Twelve Red Herrings
TRIAL AND ERROR
It's hard to know exactly where to begin. But first, let me explain why I'm in jail.
The trial had lasted for eighteen days, and from the moment the judge had entered the courtroom the public benches had been filled to overflowing. The jury at Leeds Crown Court had been out for almost two days, and rumor had it that they were hopelessly divided. On the barristers' bench there was talk of hung juries and retrials, as it had been more than eight hours since Mr. Justice Cartwright had told the foreman of the jury that their verdict need no longer be unanimous: a majority of ten to two would be acceptable.
Suddenly there was a buzz in the corridors, and the members of the jury filed quietly into their places. Press and public alike began to stampede back into court. All eyes were on the foreman of the jury, a fat, jolly-looking little man dressed in a double-breasted suit, striped shirt and a colorful bow tie, striving to appear solemn. He seemed the sort of fellow withwhom, in normal circumstances, I would have enjoyed a pint at the local. But these were not normal circumstances.
As I climbed back up the steps into the dock, my eyes settled on a pretty blond who had been seated in the gallery every day of the trial. I wondered if she attended all the sensational murder trials or if she was just fascinated by this one. She showed absolutely no interest in me, and like everyone else, was concentrating her full attention on the foreman of the jury.
The clerk of the court, dressed in a wig and a long black gown, rose and read out from a card the words I suspect he knew by heart.
"Will the foreman of the jury please stand?"
The jolly little fat man rose slowly from his place.
"Please answer my next question yes or no. Members of the jury, have you reached a verdict on which at least ten of you are agreed?"
"Yes, we have."
"Members of the jury, do you find the prisoner at the bar guilty or not guilty as charged?"
There was total silence in the courtroom.
My eyes were fixed on the foreman with the colorful bow tie. He cleared his throat and said," ...
I first met Jeremy Alexander in 1978, at a CBI training seminar in Bristol. Fifty-six British companies who were looking for ways to expand into Europe had come together for a briefing on Community law. At the time that I signed up for the seminar, Cooper's, thecompany of which I was chairman, ran 127 vehicles of varying weights and sizes and was fast becoming one of the largest private trucking companies in Britain.
My father had founded the firm in 1931, starting out with three vehicles--two of them pulled by horses--and an overdraft limit of ten pounds at his local Martins bank. By the time we became "Cooper & Son" in 1967, the company had seventeen vehicles with four wheels or more and delivered goods all over the north of England. But the old man still resolutely refused to exceed his ten-pound overdraft limit.
I once expressed the view, during a downturn in the market, that we should be looking further afield in search of new business--perhaps even as far as the Continent. But my father wouldn't hear of it. "Not a risk worth taking," he declared. He distrusted anyone born south of the Humber, let alone those who lived on the other side of the Channel. "If God put a strip of water between us, he must have had good reasons for doing so," were his final words on the subject. I would have laughed, if I hadn't realized he meant it.
When he retired in 1977--reluctantly, at the age of seventy--I took over as chairman, and began to set in motion some ideas I'd been working on for the past decade, though I knew my father didn't approve of them. Europe was only the beginning of my plans for the company's expansion. Within five years I wanted to go public. By then, I realized, we would require an overdraft facility of at least a million pounds, and wouldtherefore have to move our account to a bank that recognized that the world stretched beyond the county boundaries of Yorkshire.
It was around this time that I heard about the CBI seminar at Bristol, and applied for a place.
The seminar began on the Friday, with an opening address from the head of the European directorate of the CBI. After that the delegates split into eight small working groups, each chaired by an expert on Community law. My group was headed by Jeremy Alexander. I admired him from the moment he started speaking--in fact, it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that I was overawed. He was totally self-assured, and as I was to learn, he could effortlessly present a convincing argument on any subject, from the superiority of the Code Napoleon to the inferiority of England's cricket team.
He lectured us for an hour on the fundamental differences in practice and procedure between the member states of the Community, then answered all our questions on commercial and company law, even finding time to explain the significance of the Uruguay Round. Like me, the other members of our group never stopped taking notes.
We broke up for lunch a few minutes before one, and I managed to grab a place next to Jeremy. I was already beginning to think that he might be the ideal person to advise me on how to go about achieving my European ambitions.
Listening to him talk about his career over a meal of stargazy pie with red peppers, I kept thinking that,although we were about the same age, we couldn't have come from more different backgrounds. Jeremy's father, a banker by profession, had escaped from Eastern Europe only days before the outbreak of the Second World War. He had settled in England, anglicized his name, and sent his son to Westminster. From there Jeremy had gone on to King's College, London, where he studied law, graduating with first-class honors.
My own father was a self-made man from the Yorkshire Dales who had insisted I leave school the moment I passed my O levels. "I'll teach you more about the real world in a month than you'd learn from any of those university types in a lifetime," he used to say. I accepted this philosophy without question, and left school a few weeks after my sixteenth birthday. The next morning I joined Cooper's as an apprentice, and spent my first three years at the depot under the watchful eye of Buster Jackson, the works manager, who taught me how to take the company's vehicles apart and, more importantly, how to put them back together again.
After graduating from the workshop, I spent two years in the invoicing department, learning how to calculate charges and collect bad debts. A few weeks after my twenty-first birthday I passed the test for my heavy goods vehicles license, and for the next three years I zigzagged across the north of England, delivering everything from poultry to pineapples to our far-flung customers. Jeremy spent the same period reading for a master's degree in Napoleonic law at the Sorbonne.
When Buster Jackson retired, I was moved back to the depot in Leeds to take over as works manager. Jeremy was in Hamburg, writing a doctoral thesis on international trade barriers. By the time he had finally left the world of academia and taken up his first real job, as a partner with a large firm of commercial solicitors in the City, I had been earning a working wage for eight years.
Although I was impressed by Jeremy at the seminar, I sensed, behind that surface affability, a powerful combination of ambition and intellectual snobbery that my father would have mistrusted. I felt he'd only agreed to give the lecture on the off-chance that, at some time in the future, we might be responsible for spreading some butter on his bread. I now realize that, even at our first meeting, he suspected that in my case it might be honey.
It didn't help my opinion of the man that he had a couple of inches on me in height, and a couple less around the waist. Not to mention the fact that the most attractive woman attending the seminar that weekend ended up in his bed on Saturday night.
We met up on Sunday morning to play squash, and he ran me ragged without even appearing to raise a sweat. "We must get together again," he said as we walked to the showers. "If you're really thinking of expanding into Europe, you might find I'm able to help."
My father had taught me never to make the mistake of imagining that your friends and your colleagues were necessarily the same animals (he often cited theCabinet as an example). So, although I didn't like him, I made sure that when I left Bristol at the end of the conference, I was in possession of Jeremy's numerous telephone and telex numbers.
I drove back to Leeds on Sunday evening, and when I reached home, I ran upstairs and sat on the end of the bed regaling my sleepy wife with an account of why it had turned out to be such a worthwhile weekend.
Rosemary was my second wife. My first, Helen, had been at Leeds High School for Girls at the same time that I had attended the nearby grammar school. The two schools shared a gymnasium, and I fell in love with her at the age of thirteen, while watching her play basketball. After that I would find any excuse to hang around the gym, hoping to catch a glimpse of her underwear as she leapt to send the ball unerringly into the net. As the schools took part in various joint activities, I began to take an active interest in theatrical productions even though I couldn't act. I attended joint debates and never opened my mouth. I enlisted in the combined schools' orchestra and ended up playing the triangle. After I had left school and gone to work at the depot, I continued to see Helen, who was studying for her A levels. Despite my passion for her, we didn't make love until we were both eighteen, and even then I wasn't certain that we had consummated anything. Six weeks later she told me, in a flood of tears, that she was pregnant. Against the wishes of her parents, who had hoped that she would go on to university, a hasty wedding was arranged, but as I never wanted to look at anothergirl for the rest of my life, I was secretly delighted by the outcome of our youthful indiscretion.
Helen died on the night of September 14, 1964, giving birth to our son, Tom, who himself only survived a week. I thought I would never get over it, and I'm not sure I ever have. After her death I didn't so much as glance at another woman for years, putting all my energy into the company.
Following the funeral of my wife and son, my father, not a soft or sentimental man--you won't find many of those in Yorkshire--revealed a gentle side to his character that I had never seen before. He would often phone me in the evening to see how I was getting on, and insisted that I regularly join him in the directors' box at Elland Road to watch Leeds United on Saturday afternoons. I began to understand, for the first time, why my mother still adored him after more than twenty years of marriage.
I met Rosemary about four years later at a ball given to launch the Leeds Music Festival. Not a natural habitat for me, but as Cooper's had taken a full-page advertisement in the program, and Brigadier Kershaw, the high sheriff of the county and chairman of the ball committee, had invited us to join him as his guests, I had no choice but to dress up in my seldom-worn dinner jacket and accompany my parents to the ball.
I was placed on Table 17, next to a Miss Kershaw, who turned out to be the high sheriff's daughter. She was elegantly dressed in a strapless blue gown that emphasized her comely figure, and had a mop of redhair and a smile that made me feel we had been friends for years. She told me over something described on the menu as "avocado with dill" that she had just finished studying English at Durham University and wasn't quite sure what she was going to do with her life.
"I don't want to be a teacher," she said. "And I'm certainly not cut out to be a secretary." We chatted through the second and third courses, ignoring the people seated on either side of us. After coffee she dragged me onto the dance floor, where she continued to explain the problems of contemplating any form of work while her diary was so packed with social engagements.
I felt rather flattered that the high sheriff's daughter should show the slightest interest in me, and to be honest I didn't take it seriously when at the end of the evening, she whispered in my ear, "Let's keep in touch."
But a couple of days later she rang and invited me to join her and her parents for lunch that Sunday at their house in the country. "And then perhaps we could play a little tennis afterwards. You do play tennis, I suppose?"
I drove over to Church Fenton on Sunday and found that the Kershaws' residence was exactly what I would have expected--large and decaying, which, come to think of it, wasn't a bad description of Rosemary's father as well. But he seemed a nice enough chap. Her mother, however, wasn't quite so easy to please. Sheoriginated from somewhere in Hampshire, and was unable to mask her feeling that, although I might be good for the occasional charitable donation, I was not quite the sort of person with whom she expected to be sharing her Sunday lunch. Rosemary ignored the odd barbed comment from her and continued to chat to me about my work.
As it rained all afternoon, we never got round to playing tennis, so Rosemary used the time to seduce me in the little pavilion behind the court. At first I was nervous about making love to the high sheriff's daughter, but I soon got used to the idea. However, as the weeks passed, I began to wonder if I was anything more to her than a "truck driver fantasy." Until, that is, she started to talk about marriage. Mrs. Kershaw was unable to hide her disgust at the very idea of someone like me becoming her son-in-law, but her opinion turned out to be irrelevant, as Rosemary remained implacable on the subject. We were married eighteen months later.
Over two hundred guests attended the rather grand county wedding in the parish church of St. Mary's. But I confess that when I turned to watch Rosemary progressing up the aisle, my only thoughts were of my first wedding ceremony.
For a couple of years Rosemary made every effort to be a good wife. She took an interest in the company, learned the names of all the employees, even became friendly with the wives of some of the senior executives. But, as I worked all the hours God sent, I fear I may not always have given her as much attention asshe needed. You see, Rosemary yearned for a life that was made up of regular visits to the Grand Theater for Opera North, followed by dinner parties with her county friends that would run into the early hours, while I preferred to work on weekends and to be tucked up in bed before eleven on most nights. For Rosemary, I wasn't turning out to be the husband in the title of the Oscar Wilde play she had recently taken me to--and it didn't help that I had fallen asleep during the second act.
