked in the car park. As Charlie Mortimore had predicted, theirs were the only two cars.
“Do you suppose they lured us up here to finish off the job?” Sarah asked. Her voice affected an air of concern but Jack could tell, she meant a part of what she said.
“Shouldn’t think so. How would they know we haven’t told other people, Mike for instance, where we were going and who we were meeting.”
“No, but we might have done. They don’t know we’ve been stupid enough not to tell a single soul what we’re doing, so we’ll keep that bit of information to ourselves.”
The Mortimores, Joan and Charlie climbed out of the car as they approached. They stood by the car and then, as Jack and Sarah stopped the Volvo and turned off the engine, they walked towards one of the picnic tables and sat down.
“They’re trying to look harmless,” Jack said through clenched teeth. “Stay alert.”
“Oh, sorry and here was me just thinking how I wish I’d bought a picnic so we could all become good friends. But, now you’ve reminded me, I’ll stay alert.”
By the time Sarah had had her say, they were only a few yards away from the Mortimores.
“Thought I’d bring my body guard,” said Charlie Mortimore, nodding at Joan.
“I’m sure you won’t need her,” Jack replied. This is only a friendly chat.”
“We like friendly chats, don’t we Chas?” Joan Mortimore said in a manner that sent a chill through Sarah’s bones. It was cold up there. The fog swirled around them thick enough to completely block out all views of the hills on either side of the valley. The dam wall loomed out of the mist and they could just make out the beginning of the reservoir beyond it.
“So let’s be having it,” Mortimore said. “What have you got to tell us other than you think we tried to kill you?” Charlie Mortimore laughed as he spoke. When Joan Mortimore joined in the effect was genuinely frightening.
Jack did not feel comfortable with the tone of their conversation. He tried to seize the initiative.
“We know you’ve been receiving stolen headstones from Dave Bickerdyke.” Charlie Mortimore opened his mouth to speak. Jack went on without a pause. “But that’s not the worst of it as far as you two are concerned.” This time Joan Mortimore began to speak. Jack raised his hand to silence her. He was enjoying himself. “You’re selling these headstones on to a man who is about to be arrested for at least one murder and probably two.” Jack paused for effect. This time neither of the Mortimores attempted to speak.
“The question is a simple one, much simpler than you have a right to expect. It is this, are you going to be arrested with this man as accessories either before or after the event? I’m not sure which it would be, I’d go for before but either way you’d be looking at a substantial prison sentence I would have thought, although I’m a psychologist not a lawyer. So I suppose it could be three or four years or even as much as nine or ten. I..”
“Shut up, damn it,” Charlie Mortimore shouted. Joan put her hand on his arm as if to caution him about what he might let out. He did calm down. He turned to Jack.
“What proof do you have that we’re involved in anything?”
“Well, for a start there’s Bickerdyke’s and, I imagine, Cooper’s evidence that you were receiving the stones. Now you might say they would simply be trying to save themselves and that would be a fair point. Against that is the fact that the police will examine your financial affairs and, I imagine, they would find that, given the foot and mouth and its effect on your business, you’ve got a remarkably healthy bank balance. Healthy enough to finance your other vehicle, the fancy Japanese four-wheel drive that you don’t drive around too much in case people ask where you got the money from.”
Jack paused for a moment.
“Now we know where the stones are going to but we’re going to give you a chance to tell us then we tell the police you’ve been helpful and perhaps you’ll get away with a fine and a bit of probation rather than prison and loss of business. That’s always assuming you had no connection with either death.”
Charlie Mortimore could not contain himself any longer.
“We had nothing to do with the murders. The closest we got was our little warning on the dam wall there.”
“So that was you,” said Sarah, speaking for the first time.
“Yes, of course it was us,” said Joan Mortimore. “But it was only a bit of fun.”
“Yes, we laughed and laughed,” Sarah replied.
“So who are you selling the stones on to?” Jack asked taking advantage of this moment of openness. The Mortimores were not, however, easily caught off guard.
“Supposing we told you that, where would that information go? Joan Mortimore asked. “We don’t intend to testify against this man. We’ll tell you what you need so you can get him, but only when he’s arrested and behind bars will we testify against him. We won’t repeat nothing to the police we tell you now. In fact we’ll deny everything.” Jack decided this was not the time to correct Joan Mortimore’s double negative. It might just break their confessional roll.
“OK, fair enough. You give us the information we need and we’ll keep you out of this at least for now and, if things go right, perhaps altogether. We can’t guarantee that but we’ll do our best,” Jack said.
“The Detective Sergeant in charge of the case is a personal friend of ours so we can be quite influential,” Sarah added. The Mortimores exchanged glances. Joan Mortimore nodded and spoke.
“We’re selling the stones on to Justin Blayney.”
“Why through you? Why doesn’t Blayney buy them directly from Bickerdyke?” Jack asked.
“Because that way there’s no provable connection between the stones and Blayney. Blayney thinks he can trust us. He thinks he has something on us that means we won’t tell and that’s true, he does, but we’re not being involved in murder. He’s gone too far this time.”
“Are you saying,” Jack asked barely able to take a breath, “that Justin Blayney is a murderer?”
“Maybe, maybe not,” Charlie Mortimore replied enigmatically.
“He would have killed the child,” Joan Mortimore said to no one in particular.
“That’s different,” said Charlie Mortimore.
“Child? Killed? Excuse me, is this the same conversation?” Jack asked bewildered.
“Might as well tell them the lot,” said Joan Mortimore. She continued. “Have you met my sister?”
“You mean Mary Noone?”
“Yes, the one and only.”
“But,” Sarah said. “She seemed to suggest that you weren’t related.”
“Yes, she does that. We’re not particularly close but usually if you push her, she will admit we are sisters. Did you see Dan when you were up there?”
“You mean the lad with the spikey hair?” Jack asked.
“That’s him,” said Joan Mortimore. “He’s Blayney’s illegitimate son. He was having an affair with Mary when she was only just of legal age. He was married. He’s divorced now but, at the time, he wanted Mary to have an abortion. She went down South, had the baby, married Trevor who’s been fantastic to her. Dan doesn’t know that Trevor isn’t his dad and Blayney thinks he can use that to blackmail Mary and us. Us being family even though Mary doesn’t like to admit it.”
