Once again, jump jockey Harry Radcliffe is forced to turn reluctant sleuth in the third of this fast-paced, highly entertaining racing mystery series.
When he stumbles across the body of local prostitute Alice Goode, champion jockey Harry Radcliffe is once again forced to turn reluctant sleuth. The prime suspect for Alice’s murder is ex-con Jake Smith. If Harry doesn’t find out who really killed Alice, and gets Jake off the hook, Jake will be coming after Harry – and his estranged wife, Annabel.
As Harry begins to question Alice’s former clients, he uncovers some surprising secrets in her past. But, as determined as Jake is to ensure that Harry tracks down the real killer, a series of increasingly disturbing incidents makes it clear that someone else is equally determined to stop him finding out the truth. Will Harry survive long enough to race ride again?
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By Glenis Wilson
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2017 Glenis Wilson
All rights reserved.
The churchyard gates stood open. By four o'clock this afternoon they'd be closed and padlocked. The churchyard kept short hours during the winter.
But it was only two o'clock. Plenty of time to walk up the rise and over to the east side, by the hedge, under the branches of a rowan tree. The sacred spot where my closest family lay buried, immune from the indifference, the savagery of this world.
I looked down at the bunch of flowers in my hand. Earlier today, I'd been to see Janine at the flower shop. There was no need to tell her what I wanted – she knew.
'Your mother's favourite white roses?'
'Yes, please, Janine. But this time, I'd like you to add a further bunch.'
'Ha, yes, and these would be white freesias?'
Hiding the pain that knifed through me, I smiled and nodded. It wasn't only Annabel, my estranged wife, who loved the beautiful fragrance and purity of white freesias; they'd been Silvie's favourites, too – Silvie, my severely disabled half-sister.
Always on the fourth of November, Mother's birthday, I bought a bunch of white roses. Today was certainly the fourth, but today for the first time the blooms were a mix of roses and freesias.
I lifted the flowers, took a long, appreciative sniff of their fragrant sweetness. They were really beautiful. How long they'd remain so was unknown. Not long, I'd guess. With the night temperatures now dropping to freezing, it seemed like cruelty to place the delicate blooms in the integral vase within the headstone ... leave them outside in the cold cemetery.
I revised my thought: not cruelty – murder. Seemed it was something I just couldn't get away from. I pushed the obnoxious thought away. This was not the time, nor the place. Today was for the placing of the flowers on Mother's grave; I was the only person left to do so. Despite Uncle George being my only living relative, it was more than his peace of mind was worth to bring flowers. Aunt Rachel, his wife, had her reasons to limit Uncle George's activities in this direction.
So, that just left me.
I walked on, up the rise, over to the east side. Then I stopped short in disbelief. Over by the side of the hedge was the grave, but it had fresh flowers already placed in the vase – they were white roses!
Who? The one word repeated in my mind as I stood and gaped. Who?
I'd had enough of surprises, most of them unpleasant. Another mystery I didn't want. Reaching the side of the grave, I bent over and nudged the flowers apart. Nestling down near the bottom of the stems was a small white card. I hunkered down and read the message.
Forgive me, Elizabeth. I should have had the courage to ask you long ago. Too late for us now – my loss. May you and Silvie comfort each other.
My sincere love to you both.
The card was unsigned.
I rocked back on my heels and blew out a gusty sigh. What on earth was that all about? The message told me nothing about the identity of the person, except that whoever had penned it must have known my mother a long time. Had known her preferred choice of flowers. Not only that, he knew about Silvie, too. And just what was it he'd wanted to ask my mother? I was assuming it was from a man but, if so, what connotations should I read into it?
I had enough problems right now; I didn't need any more. Tomorrow, I was supposed to put in an appearance at Newark Police Station. Finding a dead body wasn't something most people did. With myself, it seemed to be getting a habit.
