Doyle swung the Escort swiftly away from the kerb and barely pausing at the junction slotted neatly into the small gap between two buses before glancing, slightly annoyed, at his partner. "You took your time."
"Sorry. Phone rang just as I was heading for the door. I didn't like to ignore it in case it was the Great White Chief."
Doyle tossed him a sceptical look. "Since we're supposed to be in his office in about five minutes from now, it's hardly likely. He'd be raising hell on the R/T instead. And if it had been the Cow, then it was a bad move to answer it; since we couldn't claim to be stuck in traffic if you're answering your phone. No, you just didn't like to ignore it in case you missed out on a date."
He stood on the brakes as the bus he was following made an unscheduled stop. The bus behind made a noisy halt, all brakes and creaking, and Doyle peered nervously into the rear mirror at the huge engine grill which was all he could see through the back window. He hated being the filling in a bus sandwich.
Returning to his partner, Doyle caught a smirk on Bodie's face and sighed resignedly. "So, who was on the phone?"
Bodie continued to smirk, enjoying the moment of winding Doyle up, before he admitted the truth. "Actually, it was Ronnie."
"From the stables?" Not a proper girlfriend, then. Doyle had been getting fed up with Bodie's recent non-stop social whirl when his own off-duty time had seen about as much life as the average granny's. In fact, most grannies probably had more fun than he did. "What did she want?"
"She's coming up to London later today. Wondered if I'd be able to put her up for a couple of nights."
In spite of Bodie's protestations that Ronnie had been a 'nice kid' it hadn't stopped Bodie sleeping with her. Doyle knew that; even if Bodie had been surprisingly reticent about their relationship. "Any particular reason for the visit?"
"Something about needing to see her solicitor."
Managing to squeeze past the bus as it moved slowly away, Doyle dismissed Ronnie from his mind to concentrate on the traffic, and Bodie fell silent.
Ronnie hadn't been badly injured in the shooting, and was back at the stables before they'd finished the protection job with Alex. When the time came to leave, Bodie had been relieved to find that although Ronnie had been sorry to see him go, she wasn't going to pine for him.
It was good timing as far as he was concerned, anyway. Things were quiet and they were on standby later; in spite of the current plethora of girlfriends Bodie hadn't made any plans. However, if they were lucky they'd draw standby for the following day as well, which would give him some time to spend with Ronnie.
Ronnie turned up just before seven, carrying only a rucksack, and Bodie closed the door behind her looking puzzled. "Is that all you've got? You are staying?"
She grinned at him, eyes twinkling. "Spare t-shirt, toothbrush. What else do I need? Unless you were thinking of presenting me at Court?"
"I don't move in those circles." That was one of the things he liked about Ronnie; she was uncomplicated, comfortable in jeans and t-shirt and without the need for make-up.
He ushered her into the room. "Drink? Tea, coffee - "
"Can you manage a beer?" she asked hopefully, grinning.
"Probably easier than tea or coffee." Bodie headed for the kitchen to fetch the cans, and returned to find her wandering about, examining pictures and the diagrams of weapons that Bodie chose to decorate with.
"Sit down. Do you want anything to eat?"
She folded herself onto the sofa, tucking her legs under her, and taking the can he offered. "I grabbed a sandwich on the train. Kept me going for a bit."
"I'll whistle up some take-away later, then." Popping the ring-pull on his own can, Bodie took a swig. "Why have you come up to London?"
"I was 21 a few weeks back. I have to go and meet the solicitor who was handling my parents' estate; sign some papers and make it all legally mine. The appointment's tomorrow, early." Ronnie was suddenly anxious. "It was OK to come, wasn't it? Only I don't know anyone else in London to stay with."
"It's fine; I'm pleased to see you. I didn't have plans for this evening."
"Probably more accurate to say I'm between several. I'm busy juggling at the moment," he told her gleefully. "It's driving Ray nuts."
Ronnie laughed, apparently undismayed by his infidelity. "That's good. Means I won't tread on anyone's toes."
That was a green light if ever he'd seen one. Bodie joined her on the sofa. "Well, no one's ever described me as tall, dark and monogamous yet..."
Tugging up the sheet, Ronnie curled against him with a sigh. "Just as I remembered," she teased.
"Mmm." Bodie nuzzled around her ear and neck, and she shivered responsively. "Been thinking about me a lot, then?"
"Occasionally. But I have had other things to think about, like riding."
Bodie grinned. "I think about that as well."
Ronnie twisted around and pushed him flat onto the bed. "Typical man! What is it they say: men think about sex every seven minutes?"
"That's not true." Bodie tried to look affronted, but ended up grinning. "More like every five minutes..."
Smiling, Ronnie ran her fingers lightly down his chest. "Never would have guessed..."
"Men think about other things as well," he protested. Right on cue, his stomach gave an enormous rumble, and Ronnie burst out laughing. "Like food!"
"Not my fault. We didn't get that take-away, and exercise always makes me hungry." He glanced at his watch. "It's not too late; I could ring now."
As her own stomach emitted a more lady-like agreement, Ronnie nodded, grinning wickedly. "OK. It'll give you time to recover."
For answer, Bodie flipped her onto her back and pinned her down. "What makes you think I need time?"
She giggled, not trying to escape. "Well, you are a few years older than me..."
"Just makes me more experienced..."
Ronnie emerged from the kiss with a sigh. "Nothing wrong with a bit of experience..." Her stomach growled again, louder this time, and she gave him a push. "Go order the food before it's too late."
Over the curry, Bodie put the TV on for the news, but other than the racing results, Ronnie wasn't particularly interested, and seemed to have something on her mind.
"Bodie, what exactly do you do, in your job?" She'd taken their protection job on Alex for granted, not asking any questions, now Ronnie's question made Bodie realise that he'd never explained.
"We pretty much get involved in anything and everything. Ray and I work for CI5."
"I see." Cross-legged on the sofa, plate balanced on her knees while she scooped up rice with her fork, Ronnie was thoughtful. "So, if I hear on the news about armed raiders, and terrorists and shoot-outs, it means you're involved?"
"Probably. But not every day. We're just as likely to be dealing with boring paperwork."
"Oh yeah?" Ronnie grinned. "I bet Ray does all the paperwork." She became serious again. "But do you investigate things?"
"We're not exactly the police. Depends what's involved. What's going on? Is there something you've not told me?"
"I'm not sure exactly." Setting down her plate, Ronnie reached for her can of beer. "It's just things have changed at the stables, just in the last few weeks."
"Hold on." Bodie got up and turned the TV off, and fetched another couple of cans from the fridge. "OK. Tell me."
"I don't know exactly what to tell you. I suppose for starters, that Col's changed. You wouldn't notice the difference but I've known him for years; he's almost like a father to me. And all of a sudden he won't talk to me. He's closed off, almost cold to me. And I'm worried."
"Have you talked to Alice? Maybe it's - "
"Alice has gone away. Col said she's staying with her sister to help out while one of her nieces is ill."
"And you don't believe him? Maybe they've split up; that would explain the way he's acting."
"No." Ronnie was positive. "I'd know. I'd've seen that coming. He'd tell me, in any case, if that had happened."
"What else?" Bodie could accept Ronnie's concern, she wasn't the neurotic type, but there had to be something more, if she wanted him to investigate.
"Alice left about three weeks ago. A couple of days before she went, we had two new horses in the yard. That was the first thing. Col should have asked me to take on one of them; I was only doing one horse. But he swapped us around, asked Jeff to take on the new horse, while I took over one of his."
That didn't sound too bad to Bodie. "So? He probably had a good reason, maybe he didn't think you could handle the new horses..."
Ronnie bounced irritably to her feet. "You don't understand; that's not the way things are done in a racing stable. Stable lads stay with their horses until they leave the yard. You don't change. Not unless you're doing a rotten job, in which case you're more likely to be sacked anyway."
"OK, OK," Bodie tried to placate her. "I believe you. So what do you think it is?"
"I don't know. But it's got something to do with this new owner. Ever since he turned up, Col's been acting strange."
"Come and sit down." Bodie couldn't keep up with her frustrated pacing around the room. "What about him? Who is he?"
"That's another weird thing. I heard him, in the yard the first time he visited. He was talking about being delighted that he could have his horses in Col's stable since they were cousins. But Col didn't look delighted. He looked sort of angry - and worried." Ronnie gave up her pacing and sank back onto the sofa. "Col took on another stable lad - not that we needed him. And this new owner insists on using his own jockey; as if Alan isn't good enough for him. It's like he has some hold over Col."
Bodie didn't understand half the implications Ronnie was throwing at him; in spite of the time spent at the stables it was still a world he knew little about. But Ronnie was convincing him. "What do you want me to do?"
"I'm not sure. Maybe - I don't know where Alice is, where her sister lives. Maybe you can find out; I wouldn't be so worried if I knew she was really OK. And the owner - can you check him out? I can't help feeling he's a crook."
"That should be easy enough. What's his name?"