“Why doesn’t she like to admit it?” Sarah asked.
“She thinks we’re down on her because of her having Dan. They’ve only been back up here for 8 or 9 months and. So far we’ve not really sorted it out. And then there was my problem with the steroids. Blayney knows about that too. That’s something else he thinks he’s got on us.”
“Jesus Christ, is there nothing that’s not been going on in this valley?” Jack asked ignoring both the double negative and the fact that he sounded like Graham Taylor.
“That was a long time ago,” said Charlie Mortimore, having remained quiet for a few minutes. He spoke in defence of his wife which Sarah thought was sweet. “She was young and she was too naïve to say no when her coach suggested they would help her swimming performance and everybody in the sport was taking them, so he said. She knows better now.”
“Yes, too late unfortunately. I used to have a beautiful figure, like Mary’s, but now I’ve gone to seed.” Jack started to say something like ‘it’s not that bad’ but then, realising the inappropriateness of this remark, lapsed into silence. Charlie Mortimore looked at his wife with, what appeared to be genuine, affection and said, “You look fine, love.” Whatever wedge Josh Barker had driven between them seemed to have been removed with his death, Sarah thought. Perhaps mutual self-interest had brought them together. Joan Mortimore continued her confession.
“Mary didn’t like the fact that I got those medals by cheating. She was the same at school. Always the righteous one. The baby hit her hard. I suppose, at that age, I wasn’t much help. And of course she’s pretty sure we’re mixed up in something a bit shady. She’s no fool. They get the same customers as we do. She knows we’re making money somewhere on the side. She just doesn’t know how.”
“OK, OK, time out,” said Jack, making a T sign with his hands. “So Blayney was putting some pressure on you to act as middle man, men and you didn’t mind the money too much but now you think he might have been involved in either Barker’s or Crisp’s death or both. Why do you think that?”
“Well, you said he was,” Charlie Mortimore replied turning to Jack.
“I didn’t actually mention Blayney at all. You introduced him into the conversation all on your ownsome.”
The Mortimores seemed to come to the conclusion that they had passed the point of no return. Charlie Mortimore continued with barely a pause.
“Josh Barker was buying land for Blayney, using Blayney’s money but buying it under his own name.”
“Excuse me,” Sarah interrupted to Jack’s annoyance. She continued despite his look. “Why would Barker be buying land for Blayney?”
“That,” said Joan Mortimore, firmly, “we do not know. Blayney never would tell us what he had planned. Which brings us to the beautiful Mrs Barker. We think she’s been having an affair off and on with Blayney for several years, then about two years ago Crisp shows up and opens the wine shop and Jacqueline decides that the charming and handsome Crisp might be more exciting as a lover than Blayney who isn’t as healthy or good-looking as he once was. I suppose Blayney’s nose was a bit put out of joint but, at that stage, nothing more than that. Then Josh hits 50 and starts to look at his relationship with Jacki and decides he really does love her after all. She’s been talking about planting organic vines because of the nonsense put in her head by Aaron Crisp. Josh, poor sod, knows about Blayney, thinks it’s all in the past and knows nothing about Crisp. In an effort to please Jacki and rekindle the relationship, he decides to have a go at the vineyard plan. He doesn’t need the Hedderly barn which is where you come in. To Blayney Josh’s plan to plant vines on the land and selling off small bits of the land, is the final straw. We reckon he decides Josh has to go. How he killed him, if he did, we don’t know.”
“And we really don’t know that bit,” Charlie Mortimore added.
“Is all this true?” Sarah felt compelled to ask. “All this stuff about Jacki and having affairs with first Blayney and then Crisp? Or is it simply a figment of your twisted imagination?”
“Well, let’s say nobody’s admitting to anything but we’ve been around here and those folk for a long time. We think we know what’s going off. It’s up to you if you believe us or even what parts of what we’ve said you believe.”
The wind had dropped and the fog swirled more insistently around the four of them. Jack pulled his collar closer to him. He noticed Sarah did the same. What a strange tableau they must make, he thought. He forced himself to consider what he had just heard. The land was a new slant on this whole matter but if Barker really was selling off the land that belonged to Blayney then he could see how that would have angered Blayney to the point of him deciding to kill Barker. Jack guessed that Blayney thought Barker’s death could in no way be connected to him. But if he had made the call that hypnotised Barker into jumping to his death, then Jacqueline Barker must either have known about it or was covering up for Blayney. The Mortimores were looking like a couple who had said all they were going to say. Jack had one last shot at getting more information.
“What about Crisp? Do you think Blayney had anything to do with his death?
“We don’t know, we’ve been thinking about that since we heard about Crisp being killed. Crisp was certainly something of a thorn in Blayney’s side but I can’t see him killing him just for that,” Charlie Mortimore said.
“If it’s not him, then we don’t know who did kill him but that’s not proof is it?”
And with that, it was clear that they would get nothing more from Charlie and Joan Mortimore. But that was OK, Jack thought, they had got far more than they could have hoped for. They left the Mortimores at the table. Jack and Sarah walked back to the Volvo. For once it looked pleased to see them. They drove out of the car park. In a few seconds Charlie and Joan were swallowed up by the fog. When Jack glanced in the rear mirror they had disappeared entirely.
The Volvo headed down the road. Jack calculated that visibility was approximately 100 yards. He could see the road ahead quite clearly and his thoughts inevitably went back to their meeting with the Mortimores. He turned to Sarah who was staring fixedly ahead.
“Penny for them?”
Sarah turned to look at him as he turned to look again at the road ahead.
“Why did they admit to their association with Blayney so easily?” She asked. “We don’t have any hard evidence that they were involved. We’re missing something. And we don’t know that it was Blayney that was there when the call was made. It could have been Crisp.”
Before Jack could answer the red Sierra emerged with deceptive gentleness from the fog. At first it was no more than a red dot in the Volvo’s rear mirror. In a few seconds it was about two hundred yards behind them and beginning to fill the mirror and fully occupy Jack’s thoughts. It could not be true. The fog gave the scene a dream-like quality. This must be a dream, Jack thought. The red Sierra continued its approach.