After four years without producing any offspring--not that Rosemary wasn't very energetic in bed--we began to drift our separate ways. If she started having affairs (and I certainly did, when I could find the time), she was discreet about them. And then she met Jeremy Alexander.
It must have been about six weeks after the seminar in Bristol that I had occasion to phone Jeremy and seek his advice. I wanted to close a deal with a French cheese company to transport its wares to British supermarkets. The previous year I had made a large loss on a similar enterprise with a German beer company, and I couldn't afford to make the same mistake again.
"Send me all the details," Jeremy had said. "I'll look over the paperwork on the weekend and call you on Monday morning."
He was as good as his word, and when he phoned, he mentioned that he had to be in York that Thursday to brief a client and suggested we get together the followingday to go over the contract. I agreed, and we spent most of that Friday closeted in the Cooper's boardroom checking over every dot and comma of the contract. It was a pleasure to watch such a professional at work, even if Jeremy did occasionally display an irritating habit of drumming his fingers on the table when I hadn't immediately understood what he was getting at.
Jeremy, it turned out, had already talked to the French company's in-house lawyer in Toulouse about any reservations he might have. He assured me that, although Monsieur Sisley spoke no English, he had made him fully aware of our anxieties. I remember being struck by his use of the word "our."
After we had turned the last page of the contract, I realized that everyone else in the building had left for the weekend, so I suggested to Jeremy that he might like to join Rosemary and me for dinner. He checked his watch, considered the offer for a moment, and then said, "Thank you, that's very kind of you. Could you drop me back at the Queen's Hotel so I can get changed?"
Rosemary, however, was not pleased to be told at the last minute that I had invited a complete stranger to dinner without warning her, even though I assured her that she would like him.
Jeremy rang our front doorbell a few minutes after eight. When I introduced him to Rosemary, he bowed slightly and kissed her hand. After that, they didn't take their eyes off each other all evening. Only a blind man could have missed what was likely to happen next,and although I might not have been blind, I certainly turned a blind eye.
Jeremy was soon finding excuses to spend more and more time in Leeds, and I am bound to admit that his sudden enthusiasm for the north of England enabled me to advance my ambitions for Cooper's far more quickly than I had originally dreamed possible. I had felt for some time that the company needed an in-house lawyer, and within a year of our first meeting I offered Jeremy a place on the board, with the mandate to prepare the company for going public.
During that period I spent a great deal of my time in Madrid, Amsterdam and Brussels drumming up new contracts, and Rosemary certainly didn't discourage me. Meanwhile, Jeremy skillfully guided the company through a thicket of legal and financial problems caused by our expansion. Thanks to his diligence and expertise, we were able to announce on February 12, 1980, that Cooper's would be applying for a listing on the Stock Exchange later that year. It was then that I made my first mistake: I invited Jeremy to become deputy chairman of the company.
Under the terms of the flotation, fifty-one percent of the shares would be retained by Rosemary and myself. Jeremy explained to me that for tax reasons they should be divided equally between us. My accountants agreed, and at the time I didn't give it a second thought. The remaining 4,900,000 one-pound shares were quickly taken up by institutions and the general public, and within days of the company being listed on the Stock Exchange, their value had risen to £2.80.
My father, who had died the previous year, would never have accepted that it was possible to become worth several million pounds overnight. In fact, I suspect he would have disapproved of the very idea, as he went to his deathbed still believing that a ten-pound overdraft was quite adequate to conduct a well-run business.
During the 1980s the British economy showed continual growth, and by March 1984 Cooper's shares had topped the five-pound mark, following press speculation about a possible takeover. Jeremy had advised me to accept one of the bids, but I told him that I would never allow Cooper's to be let out of the family's control. After that, we had to split the shares on three separate occasions, and by 1989 the Sunday Times was estimating that Rosemary and I were together worth around thirty million pounds.
I had never thought of myself as being wealthy--after all, as far as I was concerned, the shares were simply pieces of paper held by Joe Ramsbottom, our company solicitor. I still lived in my father's house, drove a five-year-old Jaguar, and worked fourteen hours a day. I had never cared much for holidays and wasn't by nature extravagant. Wealth seemed somehow irrelevant to me. I would have been happy to continue living much as I was, had I not arrived home unexpectedly one night.
I had caught the last plane back to Heathrow after a particularly long and arduous negotiation in Cologne, and had originally intended to stay overnight in London. But by then I'd had enough of hotels, and simplywanted to get home, despite the long drive. When I arrived back in Leeds a few minutes after one, I found Jeremy's white BMW parked in the driveway.
Had I phoned Rosemary earlier that day, I might never have ended up in jail.
I parked my car next to Jeremy's and was walking toward the front door when I noticed that there was only one light on in the house--in the front room on the first floor. It wouldn't have taken Sherlock Holmes to deduce what might be taking place in that particular room.
I came to a halt, and stared up at the drawn curtains for some time. Nothing stirred, so clearly they hadn't heard the car and were unaware of my presence. I retraced my steps and drove quietly off in the direction of the city center. When I arrived at the Queen's Hotel, I asked the duty manager if Mr. Jeremy Alexander had booked a room for the night. He checked the register and confirmed that he had.
"Then I'll take his key," I told him. "Mr. Alexander has booked himself in somewhere else for the night." My father would have been proud of such thrifty use of the company's resources.
I lay on the hotel bed, quite unable to sleep, my anger rising as each hour passed. Although I no longer had a great deal of feeling for Rosemary, and even accepted that perhaps I never had, I now loathed Jeremy. But it wasn't until the next day that I discovered just how much I loathed him.
The following morning I rang my secretary and told her I would be driving to the office straight from London.She reminded me that there was a board meeting scheduled for two o'clock, which Mr. Alexander was penciled in to chair. I was glad she couldn't see the smile of satisfaction that spread across my face. A quick glance at the agenda over breakfast and it had become abundantly clear why Jeremy had wanted to chair this particular meeting. But his plans didn't matter anymore. I had already decided to let my fellow directors know exactly what he was up to, and to make sure that he was dismissed from the board as soon as was practicable.
I arrived at Cooper's just after 1:30 and parked in the space marked "Chairman." By the time the board meeting was scheduled to begin, I'd had just enough time to check over my files, and became painfully aware of how many of the company's shares were now controlled by Jeremy, and of what he and Rosemary must have been planning for some time.
Jeremy vacated the chairman's place without comment the moment I entered the boardroom, and showed no particular interest in the proceedings until we reached an item concerning a future share issue. It was at this point that he tried to push through a seemingly innocuous motion that could ultimately have resulted in Rosemary and myself losing overall control of the company and therefore being unable to resist any future takeover bid. I might have fallen for it if I hadn't traveled up to Leeds the previous evening and found his car parked in my driveway, and the bedroom light on. Just when he thought he had succeeded in having the motion agreed without a vote, I askedthe company accountants to prepare a full report for the next board meeting before we came to any decision. Jeremy showed no sign of emotion. He simply looked down at his notes and began drumming his fingers on the boardroom table. I was determined that the report would prove to be his downfall. If only it hadn't been for my short temper, I might, given time, have worked out a more sensible way of ridding myself of him.
As no one had "any other business" to raise, I closed the meeting at 5:40 and suggested to Jeremy that he join Rosemary and me for dinner. I wanted to see them together. Jeremy didn't seem too keen, but after some bluffing from me about not fully understanding his new share proposal, and feeling that my wife ought to be brought in on it at some stage, he agreed. When I rang Rosemary to let her know that Jeremy would be coming to dinner, she seemed even less enthusiastic about the idea than he had been.
"Perhaps the two of you should go off to a restaurant together," she suggested. "Then Jeremy can bring you up to date on what's been going on while you've been away." I tried not to laugh. "We haven't got much food in at the moment," she added. I told her that it wasn't the food I was worried about.
Jeremy was uncharacteristically late, but I had his usual whiskey and soda ready the moment he walked through the door. I must say, he put up a brilliant performance over dinner, though Rosemary was less convincing.
Over coffee in the sitting room, I managed to provokethe confrontation that Jeremy had so skillfully avoided at the board meeting.
"Why are you so keen to rush through this new share allocation?" I asked once he was on his second brandy. "Surely you realize that it will take control of the company out of the hands of Rosemary and me. Can't you see that we could be taken over in no time?"
He tried a few well-rehearsed phrases. "In the best interests of the company, Richard. You must realize how quickly Cooper's is expanding. It's no longer a family firm. In the long term it has to be the most prudent course for both of you, not to mention the shareholders." I wondered which particular shareholders he had in mind.
I was a little surprised to find Rosemary not only backing him up, but showing a remarkable grasp of the finer details of the share allocation, even after Jeremy had scowled rather too obviously at her. She seemed extremely well-versed in the arguments he had been putting forward, given the fact that she had never shown any interest in the company's transactions in the past. It was when she turned to me and said, "We must consider our future, darling," that I finally lost my temper.
Yorkshiremen are well known for being blunt, and my next question lived up to our county's reputation.
"Are you two having an affair, by any chance?"
Rosemary turned scarlet. Jeremy laughed a little too loudly, and then said, "I think you've had one drink too many, Richard."
"Not a drop," I assured him. "Sober as a judge. As I was when I came home late last night, and found your car parked in the driveway and the light on in the bedroom."
For the first time since I'd met him, I had completely wrongfooted Jeremy, even if it was only for a moment. He began drumming his fingers on the glass table in front of him.
"I was simply explaining to Rosemary how the new share issue would affect her," he said, hardly missing a beat. "Which is no more than is required under stock exchange regulations."
"And is there a stock exchange regulation requiring that such explanations should take place in bed?"
"Oh, don't be absurd," said Jeremy. "I spent the night at the Queen's Hotel. Call the manager," he added, picking up the telephone and offering it to me. "He'll confirm that I was booked in to my usual room."
"I'm sure he will," I said. "But he'll also confirm that it was I who spent the night in your usual bed."
In the silence that followed, I removed the hotel bedroom key from my jacket pocket and dangled it in front of him. Jeremy immediately jumped to his feet.
I rose from my chair, rather more slowly, and faced him, wondering what his next line could possibly be.
"It's your own fault, you bloody fool," he eventually stammered out. "You should have taken more interest in Rosemary in the first place, and not gone off gallivanting around Europe all the time. It's no wonder you're in danger of losing the company."
Funny, it wasn't the fact that Jeremy had been sleeping with my wife that caused me to snap, but that he had the arrogance to think he could take over my company as well. I didn't reply, but just took a pace forward and threw a punch at his clean-shaven jaw. I may have been a couple of inches shorter than he was, but after twenty years of hanging around with truck drivers, I could still land a decent blow. Jeremy staggered first backward and then forward, before crumpling in front of me. As he fell, he cracked his right temple on the corner of the glass table, knocking his brandy all over the floor. He lay motionless in front of me, blood dripping onto the carpet.
I must admit I felt rather pleased with myself, especially when Rosemary rushed to his side and started screaming obscenities at me.
"Save your breath for the ex-Deputy Chairman," I told her. "And when he comes round, tell him not to bother with the Queen's Hotel, because I'll be sleeping in his bed again tonight."
I strode out of the house and drove back into the city center, leaving my Jaguar in the hotel parking lot. When I walked into the Queen's, the lobby was deserted, and I took the elevator straight up to Jeremy's room. I lay on top of the bed but was far too agitated to sleep.
I was just dozing off when four policemen burst into the room and pulled me off the bed. One of them told me that I was under arrest and read me my rights. Without further explanation I was marched out of the hotel and driven to Millgarth Police Station. A fewminutes after five A.M., I was signed in by the duty officer and my personal possessions were taken from me and dropped into a bulky brown envelope. I was told that I had the right to make one telephone call, so I rang Joe Ramsbottom, woke his wife, and asked if Joe could join me at the station as quickly as possible. Then I was locked in a small cell and left alone.
