working clothes: cavalry twill trousers, checked wool shirt, padded olive-green jacket, tweed cap. A surface contrast that went personality deep.

'Good afternoon,' I said neutrally.

He raised his eyes and gave me a stare as blue as the sky.

'So you came.'

'Well… yes.'

He nodded vaguely, looking me over.

'You look older,' he said.

'Three years.'

'Three years and a crooked nose.' He observed it dispassionately. 'I suppose you broke that falling off a horse?'

'No… You broke it.'

'Did I?' He seemed only mildly surprised. 'You deserved it.'

I didn't answer.

He shrugged.

'Do you want some coffee?'


We hadn't touched each other, I thought. Not a hug, not a handshake, not a passing pat on the arm. Three years' silence couldn't easily be bridged.

He set off not in the direction of the regular refreshment room, but towards one of the private rooms set aside for the privileged. I followed in his footsteps, remembering wryly that it took him roughly two minutes any time to talk himself into the plushest recesses, wherever.

The Newmarket sales building was in the form of an amphitheatre, sloping banks of seats rising all round from the ground-level ring where each horse was led round while being auctioned. Underneath the seating and in a large adjacent building were rooms used as offices by auctioneers and blood stock agents, and as entertainment rooms by commercial firms, such as Ebury jewellers, Malcolm's present willing hosts.

I was used only to the basic concrete boxes of the blood stock agents' offices. Ebury's space was decorated in contrast as an expensive showroom, with well-lit glass display cases round three walls shining with silver and sparkling with baubles, everything locked away safely but temptingly visible. Down the centre of the room, on brown wall-to-wall carpeting, stood a long polished table surrounded with armed, leather-covered dining chairs. Before each chair was neatly laid a leather-edged blotter alongside a gold- tooled tub containing pens, suggesting that all any client needed to provide here was his cheque-book.

A smooth young gentleman welcomed Malcolm with enthusiastic tact and offered drinks and goodies from the well-stocked buffet table which filled most of the fourth wall. Lunch, it seemed, was an all- day affair. Malcolm and I took cups of coffee and sat at the table, I, at any rate, feeling awkward. Malcolm fiddled with his spoon. A large loud lady came in and began talking to the smooth young man about having one of her dogs modelled in silver. Malcolm raised his eyes to them briefly and then looked down again at his cup.

'What sort of help?' I said.

I suppose I expected him to say he wanted help in some way with horses, in view of the venue he'd chosen, but it seemed to be nothing as straightforward.

'I want you beside me,' he said.

I frowned, puzzled.

'How do you mean?'

'Beside me,' he said. 'All the time.'

'I don't understand.'

'I don't suppose you do,' he said. He looked up at my face. 'I'm going to travel a bit. I want you with me.'

I made no fast reply and he said abruptly, explosively, 'Dammit, Ian, I'm not asking the world. A bit of your time, a bit of your attention, that's all.'

'Why now, and why me?'

'You're my son.' He stopped fiddling with the spoon and dropped it onto the blotter where it left a round stain. He leaned back in his chair. 'I trust you.' He paused. 'I need someone I can trust.'


He didn't tell me why. He said, 'Can't you get some time off from work? Have a holiday?'

I thought of the trainer I'd just left, whose daughter had made my job untenable because she wanted it for her fiance. There was no immediate need for me to find another place, save for paying the rent. At thirty-three, I'd worked for three different trainers, and had lately come to feel I was growing too old to carry on as anyone's assistant. The natural progression was towards becoming a trainer myself, a dicey course without money.

'What are you thinking?' Malcolm asked.

'Roughly whether you would lend me half a million quid.'

'No,' he said.

I smiled. 'That's what I thought.'

'I'll pay your fares and your hotel bills.'

Across the room the loud lady was giving the smooth young man her address. A waitress had arrived and was busy unpacking fresh sandwiches and more alcohol onto the white-clothed table. I watched her idly for a few seconds, then looked back to Malcolm's face, and surprised there an expression that could only be interpreted as anxiety.

I was unexpectedly moved. I'd never wanted to quarrel with him: I'd wanted him to see Moira as I did, as a calculating, sweet-talking honey pot who was after his money, and who had used the devastation of Coochie's death to insinuate herself with him, turning up constantly with sympathy and offers to cook. Malcolm, deep in grief, had been helpless and grateful and seemed hardly to notice when she began threading her arm through his in company, and saying 'we'. I had for the whole three silent years wanted peace with my father, but I couldn't bear to go to his house and see Moira smirking in Coochie's place, even if he would have let me in through the door.

Now that Moira was dead, peace was maybe possible, and it seemed now as though he really wanted it also. I thought fleetingly that peace wasn't his prime object, that peace was only a preliminary necessary for some other purpose, but all the same it was enough.

'Yes,' I said, 'all right. I can take time off.'

His relief was visible. 'Good! Good! Come along then, I may as well buy a horse.' He stood up, full of sudden energy, waving his catalogue. 'Which do you suggest?'

'Why on earth do you want a horse?' 'To race, of course.'

'But you've never been interested…'

'Everyone should have a hobby,' he said briskly, though he'd never had one in his life. 'Mine is racing.' And, as an afterthought, he added, 'Henceforth,' and began to walk to the door.

The smooth young man detached himself from the dog lady and begged Malcolm to come back any time. Malcolm assured him he would, then wheeled round away from him again and marched across to one of the display cabinets.

'While I was waiting for you, I bought a cup,' he said to me over his shoulder. 'Want to see? One rather like that.' He pointed. 'It's being engraved.'

The cup in question was a highly-decorated and graceful elongated jug, eighteen inches tall and made undoubtedly of sterling silver.

'What's it for?' I asked.

'I don't know yet. Haven't made up my mind.'

'But… the engraving?'

'Mm. The Coochie Pembroke Memorial Challenge Trophy. Rather good, don't you think?'

'Yes,' I said.

He gave me a sidelong glance. 'I thought you'd think so.' He retraced his steps to the door. 'Right, then, a horse.'

Just like old times, I thought with half-forgotten pleasure. The sudden impulses which might or might not turn

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