OBAN, Scotland 1887
The three masted merchant sailing ship Redoubt docked in Oban on the early morning tide. Within a short time the crew began the process of landing the cargo brought over from the East Coast of America. A tall elegantly dressed man was standing at the top of the gangplank talking to the captain and overseeing the crew off loading a large trunk and some other smaller items that he had brought back from America. The trunk had metal corners and large catches on the outside and had a substantial locking mechanism that would need an explosive charge to open it without its sizeable key. Lord of the Manor Jonathan Creswell Stuart had a good reason to want the trunk carefully unloaded as it had taken a lot of effort to get it to Oban.
Jonathan had been away for two years and he was keen to return to Creswell Manor situated near to Inverarary on the banks of Loch Fyne. The house had been built by his Father, Lord Trethan Creswell Stuart forty years before, and was an imposing crenulated manor house situated in 700 acres of arable and wooded land, which included a large lake. When Lord Trethan died Jonathan was willed the house and estate.
Five years before Jonathan had started turning part of the estate to sheep farming and his trip to America had been one of determining the potential of exporting wool. The Creswell manor estate had been in a poor financial situation and Jonathan was about to resolve this, which is where the heavy duty locked trunk was going to be very useful and the reason why such care was being taken to ensure it did not get damaged.
Robbie Stuart had just been made redundant. He had worked for Holland’s, book publishers, and with the advent of internet e-publishing, they had been hit in a really big way resulting in a considerable reduction to Holland’s turnover. On the day he was given the news he had been called into his boss’s office and told;
‘Sorry Robbie, I have got to cut the staff, and I may have to shut the company down.’
When Robbie got home that day he was feeling pretty low. At 29 years of age Robbie was in a real quandary. He had spent the last four years helping to build up the company’s reputation and fortunes and now wasn’t sure where to go next. With Christmas only a couple of weeks away this was not a good time to be without a job, especially one he had loved doing. The money had been good too. He had bills to pay; so no, he wasn’t a happy man.
After he entered his rented flat in North West London he went into his lounge and poured himself a large whiskey, hoping it would make him feel better and relax him enough to think about his future. He lived alone and because he had spent so much time at his work lately he had never taken the time to build any serious relationships. He’d had a couple of short term girlfriends, but no one serious, so there was no one close enough to discuss his situation with. He had picked up the days mail on the way in and after taking a sip of his whiskey he looked through it to see if there was anything interesting. There were a couple of bills, a charity fund request for money and a letter post marked Oban, Scotland which he recognised immediately. Robbie knew who the letter was from, not only from the post mark but also he recognised the hand writing. It was his Grandfather’s, Donald Stewart. He was about to open the letter when the phone rang.
‘Hello, who is calling?’ He said after picking up the phone.
The voice that answered was his old friend Dexter Curtis.
‘Hi Robbie; I have just heard about your redundancy. I phoned your office and they told me the bad news.’
Robbie had first met Dexter when they both worked on a National newspaper together as reporters. Dexter had been the crime reporter and Robbie had worked in the production team turning Dexter’s reports into news items. Dexter had left the paper and set up as a private investigator and Robbie moved on to book publishing at Holland’s.
‘Hello Dex good to hear your voice. Yes a bit of a shock and I haven’t really taken it in yet.’
Robbie realised then he should have thought about his old mate Dexter. He would be a great help to him to talk over the situation and give him some sensible advice.
‘I understand Robbie. Look; let’s meet up and you can tell me all about it. We might come up with some ideas what you can do next. What about tomorrow morning at our usual pub?
‘That’s fine by me Dex. See you tomorrow about eleven – ish if that’s ok?’
Robbie returned to the lounge and his whiskey, and picked up the letter from his Grandfather. He opened it up and started to read;
I hope you are well. I don’t like to burden you with my worries normally, but I feel it is right to do so in this case. I believe someone is trying to kill me!’
Robbie was shaken by this revelation. No one could be a nicer person than his Grandfather. He was thoughtful, caring, and did everything he could to help people when they were in trouble. Even the local village residents thought the world of him. His Grandfather lived in a mid Victorian manor house called Creswell Manor which had been built by Lord Angus Creswell Stuart. The house was called “The Castle” by the local population as it was crenulated around the roof, and was an imposing property; it was situated in over 1700 acres of arable land, woodland and lakes.
‘No doubt this will be a shock to you, but because you are the last remaining family member, other than me, since your Mother died last year I had to tell you.’
Robbie had been extremely upset and distressed when his mother died. She was only 53 when it happened. After having lost his Father in a car accident three years ago, Robbie and his Grandfather was the only one’s left in the family. They never counted his Grandmother, Joan; after she had run off with a local business man 15 years ago. It was found out later that had gone to live in America. Donald had been extremely upset at the
time, more so when he received a letter from her saying that she had found her life with Donald at Creswell Manor too mundane and wanted more excitement.
‘Strange things have been happening. Someone cut the house generator power cable. Then the water supply became tainted and had to be cleansed. Jeannie, my housekeeper, has been worried because the groceries that are delivered to the door have been tampered with somewhere between the supplier and the house. And there have several other minor instances of contamination. The last straw which has prompted me writing to you is that someone tampered with my Land Rover brakes and I skidded and ended up in a ditch and just missed hitting a tree. Jeannie’s husband Culum who does the general repairs and gardening has also had things happening. Someone loosened one of the rotary mowers blade nuts which resulted in it flying off nearly causing an accident. Robbie, I need help. At my age and in my condition I can’t investigate who is doing this; and before you ask, the local police have been informed but don’t have the manpower or experience to find the culprit. Can you please come and see if you can find out who’s responsible. I know it’s asking a lot but I am afraid for everyone here.’
Robbie sat staring at the letter, realising how serious his Grandfather’s predicament was. What could he do to help? He would definitely go up to see what he could do to help, but he wasn’t experienced in detective work and whoever was carrying out these attacks they must have a very strong reason for doing so; and any interference from him would turn their attention on to him also. If there was someone out to kill his Grandfather then they had to be stopped – and quickly.
The next day Robbie met up with Dexter at their usual pub haunt and after the pints of beer were bought and they found themselves a table by a friendly and welcome log fire burning in the large grate, Dexter approached the subject of Robbie’s redundancy;
‘Well I know things are bad in publishing at the moment but I thought that these book publishing company’s were fighting back against the e-book. Aren’t they setting up branch divisions and helping people to e-publish?’ said Dexter ‘Wouldn’t that be sensible to channel some of the profits to book publishing?’
.Robbie set his pint down on the table after taking a mouthful of ‘Old Speckled Hen’ and looking at the casually dressed, handsome Dexter, who would certainly draw the attention of many young ladies, he replied;
‘Trouble is Dex there was no one in the company who had much idea about internet publishing. And old Mr Holland is too set in his ways to want to deviate from the traditional ways of book publishing. In fact he said that he didn’t want someone coming into the company and telling what he should be doing.’
‘It sounds like you’re well out of it then. What do you want to do next Robbie?’
As Dexter said this a couple of attractive young women sat down at the table near to them and both gave Dexter a glancing look and smiled at him. Dexter grinned back and turned his attention to Robbie.
‘Something has happened that has made it the least of my worries Dex. My grandfather, who is 79 years of age, has written to me saying that he believes someone is trying to kill him.’
‘What? Donald’s got someone after him? It can’t be true he’s the most likeable person I know.’ Dexter said.
‘Well it sounds bad.’ And Robbie told Dexter what his grandfather had written in the letter.
‘Wow it’s hard to believe, but if what he says is happening then he could be in a lot of danger. Is there anything I can do to help Robbie?’
‘Well as you have asked, there is something you can do. Could you come with me to Scotland and help me find out what’s going on?’
‘Of course I can. When are you leaving?’ said Dexter
‘I was thinking of going this afternoon, if that’s ok by you?’
‘I will pick you up at half past one then. We can go in my car.’ said Dexter.
As they left the pub, Dexter picked up the piece of paper with telephone numbers on that one of the girls had placed on their table when they left and put it in his pocket.
Robbie was pleased Dexter had offered to drive them to Scotland as he had a very fast red Chevrolet Corvette, and he would get them their faster than he could in his ancient Rover 600.
When Robbie got back to his flat he phoned his Grandfather to tell him he would be coming and probably be their late that evening. Jeannie answered the phone and said;
‘Oh I am pleased Robbie. Your Grandfather is really worried about all these mishaps. I will get a couple of nice rooms ready and warmed for you and Dexter and something to eat for when you arrive.’
‘Oh don’t go to a lot of trouble Jeannie.’
‘No trouble lad. We’ll all be glad to see you. Have a safe journey.
Robbie put the phone down and thought about Jeannie’s last words ‘Have a safe journey. He knew it would be safe with Dexter, but a very hair raising ride in Dexter’s 400 HP 6 Litre red Chevrolet Corvette that had a top speed of nearly 200 mph.
At half past one on the dot Dexter arrived; and before Robbie could settle himself in the passenger seat Dexter had driven half a mile on their way to Scotland.
The Corvettes equipment included a Traffic master system which gave Dexter all the information he needed to miss any major hold-ups. Once Robbie had settled himself in the Corvette he said;
‘Dex, my Grandfathers manor house is situated near Inveraray, not Oban. That’s not so far.’
Dexter fed the information into the cars GPS system and after one short stop on the way, they made good time. After Glasgow they had seen dark clouds building up ahead and Dexter had said;
‘I don’t like the look of those clouds Robbie. It looks like were in for some bad weather ahead; maybe snow.’
As they drove down the winding roads towards Inveraray, they passed several crofters’ cottages and farms, some which could only be seen because of the light from their windows, as it was now very dark. The car’s headlights picked out flakes of snow starting to fall and whiten the road ahead. Soon the headlights showed up a signpost pointing to Stewarts Crag and Creswell Manor. After a mile they drove through a gated entrance leading to the house. Their headlights showed up a large mansion house which had castellation around the top of it, and a pillared entrance porch. Stopping at the porch entrance Robbie got out, stretched his lanky body and went to knock on the door. It was opened immediately by Jeannie’s daughter, Ruth;
‘Oh Robbie thank goodness your here.’ she said, looking distraught.
‘Your Grandfathers had an accident and is in hospital.’