I sat on the wooden bench and tried to figure out why I had been arrested. I couldn't believe that Jeremy would have been foolish enough to charge me with assault. When Joe arrived about forty minutes later, I told him exactly what had taken place earlier in the evening. He listened gravely but didn't offer an opinion. When I had finished, he said he would try to find out what the police intended to charge me with.
After Joe left, I began to fear that Jeremy might have had a heart attack, or even that the blow to his head from the corner of the table might have killed him. My imagination ran riot as I considered all the worst possibilities, and I was becoming more and more desperate to learn what had happened when the cell door swung open and two plainclothes detectives walked in. Joe was a pace behind them.
"I'm Chief Inspector Bainbridge," said the taller of the two. "And this is my colleague, Sergeant Harris." Their eyes were tired and their suits crumpled. They looked as if they had been on duty all night, as both of them could have done with a shave. I felt my chin and realized I needed one as well.
"We'd like to ask you some questions about what took place at your home earlier this evening," said thechief inspector. I looked at Joe, who shook his head. "It would help our inquiries, Mr. Cooper, if you cooperated with us," the chief inspector continued. "Would you be prepared to give us a statement either in writing or as a tape recording?"
"I'm afraid my client has nothing to say at the moment, Chief Inspector," said Joe. "And he will have nothing to say until I have taken further instructions."
I was rather impressed. I'd never seen Joe that firm with anyone other than his children.
"We would simply like to take a statement, Mr. Ramsbottom," Chief Inspector Bainbridge said to Joe, as if I didn't exist. "We are quite happy for you to be present throughout."
"No," said Joe firmly. "You either charge my client, or you leave us--and leave us immediately."
The chief inspector hesitated for a moment, then nodded to his colleague. They departed without another word.
"Charge me?" I said, once the cell door had been locked behind them. "What with, for God's sake?"
"Murder, I suspect," said Joe. "After what Rosemary has been telling them."
"Murder?" I said, almost unable to mouth the word. "But ..." I listened in disbelief as Joe told me what he'd been able to discover about the details of the statement my wife had given to the police during the early hours of the morning.
"But that's not what happened," I protested. "Surely no one would believe such an outrageous story."
"They might when they learn the police have founda trail of blood leading from the sitting room to the spot where your car was parked in the driveway," said Joe.
"That's not possible," I said. "When I left Jeremy, he was still lying unconscious on the floor."
"The police also found traces of blood in the trunk of your car. They seem quite confident that it will match up with Jeremy's."
"Oh, my God," I said. "He's clever. He's very clever. Can't you see what they've been up to?"
"No, to be honest, I can't," Joe admitted. "This isn't exactly all in a day's work for a company solicitor like me. But I managed to catch Sir Matthew Roberts QC on the phone before he left home this morning. He's the most eminent criminal attorney on the northeastern circuit. He's appearing in the York Crown Court today, and he's agreed to join us as soon as the court has risen. If you're innocent, Richard," Joe said, "with Sir Matthew defending you, there will be nothing to fear. Of that you can be certain."
Later that afternoon I was charged with the murder of Jeremy Anatole Alexander; the police admitted to my solicitor that they still hadn't found the body, but they were confident that they would do so within a few hours. I knew they wouldn't. Joe told me the following day that they had done more digging in my garden during the past twenty-four hours than I had attempted in the past twenty-four years.
Around seven that evening the door of my cell swung open once again and Joe walked in, accompanied by a heavily built, distinguished-looking man. Sir Matthew Roberts was about my height, but at leastthirty pounds heavier. From his rubicund cheeks and warm smile, he looked as if he regularly enjoyed a good bottle of wine and the company of amusing people. He had a full head of dark hair and he was attired in the garb of his profession, a dark three-piece suit and a silver-gray tie. I liked him from the moment he introduced himself. His first words were to express the wish that we had met in more pleasant circumstances.
I spent the rest of the evening with Sir Matthew, going over my story again and again. I could tell he didn't believe a word I was saying, but he still seemed quite happy to represent me. He and Joe left a few minutes after eleven, and I settled down to spend my first night behind bars.
I was remanded in custody until the police had processed and submitted all their evidence to the Department of Public Prosecutions. The following day a magistrate committed me to trial at Leeds Crown Court, and despite an eloquent plea from Sir Matthew, I was not granted bail.
Forty minutes later I was transferred to Armley Jail.
The hours turned into days, the days into weeks, and the weeks into months. I almost tired of telling anyone who would listen that they would never find Jeremy's body, because there was no body to find.
When the case finally reached Leeds Crown Court nine months later, the crime reporters turned up in hordes and followed every word of the trial with relish. A multimillionaire,a possible adulterous affair and a missing body were too much for them to resist. The tabloids exceeded themselves, describing Jeremy as the Lord Lucan of Leeds and me as an oversexed truck driver. I would have enjoyed every last syllable of it if I hadn't been the accused.
In his opening address, Sir Matthew put up a magnificent fight on my behalf. Without a body, how could his client possibly be charged with murder? And how could I have disposed of the body, when I had spent the entire night in a bedroom at the Queen's Hotel? How I regretted not checking in the second time, but simply going straight up to Jeremy's room. It didn't help that the police had found me lying on the bed fully dressed.
I watched the faces of the jury at the end of the prosecution's opening speech. They were perplexed and obviously in some doubt about my guilt. That doubt remained until Rosemary entered the witness box. I couldn't bear to look at her, and diverted my eyes to a striking blond who was sitting in the front row of the public gallery.
For an hour the counsel for the prosecution guided my wife gently through what had taken place that evening, up to the point when I had struck Jeremy. Until that moment, I couldn't have quarreled with a word she had spoken.
"And then what happened, Mrs. Cooper?" prodded the counsel for the Crown.
"My husband bent down and checked Mr. Alexander'spulse," Rosemary whispered. "Then he turned white, and all he said was, 'He's dead. I've killed him.'"
"And what did Mr. Cooper do next?"
"He picked up the body, threw it over his shoulder, and began walking towards the door. I shouted after him, 'What do you think you're doing, Richard?'"
"And how did he respond?"
"He told me he intended to dispose of the body while it was still dark, and that I was to make sure that there was no sign that Jeremy had visited the house. As no one else had been in the office when they left, everyone would assume that Jeremy had returned to London earlier in the evening. 'Be certain there are absolutely no traces of blood,' were the last words I remember my husband saying as he left the room carrying Jeremy's body over his shoulder. That must have been when I fainted."
Sir Matthew glanced quizzically up at me in the dock. I shook my head vigorously. He looked grim as counsel for the prosecution resumed his seat.
"Do you wish to question this witness, Sir Matthew?" the judge asked.
Sir Matthew rose slowly to his feet. "I most certainly do, M'Lud," he replied. He drew himself up to his full height, tugged at his gown and stared across at his adversary.
"Mrs. Cooper, would you describe yourself as a friend of Mr. Alexander?"
"Yes, but only in the sense that he was a colleague of my husband's," replied Rosemary calmly.
"So you didn't ever see each other when your husband was away from Leeds, or even out of the country, on business?"
"Only at social events, when I was accompanied by my husband, or if I dropped into the office to pick up his mail."
"Are you certain that those were the only times you saw him, Mrs. Cooper? Were there not other occasions when you spent a considerable amount of time alone with Mr. Alexander? For example, on the night of September 17, 1989, before your husband returned unexpectedly from a European trip: Did Mr. Alexander not visit you then for several hours while you were alone in the house?"
"No. He dropped by after work to leave a document for my husband, but he didn't even have time to stay for a drink."
"But your husband says ..." began Sir Matthew.
"I know what my husband says," Rosemary replied, as if she had rehearsed the line a hundred times.
"I see," said Sir Matthew. "Let's get to the point, shall we, Mrs. Cooper? Were you having an affair with Jeremy Alexander at the time of his disappearance?"
"Is this relevant, Sir Matthew?" interrupted the judge.
"It most assuredly is, M'Lud. It goes to the very core of the case," replied my QC in a quiet even tone.
Everyone's gaze was now fixed on Rosemary. I willed her to tell the truth.
She didn't hesitate. "Certainly not," she replied, "although it wasn't the first time my husband had accused me unjustly."
"I see," said Sir Matthew. He paused. "Do you love your husband, Mrs. Cooper?"
"Really, Sir Matthew!" The judge was unable to disguise his irritation. "I must ask once again if this is relevant!"
Sir Matthew exploded. "Relevant? It's absolutely vital, M'Lud, and I am not being assisted by your lordship's thinly veiled attempts to intervene on behalf of this witness."
The judge was beginning to splutter with indignation when Rosemary said quietly, "I have always been a good and faithful wife, but I cannot under any circumstances condone murder."
The jury turned their eyes on me. Most of them looked as if they would be happy to bring back the death penalty.
"If that is the case, I am bound to ask why you waited two and a half hours to contact the police?" said Sir Matthew. "Especially if, as you claim, you believed your husband had committed murder, and was about to dispose of the body."
"As I explained, I fainted soon after he left the room. I phoned the police the moment I came to."
"How convenient," said Sir Matthew. "Or perhaps the truth is that you made use of that time to set a trap for your husband, while allowing your lover to get clean away." A murmur ran through the courtroom.
"Sir Matthew," the judge said, jumping in once again. "You are going too far."
"Not so, M'Lud, with respect. In fact, not farenough." He swung back round and faced my wife again.
"I put it to you, Mrs. Cooper, that Jeremy Alexander was your lover, and still is, that you are perfectly aware he is alive and well, and that if you wished to, you could tell us exactly where he is now."
Despite the judge's spluttering and the uproar in the court, Rosemary had her reply ready.
"I only wish he were," she said, "so that he could stand in this court and confirm that I am telling the truth." Her voice was soft and gentle.
"But you already know the truth, Mrs. Cooper," said Sir Matthew, his voice gradually rising. "The truth is that your husband left the house on his own. He then drove to the Queen's Hotel, where he spent the rest of the night, while you and your lover used that time to leave clues across the city of Leeds--clues, I might add, that were intended to incriminate your husband. But the one thing you couldn't leave was a body, because as you well know, Mr. Jeremy Alexander is still alive, and the two of you have together fabricated this entire bogus story, simply to further your own ends. Isn't that the truth, Mrs. Cooper?"
"No, no!" Rosemary shouted, her voice cracking before she finally burst into tears.
"Oh, come, come, Mrs. Cooper. Those are counterfeit tears, are they not?" said Sir Matthew quietly. "Now you've been found out, the jury will decide if your distress is genuine."
I glanced across at the jury. Not only had they fallen for Rosemary's performance, but they now despisedme for allowing my insensitive bully of an attorney to attack such a gentle, long-suffering woman. To every one of Sir Matthew's probing questions, Rosemary proved well capable of delivering a riposte that revealed to me all the hallmarks of Jeremy Alexander's expert intuition.
When it was my turn to enter the witness box, and Sir Matthew began questioning me, I felt my story sounded far less convincing than Rosemary's, despite its being the truth.
The closing speech for the Crown was deadly dull, but nevertheless deadly. Sir Matthew's was subtle and dramatic, but I feared less convincing.
After another night in Armley Jail, I returned to the dock for the judge's summing up. It was clear that he was in no doubt as to my guilt. His selection of the evidence he chose to review was unbalanced and unfair, and when he ended by reminding the jury that his opinion of the evidence should ultimately carry no weight, he only added hypocrisy to bias.
After their first full day's deliberations, the jury had to be put up overnight in a hotel--ironically the Queen's--and when the jolly little fat man in the bow tie was finally asked: "Members of the jury, do you find the prisoner at the bar guilty or not guilty as charged?" I wasn't surprised when he said clearly for all to hear, "Guilty, my lord."
