night searching for your damn flat in this ropey wig if I could have walked straight up to you at the races?'

'Well… why?'

'Because the last person I can be seen talking to on a racecourse or off it is Sid Halley.'

I had ridden a few times for her husband away back in the past. In the days when I was a jockey. When I was still light enough for Flat racing and hadn't taken to steeplechasing. In the days before success and glory and falls and smashed hands… and all that. To Sid Halley, ex-jockey, she could have talked publicly forever. To Sid Halley, recently changed into a sort of all-purpose investigator, she had come in darkness and fright.

Forty-fivish, I supposed, thinking about it for the first time, and realising that although I had known her casually for years I had never before looked long enough or closely enough at her face to see it feature by feature. The general impression of thin elegance had always been strong. The drooping lines of eyebrow and eyelid, the small scar on the chin, the fine noticeable down on the sides of the jaw, these were new territory.

She raised her eyes suddenly and gave me the same sort of inspection, as if she'd never really seen me before: and I guessed that for her it was a much more radical reassessment. I was no longer the boy she'd once rather brusquely issued with riding instructions, but a man she had come to in trouble. I was accustomed, by now, to seeing this new view of me supplant older and easier relationships, and although I might often regret it, there seemed no way of going back.

'Everyone says…' she began doubtfully. 'I mean… over this past year, I keep hearing…' She cleared her throat. 'They say you're good… very good… at this sort of thing. But I don't know… now I'm here… it doesn't seem… I mean… you're a jockey.'

'Was,' I said succinctly.

She glanced vaguely at my left hand, but made no other comment. She knew all about that. As racing gossip goes, it was last year's news.

'Why don't you tell me what you want done?' I said. 'If I can't help, I'll say so.'

The idea that I couldn't help after all reawoke her alarm and set her shivering again inside the raincoat.

'There's no one else,' she said. 'I can't go to anyone else. I have to believe… I have to… that you can do… all they say.'

'I'm no superman,' I protested. 'I just snoop around a bit.'

'Well… Oh God…'The glass rattled against her teeth as she emptied it to the dregs. 'I hope to God…'

'Take your coat off,' I said persuasively. 'Have another gin. Sit back on the sofa, and start at the beginning.' As if dazed she stood up, undid the buttons, shed the coat, and sat down again.

'There isn't a beginning.'

She took the refilled glass and hugged it to her chest. The newly revealed clothes were a cream silk shirt under a rust-coloured cashmere-looking sweater, a heavy gold chain, and a well cut black skirt: the everyday expression of no financial anxieties.

'George is at a dinner,' she said. 'We're staying here in London overnight… He thinks I've gone to a film.'

George, her husband, ranked in the top three of British racehorse trainers and probably in the top ten internationally. On racecourses from Hong Kong to Kentucky he was revered as one of the greats. At Newmarket, where he lived, he was king. If his horses won the Derby, the Arc de Triomphe, the Washington International, no one was surprised. Some of the cream of the world's bloodstock floated year by year to his stable, and even having a horse in his yard gave the owner a certain standing. George Caspar could afford to turn down any horse or any man. Rumour said he rarely turned down any woman: and if that was Rosemary's problem it was one I couldn't solve.

'He mustn't know,' she said nervously. 'You'll have to promise not to tell him I came here.'

'I'll promise provisionally,' I said.

'That's not enough.'

'It'll have to be.'

'You'll see,' she said. 'You'll see why…'She took a drink. 'He may not like it, but he's worried to death.' 'Who… George?'

'Of course George. Who else? Don't be so damned stupid. For who else would I risk coming here on this damn charade?' The brittleness shrilled in her voice and seemed to surprise her. She visibly took some deep breaths, and started again. 'What did you think of Gleaner?'

'Er…' I said. 'Disappointing.'

'A damned disaster,' she said. 'You know it was.'

'One of those things,' I said.

'No, it was not one of those things. One of the best two-year-olds George ever had. Won three brilliant two- year-old races. Then all that winter, favourite for the Guineas and the Derby. Going to be the tops, everyone said. Going to be marvellous.'

'Yes,' I said. 'I remember.'

'And then what? Last Spring he ran in the Guineas. Fizzled out. Total flop. And he never even got within sight of the Derby.'

'It happens,' I said. She looked at me impatiently, compressing her lips. 'And Zingaloo?' she said. 'Was that, too, just one of those things? The two best colts in the country, both brilliant at two, both in our yard. And neither of them won a damn penny last year as three-year-olds. They just stood there in their boxes, looking well, eating their heads off, and totally damn bloody useless.'

'It was a puzzler,' I agreed, but without much conviction. Horses which didn't come up to expectations were as normal as rain on Sundays.

'And what about Bethesda, the year before?' She glared at me vehemently. 'Top two-year-old filly. Favourite for months for the One Thousand and the Oaks. Terrific. She went down to the start of the One Thousand looking a million dollars, and she finished tenth. Tenth, I ask you!'

'George must have had them all checked,' I said mildly.

'Of course he did. Damn vets crawling all round the place for weeks on end. Dope tests. Everything. All negative. Three brilliant horses all gone useless. And no damned explanation. Nothing!'

I sighed slightly. It sounded to me more like the story of most trainers' lives, not a matter for melodramatic visits in false wigs.

'And now,' she said, casually dropping the bomb, 'there is Tri-Nitro.'

I let out an involuntarily audible breath, halfway to a grunt. Tri-Nitro filled columns just then on every racing page, hailed as the best colt for a decade. His two-year-old career the previous autumn had eclipsed all competitors, and his supremacy in the approaching summer was mostly taken for granted. I had seen him win the Middle Park at Newmarket in September at a record-breaking pace, and had a vivid memory of the slashing stride that covered the turf at almost incredible speed.

'The Guineas is only a fortnight away,' Rosemary said. 'Two weeks today, in fact. Suppose something happens… suppose it's just as bad… what if he fails, like the others…?'

She was trembling again, but when I opened my mouth to speak she rushed on at a higher pitch. 'Tonight was the only chance… the only night I could come here… and George would be livid. He says nothing can happen to the horse, no one can get at him, the security's too good. But he's scared, I know he is. Strung up. Screwed up tight. I suggested he called you in to guard the horse and he nearly went berserk. I don't know why. I've never seen him in such a fury.'

'Rosemary,' I began, shaking my head.

'Listen,' she interrupted. 'I want you to make sure nothing happens to Tri-Nitro before the Guineas. That's all.'


'It's no good wishing afterwards… if somebody tries something… that I'd asked you. I couldn't stand that. So I had to come. I had to. So say you'll do it. Say how much you want, and I'll pay it.'

'It's not money,' I said. 'Look… there's no way I can guard Tri-Nitro without George knowing and approving. It's impossible.'

'You can do it. I'm sure you can. You've done things before that people said couldn't be done. I had to come. I can't face it… George can't face it… not three years in a row. Tri-Nitro has got to win. You've got to make sure nothing happens. You've got to.'

She was suddenly shaking worse then ever and looked well down the road to hysteria. More to calm her than

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