Recognition fizzed at Bodie. Harry Walter, owns a couple of racehorses. Of course. Fingers in lots of mucky pies and uses murder to cover his tracks. They'd never managed to pin anything on the silver bullion raid on him; Merhart had returned to his own country and Swetman had gone down without saying a word about who was paying him.
When Mandy had learnt it would be her word against Walter's she'd refused to testify. CI5 had always suspected she'd been got at, even under their protection. Anyway, Walter had slipped through their fingers, much to Cowley's chagrin.
Ronnie had seen his reaction. "You know him? Am I right, is he trouble?"
Trouble was an understatement. If Ronnie was right, and Walter had some hold over the trainer, then it could be dangerous. "What time is your appointment with the solicitor tomorrow?"
Ronnie was startled by the change of subject. "Nine-thirty. Why?"
"I'll take you. Then I'll take you to meet my boss; he'll be interested in what you've said." He stood up, and pulled Ronnie to her feet. "In the meantime, we've got some unfinished business..."
Ronnie's solicitor had an office on Theobalds Road. With his usual good fortune Bodie had been able to park in a meter bay just around the corner, and having fed the meter with as many coins as it would take he escorted Ronnie to the narrow double doors of the upmarket terraced property, now converted to house the law firm.
She hadn't expected to be very long, but Bodie was thoroughly fed-up with reading back issues of Country Life long before Ronnie had emerged. The articles and estate agent details just proved to him that there was another world out there and he couldn't afford most of it. Not that he really wanted an address in the country, but it would be nice to have the choice.
He was just wondering whether he needed to move the car when Ronnie appeared, accompanied by the solicitor. "Remember you can call me if you've got any questions, Veronica." He favoured Bodie with a dubious glance. "I'm best placed to give you advice."
"Thanks, Mr Laker." Seeming slightly stunned, Ronnie nodded her farewell, and followed Bodie outside.
"What was all that about? Is everything OK?"
"Yes. Just a lot of things I didn't know about, that's all." Ronnie slid into the Capri, and waited until Bodie had pulled out into the main road before she expanded. "I knew my parents had some money invested with Col, but I've just found out they owned nearly half the stables. Which I've just inherited."
"Wow. That's good news." Bodie grinned at her. "I suppose your solicitor was warning you against gold-diggers?"
"He saw you come in with me. Wanted to know who you were. I told him you were just a friend."
Bodie squeezed the Capri between two buses, beating a Transit to the small gap at the lights. Turning onto Kingsway he began to negotiate the traffic, watching warily for tourists who didn't seem to be able to cope with crossing the roads. "So have you inherited the means to pay for the upkeep of the stables as well, or do you have to keep working for that?"
She laughed. "It's all tied up in the stables. I don't get much money, I'm afraid."
"Oh well. I suppose I'll have to wait until you're a famous jockey before I start trying to lay my hands on the funds."
"I might've known that's all you want me for..." Ronnie glanced around her. "Where are we headed?"
"My offices." Bodie had phoned in earlier to check Cowley would be there. "To talk to my boss about Harry Walter."
Betty had retrieved the files on Harry Walter for Cowley to read and he had been busy in the intervening period. Once Ronnie had relayed her fears to him, Cowley put a few questions forward.
"Do you know a trainer named Malcolm Haines?"
As Bodie had expected, Ronnie nodded. "He's got a stable near Warwick, but I think he's retiring from training. His wife died in a car accident, but even before that he seemed to be losing his touch. Several horses from his stable didn't do as well as expected."
"Like Blue Thunder, and Hobson's Girl?"
"Especially those two. And Crystal Cavern. I lost twenty quid on her. There were rumours that Haines was fixing races."
Cowley flicked over a couple of pages on his desk. "What about Merrick O'Neill?"
"He's still on suspension. I can't believe he took a bribe, though."
Cowley had been doing some research - he didn't follow horseracing. "Are you onto something, sir?"
"Harry Walter had two horses with Malcolm Haines, and another one at the stable where O'Neill is main jockey. It could be coincidence, but I don't like coincidences like this."
"What are we going to do?"
"I think it's time we did some digging..."
Two days later, Bodie headed out onto the M4. As usual when presented with a problem Cowley had moved quickly, and by the time he'd put Ronnie on the train the previous morning they had something of a strategy.
It hadn't been hard for Cowley to get the information he needed, and a worrying pattern had emerged. Harry Walter had nine horses altogether, with seven different trainers. Pat Reilly, the jockey Ronnie had mentioned, always rode them, no matter which stable they were at. A search at Companies House had revealed a previously unknown and carefully disguised ownership of a chain of bookies shops, and a trend of favourites losing and outsiders winning seemed to be making the chain a tidy profit.
Doyle had been despatched to Warwick to nose around Haines' stable, and Bodie was going to see what he could find out at the stables with Ronnie.
It was dark by the time Bodie arrived at the stables, which suited him fine. He parked his car out of sight in the road behind the cottage, and tossing his bag over the fence followed it, and made his way to the back door. Ronnie had been expecting him, although via the more orthodox route of the front door, and peered hesitantly through the kitchen window before opening the door.
After dumping his bag in the bedroom, Bodie rejoined Ronnie in the kitchen. "How did you get on today?" One stumbling block in the plan so far was the fact that the partners would be recognised by Col Walters and the other stablelads. If they were right, and Col Walters was being blackmailed or threatened, he would be unlikely to blow Bodie's cover, but it would only take one - possibly innocent - word in the wrong ear. Cowley hadn't wanted Ronnie getting too involved, but they were going to have to rely heavily on her.
"I talked to a few people." Passing him a mug of coffee, Ronnie led the way through to the lounge. "Mentioned your name, said I'd seen you in London. I didn't get much reaction from most of the lads; although they remember you because of all that trouble with Alex. None of us actually knew who you worked for, most of them think you were working directly for Alex."
"If they think I'm a freelance bodyguard that should help."
"But Chris, the Head Lad, is worried about Col as well and he asked me more about you, why you were coming?"
"We may have to swear him to silence then." Cowley had advocated as few in the know as possible but they had to trust some people. "You haven't spoken to Col today?"
"I haven't had a chance. He was at Newbury races."
"And?" Bodie could tell from her face that something had gone wrong.
"Bluebell Glen was in the first race. She should've walked it, Bodie, but she tailed in fifth."
"Which was got at: jockey or horse?"
"Alan was riding. Something happened to Glennie. We watched it on TV, she didn't have any of her usual speed."
Bodie finished his coffee. "I think we should go and talk to Col."
The stable house was nearly in darkness; the kitchen door locked. Ronnie frowned, worried. "This door's never locked..." They could see a light at the end of the passage; the study was still lit. She lifted her hand to knock, and Bodie stopped her.
"Can we reach a window into the study?" Ronnie nodded, and led the way sure-footedly around the side of the dark property, to where the light spilled out onto the lawn. Bodie held her back from getting too close. "Stay here, let me."
A quick glance around the edge of the mullioned window showed Col Walters sitting at his desk, obviously talking to someone just out of Bodie's line of sight. Holding his breath Bodie let thirty seconds tick by, but there was no sound from within that he'd been seen, and he risked another look.
The other man in the room was young, not a lot older than Ronnie. Longer scrutiny of Walters showed the trainer to be tense, evidently anxious, yet apparently arguing with his visitor. In spite of the dispute, Bodie couldn't hear a word being said until the younger man leant on Walters' desk. "...know what'll happen. Keep her in mind."
He drew back as the younger man turned, but not before he'd seen a stricken look cross the trainer's face. Bodie retraced his steps to Ronnie, silencing her as he pushed her ahead of him towards the kitchen door. They both heard the bolts pulled back, and the young man exiting, striding down the path towards the stables.
Ronnie had the sense to wait until he was out of earshot before turning a worried face to Bodie. "Was he in with Col?"
"Mmm." Based on what he'd seen, Bodie was reluctant to speak to Walters now. He drew Ronnie away, leading her back to the cottage, not talking until they got there.
"Did you know the man who came out?"
Ronnie nodded. "Jason. He's the new lad Col took on. But why? It's not like he's riding any races, so why was Col talking to him?"
"From what I saw it was the other way round. Jason was calling the shots, he was telling Col what to do. His attitude was a man in charge, Ronnie, not a subordinate; he's spying on Col not working for him." He glanced at his watch. "Does he fit in with the other lads; do his work, go to the pub with them?"
"Most of the time. He's arrogant though, the others don't like him much. And he tries to chat me up."
"Let's go to the pub and see if he's there. But I want you to follow my lead. Keep quiet unless I talk to you - and try not to be surprised by things I might say."
Jason was already propping up the bar when they arrived. Bodie did a quick scan of the lads, recognising most of the faces. Arm possessively around Ronnie, he ordered a double whisky before fixing his gaze on Jason. It didn't take long before they were approached.
"Ronnie. This the reason you keep turning me down?" The grin only just missed being a leer, his inspection of Bodie obvious.
Bodie pre-empted any response Ronnie might have made, the tone of his voice staking his claim. "If she knows what's good for her."
