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Authors: Lyndon Stacey

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BOOK: Outside Chance
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Belinda went in and patted the horse on his
neck and shoulder, which produced a glance of slight irritation from her charge, and then ran her hands down his legs, feeling the cannon bones and fetlocks for signs of heat or puffiness.

‘Cool as a cucumber,' she announced with satisfaction. ‘Gave him quite a hard workout this morning, too. Got legs like iron. I wish all my horses were this easy to train. What do you think of him, Ben?'

‘Well, he certainly
like a Gold Cup horse. Can he jump?'

‘Like a stag.'

Ben looked at her. The undercurrent of excitement he thought he'd detected in her voice was echoed in her face.

‘You think he's got a chance, don't you? But surely his form is mediocre, at best.' He'd done his homework before setting out.

‘Last year it was. But if you'd seen him last year you wouldn't have recognised him. He's been a late developer. Last year he still looked like an overgrown gawky youngster whose legs didn't belong to him. We ran him a few times but he was so backward, we decided to give him some more time to mature. He came back into work at the beginning of the season, and now look at him! It took an outing or two to get him back into the way of things but he's won his last three.'

‘Easily,' Rackham put in, and Ben could see that his eyes, too, were shining.

‘You really think he could do it, don't you? So, if he's been winning, why haven't the bookies picked up on him?'

‘The first two were fairly modest races. He didn't beat anything of note but he beat them well. His last time out was a different kettle of fish altogether. He took on some quite nice opposition and won easing down. The thing is, the going was heavy – which was said to have put paid to some of them – and the favourite fell at the last. But what everybody seems to have ignored is that the favourite fell because he was tired. Tuppy was still full of running but Fred Flanagan has his head screwed on and knew I wouldn't want him winning by a mile.'

‘If you want to keep it quiet, why tell me?'

‘It's not that it's been a big secret, I just didn't want too much of a buzz too soon in case it prompted the handicapper to take a second look. But the weights have been allocated now and he's come off rather well.
obviously thought his form was a fluke, too.'

‘However well he's going, he's still got Cajun King to beat, though.' Ben turned to Rackham as he said this, watching him carefully for any abnormal reaction.

Rackham merely looked sour.

‘He's been beaten before.'

‘Not lately, though,' Ben persisted. ‘The bookies have him three to one on, already. How does it feel, knowing you sold the horse that's hot favourite to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup?'

‘How do you think it bloody feels?' Rackham demanded. ‘You journalists are all the same, asking the bloody obvious!'

‘We have to get our quotes,' Ben said without
apology. ‘Quotes can make fantastic headlines. So why did you sell the horse to Truman?'

‘For the money, of course. I didn't want to sell him, but . . .' His voice tailed away as he realised he was getting himself into awkward territory.


‘I was going through a bad time and needed the money,' Rackham said.

‘Truman's a shit!' Belinda cut in. ‘He uses people.'

‘Do you know him well?'

‘Rode for him a couple of times when I was starting out – until he laid out his terms.'

‘His terms?' Ben probed.

‘Oh, no,' she said, shaking her head. ‘I'm not going to give you any juicy quotes. Use your imagination. But all I'll say is, when I turned him down I was jocked off, for good, and I'm not the only one he's dumped.'


Belinda wouldn't be drawn.

‘Shall we just concentrate on the matter in hand? Tuppy, wasn't it?'

‘So, how do you feel about Truman?' Ben asked, turning back to Rackham.

‘Look – as Belinda said – is this about the Gold Cup, or are you just here to dig up the past? All that's over and done with now and I've got another horse. How I feel about Truman is irrelevant.'

‘So, do you feel you got a good price for Cajun King?'

Rackham's eyes narrowed but it was Belinda Kepple who spoke.

‘You don't give up, do you, Mr Copperfield?
You know, I really think we can do without this kind of publicity.' She came across to stand just inside the stable door, her eyes hard and unfriendly. ‘I'm not a fan of journalists, but I was prepared to give you the benefit of the doubt for your father's sake. As it is, I think perhaps you should go now. If Cecil wants to speak to you again he's welcome to do so, but not on my property.'