Mentally, I'd drawn a red line under the last few weeks, had thought life was back in balance, the past truly dead and buried. What a joke. When I'd found Alice's dead body, I'd been pitched right back up to my eyebrows in the foul mess, and now I couldn't see any way out.CHAPTER 2
'Me?' Mike's face was creased in bewilderment. 'Why would I put flowers on your mother's grave?' He dug a fork into a pile of cheesy scrambled egg and chewed enthusiastically. 'Not me, Harry.'
We were sitting in the kitchen at his racing stables having breakfast between first and second lots. As a racehorse trainer, he was right up there with the best. We'd gone to school together as kids. He was still my best friend. And he was also my boss; I was his retained jockey.
'More scrambled egg?' Pen smiled and waved a wooden spoon at me. 'Plenty left.'
'No, thanks, but it was delicious.' I laid down knife and fork and stirred a spoonful of honey into my coffee. 'Any more and I'll never get on the next horse.'
'I don't have that problem, my sweet.' Mike beamed at her. 'Tip it out on my plate.'
She leaned over, dropped a kiss on the top of his head and scraped the last of the eggs from the saucepan. Since Pen had recently moved in with Mike, she'd seamlessly taken over the household organization including cooking the all-important breakfast, eaten after doing nearly three hours of stable graft, including riding out first lot. She was a big asset and I knew Mike still couldn't believe she'd reciprocated his love and was happy to share his tough lifestyle. His face was one permanent smile. Except on an odd occasion, like just now when I'd asked him if he was the unknown flower-giver.
'Got to be a simple explanation, mate,' he said, forking up the last of his breakfast. 'How about it being Victor?'
'Never thought about him,' I admitted. 'Suppose it might be.'
Victor Maudsley, Elspeth's ex-husband, a retired racehorse trainer, had a long-standing acquaintance with our family.
'The flowers came from Grantham. The name of the shop was printed on the reverse of the card.'
'Well, if it's bugging you that much, why not go over and ask at the shop who bought them?'
'Yeah, I'd thought I might. But it'll have to wait till I get out of the police station. Got to go there this afternoon.'
'Ha, yes,' he said and cleared his throat, 'Alice ...'
I inclined my head. 'As you say ... Alice.'
'You going to let on about Jake Smith?'
'Don't know, to be truthful.'
'Hmmm ... might draw his fire in your direction if you do.'
'I'd thought about that.' I pulled a face. 'Not a man to trifle with.'
Pen placed a hand on my arm as I got up from the table to put my empty plate and mug in the sink.
'If he did kill that poor woman ... well, I think it's your duty to tell the police, don't you? She deserves justice, even if she was a prostitute.'
'Exactly what I'd thought about poor Jo-Jo when she, along with Louis, were killed in that car crash.'
'You think that was Jake Smith's motive for killing Alice, because she introduced Jo-Jo to Louis Frame?'
'Jo-Jo was Jake's sister ... her death hit him hard. Alice told me he was a man that didn't mess about.'
I recalled Jake's words, spoken to me in what should have been the sanctuary of my own bathroom.
'Somebody's going to pay the price for Jo-Jo's death. And if you don't find the killer, it's going to be you.' This from a man who'd just been released from prison for GBH. Jake was a man who carried out his threats.
Mike added his empty plate to mine. 'Work calls ...'
We left Pen to it and walked back down the stable yard.
But the memory of finding Alice was strong in my mind and I couldn't shake it off. Whoever had smashed in her skull certainly hadn't been messing about. He'd meant to kill her.CHAPTER 3
'For an amateur detective, you do seem to have been extremely successful, Mr Radcliffe.' The police officer facing me across the table shuffled papers in the open file.
'I'm not a detective, amateur or otherwise, I'm a jump jockey.'
'But you have been involved in attempted murder and murder cases, haven't you, sir?'
I pursed my lips, couldn't deny it. 'I would say coerced would be a better word. Involved seems to imply I was a willing party. And I wasn't.'
'Have you any idea who would have wanted to kill Alice Goode?'