In fact, I was amazed that the jury had failed to reach a unanimous decision. I have often wondered which two members felt convinced enough to declare my innocence. I would have liked to thank them.
The judge stared down at me. "Richard Wilfred Cooper, you have been found guilty of the murder of Jeremy Anatole Alexander ..."
"I did not kill him, my lord," I interrupted in a calm voice. "In fact, he is not dead. I can only hope that you will live long enough to realize the truth." Sir Matthew looked up anxiously as uproar broke out in the court.
The judge called for silence, and his voice became even more harsh as he pronounced, "You will go to prison for life. That is the sentence prescribed by law. Take him down."
Two prison officers stepped forward, gripped me firmly by the arms and led me down the steps at the back of the dock into the cell I had occupied every morning for the eighteen days of the trial.
"Sorry, old chum," said the policeman who had been in charge of my welfare since the case had begun. "It was that bitch of a wife who tipped the scales against you." He slammed the cell door closed, and turned the key in the lock before I had a chance to agree with him. A few moments later the door was unlocked again, and Sir Matthew strode in.
He stared at me for some time before uttering a word. "A terrible injustice has been done, Mr. Cooper," he eventually said, "and we shall immediately lodge an appeal against your conviction. Be assured, I will not rest until we have found Jeremy Alexander and he has been brought to justice."
For the first time, I realized Sir Matthew knew that I was innocent.
I was put in a cell with a petty criminal called "Fingers" Jenkins. Can you believe, as we approach the twenty-first century, that anyone could still be called "Fingers"? Even so, the name had been well earned. Within moments of my entering the cell, Fingers was wearing my watch. He returned it immediately after I noticed it had disappeared. "Sorry," he said. "Just put it down to 'abit."
Prison might have turned out to be far worse if it hadn't been known by my fellow inmates that I was a millionaire, and was quite happy to pay a little extra for certain privileges. Every morning the Financial Times was delivered to my bunk, which gave me the chance to keep up with what was happening in the City. I was nearly sick when I first read about the takeover bid for Cooper's. Sick not because of the offer of £12.50 a share, which made me even wealthier, but because it became painfully obvious what Jeremy and Rosemary had been up to. Jeremy's shares would now be worth several million pounds--money he could never have realized had I been around to prevent a takeover.
I spent hours each day lying on my bunk and scouring every word of the Financial Times. Whenever there was a mention of Cooper's, I went over the paragraph so often that I ended up knowing it by heart. The company was eventually taken over, but not before the share price had reached £13.43. I continued to follow its activities with great interest, and I became more and more anxious about the quality of the new management when they began to sack some of my most experienced staff, including Joe Ramsbottom. A week later,I wrote and instructed my stockbrokers to sell my shares as and when the opportunity arose.
It was at the beginning of my fourth month in prison that I asked for some writing paper. I had decided the time had come to keep a record of everything that had happened to me since that night I had returned home unexpectedly. Every day the prison guard on my wing would bring me fresh sheets of blue-lined paper, and I would write out in longhand the chronicle you're now reading. An added bonus was that it helped me to plan my next move.
At my request, Fingers took a straw poll among the prisoners as to who they believed was the best detective they had ever come up against. Three days later he told me the result: Chief Superintendent Donald Hackett, known as the Don, came out top on more than half the lists. More reliable than a Gallup poll, I told Fingers.
"What puts Hackett ahead of all the others?" I asked him.
"'e's honest, 'e's fair, you can't bribe 'im. And once the bastard knows you're a villain, 'e doesn't care 'ow long it takes to get you be'ind bars."
Hackett, I was informed, hailed from Bradford. Rumor had it among the older cons that he had turned down the job of assistant chief constable for West Yorkshire. Like a barrister who doesn't want to become a judge, he preferred to remain in the field.
"Arrestin' criminals is 'ow 'e gets his kicks," Fingers said, with some feeling.
"Sounds just the man I'm looking for," I said. "How old is he?"
Fingers paused to consider. "Must be past fifty by now," he replied. "After all, 'e 'ad me put in reform school for nickin' a toolset, and that was"--he paused again--"more than twenty years ago."
When Sir Matthew came to visit me the following Monday, I told him what I had in mind, and asked his opinion of the Don. I wanted a professional's view.
"He's a hell of a witness to cross-examine, that's one thing I can tell you," replied my barrister.
"He doesn't exaggerate, he won't prevaricate, and I've never known him to lie, which makes him awfully hard to trap. No, I've rarely got the better of the chief superintendent. I have to say, though, that I doubt if he'd agree to become involved with a convicted criminal, whatever you offered him."
"But I'm not ..."
"I know, Mr. Cooper," said Sir Matthew, who still didn't seem able to call me by my first name. "But Hackett will have to be convinced of that before he even agrees to see you."
"But how can I convince him of my innocence while I'm stuck in jail?"
"I'll try to influence him on your behalf," Sir Matthew said after some thought. Then he added, "Come to think of it, he does owe me a favor."
After Sir Matthew had left that night, I requested some more lined paper and began to compose a carefully worded letter to Chief Superintendent Hackett, several versions of which ended crumpled up on the floor of my cell. My final effort read as follows:
I reread the letter, corrected the spelling mistake, and scrawled my signature across the bottom.
At my request, Sir Matthew delivered the letter to Hackett by hand. The first thousand-pound-a-day postman in the history of the Royal Mail, I told him.
Sir Matthew reported back the following Monday that he had handed the letter to the chief superintendent in person. After Hackett had read it through a second time, his only comment was that he would have to speak to his superiors. He had promised he would let Sir Matthew know his decision within a week.
From the moment I had been sentenced, Sir Matthew had been preparing for my appeal, and although he had not at any time raised my hopes, he was unable to hide his delight at what he had discovered after paying a visit to the Probate Office.
It turned out that, in his will, Jeremy had left everything to Rosemary. This included over three million pounds' worth of Cooper's shares. But, Sir Matthew explained, the law did not allow her to dispose of them for seven years. "An English jury may have pronounced on your guilt," he declared, "but the hardheaded taxmen are not so easily convinced. They won't hand over Jeremy Alexander's assets until either they have seen his body, or seven years have elapsed."
"Do they think that Rosemary might have killed him for his money, and then disposed ..."
"No, no," said Sir Matthew, almost laughing at my suggestion. "It's simply that, as they're entitled to wait for seven years, they're going to sit on his assets and not take the risk that Alexander may still be alive. In any case, if your wife had killed him, she wouldn'thave had a ready answer to every one of my questions when she was in the witness box, of that I'm sure."
I smiled. For the first time in my life I was delighted to learn that the taxman had his nose in my affairs.
Sir Matthew promised he would report back if anything new came up. "Goodnight, Richard," he said as he left the interview room.
It seemed that everyone else in the prison was aware that Chief Superintendent Hackett would be paying me a visit long before I was.
It was Dave Adams, an old con from an adjoining cell, who explained why the inmates thought Hackett had agreed to see me. "A good copper is never 'appy about anyone doin' time for somethin' 'e didn't do. 'ackett phoned the warden last Tuesday, and 'ad a word with 'im on the Q.T., accordin' to Maurice," Dave added mysteriously.
I would have been interested to learn how the warden's trusty had managed to hear both sides of the conversation, but decided this was not the time for irrelevant questions.
"Even the 'ardest nuts in this place think you're innocent," Dave continued. "They can't wait for the day when Mr. Jeremy Alexander takes over your cell. You can be sure the long termers'll give 'im a warm welcome."
A letter from Bradford arrived the following morning. "Dear Cooper," the chief superintendent began, and went on to inform me that he intended to pay a visit to the jail at four o'clock the following Sunday.He made it clear that he would stay no longer than half an hour, and insisted on a witness being present throughout.
For the first time since I'd been locked up, I started counting the hours. Hours aren't that important when your room has been booked for a life sentence.
As I was taken from my cell that Sunday afternoon and escorted to the interview room, I received several messages from my fellow inmates to pass on to the chief superintendent.
"Give my best regards to the Don," said Fingers. "Tell'im'ow sorry I am not to bump into'im this time."
"When 'e's finished with you, ask 'im if 'e'd like to drop into my cell for a cup of tea and a chat about old times."
"Kick the bastard in the balls, and tell 'im I'll be 'appy to serve the extra time."
One of the prisoners even suggested a question to which I already knew the answer: "Ask 'im when 'e's going to retire, 'cause I'm not coming out till the day after."
When I stepped into the interview room and saw the chief superintendent for the first time, I thought there must have been some mistake. I had never asked Fingers what the Don looked like, and over the past few days I had built up in my mind the image of some sort of superman. But the man who stood before me was a couple of inches shorter than me, and I'm only five foot ten. He was as thin as the proverbial rake and wore pebble-lensed horn-rimmed glasses, which gave the impression that he was half-blind. All he needed was agrubby raincoat and he could have been mistaken for a debt collector.
Sir Matthew stepped forward to introduce us. I shook the policeman firmly by the hand. "Thank you for coming to visit me, chief superintendent," I began. "Won't you have a seat?" I added, as if he had dropped into my home for a glass of sherry.
"Sir Matthew is very persuasive," said Hackett, in a deep, gruff Yorkshire accent that didn't quite seem to go with his body. "So tell me, Cooper, what do you imagine it is that I can do for you?" he asked as he took the chair opposite me. I detected an edge of cynicism in his voice.
He opened a notepad and placed it on the table as I was about to begin my story. "For my use only," he explained, "should I need to remind myself of any relevant details at some time in the future." Twenty minutes later, I had finished the abbreviated version of the life and times of Richard Cooper. I had already gone over the story on several occasions in my cell during the past week, to be certain I didn't take too long. I wanted to leave enough time for Hackett to ask any questions.
"If I believe your story," he said, "--and I only say 'if'--you still haven't explained what it is you think I can do for you."
"You're due to leave the force in five months' time," I said. "I wondered if you had any plans once you've retired."
He hesitated. I had obviously taken him by surprise.
"I've been offered a job with Group 4, as area manager for West Yorkshire."
"And how much will they be paying you?" I asked bluntly.
"It won't be full time," he said. "Three days a week, to start with." He hesitated again. "Twenty thousand a year, guaranteed for three years."
"I'll pay you a hundred thousand a year, but I'll expect you to be on the job seven days a week. I assume you'll be needing a secretary and an assistant--that Inspector Williams who's leaving at the same time as you might well fit the bill--so I'll also supply you with enough money for backup staff, as well as the rent for an office."
A flicker of respect appeared on the chief superintendent's face for the first time. He made some more notes on his pad.
"And what would you expect of me in return for such a large sum of money?" he asked.
"That's simple. I expect you to find Jeremy Alexander."
This time he didn't hesitate. "My God," he said. "You really are innocent. Sir Matthew and the warden both tried to convince me you were."
"And if you find him within seven years," I added, ignoring his comment, "I'll pay a further five hundred thousand into any branch of any bank in the world that you stipulate."
"The Midland, Bradford will suit me just fine," he replied. "It's only criminals who find it necessary to retire abroad. In any case, I have to be in Bradford every other Saturday afternoon, so I can be around to watch City lose." Hackett rose from his place and looked hardat me for some time. "One last question, Mr. Cooper. Why seven years?"
"Because after that period, my wife can sell Alexander's shares, and he'll become a multimillionaire overnight."
The chief superintendent nodded his understanding. "Thank you for asking to see me," he said. "It's been a long time since I enjoyed visiting anyone in jail, especially someone convicted of murder. I'll give your offer serious consideration, Mr. Cooper, and let you know my decision by the end of the week." He left without another word.
Hackett wrote to me three days later, accepting my offer.
I didn't have to wait five months for him to start working for me, because he handed in his resignation within a fortnight--though not before I had agreed to continue his pension contributions, and those of the two colleagues he wanted to leave the force and join him. Having now disposed of all my Cooper's shares, the interest on my deposit account was earning me over four hundred thousand a year, and as I was living rent-free, Hackett's request was a minor consideration.