“Perhaps because they were pretty certain we wouldn’t tell anybody,” Jack replied trying to keep a feeling of rising terror out of his voice.
Sarah seeing that Jack was glued to the rear mirror turned round in her seat to look behind them.
“Oh, Jesus, not again. They can’t be serious. They can’t get away with killing us again.” She paused. “Can they?”
The Volvo gained speed. Jack hadn’t told it to go faster, it seemed to have made the decision on its own. But it didn’t seem like a bad one. The speedometer needle had crept up to 50, far too fast for this road in these conditions but this didn’t seem to inhibit the Mortimores. The rally driving Joan Mortimore seemed quite at ease. Jack drew this conclusion because he had a pretty good view of her face filling his rear view mirror. She appeared to be smiling. He didn’t have time to check out Charlie Mortimore’s reaction. Their speed increased and Sarah squeezed Jack’s arm. He didn’t have either the time or the heart to complain. 50 yards ahead just around the bend Jack knew was the pull-off next to the blocked-up railway tunnel. He made his decision in the two seconds it took them to get there. Twenty yards or so before the pull off Jack hit the brakes. He dare not brake too hard if they went into a skid the road dropped away steeply on the left hand side and didn’t stop until it reached Goyden Pot some 100 yards below. The Volvo, having no desire either to be rammed from the rear or to finish its days as a rusting hulk down in the stream, behaved impeccably. It slowed just enough for Jack, almost level with the pull-off, to wrench the wheel to the right, brake hard and grind to a halt in a shower of mud and pebbles. His brief prayer of thanks did not preclude him from looking at the Mortimores as they shot by. They were waving and both were smiling. Charlie Mortimore seemed to speaking to them but Jack could not, indeed would not, understand what he was saying.
“Probably just saying ‘bye’ see you in the boozer.” He looked at Sarah who still had her head in her hands. For one moment he thought she was crying. In fact, she was laughing. Hysterical laughter perhaps but laughter nonetheless.
“I can’t wait to move out here permanently. I just love country folk and their charming little ways,” she said eventually.
Jack attempted a degree of seriousness.
“Obviously they weren’t trying to maim, injure or kill us. We must suppose either they were trying to see whether we were game for a laugh or perhaps it was just their way of partially restoring the psychological balance.”
“Jack, have we completely entered a twilight zone? Have we become so oblivious to the threat of violence that we can sit here, having been nearly killed, or at least semi threatened with death and laugh about it afterwards. I could never understand that rugby player mentality – yes he broke my jaw, but I should have moved quicker – that ‘all in this mayhem together chaps’, ‘no hard feelings’ baloney but now I think I’m actually beginning, not only to understand it, but actually enjoy it. Help me Jack, I need a psychologist.”
“And I have just your man. But first we have our appointment with Mrs Barker. Let’s see if we can get more out of her than Mike did.”
“Yes, you’ll enjoy that, won’t you?” said Sarah with a hint of a smile.
They walked through the village. The fog gave it an unreal feeling. They hadn’t time to have a proper lunch, slightly to Jack’s disappointment. Instead they bought two bottles of Lucozade and 4 Snicker’s bars from Tilly Johnson’s shop. She was delighted to see them once more. They brought her up to date with as much of the recent happenings as seemed fit for human consumption and said their goodbyes. They ate their tuck, as Jack liked to call it, by the village war memorial then climbed into the Volvo and drove carefully to their appointment with Mrs Jacqueline Barker. They wouldn’t be run off the road by Aaron Crisp that was for sure, Jack thought as they negotiated the drive. The house once more loomed rather than appeared. This whole thing had come a long way in a few short weeks. Jack felt as if the saga was drawing to a conclusion. He did not know how but he was sure that Jacqueline Barker would play a key role.
Jacqueline Barker greeted them like old friends. She almost had Jack believing she liked them or him at least. He pushed this thought to the back of his mind as she showed them into her living room. The luxurious, cosiness of the room seemed to take him to a different place. Jack looked around and he was struck by the thought that Jacqueline Barker had created a world of fantasy within which she could hide from those powerful forces which opposed her own happiness out there in the fog. The fog had thickened slightly here in the absence of the wind and, outside the window, it lent strength to the idea that only the three of them existed at that moment in time. Sarah, in the absence of any contribution from Jack, opened the conversation in a surprisingly gentle fashion.
“This really is a lovely room, Mrs Barker. I do admire your taste.” And she seemed to mean this quite genuinely. Sarah wasn’t finished yet. “Perhaps when we get the barn you could help me with the décor.”
Jack realised, with a strange feeling of relief, that Sarah was simply leading the conversation in the direction of the barn. It was bad enough one of them being overly-taken with Mrs B, he needed Sarah to retain a harsher grip on reality. If Jacqueline Barker recognised Sarah’s tactics she did not appear to resent them in any way.
“Please,” she said leaning forward. “Call me Jacki. I almost feel like we’re old friends now.”
Sarah smiled her sweetest smile, the one she used with errant special needs children when she wanted to defuse their anger or re-channel their naughtiness.
“Yes, it feels like this business has been dragging on for ever. Instead of resolving itself it feels like it gets more complicated by the week.” Sarah let the statement hang. Run it up the flag pole and see if anybody salutes it, Jack thought with a smile.
“Yes, it does, doesn’t it,” she replied without taking Sarah’s bait. “But I’ve got some good news for you. My solicitors have drawn up the contract and I have it here.” She picked up an envelope from the small table at the side of the sofa on which she sat. “You only have to sign it and the barn is yours.”
“That’s fantastic,” Jack replied. He looked at Sarah expecting her to be equally pleased. Sarah was still smiling but there was a note of caution in her manner when she added her thanks. It dawned on Jack that Sarah thought the contract had been produced at a far too convenient moment. It was almost, he realised, as if Jacqueline Barker was attempting to bribe them. He resisted the great temptation to reach across and take the contract she was holding in her hand. Time for that later, he told himself. Jack decided to try and push Jacqueline Barker from her smug position.
“The news of Aaron Crisp’s death must have hit you hard coming so soon after Josh’s death and you two being friends and all.”
