‘See what I mean?’ He tapped me on the chest. ‘Who’s Sid Halley screwing now? The best-kept secret in racing.’

He went off in search of easier prey. He was a big man who was used to throwing his considerable weight around. A bully who took pleasure from making people cry. I watched him go and wondered how he got to sleep at night.

But he had been accurate in one respect. Who Sid Halley was presently ‘screwing’ was indeed one of the facts I tried to keep from the racecourse. The racecourse was my place of work, my office. Apart from keeping my work and my pleasure separate, I knew from experience that I was vulnerable to threats being made against those I loved. Much safer for me, and for them, if their existence was unknown to my quarry.


I made my way up to the private boxes in the grandstand. It was not as easy as it used to be as so-called security seems to get stiffer each year. The friendly gatemen, like Tom down by the car park entrance who knew every trainer and jockey by sight and many of the owners too, were a dying breed. The new generation of youngsters, bussed in from the big cities, have no knowledge of racing. My face, once the ticket to every part of any racecourse, was now just another in the crowd.

‘Do you have a badge for a box?’ asked a tall young man with spiky hair. He wore a dark blazer with ‘Event Security’ embroidered on the breast pocket.

‘No, but I’m Sid Halley and I’m going for a drink with Lord Enstone.’

‘Sorry, sir.’ He didn’t sound sorry. ‘Only those with passes can go up in this lift.’

I felt foolish as I flashed my out-of-date jockey’s badge his way.

‘Sorry, sir,’ he sounded even less sorry and more determined. ‘That doesn’t get you through here.’

I was reprieved at that moment by the managing director of the racecourse, who I assumed was hurrying as usual from one minor crisis to another.

‘Sid,’ he said with genuine warmth, ‘how are you?’

‘Fine, Edward,’ I replied, shaking his hand. ‘But having a little difficulty getting up to Lord Enstone’s box.’

‘Nonsense,’ he said, winking at the young man. ‘Be a sad day for all of us when Sid Halley can’t get everywhere on this racecourse.’

He put his arm round my shoulder and guided me into the lift.

‘How’s the investigation business?’ he asked as we rose to the fifth floor.

‘Busy,’ I said. ‘These days I seem to be working more and more away from the racecourse, but not this week, obviously.’

‘Done a lot of good for racing, you have. If you need any help, just ask. I’ll send you a pass that’ll get you everywhere on this racecourse, even into my office.’

‘How about the jockeys’ changing room?’

‘Ah.’ He knew as well as I did that the jockeys’ changing room was off limits to everyone except the jockeys riding that day and their valets, the men who prepared their equipment and clothes. Even Edward wasn’t technically allowed in there on race days.

‘Almost everywhere,’ he laughed.


The doors opened and he rushed off.

Lord Enstone’s box was bursting at the seams. Surely all these people don’t have badges for this box, I thought, as I forced my way in. They could obviously talk their way past the spiky-haired young man better than I.

Those lucky few with boxes at Cheltenham on Gold Cup day invariably found that they had all sorts of dear friends who wanted to come and visit. That these ‘dear friends’ turned up only once a year didn’t seem to embarrass them at all.

A waitress offered me a glass of champagne. As a general rule, I held drinks in my real right hand but it made shaking hands so complicated, and I felt that I should use my left more to justify the large amount of money I had spent to acquire it. So I very carefully sent the correct impulses and the thumb of my left hand closed just enough around the stem of the glass. I had often shattered even the best crystal by not knowing how hard to grip with my unfeeling digits to prevent a glass from falling out. It could be humiliating.

Charles had spotted me across the throng and made his way to my side.

‘Got a drink, good,’ he said. ‘Come and see Jonny.’

We squeezed our way out on to the balcony that ran the length of the grandstand in front of the glass-fronted boxes. The view from here across the racecourse and beyond to the hills was magnificent, even on a dull day.

Three men were standing close together at the far end of the balcony, their heads bowed as they talked. One of them was Jonny. Jonny was our host, Lord Enstone. Another was Jonny’s son, Peter. The third I knew only by reputation. I had never actually met George Lochs. He was in his thirties and already a big player in the internet gambling business. His company, make-a-wager.com, while not being the market leader, was expanding rapidly and, with it, so was young George’s fortune.

I had once been commissioned by the Jockey Club to do a background check on him, a routine procedure for those applying for bookmaking licences. He was the second son of a bookie’s runner from north London. He’d won a free scholarship to Harrow where, apparently, the other boys had laughed at his funny accent and the way he held his knife. But the young George had learned fast, conformed and flourished. Except that he hadn’t been called George then. He had been born Clarence Lochstein, named by his mother after the Duke of Clarence. Not Albert, Duke of Clarence, elder son of Edward VII, who supposedly died of pneumonia in 1892 although the rumours persist that he was poisoned to prevent his being arrested for being Jack the Ripper. Nor even after George, Duke of Clarence, the brother of Richard III, who was convicted of treason and drowned in a vat of malmsey wine at the Tower of London in 1478. Clarence Lochstein had been named by his mother after the Duke of Clarence pub at the end of her road in Islington.

There were rumours that Clarence/George had been asked to leave Harrow for taking bets on the horses from the other boys and, it was said, from some of the staff. However, he still won a place at the London School of Economics. Clarence Lochstein/George Lochs was a bright chap.

‘Can I introduce Sid Halley?’ said Charles, oblivious to the private nature of the men’s conversation.

George Lochs jumped. Whilst his reputation had reached me, mine had also clearly reached him.

It was a reaction I was quite used to. It’s a bit like when a police car stops behind you at traffic lights. A strange feeling of guilt inevitably comes over you even when you’ve done nothing wrong. Do they know that I was speeding five minutes ago? Are my tyres legal? Should I have had that second glass of wine? Only when the police car turns off or passes by does the heartbeat begin to return to normal, the palms of the hands stop sweating.

‘Sid. Good. Glad you could come.’ Lord Enstone smiled broadly. ‘Have you met George Lochs? George, Sid.’

We shook hands and looked into each other’s eyes. His palm was not noticeably damp and his face gave nothing away.

‘And you know my son, Peter,’ he said.

I had met him once or twice on racecourses. We nodded in recognition. Peter was an averagely competent amateur jockey in his early thirties who had for some years enjoyed limited success, mostly in races reserved for amateur riders.

‘Do you have a ride in the Foxhunters later?’ I asked him.

‘I wish,’ he said. ‘Couldn’t convince an owner to put me up.’

‘What about your father’s horses?’ I asked, giving his father a wink.

‘No bloody chance,’ said Peter with a half-hearted smile. ‘Mean old bastard won’t let me ride them.’

‘If the boy wants to break his neck riding in races, that’s his business, but I don’t want to aid and abet him,’ said Jonny, ruffling his son’s blond hair. ‘I’d never forgive myself.’

Peter pulled his head away from his father’s hand with irritation and stomped off through the doorway. It was

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