As she said this Dexter came in carrying their bags and gave Robbie a surprised look.
‘How on earth did it happen, Ruth? How bad is he? Robbie blurted out.
Ruth was white faced and had some trouble trying to explain what had happened, when she had calmed down enough to tell him, she said;
‘It was after lunch. Your grandfather had seen the build up of snow clouds, and had gone out to the wood shed to get some more logs. He was just loading them into the trailer when the pile suddenly collapsed and he was trapped underneath some of them. He’s been taken to Oban Hospital by the Air Ambulance. Jeannie, my mother went with him.’
Robbie was shaken by the news. Had this been another attempt on his Grandfathers life?
‘Have you heard any news from Jeannie at the hospital as to how he is.’ Robbie asked.
Ruth, who had calmed down now, pushed her long dark hair over her shoulders and said;
‘Yes, about half an hour ago she phoned to say the doctor was with him. He has a bad injury to his leg and by the sound of it could take some time to heal. Their still assessing how serious it is and if he will need an operation.’
‘Who discovered him Ruth?’ asked Robbie.
‘My Step Father Cullum heard shouts coming from the woodshed as he came back to the house.’
‘That was lucky.’ said Dexter as he put the cases on the floor.
Ruth looked enquiringly at Robbie
‘Oh forgive me Ruth, your news made me forget. This is Dexter. He agreed to come with me to see if he can help in any way. ’ Robbie neglected to add that Dexter was also a private investigator as well as his friend.
‘That’s good of you Dexter.’ said Ruth, ‘I don’t think we can do anything further until tomorrow now. We have got your rooms ready and I can show you where they are, our cook, Mrs Campbell left some food for you. Cullem can bring your case’s up.’
‘We had something to eat on the way, but thanks anyway. I can take the case and save Cullem the job? ’ said Dexter.
‘Your American, aren’t you Dexter?’ said Ruth on the way to their rooms.
‘Yep, I come from Houston in Texas. I can’t seem to lose the accent though, even though I have been in England for ten years.’
Dexter had no problem getting off to sleep, but Robbie lay awake for some time thinking about his Grandfathers accident. He wasn’t sure at the moment what to do next. He was hoping it would become clearer in the morning.
When Dexter woke in the morning he could hear some voices below his window. When he looked out he saw two men shovelling the snow away from the entrance to the house that had fallen overnight. It wasn’t too deep thank goodness.
He looked across the white expanse of fields and stone walling to a wooded area in the distance. He could see a crofter’s cottage in the far distance and what looked like some black sheep wondering near it. He thought that no doubt the larger cattle would have all been taken in due to the weather.
When he went down for breakfast Robbie was already eating his. A round-faced, pleasant looking woman in a colourful pinafore, about 60 years of age, was putting hot food into heated containers on the sideboard. She said;
‘Help yourself dear, there’s cereal if you want it and hot bacon and eggs in the dishes.’
‘Thanks – err… Mrs Campbell?’ said Dexter.
‘That’s me dear.’ she said as she put some bacon into a dish on the sideboard.
After sitting down he said to Robbie; ‘Well that was a turn up for the books, about your Grandfather last night wasn’t it?’
‘Yes it shook me, I must admit. I will try and get to see him today and try to find out what actually happened.’ replied Robbie.
‘It might be a good idea for me to find out how this house ticks. How it’s organised. Who manages it, and talk to all the staff. They must have people that run the farm part of estate said Dexter
‘That’s a good idea; it’s a long time since I have been here and no doubt would have all changed by now. If someone is trying to kill my Grandfather, Donald, then you might dig up something by being nosy. I will ask Ruth if it’s ok for you have the freedom to do that and ask her if she can tell the other staff.’
‘Ruth said that her step Father Cullum had found your Grandfather trapped in the wood shed. What do you know about him Robbie?’
‘Well from what I remember, after Ruth’s Father died her Mother Jeannie had been very upset as one would be in such a situation. Her Father was only in his early thirties so it was a pretty distressing time. Ruth was young at the time; I think she was about 2 or 3 years old. Cullum had been a friend of Ruth’s Father and had been a great help after her Father’s death. Anyway, Jeannie and Cullum eventually got married and just after that Jeannie got the job as housekeeper at Creswell manor and Cullum took on the roll as head groundsman, looking after the grounds and other outside admin jobs. He’s ok, a bit quiet, probably shy, but he does what he’s employed for. I have mostly found him to be approachable, although he can have his moments. I have seen him have a row with suppliers, but nothing too serious.’
Just then Ruth came into the room looking tired around the eyes. But it didn’t take away how good-looking she was. She said;
‘Good morning I hope you both had a good nights sleep, and that there’s enough breakfast. Mrs Campbell is a treasure. I don’t know what we would do without her.’
Robbie told Ruth what they would like to do today.
‘That not a problem, all that’s been happening here has really made us on edge and worry a lot. It does seem like somebody is trying to hurt your Grandfather Robbie.
We have an estate farm manager; Dexter and he can tell you more about the running of things. I do hope you can find out something.’ said Ruth.
As she said this a man dressed in an anorak and wearing snow boots came into the room.
‘What’s this I have just heard Ruth. Donald is in hospital? Why didn’t you phone me?’ he said in a forceful voice.
‘I tried to, Alec, but the phone lines must be down.’ replied Ruth
Robbie and Dexter looked up and saw a man in his late twenties with a cap on a head of dark hair and a bit red in the face. Ruth told him the story and then Alec turned towards Robbie and said;
‘Who are these two men, Ruth? Aren’t you going to introduce us? ’
‘Oh I’m sorry Alec. This is Robbie Stewart, Donald’s grandson, and his friend from America, Dexter. They’re up here to help try and see if they can discover why were getting all these accidents.’ replied Ruth. Then to Robbie she said; ‘This is Alec Tremayne, my fiancé.’
Dexter saw Robbie tense himself, but didn’t say anything. He wasn’t impressed with Alec. He had worked for several years for a London Newspaper before becoming a private investigator and he had met one or two individuals like him. Brash, overbearing, and full of themselves; he hadn’t even asked if Ruth was OK, so he didn’t sit well with Dexter at the moment.
‘Oh they must be just accidents and could happen anytime to people. You won’t find any mysteries here.’ said Alec – assertively.
‘What about the cut generator cable, the tainted water and the brakes on Donald’s Land Rover being tampered with. Are they accidents then?’ said Robbie, not believing what he was hearing from Alec.
Alec went redder in the face and tried to raise himself taller than his apparent five foot seven inches height. Changing the subject he said to Ruth.
‘Are you coming over to the hotel soon? I need to talk to you about something important.’
‘I can’t at present Alec; I have to sort things out here for a few days. Robbie wants to go and see Donald in hospital and I need to go and bring Mother home. She will want to get back as soon as possible.’ replied Ruth.
‘Can’t she get a Taxi or something, it’s important I speak to you. It’s about the wedding arrangements.’ Alec said, looking quite put out by the turn of events.
‘Can’t I drive one of the Land Rovers to the hospital Ruth?’ said Robbie, trying to break the impasse.
‘No Robbie, I need to go. I want to see Donald about some business anyway.’ said Ruth.
Alec was now looking angry that he wasn’t getting his own way. ‘Well all right, but come and see me when you get back.’ and giving an unsmiling nod to Robbie and Dexter he left.
When Alec got into his car he took his mobile phone out and rang his Father back at his office;
‘What is it Alec. I’m busy at the moment, can’t it wait?’
‘No Father; Robbie’s here and he’s with an American friend of his named Dexter. They have come to investigate the accidents here and Ruth is taking them around and then she’s off to Oban with Robbie to see Donald in Hospital.’
The phone went quiet at the other end and Alec’s Father, Magnus Tremayne, stood thinking about this news. It certainly changed his plans.
‘OK Alec, don’t worry about it. I’ll see you when you get back here.’
Magnus put the phone down and looked at the map on his office wall. It showed the position of all eleven hotels in the Tremayne group that he owned. He wanted “The Castle” badly. It would make an ideal hotel, and fit nicely into his future plans as it had enough land to put an 18-hole golf course on. And there was another reason he wanted it. He had researched the history of the “The Castle” back as far as the time of Lord Jonathan Creswell in the 1800’s and discovered a period when the fortunes of the family had gone from virtual bankruptcy to growth over a two-year period, and investment in the manor had grown suddenly. Tremayne believed that the manor house held a secret, but what? Therefore, it had been high on his wanted list for a long time. That old fool Donald Stewart had always refused selling it to him, even when he upped his offers. He had been putting the frighteners on Donald in the hope he would think again about selling to him. He had been extremely careful that only he and Alec in his organisation knew about his scheme. However, he had secretly managed to employ the services of an employee on the estate, for a large fee, to do the dirty work, and the individual was using the crofter’s cottage part time as a base to operate from. Tremayne had purchased a Ford Transit white van so the estate staff wouldn’t know the staff member who was driving it. He had dubbed him white van man.
. But he now had another problem; Robbie Stewart. He had forgotten about him and the family relationship. It meant that even if Donald were eliminated he would still have Robbie to contend with. He took his mobile out of his pocket and dialled the number of his contact at “The Castle”. He had decided to call this contact the white van man, due to him having bought a white van separate from the vehicle he normally used. After recognising who was calling white van man said;
‘Yes. What’s the news?’
‘I want you to organise something; and make sure your contact can’t trace us.’
Magnus told him about Alec’s call and then outlined what he wanted done.
‘No problem, I’ll use the white van for my part.’
Back at “The Castle” Robbie said to Ruth;
‘Will Alec be alright about our going to see Donald, Ruth?’
‘Och, Alec can be so awkward at times. He knows the situation. But don’t worry you two I can soon sort him out later.’
Dexter got up from the breakfast table and said to Ruth;
‘Ruth. If your estate farm manager can give me a list of the staff, where they work and what they do I would appreciate it. While you and Robbie go to the hospital I’ll have a chat with them.’
‘Dougrey Trent is the manager. He has his office in the house. I’ll take you to see him before Robbie and I leave for Oban Hospital. He can tell you more about the staff and how the farm functions.’ Ruth replied.
Half an hour later, Robbie and Ruth set off in a Land Rover; and Dexter, having been introduced to Dougrey Trent, sat down with him to discuss the running of the farm.