The timbre and words carried a meaning Jason understood, and Bodie saw the younger man's attention sharpen. Ronnie understood as well and didn't much care for them, and Bodie felt a slight vibration run through her before he squeezed her arm. The indignation subsided, although she remained tense.
"Jason," the lad offered.
"Bodie." There was a pause before Bodie gestured to Jason's nearly empty glass. "Buy you another?"
Ordering the drinks, Bodie waved Ronnie away to join the other lads. He wanted to see how much he could get out of Jason; Ronnie's presence wouldn't encourage confidences.
Jason watched her go. "Haven't seen you around before."
"Live in London. Things have just got a bit hot..." The lad nodded knowingly, and Bodie glanced over at Ronnie. "This is a good place to hole up for a while."
He took a swallow of the second whisky. "What about you?"
"Came here a few weeks ago." Jason was as cagey about giving information away as Bodie. "Moving around the stables, looking for that break."
A plausible enough cover. But his presence up at the stable house earlier that evening wasn't innocent. Bodie lowered his voice. "Got any tips? Going over to Newbury tomorrow and I like to know what I'm betting on..."
He was met with a calculated rebuffal. "Fastest way to losing my job, giving out tips. 'sides," Jason gestured with a flick of his head towards Ronnie, "I'd've thought you could get all you need..."
"General stuff only. I was looking for something more - precise? If I knew for sure who was going to win the three-thirty for instance, I could make it a worthwhile bet. And that'd be worth something to others..."
Bodie saw the flare of temptation as Jason recognised the offer then rejected it. "Can't help you."
That seemed to indicate the end of the conversation, and Jason turned to rejoin the lads he'd been with. Bodie finished his whisky. What he'd learnt from that wasn't much, but it proved Jason was crooked, and if he was working for Harry Walter he was being paid enough for him to resist making a little extra on the side.
He caught Ronnie's eye - not hard, since she'd been giving him surreptitious glances since she sat down - and then called her loudly. "Let's go." As he hoped, he attracted everyone's attention, and was relieved when she joined him without argument. That only lasted until they got outside however.
Wriggling free of his arm, Ronnie stopped to face him. "There's no need to order me around."
Bodie caught her hand and started walking. He didn't know if Jason would follow them out of the pub but he didn't want to be overheard. "I'm just trying to give myself some cover. I won't get far if I act like one of the good guys, Ronnie. Just play along, OK?"
"Let you push me around, you mean?"
"If necessary. You know I stand out like a sore thumb around the stables, I'm too conspicuous to just snoop around. If I can't hide, it'll be easier to make them notice me. Jason will pass on the fact that I'm crooked, but I'll have to stay in character - which probably will mean pushing you around."
There was a brief silence while Ronnie digested that, then she sighed, recognising the sense of Bodie's words. "I suppose it can't be any worse than the sexist attitude I already put up with from some of the lads. Did you find out anything from Jason?"
"Not much. I as good as offered him a bribe for putting me onto a winner but he didn't bite. Doesn't mean he isn't involved though." They had just reached Ronnie's cottage when they heard footsteps behind them, and Bodie swung around swiftly, already reaching for the Browning.
It was the head lad Chris, and he regarded Bodie with probably justifiable suspicion after his performance in the pub. "Are you OK, Ronnie?"
Bodie relaxed. He'd already made the decision to talk to Chris; this just saved time having to go looking for him. "Let's talk inside."
Putting Chris fully in the picture hadn't taken long - unlike most of the stable lads he'd been aware of who the partners worked for. "It's obvious something's going on - I'm pleased you're here. So what do we do?"
"You let me handle it." Bodie might have to keep them informed, but their involvement had to be kept to a minimum. "Watch out for anything suspicious and do whatever you can to maintain my cover. That's all."
"I'll tell you what was suspicious this morning. As we were loading Bluebell Glen and Trisker up, I saw Jason talking to Col, and Col was looking really shocked. When we got to Newbury, Col was down in the looseboxes when I went to fetch Glennie. There were splashes of water over his trousers."
If Bodie didn't understand the implications of what Chris was saying, from her expression Ronnie did, although she obviously didn't want to believe it. "Col fixed the race?"
Bodie was lost. "Enlighten me."
Ronnie explained. "If Col gave Glennie a bucket of water before her race, she wouldn't have been able to run anywhere near her normal speed. But it's undetectable; no trace of anything even if the stewards called an enquiry or did a blood test."
"So Jason passed some instructions to Col, and he carried them out." Bodie had no doubt that Walters had been threatened with something to make him comply. He glanced at his watch. "I need to check in. Chris, keep your eyes open. If Jason asks about me, I'm a dubious character, and you don't like the way I act with Ronnie."
On Cowley's instructions Bodie had drawn a Granada from the car pool, one that didn't have a radio. If anyone got suspicious about him it wouldn't help to have visible communications gear fitted to his car. Although it was nearly ten Bodie knew the Old Man would still be there, and he dialled Cowley's direct line, getting straight through. "3.7, sir."
"Anything to report?"
"I've made the acquaintance of the stable lad Jason Lesney. The stable had a runner today; it looks like Walters was pressured into making sure the horse lost, and Lesney was with Walters this evening employing more bully-boy tactics - it's obvious he's here to make sure Col behaves himself. Oh, and I've enlisted the help of the Head Lad as well."
"I checked Lesney's past. He has a record for petty theft and assault."
"Bears watching then. Has Doyle checked in?"
"The Coroner recorded a verdict of Accidental Death on Esther Haines; the case is officially closed but according to Doyle the local police aren't happy with that result. It seems some of the evidence suggested her car was forced off the road. He's going to try and talk to Haines tomorrow."
Cowley paused. "As for the pressure on Walters - I had Ruth check out his wife's background. She traced Alice's sister, and has been watching the house in Oxford this afternoon. She's seen one woman with three children, so far there's no sign of Alice."
"She's not back here. And Walters is suddenly cooperating - could she have been snatched?"
"It's possible. I think you should try and talk to Walters, if you can manage it without raising suspicions. We need to know if there's any threat to him or his wife."
"I'll see what I can do. When's Doyle coming down here? I could use some help."
"He'll join you as soon as he's able. I've told him to stay out of sight though, so you'll need to stay in touch. Call in again tomorrow."
Ronnie handed him a mug of coffee as Bodie replaced the handset, concerned at what she'd heard of the conversation. "Is Alice all right?"
"It doesn't look as if she's at her sister's. We're still checking. But I need to talk to Col, without Jason knowing." Which could be difficult. From what he remembered of the stable routine Jason would find it easy to keep Walters in sight, and Bodie wouldn't be surprised to find someone was watching the house as well.
"You could try and catch him up on the gallops early, or he'll be going to Newbury again tomorrow. Jason isn't going."
"Someone will be watching him though." Bodie didn't know the layout of Newbury racecourse well enough to guarantee being able to talk to Walters unobserved. "I think I'll try for the gallops first. Do you know if Jason is riding first string?"
"He normally rides both. I suppose we could ask Chris to change things about, he might be able to fix it so Jason only rides up once."
"Not if a change in routine is likely to make Jason suspicious. No, leave things to run as usual - I'll scout around and take the opportunity if it occurs."
Ronnie frowned at him. "I want to help, Bodie."
"You are helping. But Harry Walter plays for keeps, Ronnie, and I don't intend to let you or Chris put yourselves in danger." He gave her a hug. "You've already had one lucky escape; I'm not going to let you find out the next bullet has your name on it."
Ronnie rubbed reminiscently at her shoulder. "I'm not too keen either; it bloody hurt. But you will tell me if I can do anything?"
"Promise." He tilted her face up to kiss her. "Right now, it's time to put the cat out and go to bed."
Ronnie smiled against his lips. "I don't have a cat..."
"Then let's move straight to step two..."
Bodie glanced again at his watch. Nearly nine-thirty; the second string would be here soon.
He'd left the cottage early with Ronnie, and used the path up to the gallops to arrive well before first string. He hadn't had any clear idea of how he could approach Walters, knowing that on foot he'd stand out immediately, and that it was unlikely Walters would pass close enough to any cover.
There had been eleven horses at first string; Bodie had equipped himself with binoculars and was easily able to pick out Jason, riding next to Ronnie. She was looking anxious, and trying her hardest not to stare at the undergrowth where he might be hiding.
Walters was riding ahead of the string, Chris by his side. Through the binoculars, Bodie could see the trainer was looking tired and strained. There was no conversation as the thoroughbreds went through their paces, cantering past two or three at a time.
Bodie didn't need to see Chris' worried expression to understand how unusual that was; even from his own limited experience he knew Walters always discussed how the horses were running.
The gallops finished, the string had filed away down the hill, Walters far too close to his stable lads for Bodie to try and talk to him secretly.
However, a good hour between first and second string had given Bodie time to think. And he'd decided that if it was impossible to speak to Walters without Jason seeing him, he'd have to be obvious instead. It was risky; he had no way of telling how Walters would react on seeing him, but with Chris beside the trainer hopefully he could pull it off.
