His amusement, however, disappeared abruptly when, as we left, I asked him to insure my life.

'I don't think I can,' he said, frowning.

'Because I would be… uninsurable?' I asked.

He didn't answer.

'I have signed a contract,' I pointed out.

'Do you think I did it with my eyes shut?'

'It was your idea.' He looked troubled.

'I won't hold you to it.'

'What really happened to the journalist?' I asked.

He shook his head and didn't meet my eyes.

'I don't know. It looked like an accident. It almost certainly was an accident. He went off the road at night on a bend on the Yorkshire moors. The car caught fire as it rolled down into the valley. He hadn't a hope. He was a nice chap…'

'It won't deter me if you have any reason for thinking it was not an accident,' I said seriously, 'but you must be frank. If it was not an accident, he must have made a lot of progress. he must have found out something pretty vital. it would be important to me to know where he had gone and what he had been doing during the days before he died. '

'Did you think about all this before you agreed to accept my proposition?'

'Yes, of course.'

He smiled as if a load had been lifted from him.

'By God, Mr. Roke, the more I see of you the more thankful I am I stopped for lunch in Perlooma and went to look for Arthur Simmons. Well… Tommy Stapleton the journalist was a good driver, but I suppose accidents can happen to anyone. It was a Sunday early in June. Monday, really. He died about two o'clock at night. A local man said the road was normal in appearance at one-thirty, and at two-thirty a couple going home from a party saw the broken railings on the bend and stopped to look.

The car was still smouldering: they could see the red glow of it in the valley, and they drove on into the nearest town to report it.

'The police think Stapleton went to sleep at the wheel. Easy enough to do. But they couldn't find out where he had been between leaving the house of some friends at five o'clock, and arriving on the Yorkshire moors. The journey would have taken him only about an hour, which left eight hours unaccounted for. No one ever came forward to say he'd spent the evening with them, though the story was in most of the papers. I believe it was suggested he could have been with another man's wife… someone who had a good reason for keeping quiet.

Anyway, the whole thing was treated as a straightforward accident.

'As to where he had been during the days before… we did find out, discreetly. He'd done nothing and been nowhere that he didn't normally do in the course of his job. He'd come up from the London offices of his newspaper on the Thursday, gone to Bogside races on the Friday and Saturday, stayed with friends near Hexham, Northumberland, over the weekend, and, as I said, left them at five on Sunday, to drive back to London. They said he had been his normal charming self the whole time.

'We that is, the other two Stewards and I asked the Yorkshire police to let us see anything they salvaged from the car, but there was nothing of any interest to us. His leather briefcase was found undamaged halfway down the hillside, near one of the rear doors which had been wrenched off during the somersaulting, but there was nothing in it besides the usual form books and racing papers. We looked carefully. He lived with his mother and sister he was unmarried and they let us search their house for anything he might have written down for us. There was nothing. We also contacted the sports editor of his paper and asked to see any possessions he had left in his office. There were only a few personal oddments and an envelope containing some press cuttings about doping. We kept that.

You can see them when you get to England. But I'm afraid they will be no use to you. They were very fragmentary. '

'I see,' I said. We walked along the street to where our two cars were parked, his hired blue Holden, and my white utility. Standing beside the two dusty vehicles I remarked, 'You want to believe it was an accident… I think you want to believe it very much.'

He nodded soberly.

'It is appallingly disturbing to think anything else. If it weren't for those eight missing hours one would have no doubt at all.'

I shrugged.

'He could have spent them in dozens of harmless ways. In a bar. Having dinner. In a cinema. Picking up a girl.'

'Yes, he could,' he said. But the doubt remained, both in his mind and mine.

He was to drive the hired Holden back to Sydney the following day and fly to England. He shook hands with me in the street and gave me his address in London, where I was to meet him again. With the door open and with one foot in the car he said, 'I suppose it would be part of your… er… procedure to appear as a slightly, shall we say, unreliable type of stable lad, so that the crooked element would take to you?'

'Definitely,' I grinned.

'Then, if I might suggest it, it would be a good idea for you to grow a couple of sideburns. It's surprising what a lot of distrust can be caused by an inch of extra hair in front of the ears!'

I laughed.

'A good idea.'

'And don't bring many clothes,' he added.

'I'll fix you up with British stuff suitable for your new character.'

'All right.'

He slid down behind the wheel.

'Au revoir, then, Mr. Roke.'

'Au revoir. Lord October,' I said.

After he had gone, and with his persuasive force at my elbow, what I was planning to do seemed less sensible than ever. But then I was tired to death of being sensible. I went on working from dawn to midnight to clear the decks, and found myself waking each morning with impatience to be on my way.

Two days before I was due to leave I flew down to Geelong to say goodbye to Philip and explain to his headmaster that I was going to Europe for a while; I didn't know exactly how long. I came back via Fren- sham to see my sisters, both of whom exclaimed at once over the dark patches of stubble which were already giving my face the required 'unreliable' appearance.

'For heaven's sake shave them off,' said Belinda.

'They're far too sexy. Most of the seniors are crazy about you already and if they see you like that you'll be mobbed.'

'That sounds delicious,' I said, grinning at them affectionately.

Helen, nearly sixteen, was fair and gentle and as graceful as the flowers she liked to draw. She was the most dependent of the three, and had suffered worst from not having a mother.

'Do you mean,' she said anxiously, 'that you will be away the whole summer? ' She looked as if Mount Kos- ciusko had crumbled.

'You'll be all right. You're nearly grown up now,' I teased her.

'But the holidays will be so dull.'

'Ask some friends to stay, then.'

'Oh!' Her face cleared.

'Can we? Yes. That would be fun.'

She kissed me more happily goodbye, and went back to her lessons.

My eldest sister and I understood each other very well, and to her alone, knowing I owed it to her, I told the real purpose of my 'holiday'. She was upset, which I had not expected.

'Dearest Clan,' she said, twining her arm in mine and sniffling to stop herself crying, 'I know that bringing us up has been a grind for you, and if for once you want to do something for your own sake, we ought to be glad, only please do be careful. We do… we do want you back.'

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