The investigation begins:
After lunch, Kell and Phillip accompanied Billy to the Rose and Crown. They’d discussed their plans with Freddie and agreed that this would be the most effective way to get information. The village inhabitants enjoyed few things more than gathering at the local pub to discuss their neighbors’ comings and goings. Surely, all of Abbotshill was talking about Wilfrid. Why not take advantage of it?
At the Rose and Crown, the trio made their way to the bar together. While Kell and Phillip obtained their first pints of the local brew, Amyas Barlow waved eagerly to draw their attention and summon them to his table.
Seated with Amyas was Aloysius Whittaker, called Lad by his friends. He was a broad-shouldered, flaxen-haired, thick-headed but good-hearted youth of 25, son of the mayor of the nearby town of Stowmarket. Since Lad and Amyas were as good a point as any to begin their work, Kell and Phillip picked up their glasses of beer and joined them.
“Hullo!” Amyas greeted the pair. “I haven’t seen either of you in awhile. Sorry I missed poor old Bertie’s funeral. Mother asked me to write Uncle Kellynch something sympathetic on black-bordered paper and we did send a wreath. I heard you were in a spot of trouble over it, Kell, but I’m glad to see you’ve come through all right.” Tactfully, Amyas didn’t allude to the other outcome of the recent family tragedy. “What brings you two to Abbotshill?”
“We followed Freddie,” Kell explained as he and Phillip seated themselves. “You’re not usually in this part of the world yourself, old chap.”
Amyas explained how his family had come to Abbot House. “Angela was looking after Aunt Dodo, but the old lady’s gotten to be a bit much for her to manage by herself. A pretty girl like Angela can’t spend all her days sitting home. She’s got to have her own life–isn’t that right, Laddie?”
Kell smiled. “So it’s Angela you’ve come here for?” he teased Lad.
Lad blushed and sipped his ale. “That,” he answered, “and to look at a horse.”
“Lad’s helped me to buy a three-year-old,” said Amyas. “Coal-black with white fetlocks. I was lucky enough to be here to make an offer. Nobody else has seen it yet. Gammidge kept it under wraps. We’re going to race it Saturday if Lad can arrange things. That filly I bought last year wasn’t any good, but this one’ll do better. You ought to see it run!”
Kell and Phillip nodded knowingly. Amyas had a history of buying race horses, none of which ever turned out to be as fast as he hoped.
“You’ve been in Abbotshill awhile then,” said Phillip. “What’s the latest news? Anything interesting going on?”
“As a matter of fact, there’s been a bit of excitement,” Lad answered. “Amyas and I were talking about it before you came in.”
“About what?” Phillip prompted.
“Nothing so horrible as the Marshes have suffered,” Amyas said after a moment. “If you’ve seen Freddie, he might’ve told you already. Wilfrid’s disappeared.”
“Yes, we’ve heard something of it,” Kell said disingenuously.
“No one knows what’s happened to him,” said Lad. “The local constable’s asking all sorts of questions–who saw Warts last, who’s been having quarrels with him, who’d like to be rid of him, and so on.”
“He was at the house this morning.” Amyas glanced at Rob Cochrane, who had just come in for his lunch. “Lydia must’ve told him that Ginnie and I had some differences with Wilfrid.”
“Did you want to get rid of him, Amyas?” Phillip asked. Kell shot him a sharp look for so obviously pumping for information, but Phil ignored it. Sometimes, the direct approach was the most effective.
Amyas’s face lost some of its color, but he laughed at the question. “Not badly enough to do anything about it. I wish him no harm but frankly I wouldn’t mind if he did go away and we never had to hear from him again, for Ginnie’s sake.”
“What’s he done to Virginia?” Phillip went on pumping.
“Oh, nothing really,” Amyas insisted. “A dispute over some farmland up along the Norfolk coast that’s been in the Babington family for ages. Lydia seems to think it should’ve come to her husband and, through him, to Wilfrid, instead of to Ginnie and her brothers after their father died last year. Old Warts wants that land badly enough to put up a fight for it. Even before we came here, he sent us letters threatening to go to law and made a nuisance of himself.”
“I’ve never heard a word about it,” said Kell. “I thought it was Abbot House that Warts was after. What’s so special about this old farm?”
“Not a thing! It’s only recently that I learned- well, that I’d guessed what Wilfrid wants it for.”