Shattered, p.7Dick Francis
That night I made Catherine Dodd in three pieces that later I would join together. I made not a literal lifelike sculpture of her head, but an abstract of her daily occupation. I made it basically as a soaring upward spread of wings, black and shining at the base, rising through a black, white and clear center to a high rising pinion with streaks of gold shining to the top.
The gold fascinated my subject.
“Is it real gold?”
“Iron pyrites. But real gold would melt the same way ... only I used all I had a week ago.”
I gently held the fragile top wing in layers of heatproof fiber and laid it carefully in one of the six annealing ovens, and only then, with all three sections safely cooling, could I hardly bear the strains in my own limbs and felt too like cracking apart myself.
Catherine stood up and took a while to speak. Eventually she cleared her throat and asked what I would do with the finished flight of wings and I, coming down to earth from invention, tried prosaically (as on other such occasions) just to say that I would probably make a pedestal for it in the gallery and light it with a spotlight or two to emphasize its shape.
We both stood looking at each other as if not knowing what else to say. I leaned forward and kissed her cheek, which with mutual small movements became mouth to mouth, with passion in there somewhere, acknowledged but not yet overflowing.
Arms around motorcycle leathers had practical drawbacks. My own physical aches put winces where they weren’t wanted, and with rueful humor she disengaged herself and said, “Maybe another time.”
“Delete the maybe,” I said.
All three of my assistants could let themselves in through the gallery with a personal key, and it was Pamela Jane alone whom I saw first with a slit of eyesight when I returned unwillingly to consciousness at about eight o‘clock on Monday morning. I’d spent the first hour after Catherine had gone considering the comfort of a Wychwood Dragon bed (without the Dragon herself) but in the end from lack of energy had simply flopped back into the big chair in the workshop and closed my eyes on a shuddering and protesting nervous system.
Catherine herself, real and abstract, had kept me warm and mobile through the darkest hours of night, but she’d left long before dawn, and afterwards sleep, which practically never knitted up any raveled sleave of care, had made things slightly worse.
Pamela Jane said, horrified, “Honestly, you look as if you’d been hit by a steamroller. Have you been here all night?”
The answer must have been obvious. I was unshaven, for a start, and any movement set up quite awful and stiffened reactions. One could almost hear the joints creak. Never again, I promised myself.
I hadn’t considered how I was going to explain things to my little team. When I spoke to Pamela Jane, even my voice felt rough.
“Can you...” I paused, cleared my throat and tried again. “Pam... jug of tea?”
She put her coat in her locker and scurried helpfully around, making the tea and unbolting the side door, which we were obliged to use as a fire escape if necessary. By the advent of Irish I was ignoring the worst, and Hickory, arriving last, found me lifting the three wing sections of the night’s work out of the ovens and carefully fitting them together before fusing them into place. All three of my helpers wished they’d seen the separate pieces made. One day, I agreed with them, I would make duplicates to show them.
They couldn’t help but notice that I found too much movement a bad idea, but I could have done without Hickory’s cheerful assumption it was the aftermath of booze.
The first customer came. Life more or less returned to normal. Irish began building a plinth in the gallery to hold the wings. If I concentrated on blowing glass, I could forget four black jersey-wool masks with eyeholes.
Later in the morning Marigold’s Rolls drew up outside and occupied two of the parking spaces, with Worthington at the wheel looking formal in his badge-of-office cap.
Marigold herself, he reported through his wound-down window, had gone shopping with Bon-Bon in Bon-Bon’s car. Both ladies had given him the day off and the use of the Rolls, and he appreciated their generosity, he said solemnly, as he was going to take me to the races.
I looked back at him in indecision.
“I’ m not going,” I said. “And where am I not going?”
“Leicester. Jump racing. Eddie Payne will be there. Rose will be there. Norman Osprey will be there with his book. I thought you wanted to find out who gave the videotape to Martin. Do you want to know what was on it, or who stole it, and do you want to know who gassed me with the kids and the ladies, or do you want to stay here quietly and make nice little pink vases to sell to the tourists?”