Consequently he'd moved position, further down the hill. Walters generally rode in front of the string, Bodie was going to confront him...
He heard the horses long before he saw them. As the leading riders turned onto the downlands, Bodie stepped from his cover near the hedge, relieved to see Walters at the head, Chris at his side.
Several expressions crossed Colin Walters' face. Anger, recognition, and finally fear and agitation. Bodie stepped up close to the horses, speaking urgently and quietly. "Walters, we know something has happened to your wife. We need to talk to you."
There was a long pause while Walters glanced nervously over his shoulder to where Jason rode at the end of the string. "Listen to him, Col," Chris urged.
Walters brought his gaze back to Bodie. "All right."
Bodie sighed inwardly in relief. "Good. We'll fix something. Now, you don't want me hanging around Ronnie - so order me off your land."
He was a better actor in the circumstances than Bodie could have believed. Raising his voice, Walters shouted at him. "I've told you before I don't want you around here. Get off my land, now!"
Grinning malevolently, Bodie stepped aside, and insolently moved slowly back towards the hedgerow. Urging the horses forward, the string gradually picked up speed again and passed him; Ronnie's gaze bewildered, Jason's smug, knowing...
He'd backtracked to the cottage, passing a battered Hillman Imp parked in the stable lane with one suspicious-looking occupant. Outwardly taking no notice he noted the number to call in later.
Not only was it too early to head off to Newbury, but Bodie wanted to speak to Ronnie first, to find out what Jason's reaction had been when he'd suddenly popped up. Ronnie didn't normally come back to the cottage that early, but Bodie was willing to bet she would today.
"Bodie?" Sure enough, Ronnie dashed in just before ten-thirty. "I nearly died when I saw you speak to Col! I thought you said you didn't want Jason to know?"
"I couldn't work out a way to talk to Col without Jason knowing. Did he say anything?"
"He didn't seem suspicious; just asked what you'd done to get that reaction from Col. I remembered what you said in the pub, and told him you were always trying to get tips about the horses."
"Good; let's hope he thinks that's all there is to it. I'm going over to Newbury. Let Chris know, will you? I won't be able to speak to Col unless they can come up with something and somehow let me know; maybe Chris can get me into the stables, or the changing rooms?"
"That wouldn't be easy, Bodie. And you'd be obvious to the other jockeys."
"Well, I'll go anyway." Bodie picked up his jacket. "Jason thinks I'm hanging around for tips and I told him I was going to the races, so I'd better stay in character for the moment. You'd better get back to the stables; I'll see you later."
As he turned the Granada onto the main road, Bodie wasn't surprised to see the Hillman fall in behind him. He'd assumed the watcher was keeping an eye on Walters, but obviously they felt he was worth pursuing as well. He ignored it. Trying to shake them off would only rouse suspicion.
Prowling around the racecourse Bodie reacquainted himself with the layout. In such a large area with a mass of people it should be easy to lose yourself, but his tail stuck doggedly with him. And even if he could lose his shadow, there was still the probability that Col Walters had one as well. He'd already taken one risk; another 'coincidental' encounter might be dangerous for Alice Walters.
This wouldn't be so difficult if Doyle was there. He spotted a bank of payphones and headed for them; Control should be able to give him his partner's position. "It's 3.7. Any word on 4.5?"
Murphy was on duty. "He's on his way back, Bodie. He estimated reaching the stables by about one. Do you want me to try and patch you through?"
"Tricky - I'm on a payphone. Get Ray to come straight to Newbury Racecourse, will you? I've got a tail, so he'll have to buzz me on the R/T when he gets here."
He hung up and moved away from the phone, noticing his tail stuck with him. It was only just gone twelve; an hour or more before Doyle arrived. In the meantime, he was at a racecourse with the first race coming up, and he should place some bets.
By the time he got a buzz from his R/T, Bodie was considerably more flush; his lucky streak was holding good. Flicking his R/T switch in acknowledgement, he headed for the phones again; standing in the open and talking to his jacket would make everyone suspicious.
Holding the handset low, he lifted the R/T as high as he could. "3.7 to 4.5."
"I'm out in the car park, Bodie. What've you got?"
"A tail, for one. I can't approach Walters again, but he'll cooperate. Can you find some way of talking to him this afternoon? I'm pretty certain he's got a tail as well, but they won't know you."
"Any idea what his shadow looks like?"
"No. I've been trying to watch Walters without being obvious, but haven't managed to pin anyone down. There's too many people around."
"OK. I'll see what I can do."
Doyle made his way towards the rails; acting like an everyday punter with racing programme in hand, scanning the bookies' boards. His conversation with Bodie had been too short and difficult to let him know what he'd discovered in Warwick, but he was more aware of the need for caution than Bodie realised. Malcolm Haines had initially resisted any questioning, but at the mention of Harry Walter's name, the trainer had opened up.
At first he'd been pleased to take on the two new horses owned by Harry Walter. Within a few weeks, the stables suddenly had several unexpected losers, and Haines' instinct led him straight to the stable lad who'd arrived with Walter's horses. The lad hadn't denied fixing the races, and had taken his sacking philosophically.
Until the next day, when he'd returned with another man. And the pair had made thinly-veiled threats about what would happen if Haines didn't reinstate the lad, and turn a blind eye to what was happening.
Haines had refused. He had a reputation as a trainer to keep up; it wouldn't be long before the Jockey Club noticed what was happening and he had no intention of losing his licence because of a couple of petty crooks.
Two days later his wife was killed. Responsibility for the crash was claimed via a phone call; Haines had wondered if the men were taking advantage of a coincidence, but they'd made threats about his three children and he wasn't prepared to risk any more of his family. Haines had announced his retirement from training and Harry Walter was the first to remove his horses, a fact which generated a suspicion that he'd been behind it all to start with...
From the stands, Doyle spotted Colin Walters not far from the parade ring, and began to scan the people around him. He didn't recognise any faces; although there were a few which were more static than others, none seemed to be paying Walters any especial attention. Doyle memorised those few faces before filtering his way downwards, continuing his scrutiny of the crowd while making his way towards the trainer.
No heads turned to watch him as Doyle drifted up next to Walters where he stood alone at the rails, and Doyle held out his programme and gestured to it, as if asking a question. "Let's keep this to a minimum. Has your wife been kidnapped?"
To his relief, Walters' reaction was casual, and running a finger down the programme in response, he replied in the same low tone. "Yes. I was allowed to speak to her on the phone last night - she sounded drugged, but OK. I have to let my horses be sabotaged, otherwise they'll kill her. I was suspicious about Harry Walter when he moved his horses to me from Haines' stable, which is why I sent Alice to her sister..."
"I've talked to Haines; I know what happened." Doyle flicked over pages in the programme and pointed out else something to Walters, having seen one of the faces in the background staring at them. "You're being watched. He's 30's, slicked-back dark hair?"
"Another one then. There's a stablelad, plus someone else watching the house; younger, mousy hair. He's here as well."
That'd be Bodie's tail then. They were still being watched; the dark-haired, thin-faced individual moving closer. "Don't make them suspicious; do everything they tell you. We'll trace Alice." Doyle nodded as if in thanks and drifted a few paces away to consult the bookies' odds, wandering slowly back towards the stands. When he glanced back, to his relief he could see Walters still at the rails, the tail close by but not looking after him.
Casually, he wandered on. He'd have to check in with Cowley soon, but right now it was time to catch up with Bodie. He finally caught sight of his partner heading for one of the bars, and changed direction.
As Bodie vanished inside Doyle saw the man Walters' had described still following his partner, and stopped. It was unlikely the two followers would discuss him and realise he'd talked to both Walters and Bodie, but it wasn't worth taking the risk. He turned and strolled towards the car park; he'd have to figure out some other way to speak to Bodie.
Back in the Escort, Doyle buzzed the R/T, and settled back to wait. Bodie buzzed back within ten minutes.
"I spoke to Col Walters. We need to meet up - can you lose your tail?"
Bodie glanced at his watch. It was early to leave the racecourse, but this was important. "It'd be too obvious here. There's a pub called the Cross Keys in the town centre; it's in London Road, near the Monument. I'll lose chummy and meet you there."
Bodie switched off before he could respond, and Doyle started the engine. It sounded as if Bodie knew Newbury better than he did, he'd better find this pub...
Swinging the car into the kerb, Bodie watched in amusement as he got out and saw his tail shoot past, trying to find somewhere to leave his own vehicle. Newbury town centre had a couple of car parks but Bodie had opted to park in a side street, deliberately quite a way from the pub, knowing it wouldn't take long to walk there but not sure how easy it would be to shake off his tail.
He started up the street, glancing back to see that the youth had managed to park and was now hurrying to catch up without being obvious.
Bodie grinned. The kid was so green he was grass-looking; Bodie could've lost him at any time in the past couple of hours. He continued walking briskly along the main street, crowded with Saturday shoppers, and crossed the bridge before turning into Camp Hopson.