I would have shared with you in greater detail everything that happened to me over the following months, but during that time I was so preoccupied with briefing Hackett that I filled only three pages of my blue-lined prison paper. I should however mention that I studied several law books, to be sure that I fully understood the meaning of the legal term "autrefois acquit."
The next important date in the diary was my appeal hearing.
Matthew--at his request I had long ago stopped calling him "Sir" Matthew--tried valiantly not to show that he was becoming more and more confident of the outcome, but I was getting to know him so well that he was no longer able to disguise his true feelings. He told me how delighted he was with the makeup of the reviewing panel. "Fair and just," he kept repeating.
Later that night he told me with great sadness that his wife Victoria had died of cancer a few weeks before. "A long illness and a blessed release," he called it.
I felt guilty in his presence for the first time. Over the past eighteen months, we had only ever discussed my problems.
I must have been one of the few prisoners at Armley who ever had a tailor visit him in his cell. Matthew suggested that I should be fitted with a new suit before I faced the appeal tribunal, as I had lost several pounds since I had been in jail. When the tailor had finished measuring me and began rolling up his tape, I insisted that Fingers return his cigarette lighter, although I did allow him to keep the cigarettes.
Ten days later, I was escorted from my cell at five o'clock in the morning. My fellow inmates banged their tin mugs against their locked doors, the traditional way of indicating to the prison staff that they believed the man leaving for trial was innocent. Like some great symphony, it lifted my soul.
I was driven to London in a police car accompaniedby two prison officers. We didn't stop once on the entire journey, and arrived in the capital a few minutes after nine; I remember looking out of the window and watching the commuters scurrying to their offices to begin the day's work. Any one of them who'd glanced at me sitting in the back of the car in my new suit, and was unable to spot the handcuffs, might have assumed I was a chief inspector at least.
Matthew was waiting for me at the entrance of the Old Bailey, a mountain of papers tucked under each arm. "I like the suit," he said, before leading me up some stone steps to the room where my fate would be decided.
Once again I sat impassively in the dock as Sir Matthew rose from his place to address the three appeal judges. His opening statement took him nearly an hour, and by now I felt I could have delivered it quite adequately myself, though not as eloquently, and certainly nowhere near as persuasively. He made much play of how Jeremy had left all his worldly goods to Rosemary, who in turn had sold our family house in Leeds, cashed in all her Cooper's shares within months of the takeover, pushed through a quickie divorce, and then disappeared off the face of the earth with an estimated seven million pounds. I couldn't help wondering just how much of that Jeremy had already got his hands on.
Sir Matthew repeatedly reminded the panel of the police's inability to produce a body, despite the fact they now seemed to have dug up half of Leeds.
I became more hopeful with each new fact Matthew placed before the judges. But after he had finished, Istill had to wait another three days to learn the outcome of their deliberations.
Appeal dismissed. Reasons reserved.
Matthew traveled up to Armley that Friday to tell me why he thought my appeal had been turned down without explanation. He felt that the judges must have been divided, and needed more time to make it appear as if they were not.
"How much time?" I asked.
"My hunch is that they'll parole you within a few months. They were obviously influenced by the police's failure to produce a body, unimpressed by the trial judge's summing up, and impressed by the strength of your case."
I thanked Matthew, who, for once, left the room with a smile on his face.
You may be wondering what Chief Superintendent Hackett--or rather ex-Chief Superintendent Hackett--had been up to while all this was going on.
He had not been idle. Inspector Williams and Constable Kenwright had left the force on the same day as he had. Within a week they had opened up a small office above the Constitutional Club in Bradford and begun their investigations. The Don reported to me at four o'clock every Sunday afternoon.
Within a month he had compiled a thick file on the case, with detailed dossiers on Rosemary, Jeremy, the company and me. I spent hours reading through the information he had gathered, and was even able to help by filling in a few gaps. I quickly came to appreciatewhy the Don was so respected by my fellow inmates. He followed up every clue, and went down every side road, however much it looked like a cul-de-sac, because once in a while it turned out to be a highway.
On the first Sunday in October, after Hackett had been working for four months, he told me that he thought he might have located Rosemary. A woman of her description was living on a small estate in the south of France called Villa Fleur.
"How did you manage to track her down?" I asked.
"Letter posted by her mother at her local mailbox. The postman kindly allowed me to have a look at the address on the envelope before it proceeded on its way," Hackett said. "Can't tel' you how many hours we had to hang around, how many letters we've had to sift through, and how many doors we've knocked on in the past four months, just to get this one lead. Mrs. Kershaw seems to be a compulsive letter writer, but this was the first time she's sent one to her daughter. By the way," he added, "your wife has reverted to her maiden name. Calls herself Ms. Kershaw now."
I nodded, not wishing to interrupt him.
"Williams flew out to Cannes on Wednesday, and he's holed up in the nearest village, posing as a tourist He's already been able to tell us that Ms. Kershaw's house is surrounded by a ten-foot stone wall, and she has more guard dogs than trees. It seems the locals know even less about her than we do. But at least it's a start."
I felt for the first time that Jeremy Alexander might at last have met his match, but it was to be another five Sundays, and five more interim reports, before a thinsmile appeared on Hackett's usually tight-lipped face.
"Ms. Kershaw has placed an advertisement in the local paper," he informed me. "It seems she's in need of a new butler. At first I thought we should question the old butler at length as soon as he'd left, but as I couldn't risk anything getting back to her, I decided Inspector Williams would have to apply for his job instead."
"But surely she'll realize within moments that he's totally unqualified to do the job."
"Not necessarily," said Hackett, his smile broadening. "You see, Williams won't be able to leave his present employment with the Countess of Rutland until he's served a full month's notice, and in the meantime we've signed him up for a special six-week course at Ivor Spencer's School for Butlers. Williams has always been a quick learner."
"But what about references?"
"By the time Rosemary Kershaw interviews him, he'll have a set of references that would impress a duchess."
"I was told you never did anything underhanded."
"That is the case when I'm dealing with honest people, Mr. Cooper. Not when I'm up against a couple of crooks like this. I'm going to get those two behind bars, if it's the last thing I do."
This was not the time to let Hackett know that the final chapter of this story, as I plotted it, did not conclude with Jeremy ending up in jail.
Once Williams had been put on the shortlist for the position of Rosemary's butler, I played my own smallpart in securing him the job. Rereading over the terms of the proposed contract gave me the idea.
"Tell Williams to ask for 15,000 francs a month, and five weeks' holiday," I suggested to Hackett when he and Matthew visited me the following Sunday.
"Why?" asked the ex-chief superintendent. "She's only offering 11,000, and three weeks' holiday."
"She can well afford to pay the difference, and with references like these," I said, looking back down at my file, "she might become suspicious if he asked for anything less."
Matthew smiled and nodded.
Rosemary finally offered Williams the job at 13,000 francs a month, with four weeks' holiday a year, which after forty-eight hours' consideration Williams accepted. But he did not join her for another month, by which time he had learned how to iron newspapers, lay place settings with a ruler, and tell the difference between a port, sherry and liqueur glass.
I suppose that from the moment Williams took up the post as Rosemary's butler, I expected instant results. But as Hackett pointed out to me Sunday after Sunday, this was hardly realistic.
"Williams has to take his time," explained the Don. "He needs to gain her confidence, and avoid giving her any reason for the slightest suspicion. It once took me five years to nail a drug smuggler who was only living half a mile up the road from me."
I wanted to remind him that it was me who was stuck in jail, and that five days was more like what Ihad in mind, but I knew how hard they were all working on my behalf, and tried not to show my impatience.
Within a month Williams had supplied us with photographs and life histories of all the staff working on the estate, along with descriptions of everyone who visited Rosemary--even the local priest, who came hoping to collect a donation for French aid workers in Somalia.
The cook: Gabrielle Pascal--no English, excellent cuisine, came from Marseilles, family checked out. The gardener: Jacques Reni--stupid and not particularly imaginative with the rosebeds, local and well known. Rosemary's personal maid: Charlotte Merieux--spoke a little English, crafty, sexy, came from Paris, still checking her out. All the staff had been employed by Rosemary since her arrival in the south of France, and they appeared to have no connection with each other, or with her past life.
"Ah," said Hackett as he studied the picture of Rosemary's personal maid. I raised an eyebrow. "I was just thinking about Williams being cooped up with Charlotte Merieux day in and day out--and more important, night in and night in," he explained. "He would have made superintendent if he hadn't fooled around so much. Still, let's hope this time it turns out to our advantage."
I lay on my bunk studying the pictures of the staff for hour after hour, but they revealed nothing. I read and reread the notes on everyone who had ever visited Villa Fleur, but as the weeks went by, it looked more and more as if no one from Rosemary's past, other than her mother, knew where she was--or if they did,they were making no attempts to contact her. There was certainly no sign of Jeremy Alexander.
I was beginning to fear that she and Jeremy might have split up, until Williams reported that there was a picture of a dark, handsome man on a table by the side of Rosemary's bed. It was inscribed: "We'll always be together--J."
During the weeks following my appeal hearing I was constantly interviewed by probation officers, social workers and even the prison psychiatrist. I struggled to maintain the warm, sincere smile that Matthew had warned me was so necessary to lubricate the wheels of the bureaucracy.
It must have been about eleven weeks after my appeal had been turned down that the cell door was thrown open, and the senior guard on my corridor announced, "The warden wants to see you, Cooper." Fingers looked suspicious. Whenever he heard those words, it inevitably meant a dose of solitary.
I could hear my heart beating as I was led down the long corridor to the warden's office. The prison guard knocked gently on the door before opening it. The warden rose from behind his desk, thrust out his hand and said, "I'm delighted to be the first person to tell you the good news."
He ushered me into a comfortable chair on the other side of his desk, and went over the terms of my release. While he was doing this I was served coffee, as if we were old friends.
There was a knock on the door, and Matthewwalked in, clutching a sheaf of papers that needed to be signed. I rose as he placed them on the desk, and without warning he turned round and gave me a bearhug. Not something I expect he did every day.
After I had signed the final document, Matthew asked: "What's the first thing you'll do once they release you?"
"I'm going to buy a gun," I told him matter-of-factly.
Matthew and the warden burst out laughing.
The great gate of Armley Prison was thrown open for me three days later. I walked away from the building carrying only the small leather suitcase I had arrived with. I didn't look back. I hailed a taxi and asked the driver to take me to the station, as I had no desire to remain in Leeds a moment longer than was necessary. I bought a first-class ticket, phoned Hackett to warn him I was on my way, and boarded the next train for Bradford. I savored a British Rail breakfast that wasn't served on a tin plate, and read a copy of the Financial Times that had been handed to me by a pretty shop assistant and not a petty criminal. No one stared at me--but then, why should they, when I was sitting in a first-class carriage and dressed in my new suit? I glanced at every woman who passed by, however she was dressed, but they had no way of knowing why.
When the train pulled into Bradford, the Don and his secretary Jenny Kenwright were waiting for me on the platform. The chief superintendent had rented me a small furnished flat on the outskirts of the city, and after I had unpacked--not a long job--they took me outto lunch. The moment the small talk had been dispensed with and Jenny had poured me a glass of wine, the Don asked me a question I hadn't expected.
"Now that you're free, is it still your wish that we go on looking for Jeremy Alexander?"
"Yes," I replied, without a moment's hesitation. "I'm even more determined, now that I can taste the freedom he's enjoyed for the past three years. Never forget, that man stole my freedom from me, along with my wife, my company, and more than half my possessions. Oh yes, Donald, I won't rest until I come face to face with Jeremy Alexander."