I didn’t answer at once and he said judiciously, making allowances, “Mind you, I don’t suppose you want another beating like you got last night, so stay here if you like and I’ll mooch around by myself.”
“Who told you about last night?”
He took off his cap and wiped his bald crown with a white handkerchief.
“A little bird told me. A not so little bird.”
“Not... a pigeon?”
“Quick, aren’t you.” He grinned. “Yeah, a Pigeon. It seems he thinks quite a bit of you. He phoned me specially at Bon-Bon’s. He says to put it around that in future any hands laid on you are laid on him.”
I felt both grateful and surprised. I asked, “How well do you know him?”
He answered obliquely. “You know that gardener of Martin’s that was dying? That you lost your license for, speeding to get him there in time?”
“Well, yes, I remember.”
“That gardener was Tom Pigeon’s dad.”
“He didn’t die, though. Not then, anyway.”
“It didn’t matter. Are you coming to Leicester?”
“I guess so.”
I went back into the workshop, put on my outdoor clothes and told Irish, Hickory and Pamela Jane to keep on making paperweights while I went to the sports. They had all known Martin alive, as my friend, and all of them in brief snatches, and in turn, had been to his sending off. They wished me luck with many winners at the races.
I sat beside Worthington for the journey. We stopped to buy me a cheap watch, and to pick up a daily racing newspaper for the runners and riders. In a section titled “News Today” on the front page I read, among a dozen little snippets, that the Leicester Stewards would be hosts that day to Lloyd Baxter (owner of star jumper Tallahassee) to honor the memory of jockey Martin Stukely.
After a while I told Worthington in detail about my visit to Lorna Terrace, Taunton. He frowned over the more obvious inconsistencies put forward by mother and son, but seemed struck to consternation when I said,
“Didn’t you tell me that the bookmaking firm of Arthur Robins, established 1894, was now owned and run by people named Webber, Brown... and Verity?”
The consternation lasted ten seconds. “And the mother and son in Taunton were Verity!” A pause. “It must be a coincidence,” he said.
“I don’t believe in coincidences like that.”
Worthington slid a silent glance my way as he navigated a roundabout, and after a while said, “Gerard ... if you have any clear idea of what’s going on... what is it? For instance, who were those attackers in black masks last night, and what did they want?”
I said, “I’d think it was one of them who squirted you with cyclopropane and laid me out with the empty cylinder... and I don’t know who that was. I’m sure, though, that one of the black masks was the fragrant Rose.”
“I’m not saying she wasn‘t, but why?”
“Who else in the world would scream at Norman Osprey—or anyone else, but I’m pretty sure it was him—to break my wrists? Rose’s voice is unmistakable. And there is the way she moves... and as for purpose... partly to put me out of business, wouldn’t you say? And partly to make me give her what I haven’t got. And also to stop me from doing what we’re aiming to do today.”
“You just stay beside me, and we’ll be fine.”
Worthington took me seriously and bodyguarded like a professional. We confirmed one of the black-mask merchants for certain simply from his stunned reaction to my being there and on my feet when anyone with any sense would have been knocking back aspirins on a sofa with an ice pack. Martin himself had shown me how jump jockeys walked around sometimes with broken ribs and arms and other injuries. Only broken legs, he’d said, postponed actual riding for a couple of months. Bruises, to him, were everyday normal, and he dealt with pain by putting it out of his mind and thinking about something else. “Ignore it,” he’d said. I copied him at Leicester as best I could.
When he saw me, Norman Osprey had stopped dead in the middle of setting up his stand, his heavy shoulders bunching; and Rose herself made the mistake of striding up to him in a carefree bounce at that moment, only to follow his disbelieving gaze and lose a good deal of her self-satisfaction. What she said explosively was “bloody hell.”