Jacqueline’s reaction was good but, to Jack, who had watched her closely, just slightly too slow.
“I couldn’t believe it. I’m still in a state of shock, I think. I knew David Bickerdyke was slightly crooked but I never thought him capable of murder.”
“So you think he’s guilty then?” Sarah asked.
“Well I suppose so. I mean who else could it have been? Him or Jez Cooper. Cooper I could believe capable of murder. It has to be one of them, don’t you think?” She smiled a small smile. This time neither Jack nor Sarah took the bait. This was not the point to reveal their knowledge about Justin Blayney. That would come later.
“We believe the police have other suspects but they’re not telling us who they are. If, of course, it is ‘they’ might just be one man.” Jack paused. “Or woman.”
Jack hadn’t expected Jacqueline Barker to rise to this rather obvious bait and he was right. She smiled the same crinkled smile and gave Jack the obvious response.
“Yes, the female of the species is capable of many terrible things.” This time she smiled conspiratorially at Sarah. Sarah, still in sisterly mode, laughed out loud. Jack thought the reaction too obviously false but then he knew Sarah. Mrs Barker did not appear to find anything false in Sarah’s reaction but Jack had a strong sense that both sides were merely flirting with each other during these early stages. He pushed a little harder.
“I am right in thinking that Aaron Crisp was a friend and possibly a business partner?”
“Well, yes, he was a friend or should I say had become a friend. He’s only lived around here for a couple of years. I couldn’t say we were close friends but, at one point, we were looking at the possibility of turning some of our, sorry my, land into vineyards, as I think I told you.”
“Yes, you did. So you must have been upset by his death,” Sarah suggested.
“Oh, I was of course but, coming so soon after Josh’s death, I suppose I was a bit numb. Almost anaesthetised, you might say, to further grief.”
Good reply, Jack thought. “Will you carry on with the idea of planting vineyards now Aaron is dead?” he asked.
“No, I shouldn’t think so,” she replied calmly.
So far they’d made very little impression on Jacqueline Barker’s posturing. Sarah had obviously had the same thought. She upped the ante.
“That’s a shame because we had heard that you and Aaron Crisp were something more than friends.”
This time Jacqueline Barker was visibly shaken. Jack had to admit that she recovered quickly but the barb had obviously struck its target.
“Where on earth did you hear that?”
“Just let’s say that the source was one close to this whole rather unpleasant affair.”
“That would be those fucking Mortimores.” They were both taken by surprise by her outburst. Their barb had certainly hit home.
“We just wondered if it were true,” Sarah said with a mildness that Jacqueline Barker clearly found irritating. “You haven’t ever made any secret, at least not to us, of the fact that your marriage to Josh had seen better days. So why wouldn’t you look for comfort or excitement elsewhere? Aaron Crisp seems a fairly obvious choice. Unless, of course..” Sarah paused. Jacqueline Barker leaned imperceptibly forward. She hadn’t quite taken this obvious bait but she was close. She was close. “Unless, of course, there’s somebody else.” The words hung between them.
“No, of course there’s nobody else. What do you think I am?” She laughed a false laugh. “And just how many eligible lovers do you think there are out here? Yes, it’s true Aaron Crisp and I were lovers. What of it? Josh had his fancy women on the side, including that bitch, Joan Mortimore.” She had been brandishing the contract, now she placed it again on the table. Jack felt slightly uneasy and not just because the barn felt even further away than when they had entered this room. She had given up this information too easily. The obvious conclusion was that she had something more sinister to hide and was willing to throw them this sprat of information to keep them from going further. Jack decided to play their trump card.
“We don’t think either Bickerdyke or Cooper killed Aaron Crisp,” Jack said.
He could see the colour rise in her cheeks and the smell of lavender intensified. Jacqueline Barker tried to appear unconcerned but she was not convincing. She looked at Jack and he saw the possibility of a small tear form in the corner of her right eye. But she did not speak. Jack went on.
“We think somebody else did.”
“Well, you’re obviously going to tell me your theory so please get on with it.”
“We think Justin Blayney killed your husband and Aaron Crisp.”
The noise that came out of her mouth had been intended to be a laugh but it emerged as a harsh, rasping cry.
“That’s crazy. Why would he do that? What would he have to gain by their deaths?”
They explained their suspicions and the evidence on which they were based. Throughout their explanation, Jacqueline Barker frequently shook her head and occasionally responded with ‘no’ or ‘no, that’s rubbish’. Despite their best efforts she could not be convinced that Justin Blayney was, in any way, involved in any part of the crimes. Jack tried a different point of attack. It was speculative but it was all they had.
He said, “Why are you so resistant to the possibility that Justin Blayney could be the cause of your husband’s death and Aaron Crisp’s?”
“It just isn’t credible. You have no hard evidence only the words of Bickerdyke and the Mortimores who, of course, would say anything to save themselves from prison.”
“I have another explanation.”
Jacqueline Barker waited. Jack was forced to continue.
“There is an explanation as to why you’re so reluctant to accept the possibility that Justin Blayney is a murderer.”
Once again Jacqueline Barker did not speak. Jack continued
“The only possible explanation is that you and he are lovers. You’re protecting him.”
Jacqueline Barker searched the room for guidance. Finding none she, once more, remained silent. Sarah pushed the point.
“The lavender Jacki, you absolutely reek of it. It’s your characteristic smell.”
“And very nice too,” Jack felt compelled to add. Sarah gave him a withering look. “Justin Blayney has the exact same smell. It’s pretty unusual for a woman to smell of lavender but Blayney smells of it too. You probably don’t even realise it. Not as strongly as you do but it’s there and when you’ve recognised it, it’s unmistakable. How on earth could you both smell of exactly the same perfume if you weren’t consistently intimate?” Sarah sat back in triumph.
“Well?” Jack prompted.
“There is another explanation,” she said finally.
“And that is?” Sarah asked, showing her disbelief.
“He’s my father,” she said in a voice so quiet that they thought, at first, they had misheard her.
“What did you say?” Jack asked, leaning forward himself.
“I said he’s my father. I assume it’s permissible to be intimate with one’s own father?”
“Do you want to tell us more?” Jack asked.