He remembered it well from a few years back, when his girlfriend had taken him shopping. The place was straight out of the archives; founded over a hundred years before, the style of the shop, with smartly-uniformed assistants and senior floorwalkers, was a perfect example of the department store caricatured in 'Are You Being Served?'
The main benefit of the rambling premises was the numerous stairways and exits. Within minutes, Bodie had lost his tail and was back in Northbrook Street and on his way to the pub.
Doyle had grabbed a table at the rear of the busy bar and already had a pint in for Bodie, who seized it gratefully. "Cheers."
Doyle sipped his own pint, getting straight to business. "Alice Walters has definitely been snatched."
"I guessed as much." Bodie took another swig. "What about Haines?"
"He was being threatened; looks like his wife was killed by Walter's mob. From the local police report, it could've been during an attempt to grab her. Anything at the stables?"
"The stablelad Jason is in Harry Walter's pay; he's spying on Col. I've set myself up as a dubious individual, although they must still be suspicious to follow me. How're we gonna play this one?"
"Check in with Cowley for starters." Doyle grimaced. "Our priority has got to be to find and rescue Alice before we move in on the small fry. If we make a move on them too soon - "
"Alice won't be coming back through the looking-glass."
Doyle nodded. "Exactly. Cowley was going to find out whether Harry Walter had any property around here, which might get us a step closer to finding her..."
"Or not. There's too many empty farm buildings around here as well. We can't hope to check them all."
"What about this tail of yours? I could try following him, although from what Col Walters said he's the one watching the house, so it's likely to be a cold trail. It's probably the other man, who's with Col at the moment, who I should follow..."
"Ah, this is getting too convoluted." Bodie drained his pint. "Let's call in and give Cowley the headache instead..."
Cowley advocated a low profile; Bodie was to return to the stables while they tried to trace Alice Walters. Doyle turned the Escort onto the A4 towards Hungerford; Ruth was on her way from Oxford to meet him at The Bear Inn which they'd use as a base. Although Cowley hadn't turned up any possible locations so far, so exactly what they were going to do was vague at the moment.
Ruth joined him just as he checked in, and they went up the uneven staircase of the centuries old inn together. Doyle was amused to find that their rooms, 4 and 5, were also quaintly named Anne of Cleves and Catherine Howard. "In honour of old Henry, I assume."
Ruth gave an unladylike snort. "In his honour? He was a lecherous, disease-ridden misogynist who didn't have any honour. In memory of his poor wives, more like."
She opened the door to Catherine Howard, having to push it hard since the entrance was on an upward slope. The semi-regal interior of the room completed the picture of Tudor splendour, and Ruth stared in disbelief at the height of the bed. "I've heard of people climbing into bed..."
"Maybe they have a stepladder downstairs," Doyle suggested, grinning. "Or I could always give you a bunk up if you want..."
Although her smile was repressive, Ruth's eyes twinkled. "Thanks for the offer, Ray, but I'll manage."
"You know where I am."
"I know where you're staying, as well..."
Bodie had arrived back at the stables soon after three. As he'd anticipated, his tail had picked him up at the car but following Cowley's orders he'd ignored the lad.
The cottage was quiet; Ronnie must still be at the stables. Knowing that she'd be busy later when the horseboxes returned from the racecourses, Bodie decided to wander down and reassure her that they'd spoken to Col.
The stableyard was nearly deserted, although several of the lads were cleaning food bins and buckets and brushing horserugs. They pointed to the Tack room in response to his query and he headed for the corner of the yard, stepping quietly through the open door.
Ronnie was indeed there, but not cleaning tack. She was standing against the back wall, Jason leaning on outstretched arms in front of her and preventing her from moving. "So you don't know them, then? No idea where to find them?"
He had time to take in Jason's words and the fact that Ronnie was clearly scared, before she spotted him. "Bodie!" Her surprised cry startled Jason into moving backwards and away from her.
"What's going on?" Bodie made it heavily suspicious; if Jason thought he was jealous so much the better.
Jason shrugged. "Just talking."
Focusing briefly on Ronnie, Bodie jerked his head to beckon her. She slid past Jason and into the protection of his arm, and Bodie switched his attention back to Jason. "Not what it looked like."
Jason shrugged again, and returned to start cleaning the tack he'd previously abandoned. "You've got a suspicious mind. Ronnie and me just get along."
Bodie left it, and wheeled to lead Ronnie outside. "Was he threatening you?"
"Not really. But what he was saying..."
Bodie stopped her. "I don't want him overhearing anything. Let's walk out to the paddock."
"Jason wanted to know if any of the horses in the yard were owned by a couple named Saunders; did I know which ones, and where did this couple live."
Although it had obviously had some impact on her, Bodie didn't understand why this had shaken Ronnie. "And? Who are they?"
"My parents. But they never owned any racehorses - and why would Jason be looking for them?"
"It'll be Harry Walter who's looking for them." Bodie thought quickly. If they didn't have horses at the stable, the only other interest could be the shares they'd held - which Ronnie had just inherited. "Your shares. They'll still be registered in your parents' names."
"He wants to buy them?"
"Knowing what we do of Walter, buying is probably the last thing he'd do. Is anyone else likely to tell Jason what he wants to know?"
"Not if he only asks about owners; no one else knows about the shares. Some of the lads know my name, but I'm not sure if they'd make the connection. Or whether they'd tell Jason, if they did."
Her identity might be relatively safe at the moment, but the fly in the ointment was the trainer. Asked the question, with the threat to Alice if he failed to answer, and Col Walters would give her away. Alice herself could probably tell them. Bodie wondered if he should call Cowley and get Ronnie taken to safety, but she was his cover - if she left, it would look odd if he stayed.
"Let's keep our fingers crossed. I'll talk to Cowley. You stay as far from Jason as you can; don't hesitate to threaten him with me if you have to."
Leaving Ronnie at the yard, Bodie headed back to the cottage to phone HQ, swiftly outlining the situation to Cowley. "It probably won't take Harry Walter long to find out Ronnie's parents were killed. Then he'll be looking for her."
He could hear the frown in Cowley's voice. "Finding her could still take him a while."
"Not if he puts pressure on Col or Alice. I'm surprised he hasn't already."
"If he's trying to gain a legal foothold on the stable he'll probably think he can persuade the other shareholders to sell. Is Walters back from Newbury yet? If he isn't already aware of this new development he should be."
"Do you want me to try and talk to him? My tail is back here and watching the house again. He's not up to much; I'm sure we can get past him easily enough, although there's still Lesney."
"Maybe some sort of ruse. I'll talk to Doyle; you wait for his call."
Wait. Bodie put the phone down with a grimace. Wasn't much else he could do...
Bodie had kept one eye on the road, and hurried out as soon as he heard the horseboxes returning. The light blue Vauxhall Viva that had been just behind them stopped along the lane, and as he turned the vehicle Bodie recognised the driver as the man Doyle had described to him.
He wandered along the lane to the stableyard, keeping back but not deliberately out of sight, to where he could see Ronnie leading one of the horses down the ramp from the first box and Col Walters heading into the house. Jason was on the far side of the yard with the second box, and leaning on the gate Bodie watched the stable routine while waiting for Ronnie to finish. He wasn't happy about leaving her even though Cowley or Doyle might be trying to phone him; whatever Cowley had in mind would have to wait for dark anyway.
Her tasks finished, Ronnie joined him. Jason hailed them as they turned to leave. "Going down the pub later, Ronnie?"
Unsure of what her answer should be, she glanced nervously at Bodie before shrugging. "Maybe."
"Might be busy," Bodie added with a leer. In reality he was pleased to hear where Jason intended to be that evening, and drew Ronnie away before Jason could reply, hurrying her back to the cottage.
His R/T squawked as they got inside. "3.7."
"Ruthie!" He grinned in advance of her reaction.
"I've told you before, don't call me that." The asperity could clearly be heard in her tone. "We're on our way to the stables; about three miles down the road. Should we come to you, or meet you elsewhere?"
"Well there's a watcher in the lane outside, but if you come down the main road at the back and over the fence he won't see you."
"I'm hardly dressed for jumping over fences..." Bodie caught half of Doyle's comment in the background, and grinned again as Ruth obviously turned her indignation on him. "Yes, thank you, Ray. Oh well, I suppose I'll manage. We'll be with you shortly." She terminated the connection before Bodie could respond, and he tossed the R/T down, still grinning.
As soon as he spotted Doyle's Escort pulling up behind the Granada, Bodie trotted out to the rear of the property but was too late to assist Ruth, watching in admiration as in spite of the skirt and heels she competently negotiated the fence.
Doyle followed, faster but slightly less elegantly, smirking at Bodie as Ruth stalked past him. "Still chancing your arm?"
"Oh, she loves me really." They followed Ruth up the garden. "What was that you said in the car: something about giving her a bunk up?"
Doyle grinned maddeningly but couldn't resist explaining to his partner. "I was just repeating the offer of help I made earlier. You should see the size of the beds at this place Betty found us."
