Banker, p.1Dick Francis
Books by Dick Francis
THE SPORT OF QUEENS (autobiography)
IN THE FRAME
LESTER: The Official Biography
COME TO GRIEF
TO THE HILT
FIELD OF THIRTEEN
THE DICK FRANCIS LIBRARY
an imprint of
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published in Great Britain October 1982
Second impression November 1982
Third impression December 1982
Fourth impression January 1983
Fifth impression September 1989
Sixth impression April 1991
Seventh impression October 2000
Eighth impression December 2005
Copyright © Dick Francis, 1982
The moral right of the author has been asserted
All rights reserved
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
My sincere thanks for the generous help of
JEREMY H. THOMPSON MD FRCPI
Professor of Pharmacology
University of California
The First Year
The Second Year
The Third Year
The First Year
Gordon Michaels stood in the fountain with all his clothes on.
‘My God,’ Alec said. ‘What is he doing?’
‘Your boss,’ Alec said. ‘Standing in the fountain.’
I crossed to the window and stared downwards: down two floors to the ornamental fountain in the forecourt of the Paul Ekaterin merchant bank. Down to where three entwining plumes of water rose gracefully into the air and fell in a glittering circular curtain. To where, in the bowl, calf-deep, stood Gordon in his navy pin-striped suit… in his white shirt and sober silk tie… in his charcoal socks and black shoes… in his gold cufflinks and onyx ring… in his polished City persona… soaking wet.
It was his immobility, I thought, which principally alarmed. Impossible to interpret this profoundly uncharacteristic behaviour as in any way an expression of lightheartedness, of celebration or of joy.
I whisked straight out of the deep-carpeted office, through the fire doors, down the flights of gritty stone staircase and across the marbled expanse of entrance hall. The uniformed man at the security desk was staring towards the wide glass front doors with his fillings showing and two arriving visitors were looking stunned. I went past them at a rush into the open air and slowed only in the last few strides before the fountain.
‘Gordon!’ I said.
His eyes were open. Beads of water ran down his forehead from his dripping black hair and caught here and there on his lashes. The main fall of water slid in a crystal sheet just behind his shoulders with scatterings of drops spraying forwards onto him like rain. Gordon’s eyes looked at me unblinkingly with earnest vagueness as if he were not at all sure who I was.
‘Get into the fountain,’ he said.
‘Er… why, exactly?’
‘They don’t like water.’
‘All those people. Those people with white faces. They don’t like water. They won’t follow you into the fountain. You’ll be all right if you’re wet.’
His voice sounded rational enough for me to wonder wildly whether this was not after all a joke: but Gordon’s jokes were normally small, civilised, glinting commentaries on the stupidities of mankind, not whooping, gusty, practical affairs smacking of the surreal.
‘Come out of there, Gordon,’ I said uneasily.
‘No, no. They’re waiting for me. Send for the police. Ring them up. Tell them to come and take them all away.’
‘But who, Gordon?’
‘All those people, of course. Those people with white faces.’ His head slowly turned from side to side, his eyes focussed as if at a throng closely surrounding the whole fountain. Instinctively I too looked from side to side, but all I could see were the more distant stone and glass walls of Ekaterin’s, with, now, a growing chorus of heads appearing disbelievingly at the windows.
I clung still to a hope of normality. ‘They work here,’ I said. ‘Those people work here.’
‘No, no. They came with me. In the car. Only two or three of them, I thought. But all the others, they were here, you know. They want me to go with them, but they can’t reach me here, they don’t like the water.’
He had spoken fairly loudly throughout so that I should hear him above the noise of the fountain, and the last of these remarks reached the chairman of the bank who came striding briskly across from the building.
‘Now, Gordon, my dear chap,’ the chairman said authoritatively, coming to a purposeful halt at my side, ‘what’s all this about, for God’s sake?’
‘He’s having hallucinations,’ I s
The chairman’s gaze flicked to my face, and back to Gordon, and Gordon seriously advised him to get into the fountain, because the people with white faces couldn’t reach him there, on account of disliking water.
‘Do something, Tim,’ the chairman said, so I stepped into the fountain and took Gordon’s arm.
‘Come on,’ I said. ‘If we’re wet they won’t touch us. We don’t have to stay in the water. Being wet is enough.’
‘Is it?’ Gordon said. ‘Did they tell you?’
‘Yes, they did. They won’t touch anyone who’s wet.’
‘Oh. All right. If you’re sure.’
‘Yes, I’m sure.’
He nodded understandingly and with only slight pressure from my arm took two sensible-seeming paces through the water and stepped over the knee-high coping onto the paving slabs of the forecourt. I held onto him firmly and hoped to heaven that the people with white faces would keep their distance; and although Gordon looked around apprehensively it appeared that they were not so far trying to abduct him.
The chairman’s expression of concern was deep and genuine, as he and Gordon were firm and long-time friends. Except in appearance they were much alike; essentially clever, intuitive, and with creative imaginations. Each in normal circumstances had a manner of speaking which expressed even the toughest commands in gentle politeness and both had a visible appetite for their occupation. They were both in their fifties, both at the top of their powers, both comfortably rich.
Gordon dripped onto the paving stones.
‘I think,’ the chairman said, casting a glance at the inhabited windows, ‘that we should go indoors. Into the boardroom, perhaps. Come along, Gordon.’
He took Gordon Michaels by his other sodden sleeve, and between us one of the steadiest banking brains in London walked obediently in its disturbing fog.
‘The people with white faces,’ I said as we steered a calm course across the marble entrance hall between clearly human open-mouthed watchers, ‘are they coming with us?’
‘Of course,’ Gordon said.
It was obvious also that some of them came up in the lift with us. Gordon watched them dubiously all the time. The others, as we gathered from his reluctance to step out into the top-floor hallway, were waiting for our arrival.
‘It’s all right,’ I said to Gordon encouragingly. ‘Don’t forget, we’re still wet.’
‘Henry isn’t,’ he said, anxiously eyeing the chairman.
‘We’re all together,’ I said. ‘It will be all right.’
Gordon looked doubtful, but finally allowed himself to be drawn from the lift between his supporters. The white faces apparently parted before us, to let us through.
The chairman’s personal assistant came hurrying along the corridor but the chairman waved him conclusively to a stop and said not to let anyone disturb us in the boardroom until he rang the bell; and Gordon and I in our wet shoes sloshed across the deep-piled green carpet to the long glossy mahogany boardroom table. Gordon consented to sit in one of the comfortable leather arm-chairs which surrounded it with me and the chairman alongside, and this time it was the chairman who asked if the people with white faces were still there.
‘Of course,’ Gordon said, looking around. ‘They’re sitting in all the chairs round the table. And standing behind them. Dozens of them. Surely you can see them?’
‘What are they wearing?’ the chairman asked.
Gordon looked at him in puzzlement, but answered simply enough. ‘White suits of course. With black buttons. Down the front, three big black buttons.’
‘All of them?’ the chairman asked. ‘All the same?’
‘Oh yes, of course.’
‘Clowns,’ I exclaimed.
‘Oh no,’ Gordon said. ‘They’re not clowns. They’re not funny.’
‘White-faced clowns are sad.’
Gordon looked troubled and wary, and kept a good eye on his visitations.
‘What’s best to do?’ wondered the chairman; but he was talking principally to himself. To me directly, after a pause, he said, ‘I think we should take him home. He’s clearly not violent, and I see no benefit in calling in a doctor here, whom we don’t know. I’ll ring Judith and warn her, poor girl. I’ll drive him in my car as I’m perhaps the only one who knows exactly where he lives. And I’d appreciate it, Tim, if you’d come along, sit with Gordon on the back seat, keep him reassured.’
‘Certainly,’ I agreed. ‘And incidentally his own car’s here. He said that when he drove in he thought there were two or three of the white faces with him. The rest were waiting here.’
‘Did he?’ The chairman pondered. ‘He can’t have been hallucinating when he actually left home. Surely Judith would have noticed.’
‘But he seemed all right in the office when he came in,’ I said. ‘Quiet, but, all right. He sat at his desk for nearly an hour before he went out and stood in the fountain.’
‘Didn’t you talk with him?’
‘He doesn’t like people to talk when he’s thinking.’
The chairman nodded. ‘First thing, then,’ he said, ‘see if you can find a blanket. Ask Peter to find one. And… er… how wet are you, yourself?’
‘Not soaked, except for my legs. No problem, honestly. It’s not cold.’
He nodded, and I went on the errand. Peter, the assistant, produced a red blanket with Fire written across one corner for no good reason that I could think of, and with this wrapped snugly round his by now naked chest Gordon allowed himself to be conveyed discreetly to the chairman’s car. The chairman himself slid behind his wheel and with the direct effectiveness which shaped his whole life drove his still half-damp passengers southwards through the fair May morning.
Henry Shipton, chairman of Paul Ekaterin Ltd, was physically a big-framed man whose natural bulk was kept short of obesity by raw carrots, mineral water and will power. Half visionary, half gambler, he habitually subjected every soaring idea to rigorous analytic test: a man whose powerful instinctive urges were everywhere harnessed and put to work.
I admired him. One had to. During his twenty-year stint (including ten as chairman) Paul Ekaterin Ltd had grown from a moderately successful banking house into one of the senior league, accepted world-wide with respect. I could measure almost exactly the spread of public recognition of the bank’s name, since it was mine also: Timothy Ekaterin, great-grandson of Paul the founder. In my schooldays people always said ‘Timothy who? E-kat-erin? How do you spell it?’ Quite often now they simply nodded – and expected me to have the fortune to match, which I hadn’t.
‘They’re very peaceful, you know,’ Gordon said after a while.
‘The white faces?’ I asked.
He nodded. ‘They don’t say anything. They’re just waiting.’
‘Here in the car?’
He looked at me uncertainly. ‘They come and go.’
At least they weren’t pink elephants, I thought irreverently: but Gordon, like the chairman, was abstemious beyond doubt. He looked pathetic in his red blanket, the sharp mind confused with dreams, the well-groomed businessman a pre-fountain memory, the patina stripped away. This was the warrior who dealt confidently every day in millions, this huddled mass of delusions going home in wet trousers. The dignity of man was everywhere tissue-paper thin.
He lived, it transpired, in leafy splendour by Clapham Common, in a late Victorian family pile surrounded by head-high garden walls. There were high cream-painted wooden gates which were shut, and which I opened, and a short gravelled driveway between tidy lawns.
Judith Michaels erupted from her opening front door to meet the chairman’s car as it rolled to a stop, and the first thing she said, aiming it variously between Henry Shipton and myself, was ‘I’ll throttle that bloody doctor.’
After that she said, ‘How is he?’ and after that, in compassion, ‘Come along, love, it’s all right, come along in, darling, we’ll get you
She put sheltering arms round the red blanket as her child of a husband stumbled out of the car, and to me and to Henry Shipton she said again in fury ‘I’ll kill him. He ought to be struck off.’
‘They’re very bad these days about house calls,’ the chairman said doubtfully, ‘But surely… he’s coming?’
‘No, he’s not. Now you lambs both go into the kitchen – there’s some coffee in the pot – and I’ll be down in a sec. Come on Gordon, my dear love, up those stairs…’ She helped him through the front door, across a Persian-rugged hall and towards a panelled wood staircase, with me and the chairman following and doing as we were told.
Judith Michaels, somewhere in the later thirties, was a brown-haired woman in whom the life-force flowed strongly and with whom I could easily have fallen in love. I’d met her several times before that morning (at the bank’s various social gatherings) and had been conscious freshly each time of the warmth and glamour which were as normal to her as breathing. Whether I in return held the slightest attraction for her I didn’t know and hadn’t tried to find out, as entangling oneself emotionally with one’s boss’s wife was hardly best for one’s prospects. All the same I felt the same old tug, and wouldn’t have minded taking Gordon’s place on the staircase.
With these thoughts, I hoped, decently hidden, I went with Henry Shipton into the friendly kitchen and drank the offered coffee.
‘A great girl, Judith,’ the chairman said with feeling, and I looked at him in rueful surprise and agreed.
She came to join us after a while, still more annoyed than worried. ‘Gordon says there are people with white faces sitting all round the room and they won’t go away. It’s really too bad. It’s infuriating. I’m so angry I could spit.’
The chairman and I looked bewildered.
‘Didn’t I tell you?’ she said, observing us. ‘Oh no, I suppose I didn’t. Gordon hates anyone to know about his illness. It isn’t very bad, you see. Not bad enough for him to have to stop working, or anything like that.’
‘Er…’ said the chairman. ‘What illness?’
‘Oh, I suppose I’ll have to tell you, now this has happened. I could kill that doctor, I really could.’ She took a deep breath and said, ‘Gordon’s got mild Parkinson’s disease. His left hand shakes a bit now and then. I don’t expect you’ve noticed. He tries not to let people see.’
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