"Good," said the Don. "Because Williams thinks Rosemary is beginning to trust him, and might even, given time, start confiding in him. It seems he has made himself indispensable."
I found a certain irony in the thought of Williams pocketing two salaries simultaneously, and of my being responsible for one, while Rosemary paid the other. I asked if there was any news of Jeremy.
"Nothing to speak of," said Donald. "She certainly never phones him from the house, and we're fairly sure he never attempts to make any direct contact with her. But Williams has told us that every Friday at midday he has to drop her off at the Majestic, the only hotel in the village. She goes inside and doesn't reappear for at least forty minutes. He daren't follow her, because she's given specific instructions that he's to stay with the car. And he can't afford to lose this job by disobeying orders."
I nodded my agreement.
"But that hasn't stopped him having the occasionaldrink in the hotel bar on his evening off, and he's managed to pick up a few snippets of information. He's convinced that Rosemary uses the time when she's in the hotel to make a long-distance phone call. She often drops in at the bank before going on to the Majestic, and comes out carrying a small packet of coins. The barman has told Williams that she always uses one of the two phone boxes in the corridor opposite the reception desk. She never allows the call to be put through the hotel switchboard, always dials direct."
"So how do we discover who she's calling?" I asked.
"We wait for Williams to find an opportunity to use some of those skills he didn't learn at butlers' school."
"But how long might that take?"
"No way of knowing, but Williams is due for a spot of leave in a couple of weeks, so he'll be able to bring us up to date."
When Williams arrived back in Bradford at the end of the month, I began asking him questions even before he had time to put his suitcase down. He was full of interesting information about Rosemary, and even the smallest detail fascinated me.
She had put on weight. I was pleased. She seemed lonely and depressed. I was delighted. She was spending my money fast. I wasn't exactly ecstatic. But, more to the point, Williams was convinced that if Rosemary had any contact with Jeremy Alexander, it had to be when she visited the hotel every Friday and placed that direct-dial call. But he still hadn't worked out how to discover who, or where, she was phoning.
By the time Williams returned to the south of France a fortnight later, I knew more about my ex-wife than I ever knew when we were married.
As happens so often in the real world, the next move came when I least expected it. It must have been about 2:30 on a Monday afternoon when the phone rang.
Donald picked up the receiver, and was surprised to hear Williams's voice on the other end of the line. He switched him on to the squawk box and said, "All three of us are listening, so you'd better begin by telling us why you're ringing when it's not your day off."
"I've been sacked," were Williams's opening words.
"Playing around with the maid, were you?" was Donald's first reaction.
"I only wish, chief, but I'm afraid it's far more stupid than that. I was driving Ms. Kershaw into town this morning, when I had to stop at a red light. While I was waiting for the light to change, a man crossed the road in front of the car. He stopped and stared at me. I recognized him immediately, and prayed the light would turn to green before he could place me. But he walked back, looked at me again, and smiled. I shook my head at him, but he came over to the driver's side, tapped on the window, and said, 'How are you, Inspector Williams?'"
"Who was it?" demanded Donald.
"Neil Case. Remember him, Chief?"
"Could I ever forget him? 'Never-on-the-Case Neil'," said Donald. "I might have guessed."
"I didn't acknowledge him, of course, and as Ms.Kershaw said nothing, I thought I might have got away with it. But as soon as we arrived back at the house, she told me to come and see her in the study, and without even asking for an explanation, she dismissed me. She ordered me to be packed and off the premises within the hour, or she'd call the local police."
"Damn. Back to square one," said Donald.
"Not quite," said Williams.
"What do you mean? If you're no longer in the house, we no longer have a point of contact. Worse, we can't play the butler card again, because she's bound to be on her guard from now on."
"I know all that, chief," said Williams, "but suspecting that I was a policeman caused her to panic, and she went straight to her bedroom and made a phone call. As I wasn't afraid of being found out any longer, I picked up the extension in the corridor and listened in. All I heard was a woman's voice give a Cambridge number, and then the phone went dead. I assumed Rosemary had been expecting someone else to pick up the phone, and hung up when she heard a strange voice."
"What was the number?" Donald asked.
"What do you mean, 'something-7'?" barked Donald as he scribbled the numbers down.
"I didn't have anything to write with, chief, so I had to rely on my memory." I was glad Williams couldn't see the expression on the Don's face.
"Then what happened?" he demanded.
"I found a pen in a drawer and wrote what I couldremember of the number on my hand. I picked up the phone again a few moments later, and heard a different woman on the line, saying, 'The director's not in at the moment, but I'm expecting him back within the hour.' Then I had to hang up quickly, because I could hear someone coming along the corridor. It was Charlotte, Rosemary's maid. She wanted to know why I'd been sacked. I couldn't think of a convincing reply, until she accused me of having made a pass at the mistress. I let her think that was it, and ended up getting a slapped face for my trouble." I burst out laughing, but the Don and Jenny showed no reaction. Then Williams asked, "So, what do I do now, chief? Come back to England?"
"No," said Donald. "Stay put for the moment. Check yourself into the Majestic and watch her round the clock. Let me know if she does anything out of character. Meanwhile, we're going to Cambridge. As soon as we've checked ourselves into a hotel there I'll call you."
"Understood, sir," said Williams, and hung up.
"When do we go?" I asked Donald once he had replaced the receiver.
"Tonight," he replied. "But not before I've made a few telephone calls."
The Don dialed ten Cambridge numbers, using the digits Williams had been able to jot down, and inserting the numbers from zero to nine in the missing slot.
0223640707 turned out to be a school. "Sorry, wrong number," said Donald. 717 was a chemist's shop; 727 was a garage; 737 was answered by an elderly male voice--"Sorry, wrong number," Donald repeated:747 a news agent; 757 a local policeman's wife (I tried not to laugh, but Donald only grunted); 767 a woman's voice--"Sorry, wrong number," yet again; 777 was St. Catharine's College; 787 a woman's voice on an answering machine; 797 a hairdresser--"Did you want a perm, or just a trim?"
Donald checked his list. "It has to be either 737, 767 or 787. The time has come for me to pull a few strings."
He dialed a Bradford number, and was told that the new deputy chief constable of Cambridgeshire had been transferred from the West Yorkshire Constabulary the previous year.
"Leeke. Allan Leeke," said Donald, without needing to be prompted. He turned to me. "He was a sergeant when I first became an inspector." He thanked his Bradford contact, then rang directory inquiries to find out the number of the Cambridge Police headquarters. He dialed another 0223 number.
"Cambridge Police. How can I help you?" asked a female voice.
"Can you put me through to the deputy chief constable, please?" Donald asked.
"Who shall I say is calling?"
The next voice that came on the line said, "Don, this is a pleasant surprise. Or at least I hope it's a pleasant surprise, because knowing you, it won't be a social call. Are you looking for a job, by any chance? I heard you'd left the force."
"Yes, it's true. I've resigned, but I'm not looking fora job, Allan. I don't think the Cambridge Constabulary could quite match my present salary."
"So, what can I do for you, Don?"
"I need a trace done on three numbers in the Cambridge area."
"Authorized?" asked the deputy chief constable.
"No, but it might well lead to an arrest on your turf," said Donald.
"That, and the fact that it's you who's asking, is good enough for me."
Donald read out the three numbers, and Leeke asked him to hang on for a moment. While we waited, Donald told me, "All they have to do is press a few buttons in the control room, and the numbers will appear on a screen in front of him. Things have changed since I first joined the force. In those days we had to let our legs do the walking."
The deputy chief constable's voice came back on the line. "Right, the first number's come up. 640737 is a Wing Commander Danvers-Smith. He's the only person registered as living in the house." He read out an address in Great Shelford, which he explained was just to the south of Cambridge. Jenny wrote the details down.
"767 is a Professor and Mrs. Balcescu, also living in Great Shelford. 787 is Dame Julia Renaud, the opera singer. She lives in Grantchester. We know her quite well. She's hardly ever at home, because of her concert commitments all over the world. Her house has been burgled three times in the last year, always when she was abroad."
"Thank you," said Donald. "You've been most helpful."
"Anything you want to tell me?" asked the deputy chief constable, sounding hopeful.
"Not at the moment," replied Donald. "But as soon as I've finished my investigation, I promise you'll be the first person to be informed."
"Fair enough," came back the reply, and the line went dead.
"Right," Donald said, turning his attention back to us. "We leave for Cambridge in a couple of hours. That will give us enough time to pack, and for Jenny to book us into a hotel near the city center. We'll meet back here at"--he checked his watch--"six o'clock." He walked out of the room without uttering another word. I remember thinking that my father would have got on well with him.
Just over two hours later, Jenny was driving us at a steady sixty-nine miles per hour down the Al.
"Now the boring part of detective work begins," said Donald. "Intense research, followed by hours of surveillance. I think we can safely ignore Dame Julia. Jenny, you get to work on the wing commander. I want details of his career from the day he left school to the day he retired. First thing tomorrow you can begin by contacting RAF College Cranwell, and asking for details of his service record. I'll take the professor, and make a start in the university library."
"What do I do?" I asked.
"For the time being, Mr. Cooper, you keep yourself well out of sight. It's just possible that the wing commander or the professor might lead us to Alexander, sowe don't need you trampling over any suspects and frightening them off."
I reluctantly agreed.
Later that night I settled into a suite at the Garden House Hotel--a more refined sort of prison--but despite feather pillows and a comfortable mattress I was quite unable to sleep. I rose early the next morning and spent most of the day watching endless updates on Sky News, episodes of various Australian soaps, and a "Film of the Week" every two hours. But my mind was continually switching between RAF Cranwell and the university library.
When we met up in Donald's room that evening, he and Jenny confirmed that their initial research suggested that both men were who they purported to be.
"I was sure one of them would turn out to be Jeremy," I said, unable to hide my disappointment.
"It would be nice if it was always that easy, Mr. Cooper," said Donald. "But it doesn't mean that one of them won't lead us to Jeremy." He turned to Jenny. "First, let's go over what you found out about the wing commander."
"Wing Commander Danvers-Smith DFC graduated from Cranwell in 1938, served with Number Two Squadron at Binbrook in Lincolnshire during the Second World War, and flew several missions over Germany and occupied France. He was awarded the DFC for gallantry in 1943. He was grounded in 1958, and became an instructor at RAF Cottesmore in Gloucestershire. His final posting was as deputy commandingofficer at RAF Locking in Somerset. He retired in 1977, when he and his wife moved back to Great Shelford, where he had grown up."
"Why's he living on his own now?" asked Donald.
"Wife died three years ago. He has two children, Sam and Pamela, both married, but neither living in the area. They visit him occasionally."
I wanted to ask Jenny how she had been able to find out so much information about the wing commander in such a short time, but said nothing, as I was more interested in hearing what the Don had discovered about Professor Balcescu.
Donald picked up a pile of notes that had been lying on the floor by his feet. "So, let me tell you the results of my research into a very distinguished professor," he began. "Professor Balcescu escaped from Romania in 1989, after Ceausescu had had him placed under house arrest. He was smuggled out of the country by a group of dissident students, via Bulgaria and then on into Greece. His escape was well documented in the newspapers at the time. He applied for asylum in England, and was offered a teaching post at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, and three years later the chair of Eastern European studies. He advises the government on Romanian matters and has written a scholarly book on the subject. Last year he was awarded a CBE in the Queen's Birthday Honors."
"How could either of these men possibly know Rosemary?" I asked. "Williams must have made a mistake when he wrote down the number."
"Williams doesn't make mistakes, Mr. Cooper," saidthe Don. "Otherwise I wouldn't have employed him. Your wife dialed one of those numbers, and we're just going to have to find out which one. This time we'll need your assistance."
I mumbled an apology, but remained unconvinced.
Hackett nodded curtly, and turned back to Jenny. "How long will it take us to get to the wing commander's home?"
