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Authors: Lyndon Stacey

Outside Chance

BOOK: Outside Chance
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Contents

About the Book

About the Author

Also by Lyndon Stacey

Title Page

Dedication

Acknowledgements

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Epilogue

Copyright

About the Book

Ben Copperfield is a freelance journalist who specialises in all things equine, so when he is called with the news that the hot favourite for the Cheltenham Gold Cup has been kidnapped, just a few weeks before the race, he wastes no time in following the story up. This could be the racing scoop of a lifetime.

But as the date of the Gold Cup draws ever closer, it is unclear whether the missing horse is still alive. Where could a valuable racehorse be hidden for so long? And what is the secret from the owner's past that he is keeping from the police? Doggedly chasing the truth, Ben finds himself tested, both physically and psychologically, as he gradually uncovers a tale of prejudice, ambition and heartbreak.

About the Author

Lyndon Stacey is the bestselling author of
Cut Throat
,
Blindfold
,
Deadfall
and
Outside Chance
. She lives in the Blackmore Vale.

Also by Lyndon Stacey

Cut Throat

Blindfold

Deadfall

Outside Chance
Lyndon Stacey

This one is for Sue, James and all at Hutch and Arrow, for their continued support and enthusiasm. Thanks, guys
.

Acknowledgements

Many thanks are due to Peter Maughn, retired travelling head lad to David Elsworth; the staff of Edward and Jose Veterinary Practice in Gillingham, Dorset; Gill Thompson (and the Gals) for racing contacts and advice; Jill Todd for a brilliant job of test-reading; and Inca, my dog, for the countless patient hours of company while I write.

Prologue

The smart, maroon and gold liveried horse-transporter negotiated the roundabout at the bottom of the hill with obvious care and moved out on to the dual carriageway, attacking the gradient with carefully controlled power. In the cab the wiry, weather-beaten, fifty-something driver settled back in his seat and prepared for the long haul, listening tolerantly to his two younger companions arguing in the seating area behind the cab about the outcome of a private bet.

In a lay-by at the top of the hill, three men with peaked caps and fluorescent green tabards over their uniforms lounged against a white Transit van. A row of cones stood waiting, presumably to funnel reluctant motorists into the checkpoint, but at present the men appeared more interested in the contents of the mugs they cradled in their hands. It was February, late afternoon and bitterly cold; the clouds low, grey, and inclined to drizzle. A stream of vehicles swished by on the wet road, their lights reflecting off the
surface and their occupants noting the disinterest of the officials with relief.

A phone trilled and one of the men reached into the cab of the van and withdrew a handset. He spoke briefly, nodded, replaced the phone and turned to say something to the others. Their relaxed attitude disappeared in an instant. Mugs were emptied, caps straightened and soon all three were moving to take up new positions: one at the roadside near the end of the lay-by, the other two nearer to the van. One of these picked up a clipboard and his companion held what could have been a torch. They were, it seemed, ready for business.

As the horsebox reached the top of the rise, the driver spotted the waiting men and groaned.

‘Not me,
please
,' he begged as he drew closer. ‘Not me. Not me . . . Ahh, shite!'

The unsmiling official stood back and waved him through the cones, pointing towards his waiting colleagues, and the driver nodded, ‘Yeah, yeah. I know.'

‘What's happening?' The two lads in the back, barely more than teenagers, had broken off their argument and one of them appeared between the seats.

‘Checkpoint. Probably Department of friggin' Transport,' the driver growled. ‘If we've got a light out, I'll kill that bloody Nigel!'

The lorry rolled to a halt just inches from the man with the clipboard, who had planted himself directly in front of it. He didn't so much as twitch a muscle.

‘Cold-blooded as a fish!' the driver muttered,
robbed of even that satisfaction. He pressed a button and the window dropped smoothly. ‘Yes, officer?'

‘Immigration,' the man with the clipboard announced, briefly flashing some documentation. ‘Turn the engine off, please.'

Resignedly he complied, and as the sound of the engine died away, the man with the torch moved to the passenger side where he kept his head averted, apparently inspecting the tyre.

‘What are you carrying?' The clipboard man had glasses and a dark moustache, which, in combination with the peaked cap, seemed to hide a good deal of his face.

‘Er . . .
Racehorses
, maybe?' the driver suggested, shaking his head in disbelief and indicating the panel of the cab door. It displayed – as did the body of the lorry – the words
Castle Ridge Racing
in large gold letters.

It seemed that they were the last unlucky travellers of the day. In the mirror the third uniformed man could be seen already gathering up the cones.

‘Come on, mate. We don't particularly want to be here either. Let's keep this civilised, shall we?' The man stepped up on to the footplate and peered inside the cab, where the second lad had now joined his colleagues. ‘Can I have your names?' His hand, on the framework, was encased in a thin plastic glove.

The driver sighed. ‘Ian Rice; Davy Jackson; Les Curtis,' he said, indicating himself and the other two in turn. ‘Look, you don't want to open the back, do you? Only, the horses get upset and . . . '

He never finished the sentence.

