Dick Francis

Hot Money


I intensely disliked my father's fifth wife, but not to the point of murder.

I, the fruit of his second ill-considered gallop up the aisle, had gone dutifully to the next two of his subsequent nuptials, the changes of 'mother' punctuating my life at six and fourteen.

At thirty, however, I'd revolted: wild horses couldn't have dragged me to witness his wedding to the sharp- eyed honey-tongued Moira, his fifth choice. Moira had been the subject of the bitterest quarrel my father and I ever had and the direct cause of a non- speaking wilderness which had lasted three years.

After Moira was murdered, the police came bristling with suspicion to my door, and it was by the merest fluke that I could prove I'd been geographically elsewhere when her grasping little soul had left her carefully tended body. I didn't go to her funeral, but I wasn't alone in that. My father didn't go either. A month after her death he telephoned me, and it was so long since I'd heard his voice that it seemed that of a stranger.


'Yes,' I said.


'Hello,' I said.

'Are you doing anything?'

'Reading the price of gold.'

'No, dammit,' he said testily. 'in general, are you busy?'

'In general,' I said, 'fairly.'

The newspaper lay on my lap, an empty wine glass at my elbow. It was late evening, after eleven, growing cold. I had that day quit my job and put on idleness like a comfortable coat.

He sighed down the line.

'I suppose you know about Moira.'

'Front page news,' I agreed. 'The price of gold is on… er… page thirty-two.'

'If you want me to apologise,' he said, 'I'm not going to.'

His image stood sharp and clear in my mind: a stocky, grey-haired man with bright blue eyes and a fizzing vitality that flowed from him in sparks of static electricity in cold weather. He was to my mind stubborn, opinionated, rash and often stupid. He was also financially canny, intuitive, quick-brained and courageous, and hadn't been nicknamed Midas for nothing.

'Are you still there?' he demanded.


'Well… I need your help.'

He said it as if it were an everyday requirement, but I couldn't remember his asking anyone for help ever before, certainly not me.

'Er…' I said uncertainly. 'What sort of help?'

'I'll tell you when you get here.'

'Where is here'?'

' Newmarket,' he said. 'Come to the sales tomorrow afternoon.'

There was a note in his voice which couldn't be called entreaty, but was far from a direct orderand I was accustomed only to orders.

'All right,' I said slowly.


He disconnected immediately, letting me ask no questions: and I thought of the last time I'd seen him, when I'd tried to dissuade him from marrying Moira, describing her progressively, in face of his implacable purpose, as a bad misjudgement on his part and as a skilful, untruthful manipulator and, finally, as a rapacious blood- sucking tramp. He'd knocked me down to the floor with one fast, dreadful blow, which he'd been quite capable of at sixty- five, three years ago. Striding furiously away, he'd left me lying dazed on my carpet and had afterwards behaved as if I no longer existed, packing into boxes everything I'd left in my old room in his house and sending them by public carrier to my flat.

Time had proved me right about Moira, but the unforgivable words had remained unforgiven to her death and, it had seemed, beyond. On this October evening, though, perhaps they were provisionally on ice.

I, Ian Pembroke, the fifth of my father's nine children, had from the mists of infancy loved him blindly through thunderous years of domestic in-fighting which had left me permanently impervious to fortissimo voices and slammed doors. In a totally confused chaotic upbringing, I'd spent scattered unhappy periods with my bitter mother but had mostly been passed from wife to wife in my father's house as part of the furniture and fittings, treated by him throughout with the same random but genuine affection he gave to his dogs. Only with the advent of Coochie, his fourth wife, had there been peace, but by the time she took over I was fourteen and world- weary, cynically expecting a resumption of hostilities within a year of the honeymoon.

Coochie, however, had been different. Coochie of all of them had been my only real mother, the only one who'd given me a sense of worth and identity, who'd listened and encouraged and offered good advice. Coochie produced twin boys, my half-brothers Robin and Peterand it had seemed that at last Malcolm Pembroke had achieved a friendly family unit, albeit a sort of sunny clearing surrounded by jungle thickets of ex-wives and discontented siblings.

I grew up and left home but went back often, feeling never excluded. Coochie would have seen Malcolm into a happy old age but, when she was forty and the twins eleven, a hit-and-run driver swerved her car off the road and downhill onto rocks. Coochie and Peter had been killed outright. Robin, the elder twin, suffered brain damage. I had been away. Malcolm was in his office: a policeman went to him to tell him, and he let me know soon after. I'd learned the meaning of grief on that drizzly afternoon, and still mourned them all, their loss irreparable.

On the October evening of Malcolm's telephone call, I glanced at them as usual as I went to bed, their three bright faces grinning out from a silver frame on my chest of drawers. Robin lived – just – in serene twilight in a nursing home. I went to see him now and again. He no longer looked like the boy in the photograph, but was five years older, growing tall, empty-eyed.

I wondered what Malcolm could possibly want. He was rich enough to buy anything he needed, maybe – only maybe – excluding the whole of Fort Knox. I couldn't think of anything I could do for him that he couldn't get from anyone else.

Newmarket, I thought. The sales.

Newmarket was all very well for me because I'd been working as an assistant to a racehorse trainer. But Newmarket for Malcolm? Malcolm never gambled on horses, only on gold. Malcolm had made several immense consecutive fortunes from buying and selling the hard yellow stuff, and had years ago reacted to my stated choice of occupation by saying merely, 'Horses? Racing? Good Lord! Well, if that's what you want, my boy, off you go. But don't expect me to know the first thing about anything.' And as far as I knew, he was still as ignorant of the subject as he'd been all along.

Malcolm and Newmarket blood stock sales simply didn't mix. Not the Malcolm I'd known, anyway.

I drove the next day to the isolated Suffolk town whose major industry was the sport of kings, and among the scattered purposeful crowd found my father standing bareheaded in the area outside the sale-ring building, eyes intently focused on a catalogue.

He looked just the same. Brushed grey hair, smooth brown vicuna knee-length overcoat, charcoal business suit, silk tie, polished black shoes; confidently bringing his City presence into the casual sophistication of the country.

It was a golden day, crisp and clear, the sky a cold cloudless blue. I walked across to him in my own brand of

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