If one imagined Norman Osprey’s shoulders in black jersey, he was recognizably the figure who’d smashed my watch with his baseball bat, while aiming at my wrist. I’d jerked at the vital moment and I’d kicked his shin very hard indeed. The sharp voice urging him to try again, had, without doubt, been Rose’s.
I said to them jointly, “Tom Pigeon sends his regards.”
Neither of them looked overjoyed. Worthington murmured something to me urgently about it not being advisable to poke a wasps’ nest with a stick. He also put distance between himself and Arthur Robins, Est. 1894, and, with unobvious speed, I followed.
“They don’t know exactly what they’re looking for,” I pointed out, slowing down. “If they knew, they would have asked for it by name last night.”
“They might have done that anyway, if Tom Pigeon hadn’t been walking his dogs.” Worthington steered us still farther away from Norman Osprey, looking back all the same to make certain we weren’t being followed.
My impression of the events of barely fifteen hours earlier was that damage, as well as information, had been the purpose. But if Tom Pigeon hadn’t arrived, and if it had been to save the multiple wrist bones that Martin had said never properly mended, and if I could have answered their questions, then would I... ?
Sore as I already felt all over, I couldn’t imagine any piece of knowledge that Martin might have had that he thought was worth my virtual destruction... and I didn’t like the probability that they—the black masks—wrongly believed that I did know what they wanted, and that I was being merely stubborn in not telling them.
Mordantly I admitted to myself that if I’d known for certain what they wanted and if Tom Pigeon hadn’t arrived with his dogs, I wouldn’t at that moment be strolling around any racetrack, but would quite likely have told them anything to stop them, and have been considering suicide from shame. And I was not going to confess that to anyone at all.
Only to Martin’s hovering presence could I even admit it. Bugger you, pal, I thought. What the sod have you let me in for?
Lloyd Baxter lunched at Leicester with the Stewards. His self-regarding nature found this admirable invitation to be merely his due. He told me so, condescendingly, when our paths crossed between parade ring and stands.
To Lloyd Baxter the meeting was unexpected, but I’d spotted him early and waited through the Stewards’ roast beef, cheese and coffee, talking to Worthington outside, and stiffening uncomfortably in the cold wind.
Cold weather emphasized the Paleolithic-like weight of Baxter’s facial structure and upper body, and even after only one week (though a stressful one) his hair seemed definitely to have grayed a further notch.
He wasn’t pleased to see me. I was sure he regretted the whole Broadway evening, but he concentrated hard on being civil, and it was churlish of me, I dare say, to suspect that it was because I knew of his epilepsy. Nowhere in print or chat had his condition been disclosed, but if he were afraid I would not only broadcast but snigger, he had made a judgment of my own character which hardly flattered.
Worthington melted temporarily from my side and I walked with Lloyd Baxter while he oozed compliments about the Stewards’ lunch and discussed the worth of many trainers, excluding poor old Priam Jones.
I said mildly, “It wasn’t his fault that Tallahassee fell at Cheltenham.”
I got an acid reply. “It was Martin’s fault. He unbalanced him going into the fence. He was too confident.”
Martin had told me that it—whatever itmight be—was, with a disgruntled owner, normally the jockey’s fault. “Pilot error.” He’d shrugged philosophically. “And then you get the other sort of owner, the cream to ride for, the ones who understand that horses aren’t infallible, who say, ‘That’s racing,’ when something shattering happens, and who comfort the jockey who’s just lost them the win of a lifetime.... And believe me,” Martin had said, “Lloyd Baxter isn’t one of those. If I lose for him, it is, in his opinion, my fault.”
“But,” I said without heat to Lloyd Baxter during his trainer-spotting at Leicester, “if a horse falls, it surely isn’t the trainer’s fault? It wasn’t Priam Jones’s fault that Tallahassee fell and lost the Coffee Cup.”
“He should have schooled him better.”