Dexter liked the look of Dougrey Trent the moment he met him. He appeared to be in his mid fifties, and was stocky with a ruddy complexion; which Dexter assumed was because he probably spent a large amount of his time out in the open. With his short greying beard, his overall appearance gave him a tough, no nonsense appearance. He was sitting at a desk wearing an all weather anorak, which Dexter thought must mean he was either just about to go outside or he had just come in. A golden Labrador dog sat quietly by his desk and rose up to have a sniff of Dexter as he entered the office. Dexter wasn’t a dog person so didn’t give it any encouragement for any further attention. After shaking hands and finishing the pleasantries, Dougrey said;
‘I understand your helping the family on these attacks that have been taking place Dexter.’ and patted the dog to make it sit back down.
‘Yes. I have known Robbie for a long time and when he told me the situation I was quite intrigued.’ said Dexter, ‘Tell me Dougrey, do you have any ideas about the tainted water or power cables being cut? It must have been pretty serious at the time.’
‘Well yes it was. The worst incidents of course were Donald’s accident in the Landrover and the wood shed. If it hadn’t been for Cullum hearing his shouts it could have been worse.’
Dexter nodded at this and then asked;
‘What staff do you have here? Do they all have specific tasks?’
‘We have five permanent staff and two or three part time people who come in when we have extra work to do, like clearing snow as you may have seen this morning. But during the summer months we take on quite a few extra staff to work in the farm shop and help out with the crops and greenhouse work. We sell quite a lot of produce to shops in Inveraray and Oban and people in the town during the summer months. Our milk from the cows is not exactly a big earner, but it produces enough income to see us through the winter season.’
‘Can you introduce me to them so I can get more of a feel for the work they do?’ asked Dexter. ‘You never know they might have seen something and thought it unimportant.’
Dougrey nodded and picking up his mobile phone and doing up his anorak he took Dexter to meet the staff. The dog, called Rusty, got up and kept at Dougrey’s side.
Robbie was pleased that it was just him and Ruth that were going to the hospital in Oban. It would give him a chance to ask her more about his Grandfathers accident. Also he wanted to ask her about her fiancé Alec Tremayne. Like Dexter he had been puzzled by the way he had ignored Ruth’s welfare and not enquired about her involvement with the accident.
Robbie had known Ruth since she was a little girl of eight years old when she had arrived with her mother Jeannie and step Father Cullum. Robbie, who was ten years old at the time, had enjoyed playing with her when he visited during school holidays, and they had got on well together. Her mother Jeannie ran the house and organised the day to day services for his Grandfather, and Cullum, together with an assistant, took on the task of outdoor activities, like looking after the gardens and woodland, and doing or organising any repairs needed to the building, inside and out.
Robbie hadn’t seen Ruth for a few years, as she had always been away at University when he had visited his Grandfather. When he met up with her again yesterday he had been taken by surprise how she had changed into a very attractive woman; so it was with a feeling of disappointment when Alec Tremayne had appeared on the scene.
‘It’s good to see you again Ruth after, what is it…. five years?’ said Robbie.
‘Yes I suppose it must be. I’m back for good now that I have finished Uni, so I’m going to help mum and take on more of her heavier tasks and some office duties.’ Ruth replied.
. ‘How does Alec feel about that? He doesn’t appear to be the type who would settle for you doing that.’ Robbie enquired; realising too late that he may be thought to be querying Ruth’s relationship with Alec too closely.
Ruth glanced round at Robbie after he said this, taking her eyes off the snow covered road ahead for a second before answering him;
‘Well I have been seeing Alec now for nearly a year and we have got on very well together. He hasn’t said anything against my intention of helping out at the house so I don’t see any problems there. I met him at a business dinner that I went to with your Grandfather at one of Alec’s family hotels. The family have been very nice to me, and I am sure they will also support me with my plans to assist Mother.’
Robbie mused over Ruth’s last words, but wanted to know more about Alec. So he enquired;
‘So Alec comes from a family of note then. Is their hotel nearby?’
Ruth slowed the car as she negotiated a bend in the road. The snow ploughs had been out and cleared quite a lot of the last fall of snow, but there were still areas where the overnight winds had made the snow drift in small piles in some areas, and where the ploughs couldn’t reach. When she had reached a safer part of the road she replied to Robbie’s question;
‘His family have three hotels in the area and another eight dotted around Scotland; they are all managed by the Tremayne Hotel Group holding company. I do believe they are looking for other places to open more of them.’
Robbie went quiet after that, letting Ruth concentrate on her driving. But her last statement was giving him food for thought. And he intended to tell Dexter about it when he got back to the house.
When they reached Oban, Ruth drove straight to the Lorn and Islands General Hospital where Robbie’s Grandfather had been taken. After parking the Land Rover they made their way to reception, and given directions where to find his Grandfather. Arriving at the ward they found he had been put into a side room which had equipment in it for his damaged leg. Donald, Robbie’s Grandfather, had his leg raised in a sling to ease the pain. There was no sign of Ruth’s mother, Jeannie.
‘Hello Grandfather it’s good to see you. I was so sorry to hear of your latest accident with the woodpile.’ said Robbie.
Donald Stuart gave a welcome nod and then, nearly shouting, said:
‘Good to see you too boy, but bloody hell Robbie that was no accident, that wood pile had been tampered with, I’m sure, and I caught it full on. If it hadn’t been for Ruth’s step father it could have been more serious.’ and he tried to pull himself up straighter on his pillow, but the hoist restricted him.
‘Och Donald, do you really think that’s the case?’ said Ruth.
‘Yes I do,’ said Donald with fire in his eyes, ‘I believe the perpetrator wanted to do for me. He or she had no intention of letting me survive that log pile fall. I have collected logs from the pile many times without any accidents. I intend to find out who is doing this when I get out of here. Unfortunately I may be stuck here for some time, so Robbie I’m hoping you can do a bit of discreet investigation? But be careful lad, don’t take any chances. You never know, perhaps it’s the Stuarts their after, and you could also be in danger.’
Ruth looked really worried now. She turned to Robbie and touching his hand, she said;
‘Your grandfather could be right Robbie; you have got to be careful. Too many things have happened recently to ignore his warning.’
Robbie knew they were right. It was now up to him and Dexter to find the people responsible; and fast.
Jeannie came into the room at that point carrying her overnight bag. After greeting Robbie and Ruth, and making sure that Donald Stuart was being looked after well they made their way to the Land Rover. However, Robbie had a quick word on the way with a man who had just arrived at the hospital and had asked to see him at the hospital reception.
Dexter, Dougrey and Rusty the dog made their way out to meet some of the staff; as they went Dexter said;
‘I would like to see where the woodpile accident happened as well Dougrey.’
‘We’ll go there first then Dexter, it’s not far. Then I’ll take you to meet John who works in the barn where we store our farm produce. After that we can go into the farm shop and meet Loren who runs it.’
‘Fine by me, lead the way then.’
The wood shed was about 300 yards from the house and it had a lockable door, and was of strong all round construction.
‘Looks a substantial building Dougrey. Who holds the key or keys to the shed.’ asked Dexter.
‘At present it would be me, Donald, Cullum and John Stewart, our store supervisor, you’ll meet him later.’ replied Dougrey.
Dexter went up to the shed with Dougrey’s key and opened the door. Inside the log pile was still in the same collapsed condition as when Donald was struck by it. No one had attempted to tidy it up. As Dexter moved some of the logs on the floor Rusty the dog followed him into the shed. As Rusty sniffed around some of the logs Dexter said;
‘Rusty old boy, what have you found there?’
Bending down Dexter saw a red piece of cloth sticking out from the pile. Rusty sniffed it and became quiet excited. Dexter pulled it out and hid it away before Dougrey saw it. He would ask Ruth about it later. Dougrey was waiting out side when Dexter and rusty came out and asked;
‘See anything Dexter? We haven’t had a chance to restack the pile yet but Cullum said he would do it today sometime.’
‘Can you ask Cullum to leave it as it is for now? I think I would like Robbie to see it when he returns.’ said Dexter, stuffing the red piece of cloth further into his coat pocket.
Dougrey shrugged his shoulders and saying he would, he then took Dexter over to the large barn to meet John.
Dexter had been born in a small town close to Houston in Texas and studied psychology and law at the Arizona state university. When he arrived in England ten years ago he had worked on a national newspaper as a crime reporter. His knowledge of psychology had given him a deep interest in the way people react to certain situations. Up to now his only real concern with the people he had met was Ruth’s fiancé Alec Tremayne, he hadn’t come across as sincere, as he hadn’t reacted to Robbie’s grandfather’s accident the way he felt he should. Dexter intended to find out more about him in due course.
As he walked into the large barn where the horticultural produce was stored, he was taken by surprise by the drop in temperature. It was cold enough outside but here in the barn it felt colder.
‘Does the temperature stay this cold all the time Dougrey?’ said Dexter clapping his hands together and blowing into them.
‘Only certain crops are stored at zero to minus 3 degrees centigrade like carrots, cabbages, radishes and fruits like Pears and apples. But late crop potatoes are best stored at higher temperatures around 5 to 13 degrees centigrade. You will see we have separate store rooms around the barn where we can control the temperature to suit the crop.’
As Dougrey said this, a tall man of around fifty years old with weathered features and wearing what looked to be an Arctic style anorak with a fur hood approached them.
‘This is John Fraser, Dexter. John looks after the barn and all that is inside it. He has been with us now for many years. What is it John twenty or so years would you say?’
John shook hands with Dexter and said in a broad scotch accent;
‘It’s 23 years now Dougrey but it don’t seem that long.’
‘Dexter’s here with Robbie and hoping to find who is causing all the accidents we are having, especially to Donald.’
‘Aye tis a sad situation, especially in the wood shed. I only topped up the stock there a week ago and it was safe enough then.’
‘So you are responsible for looking after the wood shed then John? I suppose you wouldn’t know now if the logs had been re arranged from when you last topped it up.?’ asked Dexter clapping his hands to keep warm.
‘I did look in after the accident and it looked like some of the larger ones I placed at the bottom had been moved to the top as they were lying furthest away after they fell.’ replied John
Dexter brain was working overtime. He realised that from what John was saying that it did appear that the collapsing wood pile was no accident.
