Driving Force, p.1Dick Francis
Table of Contents
“Dick Francis captivates with Driving Force . . . [The] wily veteran of mystery yarns keyed to the horse-racing industry always hooks you with the first sentence of the first page.”
With the speed and thrill of the jump game behind him, former jockey Freddie Croft has found contentment in simply transporting horses from the stables to the racetrack. Until one of his drivers picks up an unlicensed passenger—and brings him back dead.
Freddie’s discovery of the corpse draws him into the shadows of a sport where fortunes are made by unscrupulous means, and where the biggest wager is whether or not he can outrace a killer . . .
“Francis’s first-rate thriller about the British horse-racing scene—a ten-week PW bestseller—portrays a former steeplechase jockey who learns that his horse transportation firm is implicated in a drug-smuggling operation.”
“Dick Francis races to new heights . . . One of the best Francis novels in years, Driving Force combines an airtight plot, plenty of racing ambience, and some thoughtful reflections on animal rights, immunology, and the work ethic. Francis fans have a treat in store for them.”
“A thundering good read.”
—Daily Mail (London)
“Galloping heroics . . . the old master still engages all your interest.”
—The Mail on Sunday (London)
Rave reviews for Dick Francis
“[THE] MASTER OF CRIME FICTION AND EQUINE THRILLS.”
“It’s either hard or impossible to read Mr. Francis without growing pleased with yourself: not only the thrill of vicarious competence imparted by the company of his heroes, but also the lore you collect as you go, feel like a field trip with the perfect guide.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“One of the most reliable mystery writers working today . . . Francis’s secret weapons are his protagonists. They are the kind of people you want for friends.”
—The Detroit News and Free Press
“[Francis] has the uncanny ability to turn out simply plotted yet charmingly addictive mysteries.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“A rare and magical talent . . . who never writes the same story twice . . . Few writers have maintained such a high standard of excellence for as long as Dick Francis.”
—The San Diego Union-Tribune
“Few things are more convincing than Dick Francis at a full gallop.”
“Francis just gets better and better . . . It can’t be as easy as he makes it look, or all mystery writers would be as addictive.”
—The Charlotte Observer
“After writing dozens of thrillers, Dick Francis always retains a first-novel freshness.”
—The Indianapolis Star
“He writes about the basic building blocks of life—obligation, honor, love, courage, and pleasure. Those discussions come disguised in adventure novels so gripping that they cry out to be read in one gulp—then quickly reread to savor the details skipped in the first gallop through the pages.”
“Dick Francis stands head and shoulders above the rest.”
Fiction by Dick Francis & Felix Francis
Fiction by Dick Francis
FIELD OF THIRTEEN
10 LB. PENALTY
TO THE HILT
COME TO GRIEF
IN THE FRAME
WIN, PLACE, OR SHOW
A JOCKEY’S LIFE
THE SPORT OF QUEENS
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
A Berkley Book / published by arrangement with Dick Francis Corporation
Fawcett mass-market edition / February 1994
Berkley mass-market edition / January 2010
Copyright © 1992 by Dick Francis.
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eISBN : 978-1-101-19549-9
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My thanks to
Lambourn Racehorse Transport
Professor Ellie J. C. Goldstein
Professor Jeremy H. Thompson
Merrick and Felix
I had told the drivers never on any account to pick up a hitchhiker but of course one day they did, and by the time they reached my house he was dead.
The bell by the back door rang as I was heating up leftover beef stew for a fairly boring supper, consequence of living alone, and with barely a sigh and no premonition I switched off the hot plate, put the saucepan to one side and went to see who had come. Friends tended to enter at once while yelling my name, as the door was seldom locked. Employees mostly knocked first and entered next, still with little ceremony. Only strangers rang the bell and waited.
This time it was different. This time when I opened the door the light from inside the house fell yellowly on the stretched scared eyes of two of the men who worked for me, who stood uncomfortably on the doormat shifting from foot to foot, agonizedly and obviously expectant of wrath to come.
My own response to these clear signals of disaster was the familiar adrenaline rush of alarm that no amount of dealing with earlier crises could prevent. The old pump quickened. My voice came out high.
“What’s the matter?” I said. “What happened?”
I glanced over their shoulders. The bulk of one of the two largest in my fleet of horse vans stood reassuringly in the shadows out on the tarmacked parking area, the house lights raising gleams along its silvery flank. At least they hadn’t run it into a ditch; at least they’d brought it home. All else had to be secondary.
“Look, Freddie,” Dave Yates said, a defensive whine developing, “it’s not our fault.”
“This four-eyes we picked up . . .”
The younger one said, “I told you we shouldn’t, Dave.”
In him the anxiety whine was already full-blown, since wriggling out of blame was his familiar habit. He, Brett Gardner, already on my list for the chop, had been hired for his muscles and his mechanical know-how, the whining nature at first unsuspected. His three months’ trial period was almost up, and I wouldn’t be making him permanent.
He was a competent watchful driver. I’d trusted him from the start with my biggest and most expensive rigs, but I’d had requests from several good customers not to send him to transport their horses to the races, as he tended to sow his own dissatisfactions like a virus. Stable lads traveling with him went home incubating grouses, to their employers’ i rritation.
“It wasn’t as if we had any horses on board,” Dave Yates was saying, trying to placate. “Just Brett and me.”
I’d told all the drivers over and over that picking up hitchhikers while there were horses on board invalidated the insurance. I told them I’d sack any of them instantly if they did that. I’d also told them never, ever, to give any lifts at all to anyone, even if the van was empty of horses, and even if they knew the lift-beggar personally. No, Freddie, of course not, they’d said seriously; and now I wondered just how often they’d disobeyed me.
“What about the four-eyes?” I said, my annoyance obvious. “What’s actually the matter?”
Dave said desperately, “He’s dead.”
“You . . . stupid . . .” Words failed me, drowned in anger. I could have hit him, and no doubt he saw it, backing away instinctively, fright rising. All sorts of scenarios presented themselves in rapid succession, none of them promising anything but trouble and lawsuits. “What did he do?” I demanded. “Try to jump off while you were moving? Or did you run him over . . .” And dear Christ, I thought, let it not be that.
Dave’s surprised shake of the head put at least those fears to rest.
“He’s in the van,” he said. “Lying on the seat. We tried to wake him when we got to Newbury, to tell him it was time to get off. And we couldn’t. I mean . . . he’s dead.”
“Are you sure?”
They both reluctantly nodded.
I switched on the outside lights to flood the tarmac with visibility and went over with them for a look-see. They skittered one on each side of me, crabbing sideways, making unhappy deprecating flapping movements with their hands, trying to shed their guilt, to justify themselves, to get me to understand it was unfortunate but not, definitely not, as Dave had said, their fault.
Dave, of about my own height (five-nine) and age (mid-thirties) was primarily a horseman and secondarily a driver, usually traveling with animals that for some reason weren’t being sent with enough attendants of their own. I’d seen him and Brett off that morning to pick up nine two-year-olds locally for a one-way trip to Newmarket, their owner being in the process of transferring his entire string from one perfectly good trainer to another in a typical bad-tempered huff. It wasn’t that man’s first expensive across-country flounce, and no doubt not his last. I’d shipped his three-year-old colts for him the previous day and was booked for fillies on the morrow. More money than sense, I thought.
I knew the nine two-year-olds had arrived safely in their new home, as Brett had made the customary calls to my office both when he reached his destination and at the start of his return journey. All the vans were equipped with mobile phones: the regular reporting calls were a useful routine, even if the older drivers thought one fussy. Fussy Freddie they might well call me behind my back, but with a fleet of fourteen vans zigzagging round England most days carrying multimillion fortunes on the hoof, I couldn’t afford ignorance or negligent mistakes.
The front cabs of big horse vans were always pretty roomy, having to accommodate several attendants besides one or sometimes two drivers. The cabs of my nine-horse vans could hold eight people at a pinch, not in pullman comfort but at least sitting down. Behind the driver and the two front passenger seats a long padded rear seat usually gave support to four or five narrow bottoms: on this occasion, its entire length was occupied by one man lying on his back, feet towards me, silent and no longer worried about time.
I climbed into the cab and stood looking down at him.
I’d expected, I’d realized, some sort of tramp. Someone with a stubble, smelly jacket, grubby jeans, down on his luck. Not a prosperous-looking middle-aged fat man in suit, tie and gold onyx signet ring, with leather-soled polished shoes pointing mutely to heaven. Not a man who looked as if he could have bought other more suitable transport.
He was certainly dead. I didn’t attempt to feel for a pulse, nor close the sagging mouth or the half-open lids behind the thick-lensed glasses. A rolled-up horse rug had provided him with a pillow. One arm had fallen by his side, the hand with the ring resting laxly on the floor, near but not touching a black briefcase. I jumped down from the cab, shut its door and looked at the worried faces of my men, who would no longer meet my eyes.
“How much did he pay you?” I asked bluntly.
“Freddie!” Dave wriggled in embarrassment, trying to deny it, happy-go-lucky always, likable, but of variable good sense.
“I’d never . . .” Brett began, fake indignation always ready.
I gave him a disillusioned stare and interrupted. “Where did you pick him up, why did he want a ride, and how much did he offer?”
“Dave fixed it,” Brett said accusingly.
“But you had your cut.” I took it for granted; not a question.
“Brett asked him for more,” Dave said with fury. “Demanded it.”
“Yes, well, calm down.” I began to walk back towards the house. “You’d better sort out what you’re going to tell the police. Did he give you a name, for instance?”
“No,” Dave said.
“Or a reason for wanting a lift?”
“His car had broken down,” Dave explained. “He was at the South Mimms service station, pacing about and
“So, well, he had a fistful of readies but the tanker was going to Southampton.”
“What were you doing by the diesel pumps anyway?” I asked.
They’d had no need to take on more fuel, not just going to Newmarket and back.
“We’d stopped there,” Dave said vaguely.
“Dave had a stomachache,” Brett enlarged. “The squits. We had to stop to get him something for it.”
“Imodium.” Dave confirmed, nodding. “I was just walking past the pumps on my way back, see?”
Bleakly I led the way into the house, going through the back door into the hall and then wheeling left into the big all-purpose room where I customarily spent much of my time. I drew back the curtains, revealing the horse van out on the tarmac, and stood looking at it while I phoned the police.
The local constable who answered knew me well, as we’d both spent much of our lives in the racing center of Pixhill, a big village verging on small town sprawling across a fold of downland in Hampshire, south of Newbury.
“Sandy?” I said briefly, when he answered. “This is Freddie Croft. I’ve a slight problem . . . One of my vans picked up a hitchhiker who seems to have died on the journey. Do you mind coming over? He’s outside my house, not along at the farm.”
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