Rackham shook his head. ‘I don't want to.'

‘So you see, Mr Copperfield. You've outstayed your welcome. Please go.'

Ben held her gaze for a moment then inclined his head and turned away. After a couple of strides he paused, looking back.

‘For what it's worth, I'm sorry,' he said. ‘There was just something I had to know.'

Rackham frowned slightly but the trainer's expression held no compromise so, with a wave of his hand, Ben walked away. The experience had left a sour taste in his mouth. It wasn't by any means the first time he'd played the hard-nosed reporter, but it didn't come naturally to him, and usually his grilling was reserved for people he didn't particularly like; Belinda Kepple was someone he felt he could have liked a lot.

Back in the Mitsubishi, he drove a little way up the road before stopping in a convenient gateway where he switched off the engine, sank down in his seat and prepared to wait.

About twenty minutes later Rackham appeared, apparently in no particular hurry, and, after he'd passed, Ben started the engine and followed.

It was a wasted effort. Rackham's silver BMW headed for Cranleigh Place, deviating only once to take in a visit to a local convenience store, where he bought cigarettes, a bag of crisps and a magazine. Shortly afterwards, the car disappeared through the pillared gates of Rackham's home and, presumably, to its garage.

Ben considered sitting outside to see if he reappeared but his back was aching and he really wasn't in the mood. On top of that, he very much doubted that it would do any good. Rackham's demeanour wasn't that of a man with a weighty criminal matter on his mind. His reaction to Ben's questioning had been one of annoyance and discomfort but not, as far as he could tell, of guilt. He was as sure as he could be that the man had nothing important to hide.

Having reached this conclusion Ben set off home, reflecting that, on the whole, it hadn't been one of his better days. Quite apart from the fracas at The Pig in the Poke, he'd been summarily shown the door by both the police officer at the scene of the demonstration and Ms Kepple, and in the meantime had missed the opportunity of a couple of very pleasurable hours with his girlfriend.

All in all, a bit of a bummer.


brought three telephone calls in fairly quick succession.

The first was from Logan, Ben's police contact, and came before he was fully awake.

‘Christ, don't you ever sleep?' he mumbled, peering somewhat blearily at his alarm clock. Half past seven; he remembered counting the hours from two until five o'clock, having jolted awake from a bad dream, trembling and drenched in sweat.

‘Yup. Did the late shift, slept for three hours, got up and been for a run,' Logan announced cheerfully.

‘Bastard!' Ben said.

Logan laughed. ‘This Rackham guy,' he said, getting down to business. ‘Can't find a lot on him. Age fifty-four, married to Maria, with one child – a daughter, currently at Southampton University studying law – lives just outside Sherborne. School; college; medical college; now a respected surgeon working at various hospitals
throughout the South-West. Specialises in gynaecology.'

in his spare time,' Ben muttered. He told Logan about his visit to Rackham's home. ‘No sign of Mrs Rackham then. Unless she's the owner of the long legs and husky voice.'

‘According to the electoral roll she's fifty-two,' Logan told him. ‘So basically, you already know all this?'

‘Most of it,' he admitted. ‘But I hoped you might turn up something else.'

‘And I suppose you're going to tell me you already know that it was Rackham who sold the missing horse to Truman.'

‘Er . . . yes, I did.'

‘So what's the story?'

‘I'm not sure there is one. Truman gave me a tale of some minor blackmail but I had a feeling he wasn't telling me everything. Having met Rackham, though, I don't think he's got anything to hide – except his mistress, perhaps. I'd be very surprised if he had anything to do with kidnapping Cajun King.'

‘So is that the end of your interest in the affair?'

‘Well, officially, I guess.' Ben hesitated. ‘What do you know about ALSA?'

‘The animal lib lot? Load of ex-hippy, vegan environmentalists. They're serial protesters; if they're not protesting about that it'll be something else.'

‘Nice to know a policy of open-minded tolerance is alive and well in the modern police force.'

