“You seem to have made a habit of deserting your children.”

“Yes,” he said wistfully. “It appears I have.”

“Why didn’t you leave me alone and go and find them?”

“But I know where they are,” he said. “They won’t see me, not the other way round. They blame me for their mother’s death.”

“Did she die in a car crash too?” I said with a touch of cruelty in my voice.

“No,” he said slowly. “Maureen killed herself.” He paused, and I sat still watching him. “I was made bankrupt, and she swallowed enough tablets to kill a horse. I came home from the court to find bailiffs sitting in the driveway and my wife lying dead in the house.”

His life was like a soap opera, I thought. Disaster and sorrow had been a constant companion.

“Why were you made bankrupt?” I asked.

“Gambling debts,” he said.

“Gambling debts!” I was astounded. “And you the son of a bookmaker.”

“It was being a bookie that got me into trouble,” he said. “Obviously, I hadn’t learned enough standing at my father’s side. I was a bad bookie.”

“I thought gambling debts couldn’t be enforced in a court.”

“Maybe not technically, but I had borrowed against everything and I couldn’t afford the repayments. Lost the lot. Every single thing, including the girls, who went off to live with their aunt. I never saw them again.”

“Are you still bankrupt?” I asked.

“Oh no,” he said. “That was years ago. I’ve been doing fine recently.”

“As what?” I said.

“Business,” he said unhelpfully. “My business.”

One of the bar staff in a white shirt and black trousers came over to us.

“Sorry, we’re closing,” he said. “Can you drink up, please?”

I looked at my watch. It was well past six o’clock already. I stood up and drank down the last of my beer.

“Can we go somewhere to continue talking?” my father asked.

I thought about Sophie. I had promised I would go and see her straight after the races.

“I have to go to my wife,” I said.

“Can’t she wait?” he implored. “Call her. Or I could come with you.”

“No,” I said rather too quickly.

“Why not?” he persisted. “She’s my daughter-in-law.”

“No,” I said decisively. “I need time to get used to this first.”

“OK,” he said. “But call her and say you’ve been held up and will be home later.”

I thought again about Sophie, my wife. She wasn’t at home. She would be sitting in front of the television in her room watching the news as she always did at six o’clock. I knew she would be there because she wasn’t allowed not to be.

Sophie’s room was locked, from the outside.

Sophie Talbot had been sectioned under the Mental Health Act of 1983 and detained for the past five months in secure accommodation. It wasn’t actually a prison; it was a hospital, a low-risk mental hospital, but it was a prison to her. And this wasn’t the first time. In all, my wife had spent more than half the previous ten years in one mental institution or another. And, in spite of their care and treatment, her condition had progressively deteriorated. What the future held was anyone’s guess.

“How about a pub somewhere?” my father said, interrupting my thoughts.

I needed to be at the hospital by nine at the latest. I looked at my watch.

“I have about an hour maximum,” I said. “Then I’ll have to go.”

“Fine,” he said.

“Do you have a car?” I asked him.

“No,” he said. “Came on the train from Waterloo.”

“Where are you staying?” I asked.

“Some seedy little hotel in Sussex Gardens,” he said.“Guesthouse, really. Near Paddington Station.”

“Right,” I said deciding. “I’ll drive you somewhere for a drink, then I’ll drop you at the railway station in Maidenhead and you can get the train back to London.”

“Great,” he said, smiling.

“Come on, then.”

Together, we pulled the trolley out through the racetrack’s main gate and across the busy road.

“What sort of business are you in now?” I asked him as we hauled our load through the deep gravel at the entrance to the parking lot.

“This and that,” he said.

“Bookmaking?” I persisted.

“Sometimes,” he said. “But mostly not.”

He seemed determined to be vague and evasive.

“Is it legal?” I asked.

“Sometimes,” he repeated.

“But mostly not?” I asked, echoing his previous answer.

He just smiled at me and pulled harder on the trolley.

“Are you going to go back to Australia?” I asked, changing the subject.

“Expect so,” he said. “But I’m just lying low for a while.”

“Why?” I asked.

He just smiled again. Perhaps it’s better, I thought, if I don’t know why.

I had parked my car, my trusty, twelve-year-old Volvo 940 station wagon, at the back of parking lot number two, behind the owners-and-trainers’ area. As always, I’d had to pay for my parking. The racetracks gave bookmakers nothing.

Bookmakers’ pitches had once been held on the basis of seniority, as they still were in Ireland. However, in Britain, pitch positions had been offered for sale and, once bought, remained the property of the bookie, to keep or sell as he wished. Whoever owned number one had the first choice of where to stand in the betting ring, number two had second choice, and so on. My number was eight, bought by my grandfather about twenty years ago for a king’s ransom. I stood not quite at the best position, but good enough.

A bookmaker’s badge fee, paid by me to the racetrack to allow me to stand on any day at the races, was set at five times the public-entry cost. So if a racegoer paid forty pounds each day to get into the betting ring, as they did at Royal Ascot, then the badge fee was set at two hundred. Plus, of course, the regular entrance cost for Betsy and Luca to get in. On any day at the Royal Meeting, I was many hundreds out of pocket before I even took my first bet.

There were controversial plans for the old system to be thrown out in 2012 and for pitches to be auctioned by each racetrack to the highest bidder. The bookmakers objected to what they saw as the stealing of their property, and they believed that the racetracks were greedy, while everyone else thought the reverse was true.

The downtrodden bookie, the man that all and sundry love to hate. “You never see a poor bookie,” people always say with a degree of loathing. That’s because poor bookies rapidly go out of business. You never see a poor lawyer either. But, there again, all and sundry love to hate them too.

“How long are you staying?” I asked my father.

“A while,” he replied unhelpfully.

If he was going to be like this, I thought, then there was no purpose in going to a pub to talk. And I could use the time to go spend longer with Sophie.

“Look,” I said. “Perhaps it’s better if you go straight back to London now. There’s little point in going for a drink if you are going to ignore all my questions.”

“I want to talk about the past, not the future,” he said.

“Well, I don’t.”

We were still pulling the trolley towards my car, passing through a gap in the hedge to the back of parking lot two, when I heard running footfalls behind us. I turned my head and caught a glimpse of someone coming straight at me. In one continuous move he ran straight up onto the tarpaulin-covered trolley and kicked me square in the

Вы читаете Even Money
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату