Undercover investigator Jeff Hinkley is assigned by the British Horseracing Authority to look into the activities of a suspicious racehorse trainer, but as he’s tailing his quarry through the Cheltenham Racing Festival, the last thing he expects to witness is a gruesome murder. Could it have something to do with the reason the trainer was banned in the first place—the administration of illegal drugs to his horses?
Then many more horses test positive for prohibited stimulants, and someone starts making demands, threatening to completely destroy the integrity of the racing industry. In order to limit the damage to the sport, it’s critical that Jeff find the perpetrator . . . but he’ll soon learn he’s up against someone who will stop at nothing to prevail.
About the Author
Dick Francis was the author of more than forty acclaimed books. Among his numerous awards are three Edgar Awards for best mystery novel, the Crime Writers’ Association Diamond Dagger, and the Mystery Writers of America’s Grand Master Award. He died in February 2010.
Read an Excerpt
I’ve had the test results and the news isn’t good.”
I couldn’t get the words out of my head.
I was sitting in the shadows at the back of a race-program kiosk near the north entrance to Cheltenham racetrack, scanning the faces of the crowd as they flooded through the turnstiles.
I was looking out for any one of the fifty or so individuals who were banned from British racetracks, but my mind kept drifting back to the telephone conversation I’d had that morning with my sister.
“I’ve had the test results and the news isn’t good.”
“In what way?” I asked with rising dread.
“It’s cancer,” she said quietly.
I’d feared so but had hoped desperately that I was wrong.
I waited silently. She’d go on if she wanted to.
“It’s all a bit of a bugger.” She sighed audibly down the line. “I’ve got to have surgery next Monday and then some chemo.”
“What’s the surgery for?”
“To remove my gallbladder. That’s where the cancer is.”
“Can you live without it?”
She laughed. “The gallbladder or the cancer?”
“I hope so.” The laughter evaporated from her voice. “Time will tell. Things don’t appear very rosy at the moment. I may have only a few months left.”
Oh God, I thought. What does one do when given that scenario? Do you try to carry on as normal or attempt to cram as much into the remaining time as possible? In reality, I suspected that treatment and feeling ill would take over everything. Not very rosy indeed.
I realized that I hadn’t been paying attention to the flow of humanity passing by in front of me.
Concentrate, I said to myself, and went back to studying faces.
It was Champion Hurdle Day, the first of the annual Cheltenham Steeplechasing Festival, and, in spite of the inclement weather, a crowd of over fifty thousand was expected to cram into the Gloucestershire racetrack. Everyone had an umbrella or a rain hat of some kind—ideal conditions for the unwelcome few to hide among the masses.
I knew by sight all those who had racetrack-banning orders, but I was on the lookout for one particular individual that our intelligence branch had suggested might come to Cheltenham that day.
A large man walked up to the kiosk to buy a race program, standing there while he hunted for change in his pockets. I shifted my position to see past him, looking over the head of the program seller who sat directly in front of me.
It was a role I was used to.
My name was Jeff Hinkley and I was an investigator for the British Horseracing Authority. Hence, I spent much of my time half hidden, scanning faces, watching out for those who had no place in racing. Not that being banned from entering racetracks ever stopped them trying.
Cancer of the gallbladder.
How could Faye, my big sister, have cancer of the gallbladder?
Faye was forty-two, twelve years my senior, and she had acted like a mother to me after our real mom had died when I was eight.
I wondered if cancer was hereditary.
Our mom had died of it but I didn’t know where the cancer had been in her body. It was something that wasn’t talked about either before or after her death.
I spotted a face in the crowd.
Nick Ledder, an ex-jock, banned from all racetracks for three years for attempting to bribe another young jockey to lose. I watched as he scanned his ticket and hurried through the turnstile with his coat collar turned up against the icy wind and a tweed cap pulled down over his forehead. It was his eyes that I spotted. It was always the eyes.
But his was not the face I was really looking for.
Nick Ledder was a small-time crook of limited intelligence who hadn’t been able to resist taking a handful of readies to try to fix a race and he had paid a heavy price for his folly. He was hopeful of getting his riding license back early, but he’d hardly endear himself to the stewards by sneaking into Cheltenham while he was still banned.
I let him go by, I could always find him later, and went back to scanning other faces.
I thought about gallbladders. What did they do if you could live without one?
“Jeff, are you there?” said a voice in my earpiece.
“Here, Nigel,” I replied via the microphone I wore on my left wrist.
“No,” I said. “Nick Ledder’s here. I saw him. I’ll deal with him later.”
“How about you?”
Nigel Green was a colleague of mine in the BHA Integrity Service. He was watching the south entrance. Two other BHA staff were covering the remaining ways in, but Nigel and I reckoned that our target would most likely use either the north or south entrance where the crowds were bigger—that is, if he came at all.
I continued to study faces and tried to keep my mind off gallbladders and chemotherapy. How could she have cancer?
My task would have been easier if I had known none of the people funneling through the turnstiles. Then I would just have had to look for someone familiar. As it was, I knew about a quarter of those passing in front of me: owners, trainers, jockeys, as well as other regular racegoers that I had seen many times before. One of the reasons I had a job with the Integrity Service was because I had an uncanny knack of remembering faces and of putting names to them.
I watched as Duncan Johnson, a top steeplechase trainer, made his way into the racetrack followed closely, and rather indiscreetly, by a young woman twenty years his junior with whom he was currently having an affair. Mrs. Johnson, meanwhile, was nowhere to be seen. She would probably be at home in Lambourn waiting expectantly for James Sutton, a young groom from the village, who would come and spend the afternoon in bed with her, enjoying the racing on Channel 4 and other things, just as they did on most Saturdays.
It was amazing what one could discover simply by frequenting the Lambourn pubs and keeping one’s eyes and ears open. Snooping was a major part of my job, but I’d learned to be discreet and inconspicuous, asking very few questions myself whilst encouraging others to ask for me.
Duncan Johnson drifted away out of my sight with his high-heeled concubine clicking away on the tarmac five paces behind him, fooling nobody.
What sort of gall did a gallbladder store?