"Bet she turned you down."
Fortunately for Bodie they reached the cottage and he was saved from having to reply; it wasn't a bet he could be certain of winning. His partner wasn't above cheating, and Ruth might be persuaded to go along with Doyle simply to wind him up.
In the lounge Ruth had already introduced herself to Ronnie, who was busy pouring coffee. Bodie handed the mugs round and gestured for the others to sit. "So do we have a plan, or make it up as we go along?"
"Cowley filled us in on what Harry Walter is after now, but he wasn't sure of the layout here. He just said we should come up in case you needed help."
"Jason Lesney is always hanging about the stables and house, and the house is also being watched from just down the lane here. And someone has to get in to talk to Col without either of them knowing."
"And hope the place isn't bugged?" Ruth commented.
"In view of the permanent watcher it's unlikely," Doyle replied. "Still that's easy, you talk in the kitchen with the taps running."
"So who goes in? And how?"
Bodie had already given it some thought. "They followed me earlier today, but I don't know whether they've decided I'm not suspicious. If they're still unsure I could possibly draw the lad in the car off. Lesney said he'd be in the pub tonight, so someone has to watch him there."
"My job, then," Doyle volunteered, "while Ruth goes up to talk to Walters."
"That's not such a good idea, Ray." Until now Ronnie had been silently listening and her interruption was tentative. "Jason may not know you, but the other lads do. They'll remember you like they remembered Bodie."
Bodie shrugged. "She's got a point. No telling how they'll react, or whether they'll say anything to Jason."
"And Walters knows you but doesn't know me," Ruth added. "I can handle the pub."
"It'll be dark in about half-hour, I'll head out then. If the lad doesn't follow me we'll have to do a re-think, but we'll have to stay in radio contact anyway."
"What about me? What do I do?"
Bodie had deliberately left Ronnie out of any plans. "Nothing. Stay here, safe."
"It'll look odd if I don't join the others at the pub; they'll expect me. And Ruth doesn't know Jason; I can point him out."
"I've seen a photo," Ruth told her. "But we don't want to make him suspicious, Bodie; if Ronnie would normally go to the pub, perhaps she'd better."
Bodie had anticipated some resistance from Ronnie, but not Ruth's support for her. He glanced at Doyle, who shrugged. "Can't see a problem with it. If it looks like Jason is leaving, Ronnie could probably delay him. Ruth couldn't."
"OK." Bodie yielded, reluctantly. "But you take care..."
Doyle watched the tail-lights of the Hillman disappear in Bodie's wake. Bodie had acted deliberately suspiciously; collecting the Granada from behind the cottage and parking in front, and loading a heavy-looking (but actually empty) box into the boot. Ronnie had suggested that she try to stop him so that he could brush her aside, and their argument had looked pretty convincing.
"He took the bait." Doyle let the curtain drop. "Ronnie, you and Ruth go to the pub, but go in separately. Radio me when you're sure Jason is there."
He watched the girls set off together, aware that he might have a wait if Lesney wasn't already there. Bodie had more of a problem; how far and where to drive in order to keep his watcher occupied. He intended to head for Newbury first and visit a few pubs, but there was no guarantee the tail would stick with him...
"Come in, Ruth." She'd called sooner than he expected.
"Lesney is already here, Ray. He's with the other lads; Ronnie has just joined them and signalled to me through the window. I'm going to follow her in."
"OK. I'll head up to the house now. Keep in contact."
Ruth tucked the R/T away in her bag and pushed open the door to the public bar. As she'd expected, all eyes turned to watch the stranger in their midst as she slowly made her way to the bar and ordered a G&T. Gradually the conversation resumed around her and picking up her drink she risked a look round.
Ronnie was at a table with some of the stable lads; Ruth recognised Lesney as one of them. Seeing an empty table just beyond the group she made her way over to it, ignoring the scrutiny she was getting. With her back to them, she could hear the flow of conversation; although the topic meant she only understood about one word in five.
Over the main conversation she heard someone ask about the absence of Ronnie's boyfriend, and Ronnie's reply: "Don't know where he's gone. He just said he had some business and not to ask."
The interested party - it had to be Lesney, he was closest to her - probed further. "What sort of business is that likely to be?"
"He wouldn't tell me. But none of yours, anyway..."
"We might have more in common than you realise."
Ronnie was saved a reply as someone shouted across the bar. "Jason! Phone!"
Lesney had obviously been waiting for the call; as Ruth glanced over her shoulder he was already making his way towards the payphone. That call could be important; in an instant Ruth was on her feet and following him, thanking her lucky stars that the Ladies' just by the payphone provided the perfect excuse.
"Hold on." Ruth favoured Lesney with a half-smile as he stood aside for her, and let the door close behind her before pushing up against it. She could still hear him. "What's up? Has Harry found out where these people are?"
Bingo! Ruth pressed harder against the door, straining to hear the one-sided conversation. "They're what? ... What now? ... What woman? I didn't think I'd be chasing around looking for - ... All right, I know that. So we're now looking for some woman instead? What's her name? ... That's a bit posh. Can't she tell you where this woman is? ... Well if she can't, Walters probably can. I'll go up there and lean on him now. ... Yeah, OK, I'll call you if I can find out anything."
The phone went down, and Ruth retreated into the Ladies', pulling out her R/T. "4.5... 4.5... Come in, Ray."
There was a pause. "Ruth? What's up?"
"Lesney has just been on the phone to someone. I think Alice has just told them the Saunders are dead, and Veronica has inherited, but not who she is. Lesney is coming up there to lean on Walters and find out where Veronica is. You've got about five minutes unless Ronnie has managed to delay him."
"OK, thanks Ruth. I'll turn off my R/T when he gets here."
Doyle turned to the trainer, having only had just enough time to tell him about Walter's interest in the Saunders' shares. "You heard that? You'll have to bluff Lesney; tell him what you like as long as you keep Ronnie's identity under wraps." He glanced around the study. "Where can I hide so I can hear what's going on?"
Walters pointed to the already-drawn curtains. "In the window bay? He's never bothered searching the room before, you should be safe enough if he doesn't hear you."
Doyle slid behind the curtains, finding the stone window bay more than large enough to conceal him. Ronnie obviously hadn't had any success in delaying Jason, within minutes Doyle heard someone banging into the house, and Walters' angry reaction.
"Just me. Just come to reassure you that your delightful wife is still safe and sound - long as you do as you're told."
"She'd better stay that way - " Doyle flinched at the trainer's words. Making Jason angry wouldn't help.
"You're in no position to make threats, Walters." Jason fortunately didn't take any notice. "Your wife has been helpful. Now it's your turn."
"What do you want now?"
"Well, it seems that you don't own this place outright. I know that 45 per cent of the shares are held by someone else; someone named Veronica Saunders. Now, what I need to know is where to find her."
"She's the daughter of old friends. I haven't seen her in years."
"Where was she when you last saw her?"
"London. She went to college or university, or something. Then she was travelling - she could be on the other side of the world for all I know." Walters sounded convincing; Doyle couldn't tell whether Jason was buying it, but his next question sounded less confident.
"And you've no address for her?"
"I told you. What's your interest in the shares, anyway?"
"You'll know in time." Jason's assertiveness was back. "You just keep your trap shut and do what you're told."
Doyle waited until he heard the door slam before emerging. "Well done. Let's hope it puts them off the scent for a bit."
"As long as they don't ask Alice and get a different answer..."
Doyle frowned. "She hasn't told them anything about Ronnie so far. If she was going to, they'd know already." He fished his R/T out. "Ruth, come in."
There was a silence, broken by Bodie. "3.7..."
"Bodie, I was just trying to raise Ruth. Jason's just been here. I don't know if he's on his way back to the pub."
"I heard Ruth call you. I'm just down the road; I'll head for the pub and hope to pick him up there. You'd better get clear of the house before my tail gets back in place."
Bodie shoved the door to the pub open loudly, relieved to see that Jason was nursing a pint at the bar, and Ronnie was at a table with Chris and some of the other lads. Ruth was nowhere to be seen; he hoped she'd already gone back to the cottage.
He glared fullforce at Ronnie, and she slipped out from her seat to join him. "Thought I told you to stay indoors?" He didn't bother to keep his voice down; this was one conversation he wanted Jason to overhear.
Ronnie obviously didn't know whether he wanted her to argue or not, but her natural character dictated the outcome. "You did. But you don't own me and I wanted a drink..."
"Well, you've had one." On Jason's blind side, Bodie gave her a wink and flicked his eyes in the direction of the exit. She took the hint immediately and flung herself at the door, slamming it behind her.
Glancing at the table, Bodie wasn't surprised to find he was garnering several black looks from the stablelads. Ignoring them he joined Jason at the bar. "Whisky."
"Gotta keep them in their place..." Jason's snide comment infuriated Bodie, but he grinned sourly. "Getting lippy. I know what to do about that."
"Bet you do." Jason signalled the landlord. "Get us another round. So, what was your 'business' earlier?"