‘Thanks for that John,’ said Dexter. ‘By the way you don’t use a red coloured material around the barn area, do you?’
John thought for a moment, then said; ‘I can only think of the clothes we use when we service the machinery. Like the tractors. They’re red.’
Dougrey gave Dexter an enquiring look.
‘Well thanks John you have been really helpful. I may be back to see you later.’
.As they walked out of the barn Dougrey said;
‘What was that with the red cloth then Dexter?’
‘Just something I noticed. Who services the tractors? ’
‘Cullem does all that. He’s good with mechanical things.’ replied Dougrey.
‘Is it possible to speak to Cullum? Dexter asked.
‘I’m not sure if he’s here at present. He did say he was going to sort out some materials for a repair job he is working on.’ replied Dougrey.
‘Never mind, I will see him later.’ replied Dexter
As they walked across the farmyard towards the farm shop Dexter was pleased that the last fall of snow had been cleared to make a pathway, and been salted to prevent a slippery surface. Looking up at the sky he could see more snow clouds forming and he guessed it wouldn’t be long until the next fall of snow. There was a brief break in the clouds and weak sun rays shone through. As he looked across the adjacent fields towards the stone crofter’s cottage he had seen from his room that morning, he saw a flash of light which could have come from the reflection on the cottage windows. But he guessed it was more likely to be a reflection from someone using binoculars, as the light changed position, seeming to follow their progress. Someone was watching them and taking an interest in what they were doing. It could be the person responsible for the incidents and therefore planning something else. He must watch out as they may be more successful next time.
Arriving at the Farm Shop with Dougrey, Loren was just taking some produce off the back of a small open backed truck and loading it on to a trolley. A couple of customers were browsing and looking at the range of meat in the chill cabinet. Dougrey went up to Loren and said;
‘Can you spare a minute Loren? This is Robbie’s friend Dexter and he would like to ask you a couple of questions. I know you’re busy but it would be appreciated. It’s about Donald’s accident in the wood shed.’
Dexter could see that Loren was used to lugging the heavy boxes about as she was lifting them like there was nothing in them. He estimated she was in her mid 40’s, quite attractive with dark hair, but he noticed that she had the habit of keep looking towards the doorway he had just entered as if waiting for someone to appear.
‘Hope you don’t mind Loren. Dougrey has told me you run the farm Shop and I was wondering if you saw anything strange at about the time Donald had his accident in the wood shed.’
Loren seemed put out, and a little nervous when she answered Dexter; ‘I’m afraid not. I know the shed isn’t far from the shop but that day I had gone to Inveraray to collect some eggs and fruit and other produce that we don’t farm, to top up our stock. The shop is popular with the local people as it means they don’t have to travel to town.’
Dexter asked her;
‘Who looked after the shop when you went?’
‘John Fraser took over until I got back. He told me about the accident and said he had only found out what had happened when he heard the helicopter arrive to take Donald to Hospital; he hadn’t heard Donald calling for help or any strange noises at the time. You
see the shop is a bit remote and it takes all our time keeping it going, serving customers and restocking.’
Dexter didn’t think he would get far with questioning Loren, but he wondered why she seemed on edge.
Turning to Dougrey Dexter asked;
‘Do you know who lives in that Crofters cottage two field away?’
‘I don’t know. It used to belong to the house but it was sold just a year ago to an unnamed buyer to raise funds. I have seen a van drive out. But not who was driving it.’
Turning back to Loren Dexter said;
‘Well thanks Loren. I hope you don’t mind if I speak to you again; when convenient.’
Dexter noticed that his question about the crofter’s cottage seemed to have unnerved her as she had been going to put a box of tangerines on the trolley but missed and it landed on the floor.
‘No; that will be OK.’ said Loren quickly picking up the box.
Loren shook a half gloved hand with Dexter and carried on unloading the truck.
Dexter had drawn a blank, except he now knew that the crofter’s cottage owner was a mystery person. He was also wondering why Cullum seemed to be keeping a low profile. It was strange that he hadn’t spoken to Robbie since they had arrived, considering he hadn’t seen him for some time and him being Jeannie s husband.
When Dexter had arrived at “The Castle” and heard about Donald Stewart’s latest accident, and ending up in hospital, he realized that the situation was more serious than Robbie and he had imagined. The people who were making these attempts on Donald’s life were very serious, and Dexter was of the opinion that whoever was responsible for all the attempts could very easily make another one while he was in hospital. When he had talked to Robbie about it they agreed that he should contact his old friend at Scotland Yard, D I John Freeman, and get his advice. Freeman had previously told Dexter that he was available 24/7 should he ever need help. When he phoned him and told him the story Freeman had said;
‘You will need to have someone close to Donald Stewart in the hospital. I will contact Ron Good and ask him to contact you about it.’
Dexter knew of Ron Good; he worked outside the law when Freeman wanted clandestine work carried out. He was ex SAS and he could smell out trouble. His ability to eliminate a problem without being incriminated was very useful, and he had no qualms at using force when necessary. When Ron Good phoned Dexter he agreed that he should stake out the hospital where Donald Stewart was;
‘I can be there in a few hours. I will let you know when I arrive. D I John Freeman is contacting the local police and explaining the situation to them. You may need them soon anyway. Also contact the hospital and let them know I am coming. I will explain my plan to them when I arrive. If Robbie is still at the hospital when I get there I will talk to him about how I intend to protect Donald Stewart.’
It was a good job that John Freeman was contacting the local police, as it reminded Dexter that he had been told that the Police hadn’t taken the accidents seriously when Jeannie had approached them. They also had an excuse that they were short on manpower, so had told Jeannie not to be concerned as the so called accidents were probably just that; accidents. However, he used his special mobile phone, which was linked to a satellite, to phone Robbie and tell him what Ron Good had said.
Dexter was relieved knowing that Ron Good was to assist in the protection of Donald Stewart. Ron having been a member of the British Army Special Forces unit was well versed in counter terrorism and reconnaissance so would know what to look out for. Ron had worked under cover in Afghanistan and Iraq and had had some pretty scary moments, but he was a man who could blend into a situation, even resorting to make up artistry when necessary, so he was a man you could totally depend on in difficult situations. In one respect getting Ron to help was like getting a hammer to crack an egg but he had a really bad feeling that there was more to this situation than what Donald Stewart was letting on about, in which case Ron would be the man to sort it.
Ron Good arrived while Robbie was at the hospital and Robbie gave him all the relevant details and introduced him to Donald Stewart.
‘You didn’t have to trouble yourself Ron. I can’t see there being any problem with someone wanting to attack me in here.’ Donald said.
Ron had looked at him strapped up in bed and could see he wouldn’t stand a chance if anyone was serious about hurting him.
‘Don’t you worry about me Donald you won’t see much of me. I just fade into the background.’
As Robbie, Ruth and Jeannie had left the hospital and got into their Land Rover, the driver of a white Ford Transit van nearby in the car park picked his mobile phone up and made a call;
‘They’re just leaving now. I’ll follow them and you visit DS. You know what to do.’
Igor Badowski had been waiting in his car some distance from the hospital. When he received the white van driver’s call, he didn’t show any emotion for what he was about to do. He had been hired through a secure remote internet system which was automatically shut down after agreeing the terms of the contract. He never made personal contact with any of the contractors involved. He had been hired today to eliminate Donald Stewart.
Originally from Poland he was multi lingual and could blend into any situation. Today should be a piece of cake as no one would take any notice of a disabled person on crutches wandering about the hospital.
As Ruth manoeuvred the Land Rover out of the hospital car park the White Van followed. Leaving Oban, Ruth picked up the A85 heading towards Loch Awe and the A819 which took them on to Inveraray and home.
‘If the weather stays as it is, and no more snow, we should be home in just over an hour.’ said Ruth.
‘I’m not so sure about the weather staying as it is Ruth, look ahead over those trees it looks like we’re in for some more snow.’ replied Robbie.
‘If it does then we may be in trouble. I have had to stop over at a hotel or B&B cottage on the way home on other occasions as the route can get quite treacherous even with a small fall of snow.’
After crossing the Orchy River Bridge, the road followed close to Loch Awe. Ruth saw a White Van behind them which was keeping at a respectable distance from them. There were occasional other vehicles on the road but she presumed the traffic was light due to the weather. There was still the long stretch to Invararay, and it had now started snowing again. After a further five miles she saw that the white van had now closed up on them. If the van was a threat to them she thought she would be in the better position to out manoeuvre it in snow conditions, as the land Rover had four wheels drive.
There was no other traffic on the road in sight and suddenly the white van accelerated, which amazed Ruth as she thought it would have a problem with traction in the snowy conditions. What she didn’t know was that the white vans body was built onto a land Rovers chassis and had built in a 4 x 4 anti-skid device fitted and all weather tires. The white van was now nearly bumper to bumper. It started to push against Ruth’s Land Rover, trying to nudge it to the side of the road where there was gulley and then a four or five feet drop. It then started to overtake and kept on nudging Ruth’s Land Rover to the side making it hard for Ruth to control her vehicle. Robbie was now extremely worried, and tried to think of something to help Ruth, almost shouting in panic he said;
‘He’s obviously trying hard to crash us Ruth, can you accelerate a bit and swing over to the right and block him when he falls behind?’
‘I’ll try braking Robbie and see if I can get behind him. That van of his can’t be a normal white van as he would have crashed himself by now.’
With that Ruth applied her brakes which pulled them back behind the white van. The driver of the white van was taken by surprise and tried to pull back himself, but Ruth was thinking fast and then remembered that up ahead was an old military road, which as far as she knew wasn’t used that often. She blocked the white van enough to stop him from dropping back, if she could hold him off long enough she would be able to turn off onto the old military road. She hoped that the other driver wouldn’t know about the other road. Up ahead Ruth saw that the entrance to the road was partly hidden by trees which was ideal. Just as the white van pulled forward intending to brake, hoping that Ruth would overtake on the inside and give the white van the opportunity to pull alongside Ruth and force her off the road, she took that moment to take a hard left turn on the steering wheel, managing to make the turn off. Luckily the trees and not the road had taken most of the recent snowfall, and therefore the road wasn’t too difficult to drive on. Ahead was a pull in which led to a wooded track and quite easy for the land Rover to negotiate. After parking amongst a heavy wooded area and needing to maintain heat in the vehicle, she kept the engine ticking over. Robbie and Jeannie breathed a sigh of relief and Robbie, with a croak in his voice said;
‘You did marvellously Ruth, wherever did you learn to drive like that? And what a piece of luck this turn off was here. But what was that all about. He was determined to try and cause us to crash, which would have been a disaster for us. In these conditions we would probably all been severely injured; or more likely killed.’