“Well,” I reasoned, “that horse had proved he could jump. He’d already won several races.”
“I want a different trainer.” Lloyd Baxter spoke with obstinacy: a matter of instinct, I saw.
Along with lunch the Stewards had given Tallahassee’s owner an entry ticket to their guests’ vantage viewing box. Lloyd Baxter was already apologizing for shedding me at the entrance when one of the Stewards, following us, changed our course.
“Aren’t you the glass man?” he boomed genially. “My wife’s your greatest fan. We have lumps of your stuff all over our house. That splendid horse you did for her... you came to rig its spotlights, didn’t you?”
I remembered the horse and the house with enough detail to be invited into the Stewards’ guests’ viewing balcony, not entirely to Lloyd Baxter’s delight.
“This young man’s a genius, according to my wife,” the Steward said to Baxter, ushering us in. The genius merely wished he felt less weak.
Lloyd Baxter’s poor opinion of the Steward’s wife’s judgment was written plain on his heavy features, but perhaps it did eventually influence him, because, after the cheering for the next winner had faded, he surprised me very much by resting his hand lightly on my arm to indicate that I should stay and hear what he felt like telling me. He hesitated still, though, so I gave him every chance.
“I’ve often wondered,” I said mildly, “if you saw who came into my showroom on New Year’s Eve. I mean, I know you were ill... but before that... when I’d gone out into the street, did anyone come?”
After a long pause, he faintly nodded. “Someone came into that long gallery you have there. I remember he asked for you and I said you were out in the street... but I couldn’t see him properly as my eyes... my sight develops zigzags sometimes ...” He stopped, but I continued for him.
“You surely have pills.”
“Of course I do!” He was irritated. “But I’d forgotten to take them because of the terrible day it had been, and I hate those very small air taxis to begin with, and I do want a different trainer.” His voice died away, but his troubles had been laid out clearly enough for a chimpanzee to understand.
I asked if, in spite of the zigzag aura, he could describe my unknown visitor.
“No,” he said. “I told him you were in the street and the next time I was properly awake I was in hospital.” He paused while I regretted the cut-short sequence, and then with diffidence he said slowly, “I am aware that I should thank you for your reticence. You could still cause me much embarrassment.”
“There’s no point in it,” I said.
He spent a while studying my face as in the past I’d learned his. T
“No. Tired. Didn’t sleep well.”
“The man who came,” he said abruptly, making no other comment, “was thin and had a white beard and was over fifty.”
The description sounded highly improbable as a thief, and he must have seen my doubt because he added to convince me, “When I saw him, I immediately thought of Priam Jones, who’s been saying for years he’s going to grow a beard. I tell him he’d look weedy.”
I nearly laughed: the picture was true.
Baxter said the white-bearded man reminded him chiefly of a university professor. A lecturer.
I asked, “Did he speak? Was he a normal customer? Did he mention glass?”
Lloyd Baxter couldn’t remember. “If he spoke at all, I heard him only as a jumble. Quite often things seem wrong to me. They’re a sort of warning. Often I can control them a little, or at least prepare... but on that evening it was happening too fast.”
He was being extraordinarily frank, I thought. I wouldn’t have expected so much trust.
“That man with the whisker job,” I said. “He must have seen the beginning at least of your... er... seizure. So why didn’t he help you? Do you think he simply didn’t know what to do, so ran away from trouble, as people tend to, or was it he who made off with the loot... er... that money, in the canvas bag?”
“And the videotape,” Baxter said.
There was an abrupt breath-drawing silence. Then I asked, “What videotape?”
Lloyd Baxter frowned. “He asked for it:‘
“So you gave it to him?”
“No. Yes. No. I don’t know.”
It became clear that in fact Lloyd Baxter’s memory of that evening in Broadway was a scrambled egg of order into chaos. It wasn’t certain that any university lecturer in any white beard existed outside fiction.
Shattered by Dick Francis / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes