Authors: Peter Temple
‘Peter Temple’s prose is brusque and tender, according to need, his characterisation subtle yet strong, and his themes urgent and universal. Put simply, Temple is a master’
‘Characterisation, dialogue and the quality of the prose are all top-class’
‘My first encounter with the multi-prizewinning Australian writer Peter Temple…has left me hot on the trail of his earlier books’
‘Peter Temple is deservedly the leading light of Australian crime fiction and it’s time the rest of the world caught on…this is crime writing at its very best’
‘Great locations, hard-nosed dialogue and a twisting plot combine to create superb entertainment’
‘Peter Temple has been described as one of Australia’s best crime novelists, but he’s far better than that. He’s one of our best novelists full stop’
‘Temple writes…with an almost hypnotic pull that makes it almost impossible to skip a word, skim a page or stop for superfluous things like eating, drinking or sleeping’
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Peter Temple is the most acclaimed crime and thriller writer in Australia. He has won the Ned Kelly Award for crime fiction an unprecedented five times, most recently for
The Broken Shore
, and has a legion of fans around the world. He is also the author of
An Iron Rose, Shooting Star
In the Evil Day
, and of three other novels featuring Jack Irish:
Bad Debts, Black Tide
. He lives in Ballarat, Australia with his family.
First published in Great Britain in 2007 by Quercus
This edition published in 2008 by
21 Bloomsbury Square
Copyright © 2007 by Peter Temple
The moral right of Peter Temple to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Design and Patents Act, 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
ISBN 978 1 84724 572 4
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organisations, places and events are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Printed and bound in Great Britain by Clays Ltd, St Ives plc.
For Gerhard and Karin,
dear friends, for all the good times:
Kom dans, Klaradyn
On a grey, whipped Wednesday in early winter, men in long coats came out and shot Renoir where he stood, noble, unbalanced, a foreleg hanging. In the terminating jolt of the bolt, many dreams died.
Later, in the car, Cameron Delray sat behind the wheel, looked straight ahead and made no move to get going. Harry Strang, head deep in his old racing overcoat, held his knuckles to his forehead. After a while, he said, ‘Act of God, no bloody insurance for that.’
I was in shock, rubbing my hands together, trying to comfort myself. Most of them you can lose easily and there are fifty reasons why. This was the one we couldn’t lose. If the ground was firm. If the horse didn’t miss the start, and this horse was not going to miss the start, it was the best-schooled horse in the world, if it didn’t miss the start, it could street the small field by at least six lengths, probably ten.
And nobody knew that except us.
The ground was firm. It didn’t miss the start.
All Renoir had to do was run 1000 metres. On lazy days, not pushed, we had clocked him doing that in around 57 seconds. Only one horse running against him had come close to such a time. Afterwards, that creature swabbed positive for Melazanine and hadn’t run under 65 since.
So that didn’t count. Drug-assisted times don’t count.
The day before, Harry Strang, walking next to Kathy Gale, big hand holding her elbow, said, ‘Can’t win with you up, he can’t win. Just mind you get him out with em, keep him away from em, don’t touch him, he’ll do the rest.’
All Kathy had to do was get the horse to jump cleanly out of gate number six, just urge him on, one bend, it didn’t matter about looking for the short path, being out wide meant nothing, he could beat them if he ran on the grandstand rail, the horse was ten lengths better than any of the competition. Just go for the judge.
Renoir, black as the grave, stood in the stall with the patient air of a Clydesdale, no sign of nerves. The VE 4000 showed me a calm, intelligent eye and Kathy Gale’s face, her mouth, the upper teeth resting on the plumped pillow of the lower lip, the tooth next to the canine that jutted slightly, that broke the rank of her seagull-white choppers.
I saw Kathy put out a hand and rub Renoir under his left ear. It twitched. He liked that; she had done it to him hundreds of times. They stood in the gate, a horse and a small rider, at their ease, friends, together greatly superior to the men and animals on either side of them. And when she urged him, he would respond with a great thrust of dark and gleaming thighs.
The race caller said, ‘Three to come in, very serious plunge on Renoir for a horse with one place from nine starts, never run this distance. He’s shrunk from 30–1 to outright favourite, 4–5 on, pressure of the money, started as a trickle. Not just the bookmakers either. TAB pool is astonishing for a pretty ordinary autumn race.’
A pool swollen by our money, ours and the money of all the price-watchers who got on with us in the last moments before betting closed.
‘Last one goes in, that’s Redzone,’ said the caller, ‘the line’s good, light flashing…’
The gates opened and they came out together, eight abreast, but only for a moment because Renoir needed no more than half-a-dozen strides to draw away, a length, two, three. Then Kathy settled him, didn’t let him bolt, used what she knew about sitting on horses to manage him. Just before the bend, she looked over her shoulder, just a jerk of the head, saw the inadequate herd well behind her, and she took the horse over to the rail. In the straight, Renoir’s dominance was complete. With three hundred to go, he was six lengths clear and Kathy was riding him hands and heels, copybook riding, and drawing further ahead with each stride.
‘Well, isn’t this easy,’ said the caller. ‘Renoir’s thrashing this field, drilling the bookies who got caught early, he’s in another league altogether and Kathy Gale isn’t even…’
I had Kathy and Renoir in perfect focus, all grace and power, an unbidden smile on my face, and then I saw her head drop and her arms in their silken sleeves go forward to clutch the lovely black neck and I saw shining horse and rider falling, falling, falling, all gainliness gone, all grace and power departed in a split second of agony.
They fell and she lay still and he, the proud and lovely creature, struggled to stand and the field had plenty of space in which to part and ride around them so that some undeserving twosome could be declared winners.
Now, in the car, Harry took his hands from his face and fastened his seatbelt. ‘Home,’ he said, ‘have a bit of Bolly, thank the stars the Lord didn’t taketh away the girl.’
On the way, on the hideous tollway, in post-adrenalin shock, I was thinking about life, the brevity, the silliness, my life in particular, the fragility of life, how unfair it was that the huge burden should be carried on such slender and brittle supports, when Cam said, driving with two fingers in a suicidal rush of trucks and boofheads, petrolheads, ‘The giveth is we got average fifteen with the books, just on ten on the tote.’
I sat up, heart pumping as if from a dream of flight, enraged and irrational. ‘You put money on that?’ I said. ‘A fucking thing not fit to lick Renoir’s boots, shoes, whatever, hooves, bloody hooves…’
Harry had his head back, against the headrest. ‘Jack,’ he said, sadly, ‘they don’t have races with only one horse.’
I slumped in my seat, a child gently chastised. How often do you have to be told some things?
Lyn, the fourth Mrs Harry Strang, opened a French door at the side of the mellow red-brick house as we came up the gravel path from the carriage-house. She had the sexy look of someone who’d been running, followed by a hot shower and a rough towelling. Her right hand came up, fell. She knew. She was once a trainer’s wife, she knew.
‘Had better days,’ said Harry without being asked anything. ‘Might have the bubbly in the study, love.’
In the awesome room, we stood with our backs to the five-metre-high wall of books that held everything ever published on horses and horse racing and looked out across the terrace and the lawn and the yew hedges to the naked maples moving like things possessed.
There was a knock. Cam opened the door in the library wall and Mrs Aldridge came in with a tray. I saw the delicacies, salivated. I’d had them before and they featured in my dreams. Ethereal capsules, a shell of champagne batter just puffed in hot oil. Inside, the teeth would meet a fresh oyster wrapped in tissuethin smoked salmon.
Lyn Strang followed, three flutes on a silver tray, a bottle of Bollinger, uncorked, stoppered with a sterling silver device.
Harry looked at his two women. ‘What would I do?’ he said, head to one side. I had never seen him like that.
‘Stuff yourself with all the wrong things,’ said Mrs Aldridge, sharply. She left the room.
Harry looked at Lyn. ‘Glass short,’ he said.
‘No,’ said Lyn. ‘Can’t bear racing post-mortems.’
She touched his cheek, smiled, a brisk nurse smile, and left.
Harry poured. Cam and I waited for the toast, Harry always proposed a toast to the next time. It didn’t come. He sipped, and we sipped. My eyes met Cam’s.
‘Well,’ Harry said, putting his glass down on the tray, looking out at his garden, ‘I’m thinkin of givin it away.’
I didn’t want to hear this. It had been in my mind from the moment he said, ‘What would I do?’
‘An act of God,’ said Cam. He was holding his flute to the light, studying the minute bubbles. ‘Whoever that is. There’ll be better days.’
‘Not today’s stuff,’ said Harry, still not looking at us. ‘That’s the business. The punt’s the punt, can’t cop it, drop it. The commissioner, that’s what makes me think it’s time to shut the shop.’
‘We’ll fix the Cynthia thing,’ said Cam. ‘We’re workin on that.’
I wanted to second Cam’s statements but I didn’t believe them and I couldn’t find a quick reassuring lie.
Harry picked up his glass, had a generous sip, shook his head, pretended to cheer up. ‘Got to be good for ya, don’t ya reckon?’ he said.
‘We’ll fix the Cynthia thing,’ repeated Cam.
Cynthia had been the commission agent for four big plunges, marshalling teams of old-age pensioners, young-age pensioners, the bored, a retired bank manager, two strippers gone to flab, an ageing hooker relishing undemanding vertical work.
The most recent plunge had been a simple matter involving a nightclub owner who believed, correctly, that a non-performing horse he secretly owned through his sister-in-law’s cousin would show unexpected ability in a feature race at Flemington.
Afterwards, Cynthia had collected the large sum her platoon of punters had taken off the bookies. She was in her old Mazda, driving to meet Cam, cruising down a narrow Yarraville street, when a four-wheel drive forced her to the kerb. Two men got out, asked for the money. She said she didn’t think that was on, and, in full view of an old man on sticks and a woman on a bicycle, one of the men punched her in the face six or seven times, held her by the hair, turned her head and broke her jaw and her nose and impacted her cheekbones. When they were gone, she got Cam on her mobile, speaking thickly through the blood and the crushed cartilage, then lost consciousness.
Cam more or less drove across country to reach her, ignoring traffic lights and stop signs and other vehicles, took her to Footscray General. The number the woman on the bicycle had written down belonged to a vehicle stolen less than an hour earlier. It was found in the city, in Latrobe Street, just after 6 p.m.
Cynthia now had less than forty per cent sight in one eye. We weren’t going to be able to fix Cynthia. And the Cynthia thing wasn’t any easier.
‘Can’t get over that,’ said Harry. ‘Not a thing used to happen. Bash a woman like that, bastards’d do anythin.’
I knew what he was thinking. He was thinking about his women: his wife, thirty years his junior, the final fling, and his housekeeper of thirty-five years, a person who left England for him, left home and kin to look after a broken-bodied jockey. He was thinking about Lyn and Mrs Aldridge because he loved them and he was fearful for them. Not for himself, not for Harry Strang, the champion jockey of whom an English racing writer once wrote, ‘In his presence, agitated English horses become calm and calm English jockeys lose their composure.’