Jacqueline Barker shrugged.
“It would be a relief to tell somebody I suppose.” She began to tell them her story.
“He had me when he was twenty.” Jack and Sarah looked at each other. They both had the same thought. Blayney had been a busy boy. Did Mrs Barker know about Dan, they wondered? She carried on. “We lived in Nottingham then. He was at university there. It didn’t work out. My mother and he have been divorced for years. We all split up. She went back down South. I went to live with an aunt in Harrogate. I suppose he couldn’t afford to look after me in those days. He eventually set up a practice in Skipton. He still didn’t want anything to do with me. I suppose he was embarrassed to admit he’d deserted me. But it hurt. We lived only 30 miles apart and he wouldn’t speak to me. Perhaps I reminded him too much of mother. I think he did love her a lot but it didn’t work out. Her parents were delighted. They never regarded him, an aspiring architecture student, as good enough for her. They were well-off landowners. Needless to say I haven’t seen them for years either.
“Why have you kept all this a secret?”
“Because I was embarrassed to let people know he was my father when he didn’t want to have anything to do with me. He wasn’t going to tell anybody about me so neither would I speak about him.”
Sarah looked at Jacqueline Barker. She spoke in a manner Jack found both uncomfortable and unacceptable.
“Perhaps you’re having an affair with your own father. That would be an excellent reason to keep your familial ties a secret.” Jack had expected her to explode at Sarah’s suggestion. She remained perfectly calm.
“You can deduce whatever you like. The fact is I’ve looked for a warm and caring relationship with a man all my life and now I have one.”
Sarah pursued her. “Couldn’t you get a proper partner?”
“Most women want a husband or a lover, I wanted a father,” she said simply.
“Not all three in one?” Sarah sneered.
“You decide. You’re the intellectuals. I don’t care,” she said with a degree of weariness and finality. The last thing they needed was Jacqueline Barker to dig her heels in and refuse to tell them anything more.
“Why did you two re-establish your relationship after all those years?” Jack asked attempting to find safer ground.
“Well, obviously he knew I’d married Josh. He seemed to have come into some money. I don’t know from where but he came to me with this scheme to buy up land in the valley. He thought it would look less suspicious if people thought Josh was buying the land. So he asked me to persuade Josh. Which, of course, I did. Poor old Josh, he would have pretty much done anything for me.”
“So,” Sarah said. “He came to you because he wanted something from you?”
“I suppose that’s how you’d see it. But I didn’t care. I wanted somebody in my life I could care for. He’s a bit beat up now. His health isn’t good. I think he’s got heart problems but he won’t talk about it. He needs me and that’s fine by me.” She looked at first Sarah and then Jack with a look of pure defiance.
“Where you there when Blayney made the phone call to Josh?” Her emotion of a few seconds before had made a hole in her defences. She spoke without thinking.
“I was up stairs…”
The look on her face, when she realised she had been trapped into this admission, made Jack’s blood run cold. She was quickly on her guard once more and tried to recover her mistake.
“I didn’t say Justin Blayney had made any call to my husband.”
But it was too late and she knew it. Jack had the end of the tangled ball of string and he wasn’t about to let it go.
“Jacki, they can trace the call. They found your husband’s mobile it was still on his body. I’d guess, having been in Justin’s company a few times, he made the call from his mobile so that can be traced. If the call was made from your home phone then there’s no proof but it wasn’t was it?” None of this was true but Jack knew it was sounding convincing. Jacqueline Barker’s crestfallen look told them that Jack was right. She shrugged and went on.
“I was in the house, yes. But I didn’t know until afterwards that he called him.”
So you knew he’d, in effect, killed Josh?
“Yes, I suppose I did. He was in here making the call and I was still in the bedroom. We didn’t agree he was going to kill him. We didn’t talk about it. I only found out after the event but by then Josh was dead and there was nothing I could do about it. I’d only had a father for two years I wasn’t going to give him up so quickly, and anyway,” she faltered, “The deed was done, I couldn’t undo it.”
“So he told you what he’d done?”
“Yes, he said he wasn’t going to let Josh fritter away all the land that his money had bought.”
“And so you thought it was OK to kill your husband?”
“No, no, I didn’t but, as I said, the deed was done.”
“Why did you lead Aaron Crisp to believe that you were interested in the vineyard thing when you knew it would upset your father?” Jack asked.
“I suppose it was a combination of attention-seeking and revenge. After all those years he ignored me and then only speaks to me when he wants something, I guess I didn’t want to make it too easy for him.”
“Your attention-seeking and desire for revenge got your husband killed and probably Aaron Crisp as well,” Sarah countered. Her voice was harsh and unforgiving.
“Yes, I’m a twisted little bitch, aren’t I? Perhaps it’s all a result of my early childhood experiences,” she said with a little smile.
Jack thought of all the children he worked with living on the estates of Seacroft and Gipton. He thought of his own childhood experiences of which he and Sarah had spoken so often. He could not find it in him to forgive this woman. Her glibness irritated him. Even at this late stage some contrition would have helped. He would push her further.
“The police think you made the call thanks to Dave Bickerdyke. That will make you an accessory after the fact.”
“Perhaps so. I never intended anybody to die and,” she said appearing to read his thoughts, “I’m sorry.”
“We’re glad you’re sorry,” said Sarah not sounding at all glad, “but we will have to go to the police with this information.” Jacqueline Barker did not seem particularly phased by this statement. Perhaps, thought Sarah, she intended to deny everything she had said to them. Given their involvement and their marital status the court probably wouldn’t give a lot of weight to their testimony.
“How do you think Justin Blayney is going to respond when he hears his daughter has told the police that he made the call that caused her husband to jump out of the basket of a hot-air balloon?” Jack asked with one last attempt to unsettle her. His question seemed to have exactly the opposite effect.
“Well, number one the police aren’t going to hear that because I shall deny having said it or I might say I made it up in order to punish him for his inattention to me. Who is going to believe that he could talk, on a mobile phone, a grown man into killing himself? It’s just too fanciful, Jack.”
She had a point. Jack knew she had regained control of herself and the conversation. They would not get any more out of her now. But they did and it was the most unexpected of all the things she had said in the last half an hour.