I hadn’t had time to search on the Internet as Faye had called me just as I was leaving my hotel for the racetrack. I’d look it up later.
The human swarm was beginning to thin out as the first race approached, most people having arrived early to grab a bite and a beer before the start of proceedings, with time to make their selections and place their bets. Those held up in the race-day traffic now hurried through the turnstiles, making a beeline for the betting ring and the grandstand.
“They’re off!” The public address announced the start of the first race of the Festival, greeted as always with a huge roar from the excited crowd.
Perhaps the cancer has been caught early.
I knew Faye had been for tests after having pains in her abdomen over Christmas, but she’d assumed it was kidney stones, something she’d had once before.
What had she said that morning? I may have only a few months left. But Faye always tended to look on the darker side of life.
As she had also said, time would tell.
My mind was drifting again and I almost missed him.
Just as the race was coming towards an exhilarating finale with the crowd cheering, the target came through the end turnstile in a rush, hurrying on as if he wanted to catch the finish, a red scarf wound around his neck and mouth and with a battered and damp trilby pulled down hard over his ears. Again, it was the eyes that gave him away.
“Bingo,” I said into my microphone. “He’s here. Following now.”
I slipped out of the race-program kiosk and scurried along behind him, keeping about ten yards back.
He went past the shops of the tented village then turned right towards the concourse between the parade ring and the grandstand. There was purpose in his progress as if he had a specific agenda rather than merely wandering around. Perhaps, as we suspected, he was on his way to meet someone. But why here when it would be safer to do so elsewhere in private?
Suddenly he stopped completely and turned around to face me.
I went past him without breaking step and without a glance in his direction, instead looking down at the iPhone in my hand.
I knew he wouldn’t know me.
I’d hardly recognized myself that morning as I looked in the hotel bathroom mirror. I was constantly being ribbed by my colleagues, but I believed that I was most effective if none of those I was pursuing knew what I really looked like. Hence, I used disguises, frequently changing the color of my own curls, or using wigs and various degrees of facial hair, glued in place with a latex-based adhesive.
A good disguise was all about distracting people’s attention away from the eyes. Give them something else to stare at and they might remember that feature but would not recognize the man beneath.
On that particular day I sported a well-trimmed goatee with collar-length dark hair under a brown woolen beanie, as well as a faded green anorak over a gray shirt and navy sweater, plus blue chinos. I purposely didn’t want to look like one of the “establishment,” but equally I needed to blend into the background.
I went on twenty strides and then stopped, half turning back. I put my cell to my ear as if making a call and, using my thumb on the touchscreen, I silently took two photos back towards the target.
He was moving again and I stood quite still, talking to no one on my phone, as he walked right past me. I waited for a moment, letting him get ten or fifteen yards away, before following him up past the bookshop and the confectionary kiosk and then on towards the Centaur Centre and the Tattersall end of the grandstand.
We were moving against the human traffic that was spilling out of the grandstand towards the winners’ enclosure now that the race was over.
The target pressed on into the stream, forcing his way through, as I struggled to keep up behind him.
I almost lost him altogether as a group of six well-built and inebriated punters insisted on walking in line abreast, jostling me to and fro with guffaws as I tried to get past.
“What’s the ’urry, mate?” said one as he pushed me back. “Got a date, ’ave you?”
He laughed enthusiastically at his own weak joke and took another swig from his beer while I ducked under his raised arm. How could anyone, I wondered, be drunk after only the first race?
I scanned the mass of heads in front of me, searching for a battered trilby.
Where had he gone?
I rushed forward in desperation and almost ran straight into the back of the target as he himself was slowed by the congestion in the pinch point beneath the Hall of Fame.
Calm down, I told myself.
“Have you still got him, Jeff?” Nigel asked into my ear.
“Yes,” I said quietly into my left sleeve.
“Need any help?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Under the Hall of Fame bridge.”
“On my way,” Nigel replied.
The target was on the move again, ducking into one of the bars beneath the grandstand.
“Going into the Winged Ox bar,” I said into my sleeve.
“OK,” came the reply. “One minute away.”
The bar was packed with long queues at every counter, but the target was clearly not here to get a drink. Instead, he weaved his way right through the throng and out onto the now almost empty viewing steps beyond.
I’d been close to him as he crossed the teeming bar, but now I hung back so as not to alert him to my presence.
I watched as he stood for a moment, moving his head from side to side as if searching for something, before setting off again down the steps.
What was he doing here? I asked myself again. Surely he must know that meeting someone at a racetrack was likely to provoke a reaction from the racing authorities.
I went out onto the viewing steps and looked down.
The target moved swiftly towards where the lines of bookmakers were sheltering from the rain under their multicolored and name-branded umbrellas.
Had he come to speak to a bookmaker?
Nigel Green joined me.
“That’s our man,” I said, pointing, “with the red scarf.”
The target was about twenty yards away and, as we watched, he took his right hand out of his coat pocket. His hand was not empty.
“Knife! Knife!” I shouted loudly, rushing down the steps.
My shouts were swept away by the wind and there was nothing I could do but watch as the target went straight up to one of the bookmakers and slashed at his throat. There was no warning, no words at all, just a clean swipe of the blade across the bookie’s unprotected skin, which turned instantly from pink to bright red.
It had occurred so fast that even those standing close by seemed not to realize what had happened until the bookmaker in question toppled face-first onto the wet tarmac, blood gushing from the wound in his neck like a scarlet fountain.
Meanwhile, the target moved away, walking fast along the line of bookmakers, dodging other racegoers, some of whom were running towards the spot behind him where a woman had begun screaming loudly.
I went on following the target while Nigel went to tend to the victim.
So that was why he’d come. Not to meet or to talk but to kill.
I followed him along to the end of the grandstand, where the food stalls were doing brisk business. He turned right and started up the slope towards the south exit. I hurried after him, the need for stealth now ended.
He glanced back over his shoulder, noticed me pushing my way through the hamburger queue, and began to run.
I ran after him, towards the entrance, where late arrivals were still streaming through the turnstiles.
The official at the exit gate alongside the turnstiles wouldn’t let the target out. He kept asking for his ticket so it could be scanned for reentry.
I was by now just a few feet away. The target looked up and saw me watching him.
He panicked and reached into his coat pocket for the knife, its blade still showing red.
“Get back,” he shouted, waving the knife in front of him. “Get back, all of you.”
I stepped back a pace or two while others moved much farther away.
“Give it up,” I said to him. “There’s no escape.”
He looked around with wide eyes and grabbed hold of the gateman, who had been cornered next to his gate.
“Open the gate,” the target ordered, ignoring the two large policemen in bright yellow jackets who had appeared on its far side, one of whom was talking urgently into his radio. “Open the bloody gate!” He was desperate.
The gateman tried to comply, but in his haste and nervousness he couldn’t get the latch to open.
“Give yourself up,” I shouted, but the target simply waved his knife more vigorously, slashing it towards me.
I retreated a few more steps.
More police arrived and a standoff ensued, with the target holding the unfortunate gateman in his left hand, with the knife in his right.
“Open the gate or I’ll kill him.” The knife was close to the gateman’s neck.
“Let him go and then we’ll open the gate,” shouted one of the policemen on the far side.
“No,” yelled the target in escalating distress. “Open the gate first.”
The impasse continued and was finally broken only when one of the newly arrived police officers stepped forward and shot him with a Taser stun gun.
The target instantly dropped to the ground, his body writhing around uncontrollably from the multithousand-volt electric shocks delivered by the Taser. Two more policemen came forward, carefully removing the knife before bending the target’s arm behind his back and applying a pair of sturdy handcuffs to his wrists.
Satisfied, they stood up, leaving the target lying facedown on the cold, wet tarmac.
“Who is he?” one of them asked me.
“Matthew Unwin,” I said. “He’s a banned ex–racehorse trainer.”
“Banned?” he said. “Banned from what?”
“All racetracks and racing stables.”
“So what’s he doing here, then?” the policeman asked.
Murdering a bookmaker.
You’re a pair of complete idiots.”
Nigel and I were sitting on a bed in our hotel getting a roasting from our immediate boss, Paul Maldini, head of operations at the BHA Integrity Service.
“You have Unwin under close surveillance and yet you allow him to just walk up and murder someone in broad daylight while you two stand by and watch!” Paul’s voice went up in both tone and volume, and he waved his arms around in the manner of his Italian ancestors.
Nigel and I knew better than to interrupt.
It would not have been helpful to point out that neither of us was actually standing still when Matthew Unwin had sliced right through the jugular vein of the hapless bookmaker, Jordan Furness. Or that it happened so fast that we couldn’t have stopped it even if we’d been standing right next to him. Or that it was only due to my continuing to follow Unwin after the event that he had been so rapidly detained by the police.
Nigel and I both knew that Paul needed to “blow his top,” as he did occasionally when operations did not pan out as planned.
“And whose stupid idea was it not to apprehend him at the racetrack entrance when he arrived?”
Nigel and I looked at each other. As far as we could remember, it had been Paul himself who had ultimately given the go-ahead to allow Unwin access to the racetrack so that we could see who he was there to meet. But now was clearly not the time nor the place to point that out.
And who was to say he wouldn’t then have used his knife on us?
As Paul Maldini droned on above my head, I thought back to the previous day. I had spent much of the afternoon and evening with Detective Sergeant Galley of Gloucestershire Police, going over again and again every detail of Matthew Unwin’s brief appearance at the racetrack.
In particular, he had wanted to know why Nigel and I had thought Unwin would be there.
“One of our intelligence analysts received a tip-off from a CHIS.”
“Covert human intelligence source.”
“And who exactly was this CHIS?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t have that information.” I was sure he hadn’t believed me even though I’d been telling him the truth.
However, I did know that the source was considered to be very reliable.
All intelligence was graded as to the nature of the informant, from A to D, and the quality of the information, from 1 to 5. Something rated as A1 was pretty much considered as a fact, while anything below C3 was ignored completely as merely malicious rumor and gossip. B2 was fairly average, but, in this case, the analyst had given the info an A2 rating. Well worth acting on.
“Mr. Hinkley, can you tell me why Mr. Unwin was banned from Cheltenham racetrack?” the DS had asked.
“From all racetracks, not just Cheltenham. In January he was banned for eight years from all licensed racing premises.”
“He used to be a racehorse trainer and horses in his stable were found to have been given banned substances. They’d been doped.”
“Eight years seems rather harsh.”
“Not really. He could have been banned for up to twenty-five. Many in racing thought he’d got off rather lightly.”
“It won’t make much difference now,” the policeman had said. “He’ll be in prison for far more than eight years anyway after today’s little performance. Have you any idea why he would attack Mr. Furness?”
“None at all,” I’d said, “but I do know it was a deliberate choice. I watched as he searched with his eyes for the right man.”
Paul Maldini moaned on for another half an hour about our incompetence, but I wasn’t really listening. I’d heard it before and knew that he’d calm down in a day or two. Most of the time he really was pretty good at his job, although, in my opinion, he needed to learn to control his rages.
But at least he didn’t fire us.
Instead, he sent Nigel and me back to the racetrack for the second day of the Festival.
ALL THE TALK was about the murder of the bookmaker, but it was more because of the delay it caused to racing and the postponement of the last race due to failing light rather than any altruistic concerns for the man himself.
“I’m glad it wasn’t today,” I overheard one man say, laughing. “Their loss is our gain.” The postponed race had been rescheduled to be run before the official first race of day two.
Sympathy for the murdered bookmaker was in short supply in spite of the violent manner of his passing.
“He probably deserved it,” said a tweed-suited woman in the Arkle Bar, who received nodding agreement from those around her.
There was less talk but certainly more compassion for Matthew Unwin, the perpetrator of the crime.
“Obviously, driven to it, poor man,” said one of the stallholders in the tented village.
“Must have been desperate,” agreed his customer, pursing her lips and shaking her head.
I drifted around the enclosures, listening and watching. I was dressed and appeared as myself, not least because, as a result of Paul Maldini’s diatribe, I hadn’t had enough time to “make up.”
