Excerpt

Guilty, Not Guilty

Felix Francis

The following is an exclusive excerpt from Guilty, Not Guilty, by Felix Francis. Bill Russell is out volunteering at the Warwick races when his beloved wife is brutally murdered. He feels as though he is living his worst nightmare—but when he is accused of craftily murdering her in the press, his life truly spins out of control. Losing his job, friends, and reputation, he decides to go find the killer, himself—but this might be the killer’s plan, all along.

It was just after midday when I arrived by train and taxi at Warwick Racecourse.

Virginia Lutton’s workmen were clearly a bunch of jokers. They had dug up the surface all round my Jaguar, leaving it as if on an island. It was surrounded by red‑and‑white plastic barriers, clipped together in a tight rectangle almost touching the car’s paintwork.

I looked about me. Plenty of their big bright yellow machinery stood silently doing nothing but there was not a workman in sight. It must be lunchtime, an early lunchtime.

I unclipped the plastic barriers, climbed in and drove carefully off the island and across the site to the exit.

Article continues after advertisement

Where to?

I had called the fund managers in Henley to tell them I wasn’t able to meet with them but they were well ahead of me, having themselves already canceled on the assumption I wouldn’t be coming.

“I saw it on the TV news,” said the young man I spoke to. “Dreadful.”

Amelia’s murder was not just on the television. Every daily newspaper on the newsstand at Marylebone Station had the story on its front page…

Amelia’s murder was not just on the television. Every daily newspaper on the newsstand at Marylebone Station had the story on its front page, all of them carrying that same smiling picture taken at Ascot.

The man who’d been sitting opposite to me on the train had been reading the Daily Telegraph and I’d craned my neck to peruse the article beneath the picture.

While the journalist hadn’t openly accused me of being responsible, he all but had, reporting the fact that I had been escorted by the police from Warwick Racecourse to Banbury Police Station for questioning under caution, but had not yet been arrested.

How did he know all that? I wondered.

Article continues after advertisement

There had even been a small head‑and‑shoulders photo of me at the bottom, lifted from my website, no doubt, and without my copyright permission.

I’d kept my eyes down and hoped that neither my train neighbor, nor anyone else, would recognize me.

It was an action I’d sadly have to become familiar with.

I turned right out of the racecourse parking lot and drove the twenty miles home to Hanwell village.

There was a single marked police car and a small white van stopped on the road outside my house blocking the drive. Not that I wanted to park there anyway. I went past them and round the corner to the village pub, where I left my car in their parking lot. The owner of the pub was a good friend and I was sure he wouldn’t mind.

I walked back to my house.

There were lines of yellow tape everywhere around the property with crime scene—do not enter printed in bold black capital letters continuously along its length. It was stretched across the driveway and also across the path from the road to the front door, which itself was wide open. There was no sign of the police guard I had seen on the TV news the previous evening.

I stood by the tape barrier. “Hello,” I shouted. “Anybody there?”

There was no answer.

I almost ducked under the tape and went in but there was a little voice in my head telling me not to upset the police more than I had to.

It would be out of my control if they chose to arrest me for something I hadn’t done, but giving them a good reason to arrest me for something that I had would be just plain stupid.

I stayed where I was and called out again, louder this time, but with the same lack of result.

So I waited.

Eventually a figure appeared through the front door. It was wearing a full head‑to‑toe white forensic coverall, complete with hood, facemask, gloves and overshoes. Such was the formless nature of the baggy suit that I was unable to tell if it was a man or a woman.

“Excuse me,” I shouted. “Who’s in charge?”

The person in the suit ignored me completely as he or she walked across the drive toward the van, bending down slightly and lifting the yellow tape overhead.

I walked along the road.

“Excuse me,” I said again. “I live here and I need to collect a few things.”

The figure turned toward me and a blue‑gloved hand pulled down the facemask. It was a man. He had stubble on his chin.

“Don’t know about that,” he said unhelpfully. “I was told not to allow anyone in.”

“So who can let me in?”

“The senior SOCO. Scene of Crime Officer.”