‘Yeah, well. It's easy to be tolerant and open-minded when you don't have to deal with the
buggers,' Logan observed. ‘Sorry; I've got a bit of history with these kinds of groups. This ALSA lot are mainly harmless as far as I know, but even so, I wouldn't suggest tangling with them. Fanatics can be a dangerous breed.'

‘Actually, I met a couple of them yesterday. Henry Allerton, do you know of him?'

‘Ah, Henry. The acceptable face of the organisation. A gentleman, is Henry, and a true believer in the cause. Which is probably more than could be said for the rest of them. If you take my advice you'll stay away from them – but when have you ever taken my advice?'

The second call came just as Ben was emerging from the shower. He grabbed a towel and padded through to his bedroom, leaving a trail of wet footprints.

‘Ben?' It was Truman. ‘Any news? Did you see Rackham?' The wind noise suggested he was outside; perhaps on the gallops.

‘I did.'

‘Do you think he's got him?'

‘Well, I didn't exactly ask, but I'd say not.'

‘How can you be sure?'

‘I can't – not one hundred per cent – but I'd be willing to put money on it. I pushed him pretty hard but he seems to have put the whole Cajun King thing behind him.'

‘Oh, you can't take any notice of what he says, he's a slippery bastard,' Truman said.

That's rich, coming from you, Ben thought.

‘It wasn't just what he said, it was the way he said it; the way he looked. And besides, he's got his own runner in the Gold Cup.'

Truman snorted. ‘Tuppenny Tim. That's about what he's worth! I told you, he's fifty to one, a no-hoper.'

‘That's not what his trainer thinks. Look, I don't quite know what more I can do other than watch him twenty-four seven and, quite frankly, I'd rather not. If you really think he's behind the kidnap, you should tell the police.'

‘You know why I can't do that.' Truman sounded cross. ‘So what next?'

A large splash landed on the telephone and Ben used the end of the towel to wipe his face.

‘Well, I've done what you asked me to do. I guess that's it. I'll put the bill in the post.'

There was a slight pause. ‘What if I asked you to go on working for me? I want that horse found, and two lines of investigation must be better than one.'

‘But surely I'll just be covering the same ground the police will.'

‘So, between you, you should come up with something,' Truman persevered. ‘What do you say?'

Ben shrugged. ‘It's your money, I guess. But I'd want a free rein. That means freedom to question your staff and contacts.'

There was another slight pause.

‘OK. Where will you start?'

Ben sighed, not really happy about it.

‘Well, I've made contact with the animal lib group. I might follow that up. You haven't heard any more from the kidnappers, I suppose?'

‘Nothing. Look, got to go now; the second lot have just arrived. I'll wait to hear from you.'

As he put the phone down Ben sat back heavily on his bed, still wrapped in his damp towel. His back and ribs were sore, he was tired and a little depressed and, left to himself, he probably wouldn't have followed up the ALSA connection, in spite of what he'd said to Logan. But now it seemed he was committed.

‘Damn!' he said after a moment, and Mouse raised an enquiring eyebrow. ‘I've already got a commission. Why don't I just stick to that and stuff Eddie bloody Truman?'

The dog looked uncomfortable, recognising the tone but not understanding the words. Ben put a hand down to rub the top of her head. ‘You don't know what I'm talking about, do you, sausage? Don't worry about it; you're a good girl.'

Thinking about his feature on Nico and the Csikós, Ben was within a whisker of ringing Truman back and reversing his decision, but, before he could do so, the phone rang yet again.

Muttering under his breath, he picked up the receiver.


‘Ben Copperfield?'


‘Henry Allerton here.'

Oh, shit.

‘Hi. What can I do for you?'

‘Your offer, yesterday . . .'

‘Yeah, about that—' Ben began.

‘I've talked it over with the others, and we'd like to take you up on it. It's high time we had a chance to put forward our point of view.'

Ben looked heavenwards.

‘OK,' he heard himself saying. ‘Where and when?'

‘Could you possibly come over today?'

‘I guess so.'

BOOK: Outside Chance
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