“Sorry, my Lord, but it's your phone! I did shout across to you that it was ringing, but you were otherwise engaged with,” she hesitated, as if searching for a word that neither offended nor was discourteous, “your lady companion. The caller said his name was Townsend. Added that his boss needed to speak to you urgently. He emphasised both the boss and the urgency of the matter. He was a very assertive man, sir! I wouldn't have answered it normally, but it was the third time!” It was Susie, the new stable manager, with my phone in her outstretched hand as though it would contaminate her if held any closer.
I stared at the number displayed on my ancient Nokia mobile in a state of both trepidation and relief. Lord Clive Townsend was a very old friend of my now depleted family and although his call was expected, the speed with which he had got back to me was a surprise. I could feel the noose being lowered over my head as I pressed redial.
“Good morning, Clive! Harry Paterson here.”
“Morning, Harry, I'm sorry to disturb you so early on a Sunday, but I guess you must know why I'm calling,” without a trace of emotion in his impassioned voice he stated.
“Percy Crow?” I softly replied.
“Precisely, Harry, you have it in one! I gave your report a thorough going over last week when I received it. Everything seems to stack up; unfortunately. I've sent a car for you. It should be pulling into your estate any time about now. Come as you are, old boy, it will be just the two of you. He's cleared his appointments and has the house all to himself. Very informal chat, you understand, keep it short and concise without too much detail at this stage. That wouldn't be helpful at all. I'll fill those in after you've gone, old boy.”
“If you had said that you wanted to see me, I would have driven down myself, saving you the trouble of the car thing.” Bloody cheek in sending a car, I thought. Pompous oaf!
“No trouble on my part. In any case you weren't home to tell. We have your Isle of Jura single malt, the forty-year-old version in the cellar. To my knowledge he has never tried it. You would make a grand drinking partner for its introduction.”
“I would be delighted to indulge you and him, Clive, but I haven't showered yet. Got home yesterday afternoon and I've been out riding since six-thirty this morning clearing my head. Grooming my horse Finnegan when you rang. I'll be a fair while until ready to see anyone, let alone your boss! Your driver can get some refreshments in the kitchen while he waits. Will you tell your man, or shall I get my butler, Joseph, to explain?”
“I'll leave the fine details at your end, Harry, afraid I'm not that way domesticated. Surprised you are, though. Light lunch around one pm it is, then. Do hope it doesn't upset your Sunday arrangements too much, old chap, but affairs of state and all that. Do remember one thing, Harry, and do put your mind to this. There's still residue from the scandal that you unearthed a couple of years ago involving his mother's equerry. You're not exactly his favourite person at the moment, even though you managed to keep all that out of the newspapers. I'm hoping we can do the same with this lot!”
The line went dead before I had a chance to reply. It was a command not an invitation!
“Was that anyone important, Harry, only you look a bit off colour?” my companion enquired, as we led Finnegan, along with her own piebald stallion, across the sparkling, newly hosed down yard towards their stables away from the warm autumnal sun. Bawdily she added, “I think your young stable manager holds, what is it you English say; a torch for you? I think she also liked that word assertive; a lot! Was it she that frightened you, or the word, H?” Her laugh ripped through the air as if a horse had bolted and was galloping across the cobbles towards the paddock!
“I think that expression comes from the days when women did what men told them to do. Holding a lighted torch whilst the man of her life trimmed his beard, would have been such an order, my dear.”
“Well, then, it's a good job I never lived in those prehistoric times, as the torch thing would have been repeatedly smashed on your large caddish head!”
* * *
Allow me to introduce myself. I am Harry Paterson, the latest to succeed to the titles of: Lord, Earl of Harrogate as well as Sheriff of the County of Yorkshire. HP to my friends, or, to more intimate acquaintances; simply H. The Patersons are directly related to royalty, albeit from the wrong side of the blanket, but that deviance from a purity of lineage has not stopped our progress through the upper levels of this sceptred isle, in fact, the opposite is true.
My own personal star is in the ascendency, particularly within the secret intelligence community of America, however, it must be said that our own secret services are not thought highly of at all over there, or here. Which brings me nicely to the start of this tale of subterfuge, murder and the betrayal of trust, oh yes, throw in a little abuse of position and downright wickedness as well.
If you would now allow me, I'll begin to tell the story behind that Sunday morning telephone call.