I had an official right of entry to everywhere on each of the fifty-eight currently operated British racetracks including, if I’d wanted, the jockeys’ changing rooms and the Royal Boxes. However, rather than putting on my BHA Access All Areas lanyard, which made me stand out as “an authority,” I usually arranged to wear a cardboard Owner badge that let me wander wherever I wanted in anonymity. On the rare occasions I had been asked which horse I owned I simply said that I was a member of a syndicate, an answer guaranteed to cause the inquisitor to instantly lose interest.
I watched the rescheduled race from the stand reserved for owners and trainers, my ears tuned for any tidbits of gossip.
“Did you hear about Peter and Marianne?” a lady said behind me to her companion. “A trial separation, they call it, but I know for a fact he’s screwing one of his stable girls. I hope Marianne takes him to the cleaners.”
“I see Lorne Taylor is pregnant again,” said a male voice on my right. “That’ll be their sixth. How many kids do they want, for goodness’ sake?”
“I heard from Trevor that Hot Target is to be gelded and sent to Lawrence Ford as a hurdler. Such a shame he’s been firing blanks.”
I absorbed it all like a sponge. One never knew if, when, or what information might be useful.
“Do you think we’ll win?” an excited lady owner asked the man on her far side, a middle-ability Lambourn-based trainer.
“He has a fair chance,” the trainer replied without any great enthusiasm. “Depends on how well he jumps.”
The horse in question jumped well enough but ran out of gas in the run up the hill to the line, finishing a creditable fifth out of twelve.
“Maybe next time,” the trainer said in comfort to his clearly disappointed owner as they departed to unsaddle their charge.
I wandered up to the lines of bookmakers in the betting ring.
Someone had been busy with a high-pressure hose and there was no sign of the blood that had been spilled there only twenty-four hours before. The only thing different was that there was no Jordan Furness–emblazoned umbrella in the line. Not that a respectful space had been left empty. All the other bookmakers had simply moved along one place to fill in the gap.
The detective sergeant had asked me over and over again if I had any inkling of why Matthew Unwin might have murdered Furness.
“Why don’t you ask him?” I’d said. “Perhaps he owed money.”
But murder was rather a drastic measure to get out of paying a debt.
I thought back to the case that had resulted in Unwin being disqualified and excluded from racing. Several of the horses in his stables had tested positive for banned performance-enhancing drugs after an anonymous telephone tip-off to the BHA.
Had that been a reason? Was it revenge?
But surely a bookmaker wouldn’t have been the one to make the call?
The ringing of my cell phone interrupted my thoughts.
“Jeff? It’s Quentin.”
Quentin was my brother-in-law, Faye’s husband.
“Hi,” I said. “I am so sorry to hear the news about Faye.”
“Yes,” he said. “It’s not looking too good, but she’s a fighter and determined to see this thing off.”
“I actually rang you about something else. I need your help.”
“Yes, of course. How?”
“I need something investigated and you’re an investigator.”
“But I only investigate horseracing,” I said.
“Look, I can’t tell you everything over the phone. Can you pop over and see me at home?”
“I can’t. I’m at Cheltenham until Friday night.”
“Saturday morning would be perfect.” Quentin could be very persistent.
“All right,” I said. “It will be good to see Faye.”
“Don’t mention any of this to Faye,” he said sharply. “She has enough troubles of her own at the moment. I don’t want her bothered by this.”
“OK,” I said somewhat uneasily. “How about eleven o’clock?”
“Make it nine,” he said decisively. “I have a conference call at ten-thirty.”
Bang went my hoped-for lie-in. But how could I say no? I had decided that I would go see Faye over the weekend as it was.
“OK,” I said again without enthusiasm. “I’ll be there at nine for our meeting, then I’ll spend some time after with Faye.”
“Don’t tell Faye about your investigation,” he snapped again.
“Look, Quentin,” I said, equally abruptly. “I haven’t even agreed to investigate anything for you yet and I’m not sure I will. But I will see you at nine o’clock on Saturday.”
I hung up.
Why, I thought, did my brother-in-law always manage to bring out the worst in me? Or maybe I brought out the worst in him. Either way, we had never really got on.
He was some ten years older than my sister and he had been married twice previously when, one summer’s day, he swept Faye off her feet in a whirlwind romance just as she was beginning to resign herself to the fact that at thirty-two and with no boyfriend, she would never get married.
Quentin Calderfield was an eminent barrister, known universally by his fellow advocates simply as QC, and Faye had been one of the junior clerks in his chambers. He was a man of immense self-confidence, used to getting his own way, and someone not to argue with unless you wanted to lose.
Quentin had risen rapidly up the legal ranks to become Quentin’s counsel and was therefore now more accurately known as QC,QC. His father had been a distinguished judge and a justice of the UK Supreme Court, having previously sat as a senior Law Lord in the House of Lords. Quentin was expected, at least by himself, to take a similar path to the pinnacle of the legal profession, and not many doubted that he’d get there.
I meandered up and down the lines of bookmakers, but my mind was preoccupied with Quentin and what he wanted investigating.
He surely knows masses of investigators, I thought. The courts must be full of them. So why did he need me? No doubt, I’d find out on Saturday.
THE REST OF THE WEEK at Cheltenham was uneventful in comparison, and I crammed myself onto the London-bound train on Friday evening, having seen Electrode, a Duncan Johnson–trained horse, win the Gold Cup for the second time.
Matthew Unwin had appeared at the town’s magistrates’ court on Thursday morning, charged with the murder of Jordan Furness, and had been remanded in custody.
There had been some speculation at the racetrack as to Unwin’s mental state, but the police seemed to be treating it as an open-and-shut murder case. A detective had called me to say that I wouldn’t be needed at the magistrates’ hearing but, in the light of my signed statement, I would certainly be required as a witness for the prosecution at the trial unless, of course, Unwin pleaded guilty first.
The train rolled into Paddington Station a little after eight o’clock and I caught the Bakerloo Line tube to Willesden Junction, before walking the last few hundred yards to my home in Spezia Road.
