long shot, should not have raised too many suspicions at each separate betting shop. If the head office had managed in time to notice that six thousand pounds had swiftly gone onto such a rank outsider, they would have been powerless to do anything about the starting price. Larry’s mobile phone jammer and Luca’s Internet server virus had seen to that, helped along by Duggie’s little expertise with the telephone landlines.

“They may not pay out,” Luca said. Bookmakers, particularly the big chains, had a nasty habit of not paying out on bets if they thought someone had been up to a fiddle. Not that we had, of course. We had simply piggybacked on someone else’s fiddle.

“Maybe not immediately,” I said. “But I think they will in the end. It really wouldn’t be sensible for them to upset so many of High Wycombe’s finest juvenile delinquents, now would it?”

He laughed.

And I knew something that he didn’t.

The owner of Oriental Suite, the same owner who had been quoted in the Racing Post as being distraught over the death of his horse and the man who had pocketed the large insurance payout, was none other than a Mr. Henry Richard Feldman, director and shareholder of Tony Bateman (Turf Accountants) Ltd and sole shareholder of HRF Holdings Ltd. The very same man who had sent his bullyboys to give me a “message” at Kempton Park racetrack with their fists and steel toe caps.

Getting even had, indeed, required considerable cunning.

And almost the best part of the whole scheme was that Larry Porter and Norman Joyner firmly believed that it hadn’t worked. They went on grumbling about it for the rest of the day.

I was certain that Mr. Feldman would eventually see sense and pay out on all the bets, just as I was sure that he would in the end decide not to pursue his plans to take over my business. Both would be the price for my silence. And he would know that a letter had been lodged with my solicitors to be handed to the British Horseracing Authority in the event of my sudden or suspicious death.

Just to be on the safe side.


Luca, Duggie and I could hardly contain ourselves as we packed up the equipment after the last race. Larry had been so frightened by the prospect of his heavy losses that he gave the electronic phone jammer back to Luca and swore to me that he would never try anything like that again. I bit my lip hard so that I wouldn’t smile.

We loaded the stuff in my Volvo, and I drove back south towards Warwickshire, Luca next to me as usual, Duggie behind him.

“The look on Larry’s face when that race started was priceless,” said Luca, laughing. “He was in a complete panic.”

“Norman didn’t look too happy either,” I said, joining in the hilarity.

“I heard one of those suits saying that he knew something was up as he couldn’t get a line on the secretary’s phone,” said Duggie.

“Thanks to you,” I said, looking at him in the rearview mirror. “Well done.” He beamed.

I drove in silence for a while. We were all enjoying wallowing in the success of it all.

“What are you going to do with all that money?” Duggie asked eventually.

“Well,” I said, “I thought of donating it to charity. Perhaps the Injured Jockeys Fund.”

“Good idea,” said Luca very seriously. “It’s a very good cause.”

I went on driving.

“But then I thought it would be more fun if we had it,” I said.

We all burst into laughter.

“Much better idea,” said Duggie, banging the back of the front seats in his excitement.

We discussed the money for the next twenty minutes.

Provided Tony Bateman paid it all out, and assuming that all the thirty bets had actually been placed and at the hundred-to-one starting price, then the total winnings would be six hundred thousand pounds. A quarter of that would go to the thirty delinquents at a rate of five thousand pounds each. Luca, Duggie and I decided that we would split half the total, three hundred thousand, jointly amongst us, with the other quarter going anonymously and jointly to two charities, the Injured Jockeys Fund and Racing Welfare, just to ease our consciences.

“Can we do this every week?” asked Duggie. “Biggest paycheck I’ve ever had, I can tell you.”

“Better than that,” I said. “Gambling winnings are tax free in the UK.”

We all laughed again.

I had decided that splitting the money equally amongst the three of us was the only way. Duggie’s help with the delinquents had been crucial, and his little intervention with the bullyboys at Leicester had made me grateful that he was on my side, not theirs. I wanted to keep it that way.

We were still all in high spirits when I finally turned into the Hilton Hotel parking lot at Junction 15 on the M40, where Luca had left his car.

“Do they let you park here for free?” I asked him.

“I didn’t ask,” he said.

“But how do you get out?” There was a barrier down at the parking lot exit.

“Duggie and I will go in for a celebration drink,” he said. “I’ll get a token from the barman.”

“Don’t get breathalyzed,” I said.

“I won’t,” he said in farewell. He and Duggie gave me a wave as I turned the car out of the hotel parking lot and drove away. I thought it was fortunate you couldn’t lose your license for having euphoria-induced adrenaline in your bloodstream. I would be well over the limit.

My telephone rang as I negotiated the turn out onto the main road.

The phone was in its hands-free car cradle, and the number of the caller was shown across the green rectangular display at the top. It was Sophie’s mobile number.

I pushed the button.“Hello, my darling,” I said cheerfully into the microphone that was situated next to the sun visor.“I’ve just dropped Luca and Duggie at the Hilton and I’ll be home in about ten minutes.”

But it wasn’t Sophie’s voice that came back at me out of the speaker.

“Hello, Mr. Talbot,” said a man’s voice. A chill ran right down my spine, and I nearly drove straight into an oncoming truck. “You still have something of mine,” he said. “So now I have something of yours.”

I became cold and clammy all over.

“Let me speak to my wife,” I said.

There was a slight pause, then Sophie came on the line. “Ned, Ned,” she screamed. She sounded very frightened, and there was a quiver in her voice. “Help me.”

“It’s all right, Sophie,” I said, trying to calm her. “Everything will be all right.”

But she wasn’t there anymore, and the man came back on the line. “Do as I say, Mr. Talbot, and she won’t get hurt.” The tone of his voice was really quite normal, but there was real menace in his meaning.

Not only did I fear for Sophie’s safety, I feared more for her state of mind.

“What do you want?” I asked him.

“I want the rest of the items that were in that rucksack,” he said. “I want the chips, the chip writer and the rest of the money.”

That confirmed to me that the man was shifty-eyed Kipper. I had feared that I’d not seen the last of him, or of his twelve-centimeter knife, and my fears had clearly been well founded.

“I haven’t got the items,” I said.

“Go and get them, then,” he said, just as if he was telling off a miscreant schoolboy who had forgotten his books.

“Where are you?” I asked.

“Never you mind,” he said. “And don’t hang up. Keep on the line. If you hang up, I will hurt your wife. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Good. Now, where are my things?”

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