out to be thoroughly sensible, the intemperate enthusiasms needing instant gratification… and sometimes, afterwards, the abandoning of a debacle as if it didn't exist. The Coochie Pembroke Memorial Challenge Trophy might achieve world-wide stature in competition or tarnish un-presented in an attic: with Malcolm it was always a toss-up.

I called him Malcolm, as all his children did, on his own instructions, and had grown up thinking it natural. Other boys might have Dad: I had my father, Malcolm.

Outside Ebury's room, he said, 'What's the procedure, then? How do we set about it?'

'Er…' I said. 'This is the first day of the Highflyer Sales.'

'Well?' he demanded as I paused. 'Go on.'

'I just thought you ought to know… the minimum opening bid today is twenty thousand guineas.'

It rocked him only slightly. 'Opening bid? What do they sell them for?'

'Anything from a hundred thousand up. You'll be lucky today to get a top-class yearling for under a quarter of a million. This is generally the most expensive day of the year.'

He wasn't noticeably deterred. He smiled. 'Come on, then,' he said. 'Let's go and start bidding.'

'You need to look up the breeding first,' I said. 'And then look at the animals, to see if you like them, and then get the help and advice of an agent.'

'Ian,' he said with mock sorrow, 'I don't know anything about the breeding, I can just about tell if a thing's got four legs, and I don't trust agents. So let's get on and bid.'

It sounded crazy to me, but it was his money. We went into the sale-ring itself where the auction was already in progress, and Malcolm asked me where the richest bidders could be found, the ones that really meant business.

'in those banks of seats on the left of the auctioneers, or here, in the entrance, or just round there to the left…'

He looked and listened and then led the way up to a section of seats from where we could watch the places I'd pointed out. The amphitheatre was already more than three-quarters full, and would later at times be crammed, especially whenever a tip-top lot came next.

'The very highest prices will probably be bid this evening,' I said, half teasing him, but all he said was, 'Perhaps we should wait, then.'

'If you buy ten yearlings,' I said, 'six might get to a racecourse, three might win a race and one might be pretty good. if you're lucky.'

'Cautious Ian.'

'You,' I said, 'are cautious with gold.'

He looked at me with half-shut eyes.

'Not many people say that.'

'You're fast and flamboyant,' I said, 'but you sit and wait for the moment.'

He merely grunted and began paying attention to the matter in hand, intently focusing not on the merchandise but on the bidders on the far side of the ring. The auctioneers in the box to our left were relaxed and polished, the one currently at the microphone elaborately unimpressed by the fortunes passing.

'Fifty thousand, thank you, sir; sixty thousand, seventy… eighty? Shall I say eighty? Eighty, thank you, sir. Against you, sir. Ninety? Ninety. One hundred thousand. Selling now. I'm selling now. Against you, sir? No? All done? All done?' A pause for a sweep round to make sure no new bidder was frantically waving. 'Done, then. Sold to Mr Siddons. One hundred thousand guineas. The next lot…'

'Selling now,' Malcolm said. 'I suppose that means there was a reserve on it?'

I nodded.

'So until the fellow says selling now', it's safe to bid, knowing you won't have to buy?'

'Yours might be the bid that reaches the reserve.'

He nodded. 'Russian roulette.'

We watched the sales for the rest of the afternoon, but he aimed no bullets at his own head. He asked who people were.

'Who is that Mr Siddons) That's the fourth horse he's bought.'

'He works for a blood stock agency. He's buying for other people.'

'And that man in navy, scowling. Who's he?'

'Max Jones. He owns a lot of horses.'

'Every time that old woman bids, he bids against her.'

'It's a well-known feud.'

He sniffed. 'It must cost them fortunes.' He looked around the amphitheatre at the constantly changing audience of breeders, trainers, owners and the simply interested. 'Whose judgement would you trust most?'

I mentioned several trainers and the agents who might be acting on their behalf, and he told me to tell him when someone with good judgement was bidding, and to point them out. I did so many times, and he listened and passed no comment.

After a while, we went out for a break, an Ebury scotch, a sandwich and fresh air.

'I suppose you know,' Malcolm said casually, watching yearlings skittering past in the grasp of their handlers, 'that Moira and I were divorcing?'

'Yes, I heard.'

'And that she was demanding the house and half my possessions?'


'And half my future earnings?'

'Could she?'

'She was going to fight for it.'

I refrained from saying that whoever had murdered Moira had done Malcolm a big favour, but I'd thought it several times. I said instead, 'Still no clues?'

'No, nothing new.'

He spoke without regret. His disenchantment with Moira, according to his acid second wife, my own mother Joyce, had begun as soon as he'd stopped missing Coochie; and as Joyce was as percipient as she was catty, I believed it.

'The police tried damned hard to prove I did it,' Malcolm said.

'Yes, so I heard.'

'Who from? Who's your grapevine?'

'All of them,' I said.

'The three witches?'

I couldn't help smiling. He meant his three living ex-wives, Vivien, Joyce and Alicia.

'Yes, them. And all of the family.'

He shrugged.

'They were all worried that you might have,' I said.

'And were you worried?' he asked.

'I was glad you weren't arrested.'

He grunted noncommittally. 'I suppose you do know that most of your brothers and sisters, not to mention the witches, told the police you hated Moira?'

'They told me they'd told,' I agreed. 'But then, I did.' ' Lot of stinkers I've fathered,' he said gloomily.

Malcolm's personal alibi for Moira's death had been as unassailable as my own, as he'd been in Paris for the day when someone had pushed Moira's retrousse little nose into a bag of potting compost and held it there until it was certain she would take no more geranium cuttings. I could have wished her a better death, but it had been quick, everyone said. The police still clung to the belief that Malcolm had arranged for an assassin, but even Joyce knew that that was nonsense. Malcolm was a creature of tempest and volatility, but he'd never been calculatingly cruel.

His lack of interest in the horses themselves didn't extend to anything else at the sales: inside the sale-ring he had been particularly attentive to the flickering electronic board which lit up with the amount as each bid was made, and lit up not only in English currency but in dollars, yen, francs, lire and Irish punts at the current exchange rates. He'd always been fascinated by the workings of money, and had once far more than doubled a million

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