"About fifteen minutes, sir. He lives in a cottage in Great Shelford, just south of Cambridge."
"Right, we'll start with him. I'll see you both in the lobby at five o'clock tomorrow morning."
I slept fitfully again that night, now convinced that we were embarked on a wild-goose chase. But at least I was going to be allowed to join them the following day, instead of being confined to my room and yet more Australian soaps.
I didn't need my 4:30 alarm call--I was already showering when the phone rang. A few minutes after five, the three of us walked out of the hotel, trying not to look as if we were hoping to leave without paying our bill. It was a chilly morning, and I shivered as I climbed into the back of the car.
Jenny drove us out of the city and onto the London road. After a mile or so, she turned left and took us into a charming little village with neat, well-kept houses on either side of the road. We passed a garden center on the left and drove another half mile, then Jenny suddenly swung the car round and pulled off the road. She switched off the engine and pointed to a small house with an RAF-blue door. "That's where he lives," shesaid. "Number forty-seven." Donald focused a tiny pair of binoculars on the house.
Some early-morning risers were already leaving their homes, cars heading toward the station for the first commuter train to London. The paperboy turned out to be an old lady who pushed her heavily laden bicycle slowly round the village, dropping off her deliveries. The milkman was next, clattering along in his electric van--two pints here, a pint there, the occasional half-dozen eggs or carton of orange juice left on front doorsteps. Lights began to flick on all over the village. "The wing commander has had one pint of red-top milk and a copy of the Daily Telegraph delivered to his front door," said Donald.
People had emerged from the houses on either side of number forty-seven before a light appeared in an upstairs room of the wing commander's home. Once that light had been switched on Donald sat bolt upright, his eyes never leaving the house.
I became bored, and dozed off in the back at some point. When I woke up, I hoped we might at least be allowed a break for breakfast, but such mundane considerations didn't seem to worry the two professionals in the front. They continued to concentrate on any movement that took place around number forty-seven, and hardly exchanged a word.
At 10:19 a thin, elderly man, dressed in a Harris tweed jacket and gray flannels, emerged from number forty-seven and marched briskly down the path. All I could see at that distance was a huge, bushy white mustache. It looked almost as if his whole body hadbeen designed around it. Donald kept the glasses trained on him.
"Ever seen him before?" he asked, passing the binoculars back to me.
I focused the glasses on the wing commander and studied him carefully. "Never," I said as he came to a halt by the side of a battered old Austin Allegro. "How could anyone forget that mustache?"
"It certainly wasn't grown last week," said Donald, as Danvers-Smith eased his car out onto the main road.
Jenny cursed. "I thought that if he used his car, the odds would be on him heading into Cambridge." She deftly performed a three-point turn and accelerated quickly after the wing commander. Within a few minutes she was only a couple of cars behind him.
Danvers-Smith was not proving to be the sort of fellow who habitually broke the speed limit. "His days as a test pilot are obviously long behind him," Donald said, as we trailed the Allegro at a safe distance into the next village. About half a mile later he pulled into a gas station.
"Stay with him," said Donald. Jenny followed the Allegro into the station and came to a halt at the pump directly behind Danvers-Smith.
"Keep your head down, Mr. Cooper," said the Don, opening his door. "We don't want him seeing you."
"What are you going to do?" I asked, peeping between the front seats.
"Risk an old con's trick," Donald replied.
He stepped out of the front seat, walked round to the back of the car, and unscrewed the gas tank cap just as the wing commander slipped the nozzle of a gas pumpinto the tank of his Allegro. Donald began slowly topping up our already full tank, then suddenly turned to face the old man.
"Wing Commander Danvers-Smith?" he asked in an upper-crust voice.
The wing commander looked up immediately, and a puzzled expression came over his weather-beaten face.
"Baker, sir," said Donald. "Flight Lieutenant Baker. You lectured me at RAF Locking. Vulcans, if I remember."
"Bloody good memory, Baker. Good show," said Danvers-Smith. "Delighted to see you, old chap," he said, taking the nozzle out of his car and replacing it in the pump. "What are you up to nowadays?"
Jenny stifled a laugh.
"Work for BA, sir. Grounded after I failed my eye test. Bloody desk job, I'm afraid, but it was the only offer I got."
"Bad luck, old chap," said the wing commander, as they headed off toward the pay booth, and out of earshot.
When they came back a few minutes later, they were chattering away like old chums, and the wing commander actually had his arm around Donald's shoulder.
When they reached his car they shook hands, and I heard Donald say "Goodbye, sir," before Danvers-Smith climbed into his Allegro. The old airman pulled out of the station and headed back toward his home. Donald got in next to Jenny and pulled the passenger door closed.
"I'm afraid he won't lead us to Alexander," the Don said with a sigh. "Danvers-Smith is the genuine article--misses his wife, doesn't see his children enough, and feels a bit lonely. Even asked if I'd like to drop in for a bite of lunch."
"Why didn't you accept?" I asked.
Donald paused. "I would have, but when I mentioned that I was from Leeds, he told me he'd only been there once in his life, to watch a test match. No, that man has never heard of Rosemary Cooper or Jeremy Alexander--I'd bet my pension on it. So, now it's the professor's turn. Let's head back toward Cambridge, Jenny. And drive slowly. I don't want to catch up with the wing commander or we'll all end up having to join him for lunch."
Jenny swung the car across the road and into the far lane, then headed back toward the city. After a couple of miles, Donald told her to pull into the side of the road just past a sign announcing the Shelford Rugby Club.
"The professor and his wife live behind that hedge," Donald said, pointing across the road. "Settle back, Mr. Cooper. This might take some time."
At 12:30 Jenny went off to get some fish and chips from the village. I devoured them hungrily. By three I was bored stiff again and was beginning to wonder just how long Donald would hang around before we were allowed to return to the hotel. I remembered "Happy Days" would be on at 6:30.
"We'll sit here all night, if necessary," Donald said, as if he were reading my thoughts. "Forty-nine hours ismy record without sleep. What's yours, Jenny?" he asked, never taking his eyes off the house.
"Thirty-one, sir," she replied.
"Then this may be your chance to break that record," he said. A moment later, a woman in a white BMW nosed out of the driveway leading to the house and stopped at the edge of the pavement. She paused, looked both ways, then turned across the road and swung right, in the direction of Cambridge. As she passed us, I caught a glimpse of a blond with a pretty face.
"I've seen her before," I blurted out.
"Follow her, Jenny," Donald said sharply. "But keep your distance." He turned round to face me.
"Where have you seen her?" he asked, passing over the binoculars.
"I can't remember," I said, trying to focus on the back of a mop of fair, curly hair.
"Think, man. Think. It's our best chance yet," said Donald, trying not to sound as if he was cross-examining an old con.
I knew I had come across that face somewhere, though I felt certain we had never met. I had to rack my brains, because it was at least five years since I had seen any woman I recognized, let alone one that striking. But my mind remained blank.
"Keep on thinking," said the Don, "while I try to find out something a little more simple. And Jenny--don't get too close to her. Never forget she's got a rearview mirror. Mr. Cooper may not remember her, but she may remember him."
Donald picked up the carphone and jabbed in tennumbers. "Let's pray he doesn't realize I've retired," he mumbled.
"DVLA Swansea. How can I help you?"
"Sergeant Crann, please," said Donald.
"I'll put you through."
"Good afternoon, Chief Superintendent. How can I help you?"
"White BMW--K273 SCE," said Donald, staring at the car in front of him.
"Hold on please, sir, I won't be a moment."
Donald kept his eye fixed on the BMW while he waited. It was about thirty yards ahead of us and heading toward a green light. Jenny accelerated to make sure she wouldn't get trapped if the light changed, and as she shot through an amber light, Sergeant Crann came back on the line.
"We've identified the car, sir," he said. "Registered owner Mrs. Susan Balcescu, The Kendalls, High Street, Great Shelford, Cambridge. One ticket for speeding in a built-up area, 1991, a thirty-pound fine. Otherwise nothing known."
"Thank you, Sergeant. That's most helpful."
"My pleasure, sir."
"Why should Rosemary want to contact the Balces-cus?" Donald said as he clipped the phone back into place. "And is she contacting just one of them, or both?" Neither of us attempted to answer.
"I think it's time to let her go," he said a moment later. "I need to check out several more leads before werisk coming face to face with either of them. Let's head back to the hotel and consider our next move."
"I know it's only a coincidence," I ventured, "but when I knew him, Jeremy had a white BMW."
"F173 BZK," said Jenny. "I remember it from the file."
Donald swung round. "Some people can't give up smoking, you know, others drinking. But with some, it's a particular make of car," he said. "Although a lot of people must drive white BMWs," he muttered almost to himself.
Once we were back in Donald's room, he began checking through the file he had put together on Professor Balcescu. The Times report of his escape from Romania, he told us, was the most detailed.
Professor Balcescu first came to prominence while still a student at the University of Bucharest, where he called for the overthrow of the elected government. The authorities seemed relieved when he was offered a place at Oxford, and must have hoped that they had seen the last of him. But he returned to Bucharest University three years later, taking up the position of tutor in politics. The following year he led a student revolt in support of Nicolae Ceausescu, and after he became president, Balcescu was rewarded with a Cabinet post, as Minister of Education. But he soon became disillusioned with the Ceausescu regime, and within eighteen months he hadresigned and returned to the university as a humble tutor. Three years later he was offered the chair of politics and economics.
Professor Balcescu's growing disillusionment with the government finally turned to anger, and in 1986 he began writing a series of pamphlets denouncing Ceausescu and his puppet regime. A few weeks after a particularly vitriolic attack on the establishment, he was dismissed from his post at the university and later placed under house arrest. A group of Oxford historians wrote a letter of protest to The Times, but nothing more was heard of the great scholar for several years. Then, late in 1989, he was smuggled out of Romania by a group of students, finally reaching Britain via Bulgaria and Greece.
Cambridge won the battle of the universities to tempt him with a teaching post, and he became a fellow of Gonville and Caius in September 1990. In November 1991, after the retirement of Sir Halford McKay, Balcescu took over the chair of Eastern European studies.
Donald looked up. "There's a picture of him taken when he was in Greece, but it's too blurred to be of much use."
I studied the black-and-white photograph of a bearded middle-aged man surrounded by students. He wasn't anything like Jeremy. I frowned. "Another blind alley," I said.
"It's beginning to look like it," said Donald. "Especiallyafter what I found out yesterday. According to his secretary, Balcescu delivers his weekly lecture every Friday morning from ten o'clock to eleven."
"But that wouldn't stop him from taking a call from Rosemary at midday," interrupted Jenny.
"If you'll allow me to finish," said Hackett sharply. Jenny bowed her head, and he continued. "At twelve o'clock he chairs a full departmental meeting in his office, attended by all members of staff. I'm sure you'll agree, Jenny, that it would be quite difficult for him to take a personal call at that time every Friday, given the circumstances."
Donald turned to me. "I'm sorry to say we're back where we started, unless you can remember where you've seen Mrs. Balcescu."
I shook my head. "Perhaps I was mistaken," I admitted.
Donald and Jenny spent the next few hours going over the files, even checking every one of the ten phone numbers a second time.
"Do you remember Rosemary's second call, sir," said Jenny, in desperation. "'The director's not in at the moment.' Might that be the clue we're looking for?"
"Possibly," said Donald. "If we could find out who the director is, we might be a step nearer to Jeremy Alexander."
I remember Jenny's last words before I left for my room. "I wonder how many directors there are in Britain, chief."
Over breakfast in Donald's room the following morning, he reviewed all the intelligence that had been gathered to date, but none of us felt we were any nearer to a solution.
"What about Mrs. Balcescu?" I said. "She may be the person taking the call every Friday at midday, because that's the one time she knows exactly where her husband is."