“I’m back,” I shouted as I turned the key.
“In the kitchen,” came the reply.
Lydia Swiffin, my girlfriend of four years, was standing in front of the stove, wearing a striped apron, stirring the contents of a saucepan.
“Good journey?” she asked, turning around for a peck.
“Not really. Too many drunk punters singing out of tune.”
“Not much chance of a snooze, then?”
“None. How about you? Good day?”
“Yeah, pretty much. I had two purchase offers accepted by vendors.” She smiled. “But that means nothing these days. I never count commissions until the contracts are exchanged and deposits paid.”
“Well done anyway. I’ll go and unpack.”
“Your supper will be ready in five minutes. I’m afraid I’ve had mine.”
I took my bag along to our bedroom.
In the run-up to our second Christmas as a couple we had jointly bought this ground-floor flat in a house that had once been a single-family home but now accommodated two, with an Italian couple and a baby upstairs.
It had been a day of great joy when I had carried Lydia over the threshold and into our first home together, but, lately, I had begun to feel slightly trapped.
Our relationship was still pretty sound, but I knew there was a great expectation from Lydia, and from both our families, that we would soon get married. I had even found a sheet of paper on which Lydia had been practicing her signature Lydia Hinkley.
But the prospect of marriage rather frightened me. It was too long-term, too permanent. I was reminded of the joke about the three stages of sex. Initially, there is house sex, when you have sex all over the house. Then there is bedroom sex, when you have sex only in the bedroom. And finally there is hall sex, when the only sexual encounter you have with your partner is to pass in the hall and say, “Fuck you.”
Lydia and I seemed to have moved on to stage two already. Gone were the spontaneous and uninhibited encounters on the kitchen table or the sitting-room floor. Even our outdoor bonking under the stars had waned with the moon into nothingness.
Maybe that’s what happens as one moves into one’s thirties.
I went back along the hall and sat down at that kitchen table.
“What have you been up to while I was away?” I asked.
“Not much,” Lydia replied. “Work every day and TV every night.”
She put a plate of penne pasta with a pesto sauce down in front of me.
I had thought, on the train, of us going out to our local Indian restaurant on Harrow Road, but Lydia was on a seemingly never-ending diet and curries were definitely not one of her allowable foods.
Somehow we didn’t do things like that very often anymore.
“There’s a drama on the box in half an hour that I want to see,” Lydia said as she washed up the saucepan. “The first half was on last night and it’s really good.”
I desperately wanted to say that sitting at home on a Friday evening in front of the television was not really my idea of a fun time. I longed to tell her to get her glad rags on because we were going out clubbing in the West End, where we would drink far too much, dance until the early hours, and then make passionate love on the backseat of a taxi on the way home. All things we had done before.
“Who’s in it?” I asked.
“Some new chap called Jack Sherwood. He’s good, and very sexy.”
I wondered if she still found me sexy.
“Do you fancy a drink?” I asked. “I’ve got some wine in the cupboard.”
“Not for me, thanks, not allowed. But you have one.”
Why not? I thought. Maybe I’d get drunk. Not that it ever made anything better, or easier, in the long run.
“I’m going to see Faye tomorrow,” I said.
“So you said on the phone. How is she?”
“Not looking forward to Monday.”
“No, I bet she’s not. Any further news?”
“No. I looked up gallbladder cancer and it wasn’t very encouraging. It’s not got a particularly great survival rate.”
“Oh dear,” Lydia said. “I’m so sorry.”
I sighed. “Let’s hope they’ve caught it early enough. I expect I’ll find out tomorrow.”
“Do you want me to come with you?”
“I’d love you to, but Quentin wants to discuss something else with me. He wants me there by nine. He apparently has something else at ten-thirty.”
She made a face. Both of us liked our weekend lie-ins. Nowadays, it was our preferred “sex time.”
“You go for nine. I’ll come along later, after you’ve spoken to Quentin.”
Lydia also didn’t really get on with Quentin. I’m not sure anyone did. I suppose if you spend your life working in the fiercely adversarial system that we have in the English courts, then you become used to continuously trying to score points off everyone. Undoubtedly, it wins him cases but, I suspected, not many friends.
If he hadn’t been married to my ailing sister, there’s no way I’d have forgone a bit of nooky to go talk to him about some investigating that I had absolutely no intention of carrying out.
Lydia watched her television drama while I spent the time working in my study, as I had started calling our second bedroom. Lydia, meanwhile, always referred to it as the nursery.
For about the tenth time I looked up gallbladder cancer on the Internet.
Depending on which website one looked at, there were either four or five stages, but none of them sounded very promising. The one mildly encouraging fact was that only those whose cancer was detected in the early stages were considered suitable for surgery to remove the gallbladder. But, even so, half of the patients diagnosed with just stage one cancer did not survive for five years, and most of those with stage two were dead within six months.
It was depressing.
I tried to look on the bright side and told myself that the other half of the patients did survive, and, after listening to Faye’s doom and gloom on the telephone, I’d happily take odds of even money.
Next I looked up the details of Matthew Unwin’s case by remotely logging in to the BHA main computer and studying the file.
Six horses in his stable had tested positive for the stimulant Dexedrine.
He had denied any knowledge of how the drug had been administered and stated to the BHA disciplinary panel that someone else must have given it to the horses because he had refused to pay them. However, Unwin had been unable to provide the panel with the name of the person responsible or a single piece of evidence to back up his claim.
In spite of repeated and insistent declarations of his innocence, he had been found guilty of administering a banned stimulant and had been disqualified and excluded from racing for eight years.
Detective Sergeant Galley, the Cheltenham detective, had thought that an eight-year ban had been rather harsh, and, looking at the minute trace quantities of Dexedrine that had been detected in the six horses, one might tend to agree.
However, it wasn’t Matthew Unwin’s first doping offense. Three years previously a horse of his had tested positive for Lasix, a banned diuretic, and he had been reprimanded and warned about his future conduct after pleading guilty.