"Few people I had to see," Bodie murmured vaguely. "Few questions needed answering..."
"Did you get your answers?"
"Just have to ask the right questions." Bodie drained the second whisky and pushed abruptly away from the bar. "Thanks for the drink."
The other three were waiting when Bodie reached the cottage. "All OK?" Ronnie frowned at him. "I wish you'd give me some warning. I never know how I'm supposed to act."
"Sorry, love." He gave her a hug. "Having to play it by ear myself, most of the time. You're doing just fine being yourself."
Doyle grinned. "Walters played a blinder as well. He told Jason he hadn't seen Veronica for years and thought she was abroad. I almost believed him myself."
"Gives us a bit of breathing space." Ruth stood up. "We should go back to the hotel and report in to Mr Cowley."
Doyle followed her towards the kitchen door with alacrity, and Bodie caught his arm. "Oi. No playing stepladders tonight..."
"Whatever gives you that idea?" Doyle's attempt at looking innocent was spoiled by the evil glint in his eyes.
"Oh, just the fact that I know you, Ray Doyle..."
"Bodie?" The sound of the mug being set down next to him brought him fully round. Ronnie was already dressed, smiling. "I'm off to the stables. Any instructions?"
He shook his head to clear the last of the drowsiness. "No. Are you riding out this morning?"
"It's Sunday. No strings; unless Col has something special in mind."
"I should think he's only got Alice on his mind at the moment. I'll catch up with you shortly."
"OK." Blowing him a kiss, she was gone, and Bodie lay back. He'd been awake late, trying to work out what they could do next. They'd established without doubt that Harry Walter was involved but still had no idea where he was holding Alice, and she had to be their first priority.
Maybe he needed to be a bit more direct. Maybe he could drop the Saunders' name into conversation with Jason and see what sort of reaction he got...
After a hasty shower he let himself out of the cottage intending to head for the stableyard, but a glance down the lane made him pause. The watcher's car wasn't the usual Hillman; the driver not the usual mousy-haired individual. This was the man in the Viva who'd followed Walters to Newbury.
Were they working shifts? And if so would following this man lead him to Harry Walter's hideout...?
He'd need the car. And back-up would be useful; but Doyle would have to move fast. Bodie patted his pockets as if he'd forgotten something and returned to the cottage; hurrying through to the back door and out again through the kitchen, pulling out his R/T on the way.
"4.5... Come on, Doyle, you lazy sod. Answer me." It was only eight-thirty, but Doyle should be awake.
"4.5. Keep your hair on, Bodie. We were having breakfast."
"In the restaurant, I hope."
"Unfortunately, yes. What's up?"
"The watcher in the lane; looks like the two of them are working shifts. I'm going to grab the car and follow the departing one when they change over, which could be any moment now. Round up Ruth and head in this direction; I could use some back-up."
Doyle's voice snapped into action. "On our way."
Tucking his R/T away as he reached the fence, Bodie heard Ronnie calling to him and turned to find her running up the garden after him. "What's wrong?"
"Jason..." she gasped in air. "He's asking the other stablelads if they've heard of Veronica Saunders. Chris sent me back; he said I'd be safer with you..."
And so she would, if he was staying at the cottage. He should leave her here, but it was only a matter of time before Jason got the answer he wanted, or worked it out for himself. "I was just about to turn the tables on our tail - "
"Let me come, please?"
"OK, come on." Maybe he could drop her off at a safe distance from the stables. "Into the car, quickly."
Starting the engine, Bodie saw the blue Viva beginning to nose out of the lane ahead of him, and waited until it had pulled away before following it, trying not to get too close. The trouble with the countryside was the lack of vehicles around; in London there were always plenty of other cars to hide behind.
Ahead, the Viva turned left; slowing up a bit, Bodie followed him. Another tree- and hedge-lined road; the car was speeding away from them and Bodie put his foot down. He'd come to the conclusion that wherever they were heading for couldn't be far; now he just had to hope he was being led to where Alice was being held.
Rounding a bend, Bodie came to a sudden halt at a t-junction. There was no sign of the Viva... "Right," Ronnie told him. "Comes to a dead end about half a mile down if you turn left."
Relieved that her local knowledge had justified his decision to bring her along, Bodie turned right and a couple of minutes later had the Viva ahead of him again. A few miles and several turns further on the blue Vauxhall turned right into the driveway of a modest but imposing house, and reducing his speed Bodie drove past, coming to a stop on the verge just around the next bend.
Pulling out and thumbing the R/T, he started to give directions. "We're about seven miles from the stables. We took a left - "
Ronnie interrupted him. "It'll be marked on the map, Bodie. Grenadier's House."
Ruth was on the R/T. "Ronnie's with you?" He could hear her concern in the question and hastened an answer.
"Jason was getting too close. It seemed safer. I'll scout around - " Catching sight of movement in his wing mirror, Bodie snapped off the R/T and shoved it under his seat, just as the dark-haired driver of the Viva appeared at the driving door.
"Out of the car." The carefully-held shotgun encouraged compliance. Bodie slid out and leant back against the car, as the man jerked the barrels at Ronnie. "You too. Into the house."
Now regretting the decision that had brought Ronnie along, Bodie pulled her close. He didn't think she would try and run for it, but fear was a powerful motivator, and he had no doubt the shotgun was loaded and would be used.
"What is it, Gibson?" Harry Walter set down his paper and stood up as they were ushered through the study door; his eyes narrowed at the sight of strangers.
"Followed me from the stables. This is the one who's been hanging around the last couple of days."
"Yes - I know who you mean. What are you doing here?"
Bodie shrugged casually, it was obviously time to employ some of Cowley's triple-think. "Name's Bodie. I reckon you've got a nice little earner going. I want in." He felt Ronnie jump and stiffen under his arm and squeezed her against him, mentally urging her to trust him.
Gibson laughed. "What makes you think we need you?"
Ignoring him, Bodie addressed Walter again. "I'm sure you're always looking for good men."
"I'd heard you worked for some sort of security firm."
"I'm freelance. I work for money." Ronnie twisted away from him, and he spared her a glance. Even knowing he must be pulling some kind of bluff she was alarmed. "Bodie...?"
He ignored her interruption; without any way to warn her of his intentions, Ronnie's reaction was exactly what he'd been hoping for. "I've been checking up. I know how many horses you have, which stables they're at, who rides them. There's an interesting pattern emerging, Walter."
So far Walter was giving no indication of whether he'd taken the bait. "I'm not sure I know what you're talking about, Mr Bodie. Are you suggesting you have some sort of information...?"
"I've got quite a bit on you. I know you have a 80 per cent share of Glenister's Bookmakers, for instance." That got through to Walter. "So, you might like to think about how much you'd like to pay me. How much is it worth for me to keep quiet about your activities?"
Gibson growled from close behind him, nudging his arm with the shotgun. "There are other ways of keeping people quiet."
Bodie spared the merest glance back at him. "Messy, inconvenient ways. Ways that mean I won't be able to share the information I have with Mr Walter, and I'm sure he wouldn't want that."
"I c'n beat that outta you..." As the shotgun came forward to nudge him again, Bodie knocked the barrels downwards with his left hand and back-punched Gibson in the face with his right.
"I wouldn't try it," he informed the floored minder. Bodie turned back to Walter, who had watched them without moving. "Do we have a deal?"
"What information do you have, that you think I want?"
"You're looking for Veronica Saunders. I know where to find her." He'd been anticipating some sort of extreme reaction from Ronnie, knowing that she'd be shocked and probably angry, but he couldn't see any other way of getting through Walter's defences. Her furious gasp was followed by a run for the door but he'd been ready for that, and twisting easily Bodie shot out a hand and caught her wrist.
Walter caught on immediately. "This girl? She's been at the stables all along?"
Ronnie was struggling, swearing at him. "You bastard! Let me go!" Holding her at arm's length Bodie intensified his grip, ignoring her protests, forcing himself to ignore the fact that he knew he was hurting her. "Yeah. Right under your nose. So what's that information worth?"
He didn't hear Walter's reply as Ronnie stopped trying to pull away from him and lunged forward to try and hit him instead. He blocked the blow effortlessly. "Take it easy. No sense in getting yourself hurt."
Walter had nodded to Gibson. "Take her upstairs with the other one. I want to talk to Mr Bodie."
As he released her Ronnie ducked under the minder's arm. Schooling his face into impassivity, Bodie watched helplessly as Gibson tripped Ronnie as she tried to get past him, dealing a thump to the side of her head before hauling the dazed girl to her feet and dragging her out of the room.
"So, you want in? What exactly do you think I'm running?"
"Like I said; I've been asking around about you, I know what you're running. A few words in the wrong place, and you'd go down. But I'm not greedy. Put me on your payroll - by my reckoning you're making enough to go round."
Walter strolled over to the desk to pour himself a drink. "You claim to know a lot about me, but I don't know anything about you. How do I know I can trust you?"
