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connectionsbooks by Paul Stuart

Your entry to the Connections series

We are a product of our genes and experience; nature and nurture. Thankfully most of us have the right balance but Quentin Legard's life is a mess. His criminal past is laid bare in this novel as he is forced to look in the mirror. He doesn't know that the highest authority in the land has decreed that he must face his demons and justice. Ray Quinn is on his tail and the climax is as stunning as it is unexpected. 


When somebody says to you I need a word, you are not usually in for a cosy chat. It normally means trouble. Your heart races and the butterflies begin. For Quentin Legard it means more, as the words are delivered by somebody who fills him with sheer terror.


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PROLOGUE

He recalled the woman he had murdered on his way to meet Lisa Richards. She had felt very little as he slipped his thin cord over her head from behind and pulled it into a noose. He tightened the garrote by turning the screwdriver that he had looped through it. A few turns later and she had ceased struggling; her body limp. He had not even broken sweat. He listened carefully and checked the front of the house through the window. All was quiet and undisturbed. He lifted his sleeve to look at his watch and was more than disappointed to note the time. He would not be able to complete his task and made a mental note to himself to plan more carefully next time.

He slipped out of the house, walked back down the drive and settled himself into his car. He removed the latex gloves and wondered whether the tipsy woman had even noticed them. As he started the engine he brought to the front of his mind the name he had given for the evening appointment. Quentin Legard.

Remember that name.

At the White Horse Inn Lisa Richards was confused. She had succeeded in getting over her husband’s infidelity and had planned his demise. The man sitting next to her had been hired to do the job and had proved most proficient. Her confusion was caused by his unexpected appearance at the Inn and then his involvement in the events of the last few days. It seemed he had another side to his character; a softer, more human side.

She did not know his history and could not possibly have been more mistaken. She certainly didn’t know that he was no stranger to Exmoor. Equally as significant was her ignorance of the fact that he was at that moment remembering the dark days of his earlier life. The awful, terrifying days of being bullied at school, the loss of his parents at a tender age, the lack of love. Every facet of his formative years had joined forces to leave a deep and lasting legacy. He had grown into a man with a particular view about his fellow human beings and the most powerful force that influenced his every act was a desire for revenge. It controlled him, and in his experience it was a dish best served cold.

He sat beside her now with a peaceful smile on his face, and her hand in his on his thigh. He had become impervious to the noisy buzz around him as he focused on his own history. He remembered particular events and people; the darkness; all the most important ingredients that comprised his formative years. The days that had helped make him the genius he now considered himself to be.

THE BULLYING

-1-

He felt the pressure of growing up. From as far back as he could remember, people always expected things from him. He never understood why, but it seemed that more was expected from him than his peers or, as far as he could ascertain, anybody else he knew. He remembered starting school, at about the age of four or five. Children were expected to have an afternoon nap and he could never understand why. He wasn’t tired, so why should he sleep? With one of his bursts of adult insight, he thought it was more likely that the teachers wanted some down time. He never slept. He merely pretended with his eyes closed, listening intently to the voices around him, gathering information. He was collecting and storing for future use. He was learning even at that tender, nascent age.

The other children saw him as odd. He was too quiet for their liking and he didn’t join in. What normal boy did so much reading? They thought he had ‘issues’, although they did not use those terms. He could answer any question the teachers put, and his classmates resented him for that. It was, then, natural that he became the target of their attentions.

On one occasion, two older boys, Jake and Barry, who had left the school during the summer term and had therefore started at the local ‘big school’, suddenly appeared early one morning. They had heard that there was a new boy, and they had decided to demonstrate the natural order of things in the locality. A training day at their own school provided the perfect opportunity to pay a visit. They had arrived early so that the teachers had not themselves arrived. Young children were gradually filling the playground and forming groups, laughing and playing together. Quentin Legard was easily identifiable because he was standing apart from the other children. Notwithstanding that Quentin was much younger than themselves and he therefore had no chance of mounting an effective defence, they had beaten him badly before a teacher appeared and put a stop to the demonstration. Quentin had uttered not a word or a moan during the ordeal. He had merely soaked it up and stored it, like a sponge. Their day of reckoning was to come sometime later.

