Dead Cert - By Dick Francis Page 0,84

the inmates of the weighing-room than the dead jockey.

Admiral was to run in the fifth race. By the time the fourth was over my nerves had calmed down and my tense readiness had evaporated. I had expected action before this. I had been at the meeting for nearly three hours, a man with essential information inviting to have his mouth permanently shut, and no move had been made against me.

It crossed my mind, not for the first time, that cause and effect in the Thiveridge organisation never followed closely on each other. Joe’s death happened two whole days after he showed his brown paper at Liverpool. The warning to me on the telephone was delivered two days after I had spread at Cheltenham the news of the wire which had killed Bill. The horse-box affair had taken at least a day to arrange. The Bristol wire was rigged to bring me down two days after my excursion into the Marconicar office.

I had begun to suspect that the whole organisation was still geared to the telephone call Thiveridge made every morning to Fielder, and that Fielder had no other way of getting urgent messages to his ‘Chairman,’ or of receiving instructions from him. Presumably Thiveridge still felt the delay in his news service was a lesser evil than providing an address or telephone number at which he could be reached and perhaps discovered.

Depressed, I was coming to believe that my carefully acted lies had not at all reached the ears for which they were meant, and felt that offering myself as bait to a predator who did not know he should be hunting me was a bit idiotic.

Trying to shake off this deflation, I went out to the parade ring to join Pete and mount Admiral. Bill’s horse, now mine, looked as splendid as ever. With his intelligent head, deep chest, straight hocks, and good bone below the knee, he was a perfect example of what a top class steeplechaser should be.

‘Even though he hasn’t been on a racecourse since that ghastly day at Maidenhead, he’s at the top of his form,’ said Pete, admiring him beside me. ‘You can’t lose the race, so go along quietly for a while, getting used to him. You’ll find he has plenty in reserve. You’ll never get to the bottom of him. Bill used to take him to the front early on, as you know, but you don’t need to. He’s got a terrific turn of foot from the last.’

‘I’ll do as you say,’ I said.

Pete gave me a leg-up. ‘Admiral’s odds-on, again,’ he said. ‘If you make a mess of this race the crowd’ll murder you. So will I.’ He grinned.

‘I’ll try to stay alive,’ I said, grinning back cheerfully.

Admiral was as superb to ride as he looked. He put himself right before every fence, making his spring at exactly the right moment and needing no help from the saddle. He had the low, flowing galloping stride of the really fast mover, and from the first fence onward I found racing on his back an almost ecstatic pleasure. Following Pete’s advice I went round the whole course without forcing the pace, but riding into the last fence alongside two others, I gave Admiral a kick in the ribs and shook up the reins. He took off from just inside the wings and landed as far out on the other side, gaining two lengths in the air and shedding the other two horses like dead leaves. We came home alone, easy winners, to warm cheers from the stands.

In the winner’s unsaddling enclosure, where I dismounted and undid the girths, Admiral behaved as if he had only been out for an exercise gallop, his belly hardly moving as he breathed. I patted his glossy chestnut neck, noticed that he was hardly sweating at all, and asked Pete, ‘What on earth can he do if he really tries?’

‘The National, no less,’ said Pete, rocking back on his heels, and tipping his hat off his face, as he collected his due congratulations from all around.

I grinned, pulled the saddle off over my arm, and went into the weighing-room to weigh-in and change. The familiar joy of winning flushed through my limbs, as warming as a hot bath, and I could have done hand-springs down the changing-room if I hadn’t known it was the horse to whom all credit was due, not the jockey.

Pete called to me to hurry up and we’d have a celebration drink together, so