me a job I guessed that somewhere in the background my father-in-law was pulling strings; but I had been in a why-not mood at the time. Nothing mattered very much.

‘Why not?’ I said to Radnor, and he put me on his payroll as an investigator, Racing Section, ignoring my complete lack of experience and explaining to the rest of the staff that I was there in an advisory capacity, owing to my intimate knowledge of the game. They had taken it very well, on the whole. Perhaps they realised, as I did, that my employment was an act of pity. Perhaps they thought I should be too proud to accept that sort of pity. I wasn’t. I didn’t care one way or the other.

Radnor’s agency ran Missing Persons, Guard, and Divorce departments, and also a section called Bona Fides, which was nearly as big as the others put together. Most of the work was routine painstaking enquiry stuff, sometimes leading to civil or divorce action, but oftener merely to a discreet report sent to the client. Criminal cases, though accepted, were rare. The Andrews business was the first for the three months.

The Racing Section was Radnor’s special baby. It hadn’t existed, I’d been told, when he bought the agency with an Army gratuity after the war and developed it from a dingy three-roomed affair into something like a national institution. Radnor printed ‘Speed, Results, and Secrecy’ across the top of his stationery; promised them, and delivered them. A lifelong addiction to racing, allied to six youthful rides in point-to-points, had led him not so much to ply for hire from the Jockey Club and the National Hunt Committee as to indicate that his agency was at their disposal. The Jockey Club and the National Hunt Committee tentatively wet their feet, found the water beneficial, and plunged right in. The Racing Section blossomed. Eventually private business outstripped the official, especially when Radnor began supplying pre-race guards for fancied horses.

By the time I joined the firm ‘Bona Fides: Racing’, had proved so successful that it had spread from its own big office into the room next door. For a reasonable fee a trainer could check on the character and background of a prospective owner, a bookmaker on a client, a client on a bookmaker, anybody on anybody. The phrase ‘O.K.’d by Radnor’ had passed into racing slang. Genuine, it meant. Trustworthy. I had even heard it applied to a horse.

They had never given me a Bona Fides assignment. This work was done by a bunch of inconspicuous middle-aged retired policemen who took minimum time to get maximum results. I’d never been sent to sit all night outside the box of a hot favourite, though I would have done it willingly. I had never been put on a racecourse security patrol. If the Stewards asked for operators to keep tabs on undesirables at race meetings, I didn’t go. If anyone had to watch for pickpockets in Tattersalls, it wasn’t me. Radnor’s two unvarying excuses for giving me nothing to do were first that I was too well known to the whole racing world to be inconspicuous, and second, that even if I didn’t seem to care, he was not going to be the one to give an ex-champion jockey tasks which meant a great loss of face.

As a result I spent most of my time kicking around the office reading other people’s reports. When anyone asked me for the informed advice I was supposedly there to give, I gave it; if anyone asked what I would do in a certain set of circumstances, I told them. I got to know all the operators and gossiped with them when they came into the office. I always had the time. If I took a day off and went to the races, nobody complained. I sometimes wondered whether they even noticed.

At intervals I remarked to Radnor that he didn’t have to keep me, as I so obviously did nothing to earn my salary. He replied each time that he was satisfied with the arrangement, if I was. I had the impression that he was waiting for something, but if it wasn’t for me to leave, I didn’t know what. On the day I walked into Andrews’ bullet I had been with the agency in this fashion for exactly two years.

A nurse came in to check the tubes and take my blood pressure. She was starched and efficient. She smiled but didn’t speak. I waited for her to say that my wife was outside asking about me anxiously. She didn’t say it. My wife hadn’t come. Wouldn’t come. If I couldn’t hold her when I was properly alive, why should my near-death bring her running? Jenny. My wife. Still my wife in spite of three years’ separation. Regret, I think, held both of us back from the final step of divorce: we had been through passion, delight, dissention, anger and explosion. Only regret was left, and it wouldn’t be strong enough to bring her to the hospital. She’d seen me in too many hospitals before. There was no more drama, no more impact, in my form recumbent, even with tubes. She wouldn’t come. Wouldn’t telephone. Wouldn’t write. It was stupid of me to want her to.

Time passed slowly and I didn’t enjoy it, but eventually all the tubes except the one in my arm were removed and I began to heal. The police didn’t find Andrews, Jenny didn’t come, Radnor’s typists sent me a get-well card, and the hospital sent the bill.

Chico slouched in one evening, his hands in his pockets and the usual derisive grin on his face. He looked me over without haste and the grin, if anything, widened.

‘Rather you than me, mate,’ he said.

‘Go to bloody hell.’

He laughed. And well he might. I had been doing his job for him because he had a date with a girl, and Andrews’ bullet should have been his bellyache, not mine.

‘Andrews,’ he said musingly. ‘Who’d have thought it? Sodding little weasel. All the same, if you’d done what I said and stayed in the washroom, and taken his photo quiet like on the old infra-red, we’d have picked him up later nice and easy and you’d have been lolling on your arse around the office as usual instead of sweating away in here.’

‘You needn’t rub it in,’ I said. ‘What would you have done?’

He grinned. ‘The same as you, I expect. I’d have reckoned it would only take the old one-two for that little worm to come across with who sent him.’

‘And now we don’t know.’

‘No.’ He sighed. ‘And the old man ain’t too sweet about the whole thing. He did know I was using the office as a trap, but he didn’t think it would work, and now this has happened he doesn’t like it. He’s leaning over backwards, hushing the whole thing up. They might have sent a bomb, not a sneak thief, he said. And of course Andrews bust a window getting in, which I’ve probably got to pay for. Trust the little sod not to know how to pick a lock.’

‘I’ll pay for the window,’ I said.

‘Yeah,’ he grinned. ‘I reckoned you would if I told you.’

He wandered round the room, looking at things. There wasn’t much to see.

‘What’s in that bottle dripping into your arm?’

‘Food of some sort, as far as I can gather. They never give me anything to eat.’

‘Afraid you might bust out again, I expect.’

‘I guess so,’ I agreed.

He wandered on. ‘Haven’t you got a telly then? Cheer you up a bit wouldn’t it, to see some other silly buggers getting shot?’ He looked at the chart on the bottom of the bed. ‘Your temperature was 102 this morning, did they tell you? Do you reckon you’re going to kick it?’


‘Near thing, from what I’ve heard. Jones-boy said there was enough of your life’s blood dirtying up the office floor to make a tidy few black puddings.’

I didn’t appreciate Jones-boy’s sense of humour.

Chico said, ‘Are you coming back?’


He began tying knots in the cord of the window blind. I watched him, a thin figure imbued with so much energy that it was difficult for him to keep still. He had spent two fruitless nights watching in the washroom before I took his place, and I knew that if he hadn’t been dedicated to his job he couldn’t have borne such inactivity. He was the youngest of Radnor’s team. About twenty-four, he believed, though as he had been abandoned as a child on the steps of a police station in a push-chair, no one knew for certain.

If the police hadn’t been so kind to him, Chico sometimes said, he would have taken advantage of his later opportunities and turned delinquent. He never grew tall enough to be a copper. Radnor’s was the best he could do. And he did very well by Radnor. He put two and two together quickly and no one on the staff had faster physical reactions. Judo and wrestling were his hobbies, and along with the regular throws and holds he had been taught some strikingly dirty tricks. His smallness bore no relation whatever to his effectiveness in his job.

‘How are you getting on with the case?’ I asked.

‘What case? Oh… that. Well since you got shot the heat’s off, it seems. Brinton’s had no threatening calls or letters since the other night. Whoever was leaning on him must have got the wind up. Anyway, he’s feeling a bit

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