“And where is he?” I asked, trying my best to keep my cool. “Oxford.”

Oxford was almost an hour’s drive away. “Can you please call him?” I asked.

The man peeled off his gloves and unzipped the front of his plastic suit to extract a phone from a pocket within. He dialed his boss and handed the phone to me.

“What sort of things?” asked the senior SOCO when he came on the line.

“Clothes,” I said. “And some papers from my desk.”

“I’ll have to check with the officer in the case. I’ll call you back.”

The senior hung up.

His subordinate and I waited. “Found anything?” I asked. “Like what?” he replied. “Evidence.”

“I never know what’s evidence and what isn’t. I’m just the dabs man. I go through the place recording all the fingerprints I can find.”

“Not the DNA?” I asked.

“I can if necessary but that’s mostly the job of the blood team.

They were here yesterday.”

“Where are they, then?” I asked, nodding at the marked police car.

“Round the back in the garden, digging. They’re waiting for an excavator to arrive.”

“Digging?” I repeated. “What for?”

He never had a chance to reply, as his phone rang. He answered.

“It’s for you,” he said, holding it out.

It wasn’t the senior SOCO but DS Dowdeswell.

“Sorry, Mr. Gordon‑Russell,” he said. “I can’t let you into the property until we have finished our investigation and search of the crime scene.”

“But I need some more clothes. I only have what I’m standing up in.”

“Sorry,” he said again, not sounding it.

“Can I at least go into my study?” I said. “It’s next to the conservatory. I can get in there without going through the rest of the house. There are some papers on my desk that I require urgently for my work.”

There was a slight pause while he thought it over—very slight. “No,” he said. “That won’t be possible.”

“Why on earth not?” I demanded. “Are you being deliberately obstructive?”

He didn’t deny it.

“Mr. Gordon‑Russell,” he said, “you have to appreciate that we have a murder to investigate. Do you not want us to determine who is to blame for your wife’s death?”

“Of course I do,” I replied. “And please call me Mr. Russell.” “I will call you only by your proper name.”

Now I was certain he was trying to rile me. I remained unriled—at least on the outside.

“Why are your officers digging in my garden?”

There was a slight snort from the other end as if he was annoyed that I knew. “We are carrying out our investigation in accordance with accepted practice. It is normal to thoroughly search the area surrounding where a body has been discovered in questionable circumstances.”

“Are you anticipating more?” I asked sarcastically.

“A geophysical survey of the garden indicated two areas of interest and a dog specially trained to find dead bodies gave a positive response at one of them. We need to investigate.”

“A geophysical survey and a cadaver dog,” I said. “My, you have been a busy boy.”

He refused to rise to my goading. Two could play at that little game.

“So when can I gain access to my home?” I asked.

“Not until after we have completed our search. It’s difficult at the moment to say when that will be.”

“Have a guess,” I said, consciously suppressing the anger that was rising in my throat.

“I would hope we’ll be finished over the weekend. Monday, maybe. It depends on what we find.”

“Do I get a hotel allowance?” I asked. He laughed. “No.”

It was Thursday today. Could I stay with Douglas for four more nights or was that pushing the boundaries of brotherly love too far?

I sighed.

My life seemed to be unraveling around my ears. Amelia’s murder was back in the I‑don’t‑believe‑this‑is‑happening category. And I wasn’t even sure that I ever wanted to go into the house again anyway.

How could I carry on living there without Amelia? How could I go into the kitchen without looking down at the floor and thinking . . . ?

Oh, God.

I could feel the grief rising in me once more and I fought it for control.

“And I also need to ask you some more questions,” the DS went on. “We didn’t finish yesterday.”

“Then you will have to make an appointment with my solicitor,” I said.

“It’s not for the police to arrange meetings with your lawyer.

That’s your job. Who is it, anyway?” “Simon Bassett,” I said.

“I don’t know him. Is he local?”

“No. He’s a partner at Underwood, Duffin and Wimbourne.

It’s a London firm. Chancery Lane.”

“Humph!” said the DS. He clearly didn’t like London firms. Tough.

