“Dunno,” he said, intrigued. “I’ll find out.”

Luca and I started to pack up our equipment as Betsy paid out the occasional winning ticket. Most of the racegoers were streaming for the exits to try to beat the traffic jams, and, no doubt, there would be more winning tickets from the last race handed in the following day.

We kept a record on our computer of all the bets taken, both winning and losing, and it never ceased to amaze me how many of the winning tickets were never cashed. Presumably some were lost, and perhaps some inebriated punters didn’t realize they were winners, but almost every day there were two or three winning bets that were never claimed. “Sleepers,” they were called, and they were like a cash bonus for us. But it was one we could never completely rely on. Our tickets didn’t have an expiry date on them, and, only the day before, I’d had to cash a sleeper from the Royal Ascot Meeting of the previous year. Maybe it had been hiding for twelve months in the deep recesses of someone’s morning-coat pocket, or tucked into the hatband of a topper, waiting quietly to be discovered and paid out.

The crowd had mostly dispersed to the parking lots by the time Luca, Betsy and I had packed up the majority of our gear and loaded it onto our little wheeled trolley that ingeniously doubled up as a base for our computer during the racing. The betting ring was deserted save for the other bookmakers, who, like us, were packing up amongst the detritus of a day’s gambling: discarded newspapers, torn-up betting slips, crumpled coffee cups and half-eaten sandwiches.

“Do you fancy a beer?” Luca asked as I pulled one of the elastic straps over our equipment.

“I’d love one,” I said, looking up at him. “But I can’t. I have to go and see Sophie.”

He nodded at me knowingly. “Some other time, then. Betsy and I are going to go and have one, if that’s all right with you. We’re taking the train into town later to go to the party in the park.”

“Right,” I said. “You go on. I’ll pack up the rest of the stuff.”

“Can you manage?” he asked.

He knew I could. I did it all the time. But this little exchange was his way of not taking it completely for granted.

I smiled at him. “No problem,” I said, waving a dismissing hand at them. “Go on. I’ll see you both in the morning. Usual time.”

“OK,” said Luca. “Thanks.”

Luca and Betsy went off together, leaving me standing alone next to the tarpaulin-covered equipment trolley. I watched them go, Betsy hand in hand with her young man. At one point they stopped and embraced before disappearing out of my sight into the grandstand. Just another happy couple on their way, I assumed, to the bandstand bar, where there was usually an impromptu drinking party after each day’s racing.

I sighed.

I supposed I must have been that happy once. But it had been a long time ago. What, I wondered, had happened to all the happy times? Had they deserted me for ever?

I wiped my brow with the sleeve of my jacket and thought about how I would absolutely adore a nice cooling beer. I wanted to change my mind and go to find the other two, but I knew that it would end up being more trouble than it was worth. It always was.

I sighed again and stacked the last few of our equipment boxes onto the trolley, then fixed the rest of the elastic cords across the green tarpaulin. I took hold of the handle and released the brakes from the wheels. As I had told Luca, I could just about manage it alone, although it was always easier with two, especially up the concrete slope towards the tunnel through the grandstand. I tugged hard on the handle.

“Do you want a hand with that?” a voice shouted from behind me.

I stopped pulling and turned around. It was the man in the cream linen suit. He was about fifteen yards away, leaning up against the metal fence between the betting ring and the Royal Enclosure. I hadn’t noticed him as we’d packed up, and I wondered how long he’d been there watching me.

“Who’s offering?” I called back to him.

“I knew your grandfather,” he said again while walking over to me.

“You said,” I replied.

But lots of people knew my grandfather, and nearly all of them hadn’t liked him. He had been a typically belligerent bookie who had treated both his customers and his fellow bookmakers with almost the same degree of contempt that they clearly held for him. He had been what many might have called a “character” on the racetrack, standing out in all weathers at an age when most men would be content to put their feet up in retirement. Yes, indeed, lots of people had known my grandfather, but he’d had precious few friends, if any.

“When did he die?” asked the man, taking hold of one side of the handle.

We pulled the trolley together in silence up the slope to the grandstand and stopped on the flat of the concourse. I turned and looked at my helper. His gray hair was accentuated by the deeply tanned skin of his face. I reckoned it wasn’t an English-summer tan.

“Seven years ago,” I said.

“What did he die from?” he asked. I could detect a slight accent in his voice, but I couldn’t quite place it.

“Nothing, really,” I said. “Just old age.”And bloody-mindedness, I thought. It was as if he had decided that he’d had his allocated stretch in this world and it was time to go to the next. He had returned from Cheltenham races and had seemingly switched off inside on the Friday, and then he had expired on the Sunday evening. The post- mortem pathologist couldn’t say why he had died. All his bits had apparently been working quite well and his brain had been sharp. I was sure he had simply willed himself to death.

“But he wasn’t very old,” said the man.

“Seventy-eight,” I said. “And two days.”

“That’s not old,” said the man, “not these days.”

“It was old enough for him,” I said.

The man looked at me quizzically.

“My grandfather decided that his time was up, so he lay down and died.”

“You’re kidding?” he said.

“Nope,” I said. “Absolutely serious.”

“Silly old bugger,” he said, almost under his breath.

“Exactly how well did you know my grandfather?” I asked him.

“I’m his son,” he said.

I stared at him with an open mouth.

“So you must be my uncle,” I said.

“No,” he said, staring back. “I’m your father.”


But you can’t be my father” I said, nonplussed.

“I can,” he said with certainty, “and I am.”

“My father’s dead,” I said.

“How do you know?” he asked. “Did you see him die?”

“No,” I said. “I just… know. My parents died in a car crash.”

“Is that what your grandfather told you?”

My legs felt detached from my body. I was thirty-seven years old, and I had believed for as long as I could remember that I was fatherless. And motherless too. An orphan. I had been raised by my grandparents, who had told me that both my parents had died when I was a baby. Why would they lie?

“But I’ve seen a photo,” I said.

“Of what?” he asked.

“Of my parents,” I said.

“So you recognize me, then?”

“No,” I said. But the photo was very small and at least thirty-seven years old, so would I actually recognize him

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