“Anyway, you can ask him yourself. He wants to meet you. He’s expecting you to call after you leave here. Or you can use my phone if you wish.”
Seeing Jack’s hesitation she continued, “Not afraid to meet him are you, Jack?”
Of all the buttons in all the world, she, Jack thought, had to press that one. He knew and he knew Sarah knew that now he would have to meet Justin Blayney. He would have to take this case, he smiled again at the word, to its conclusion. Whatever that may be. They got up to leave.
“We’ll call him on the mobile. No offence, Mrs Barker but we wouldn’t want to give him or you any further advantage.”
“Do you still want this?” she asked, picking up the envelope and waving it in front of them.
Jack felt his hand move towards the envelope. He badly wanted to take it. Whether Jack would have allowed himself to do so he would never know. Sarah spoke.
“No thank you, not right now. I think we’ll wait a little longer to see how this all works out. With that they turned and walked out of the room and out of Jacqueline Barker’s house. It was cold enough to cause them to shiver and pull up their collars. A slight breeze had somewhat dispersed the fog up here on the hillside. They walked towards the Volvo and, as they did, they could see the fog was thicker down in the valley. It was nearly half past two and, in the absence of any sun, it would be dark in less than an hour and a half. Jack took out the mobile and made the call to Justin Blayney.
Jack spoke for a few minutes then climbed into the car where Sarah sat waiting for him.
“Jack tell me that you know this is a trap. There’s no way she’s not going to get straight on the phone and tell him what we know. He’ll try and kill us as well. Tell me you haven’t agreed to meet him.”
“Tell me you’ve agreed to meet him somewhere with bright lights and lots of people.”
“I’ve agreed to meet him somewhere with bright lights and lots of people.”
“Where have you agreed to meet him?”
“At the barn.”
She exploded. “What? Are you crazy? You couldn’t have chosen a worse place.”
“I didn’t choose it actually.”
“You mean he suggested it and you just went along with it.” She mimicked Jack. “Duh, sure, we’ll meet somewhere dark and remote so you can kill us with ease. No witnesses and a thousand possible place to hide the body. Perfect.”
“I didn’t want him to think I was afraid to meet him, now did I?”
“Jack, one of these days and today may just be that day, your pathetic concern about your bravery, your manhood, your ‘machoness’, is going to get you into serious trouble. You’re 43 for God’s sake. When are you going to grow up?”
“After this, I promise.”
Sarah slumped in her seat and relapsed into exasperated silence.
“I’ve agreed to meet him in an hour
“You haven’t asked me about my cunning plan,” said Jack, seeing Sarah wasn’t going to pursue the conversation.
“Oh great,” she said eventually, “my man has a cunning plan.”
“I’m going to call Mike and ask him to meet us there. He can find somewhere to hide in the barn before Blayney gets there. That way we won’t carry on being the only witness to what these people say and, furthermore, we’ll be perfectly safe. Et Voila!”
Sarah softened. “OK, that might just work. Get on the phone and speak to Mike. If he thinks it’s a good idea then I’ll trust his judgement. Yours is definitely suspect.”
Mike Giggs, working a Sunday shift again, did like the idea. Jack told him all that had happened with Jacqueline Barker and he agreed that, if she refused to testify against Blayney, their evidence wouldn’t carry enough weight to get a conviction. They needed more. Jack liked the ‘they’, he felt as if he was now definitely part of the team. Mike clearly thought he had ways of getting information from people that could be of use to them in the future. No, there was no fog in Harrogate and Mike said he’d be there in about half an hour. Jack was feeling very pleased with himself as he finished the conversation with Mike.
“OK, let’s go. I want to get there ahead of Blayney. It always gives the psychological advantage if you’re there to greet the murderer.”
“You’re crazy,” was all Sarah could manage to say.
They drove the 500 or so yards down the hill to the barn. Jack realised he had stopped even thinking of it as ‘their’ barn. Whether this was a good or bad thing he didn’t know. They parked the Volvo on the road. For once it wished them good luck. Jack took with them a box of matches he had bought and left in the Volvo for just such a moment as this. They climbed over the metal gate that had once been painted red and walked carefully towards the barn avoiding muddy patches and the occasional rock. Even at this early hour the light was beginning to fade. Down in the valley the fog looked slightly thicker. They went inside through the door aperture with no door. Inside the barn it was quite dark. Because it was a barn very few windows had been built into the structure. When they had first seen the barn, and in their earlier conversations with Justin Blayney, they had considered whether Harrogate Planning Department would be likely to give them planning permission to put in one or two more windows. Blayney had thought not. That all seemed a long time ago even though it was, in fact, only a few weeks. The old, oil lamp still hung where Jack had left it. It gave Jack and oddly comforting feeling to see it there. It told him things would work out fine.
“I’m going to light the lamp. I filled it with paraffin for just such an occasion,” Jack said. His face, Sarah noticed, was a picture of childish glee. After two or three go’s Jack lit the wick and with some effort lowered the glass bulb into position. Then the look of pleasure fell from his face. Sarah turned to look at the cause of her husband’s change of mood. She understood immediately. Justin Blayney stood in the entrance to the barn with a torch in one hand and a shotgun in the other.
“Hello, Jack, Sarah. How lovely to see you again and in such an appropriate setting.”
In an instant Jack felt all his plans crumble around him. Even if Mike got here at the time he said he would, he wasn’t going to arrive for another 15 minutes or so. Judging by the shotgun there seemed little doubt that Blayney intended to kill them both. By the time Mike arrived they’d both be dead and buried. Probably under the hay. The question was, how long could he keep Blayney talking? Blayney’s arrogance had always been a characteristic of the man. Jack had no doubt that if he asked the right questions Blayney would be unable to resist telling them just how clever he had been. But how much time this would buy them he didn’t know.
“Either you’re intending to do a little hunting or we’re in trouble. Tell me it’s the first option,” Jack began in his best Tommy Cooper voice.
“Good to see you’re retaining your sense of humour in these difficult circumstances, Jack”
“Yes, he’s great isn’t he. Always a merry quip and a cunning plan, that’s my Jack.” Blayney did not miss either the significance of Sarah’s words or the look she gave Jack.