‘You get experience driving round the estate, and we do a lot of driving in bad weather conditions, when farming. I hoped our antagonist didn’t know about this road, or had forgotten it was here, it seemed I was right. I think that this is all tied in with the attempts to do away with the Stuarts, and your one of them Robbie. Whoever is behind these attempts on yours and Douglas’s life won’t stop until they succeed. You and Dexter have got to get to the bottom of this and fast.’
The white van driver had forgotten about the turn off and had carried straight on. He cursed as he saw the Land Rover turn off but it was too late to follow. So he carried on towards Invararay muttering that he would get them eventually, one way or another.
They sat and waited for twenty minutes, but as there was no sign of the white van returning Ruth drove the Land Rover back out onto the main road and then on towards Invararay.
Ron Good was in a position in the hospital where he could see Donald Stewart’s room. He had set up two small Wi-Fi system cameras of his own in the foyer of the hospital and close to Donald’s room. This recorded all people going in and out, and those close to the room, and he could watch on a small TV screen. He had been introduced to Donald’s care staff and knew who was allowed in and out of Donald’s room.
Igor Badowski had parked his car in one of the disabled parking bays at the front of the hospital and took two crutches out of the inside of the car. He looked around to see if anyone was taking an interest in him, satisfied they weren’t he went into the foyer. He had practised using the crutches so he looked convincing and that he was there for treatment. After passing the reception desk he made his way down the corridor to the orthopaedic section. He had been told which room Donald was in by his contact that had already searched out the information. However, he knew he needed to be cautious as he guessed the Stewart family would have arranged some sort of security for Donald.
As he got near the room he was stopped by a nurse, she said;
‘Are you alright Sir? Can I help you?’
‘No it’s ok thanks I was just having a stretch as I have been sitting and lying down too long.’
Ron Good hadn’t thought things would kick off so soon. He had seen Igor come into the hospital and noticed he didn’t have a bandage or plaster on his legs. Also, he didn’t go to the reception desk for any information, and he noticed that his limp wasn’t consistent. He may have been familiar with where he needed to go; but he wasn’t convinced he was injured in any way; anyway he would track his movements.
After the nurse had gone Igor found a toilet and disposed of the crutches in one of the cubicles and locked its door from the outside. He took a hypodermic syringe containing cyanide from out of a pouch strapped to his waist. Then ensuring that the safety cap on it was in place he made his way to Donald Stewart’s room. Cautiously opening the door he entered the room. Lighting was dimmed but he could make out somebody lying in the bed with their leg raised on some sort of pulley system. By the side of the bed was a table with a jug of water on it and on a stand was a CT screen which was showing a number of graphical lines and was connected to the person’s body by wires.
Ron Good had followed the progress of Igor up to the door of the room and was waiting for him behind a screen in a corner of the room. He’d asked Donald to lay still and pretend to be sleeping. Igor Badowski was satisfied that no one was around and walked towards the bed. Suddenly he was thrown to the floor by the effect of 500.000 volt taser gun dart as it struck his body. The hypodermic needle full of cyanide fell from his grasp and rolled under the bed. Jerking due to the pulses from the taser he was aware of a man standing over him and talking but he couldn’t make out what was said. The pulses from the gun only affected the skeletal muscles and not the heart so it didn’t kill him, only completely incapacitated him. Ron Good bent down and handcuffed one of his wrists and then his other wrist to the bed frame. He sat the assassin up, but he was very groggy, and still feeling the effects of the taser. Picking up the hypodermic syringe he took the pouch off the assassin and placed it inside. Ron took his mobile phone out and made a call to the local constabulary. Donald who had witnessed most of what had occurred asked;
‘Is it all over Ron? Can I sit up now?’
‘Yes I’ve got him safe. He will be unwell for a time but he won’t cause you any trouble. I’m going to have to leave now as I don’t want to get caught up with a lot questioning by the Police. When they get here just explain what has happened and tell them that D I John Freeman of the London Met will tell them more. By the way, I hope your leg gets better soon. ’
After collecting up al his Wi-Fi etc, he left by the rear entrance.
After Dexter had spoken to the staff he thanked Dougrey and walked back towards the house. As he approached it he could see now it was daylight why Creswell Manor was called “The Castle” The main part of the house was three stories high and there were six large windows across the length of the building at each level. The windows on the upper level were smaller and may have been the servant’s quarters in the distant past. There were castellated round towers at each corner at the front of the building and crenulations along the roof between each round tower. Attached to the end of the main manor house was a lower one with a flat roof which appeared to have been built at a later date to that of the main house. He had been told that the house was built in the early 19th Century by Donald’s ancestor Lord Trethan Creswell Stewart who was a big name in arable and dairy farming. There had been a son, Jonathan Creswell Stuart, who not a lot was known about according to Robbie.
As Dexter entered the house through the main doorway his mobile phone rang. It was from Robbie.
‘Hi Robbie, how is your grandfather?’
‘Donald was alright when we left but he has been pretty badly shaken up and he’s got his leg up in a sling so he is not in a very good mood. How have you got with talking to the staff?’
‘Well I have spoken to all of them except Dennis as he was busy with a customer; but Loren said she had gone to Inveraray for some produce for the farm shop. She didn’t seem too pleased to answer my questions though. But she did tell me that John Fraser had told her he hadn’t heard anything as the shop as it is a bit remote from the woodshed, and only knew about the accident when the helicopter arrived to take Donald to hospital.’
‘OK Dex. Listen. I’m phoning from the car, we’re on our way back but we have just had a problem with a vehicle that was following us, so may be back later than we anticipated. Can you in the meantime have a look around Donald’s office? Ruth said it will be alright. There may be some clue there why all these so called accidents keep occurring. If someone is trying to get rid of Donald then there has got to be a good reason. Dexter looked around the entrance hall and saw there were two doors leading off to the left, and on the right of the hall were three doors. Ahead of him was the main staircase to the upper floors and to the left side of them was a door which he knew led to the kitchen area. He was still in contact with Robbie on his phone so he said;
‘OK I’ll have a look; do you know which door is Donald’s office?’
‘Yes. It’s the second on the right hand side as you enter the house. I don’t think it’s alarmed or gives any security warning sounds so you should be ok.’
Dexter walked over to the door and tried the handle. It wasn’t locked so he said to Robbie;
‘OK it’s not locked so I’ll have a search around. I’ll see you when you get back. By the way did Ron Good arrive at the hospital?’
‘Yes I spoke to him. He got the message last night and came straight away. See you later.’
Dexter put his mobile away and removed his anorak. After laying it on a chair in the hall he entered Donald’s office. It was a large room with two large built in bookcases; there was an elaborate mahogany desk in front of the window which was piled with papers and folders. The room was oak paneled and had a high ceiling which had an elaborate plaster motif design on. There were several chairs some of which had seen better days and two filing cabinets. Looking at the mass of papers and folders Dexter realized this would take longer than he had at first thought.
“Oh well lets get on with it. I’ll try the desk drawers first, that’s always favourite way of hiding away papers you don’t want people to see.” he said aloud as he went over to the desk.
Donald wasn’t very security conscious as all the draws opened easily. Searching them didn’t turn up anything that might indicate the reason for the attacks on Donald so he turned his attention to the filing cabinets. One of them opened but the second one needed a key to get into it. The open one wasn’t very full and had information about farming methods and animal husbandry as well as magazines on farming. He found the key to the second filing cabinet at the back of one of the desk drawers. Opening the top drawer, he found several folders containing finance figures for the estate, and tax information. A lot of the documents had Ruth’s signature on them and what must have been her handwriting as it had a feminine touch about it compared to other documents that looked like they were prepared by Donald; these were all the finance statements for the estate. In the second draw was a money box with over a thousand pounds in it and some receipts. This must be the petty cash box.
In the third drawer down there were papers concerning a will that Donald was in the process of writing. It wasn’t complete as Donald hadn’t signed it yet, but the bulk of the estate would go to Robbie. There was part of it that had Ruth and Jeannie’s name as beneficiaries for small amounts, and they were to be kept on in the event of Donald’s death.
Dexter went back to the second drawer and the finance stuff and was surprised to find that the estate had been operating on bank and other loans for the previous two years. In fact, Donald Stewart had been raising money from many sources and was in dire straits financially. Goodness only knew how he had been juggling the lenders. It appeared that if they were all to call in their loans then the business would collapse and Donald, Jeannie, Ruth would be out of a home and all the other staff would be out of a job, which in this area would cause them a lot of distress as he would think that there wouldn’t be much in the way of alternative work.
Looking through the rest of the draw he found the names of some of the lenders, and the one that stood out to him was the Tullet Finance Group that had lent Douglas £100,000 recently. Dexter sat down and considered what this could all mean. He knew Tullet Finance. They had a reputation of lending money on reasonable terms and then reneging on deals and calling in the loans early. If the client didn’t pay up, then they took them to court and ended up owning the business. The police had been trying to make a case against them for some time.
Dexter next took a folder from the drawer and when he opened it a letter headed The Tremayne Hotel Group fell out. He gave a long drawn out whistle as he read it. It was signed by Stewart Tremayne; the Father of Ruth’s fiancé, Alec. Dexter sat down behind the desk and read it. The letter was an offer for “The Castle” estate and all its land. The letter was dated seven months ago. Just before all the incidents to Donald and the estate.
Dexter sat back in his chair and started to consider the implications of the letter. As he did this he looked ahead, his mind working overtime. He could see that the house and all its land would be of interest to someone with a multi hotel portfolio. “The Castle” itself must have at least 40 or more rooms in it, and the temptation would be great for someone like Tremayne. But would the temptation to own the house and land be so great as to try and kill its owner and cause havoc on the estate. Or was there some other reason why someone would go
to such lengths to own it all? That was the overriding question. What was the history of the house, did Tremayne know something that Donald Stuart didn’t? As he ran his eyes over the room he was impressed by the quality of the workmanship. The large ornate fireplace and the two large floor to ceiling bookcases filled with many books was Impressive.