Stupid man, I thought. He’d been given a second chance and he’d thrown it all away. Now he would rot in jail. But for how long? Life imprisonment almost never meant that. For him it would probably be at least twelve years. Fifteen maybe. Either way, he was finished in racing.
But he’d been finished even before he went on the rampage with the knife.
Training racehorses was not like any other job.
British racing had become a seven-day-a-week activity, while the horses at home needed constant care.
Typical early mornings on the training gallops would be followed by afternoons at the races and then late nights at a desk, going through the race entries and doing all the other paperwork, not to mention the hours of driving to and from the racetracks. One trainer’s wife told me that she always went with her husband to the races not because she particularly wanted to be there every day but because the journey was the only opportunity she had to talk to him during the entire week. And now cell phones had put paid to that too.
A trainer was also an employer and “the boss” to an army of grooms, work riders, and other stable staff, while at the same time being the deferential and courteous individual to whom owners of horses might turn to look after their precious darlings.
Even after his ban was served, Matthew Unwin would never have again earned the trust of potential owners. In reality, an eight-year ban from racing was a life sentence.
I went through the Unwin computer file right to the end.
Way down at the bottom of page 22 of his disciplinary hearing report was a note of mitigation stating that Unwin’s fifteen-year-old son had learning difficulties from having contracted meningitis as a baby, his marriage had recently broken down, and, without an income from training, he would likely have his house and stables repossessed by the bank. None of which had prevented the disciplinary panel from removing his training license.
Maybe he simply believed that he had nothing left to lose.
I searched through the BHA files for any mention of Jordan Furness.
Unlike horses, owners, trainers, jockeys, agents, valets, grooms, racing stables, racetracks, and equine swimming pools, all of which are regulated by the BHA, bookmakers are registered and licensed by the Gambling Commission. Hence, there was nothing to find about the victim of Unwin’s attack. However, there was a record of a Lee Furness, formerly registered as a member of the stable staff in Matthew Unwin’s yard.
Now, was that a coincidence or what?
I TOOK the London Overground train to Richmond-on-Thames and Quentin was waiting for me outside the station.
“I’d rather not talk at home,” he said. “Let’s go and have a coffee.”
We went to a café in Brewers Lane, close to Quentin and Faye’s house, and sat far back, well away from the window.
“Now,” said Quentin when we had been served our coffee, “I need you to investigate something for me, something very hush-hush. You must understand it needs to be very discreet.”
“Just hold on a minute,” I said, slightly irritated. “I work for the BHA. I only investigate racing matters.”
It was like Canute trying to hold back the tide.
“Yes, I know all that,” he said dismissively, “but you’re family and I really need you to do this for me. And for Faye,” he added, just a fraction too late. “Especially now.”
“What is it?” I asked.
“It’s to do with Kenneth,” he said, looking around him to ensure no one else was listening to our conversation. “Silly boy seems to have got himself into a spot of trouble.”
Kenneth was Quentin’s twenty-three-year-old son. Not by Faye but from an earlier union. My stepnephew. I’d met him once or twice over the years at family gatherings, but I hardly knew him very well.
“What sort of trouble?” I asked.
“He was arrested.”
“He hasn’t been convicted—not yet anyway.” Quentin was quite agitated, something that I hadn’t expected to see in my ultra-in-control brother-in-law.
“For what?” I asked again.
He looked around once more to make sure the waitress wasn’t hovering nearby and finally spoke softly. “Possession with intent to supply a Class A drug.”
“Oh,” I said. It sounded to me like rather a lot more than just a spot of trouble. “Is he guilty?”
“No, of course not,” Quentin said quickly. “Kenneth swears to me that he’s been set up. The drugs were planted in his flat and one of his so-called friends is telling porkies to the police.” He made it sound as if that alone was shocking, but, in my experience, almost everybody lies to the police at some stage in their lives, particularly if it helps them escape a conviction, and Quentin should know that better than most.
“Which drug?” I asked.
“Crystal meth. The friend is saying Kenneth agreed to sell him some.”
“And you expect Kenneth to be convicted?” I said.
He sighed. “If the jury believe the friend, then yes I do. We need to show that the drugs were planted or the friend is lying.”
“Can’t the police establish that?”
“The man has gone walkabout, disappeared completely. Moved out of his flat, changed his cell phone number, and bloody vanished. And, anyway, the police believe that Kenneth is bang to rights over this. They’re not even looking. They’re convinced he’s guilty.”
Maybe that’s because he was.
“Couldn’t Kenneth just plead guilty in the magistrates’ court and pay a fine? Surely it’s not such a big deal these days.”
Quentin looked at me with a degree of contempt and not a little anger.
“I can see that asking you was a waste of time. You clearly don’t understand the situation.”
“Tell me, then.”
“For a start, it won’t be just a fine. The case has been sent to the Crown Court and Kenneth will definitely go to jail if convicted. But that’s not even the worst of it. He is currently doing his pupilage in chambers to become a barrister. A conviction of this sort would end all that, he’d lose his career completely. He would never be called to the Bar, having been to prison.”
“Haven’t you got some contacts in the police that you can use to get the investigation restarted?”
“Don’t you think I’ve been trying, for God’s sake? But I spend most of my time defending at the Old Bailey, so I’ve hardly endeared myself to the police, and I’ve been privately warned off by the head of the Crown Prosecution Service for sticking my nose in where it’s not wanted.” I wondered with astonishment if those were tears I saw in his eyes. “It’s a complete disaster,” he said with passion. “And it will probably prevent me from ever being a judge, certainly not an Appeal Court judge or higher.”
Ah, I thought. The nub.
“Can you imagine how the press would describe me: Mr. Justice Calderfield, whose own son went to jail for intent to supply a Class A drug, was sitting today in the case of a drug dealer. They’d have a bloody field day.”
“Does Faye know about all this?” I asked.
“No. Thank God. So far, Kenneth has managed to keep everything quiet. He thought it would all go away, that the case would be dropped. But, last week, at the plea and case management hearing, the CPS gave their decision that thanks to the bloody friend’s statement, they believe there is enough evidence for a conviction and are proceeding to trial. A date has been set in June.”