"I brought you the girl you were looking for. I should think that's enough to prove I've got your interests at heart. What do you want her for, anyway?"
"I want to - persuade her - to pass something onto me. If she's sensible, she'll take the money on offer, but she won't stand in my way." Walter seemed to make a decision, and waved Bodie to the drinks cabinet. "Get yourself a glass, and we'll talk..."
Doyle and Ruth had been alarmed at Bodie's sudden disconnection; Ruth immediately pulling the map from the glove box to scour the area. "What did Ronnie say? Grenadier's House?"
Concentrating on the narrow lanes, Doyle grunted. "That's what it sounded like. About seven miles from the stables - would've been helpful if Bodie had told us in which direction..."
"Here it is." Ruth glanced up at the sign they'd just passed. "It's just a couple of miles from here - take the next right." She clung onto the armrest as the Escort screeched into the side road.
"About a mile and half of straight road, then a left. What do you think..." Glancing sideways at Doyle, his concentration focused on the road ahead, Ruth left the rest of the question unasked. They'd find out soon enough what had happened to Bodie...
"Next left. It's not far down here..." Doyle had slowed, but not obviously so, and Ruth only caught a glimpse of the nameplate screwed to the gate before they were past the house, and round the bend. "That's Bodie's car."
"And no sign of him, or Ronnie." Doyle drove on a bit further before coming to a halt, out of the Escort and swiftly heading back. "We'd better check the car first."
Keeping close to the hedge until they reached the Granada, Doyle slid into the passenger seat while Ruth kept watch. He checked the glove box first, then felt around under the driver's seat, seizing and withdrawing the black box. "Bodie's R/T. Must've been taken by surprise." He got out, frowning slightly. "They have to be inside."
"I think we should call for more back-up."
"Not enough time. And even if we think we have time, I know Bodie. He won't wait that long." Doyle shook his head. "It's down to us. Wonder how many are inside?"
"I still think we should call in..." As Doyle started towards the house, Ruth caught his arm. "Ray! Listen to me."
"I told you, we don't have the time. Better just hope we have time for a recce." He spared her a glance. "We can handle it, Ruth. Bodie knows we're on our way; he'll be waiting for our move."
Reluctantly Ruth let him pull away and followed Doyle to the hedgerow surrounding the property. Pushing through between the hedge and a ramshackle fence, Doyle dropped down, surveying the house. Following him, Ruth whispered, "See anything?"
"Looks quiet. Not a very big place." Sliding his Walther from the holster and checking the windows, Doyle began to prowl through the bushes, wondering how close he could get without being seen.
He froze as there was movement at the large bay window on the ground floor. A figure moved across then back again; a figure he recognised - Harry Walter. As he moved away from the windows, Doyle risked a run forward, diving behind a young tree. The trunk wouldn't conceal him particularly well, but it was better than nothing.
Closer now, he could see into the study, and realised that Walter was talking to his partner. Bodie was sprawled in a chair, glass in hand. He was obviously bluffing it out, which didn't give them a lot of time; and where the hell was Ronnie?
"Ray!" He heard Ruth's hiss across the garden, and looking back caught her gesture upwards. At the first floor window, Ronnie was waving to him. Doyle waved back in relief. At least she was OK at the moment. Checking the lower windows again, he retreated to join Ruth in the denser camouflage of the bushes, finding her exchanging signals with Ronnie.
"She says there are two in the house."
"Two that she knows of. There could be more."
"It would make sense, Ray. We know Bodie only followed one back here, and from what we know of Walter he doesn't involve too many people in his schemes."
"Maybe." His foray forwards had shown Doyle that the french doors on the room next to the study hadn't looked particularly secure, and with Bodie already in the room to take care of Walter, he should be able to get inside easily enough. But the element of surprise wouldn't last long; the danger was in not knowing where the second man was in the house.
Unless they could get him outside. Before he could voice his thoughts, Ruth spoke up. "Could we cause some sort of diversion to get their attention?"
"Just what I was about to suggest." Doyle grinned. "Fancy being lost?"
Doyle had managed to get up close to the house by the time he heard the Escort returning less than ten minutes later. Ruth turned it into the drive, and he heard the car door slam, her shoes scrunching on the gravel before the doorbell rang loudly.
Several nerve-wracking moments passed before he heard the door open and the beginning of Ruth's bright spiel. "Morning, I'm so sorry to disturb you, but I'm looking for Lynwood House. I think I may have taken the wrong turning..."
A few seconds work with his knife on the flimsy catch on the french doors, and Doyle slipped quietly into the room. He could hear the murmur of voices from the study, and Ruth's voice was still carrying through from the front door. Now they just had to hope Ronnie was right about the numbers...
But before he could even get out into the hallway, Doyle heard Ruth being dismissed. "I can't help. Best go back to the main road and try again from there." The door was slammed forcefully and Doyle pressed back against the doorjamb as footsteps approached.
As the man drew level, Doyle slid the safety off his Walther and stepping silently out behind him spoke softly. "Hold it right there."
The man spun, but froze at the sight of the steadily-held weapon. He was Colin Walters' tail from the racecourse, and Doyle saw the man's eyes flicker as he was recognised in his turn. "What the hell - "
"Let's go and talk to Harry, shall we?" Doyle gestured with the barrel towards the study, relieved when the man followed his instructions. He and Bodie still needed the element of surprise to grab Walter.
As the man pushed the door open, Doyle heard Walter start to question his entrance, and leaping forward shoved the man hard in the centre of the back and sending him across the room, immediately bringing the Walther up again and aiming at the older man behind the desk. "Anyone else?" he asked his partner.
"Nope." Bodie was on his feet, drawing his Browning and grinning at Doyle. "You took your time."
"I don't know what this is," Walter began, suspiciously, "but you won't get away with it."
"What this is," Doyle took great satisfaction in beginning the sentence, but Bodie managed to get in and finish it. "- is a bust, Walter." He reached for his wallet and flicked it open. "CI5. You're nicked..."
Harry Walter subsided back into his seat. "You'll not hold me..."
"Oh, I think we will." Doyle's grin faded. "Race-fixing, blackmail, and murder. Just to be going on with. Even your lawyers won't get you off this time."
"Need any help, boys?" Ruth had followed Doyle in via the french doors, and now appeared in the doorway, Beretta held ready.
"Join the party, Ruth. Help Doyle with these two, will you; I have to find Ronnie."
Doyle spoke without taking his eyes off the suspects. "First floor, Bodie; room above this one." Bodie didn't respond, heading swiftly for the stairs.
The door was locked but the key was still usefully in place. As Bodie threw open the door Ronnie ran towards him and he opened his arms to catch her. But instead of flinging herself into them, Ronnie stopped short and dealt him a stinging blow across the face. "Don't you ever do that to me again!"
"Sorry, sweetheart." Light-heartedly rubbing his cheek, Bodie managed a broad grin which diminished rapidly as he caught sight of the bruise which was a result of Gibson's blow, and he soberly and gently ran his fingers down the side of her face. "Honestly, I'm sorry. Didn't mean for you to get hurt."
Ronnie shrugged him away, obviously still angry, and turned back into the room. Alice was sitting on the bed, and she managed a smile for Bodie as he approached. "I'm OK. I might need a hand down the stairs; I managed to give myself concussion as I tried to get away from them and I'm still dizzy."
"We'll get you back to the stables and get a doctor to see to you there." Bodie helped her up and out of the room, hearing a lot of movement and voices as he led her downstairs, and astonished to find several coppers in the hallway.
Doyle had relinquished their captives into police custody, and was waiting for him. Bodie pulled a face. "Where'd they all come from?"
"Ruth called in when she fetched the car and organised back-up for us, and also for Jason and the other watcher to be picked up."
"She's got her uses, y'know..."
"Are you all right, Ronnie?" Doyle had spotted her slipping away alone, and caught her up at the paddock.
The last couple of hours had been busy, reuniting Alice with Walters and getting her and Ronnie checked out by the doctor. Bodie was still talking to the local police.
"Yeah. I suppose so. It was just a shock. I mean, I thought Bodie must just be acting out his part, but - he seemed so ruthless. Menacing." She shrugged. "I was scared of him..."
"He couldn't do much else, but he was just acting."
"That's just it, Ray." She looked at him frankly, subconsciously rubbing at the bruises on her wrists. "I don't know him as well as I thought; Bodie wasn't acting. I realised that today; I don't know him at all. And I'm not sure I want to know him any more..."
"I doubt anyone really knows Bodie. We only get to know the bits he chooses to give us access to - even me." Doyle leant on the rails next to Ronnie. "But you've seen more than a lot of people get to see. Give him a chance."
They both spotted Bodie heading towards them, and Doyle left her to meet him halfway. "I'll take Ruth back to the hotel." He motioned toward Ronnie. "I think she needs some of that TLC you're so famous for, mate..."
Bodie: "Where is he?"
Cowley: "Having breakfast."
Bodie: "I thought we were nicking him?"
Cowley: "We will, Bodie. We will."
Cowley: "One day."