Dexter got up and went over to the bookcases and examined the titles of some of the books. They all seemed to be quite old, although he did spot a couple of Agatha Christie’s and J B Priestley’s Good Companions. He saw a book entitled “Guide to Scotland and History of its People” published in 1950, and took it out to see if it had anything about “The Castle” in it. Turning the pages, he came to a section on Inveraray and found a write up on Creswell Manor, or now known as “The Castle”. The house had certainly had a chequered history. The book said that it was built by a Lord Trethan Creswell Stuart, who owed his title to him having been the Minister for Scotland. He first found fame as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Crimean war. He was invalided out of the army and returned to parliament. The fortunes of the estate diminished from then and he died in 1885 and his son Jonathan Creswell Stuart inherited it. He was left with having to sort out its many problems, finance ones and local farms belonging to the estate. There was nothing written about Lord Trethan’s family or about Jonathan’s mother, which seemed strange to Dexter.
The estate went through a bad patch after Lord Trethan died but it appeared to have made a miraculous recovery when Jonathan took over the reins, this being after his return from America. The write up finished there, which left Dexter wondering about how it made this recovery in such a short time. What had Jonathan got out of his visit to America? It seemed it must have been worth it as the fortunes of the Creswell estate had improved considerably by all accounts when Jonathan returned. There was nothing about this period in Douglas’s files when he had gone through his documents in the filing cabinets or the desk. If it was Tremayne who wanted the house, and estate badly enough to kill for it, then he must have found out something that wasn’t in the written history of it. Dexter sat back in his chair and closed the book on “Guide to Scotland and History of its People” as he looked around the room he said to himself;
‘What is it that you know Tremayne, that we don’t? What happened to change the prosperity of the estate? And what happened when Jonathan went to America? That could be the key to this latest situation.’ Dexter got up and decided he would see if there were any other records about the owners and the estate in Invararay. Perhaps the Town Hall or even the Library, if there is one, may throw up some information.’
Dexter got up from the desk to replace the book on “Guide to Scotland and History of its People” to the bookshelf, and as he did so, noticed a book protruding some distance over the edge two shelves above his head. It immediately intrigued him, as he was a stickler for order and if he saw anything out of place then he had to investigate. He found a set of wooden steps, obviously for the purpose of reaching the higher shelves. He pulled the book out and saw that it looked very old, very thick, and extremely dusty; obviously it hadn’t been looked at for a long time. The books title was “The Americas”. He attempted to push it back in but something prevented him doing so. He pulled it out and felt behind the book. His hand felt a rod which he tried to pull out but it was difficult to move until after a lot of tugging the rod moved slightly.
Dexter heard a distinct click from the edge of the bookcase and then part of it moved outwards, slightly, revealing a space behind. He quickly got down from the steps and had just pulled the section of bookcase open and looking inside at a large trunk when he heard the sound of voices coming from the hall outside the office, the loudest being Robbie’s, so he pushed the open bookcase section to close it, and then left the office to greet them.
‘This will have to wait till later.’ He said to himself.
Jonathan Creswell Stuart had gone to America to find out if there was a market for wool which he wanted to export there. During his travels he had met up with cattle baron Henry Baxter who had a cattle ranch near Jacksonville. Baxter wasn’t interested in wool as he had made all his money and wealth from cattle. Jonathan had been naïve to think he could use Baxter to promote his wool imports, not realising that Baxter had other ideas; he wanted Jonathan to come in with him as a partner believing that having a Scottish Lord as a partner would enhance his business. Baxter had been quite open with Jonathan in so far that he had taken him into a locked room in his house and shown him a large trunk which he then opened. After doing so he said;
‘Jon, take a look at that.’
As he opened the trunk Jonathan peered inside and saw it was full of gold dollar coins and some jewellery,
‘If you come over to America and join me I’ll make you a rich man. Forgot all those sheep in Scotland; cattle is where the money is boy.’ and patted him hard on his back.
There was no way that Jonathan was going to move to America, but he made plans to get all Baxter’s wealth. He made contact with two drifters in the town and promised them a large sum of money to help with his plan, but telling them;
‘I’m moving back to England and need some help with a heavy item. Be at the Double B ranch late tonight. Bring a wagon big enough to take a large trunk.’
Later that evening when he was having a glass of bourbon whiskey with Baxter he killed him by hitting him over the head while his back was turned. He dragged the body behind the large desk so it couldn’t be seen by anyone entering the room and called the two drifters in, first making sure that Baxter’s houseman was in bed asleep on the other side of the ranch house. After they got the trunk on to the wagon Jonathan took one of the drifters back into the ranch house on pretence of more items to load and killed him the same way as he had with Baxter. He swopped clothes with the dead drifter and made his way back to the wagon. The fire he started in Baxter’s ranch house took hold immediately as it was made mainly of wood. There would be no evidence of Jonathan having escaped as they would find two bodies and assume that he died with Baxter in the blaze.
When the other drifter in the wagon saw Jonathan return without the one he had killed, Jonathan told him;
‘You’re friend won’t be coming so there will double money for you. Now drive on.’
The drifter looked pleased and didn’t ask any more questions.
On the way to the harbour, at a convenient quiet place, Jonathan killed the other drifter then buried him. He had already made arrangements with the Captain of the Redoubt sailing ship with a large sum of money, and having left his own luggage already on board he was able to change into more suitable clothes.
Several days later when the sailing ship Redoubt docked in Oban, Scotland, the large trunk and the other items were unloaded and transferred on to the back of a large coach pulled by four horses that was waiting at the dockside ready to transport Jonathan and his goods to Creswell Manor. When Jonathan arrived at Creswell Manor he and his manservant Craddock, who had been driving the coach, moved the trunk into his office. Before doing this he made sure nobody else saw them do this.
‘You made it back ok through the snow then? You said you had a problem with another vehicle, what happened?’ asked Dexter,
‘We only just made it Dex.’ said Robbie, as he helped Ruth take her coat off.
Dexter went over and helped Jeannie remove her coat.
Ruth looked at Robbie and then turned to Dexter and said;
‘It seems whoever is after Donald tried it on with us, but I managed to out fox them.’
‘Yes Ruth was marvellous. I don’t know what we would have done without her.’ Robbie said. And Ruth blushed at the compliment.
While they were talking, Mrs Campbell had come into the hall to inform them that there were some refreshments in the lounge.
‘Let’s all go and get a cup of tea. I’m gasping for one after that journey.’ Robbie said.
Jeannie thanked Dexter for his help and said; ‘Ruth will tell you more while I just go to the kitchen to speak to Mrs Campbell. Go and have your refreshments everyone.’
‘Oh Mum I forgot to introduce you, Dexter is Robbie’s friend who has come to help us find out who’s responsible for all these events.’
Dexter managed to get Robbie on his own before going into the lounge.
‘I need to talk to you and Ruth about what I found out in Donald’s office.’
Robbie nodded and suggested they do it after dinner that evening.
Dexter noticed that Jeannie’s husband Cullum hadn’t been there to meet Jeannie and Ruth, which was no surprise to him as it fitted in with his suspicions about the man. He saw that Dougrey had just arrived at the entrance and was standing by the large front door looking all concerned. He walked quickly over to Jeannie and stopped her progress to the kitchen and spoke quietly to her. Dexter watched her expression as he spoke to her and saw her give an alarmed look and grip his hand at the same time. Dexter guessed what it was about but decided to say nothing at the moment.
After dinner that evening Dexter asked Robbie and Ruth to come with him to Donald’s office. It was several years since Robbie had been in there and was surprised at all the papers lying around on the desk and general untidiness. When he mentioned it to Ruth she said;
‘It is always like this these days. Donald won’t have it any other way, says he can find what he needs with no trouble.’
‘Do you have anything to do with the estates account Ruth?’ enquired Dexter.
‘Donald only lets me do basic tasks for him, like typing his correspondence and arranging for posting and general filing.’ Ruth replied.
‘Does Donald let you see any of the letters he receives? Or let you see what he keeps in his desk?’
‘No Dexter, he keeps all that private and he always makes sure to lock the main filing cabinet draws before he leaves the room. I know where he keeps the key but I wouldn’t dare go into his desk as he can get quite upset if anyone touches his private stuff.’
Dexter wasn’t surprised having seen the letter from Tremayne. The estates accounts looked in dire straights and in spite of that Donald was obviously resisting selling up to him; hence, the attacks on him and the estate.
‘Ruth; do you know anything about how Donald pays for supplies and other items to do with the running of the house and estate? ’ asked Dexter.
Robbie looked at Dexter as he continued questioning Ruth wondering what this was leading up to. He then looked at Ruth realising then his feelings for her and whether Dexter’s questions were of an incriminatory nature which made him feel angry, so he interrupted by saying;
‘Come off it Dex, what are you insinuating to Ruth, that she is in some way involved in all the so called accidents?’
‘No of course not Robbie, I’m just trying to find out if Ruth knew how Donald financed the estate because I believe that it has everything to do with what’s been happening. And if Ruth does know anything then it may answer some of the questions I need answered.’
Ruth touched Robbie’s arm and gave him a thankful look and then said;
‘I appreciate your concern for me Robbie but Dexter is right he does need to find some answers. But I’m afraid Dexter that I have no idea how Donald finances the day to day running of the estate.’
Dexter wasn’t surprised at Robbie’s outburst as he had seen how he was attracted to Ruth since arriving at the house. Alec Tremayne had better watch out. However, even though he was certain that Ruth wasn’t involved in any of the events he was not going to show her or Robbie the loan details that Donald had in his filing cabinet. That would come later. As would his discovery of the secret room behind the bookcase.
Dexter wanted to know what Dougrey had said to Jeannie so when they left the office, Robbie and Ruth went off to the lounge and Dexter went to the kitchen to see if Jeannie was there still. As he entered she was helping Mrs Campbell putting away items from their meal.. After Mrs Campbell left the kitchen Dexter said;
‘Oh Jeannie, I hope you don’t mind me interrupting you. I have just been talking to Ruth and Robbie about Donald’s affairs. Now you don’t have to answer any of my questions but I noticed that Dougrey spoke to you in the hall when you arrived and you looked concerned.’