Quentin looked wretched. He could clearly see that the meteoric rise of QC,QC was about to hit the buffers, and the next generation was not even going to get onto the main line.
“So what do you exactly want me to do?” I asked.
He looked at me afresh.
“Find the bastard friend who gave the police the statement and prove he’s lying.”
“What if he’s not lying?”
Quentin looked at me again. “Then buy him off. Offer him a few hundred quid to retract his evidence.”
It all sounded so easy.
I HAD another cappuccino at the café while Quentin went home alone.
“It wouldn’t do to turn up together,” he’d explained needlessly.
I called Lydia.
“I’m just leaving,” she said.
“Then I’ll wait for you. I’m in a café in Brewers Lane—you know, the lane we sometimes take from the station to Faye’s house.”
“I know it.”
“Right. See you in a bit.”
I left my coffee to cool while I nipped down to the corner to buy a copy of the Racing Post. I usually read it on my tablet computer, but I’d carelessly left it at home.
The Saturday after the Cheltenham Festival always seemed to me to be a bit of an anticlimax, all the best horses having run in the preceding four days, but there were still five race meetings in Great Britain and another two in Ireland. And with over twenty-five thousand racehorses in training in both countries, there were plenty of horses available.
The British racing industry moved on relentlessly.
On all but a handful of days in a year, there were at least two race meetings scheduled somewhere in the UK, and on Boxing Day there could be as many as ten in England alone.
Much of the newspaper, however, looked back at the previous four days’ racing, with a front-page color picture of Electrode jumping the last fence on his way to victory in the Gold Cup. There were more pictures inside, one of Duncan Johnson standing with his wife, both all smiles, in the winner’s enclosure after the race. The horse was already being quoted at just six-to-one by the bookmakers to complete the hat trick the following year.
I wondered if the current Mrs. Johnson would still be around to see it.
While I waited, I read through the racing news section as well as the gossip columns. It was an essential part of my job to be “up-to-date” with all things happening on or around a racetrack.
Lydia arrived at ten o’clock and the two of us walked together around the corner to Faye and Quentin’s magnificent three-story Georgian town house overlooking Richmond Green. Being a top barrister, QC,QC wasn’t short of the odd bob or two.
“We’d better not stay too long,” Lydia said as we walked down the path to their front door. “We don’t want to tire Faye.”
“I agree. We’ll stay just half an hour or so.”
Faye answered the door looking nothing like someone who was battling with a life-threatening illness. She was bright and cheerful, with immaculate makeup beneath her neatly styled brown curls, and she wore a smart navy blue dress with white belt and shoes.
“Hello, my darlings,” she squealed, throwing her arms out wide. “Come on in. Q said you might be coming.”
She gave both of us hugs and kisses and then ushered us through the hall into her expansive kitchen.
“Coffee?” she asked. “Or something stronger?”
It was ten past ten in the morning.
“Coffee,” Lydia said and I nodded. “Lovely.”
We watched as Faye set to work with her fancy black-and-chrome coffee machine, producing three steaming cups, each topped with frothy white milk.
“I can’t stand instant coffee,” she said. “There’s nothing like the real thing.”
We sat at the kitchen breakfast bar sipping our drinks, not talking about the one topic that filled our minds.
“So how are you feeling?” Lydia asked eventually.
“Fine,” said Faye. “That’s what’s so damn annoying. Most of the time I’m absolutely fine. I can’t really believe there’s anything wrong with me, but the wretched doctors say otherwise. And I’m not looking forward to Monday, I can tell you.”
“No,” I said inadequately. “Which hospital?”
“The Royal Marsden.”
“How long will you be in?”
“Two, three, or four nights, maybe even five. It depends.”
“The surgeon, I suppose.”
“What exactly will he do?” Lydia asked.
“Take out some bits,” she said with a forced smile. “Maybe it’ll help me lose some weight.”
We didn’t laugh.
“If I’m lucky,” she went on, “he’ll just remove my gallbladder. That’s if the cancer hasn’t broken through the wall. Otherwise, he might have to take out some more. I really don’t want to think about it.” She breathed deeply. “But I can’t think of anything else.”
“Why didn’t you have the surgery last week as soon as you knew?” I asked.
“I’ve been waiting for the right man to do it. He’s been away at some conference or other in the United States. Apparently, he gets back on Sunday, so Monday is the earliest he could do it. The hospital told me it was worth the wait to get the top guy, so I did. I just hope it was the right thing.”
Faye lost all her composure. Her shoulders drooped and she was close to tears.
“I’m sorry,” she said unnecessarily.
Lydia stood up and went to put her arms around Faye as a series of sobs shuddered through her body.
I felt helpless and distraught.
Faye had always been my rock. She had been the one to wipe away my tears, right from when our dear mother had Gone off to see God, as our father had always put it.
I desperately didn’t want Faye to go off to see God, not yet, not ever, but what could I do? Nothing. Only pray that the surgeon would do his work and save her.
I stood up and went and put my arms around them both.
“What’s this?” said Quentin loudly, coming into the kitchen. “Group hug?”
The moment passed and Faye pulled herself away, dabbing at her eyes with a tissue and smudging her mascara.
“Oh God, what a mess,” she said, trying to laugh. “I’ll just go and fix this.”
“I’ll come with you,” said Lydia, and the two girls went off to make repairs upstairs.
“It’s very difficult for her,” I said to Quentin.
“She’ll be fine,” he said with confidence. “She’s a tough old bird.”
I wasn’t sure if he really thought that she would be fine or if he was just putting on a brave front. I couldn’t believe that he didn’t know the odds. Either way, I thought that he should be more consoling towards his wife, but I suppose that wasn’t Quentin’s style.
“Is there anything you need from me to start your investigation?” he asked.
“The so-called friend’s name,” I said.
“Daniel something,” he said. “Foreign name. It’s in the CPS bundle. I’ll get it for you on Monday.”
“Can I see the whole file?” I asked.
“I’ll try, but I really shouldn’t be having anything to do with it.”
“Then don’t. Tell me who to talk to and I’ll get it from them.”
