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       Longshot, p.1

           Dick Francis
 
Longshot


  Table of Contents

  Title Page

  Copyright Page

  Dedication

  Acknowledgements

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  "Dick Francis is a wonder... A tight,

  taut thriller... Gripping.”

  —The Cleveland Plain Dealer

  LONGSHOT

  Desperate for money, travel guide writer John Kendell accepts an assignment to interview a successful racehorse trainer in rural England. Used to traversing harsh terrain with little thought to his safety to get his facts straight, Kendell discovers that the English countryside is full of unexpected dangers of its own.

  And the closer Kendell gets to the truth about his subject, the less chance he has of surviving . . .

  “Fast-paced, meticulously plotted . . . Nobody sets up a mystery better than Dick Francis.”

  —San Francisco Chronicle

  “Longshot shows Francis still at the peak... The story sustains suspense to the final pages.”

  —Chicago Sun-Times

  “An exuberant, irresistible collision between writing and racing... Few match Francis for dangerous flights of fancy and pure, inventive menace.”

  —Boston Herald

  “Exciting.”

  —The Baltimore Sun

  “The ex-jockey proves, once again, that he hasn’t lost his sense of balance—or his desire for a strong finish.”

  —Chicago Tribune

  “[Francis’ ] track record surpasses all contenders . . . Longshot delivers with all the speed and form we’ve come to expect from him.”

  —The Philadelphia Inquirer

  “Writing in typically fine form, Francis’s Longshot is a sure shot with fans.”—

  New York Daily News

  “Francis creates a cast of vivid characters, hides the killer’s identity nicely, and works his descriptions of survival skills into the story smoothly.”

  —The Seattle Times

  “Dick Francis has done it again... Every time we read a new Dick Francis we marvel anew at what an amazingly good writer he is and how effortless he is to read. Longshot is one of his most appealing stories ever.”

  —The Denver Post

  “Great racing and horse-breeding details, wonderful characteristics, and a good dash of wit.”

  —Cosmopolitan

  “Francis does a better job of imparting how things work for the upper class in the United Kingdom today than most sociologists. And he does it with imagery rivaling the work of a good landscape painter.”

  —Houston Chronicle

  “Top-notch, well-researched work... The book is, as usual for Francis, a fast-moving excursion ... Francis has a knack for capturing characters, relationships, and scenes in a few brief lines—sometimes with piercing insight, more often with the simple precision that pleasantly fuels the reader’s imagination.”

  —The Detroit News and Free Press

  “It’s nice to see Dick Francis, an established pro, still learning, still finding new ways to enrich his very successful formula. Long may he live and write.”

  —St. Louis Post-Dispatch

  “Francis keeps the pace going as the story takes some unexpected turns. And, not surprisingly, he brings home another winner.”

  —Orlando Sentinel

  “Francis at his best.”

  —The Anniston Star

  “Dick Francis races to the top of his form in Longshot. . . . One of Francis’ strengths is creating believable characters and developing their relationships with piercing insight. Combined with Francis’ humor, colorful locales, and storytelling talent, the result is a novel almost any reader—not just mystery lovers—will enjoy.”

  —The Flint Journal

  Rave reviews for Dick Francis

  “[THE] MASTER OF CRIME FICTION AND EQUINE THRILLS.”

  —Newsday

  “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.”

  —Chicago Tribune

  “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.”

  —Houston Chronicle

  “Dick Francis stands head and shoulders above the rest.”

  —Ottawa Citizen

  Fiction by Dick Francis & Felix Francis

  EVEN MONEY SILKS DEAD HEAT

  Fiction by Dick Francis

  UNDER ORDERS

  SHATTERED

  SECOND WIND

  FIELD OF THIRTEEN

  10 LB. PENALTY

  TO THE HILT

  COME TO GRIEF

  WILD HORSES

  DECIDER

  DRIVING FORCE

  COMEBACK

  LONGSHOT

  STRAIGHT

  THE EDGE

  HOT MONEY

  BOLT

  BREAK IN

  PROOF

  THE DANGER

  BANKER

  TWICE SHY

  REFLEX

  WHIP HAND

  TRIAL RUN

  RISK

  IN THE FRAME

  HIGH STAKES

  KNOCKDOWN

  SLAY RIDE

  SMOKESCREEN

  BONECRACK

  RAT RACE

  ENQUIRY

  FORFEIT

  BLOOD SPORT

  FLYING FINISH

  ODDS AGAINST

  FOR KICKS

  NERVE

  DEAD CERT

  Anthology

  WIN, PLACE, OR SHOW

  Nonfiction

  A JOCKEY’S LIFE THE SPORT OF QUEENS

  THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP

  Published by the Penguin Group

  Penguin Group (USA) Inc. 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA

  Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)

  Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R ORL, England

  Penguin Group Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland

/>   (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.)

  Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia

  (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.)

  Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi—110 017, India Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand

  (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.)

  Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa

  Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R ORL, England

  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.

  LONGSHOT

  A Berkley Book / published by arrangement with the author

  PRINTING HISTORY

  Ballantine Books edition / April 1992

  Berkley mass-market edition / May 2010

  Copyright © 1990 by Dick Francis.

  All rights reserved.

  No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

  For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

  eISBN : 978-1-101-40433-1

  BERKLEY®

  Berkley Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

  BERKLEY® is a registered trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. The “B” design is a trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

  http://us.penguingroup.com

  With love to Jocelyn Matthew

  Bianca

  Timothy

  William

  Our grandchildren

  And acknowledgments to

  The SAS Survival Handbook

  by John Wiseman

  and

  No Need to Die

  by Eddie McGee

  1

  I accepted a commission that had been turned down by four other writers, but I was hungry at the time. Although starving in a garret had seemed a feasible enough plan a year earlier, the present realities of existence under the frozen eaves of a friend’s aunt’s house in a snowy January were such that without enough income to keep well fed and warm I was a knockover for a risky decision.

  My state of course was my own fault. I could easily have gone out looking for paid muscular employment. I didn’t have to sit shivering in a ski suit, biting the end of a pencil, hunched over a notebook, unsure of myself, of my ability and of the illuminations crashing about in my head.

  The spartan discomfort was not, either, a self-pitying morass of abject failure, but more the arctic doldrums between the high elation of the recent acceptance of my first novel for publication and the distant date of its launch into literary orbit. This was the downside after the heady receipt of the first advance payment and its division into past debts, present expenses and six months’ future rent.

  Give it two years, I’d thought, kissing farewell to the security of a salary: if I can’t get published in two years I’ll admit that the compulsion to write fiction is fool’s gold and settle for common sense. Tossing away the paychecks had been a fairly desperate step, but I’d tried writing before work and after, in trains and at weekends, and had produced only dust. A stretch of no-excuse solitude, I’d thought, would settle things one way or another. Incipient hypothermia wasn’t in any way diminishing the intense happiness of having put my toe into the first crack of the rockface.

  I did as it happened know quite a lot about survival in adverse circumstances, and the prospect of lean times hadn’t worried me. I’d rather looked forward to them as a test of ingenuity. I just hadn’t realized that sitting and thinking in itself made one cold. I hadn’t known that a busy brain sneakily stole warmth from inactive hands and feet. In every freezing configuration I’d lived through before, I’d been moving.

  The letter from Ronnie Curzon came on a particularly cold morning when there was ice like a half-descended curtain over the inside of my friend’s aunt’s attic window. The window, with its high view over the Thames at Chiswick, over the ebb-tide mud and the wind-sailing sea gulls, that window, my delight, had done most, I reckoned, to release invention into words. I’d rigged a chair onto a platform so that I could sit there to write with a long view to the tree-chopped horizon over Kew Gardens. I’d never yet managed an even passable sentence when faced with a blank wall.

  The letter said:Dear John,

  Care to drop into the office? There’s been a suggestion about American rights in your book. You might be interested. I think we might discuss it, anyway.

  Yours ever, Ronnie.

  Why can’t you have a telephone like everyone else?

  AMERICAN RIGHTS! INCREDIBLE words.

  The day warmed up miraculously. American rights were things that happened to successful authors, not to people struggling in an unfamiliar landscape, afflicted by self-doubts and insecurities, with a need to be told over and over that the book is OK, it’s OK, don’t worry so much.

  “Don’t worry,” Ronnie had said heartily, summoning me to his presence after reading the manuscript I’d dumped unheralded on his desk a couple of weeks earlier. “Don’t worry, I’m sure we can find you a publisher. Leave it to me. Let me see what I can do.”

  Ronnie Curzon, authors’ agent, with his salesman’s subtle tongue, had indeed found me a publisher, a house more prestigious than I would have aimed for.

  “They have a large list,” Ronnie explained kindly. “They can afford to take a risk on a few first-timers, though it’s all much harder than it used to be.” He sighed. “The tyrannical bottom line and so on. Still,” he beamed, “they’ve asked you to lunch to get acquainted. Look on the bright side.”

  I’d grown used to Ronnie’s fast swings to pessimism and back. He’d told me in the same breath that I’d sell two thousand copies if I was very lucky indeed, and that a certain lady novelist counted her paperbacks in millions.

  “Everything’s possible,” he said encouragingly.

  “Including falling flat on one’s face?” I asked.

  “Don’t worry so much.”

  On the day of the American rights letter I walked as usual from the friend’s aunt’s house to Ronnie’s office four miles away in Kensington High Street and, as I’d learned a thing or two by that time, I went not precipitously as soon as possible but later in the morning, so as to arrive at noon. Shortly after that hour, I’d discovered, Ronnie tended to offer wine to his visitors and to send out for sandwiches. I hadn’t told him much about my reduced domestic arrangements; he was naturally and spontaneously generous.

  I misjudged things to the extent that the door of his own room was firmly shut, where normally it stood open.

  “He’s with another client,” Daisy said.

  Daisy smiled easily, an unusual virtue in a receptionist. Big white teeth in a black face. Wild hair. A neat Oxford accent. Going to night school for Italian classes.

  “I’ll let him know you’re here,” she said, lifting her telephone, pressing a button and consulting with her boss.

  “He wants you to wait,” she reported, and I nodded and passed some time with patience on one of the two semi-comfortable chairs arranged for the purpose.

  Ronnie’s suite of offices consisted of a large outer room, partly furnished by the desks of Daisy and of her sister Alice, who kept the firm’s complicated accounts, and partly by a wall of box-files on shelves and a large ce
ntral table scattered with published books. Down a passage from the big room lay on one side the doors to three private offices (two housing Ronnie’s associates) and on the other the entrance into a windowless store like a library, where from floor to ceiling were ranked copies of all the books that Ronnie and his father before him had nursed to birth.

  I spent the time in the outer room looking at a framed corkboard on which were pinned the dust jackets of the crop still in the shops, wondering yet again what my own baby would look like. First-time authors, it seemed, were allowed little input in the design department.

  “Trust the professionals,” Ronnie had said comfortingly. “After all, they know what will sell books.”

  I’d thought cynically that sometimes you’d never guess. All I could do, though, was hope.

  Ronnie’s door opened and out came his head, his neck and a section of shoulder.

  “John? Come along in.”

  I went down to his room which contained his desk, his swiveling armchair, two guest chairs, a cupboard and roughly a thousand books.

  “Sorry to keep you,” he said.

 
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