Simon and I had been undergraduates together at Cambridge, and firm friends ever since. He was also up to speed with what had been going on vis‑à‑vis Joe Bradbury, and had provided Amelia and me with advice on how to proceed—mostly by not replying to or even acknowledging any of Joe’s plethora of emails—which had annoyed him even more.

“I would like you to come to Banbury Police Station tomorrow,” said the detective. “Shall we say at ten o’clock in the morning?”

“Make it eleven,” I said. “My solicitor will have to come from London. And I’ll need to confirm to you that he’s available.”

“Eleven it is, then,” he said, ignoring my last comment.

The DS hung up and I handed back the phone to the man in the white suit.

“Thanks,” I said to him. “But no thanks.”

A bright yellow mechanical digger came along the road and stopped. One of the policemen from the back garden came out to guide it down the side of the house, its great rear wheels chewing up Amelia’s lovingly tended f lower beds.

“Is that really necessary?” I asked of no one in particular as the digger disappeared from sight behind the house.

How ridiculous. There was nothing to find and they would just make a dreadful mess everywhere. But did I care?

I walked down the road to the pub to my car. Where to now?

My life was routinely what one might call incredibly busy. As a rule, my schedule was full to bursting and hardly a moment existed when I didn’t have some work to complete, usually some‑ thing that had to be finished by yesterday.

Yet, here and now, I had nothing to do.

My phone, customarily ringing five or six times an hour, had been silent all morning, and my inbox lay strangely quiet, with the arrival of just a couple of spam emails.

I sat in the driver’s seat of the Jaguar and banged my hands on the steering wheel in frustration at not being able to turn back the clock.

After a while I called Simon Bassett.

“Bill, I’m so very sorry,” he said. “Amelia was lovely. I can’t think why anyone would want to harm her.”

Simon had known Amelia for as long as I had. Indeed, he had been seated on the other side of her at that alumni dinner and had often bemoaned the fact that he had let me speak to her first while he had turned the other way.

He’d even been my best man. “How can I help?” he asked.

“I have an interview with the police tomorrow at eleven in Banbury. I’d like you to accompany me.”

There was a pause from the other end. “At eleven, you say?”

“Yes.”

“What’s the purpose of the interview?” he asked. “The police think I killed Amelia.”

Another pause.

“I assume you didn’t.”

I wasn’t sure if he was making a statement or asking a question.

At least he hadn’t asked me straight out, as Douglas had. “Can you  come?” I asked. “I really need you.”  “Why do the police think you are responsible?”

“Because that damn Joe Bradbury has been telling them so.

He’s been filling their heads with his lies.” “But is there any physical evidence?”

“Of course not.” I was slightly exasperated. “I didn’t do it. Can you come or not?”

“Yes,” he said slowly. “I could, but I’m not at all sure that I am the right person.”

“Why ever not?”

“I know you and I knew Amelia. Both very well. And I’ve met Joe Bradbury. He was at your wedding, remember. There’s far too much scope here for a conflict of interest.”

Bloody lawyers. Why do they always make things so damn complicated?

“I could send one of my colleagues. Someone who specializes in criminal work more than I do.”

“I want you,” I said despairingly. “I need my friend.” Try as I might, I couldn’t keep an emotional quiver out of my voice.

Yet another pause, longer this time.

“Okay, Bill,” he said. “I’ll come. Of course I’ll come. I’ll re‑arrange things. But you will have to appoint someone else if you are charged.”

“Charged! But I didn’t do it. Don’t you believe me?” “Listen,” he said slowly but forcefully, “it’s not what I believe

that’s important. Charges are laid by the CPS, that’s the Crown

Prosecution Service. It is solely what they think that matters.” If only that were true.

__________________________________

From Guilty, Not Guilty by Felix Francis. Used with the permission of the publisher, Putnam. Copyright © 2019 by Felix Francis.




More Story
Louis L'Amour and the Legend of the West The following is excerpted from the introduction to Louis L'Amour's Lost Treasures: Vol. 2, a new anthology now available...