“Let me guess, Jack. Your cunning plan probably revolved around having your policeman chum here about the time I’d be telling all. Well, let me see , you couldn’t have phoned him before you spoke to Jacki because you didn’t know where we were going to meet. Unless, of course, you are either telepathic or such a great psychologist you just knew I was going to suggest meeting here. I doubt either is the case. So it’s going to take your chum at least half an hour to get here and that’son a good day. I called the AA before I left and they told me the fog is particularly bad in the valley so I would calculate that means I’ve got a good 45 miniutes to kill you both and hide your bodies.”
“But,” Sarah interjected, “DS Giggs knows we’re planning to meet you here.”
“Yes, of course he does and he’ll arrive but you won’t be here because you’ll be dead. I shall arrive late, because of the fog. I shall say that I merely wanted to talk to you about the plans, which, conveniently, I have here.” He nodded his head down towards his overcoat. He will, of course, think I’ve killed you and buried your bodies under the hay. I will have used the time it takes him to get here to hide your bodies somewhere far more obscure. Somewhere I calculate they will never be found. Or at least not until I’m well out of the country. ”
“Do tell,” said Jack. “Where are you going to stash our bodies?” Blayney, as Jack had calculated could not resist demonstrating how clever he was.
“You should have looked more closely at the entrance to the old railway tunnel when you were up there earlier. You would have seen that the cement has been removed from a few of the brieze blocks and replaced with a mixture of sand and lime and water. Easy to remove and replace and nobody, unless they knew what they were looking for, will ever know that it’s there.”
“Clever stuff,” Jack said in a deliberately patronising manner. “You’re slightly cleverer than you seem. Not much, but a bit.”
There seemed every possibility that Blayney would shoot Jack at that moment. Sarah changed the subject.
“Does Jacki know you’re planning to leave?”
“Don’t be silly, Sarah, of course she doesn’t. I still need her, at least for a while. The land is now all owned by her. Thanks to your meddling if things go badly and they might not, but in case they do, I may have to start again elsewhere. I have contacts abroad, you know.” He smiled. He looked perfectly at ease.
“What is this all about, Justin?” Jack asked. “Why the killings. Why did you kill Josh Barker? Was it because he was selling off the land?”
“I don’t mind telling you two. It’s not as if you’re going to be able to make use of the information. Yes, Josh was planning to sell off the land and it wasn’t his to sell. I paid for it, all he did was provide the cover of his name. I didn’t really intend to kill him, just frighten him a little. But the idiot took it seriously and jumped.”
“Why did you want the land?” Jack asked.
“Now don’t laugh at this Jack. Promise now.” Jack tried to strike a balance between nonchalant disinterest and legitimate concern. Blayney continued. “I intended to build my own golf course. This is a perfect setting, just what this valley needs. There isn’t a golf course for miles around. If those snotty bastards won’t let me join their clubs, then I’ll build my own. It’s amazing how the tale gets around. Oh don’t let Blayney in, he’s a bit of a cheat, a bit of a wide boy.” Even in the gloom of the barn, lit only by the oil lamp, Jack could see Blayney’s colour rise.
“So you killed Barker simply because the big boys wouldn’t let you play with them. And you did so want to belong I suppose.”
“Don’t fucking well analyse me, Jack. I’m going to kill you and your attractive wife, so don’t bother either trying to eke this conversation out or try to use your puny knowledge of how you think I think to analyse my motives. His colour rose a little higher.
“Why Crisp? Why did you kill him?” Sarah asked, once again trying to save her husband’s life.
”Now that is genuinely funny, Sarah. Killing Crisp was a complete accident. Crisp thought he was in with a chance with Jacki both as a lover and a business partner but of course he wasn’t. He was an irritant, no more. In fact I was trying to kill you, Jack. Just like I did with Jez. I was more successful with him. Of course he was a trusting soul as well.”
They stared at him, “You killed the Mortimore’s son? My god, you really are an evil son of a bitch aren’t you?”
“You might say that but without your interfering nobody would have known that. Jez was,” he sneered, “what you might call my business partner but he was getting ideas above his station. So whack.”
“My God, you’re a bastard,” Sarah said.
“Don’t bother passing judgement on me, you two. Without your investigating you wouldn’t be here now, about to die. It was, quite accidentally of course, starting to make things a little difficult for me. I knew you were going to be in the churchyard that night because, like a trusting idiot, you told me you were going. I thought it was you I was bashing around the head. You were supposed to be wearing the waterproofs and Crisp the woolly stuff that he so deeply cares for. Well, on that night he should have stuck to his convictions because, he died for lack of them. When I realised what I’d done I tried to kill you but you, Sarah,” looking at her with what later would seem to be admiration,” said “saved him them, just as you are trying to save him now.”
Perhaps it was this slight to his masculinity that sparked Jack’s next sentence.
“But you screwed up again, didn’t you Justin? In fact you’re always fucking up in some way or other aren’t you? Getting kicked out of your golf club, petty theft, pathetic marriage, illegitimate children, killing the wrong people, not meaning to kill Barker but you did. Then, of course, there’s your daughter or perhaps should I say, your lover? Are you shagging your own daughter, Blayney? Are you such a fuck-up that you’re committing incest?”
Blayney reacted just as Jack had known he would. He lunged towards Jack with the shotgun in front of him. His habit of gesticulating with his finger as he had done, Jack noticed, when talking over the plans for the barn, took the barrel of the gun to within Jack’s reach. In one long, co-ordinated movement Jack grabbed the barrel of the gun and swung it upwards. Blayney fired both barrels into the barn roof. Jack swung the oil lamp and hit Blayney behind the head and on his shoulders. Blayney’s clothing and hair immediately burst into flames. The flames were not huge but they were in such a position that Blayney could not reach them to put them out. He did what most people would have done in the circumstances, he fell to the floor and rolled on the ground. Unfortunately, most people would not have chosen a barn full of hay to roll around in. Small amounts of paraffin ignited the hay and in a few moments the upper half of Blayney’s body was covered in flames. He screamed the kind of scream that, Jack supposed, only a man on fire could scream. Jack stood rooted to the spot. Sarah reacted first. She ripped off her coat and smothered Blayney’s head and shoulders. The effect was almost immediate. The flames were extinguished in a few moments but the back of Blayney’s head was now a mass of raw, bloody flesh. The smell was almost unbearable. As Sarah stepped away Blayney arched violently, he grabbed at his heart.
