Slay Ride - By Dick Francis


Cold grey water lapped the flimsy looking sides of the fibre-glass dinghy, and I shivered and thought of the five hundred feet straight down to the sea-bed underneath.

An hour out of Oslo with the outboard motor stilled and my friend Arne Kristiansen taking all afternoon to answer some simple questions.

A grey day, damp, not far from rain. The air sang in my ears with stinging chill. My feet were congealing. The October temperature down the fjord was giving the land a twenty degree lead towards zero, and of the two of us only Arne was dressed for it.

Where I had a showerproof jacket over an ordinary suit and no hat, he had come equipped with the full bit: a red padded cap with ear flaps fastened with a strap under his chin, blue padded trousers tucked into short wide-legged gumboots, and a red padded jacket fastened up the front with silver coloured press studs. A glimpse of black and yellow at the neck spoke of other warm layers underneath.

He had arranged on the telephone to meet me at the statue in the Radhusplassen by the harbour, brushing aside my suggestion that he should come to the Grand Hotel, where I was staying. Even in those wide open spaces he had gone muttering on about being overheard by long range bugging machines (his words) and had finally insisted on taking to the dinghy. Knowing from past experience the quickest way in the end to deal with his perennial mild persecution complex was to go along with it, I had shrugged and followed him along the quay to where the small pale green craft bobbed beside a flight of steps.

I had forgotten that it is always very much colder out on open water. I flexed the stiffening fingers inside my pockets and repeated my last question.

‘How would you smuggle sixteen thousand stolen kroner out of the country?’

For the second time, I got no answer. Arne produced answers as prodigally as tax collectors offer rebates.

He blinked slowly, the dropping of the eyelids marking some intermediary stage in the chess-like permutations going on in his head. He was no doubt, as always, considering every foreseeable consequence: if answer A might produce any one of five responses, and answer B lead on to six subsidiary questions, wouldn’t it be wiser to answer C, in which case, though…

It made conversation with him a trifle slow.

I tried a little prompting. ‘You said it it was all in coins and used notes of small denominations. How bulky? Enough to fit in a small sized suitcase?’

He blinked.

‘Do you think he just walked out with it through the customs?’

He blinked.

‘Or do you think he is still somewhere in Norway?’

Arne opened his mouth and said grudgingly, ‘No one knows.’

I tried some more. ‘When a foreigner stays in one of your hotels, he has to fill in a form and show his passport. These forms are for the police. Have your police checked those forms?’


‘Yes,’ he said.


‘Robert Sherman did not fill in any form.’

‘None at all? What about when he arrived from England?’

‘He did not stay in an hotel.’

Patience, I thought. Give me patience.

‘Where, then?’

‘With friends.’

‘What friends?’

He considered. I knew he knew the answer. He knew he was eventually going to tell me. I suppose he couldn’t help the way his mind worked, but this, God help us, was supposed to be an investigator.

What was more, I had taught him myself. ‘Think before you answer any question,’ I’d said. So now he did.

In the three months he had spent in England learning how the Jockey Club ran its investigation department we had grown to know each other well. Some of the time he had stayed in my flat, most of the time we had travelled together to the races, all of the time he had asked and listened and blinked as he thought. That had been three years ago. Two minutes had been enough to resuscitate the old warm feelings of tolerant regard. I liked him, I thought, more because of the mild eccentric kinks than despite.

‘He stayed with Gunnar Holth,’ he said.

I waited.

After ten seconds he added, ‘He is a racehorse trainer.’

‘Did Bob Sherman ride for him?’

This dead simple question threw him into a longer than ever session of mental chess, but finally he said, ‘Bob Sherman rode the ones of his horses which ran in hurdle races while Bob Sherman was in Norway, Ja. He did not ride the horses of Gunnar Holth which ran in Flat races while he was