Authors: Judith Cutler
The Lina Townend Series
DRAWING THE LINE
SILVER GUILT *
RING OF GUILT *
GUILTY PLEASURES *
GUILT TRIP *
GUILT EDGED *
The Frances Harman Series
BURYING THE PAST *
DOUBLE FAULT *
The Jodie Welsh Series
DEATH IN ELYSIUM *
The Sophie Rivers Series
DYING TO WRITE
DYING ON PRINCIPLE
DYING FOR MILLIONS
The Katie Powers Series
available from Severn House
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This title first published in Great Britain in 1996
by Judy Piatkus (Publishers) Ltd
5 Windmill Street
This eBook edition first published in 2014 by Severn House Digital
an imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited
Copyright Â© 1996 by Judith Cutler.
The right of Judith Cutler to be identified as the Author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.
ISBN-13: 978-1-4483-0143-0 (ePub)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
This eBook produced by
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I would like to thank the following: David Williams and Nic Landmark for their invaluable help with the electronics; Dr Peter Acland for telling me the effects of the electronics; Geoff Snelling for information about George Muntz; Paul Mackney of NATFHE for help and advice; Edwina Van Boolen and David Stephenson for their constant encouragement; West Midlands Police for their time and expertise; the Further Education Funding Council's Reports of Enquiries into the Governance and Management of St Philip's Roman Catholic Sixth Form College (Sir John Caines) and the Governance and Management of Derby College, Wilmorton (Michael Shattock).
If you're going to steal a car, it really would be more sensible to pick one that hasn't been carefully protected by its owner. Not that the kid inside the Montego estate could have guessed that it belonged to a double-bass player who played with electronics in his spare time.
It was Sunday evening, and we were drinking in the Duke of Clarence after a Midshires Symphony Orchestra concert. The Duke is one of Birmingham's smallest pubs, and, despite the ornate jukebox that sits near my usual table, Luigi, the landlord, has a violent allergy to canned music. And a flexible attitude to drinking hours. This suits the musicians â who can't start drinking until after their concerts finish at ten â down to the ground. I sing with the choir they work with, so the place suits me too. A number of choir members had come in that night after a not very exciting performance of a not very exciting work â Elgar's
The Music Makers
â including a quiet black woman whose name I didn't know. She was fairly new to the ranks, and since no one else seemed to be making any effort to talk to her, I resolved to have a word when I'd pushed my way over to the bar.
I caught Luigi's eye. But then he looked over my head and smiled in the way he reserves for his most special clients. I glanced back and saw the other drinkers were making way for someone like courtiers for a queen. As well they might. This was Aberlene van der Poele, all five foot eleven of her. Tonight the way she had sculpted her hair made her look like a black Nefertiti. And they didn't make space simply because she was the MSO's leader, but because they liked and respected her â even the heavy brass, some of whose ideas were antediluvian in their sexism.
I flapped a hand. âWhat'll you have, Aberlene? Some of Luigi's Lambrusco?'
And then this appalling electronic screaming cut across the babble.
Simon peeled himself from the silent jukebox. Upright, he was probably six foot three and had the broad shoulders you'd associate with a fast bowler.
âThey're playing my tune,' he said, pushing his way out.
We all poured out after him, peering into the ill-lit street.
There was Simon's Montego, its headlights flashing SOS in Morse code. An electronic message pulsed across the screen: âStolen car. Stolen car.'
From somewhere came another dreadful scream. And then there was a moment's merciful silence. Only a moment's. Into the silence spoke an electronic voice: âThis car has been stolen. Please call the police. This car has been stolen. Please call the police.'
The car was shaking. At least this was as a result of human activity. A youth inside was desperately trying to open the door.
If he succeeded, he'd fall straight into the arms of Simon and a couple of other bass players. From the approaching baying, it sounded as if Luigi was bringing Jasper to join in the fun. If I'd been the kid, I'd have wanted to lock myself in.
At this point the law arrived in the form of two young men in a Panda. Simultaneously the car returned to normality. The lights stopped. The noise stopped. And the door released the kid into the officers' arms.
âAll very coincidental,' I muttered.
Simon patted a rectangular shape in his pocket, grinned, and turned to the two men.
And then the kid broke free.
Simon and I were the ones who caught him first. Simon brought him down in a rugby tackle. The only way I could think of helping â being five foot one is not ideal in these circumstances â was to sit on him. Something wet on my neck told me that Jasper was keen to assist, and when the boy struggled and swore, Jasper offered up some truly Baskervillian howls. His rear end was probably going nineteen to the dozen.
And at this point I was dragged to my feet and hurled against a car.
âYou'll be on an assault charge if you're not careful, young lady!'
Winded, I nonetheless scrabbled for my dignity. And when I saw Simon in an armlock, I found it. âOfficer, please deal with the boy and leave Mr Webster alone. If there are any problems with his behaviour or mine, they can be dealt with later.'
There was a little ripple of applause from our audience of musicians.
The two PCs scowled. But they found a scapegoat: Jasper was discovered to be a dangerous dog, and Luigi warned to control him or else. I thought Luigi would have an apoplexy on the spot.
âI reckon we all need a drink, Luigi,' I said quietly.
Luigi nodded. âCome on, Jasper â beer!'
Encouraged by a sharp spatter of May rain, we trailed back into the bar. If Simon could deal with the attempted theft in a low-key way, it would be better. And he knew where to find support if he couldn't.
For a few minutes the conversation predictably circled round the theme of car-thefts-I-have-known, and what ought to be done to the young offenders responsible. Most people were liberal when it came to theft in general, attributing it to everything the
would approve, but rather less so when it came to their particular incident. Indeed, the mildest of the viola players was audibly lamenting the passing of a far-flung empire to which miscreants could be shipped, at least those who had removed his cherished Volvo from his garage. As it happened, it was the car he'd been trying to sell to me, so I saw it as an act of a God with a more sporty taste in cars.
I bought a bottle of Lambrusco, sparkling with grapes from Luigi's family's vineyard, and waved to Aberlene. She joined me, and poured.
âWho are you looking for, Sophie?' she asked.
âThere's this new kid in the choir,' I said, âa black girl, and I thoughtâ'
âStop, Sophie. Stop before you say any more. You thought because she is black and I am black we might have something in common. Well, we might, but not because of that.'
I blushed. I couldn't embarrass us both further by saying that Aberlene is such a remarkable woman I tend to see her as a role model to all women, not just black ones. She is, after all, the leader of one of the best of the provincial orchestras â we in Birmingham are quite sure it is in fact the best â and has been approached by a couple of agents to take up a career as a soloist.
âNo matter.' She touched my hand lightly and smiled. âThere are worse things to worry about.'
âSuch as?' I asked.
âThere's talk of Rollinson resigning,' she said abruptly.
Peter Rollinson is the Midshires Symphony Orchestra's principal conductor and its hero. He's young, he's exciting, he's loyal to the orchestra, and he's been tipped by those in the know to be knighted in the next New Year's Honours List.
âYou're joking!' I said.
âThey've cut the funding,' she said. âBut perhaps â it's still confidential, really.'
I poured her another glass. âSilent as the grave, you know me,' I prompted.
âIt'll hit the headlines soon enough anyway, I suppose. But all this mess about saving all the London orchestras means they've cut the money to the provincial ones like us. Means reducing the number of players â ending the doubling-up of woodwind, and so on. Means we wouldn't be able to take on extras for pieces demanding more than the standard number of players and instruments.'
âYou mean, no
Rite of Spring
, just endless eighteeenth- and nineteenth-century repertoire?' And the orchestra had a name for being innovative and ambitious. I sucked my teeth sympathetically and topped up her glass.
âHe says he'll resign rather than let standards drop,' she said. âAnd that's not all. They say they'll have to freeze the instrument fund.'
âInstrument fund?' This was a new one to me.
âGood instruments make a better sound. Many of the kids coming through music school now have huge loans around their necks and though they need professional standard instruments they can't afford them. So the orchestra buys them for themâ'
âNot quite. But as long as they're members of the orchestra.' She rapped her glass down but gestured away my offer of a refill. âStill, enough of our troubles. How are you?'