Dick Francis. Odds against

(Sid Halley — 1)


I was never particularly keen on my job before the day I got shot and nearly lost it, along with my life. But the.38 slug of lead which made a pepper-shaker out of my intestines left me with fire in my belly in more ways than one. Otherwise I should never have met Zanna Martin, and would still be held fast in the spider-threads of departed joys, of no use to anyone, least of all myself.

It was the first step to liberation, that bullet, though I wouldn’t have said so at the time. I stopped it because I was careless. Careless because bored.

I woke up gradually in hospital, in a private room for which I got a whacking great bill a few days later. Even before I opened my eyes I began to regret I had not left the world completely. Someone had lit a bonfire under my navel.

A fierce conversation was being conducted in unhushed voices over my head. With woolly wits, the anaesthetic still drifting inside my skull like puff-ball clouds in a summer sky, I tried unenthusiastically to make sense of what was being said.

‘Can’t you give him something to wake him more quickly?’


‘We can’t do much until we have his story, you must see that. It’s nearly seven hours since you finished operating. Surely…’

‘And he was all of four hours on the table before that. Do you want to finish off what the shooting started?’


‘I am sorry, but you’ll have to wait.’

There’s my pal, I thought. They’ll have to wait. Who wants to hurry back into the dreary world? Why not go to sleep for a month and take things up again after they’ve put the bonfire out? I opened my eyes reluctantly.

It was night. A globe of electric light shone in the centre of the ceiling. That figured. It had been morning when Jones-boy found me still seeping gently on to the office linoleum and went to telephone, and it appeared that about twelve hours had passed since they stuck the first blessed needle into my arm. Would a twenty-four hour start, I wondered, be enough for a panic-stricken ineffectual little crook to get himself undetectably out of the country?

There were two policemen on my left, one in uniform, one not. They were both sweating, because the room was hot. The doctor stood on the right, fiddling with a tube which ran from a bottle into my elbow. Various other tubes sprouted disgustingly from my abdomen, partly covered by a light sheet. Drip and drainage, I thought sardonically. How absolutely charming.

Radnor was watching me from the foot of the bed, taking no part in the argument still in progress between medicine and the law. I wouldn’t have thought I rated the boss himself attendant at the bedside, but then I suppose it wasn’t every day that one of his employees got himself into such a spectacular mess.

He said, ‘He’s conscious again, and his eyes aren’t so hazy. We might get some sense out of him this time.’ He looked at his watch.

The doctor bent over me, felt my pulse, and nodded. ‘Five minutes, then. Not a second more.’

The plain clothes policeman beat Radnor to it by a fraction of a second. ‘Can you tell us who shot you?’

I still found it surprisingly difficult to speak, but not as impossible as it had been when they asked me the same question that morning. Then, I had been too far gone. Now, I was apparently on the way back. Even so, the policeman had plenty of time to repeat his question, and to wait some more, before I managed an answer.


It meant nothing to the policeman, but Radnor looked astonished and also disappointed.

‘Thomas Andrews?’ he asked.


Radnor explained to the police. ‘I told you that Halley here and another of my operatives set some sort of a trap intending to clear up an intimidation case we are investigating. I understand they were hoping for a big fish, but it seems now they caught a tiddler. Andrews is small stuff, a weak sort of youth used for running errands. I would never have thought he would carry a gun, much less that he would use it.’

Me neither. He had dragged the revolver clumsily out of his jacket pocket, pointed it shakily in my direction, and used both hands to pull the trigger. If I hadn’t seen that it was only Andrews who had come to nibble at the bait I wouldn’t have ambled unwarily out of the darkness of the washroom to tax him with breaking into the Cromwell Road premises of Hunt Radnor Associates at one o’clock in the morning. It simply hadn’t occurred to me that he would attack me in any way.

By the time I realised that he really meant to use the gun and was not waving it about for effect, it was far too late. I had barely begun to turn to flip off the light switch when the bullet hit, in and out diagonally through my body. The force of it spun me on to my knees and then forward on to the floor.

As I went down he ran for the door, stiff-legged, crying out, with circles of white showing wild round his eyes. He was almost as horrified as I was at what he had done.

‘At what time did the shooting take place?’ asked the policeman formally.

After another pause I said, ‘One o’clock, about.’

The doctor drew in a breath. He didn’t need to say it; I knew I was lucky to be alive. In a progressively feeble state I’d lain on the floor through a chilly September night looking disgustedly at a telephone on which I couldn’t summon help. The office telephones all worked through a switchboard. This might have been on the moon as far as I was concerned, instead of along the passage, down the curving stairs and through the door to the reception desk, with the girl who worked the switches fast asleep in bed.

The policeman wrote in his notebook. ‘Now sir, I can get a description of Thomas Andrews from someone else so as not to trouble you too much now, but I’d be glad if you can tell me what he was wearing.’

‘Black jeans, very tight. Olive green jersey. Loose black jacket.’ I paused. ‘Black fur collar, black and white checked lining. All shabby… dirty.’ I tried again. ‘He had gun in jacket pocket right side… took it with him… no gloves… can’t have a record.’


‘Didn’t see. Silent, though.’

‘Anything else?’

I thought. ‘He had some badges… place names, skull and crossbones, things like that… sewn on his jacket, left sleeve.’

‘I see. Right. We’ll get on with it then.’ He snapped shut his notebook, smiled briefly, turned, and walked to the door, followed by his uniformed ally, and by Radnor, presumably for Andrews’ description.

The doctor took my pulse again, and slowly checked all the tubes. His face showed satisfaction.

He said cheerfully, ‘You must have the constitution of a horse.’

‘No,’ said Radnor, coming in again and hearing him. ‘Horses are really quite delicate creatures. Halley has the constitution of a jockey. A steeplechase jockey. He used to be one. He’s got a body like a shock absorber… had to have to deal with all the fractures and injuries he got racing.’

‘Is that what happened to his hand? A fall in a steeplechase?’

Radnor’s glance flicked to my face and away again, uncomfortably. They never mentioned my hand to me in the office if they could help it. None of them, that is, except my fellow trap-setter Chico Barnes, who didn’t care what he said to anyone.

‘Yes,’ Radnor said tersely. ‘That’s right.’ He changed the subject. ‘Well, Sid, come and see me when you are better. Take your time.’ He nodded uncertainly to me, and he and the doctor, with a joint backward glance, ushered each other out of the door.

So Radnor was in no hurry to have me back. I would have smiled if I’d had the energy. When he first offered

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