natural to me as to Peter that he should tell me his troubles.

He was middling tall and thin and had recently grown a lengthy moustache which had not given him the overpoweringly macho appearance he might have been aiming for. He still looked an ordinary inoffensive competent guy who went around selling his computer know-how to small businesses on weekdays and tinkered with his boat on Sundays.

He dabbed his eyes again and for several minutes took slow deep calming breaths.

'I got into something which I wish I hadn't,' he said.

'What sort of thing?'

'It started more or less as a joke.' He finished the last inch of drink and I stretched across and poured him a refill. 'There was this fellow. Our age, about. He'd come up from Newmarket, and we got talking in that pub you bought the whisky from. He said it would be great if you could get racing results from a computer. And we both laughed.'

There was a silence.

'Did he know you worked with computers?' I said.

'I'd told him. You know how one does.'

'So what happened next?'

'A week later I got a letter. From this fellow. Don't know how he got my address. From the pub, I suppose. The barman knows where I live.' He took a gulp from his drink and was quiet for a while, and then went on, 'The letter asked if I would like to help someone who was working out a computer program for handicapping horses. So I thought, why not? All handicaps for horse races are sorted out on computers, and the letter sounded quite official.'

'But it wasn't?'

He shook his head. 'A spot of private enterprise. But I still thought, why not? Anyone is entitled to work out his own program. There isn't such thing as right in handicapping unless the horses pass the post in the exact order that the computer weighted them, which they never do.'

'You know a lot about it,' I said.

'I've learnt, these past few weeks.' The thought brought no cheer. 'I didn't even notice I was neglecting Donna, but she says I've hardly spoken to her for ages.' His throat closed and he swallowed audibly. 'Perhaps if I hadn't been so occupied…'

'Stop feeling guilty,' I said. 'Go on about the handicapping.'

After a while he was able to.

'He gave me pages and pages of stuff. Dozens of them. All handwritten in diabolical handwriting. He wanted it organised into programs that any fool could run on a computer.' He paused. 'You do know about computers.'

'More about microchips than programming, which isn't saying much.'

'The other way round from most people, though.'

'I guess so,' I said.

'Anyway, I did them. Quite a lot of them. It turned out they were all much the same sort of thing. They weren't really very difficult, once I'd got the hang of what the notes all meant. It was understanding those which was the worst. So, anyway, I did the programs and got paid in cash.' He stopped and moved restlessly in his seat, glum and frowning.

'So what is wrong?' I asked.

'Well, I said it would be best if I ran the programs a few times on the computer he was going to use, because so many computers are different from each other, and although he'd told me the make of computer he'd be using and I'd made allowances, you never can really tell you've got no bugs until you actually try things out on the actual type of machine. But he wouldn't let me. I said he wasn't being reasonable and he told me to mind my own business. So I just shrugged him off and thought if he wanted to be so stupid it was his own affair. And then these other two men turned up.'

'What other two men?'

'I don't know. They just sneered when I asked their names. They told me to hand over to them the programs I'd made on the horses. I said I had done. They said they were nothing to do with the person who'd paid for the job, but all the same I was to give them the programs.'

'And did you?'

'Well, yes – in a way.'

'But, Peter-' I said.

He interrupted, 'Yes, I know, but they were so bloody frightening. They came the day before yesterday – it seems years ago – in the evening. Donna had gone out for a walk. It was still light. About eight o'clock, I should think. She often goes for walks…'He trailed off again and I gave his glass a nudge with the bottle. 'What?' he said. 'Oh no, no more, thanks. Anyway, they came, and they were so arrogant, and they said I'd regret it if I didn't give them the programs. They said Donna was a pretty little missis, wasn't she, and they were sure I'd like her to stay that way.' He swallowed. 'I'd never have believed… I mean, that sort of thing doesn't happen…'

It appeared, however, that it had.

'Well,' he said, rallying, 'what I gave them was all that I had in the house, but it was really only first drafts, so to speak. Pretty rough. I'd written three or four trial programs out in long-hand, like I often do. I know a lot of people work on typewriters or even straight onto a computer, but I get on better with pencil and rubber, so what I gave them looked all right, especially if you didn't know the first thing about programming, which I should think they didn't, but not much of it would run as it stood. And I hadn't put the file names on anyway, or any REMS or anything, so even if they de-bugged the programs they wouldn't know what they referred to.'

Disentangling the facts from the jargon, it appeared that what he had done had been to deliver to possibly dangerous men a load of garbage, knowing full well what he was doing.

'I see,' I said slowly, 'what you meant by a mess.'

'I'd decided to take Donna away for a few days, just to be safe. I was going to tell her as a nice surprise when I got home from work yesterday, and then the police turned up in my office, and said she'd taken… taken… Oh Christ, how could she?'

I screwed the cap onto the bottle and I looked at my watch. 'It's getting on for midnight,' I said. 'We'd better go back.'

'I suppose so.'

I paused with my hand on the ignition key. 'Didn't you tell the police about your two unpleasant visitors?' I said.

'No, I didn't. I mean, how could I? They've been in and out of the house, and a policewoman too, but it was all about Donna. They wouldn't have listened, and anyway…'

'Anyway what?'

He shrugged uncomfortably. 'I got paid in cash. Quite a lot. I'm not going to declare it for tax. If I told the police… well, I'd more or less have to.'

'It might be better,' I said.

He shook his head. 'It would cost me a lot to tell the police, and what would I gain? They'd make a note of what I said and wait until Donna got bashed in the face before they did anything. I mean, they can't go around guarding everyone who's been vaguely threatened night and day, can they? And as for guarding Donna- well, they weren't very nice to her, you know. Really rotten, most of them were. They made cups of tea for each other and spoke over her head as if she was a lump of wood. You'd think she'd poked the baby's eyes out, the way they treated her.'

It didn't seem unreasonable to me that official sympathy had been mostly on the side of the baby's frantic mother, but I didn't say so.

'Perhaps it would be best, then,' I said, 'if you did take Donna away for a bit, straight after the hearing. Can you get leave?'

He nodded.

'But what she really needs is proper psychiatric care. Even a spell in a mental hospital.'

'No,' he said.

'They have a high success rate with mental illness nowadays. Modern drugs, and hormones, and all that.'

'But she's not-' He stopped.

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