In one fluid movement, the clipboard man dropped down to the ground, opened the door, and stepped up again.

‘Move across,' he ordered, and suddenly he had a gun in his hand, the muzzle applying pressure to Rice's neck, just up under his jaw.

For a moment he appeared uncomprehending and then he gulped and a sheen of sweat formed on his brow.

‘Please . . . Don't . . . '

On the other side of the cab, the second man had moved with perfect synchronicity and now held a similar weapon to one of the lads' heads.

‘Just move,' the first man repeated and, as Rice did so, slipped into the seat beside him and pulled the door shut.

‘Now, into the back. All of you. Slowly; no sudden moves.'

‘All right, lads. Do as he says.' White-faced and trembling, Rice had nevertheless pulled himself together now.

The lads scrambled across the seat and back through the central doorway, the younger of the two whimpering faintly with fear. Rice followed and the two bogus officials brought up the rear; the one who'd held the clipboard kept his gun on the three, while the other produced lengths of fine nylon cord from his pocket and swiftly and efficiently tied them hand and foot. He then tied their ankles to their wrists, behind them, leaving them as helpless as calves at a branding. A strip of silver duct tape across their mouths ensured silence and, stripping off their
tabards and caps, the two men returned to the cab.

Wasting no time, the clipboard man slid into Rice's vacated seat. Starting the engine he checked the mirror, indicated right, and the lorry moved ponderously forward and out into the traffic, its new driver waving a hand in thanks to a helpful motorist.

The whole incident had taken less than five minutes. Behind them, the remaining man bundled the cones into the back of the white Transit and set off after the horsebox.

In the deserted lay-by, an empty crisp packet tumbled end over end in the wake of the van and then lay still.

1

THE WHITE HORSE
was galloping wildly, mane and tail flying and hooves throwing up chunks of peaty earth. The saddle had slipped right over to one side and it didn't seem possible that the man who clung desperately to the underside of the animal's outstretched neck could retain his grip for many moments more.

Those watching held their collective breath. He
had
to hang on. The pounding, steel-shod hooves made the alternative too horrific. But a further disaster loomed: the horse was running out of space. Ahead, two concrete walls converged to form a corner from which there was no escape, but the horse's breakneck pace didn't slacken. Just strides away now, it appeared oblivious to the danger.

Somewhere someone screamed and, almost in the same instant, tragedy was averted. The man, so apparently helpless until now, pulled himself up and over the horse's withers in one fluid movement, gathered his flapping reins and guided the animal into a perfectly controlled turn.

To the accompaniment of relieved cheers and applause from the thousand or more onlookers, he then proceeded to unstrap the useless saddle and hold it aloft, whilst bringing the beautiful white horse to a flamboyant, plunging halt. The clapping turned into an ovation as the crowd rose to its feet almost as one, and the rider responded with a wide grin, his teeth flashing impossibly white in the spotlight as he acknowledged the admiration.

‘Ladies and gentlemen; Nicolae Bardu!' the announcer cried with a flourish.

From his position six rows up, near the entrance to the indoor arena, Ben Copperfield relaxed and joined in the general appreciation. No matter that he'd watched all the rehearsals for the show; he still couldn't help holding his breath and gripping his seat. He could have sworn that Nico left his recovery until later and later every time.

The music struck up once more, signalling the beginning of the finale. The horse and rider made their jaunty exit and Ben slipped out of his seat and found his way up the tiers to the doorway at the back. The strains of Tchaikovsky's
Marche Slave
faded as he pulled the door to behind him, and he descended the steps to the warm-up area where the performers were gathering to make their final triumphant entrance.

Nico was there, still full of the arrogant confidence he exhibited throughout his performances. Ben knew that some people found such rampant egotism objectionable, but he had observed it before in other high achievers: dancers, sportsmen, and athletes. They seemed to feed off
their audience. They worked ceaselessly behind the scenes to hone their skills but somehow it was as if the very presence of those watching inspired them to reach the peak of their abilities. He had witnessed just a few of the countless hours of practice that went into producing those brief moments of glory and, personally, he felt that a little arrogance was perfectly excusable.

Someone Ben knew only by sight was replacing the saddle on the magnificent white stallion, which stood like a rock, only its proudly arched neck and frothily champing jaws telling of the hyped-up eagerness within. Nico was standing to one side, brushing real or imaginary specks of dust from the short, gold-braided black jacket he had just put on.

‘That was a bit close to the knuckle, you mad bugger!' Ben approached to within a few feet, taking care not to get in anybody's way. The horse swung its head to look at him, its big dark eye rimmed with white, and the rich warm smell of it filled Ben's nostrils. Almost involuntarily, he took a step back.

Nico turned, his fine, arching brows drawn down momentarily, then he broke into a smile as he recognised the speaker.

‘Tomorrow I go closer!' he promised extravagantly. He seemed in particularly high spirits this evening.

BOOK: Outside Chance
13.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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