"I agree. But is she simply Rosemary's messenger, or is she a friend of Jeremy's?" asked Donald.
"Perhaps we'll have to tap her phone to find out," said Jenny.
Donald ignored her comment, and checked his watch. "It's time to go to Balcescu's lecture."
"Why are we bothering?" I asked. "Surely we ought to be concentrating on Mrs. Balcescu."
"You're probably right," said Donald. "But we can't afford to leave any stone unturned, and as his next lecture won't be for another week, we may as well get it over with. In any case, we'll be out by eleven, and if we find Mrs. Balcescu's phone is engaged between twelve and twelve-thirty ..."
After Donald had asked Jenny to bring the car around to the front of the hotel, I slipped back into my room to pick up something that had been hidden in the bottom of my suitcase for several weeks. A few minutes later I joined them, and Jenny drove us out of the hotel parking lot, turning right into the main road. Donald glanced at me suspiciously in the rearview mirror as I sat silently in the back. Did I look guilty? I wondered.
Jenny spotted a parking meter a couple of hundred yards away from the department of Eastern European studies, and pulled in. We got out of the car and followed the flow of students along the pavement and up the steps. No one gave us a second look. Once we had entered the building, Donald whipped off his tie and slipped it in his jacket pocket. He looked more like a Marxist revolutionary than most of the people heading toward the lecture.
The lecture theater was clearly indicated, and we entered it by a door on the ground floor, which turned out to be the only way in or out. Donald immediately walked up the sloping auditorium to the back row of seats. Jenny and I followed, and Donald instructed me to sit behind a student who looked as if he spent his Saturday afternoons playing lock forward for his college rugby team.
While we waited for Balcescu to enter the room, I began to look around. The lecture theater was a large semicircle, not unlike a miniature Greek amphitheater, and I estimated that it could hold around three hundred students. By the time the clock on the front wall read 9:55, there was hardly a seat to be found. No further proof was needed of the professor's reputation.
I felt a light sweat forming on my forehead as I waited for Balcescu to make his entrance. As the clock struck ten, the door of the lecture theater opened. I was so disappointed at the sight that greeted me that I groaned aloud. He couldn't have been less like Jeremy. I leaned across to Donald. "Wrong-colored hair,wrong-colored eyes, about thirty pounds too light." The Don showed no reaction.
"So the connection has to be with Mrs. Balcescu," whispered Jenny.
"Agreed," said Donald under his breath. "But we're stuck here for the next hour, because we certainly can't risk drawing attention to ourselves by walking out. We'll just have to make a dash for it as soon as the lecture is over. We'll still have time to see if she's at home to take the twelve o'clock call." He paused. "I should have checked the layout of the building earlier." Jenny reddened slightly, because she knew I meant you.
And then I suddenly remembered where I had seen Mrs. Balcescu. I was about to tell Donald, but the room fell silent as the professor began delivering his opening words.
"This is the sixth of eight lectures," he began, "on recent social and economic trends in Eastern Europe." In a thick Central European accent, he launched into a discourse that sounded as if he had given it many times before. The undergraduates began scribbling away on their pads, but I became increasingly irritated by the continual drone of the professor's nasal vowels, as I was impatient to tell Hackett about Mrs. Balcescu and to get back to Great Shelford as quickly as possible. I found myself glancing up at the clock on the wall every few minutes. Not unlike my own school days, I thought. I touched my jacket pocket. It was still there, even though on this occasion it would serve no useful purpose.
Halfway through the lecture, the lights were dimmedso the professor could illustrate some of his points with slides. I glanced at the first few graphs as they appeared on the screen, showing different income groups across Eastern Europe related to their balance of payments and export figures, but I ended up none the wiser, and not just because I had missed the first five lectures.
The assistant in charge of the projector managed to get one of the slides upside down, showing Germany bottom of the export table and Romania top, which caused a light ripple of laughter throughout the theater. The professor scowled, and began to deliver his lecture at a faster and faster pace, which only caused the assistant more difficulty in finding the right slides to coincide with the professor's statements.
Once again I became bored, and I was relieved when, at five to eleven, Balcescu called for the final graph. The previous one was replaced by a blank screen. Everyone began looking round at the assistant, who was searching desperately for the slide. The professor became irritable as the minute hand of the clock approached eleven. Still the assistant failed to locate the missing slide. He flicked the shutter back once again, but nothing appeared on the screen, leaving the professor brightly illuminated by a beam of light. Balcescu stepped forward, and began drumming his fingers impatiently on the wooden lectern. Then he turned sideways, and I caught his profile for the first time. There was a small scar above his right eye, which must have faded over the years, but in the bright light of the beam it was clear to see.
"It's him!" I whispered to Donald as the clock struck eleven. The lights came up, and the professorquickly left the lecture theater without another word.
I leapt over the back of my bench seat, and began charging down the gangway, but my progress was impeded by students who were already sauntering out into the aisle. I pushed my way past them until I had reached ground level, and bolted through the door by which the professor had left so abruptly. I spotted him at the end of the corridor. He was opening another door, and disappeared out of sight. I ran after him, dodging in and out of the chattering students.
When I reached the door that had just been closed behind him, I looked up at the sign:
Professor Balcescu Director of Eastern European Studies
I threw the door open, to discover a woman sitting behind a desk checking some papers. Another door was closing behind her.
"I need to see Professor Balcescu immediately," I shouted, knowing that if I didn't get to him before Hackett caught up with me, I might lose my resolve.
The woman stopped what she was doing and looked up at me. "The director is expecting an overseas call at any moment, and cannot be disturbed," she replied. "I'm sorry, but ..."
I ran straight past her, pulled open the door and rushed into the room, where I came face to face with Jeremy Alexander for the first time since I had left him lying on the floor of my drawing room. He was talking animatedly on the phone, but he looked up and recognizedme immediately. When I pulled the gun from my pocket, he dropped the receiver. As I took aim, the blood suddenly drained from his face.
"Are you there, Jeremy?" asked an agitated voice on the other end of the line. Despite the passing of time, I had no difficulty in recognizing Rosemary's strident tones.
Jeremy was shouting, "No, Richard, no! I can explain! Believe me, I can explain!" as Donald came running in. He came to an abrupt halt by the professor's desk, but showed no interest in Jeremy.
"Don't do it, Richard," he pleaded. "You'll only spend the rest of your life regretting it." I remember thinking it was the first time he had ever called me Richard.
"Wrong, for a change, Donald," I told him. "I won't regret killing Jeremy Alexander. You see, he's already been pronounced dead once. I know, because I was sentenced to life imprisonment for his murder. I'm sure you're aware of the meaning of autrefois acquit, and will therefore know that I can't be charged a second time with a crime I've already been convicted of and sentenced for. Even though this time they will have a body."
I moved the gun a few inches to the right, and aimed at Jeremy's heart. I squeezed the trigger just as Jenny came charging into the room. She dived at my legs.
Jeremy and I both hit the ground with a thud.
Well, as I pointed out to you at the beginning of this chronicle, I ought to explain why I'm in jail--or, to be more accurate, why I'm back in jail.
I was tried a second time; on this occasion for attempted murder--despite the fact that I had only grazed the bloody man's shoulder. I still blame Jenny for that.
Mind you, it was worth it just to hear Matthew's closing speech, because he certainly understood the meaning of autrefois acquit. He surpassed himself with his description of Rosemary as a calculating, evil Jezebel, and Jeremy as a man motivated by malice and greed, quite willing to cynically pose as a national hero while his victim was rotting his life away in jail, put there by a wife's perjured testimony of which he had unquestionably been the mastermind. In another four years, a furious Matthew told the jury, they would have been able to pocket several more millions between them. This time the jury looked on me with considerable sympathy.
"Thou shalt not bear false witness against any man," were Sir Matthew's closing words, his sonorous tones making him sound like an Old Testament prophet.
The tabloids always need a hero and a villain. This time they had got themselves a hero and two villains. They seemed to have forgotten everything they had printed during the previous trial about the oversexed truck driver, and it would be foolish to suggest that the page after page devoted to every sordid detail of Jeremy and Rosemary's deception didn't influence the jury.
They found me guilty, of course, but only because they weren't given any choice. In his summing up, the judge almost ordered them to do so. But the foreman expressed his fellow jurors' hope that, given the circumstances, the judge might consider a lenient sentence.Mr. Justice Lampton obviously didn't read the tabloids, because he lectured me for several minutes and then said I would be sent down for five years.
Matthew was on his feet immediately, appealing for clemency on the grounds that I had already served a long sentence. "This man looks out on the world through a window of tears," he told the judge. "I beseech your lordship not to put bars across that window a second time." The applause from the gallery was so thunderous that the judge had to instruct the bailiffs to clear the court before he could respond to Sir Matthew's plea.
"His lordship obviously needs a little time to think," Matthew explained under his breath as he passed me in the dock. After much deliberation in his chambers, Mr. Justice Lampton settled on three years. Later that day I was sent to Ford Open Prison.
After considerable press comment during the next few weeks, and what Sir Matthew described to the Court of Appeal as "my client's unparalleled affliction and exemplary behavior," I ended up only having to serve nine months.
Meanwhile, Jeremy had been arrested at Addenbrookes Hospital by Allan Leeke, deputy chief constable of Cambridgeshire. After three days in a heavily guarded ward, he was charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of public justice and transferred to Armley Prison to await trial. He comes before the Leeds Crown Court next month, and you can be sure I'll be sitting in the gallery following the proceedings every day. By the way, Fingers and the boys gave him avery handsome welcome. I'm told he's lost even more weight than he did trooping backward and forward across Europe fixing up his new identity.
Rosemary has also been arrested and charged with perjury. They didn't grant her bail, and Donald informs me that French prisons, particularly the one in Marseilles, are less comfortable than Armley--one of the few disadvantages of living in the south of France. She's fighting the extradition order, of course, but I'm assured by Matthew that she has absolutely no chance of succeeding now that we've signed the Maastricht Treaty. I knew something good must come out of that.
As for Mrs. Balcescu--I'm sure you worked out where I'd seen her long before I did.
In the case of Regina v. Alexander and Kershaw, I'm told, she will be giving evidence on behalf of the Crown. Jeremy made such a simple mistake for a normally calculating and shrewd man. In order to protect himself from being identified, he put all his worldly goods in his wife's name. So the striking blond ended up with everything, and I have a feeling that when it comes to her cross-examination, Rosemary won't turn out to be all that helpful to Jeremy, because it slipped his mind to let her know that in between those weekly phone calls he was living with another woman.
It's been difficult to find out much more about the real Professor Balcescu, because since Ceausescu's downfall no one is quite sure what really happened to the distinguished academic. Even the Romanians believed he had escaped to Britain and begun a new life.
Bradford City's soccer team has gone into the cellar,so Donald has bought a cottage in the West Country and settled down to watch Bath play rugby. Jenny has joined a private detective agency in London, but is already complaining about her salary and conditions. Williams has returned to Bradford and decided on an early retirement. It was he who pointed out the painfully obvious fact that when it's twelve o'clock in France, it's only eleven o'clock in Britain.
By the way, I've decided to go back to Leeds after all. Cooper's went into liquidation as I suspected they would, the new management team not proving all that effective when it came to riding out a recession. The official receiver was only too delighted to accept my offer of £250,000 for what remained of the company, because no one else was showing the slightest interest in it. Poor Jeremy will get almost nothing for his shares. Still, you should look up the new stock in the F.T. around the middle of next year, and buy yourself a few, because they'll be what my father would have called "a risk worth taking."
By the way, Matthew advises me that I've just given you what's termed as "inside information," so please don't pass it on, as I have no desire to go back to jail for a third time.
Copyright © 1994 by Jeffrey Archer.