His mind then turned to a time when he was suffering at the hands of a fellow pupil, every day. It involved bruises and cuts most break times and lunch hours. Again, Quentin soaked it up and stored it. His answer was to wait for the boy concerned to appear round the corner, running at a great rate of knots, only to meet, at full tilt, Quentin’s clenched fist. As the boy lay groaning, Quentin stamped on his hand. The overall result was plenty of blood and a broken nose and finger.

Early in his time at ‘big school’ his jumper had been torn by a boy older than him. He was very upset because he knew how hard it had been for him to be provided with the correct uniform, so that he was just like everybody else and didn’t stand out. That boy’s name was Jake and, as usual, Quentin had soaked it up and stored it.

Teachers were just as bad. He winced at the recollection of the French teacher who couldn’t control the class. Chaos was the order of the day whenever French was on the timetable. That teacher had a bad temper and regularly aimed the wooden backed board rubber with unerring and painful accuracy at any poor soul who couldn’t decline a verb. Quentin’s answer was to entertain his classmates by hurling a heavy wooden desk through the classroom plate glass window from two storeys up. It smashed into a thousand pieces on the tarmac playground below, narrowly missing several children. Then there was the Maths teacher. Legend had it that he was a Welsh boxing champion and he used this myth to advantage. He was in the habit of applying his hard knuckles to a boy’s head with considerable force, whilst demanding that he come up with the answer to whatever difficult question he was asking. Needless to say the poor young victim couldn’t think because his head was ringing. Quentin never did exact any revenge upon him. He merely soaked it up and stored it. You cannot win every battle.

He was lost in his memories. He could go on forever, but of one thing he was certain. You can solve some problems immediately, but there are others which need more carefully planned retribution. His mind turned to some examples.

-2-

“I’d help you if I could,” the boy said, “but I can’t.”

“Can’t?” Barry mused, peering down at him. “Can’t or won’t?”

“I really believe he knows something,” his partner Jake said.

“I absolutely agree,” Barry added, letting his fingers play across the police riot baton which gleamed black and menacing.

“We can’t do anything now,” Jake sighed. “Come on.”

It was August on Exmoor and the river which bore its name rolled lazily by, doing nothing to take the edge off the heat. The temperature had been at a record high all year and as the summer wore on the intensity increased day by day. Normally placid people struggled and there were regular disturbances across the area as people lost tempers that were usually controlled. In local towns arguments over such trivial matters as queuing for ice creams broke out, whilst across Exmoor horse riders, drivers, visitors, farmers and cyclists clashed almost daily, but couldn’t define what their differences actually were. Throughout the country the population was irritable, on edge, and not even the occasional late evening thunderstorm and lightning display could calm them.

But tonight was different. The two young policemen had been pulled from their own dozing stupors by an armed robbery. Such an event had been almost unheard of in that part of the world since the legendary days of Faggus and other highwaymen. In many ways the method used in the current incident bore striking similarities to the method used in those days, because this was nothing less than a highway robbery, albeit the vehicle was an armoured car. It was the same as stopping a stagecoach and had apparently been equally as easy. Neither policemen could recall such an event in their admittedly brief time in uniform, but both were secretly excited that it had happened on their patch. The imminent arrival of a variety of higher ranked uniformed officers and plain clothes detectives did not, however, fill them with great joy and comfort. They were convinced they could solve the case quickly and easily. Moreover, they had already made an arrest, and he was languishing in one of their cells. They had a suspect and, here in front of them they had an eyewitness, reluctant though he undoubtedly was.

Jake sat down across from Quentin Legard. He was in his early twenties and only three years younger than the policemen themselves. Their paths had crossed at school. At that time Quentin Legard had been as thin as a rake and even then his eyes were as sunken as those of any serial killer.

“Now, Quentin,” Jake said as kindly as he could, “we know you saw something.”

“Come on,” Legard answered, his fingers drumming uneasily on his bony knee. “I didn’t. Really.”

Barry, who was breathless and sweaty, partly due to the heat and partly as a result of his obesity, took over when his partner glanced at him.

“Quentin; that just doesn’t gel with what we know. You sit in your garden and spend hours and hours and hours doing nothing except watching the river.” He paused and wiped his forehead. “Why do you do that?” he asked curiously.

“I don’t know,” replied Legard, even though everybody in the area knew the answer.

