Authors: Peter Helton
âFine, but she's not looking forward to the winter,' Annis said. âWhere's the French miracle then?'
On the hard standing round the back stood the transformed DS in gleaming black, without a blemish or even a hint of pink. âI have to admit, it's a thing of beauty,' she said. âHappy Honeypot. Right, I'm off.'
âIs that all you have to say? Don't you want to sit in it?'
âIt's exactly like your old one, hon; nice, but very familiar. I'll see you later.'
âWhere are you off to anyway?'
âRidge Farm to borrow a couple more sheep. I think the two we have are full.'
I did the necessary business with Jake, arranged classic insurance over the phone and drove out of Jake's place feeling like a new man. Having checked that my mobile was on and even had some charge left (yeah) I drove in comfort and style back to Bath. I traversed the city with the windows down and Beethoven's third on the radio and drove out the other side since I had decided there was time to check out Mr Dealey.
Dealey had moved to a good-sized bungalow at the bottom of a quiet cul-de-sac in Combe Down, once a small village, now a suburb of Bath just a stone's throw from the Midsomer valleys. Whatever Mr Dealey's faults, ostentation wasn't one of them. It was hard to imagine a more sober neighbourhood. I could see that keeping the house under any kind of covert surveillance would not be easy since the street was quite short, on a slight incline, and had no traffic but twitching curtains. Could this in fact be the birthplace of neighbourhood watch? The two large windows at the front of the address had Venetian blinds. A big red Honda, matching the one in the photograph I had, was parked in front of the closed garage. The garage looked narrow and was probably not large enough to allow a wheelchair user to get in and out of his vehicle. There was no grass in front of the house, all was wheelchair-friendly tarmac right up to the front door with a shallow ramp and a folksy knocker in the shape of a lion's head. This was going to be difficult. Knocking on Dealey's front door would be useless; he'd get into his chair before answering it. And if he was faking his injury he'd hardly come skipping out of his door to nip down the shops. Unless he was also very forgetful. I probably sat in the car at the top of the street for longer than was wise but so far Mike Dealey had no reason to be suspicious. From now on though every visit had to be far more clandestine. I turned the car around and drove home the long way round simply for the fun of it.
Mobile reception was also intermittent in the valley but I could just make out the same voice, belonging to Cy Shovlin, the producer of
. Did I know the St James's Wine Vaults? Could I meet Guy Middleton and himself there at nine? I did and I could.
So I did.
The St James's Wine Vaults had vaults and they sold the odd glass of wine but otherwise the place was a regular pub. I recognized Guy Middleton instantly. He was wearing his trademark hat even in here. The fact that you never saw him without it made me wonder if it was hiding a bald patch on his middle-aged head. He was sitting at a table by the window opposite a short-haired man in his late twenties who was wearing a shirt the colour of milky tea and they appeared to be having an argument that involved a lot of finger pointing on the younger man's part. Middleton was drinking beer, the younger man bottled lager. I armed myself with a pint of Guinness, put on my best professional face and made my way over. As soon as I was spotted their argument evaporated and TV smiles appeared like the sun from behind rain clouds.
âYou must be Chris Honeysett,' said Middleton. âWelcome, sit yourself down.' I did, with my back to some punters who were taking pictures of him on their mobiles. âThis is Cy Shovlin, our producer.'
We all shook hands. âSo,
has come to Bath,' I said. âAnd you want to hire me to do what exactly?'
Guy Middleton breathed in but Cy got in there first. âWe are shooting at a secret location just outside Bath,' he said, looking around as though fearful of being overheard, despite the music and the babble of voices. âThe whole project will take us a week, with possibly one or two extra days, not sure yet, depends on weather and things, for shooting scenes in town, Roman Baths, establishing shots, history gaff, that kind of thing. During this time we want you to be a minder to Guy, make sure he doesn't get mobbed by fans or abducted by aliens.' Just then a woman in her thirties turned up at the table, carrying in front of her a
book that bore Middleton's name and picture on the cover but which no doubt had been ghost-written for him. She had spotted him through the window, run home to fetch the book and was still out of breath. âNot now,' Shovlin said to the woman. âCan't you see we're busy here?'