“Jack, he’s having a heart attack.”
“Yes,” said Jack, “but I’m not sure we can do anything to help the poor sod. Call 999 and see if you can get an ambulance out here.”
They both knew even before the call was completed that it was a waste of time. Blayney arched his back twice more and then lay still. Jack looked first at the body, then at the broken remains of his grandfather’s oil lamp, then at Sarah.
“Jesus, what have I done?”
“Saved our lives, Jack. You’ve saved both of our lives.”
“I didn’t expect him to die.”
“No, but he expected us to die and didn’t seem to have the slightest qualm about killing us. You did what you had to do, Jack.” She smiled and hugged him.
“A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do,” Jack said weakly. “I thought I would feel braver and I thought that would feel good and it doesn’t at all. It doesn’t at all.”
Mike Giggs arrived about ten minutes later. The fog had slightly delayed his journey. They were waiting outside. The smell of Blayney’s burnt flesh made them feel sick. They had covered his body with Sarah’s coat. No point ruining two good coats, Jack reasoned. The ambulance arrived about half an hour later. They went back to the Harrogate police station with Mike. They would pick the Volvo up later. It wasn’t keen to spend the night out in the cold but, under the circumstances, could understand why they weren’t in any fit state to drive. They both said very little during the drive through the fog to the station. When they had had a cup of tea and a dry Danish pastry from the canteen, they told Mike all that had happened. Mike confirmed everything that Sarah had said. Mike was pleased the case was over, a few odds and ends permitting but delighted that it was Blayney’s body that was taken away in the ambulance not theirs. Jack felt better for the support.
Christmas had been and gone. They stood by the barn looking down Nidderdale towards Gouthwaite Reservoir. They thought briefly about the events of the last few weeks.
“I still love this view,” Jack said.
“Hmm,” Sarah replied.
By Jack’s own, low, standards Christmas could have been judged a success. His criteria was – that nobody died. With visits to various family members and friends they hadn’t had time, or perhaps even the inclination, to visit the barn. It was now the third week in January and some of those few ‘odds and ends’ that Mike had referred to were being taken care of. They included arresting Jacqueline Barker as an accessory after the fact. Surprisingly, she had kept her offer of the barn open to them. It was theirs if they wanted it. All they had to do was sign the contract. Perhaps Jacqueline didn’t know the full details of how her father had died, as least not yet. She probably thought he died of a heart attack, which in a way he did. Jack’s violent contribution to his death was being kept fairly quiet. It would all come out at the trial, of course, but by then they could have signed the papers, if they wished. Mike thought there was even a possibility she wouldn’t be brought to trial because of the flimsiness of the evidence against her. It was basically their word against hers that she had known that Blayney had talked her husband to his death. Jack and Sarah secretly hoped that the trial wouldn’t happen. Though they didn’t care to admit it, the whole business had had its effect on them. Jack had dealt with his feelings in the way he usually did, by inappropriate, perhaps, use of humour. Sarah had remained sensible and supportive as she always had.
David Bickerdyke was released on bail, as was Jez Cooper. They faced a charge of stealing the headstones for which, it was likely, they would face a fine of a few hundred pounds and a couple of hundred hours of community service which would probably involve trips for inner-city children, that Jack knew, in the balloon. The city council would fund the trips so, in some ways, this had worked out well for Bickerdyke. They had agreed to replace the stones that were still in Blayney’s possession. It seemed neither Jack nor David Bickerdyke held any bad feelings towards each other. In fact they seemed to have some kind of male-bonding thing going on that Sarah could not now and would never understand. She was, however, content enough to let it go where it would.
The police had undertaken an investigation of Justin Blayney’s affairs but, as yet, it was too early to say what would come out of the investigation. The Mortimores were not charged with being accessories to Josh Barker’s or Aaron Crisp’s murders but, of course, had been directly involved in stealing the headstones. Joan’s efforts to bring a swimming pool to Pateley Bridge were, as a measure of her good character, taken into account and both she and Charlie were given further community service work to do as well as a fine. Jack had the strong feeling that the case and their involvement in it, would do their business little harm, in fact it seemed likely to boost it. The Mortimores were regarded as just a little more local colour. There appeared to be no ill-feelings from the Mortimores towards the Jacques. Jack and Sarah had been greeted as old friends when they walked in the pub earlier. Though they might not admit it, both Jack and Sarah liked the feeling.
Work, meanwhile, had been quite interesting. Jack and Brian decided not to use the information they had acquired, via Sarah’s spying mission, on their troublesome colleague. She, in turn, dropped the request for her case to go to an Industrial Tribunal or Employment Tribunal as Jack now knew them to be called. Even when Jack discovered that she had been the original source of the recommendation to use Blayney as an architect. Whether she had deliberately put Jack in touch with Blayney hoping that no good would come from the contact or whether she had simply been trying, for once, to be helpful, Jack didn’t know. As to the nature of their relationship, if there was one, Jack didn’t know. Furthermore, at this point, he didn’t want to know. For whatever reason, Julie Blenheim, had suddenly become more co-operative. That was good enough, for now, anyway.
They stared down the valley.
“Dave says there will be animals back in these fields by March.”
“Dave is it now?” she said teasing him slightly.
“Piss off, you don’t understand. It’s a guy thing.”
“Oh sure, a guy thing.” She changed the subject. “I suppose when there are we’ll probably be complaining that it’s too bloody noisy. All that baaing and mooing.”
“Yes, my little horned viper.”
“Shall we buy the barn? Will it ever mean the same to us now as it did before?
“Not sure about the grammar, Sarah.”
“I don’t know. I really don’t know. What do you think?”
“I don’t know. I really don’t know as well,” she laughed. A rare sound of late.
He looked away from the view and smiled at her.
“If we do we’ll need to spend the time working on your sentence construction.”
The Volvo wasn’t sure either.