“But how about my sisters?” I said.

“They’ll be along later,” he said. “I couldn’t get them the free lunch as well, now could I?”

The lunch itself was excellent and would have easily rivaled anything served at Royal Ascot. There was even a country-and-western band, appropriately called, in this land of poisonous snakes, the “Original Snakeskins,” who wandered amongst the tents making music and entertaining the happy crowd.

We were at a table laid for ten that included the club dignitaries as well as the chairman, who was seated on the far side of Sophie. I, meanwhile, had been placed next to an official from the Australian Racing Board, who, I discovered during the meal, was the head of their security service.

“I wouldn’t have thought there was enough skulduggery going on at Hanging Rock to warrant the presence of the head honcho,” I said, smiling at him.

“I hope you’re right,” he said. “But I have a holiday home just down the road in Woodend. So this is my local course. And I’m not working today. I’m here simply to enjoy myself.” He took a swig of his beer.

“Busman’s holiday?” I said.


We ate in silence for a while.

“Do you have any undercover staff in the security service?” I asked him quietly while the others at the table were deep in conversation. “Any secret investigators?”

“A few,” he said, draining his beer glass and purposely not giving me any details.

“How about an Englishman?” I asked. “Someone called John Smith?”

It was his turn to smile at me. “Now, Mr. Talbot, there are lots of Englishmen called John Smith.”

“This particular one was principally interested in something he called a ‘microcoder.’”

The smile disappeared from his face but only for an instant.

“Anyone for another beer?” he said suddenly, standing up from the table, holding his empty glass.

“Lovely idea,” I said, also standing up.

We walked together down to the bar at the end of the tent, leaving the others at the table.

“What do you know about a microcoder?” he asked me intently. The busman’s holiday was over. This was now a workday after all.

“That it is used to write fake RFID identification chips.”

“Oh God,” he said, clearly disturbed. “Do you know where it is?”

“Not anymore,” I said. “I did have it in England, but I gave it to this Mr. John Smith.”

I could tell that the head of Australian racing security wasn’t at all pleased to hear that. Not one little bit. “For God’s sake, why did you give it to him?”

“Because he told me he worked for you,” I said in my defense. “But he also told me you’d deny it.”

“I do deny it,” said the security man. “If he’s the person I think he is, then he did use to work for us. At least, we thought he did, but about a year ago we began to suspect that he’d been abusing his position by investigating only those people who wouldn’t pay him handsomely to overlook things. There probably wouldn’t have been enough hard evidence to win a court case, but we fired him nevertheless, and we also banned him from all Australian racetracks. We’ve since discovered that he was involved in a group that was switching horses using fake ID chips. Horses were being killed.”

“For the insurance money?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, surprised that I knew. “Some illegal off-course bookmakers were also involved in the scam.”

I decided that it would not really be a good time to tell him that my father had been one of those illegal bookmakers.

“We fear he is up to the same tricks back in the UK,” the security man said. “And now you’ve just confirmed it.”

“What’s his real name?” I asked.

He was clearly reluctant to tell me. His very occupation was one of investigation and secrecy, and he was plainly much more accustomed to gathering information than releasing it. “We’re still investigating the affair here, and we are trying desperately to recover the device before it’s used again.”

“I wouldn’t bother if I were you,” I said.

“Why on earth not?” he demanded somewhat crossly.

“The microcoder doesn’t work anymore.” I smiled at him and thought back to how Luca had taken his box cutter to the printed circuit boards. “I made some significant and incurable alterations to its circuitry before I gave it away.”

“But why?” he asked.

“Because I didn’t altogether trust Mr. John Smith.”

The head of Australian racing security thought for a moment and then smiled back at me.“I think you mean you didn’t altogether trust Mr. Ivan Feldman.”

“Ivan Feldman,” I repeated slowly almost to myself. So that was Mr. John Smith’s real name. “I wonder if he’s any relation to Henry Richard Feldman of HRF Holdings Limited.”

I decided that he probably was. A son, maybe.

My sisters were to join us in the tent for afternoon tea, and Lachie went away after lunch to collect them. Presently, I saw him waiting in the doorway. Most of the official party had left by this time, gone off to do other things like watch the races, make presentations to the winners or chase the kangaroos away from the finishing stretch.

I waved Lachie in, and he was followed closely by two young women, both of them with brown hair and high cheekbones, just like me.

I didn’t need to convince them that I was their brother. They both knew instantly that it was true. The three of us looked so much alike. Introductions weren’t necessary. We simply hugged one another and cried.

Finally, I managed to introduce them to Sophie, who was also in tears.

“Ned has always wanted sisters,” she said to them, wiping her eyes.

I was simply too overcome with emotion to say anything.

Sophie turned to me. “And they’re going to be aunties as well,” she said, crying huge tears of joy. “Because I’m pregnant.”

Dick Francis, Felix Francis

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