The woman made a face, half-apologetic, half-pleading. Middleton smiled with unfeasibly white teeth. âNo, no, it's OK,' he said in a suffer-the-children manner and signed the book with the proffered biro. He dismissed the profuse thanks. âNot at all, not at all.'
âWell, that'll be your job from now on,' Cy said when the woman had disappeared. âYou'll tell them to get lost and Guy will contradict you and say
no it's all right
which makes him feel like Jesus and looks like he always has time for the public he so despises.'
âShut up, Cy,' Middleton hissed.
Cy ignored him. âSecurity is important at any shoot but with the cuts and thousands of frontline police withdrawn we've been told we can't even have a single bobby on a bicycle to discourage trespassers. Fortunately we're just outside Bath on a large private property so we should be reasonably safe. But if we hire a normal security firm â we've done this before â we might as well advertise; they go and brag in the pub about it or tell their kids or whatever. And the longer we can keep the location of the dig a secret the better. For a variety of reasons. I have a contract here.' He produced a four-page document from a file on the table. âYou'll be hired as a freelance by the production company and if you sign it that means giving away the location to anyone is a breach of contract, you understand?'
âSure, no problem,' I said. âMind you, if you yourselves are sitting in a pub in Bath it won't take people long to find out what you're up to.'
Guy waved it away. âOf course they'll find out. But it might take them two or three days to find where we are and where we're all staying. And that bit of peace and quiet is priceless, believe me.'
âAbsolutely.' Cy was multi-tasking, reading and answering the fifth mobile message on his BlackBerry since I had sat down. âOur adoring public can be a real pain when they decide to get their arses off their sofas. We get all sorts: love-sick women, archaeology nutters, souvenir hunters. We had a streaker last time â shame we couldn't use that shot really; Guy's expression was priceless. Right, initial all and sign last page.' He held contract and pen out to me.
I didn't bother to read any of it, just made my mark and signed. Cy whipped it away into his folder. âWe'll want you from tomorrow morning. Bright and early at the Roman Baths for some historical background stuff. Guy will be delivering his opening PTC. We'll be trying toâ'
âDelivering his what?' I asked.
Middleton to the rescue. âPTC. Piece to camera. You'll pick up the jargon, don't worry. By the end of the week you'll talk
like you've worked in telly all your life
.' This last bit appeared to be directed not at me but at Cy.
Cy didn't miss a beat. âYes, quite. As I was saying, we'll be doing establishing shots and PTCs in the Roman Baths three hours before the public are allowed in so the crew will be in there at six and you'll meet Guy there at
,' he said, with an emphasis that in turn appeared to be aimed at Guy, not me, though it did make me swallow hard.
âSix-thirty, right,' I said happily, as though sparrow's fart was my favourite time of day. I checked my watch. I would have to fall unconscious
to get the Honeysett-approved amount of shut-eye.
âSix-thirty sharp,' Cy added as he got up and gathered his things.
I made to get up too in order to drive towards my bed but Middleton shook his head and said: âStay. My round.'
I stayed; it was his round. When he returned he was carrying our pints and what looked like a triple Scotch which he dispatched in a couple of gulps. âThat's better,' he said.
âMr Middleton .Â .Â .'
âGuy, call me Guy. We're all one happy family on this team, as I am sure you have noticed.'
He impatiently twirled the empty whisky glass on the table. âEveryone in telly is now about twelve years old which can get a bit tiresome.'
I looked at him closely now and saw the tell-tale signs of stress under his eyes. Or perhaps it was just tiredness after having travelled here from who-knew-where. âGuy, why hire me? I mean, as opposed to anyone else.'
âOh, didn't they mention it to you?' His eyes met mine. âI own a couple of your paintings,' he said, brightening up a little. âTwo big blue ones, I'm sorry I can't remember the titles, they've got pride of place though in my holiday home in the Lakes. I love your stuff. Bought them here in Bath, in fact, three, four years ago. They told me you were a private eye at the gallery. And I thought: why not hire someone with an artistic temperament rather than an ex-copper â that's what most PIs are, I'm told. Who wants to hang around with coppers? Cheers.' He lifted his pint and I mine. He returned his own half-drained to the table. âBut that's not the only reason I wanted a private detective rather than security guards. There's something else I want you for. Apart from what's in your contract. I've received threats lately.'
That explained the stress then. âWhat kind of threats?'
âWell, what do you think? Death threats.'
Guy Middleton, I'm going to kill you
âEven cornier than that.
Your days are numbered
One day soon they'll have to dig you up
, the last one said.'
âAnd these take the form of what, letters?'
âYes, I've had letters. But the really creepy ones are the notes. I find those anywhere. At work. Or under my windscreen wipers. Had my car scratched twice, too.'
âThat could just be inverted snobbery. I assume you drive a good car?'
âWhen I'm working it's the Range Rover, it's good for all the bloody fields and bogs we end up in. X-type Jag, otherwise. But it was the Range Rover they scratched both times. Once just zigzags, the second time it said “DIE”. Right across the bonnet, the bastards.'
âCould be a crazed fan. Or someone at work you upset. Does anyone spring to mind?'
Middleton flicked a dismissive gesture with his hand. âNobody and everybody. TV is stressful, it's a competitive business, people rub up against each other, there are endless arguments and plenty of backstabbing and jealousies. So, no, nobody comes to mind and then again it could be everyone.'
âOK, you got some through the post but you also find notes at work. Then it's probably someone quite close.'
âThat's what worries me. If they can get close enough to stick notes on my car they can get close enough to stick a knife in me! I tried not to take it seriously at first. But it's beginning to get to me. Letters by post I can deal with â every TV star gets crank letters â but knowing someone has got that close to me that they can stick notes on my car, that unnerves me. It's bloody scary.'
âIt's supposed to be. What did the police have to say?'
âPolice? Are you mad? It would become public knowledge like
.' He snapped his fingers between us. âI can't afford to. That's not the kind of publicity the programme wants, believe me. I'm
, you understand. Nobody hates me; people send me flowers. Which they do, of course.
chocolates. All of which get incinerated as a matter of course.'
âThey do? Even cake?' Were these people mad?
âEdible stuff sent to celebrities is always chucked away; there are too many nutters around to risk it and celebrities can afford to buy their own, after all.'
âI suppose you're right.' But still.
I mean, really. Perhaps I should offer my services as a food taster. Cakes a speciality.
âSo, no. No police and utter secrecy.'
âWhat about your producers, what about Cy? What do they think?'
âSame, I haven't told them. It's between you and me. And I want you to find who is doing it.'
I pondered this for a moment while I sipped my Guinness. Just assuming for the moment that these were empty threats, designed to scare, that would be fine. But in the unlikely case that they were not â what could I realistically do to prevent Middleton's demise? But naturally for a double fee and un-incinerated cake I'd give it a go. âOK, it's your choice but I'm not sure it's a good one.'
âKeep it under your hat all the same.'
âDo you have any of these letters here?'
âNo, I chucked them away.'
âNot at all. They're vile things and I threw them away as a gesture of defiance. The notes I found under my windscreen wipers I crumpled up there and then and chucked over my shoulder, in case they were watching.'
âYou mean you acted as though you didn't care.'
âAbsolutely. I'm not an actor for nothing.'
âI'm not so sure that's such a good idea either.'
âWhy ever not? I'm not giving them the satisfaction.'
âLet's for a moment assume they're just trying to harass you, to frighten you. If they are watching and it looks as though they haven't succeeded they may turn up the wick and try something even scarier.'