There it was, the 'straight in the face' question I'd been dreading.
'She was a prostitute,' I hedged, 'trouble and danger would seem part of the territory.'
'That's your theory then, is it, sir? She was killed by one of her ... clients?'
'Well, it seems likely, don't you think?'
'At this stage of our inquiry we are keeping a very open mind, sir.' He changed tactics. 'Have you heard anyone issue threats, or warnings, against Alice Goode?' The inspector smiled thinly. 'Think very carefully, sir. This is a murder investigation.'
Inside, my guts curled like a cobra that had been trodden on. It was definitely the 'meat in the sandwich' moment. And I'd no doubt the recording machine would be taking careful note of my reply. If I didn't come clean about Jake Smith, the long arm of the law – when it found out I'd withheld relevant information – would descend swiftly upon me.
And if or when I divulged Jake's oblique threat, they were going to come after me with the next question of why he'd issued the threat. To answer that would give them the clear motive of revenge. OK, it would certainly divert them away from me but it also set me up as the dolly for Jake's fire.
I didn't know which of them I was most afraid of right now.
'Let me put it another way.' Leaning forward, almost conspiratorially, he said, 'Did you have sex with Alice Goode that night? Before she died?'
'No. I have never had sex with her.'
'But you knew her, didn't you? You've been to her house before, haven't you?'
'But you've never had sex with her, right?'
'I've told you, no, never.'
'Oh, come now, sir. We've known for years Alice was practicing as a prostitute on our patch. Let's say, she was a very persuasive woman.'
I thought back to the only time I'd visited Alice at her house. My preconceived, distasteful idea of a prostitute had been correct only in how she was dressed: in an extremely short, provocatively tight black skirt, buttocks bouncing, Alice had shimmied away down the hall in front of me. At her trade of getting men going, she was undoubtedly an expert.
For a wild moment, I wondered if the inspector had experienced that same, calculated turn-on, too. And if so, how had he reacted?
For myself, all I'd been interested in was how I could get Alice to tell me the name of the man who had just beaten me up.
But before leaving, I'd seen the other side of the hard image with which Alice surrounded herself. It had dissolved, literally, as she'd cried over the death of her close friend and I'd found myself warming to her, not as a prostitute but as a caring woman. The fact that just before I left she'd offered a short utopia for both of us – which I'd declined – I discounted.
If the man in front of me had followed Alice down that hall, had he been strong enough – or sufficiently scared of sullying his reputation – to decline? I looked at the handsome, chiselled planes of his face, the expensively cut hair. He met my gaze with sardonic raised eyebrows. If I was allowed to bet, I'd take six to four on that Alice's powers of persuasion hadn't failed her. Pity I couldn't prove it, couldn't use it as a lever against answering his question.
What it came down to was a long, slow burn in Nottingham prison for perjury versus a swift end at Jake's hands.
I told the inspector what he wanted to know.
'Much as I like dear old Leo, a ginger tom is no defence. What I suggest is you trade him in for a couple of German shepherds.' Mike took a long slurp of tea.
'Thank you for that little diamond.'
Pen giggled and thrust a steaming mug into my hand.
'Thanks. Look, what choice did I have?'
'You could always enter a monastery, Harry,' she said.
'Pen, my sweet, Jake would simply don a habit and walk straight in unchallenged.'
'What Mike's trying to say, Pen, is now I've snitched to the police there's no hiding place for me.'
'But what's the worst he could do?'
Mike and I raised an eyebrow to each other.
'Let's hope he's hauled in smartly – and kept in.'
I played down the probable scenario that, even if he was, Jake could still activate what Darren Goode, Alice's husband – currently serving time in Nottingham Prison – had called 'his long reach'. Apparently, even if you were already in jail, it was no safeguard. If you were on Jake's hit list you could confidently put a sizeable chunk of money on getting hit.
'Shouldn't think he'll find you at the races, though,' Pen said with satisfaction.