“You’ll have to approach Kenneth’s solicitor. It’s a woman.” He said it as if he didn’t fully approve of female lawyers. “I have her card somewhere. I’ll give it to you before you go.”
“Where is Kenneth?” I asked.
“He sits in his flat most days just feeling sorry for himself. He’s been suspended from his pupilage pending the outcome of the case.”
“Why doesn’t he spend his time looking for the missing friend?”
“It’s a condition of his bail that he can have no contact with the Crown’s witnesses.”
“Witnesses plural?” I asked. “Who are the others?”
“The police mostly. Arrest officers, search officers, and so on. And then there’s also the drug analysis company.”
“Is it legal for me to have any contact with the friend?”
“What could be the consequences?” I asked.
“If you found him and then the friend complained that you’d been in contact, Kenneth would probably lose his bail. So be careful. It’s also possible that you might be arrested for attempting to pervert the course of justice, although that’s unlikely.”
“Very unlikely, I’d say. Unless, of course, you offered him money or threatened him in order to get him to change his story.”
I might need to do both.
Faye and Lydia came back downstairs.
Quentin looked at his watch. “I have a client conference call in five minutes,” he said. “Don’t leave until after I’m finished.” It was more of a directive than a request.
“We mustn’t be too long,” I said hesitantly.
“But you will stay to lunch, won’t you?” Faye asked anxiously. “I’ve got a whole fridge full of food that needs eating before Monday. Q will eat at his club all week.”
I looked at Lydia.
“Yes, we’d love to,” she said. “I’ll help you.”
WE DIDN’T LEAVE until well after two, by which time Faye was exhausted. So much for us not making her tired.
“I’m sorry,” she said, again unnecessarily, as Lydia and I stood on her doorstep to say good-bye. “It’s not the cancer or any treatment that makes me so tired, it’s more because I’m not sleeping very well at the moment.”
“Darling Faye,” I said, “you don’t have to apologize. It is all our fault for staying so long.”
She gave me a big hug while whispering ever so quietly into my ear, “Now, Jeff, get along and marry Lydia, won’t you. I want to still be round for my little brother’s wedding.”
She pulled back and smiled at me.
Oh God, I thought. Now what do I do?
On Monday morning I took the Tube from Willesden to the British Horseracing Authority offices in High Holborn, to my desk in the Integrity, Licensing and Compliance Department, more commonly referred to as the racing security service.
I sat for an hour and tried to reply to the multitude of e-mails that had accumulated unanswered in my in-box during my week away in Cheltenham, but I wasn’t really concentrating. My mind kept wandering off to what was happening three and a half miles away at the Royal Marsden Hospital.
Faye had been admitted at six that morning and was scheduled to go to surgery as the second patient of the day for the surgeon.
I wondered what time that would be. How long would his first operation last? How long for Faye’s?
I had asked Quentin to please keep me informed, but I had little faith that phoning his brother-in-law would be high on his priority list unless it was to ask about progress in finding Kenneth’s erstwhile friend.
How long should I wait before I called the hospital? Perhaps I shouldn’t call before noon. Or maybe at eleven-thirty. Or eleven.
I looked up at the clock on the office wall for the umpteenth time. Ten past ten. The hands seemed to move so slowly. Had it stopped? I stared at the minute hand for a full minute, timing it against my wristwatch, until it clicked over to eleven minutes past ten. No, it was still working.
I stood up and walked down the corridor to the little kitchen area to make myself a cup of coffee. Pacing up and back helped my nervousness, but the clock had grudgingly moved on just five minutes to ten-sixteen when I sat down again.
Come on, I told myself. Do something useful. Take your mind off it.
I forced myself back to the e-mails.
Most were update reports from my colleagues. There were five out-and-out investigators in the department, of which I was one, three of the others being ex–police officers, and the fifth a financial expert who had recently joined our ranks, reflecting the increasing financial complexity of many of the dubious practices we spent our time investigating.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for Dick Francis's Damage by Felix Francis
“Felix Francis’ latest mystery does the family tradition proud…a vivid and fascinating read.”—Washington Times
“Francis’s fourth solo outing ranks with the best of his late father’s thrillers set in the British horse racing world. The compelling main storyline deserves high marks for originality…”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Felix Francis wields all of his father's tools of the trade here, telling a satisfying story of murder and intrigue that barrels along without losing sight of the details . . . this satisfying novel is worthy of the Francis name.”—Shelf Awareness
“Francis expertly choreographs Jeff's extended cat-and-mouse duel…Fans of both thrillers and horse racing will be on tenterhooks…”—Kirkus Reviews
“Felix is a master plotter and suspense builder. A wonderful feature of this book is the wealth of detail Francis provides about racing…Another Francis thriller in which danger and suspense build with each scene.”—Booklist
“[Felix] has the Francis formula down pat, with descriptions of the horse-racing industry real and exciting, and character analysis deep and penetrating...sharp and insightful…all the characterizations are acute, as is the plotting, and the novel is highly recommended.”—Crimespree Magazine
“This is the fourth incredible solo novel written by Felix Francis, son of the eminent mystery novelist Dick Francis, and in this latest story, the action and suspense are right on target. . . . An extremely good story for the mystery lover, and most especially the horseracing fan. With a fascinating plot, Felix Francis continues to prove that he owns the wonderful writing style of his famous dad; yet he still has the fresh voice that allows him to carve a niche in the literary world that is all his own. Readers can keep looking forward to the next mystery that will open up the gates and unveil the underbelly of the racetracks of England.”—Suspense Magazine
Praise for Dick Francis’s Refusal
“To the delight of Dick/Felix Francis fans, [Sid] Halley gets back into investigations after an eight-year hiatus. . . . It’s the kind of page-turner that fans of either Francis have come to expect.” —The Sacramento Bee
“This is fascinating reading on every level, from the neatly calibrated plot, moving from suspense to terror, to all the details of the racing world Francis provides.” —Booklist (starred review)
“[Francis] has found a strong voice and confident style. . . . [I]n the same, comforting, ever-so-British style of his father, Francis assures readers that integrity will prevail.” —Cleveland Plain Dealer