When Legard was much younger his father had drowned, and he spent all day, every day, gazing out at the river that had claimed him. It was rumoured that he read strange books and unsavoury magazines whilst listening to ‘sick’ music, which he played far too loudly in the opinion of those around his home. After his father’s death an ‘uncle’ had come to stay. His mother explained that she needed his help to make ends meet and to provide her son with a male presence. She had recognised from an early stage that he was different and she convinced herself that the boy needed a man in the house. Quentin was never convinced and was resentful of this new man in his life. He never accepted him, in spite of his mother’s entreaties.

The locals had formed firm opinions about him as well. He’d seen the boy through his education and at the age of eighteen Quentin had gone to college. Four years later Jake and Barry had been surprised when Quentin returned in the June. He lost no time in removing his ‘uncle’ from residence. Nobody knew why his ‘uncle’ vacated the house almost as soon as Quentin came back, and only Quentin knew the circumstances of his departure. As far as the rest of the local community were concerned, the man had gone back to his wife many miles away when Quentin returned from College. In fact many were pleased to see the back of him as he had never made any effort to integrate. The fact that Quentin’s mother departed with him surprised nobody.

He took to living by himself in the dark, lonely house overlooking the river. In that place, where the gorse and heather did battle with the sou’westerlies, loneliness seeped into his very soul and his destiny was decided. People assumed he survived on his deceased father’s savings and were curious as to how he lived so comfortably as to not have to work. They had no way of knowing that his father had left everything to him in his will, specifying in particular that his mother received nothing.

The two policemen hadn’t liked Quentin at school. The way he dressed, the way he walked, the way he didn’t comb his hair, the way he talked to the others in what they considered to be a sick whisper. They took particular exception to the way he talked to girls, which was not healthy; not joking or gossiping, but just talking softly in a manner that seemed to hypnotise them. He was in the chess club and the computer club and didn’t take part in any sport or team activities whatsoever. He was always able to give the correct answer to the teacher in any subject. Nobody likes a loner and a clever one was even worse, so he was inevitably picked on. Everybody sniggered at him behind his back, but stopped immediately whenever his scary eyes alighted upon them.

Now he was back and it wasn’t right, just sitting there reading. Jake was certain it was porn and Barry was also convinced the music was satanic. It was all simply unnatural. Every time reports of any crime to them, they immediately thought of Quentin Legard. Try as they might, and they had many times, they had never been able to connect anything to him. They knew he disappeared for long periods of time and were pretty sure he’d vanish onto the moor and peer into girls’ bedroom windows. They convinced themselves he was a voyeur; he had a telescope next to his mother’s old chair and they thought that was sufficient proof. He was simply odd, weird.

So Jake and Barry never missed an opportunity to hound him, just as they had done at school. They constantly sat outside his house in their marked car, believing their presence would unsettle him. They stopped and searched him at every opportunity. They even monitored his mail and phone despite having no official clearance. Quentin Legard never reacted. He just kept himself to himself, living what they considered to be a shameful life. They didn’t appear to have any effect on him at all, which annoyed them intensely, so they were pleased with themselves that they had him, trapped in the interview room, apparently frightened, twitchy and sweating in the summer heat.

“He must have walked past you,” Barry stated in his grumbling voice. “You must have seen him.”

Quentin noted to himself that these were two statements rather than questions and therefore didn’t strictly require an answer, but he decided to be helpful anyway.

“No, I didn’t.”

He kept it short. No need to be that helpful.

The man they were talking about was Derek Bell, presently sitting unshaven and stinking in a nearby cell. He was scruffy, early middle aged and was always in trouble with the law. He’d never been convicted of anything apart from wasting police time and reasonably frequent spells in custody sleeping off the effects of alcohol and being released in the morning each time with nothing more than a warning and a headache. The local police knew he was behind a number of petty crimes that occasionally bedeviled the area and he’d been picked up as rapidly as possible after the robbery. They thought it was out of his league, but could not be sure. Besides, they had no other possibilities, so he became the leading suspect. He had no alibi for the time of the crime and, although the armoured car’s driver hadn’t seen his face due to the ski mask, the robber had carried a baseball bat and a bat of that type had recently been purchased in that area. There had also been reports of the theft of a particular type of explosives from a quarry elsewhere in the county which matched that used in the robbery.

They had found him in the early evening, sweating and acting guilty, walking along a main road, even though he had a perfectly good car at home. He said it was playing up, but it had fired first time when Barry tried it later that evening. Bell had also been in possession of a hunting knife. When asked why he just said, “well, I just, you know, am.”

Barry and Jake had never read any training manuals but they recognised motive, means and opportunity when they saw them. In their eyes it was simple. There was no doubt in their minds that Bell had carried out the crime and because Quentin Legard’s house was in a direct line from the robbery to where they had found Bell, there was no doubt that he could be placed near the scene of the crime.

“Just tell us you saw him,” Barry sighed.

“I can’t, because I didn’t,” Legard answered, again noting the lack of a question.

“Look Quentin,” Barry continued as if talking to a five year old child, “you understand how serious this is. Bell smashed the driver over the head with a baseball bat. He’s in a coma.”

“Oh, is he going to be Ok?” asked Quentin, soft and untroubled.

“Don’t interrupt me!” shouted Barry, beads of perspiration running down inside his shirt. “We know Derek Bell. We know what he’s like, what he’s capable of. You mustn’t think you can just keep quiet and everything will be alright. It won’t. That’s not how it’ll work. You should be afraid.”

Another statement. Quentin Legard realised he hadn’t been asked a single question. In fact he was the only person to have posed a question. He asked another.

“Why should I be afraid?”

Barry almost lost control. He clenched his fists and ground his teeth. “He’ll come for you with the bat and his knife and you won’t stand a chance. Not a prayer,” he shouted.

“If you don’t tell us about him now,” Jake offered, “how long do you think it will be before he finds you?”

Legard smiled inwardly at the first direct question and the recognition of the good cop, bad cop routine.

“You mean because he thinks I’m a witness?” queried Quentin.

“Exactly!” roared Barry, “and I won’t give a damn. You’ll deserve every last ounce of pain.”

“Go easy,” said Jake, playing his role. “Look Quentin, tell us you saw him and he’ll go away for twenty or thirty years. You’ll be safe, so you can continue with whatever it is you do with your life.”

“I want to do the right thing,” Quentin said, “I really do.” He scrunched his eyes closed, apparently thinking hard. “But I can’t lie. I can’t. My father; you remember him, he taught me never to lie.”

Barry plucked his shirt away from his body and examined the patches of sweat under his arms. He walked in a slow circle around Quentin.

Finally Jake said, in an easy voice, “Quentin, you know we’ve had our disputes.”

“I know you picked on me at school,” Legard put in.

“Oh, that was just playing around,” said Jake. “We didn’t mean anything. We only did it with the people we liked. A sort of recognition. A compliment really. I admit it got a bit out of hand

sometimes, but let’s let bygones be bygones. We’re adults now. We need to deal with this. I apologise for anything that upset you,” he said holding out his hand to be shaken.

“I’ll second that,” added Barry, shooting out his paw as well. “Now Quentin, man to man, what can you tell us?”

“Well, I did see somebody, but I couldn’t swear it was Derek.”

Jake and Barry exchanged glances. Both were surprised as Quentin carried on quickly.

“I’ll tell you what I saw.”

Jake, who had the worse handwriting of the two but could spell better, flipped open his notebook and began to write.

“I was sitting in my garden reading…” Legard began.

“Porn, I bet,” sniggered Barry.

Quentin ignored the interruption. “And listening to music.”

Barry sniggered again and Jake shot him a warning glance, before returning to Legard and smiling his encouragement.

“I heard a car. I remember because it had a noisy exhaust. Then I saw somebody running across the moor on the other side of the river. He was carrying some bags. Then he just disappeared. I don’t know where he went; I really don’t know that part of the moor very well.”

Both Barry and Jake knew that to be a lie. Quentin Legard knew it like the back of his own hand.

“Can you give us a description?” Jake asked, continuing with his role as ‘good cop.’

“I’m sorry,” Legard whined deliberately. “I’d help you if I could, but I just couldn’t see.”

“That’s alright,” Jake concluded, “you’ve been a great help. We need to check a few things, so I think it would be best if you stayed here for now.”

“I need to get home,” Quentin objected. “I’ve got things to do.”

“I bet you have,” Barry replied before he could stop himself.

“We’ll be back as soon as we can,” Jake smiled as the two policemen left the room.

“Wait,” called Quentin Legard, “can Bell get out?”

“No, it would be almost impossible for him to escape.”

“Almost?” Legard queried.

He received no response because the room was empty and the door closed before he had even spoken.