Again, our eyebrows were raised without her being aware.
It had been at Market Rasen racecourse that Jake had first contacted me. That contact had set off what I thought of as the 'second round', and he'd been in prison at the time.
What I desperately hoped was that there would be no 'third round'. I'd put my life in danger by being forced to answer the inspector's questions about Alice's death and felt it was now their baby – nothing to do with me. I was very sorry indeed about Alice; she didn't deserve her violent end. But having to sort out who was responsible and mete out punishment wasn't my problem.
I pushed back my chair. 'Better make tracks to the track.' I was due to ride in three races this afternoon at Towcester. My hunger to retain the champion jockey title was still as strong as ever but with the way my life had gone in the past few months, right now it seemed as likely as catching a hot air balloon to Mars.
'Good luck.' Pen smiled.
'Thanks. I think I'll need some.'
None of the horses were from Mike's stables and all three of them were pretty much no-hopers, would be extremely fortunate to come in the frame, but the bottom line was I needed rides. Needed the income. A jockey's cash flow came from the bread-and-butter fee from simply riding in a race. The jam, if there was any, came from a percentage of the winnings. At the moment there were quite a few no-jam days.
I'd parked up at Towcester, was making my way over to the weighing room when I heard my name called out.
'Harry, over here ... glad to see you.' The racehorse trainer, Clive Unwin, stepped forward through the crowd of racegoers. 'How are you? Is that arm in working order?' He nodded towards my upper left arm.
'Yes, thanks, Clive. I'm a fast healer.'
I didn't add that I also enjoyed the additional plus factor of receiving spiritual healing courtesy of my estranged wife, Annabel. She was a fully qualified spiritual healer and I'd had cause to be extremely grateful to her in the past for her help. Her unselfishness in helping me to get fit for returning to racing was staggering. Especially so because it was my racing career that had driven her away in the first place.
Annabel couldn't stand seeing me suffering from injuries caused by all the falls a jump jockey inevitably sustains. For her to consistently give me healing so I could continue riding spoke loudly about her unselfish, caring nature. I was still hopelessly in love with her – and hopeless was the right word.
When she had finally left, she'd gone to live with Sir Jeffrey, the man in her life ever since. I'd still entertained the slim hope that one day she might return, but it was crushed when she found out she was carrying Sir Jeffrey's baby.
I had very ambivalent feelings towards him. As a man, I found myself liking his friendly personality and ethics but, conversely at the same time, I was wildly, insanely jealous that he was the baby's father, not me.
'Not like a broken bone, I suppose,' Clive continued.
'No. Once my body had made up the blood loss, I felt a whole lot better.'
No point in telling him that, in order to get to sleep, I took a couple of painkillers at night. Today was the first ride since I'd sustained the injury. No sense letting him know that either. The trainer, as well as all the punters, needed to have confidence in the jockey. It was up to me to project the correct positive image. Any niggling doubts I personally might have needed suppressing.
But a short while later, being carted down to the start by a complete yak that needed its head aimed at a crazy angle towards the rails to prevent a complete bolt, I felt the burn begin in my left arm. Race riding demanded its own level of fitness and it was hard luck that this first race looked like proving a bastard.
However, during the actual race, Milligrams had sweated up and used so much nervous energy already that, halfway round the course, he gave up fighting and trailed along as backmarker. There was no point in my trying to shake him up – his bolt was shot and I ended the race on a very tired horse. I just hoped Clive Unwin understood the animal's temperament. And, just as important, let the owner down gently, too. A disappointed owner was not something I needed. Walking back in, the stable lad took the reins.
'Not a surprising result, Harry,' Clive said as I dismounted.
'No,' I replied with some relief at his acceptance of the situation.
'See how you make out with Respirator.'
'Am I looking at a similar situation?'
Excerpted from Dead Reckoning by Glenis Wilson. Copyright © 2017 Glenis Wilson. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
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