‘No I don’t mind telling you Dexter. You would have found out anyway soon enough, knowing the way that people’s affairs in the house get around. It was no surprise what Dougrey told me, he said that Cullum has disappeared and hasn’t been seen around today. But that’s not all. Loren from the farm shop has also disappeared as well.’
‘But I was only speaking to her this morning and she seemed all right then.’ Dexter said remembering his conversation in the farm shop earlier.
‘I have known about Cullum and his relationship with Loren for some time. He has tried to act all normal but there were little things that I noticed mainly like spending a lot of time helping her to get stock for the shop. He drives her to Inverarary, but she’s perfectly able to drive herself, and I know the place she gets the produce from, and they always load the van for her anyway. My relationship with Cullum hasn’t been good for some time now and I was waiting for something like this to happen.’
Dexter’s mind went into overdrive at this information. It answered a lot of questions he wanted to ask, but now he knew this he realised it was time to confront the Tremayne’s.
‘I am sorry to hear that Jeannie it must have been difficult for you. What will you do now?’
‘Oh don’t worry about me, I expect you might have guessed but Dougrey has been a great comfort to me and got me through it. We will see this through together and he’s promised his total support. And I do like Dougrey, so who knows it might work out for the best anyway; if you know what I mean. By the way Ruth does know all about it.’
Dexter chatted a bit longer before going back to talk to Robbie and Ruth. As he left the kitchen his mobile phone rang, it was Ron Good from the hospital.
‘Is it ok to talk now Dexter?’ asked Ron.
‘Yes carry on Ron.’
‘You were right about someone trying to get to Donald. I set a trap in case of a visitation and the guy fell straight into it.’
‘What happened? Is Donald alright?
‘Yes he’s fine. It was a foreign guy, who I think may be on Interpol’s wanted list. I managed to take him by surprise. He’ll have a headache for some time.’ and explained about the taser.
‘I phoned the local police and Donald is going to tell them what happened. I expect you will hear from them soon.. He intended to permanently get rid of Donald, and no doubt Robbie would have been next. Oh by the way, the hospital asked me to tell you that Donald has been seen by the doctor and has had his leg released from the winch arrangement. They said he would be ok to return home tomorrow as the injury wasn’t as bad as they at first thought. They said he should take it easy for a week or so though.’
‘Well done Ron. I will let D I John Freeman at Scotland Yard know what happened, as he put you in touch with me. The family will be pleased about Donald although I am not so sure about Donald taking it easy. Thanks for everything and I may get in touch again one day.’
Dexter told the others the news about Donald and they were relieved at hearing he hadn’t suffered any permanent damage. Then he said to Ruth.’
‘Can you arrange for me to see Magnus Tremayne tomorrow Ruth? I need to ask him something.’
Ruth gave Dexter a quizzical look, but realised he wouldn’t want to see Alec’s father without good reason.
It was getting late now and a lot had happened since Robbie’s return from Oban but Dexter guessed that now was the time to make his first move. He excused himself from Ruth and Robbie and quickly went to find Dougrey and when he caught up with him he said;
‘Can you help me Dougrey? It’s important we visit that old crofter’s cottage tonight, and I want you drive me there and give me some assistance.’
He then explained to Dougrey what he intended to do. He went back and told Robbie what he intended to do and to stay in the house and make sure that Ruth and Jeannie didn’t come to any harm.
Dougrey drove slowly with the vehicle’s lights off to within 100 yards of the cottage and parked up behind a hedge. With Dexter leading the way they crept up to the cottage where a light was showing through drawn curtains. A white Ford transit sat in front of the cottage and one of the estates Land Rovers.
‘You go down to the side door and just wait. I will go to the front door.’
Dexter went up to the transit van and opened the door. He saw the keys were in the ignition, then checked the Land Rover; then taking both sets of keys he went up to the front door and knocked. He heard voices raised and then a shout from the side of the house where Dougrey was.
‘Around here Dexter, you were right.’ shouted Dougrey.
Then the front door burst open and a figure charged out to the Transit Van and jumped in.
Dexter walked up to the van and stood in front of it holding the keys up and waving them for the person to see. He said;
‘I know all about your scheme Cullum let’s go back in the cottage where it’s warmer and discuss this shall we?’
Dougrey was already inside with Loren who was looking frightened. Dexter walked behind Cullum into the cottage. He saw two large travel cases by a table.
‘Only two cases, isn’t your mate going with you then or has he left already?’
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about, what do you mean my mate?’ Cullum replied, and looked over towards Loren and shook his head .
‘Well a little bird told me that a white van answering the description of the one outside tried to force Ruth’s Land Rover off the road, with Robbie and Jeannie inside, and nearly succeeded this afternoon. They could have been seriously injured or killed. Ruth managed to get a look at the driver and it wasn’t you.’
At which point Loren who had been listening put her hand to her mouth in shock and said;
‘I thought you said no one would get hurt Cullum. That you were only trying to frighten Donald into selling the estate to Tremayne.’
‘Shut up Woman.’ Cullum said, attempting to go over to her, but Dexter pushed him down in a chair and said;
‘I think you had better start from the beginning Cullum. Loren, can you make us all a cup of tea as I think this may take some time.’
‘All I know is the name which he calls himself, which is Fraser. He was hired by Tremayne, he was the one driving the white van. We were approached after Fraser had taken up residence in this cottage.’ said Cullum.
‘Where is this Fraser now?’ asked Dexter.
‘I don’t know; he left here a couple of hours ago but didn’t say where he was going. I can give you details of what he looked like. We never expected it all to get out of hand like it has, or cause any serious injuries, just enough to put the frighteners on everyone.’
‘Did Fraser hire the person who tried to kill Donald in hospital?’ asked Dexter looking at Cullum who was fidgeting in his seat.
‘Fraser never told me anything about that. Tremayne must have asked Fraser to get someone. Fraser kept everything close to himself. He only got us to help out at the house with the woodshed and other things. ’ Cullum scowled as he said this.
‘Tell Dexter what he had planned to do next Cullum.’ Loren said.
‘What had Fraser planned next then?
‘Tremayne said he wanted Robbie out of the way to, so this was why we were leaving tonight; we didn’t want any more to do with it. We had been paid some of the money and had decided to cut our losses.’
‘Sounds like Fraser will be back then.’ said Dexter.
Just then Dexter heard some voices outside and then several policemen and a plain clothes man came through the doorway. He had called the local police earlier and told them what he was doing and asked them for their assistance, their late arrival was apparently due to poor driving conditions on the roads.
After Dexter had retold Loren and Cullum’s story to the Police, and about the man Fraser, they were led away. They left two men at the cottage to catch Fraser when he returned. Dexter and Dougrey returned to the “The Castle.
The next day Dexter and Ruth went to see Magnus Tremayne, and Alec was also there.
‘Now what’s this all about Ruth?’ said Magnus after Dexter was introduced to him.’
Dexter had already told Ruth what was going to happen so she stayed by Dexter and ignored Alec.
‘Well it’s like this Mr Tremayne we know all about your scheme to try and buy Creswell Manor and the lack of success you have had in doing so. And then the way you have tried to force a sale using extremely dangerous methods likely to cause a danger to individual’s lives.’
Magnus looked dumbfounded and tried to bluster ‘I don’t know what on earth you are on about.’
‘Oh I think you do, and I also think Alec does as well as he has been a link in the chain feeding you with information what was been happening in the house through his association with Ruth.’
Alec now looked pleadingly at Ruth who turned away from looking at him.
‘You have no proof of any of this, it’s all supposition.’ said Magnus as he hedged towards his desk.
‘Oh I do have plenty of proof Mr Tremayne.’ said Dexter, watching Stuarts movements. ‘Cullem and Loren at the house have both given statements about their involvement and how you bought the crofter’s cottage and set him and Loren up with the man Fraser in it, so as they could plan how to cause and action the most havoc at the manor; and a certain Mr Igor Badowski who you paid to kill Donald Stuart has also come clean about his involvement. Also Fraser has been apprehended by the Police and told them everything.’
Tremayne realised that the game was up and made a movement towards his desk draw. But Dexter was too quick for him and shut his hand in the draw before he could take a gun from it. Alec looked shocked and tried to run from the room just as two policeman came through the door with a plain clothed detective behind them.
‘Just in time Inspector.’ said Dexter, taking the gun from Stuart and handing it to Chief Inspector Angus Rhodes of the Oban police force. Ruth in the meantime was shocked at what she had just witnessed. Dexter saw her distress and squeezed her hand and indicated she should sit down. After Stuart and Alec had been led away he said to Ruth;
‘Sorry you had to witness that Ruth, but it was important that you realised that Alec had been using you to pass information to his father. Attempted murder means that they will be imprisoned for some considerable time. But at least you can all rest easy now we have caught the culprits.’
When Dexter and Ruth returned to the house they were pleased to see that Donald had just returned by ambulance. Apparently the roads were clearing well as there had been no more snow for a couple of days. Robbie was pleased to see Ruth and came over and gave her a hug. Dougrey and Jeannie were also there. Dexter went over and introduced himself to Donald who was in a wheelchair. Then Donald said;
‘I hear you have been busy young man, what’s the latest news?’
Dexter suggested that the all go into Donald’s office so he could bring them all up to date. Donald raised his eyebrows at that but went along with Dexter’s request.
‘I think you should all know the full story which is why I have asked Jeannie and Dougrey to come as well, after all I think Dougrey will be playing a major part in the future running of the estate.’ and looked at Jeannie as he said this. Jeannie blushed and held Dougrey’s hand much to Donald’s surprise. ‘It was when I found the red cloth in the woodshed that I started having suspicions of Cullum’s involvement. I realised that it must have been used to wedge the log pile from collapsing, and the fact that Cullum was probably the only person who used red cloths for use on the tractor I put 2 and 2 together.’ Dexter showed them a red cloth similar to the one he found in the woodshed. ‘it must have been a shock to you all that it was Cullum and Loren who were carrying out the attacks with Tremayne’’s instructions. Cullum had been having an affair with Loren for some time and Loren wanted them both to get away from here and go and live in France near her elderly parents, but they didn’t have the money to go. So when Tremayne approached Cullum, via Alec, and were told they would be richer by £50,000 they jumped at it.’
‘But how did you know that Tremayne was involved?’ asked Robbie.
‘Well that was easy. I found a letter from Tremayne in Donald’s office wanting to buy the estate.’ Donald gave Dexter a questioning look and said;
‘I realise why you had to look seeing as we had been having so many accidents around the estate, but I never thought Tremayne would sink as low as he did. No doubt you found a few more items regarding the estates finance situation if you have been looking my papers in depth?’
‘It had to be carried out Donald, there was too much at stake after the attempts on your life?’ said Dexter
‘’Attempts; were there more than the woodshed one?’ asked Jeannie.
‘I am afraid so Jeannie. We picked up an assassin at the hospital; which I will tell you about later.’
Jeannie put her hand to her mouth in horror as Dexter continued.
‘Yes I did see your accounts Donald, and the financial situation the estate was in.’
‘Huh! And still is in a state I’m afraid everyone.’ Donald said sadly.
Dexter ignored answering this but went on;
‘After Tremayne was arrested his office was searched and a document was found that his son Alec had discovered here at Creswell Manor. We haven’t found from where he discovered it but he passed it to his father.’
Ruth looked shocked and hesitantly said;
‘Alec had been sorting our cellar out which had a lot of old papers and books in. We wanted to find out if there was any worth keeping from there and destroy the stuff we didn’t want. Our idea was to utilise the cellars to store more recent documents from Donald’s office. As Dexter said, it is in a bit of a mess. He could have discovered it there. Was it very important?’
Dexter walked to the centre of the office and looked around at each them in turn before answering Ruth.
‘That certainly sounds like where he found it. No doubt you Donald and Ruth know a little about the history of Creswell Manor. How the estate was in dire need of finance at the end of the 19th Century when Jonathan Stuart took over after his father died.’
‘I know some of the story Dexter but all the details have remained lost in time.‘ replied Donald.
Dexter nodded and took a sheet of paper from a folder his pocket.
‘Alec found this sheet of paper among some others when he was routing around and clearing the cellar. Tremayne had it in his desk drawer and it was the main reasons he so wanted to own Creswell manor, and so do all the terrible things to Donald to try and get it.. It gives some information which seems to have been written by Jonathan and is dated August 1889. Let me read it to you.’ He gave a small cough before continuing;
‘After I arrived back at Creswell Manor and my servant Craddock assisted me to take the trunk to my private room I thanked him and told him he must never tell anyone what he seen as it would be the worse for him. After he left the room I locked my door and opened the trunk with its large key. I was in awe as I looked into the trunk I had brought back with me from America. My problems were over, this new found wealth would enable me to be independent of all my creditors and let me run the estate as I wish. My first job would be to sell the jewellery, secretly, as this would be the most traceable should it be found here. After I had taken all the jewellery from the trunk leaving just the gold coins I had to ensure that I would be the only person who would know where it is, I hid the trunk in a secret hiding place. Making sure that no one would come into my room I began the task of concealing the trunk. I considered it would be safe where I had put it, but a nagging thought overcame me as I closed the lid. I realised greed and curiosity could be too much for Cradock to bare so I decided to….. ’
Dexter looked up;
‘It is not much, and there is no clue as to where the said trunk had come from. It sounds like it was stolen because of his concern for the jewellery. It seems that Jonathan had intended to write more, and I believe I know the reason that prevented him doing so.’
Donald butted in before Dexter could carry on;
‘Tell me if I’m wrong Dexter but was it because Jonathan was interrupted by something or somebody?’
‘In a way Donald you may be right about something preventing him completing the document. I contacted the local registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths in Inveraray and found out from his death certificate how Jonathan died. He apparently picked up some sort of germ or virus at the time and the death certificate said he died of a peculiar sweating illness. He started writing the document nearly two years after returning from America, and after using some of the wealth in the trunk to improve the estate and pay off his creditors He spent a large amount in updating the Manor farm and house. When he became ill he hid the document with some other papers in the cellar hoping to complete it later.’
Robbie looked amazed at the story, and said;
‘It seems then that the whereabouts of the secret hiding place he spoke of died with him if he didn’t tell anyone else.’
‘Maybe Robbie; but the reason I have asked that we meet in here is for a reason. Are you aware Donald of anything special about your bookcase over there?’
‘No; I never have, they are just a load of dusty old books. They have been there for years.’ replied Donald.
Dexter walked over to the bookcase and climbed on the steps to reach the Americas book and took it out. Everyone in the room wondered what Dexter was up to. Dexter then reached into the hole where the book had been and pulled the lever. There was the familiar click. Dexter got off the steps and went to the side of the bookcase and seeing a groove in the side of it, pulled the bookcase. As he did so a section of the bookcase swung open. Everyone gasped and Donald nearly fell out of his wheelchair. Dexter looked around at the others and said;
‘I believe this to be Jonathan’s secret room he spoke of.’
The others walked over with Ruth pushing Donald’s wheel chair. They all looked into the space revealed, which was in darkness. Donald told Robbie there was a torch in his desk.
Dexter took the torch and shone it into the small room and saw a large trunk. They went into the room after Dexter managed to lift the lid. As he did so, a cloud of dust filled the room. Looking into the trunk they all gasped, including Dexter. The torch light showed that the trunk was empty; all excepting for a gold $5 piece which shone brightly up at them.
Robbie was the first to break the silence;
‘Well it seems like old Jonathan either spent it all or buried it somewhere.’
Dexter was only half surprised as he thought the fact that the book on America had been half way of the shelf it was a virtual give away for finding the secret room.
Donald rubbed his chin and turned to Dexter and said;
‘What do you make of that then Dexter, do you think it is all there is of the treasure; an old American $5 dollar piece?’
‘No I don’t.’ replied Dexter; ‘the document gives the impression that he moved it all to a safer place because of his fear that it would be discovered. I think the real hiding place is somewhere in this room.’ he said, looking around the panelled room.
‘Jonathan wouldn’t have wanted anyone to see where he transferred the treasure items to, so my guess is that he wouldn’t take it down to the cellar in case someone saw him doing it, instead he would most likely have another hiding place in this room.’ Dexter said starting to tap the panelling. ‘My guess is it’s here somewhere.’ Just as Dexter said this he tapped a section of panelling next to a picture of a highland scene overlooking Oban docks, which showed a sailing vessel ready to sail. Dexter took the picture down and tapped again. This time there was a hollow sound. He pushed the panelling at various points until he heard a click. The result was similar to when the bookcase opened, a section of panelling swung open. Retrieving the steps from near the bookcase he climbed up and looked inside the cavity which was behind the panel.
‘It looks like all your financial worries are now ended Donald. If I’m not mistaken the contents here should more than pay off your debts. No wonder Tremayne wanted to buy the Manor.’
Robbie and Ruth helped Donald up to peer into the cavity and the sight of the large amount of gold dollar coins made them gasp with amazement.
‘There must be thousands of pounds worth of gold here.’ said Robbie.
Dexter’s had been spot on. How on earth had Jonathan managed to acquire such a fortune. No doubt no one would ever know now; but it did explain how Lord Jonathan Creswell Stuart managed to turn the fortunes of the estate when he was alive.
The following day Dexter packed his bag ready to leave. Robbie came up to him and said;
‘I have decided to stay here Dex. Now that my Granddad is temporarily disabled I can be more help here, and I have nothing to return to London for anyway. Thanks ever so much for all your help. We would never have solved it all without you.’ Ruth came up to them and Robbie put his arm around her. ‘I also have another reason to stay.’ and looked at Ruth.
‘Yes well; I think you’re wise. Don’t forget to ask me to the weddings.’
‘Weddings?’ asked Robbie.
Dexter nodded over to where Jeannie and Dougrey were standing hand in hand.
‘Oh. I see what you mean.’ said Robbie.
As Dexter got into his red Chevrolet Corvette he turned to all and waved. They were all still waving as Dexter drove off down the drive. A fresh fall of snow was just starting to settle. It was going to be a hard winter at “The Castle” but everyone there would feel a warm glow as they looked at the large amount of gold coins in $5, $10 and $20 dollar denomination. He still wondered how it was that the treasure hadn’t been found until now. Perhaps he was right in thinking that it would have been if the Manservant Craddock hadn’t died just after Jonathan.
The Castle 1879
Jonathan had been right to be concerned about his manservant Craddock. After Craddock had helped Jonathan into his private room with the trunk Craddock had decided that what was in the trunk must be very valuable; after all why did Jonathan threaten him with terrible things if it wasn’t. He stewed on the knowledge that there must have been considerable money in the trunk, for how was it that Jonathan was spending so much on the estate, when Craddock knew he had been on the brink of bankruptcy before going to America. As only he knew about the trunk he made plans to kill Jonathan and then search for the trunk. He always brought Jonathan his whiskey and water tray late in the evening so it was easy to put a small amount of contaminated sewage water into his water jug. The effect on Jonathan was extreme and he became seriously ill very quickly. When Jonathan was lying on his deathbed Craddock tried to find out where Jonathan had hidden the trunk from him. However, he passed away without telling him or that he had started to write about it, and he never did discover where the treasure was.
Craddock made a silly mistake soon after Jonathan died; he drank some of the Whiskey out of a glass that was on the contaminated tray and which hadn’t been cleaned. Shortly afterwards, Craddock passed away due to the same illness as Jonathan.
As Dexter left the Creswell estate behind him his mind strayed to thinking about the provenance of the gold. There was insufficient information to trace where the gold had come from as it all happened over a hundred years ago. Discussions Donald had had with his Solicitor had verified that as the gold was found on the “Castle” premises it belonged to the Creswell Estate in total. So the Creswell estate had every right to use it for the benefit of the Estate, a situation which ensured the prosperity of the estate for years to come. But the where did it come from still niggled Dexter.
‘Oh well we will never know the answer to that now.’ he said to himself.
Feeling around in his pocket he found the piece of paper the girl in the pub in London had left on the table, and phoned the number; ‘Hello, is that Julie? Remember me just checking to see if your free tomorrow night? You are; great; just ask for Dexter at the bar.’