Straight, p.1Dick Francis
Table of Contents
“Straight is Dick Francis writing at his very, very best.”
—Larry King, USA Today
“If you read the first paragraph of Straight,
I’m willing to wager, whatever the odds,
you will spring to the finish line.”
—The Washington Post
Steeplechase jockey Derek Franklin has had more broken bones than he cares to count, but it seems his latest injury could very well bring his days on the racecourse to a screeching halt. But that’s the least of his concerns when his brother turns up dead, leaving Derek as the sole inheritor of his brother’s business, his horses, his mistress—and his life-threatening enemies.
It doesn’t take long for Derek to learn that his brother—a magistrate who imported and sold semiprecious stones—was keeping more than his share of secrets. Now Derek must recover $1.5 million worth of missing diamonds—and find out who wanted his brother dead—or else his career won’t be the only thing in danger of being cut short ...
“Terrific ... From the wonderful opening paragraph to the end, Francis propels you forward at a nearly breathless pace.”
—Detroit Free Press
“Absolutely one of his best.”
—The Associated Press
Acclaim for Dick Francis’s Straight
“THE BEST BOOK IN A DECADE.”
—The Denver Post
“FRANCIS HAS DONE IT AGAIN.”
—New York Newsday
“SUPERB ... FRANCIS IS IN HIS BEST FORM HERE.”
—The Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Dick Francis always finds another way to do it, which is why his whodunits continue to captivate ... Francis keeps you guessing, not only about each individual plot, but about how he’s going to tie them together.”
—The Boston Globe
“Straight is Mr. Francis at the top of his form ... Anyone who likes a fast-paced adventure will savor this one.”
—The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“The pleasure lies in watching Francis weave and then unravel his beautifully concocted web of murder and intrigue ... Francis keeps us turning the pages to find out what happens—and to watch a gifted mystery writer at work.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“Francis is back on his turf. The plot is inventive and beautifully constructed ... The characters are real and individual ... Francis paces the narrative to a smashing finish.”
—The Washington Post
“Dick Francis mysteries should never be picked up by anyone who wants to read a few pages before bedtime—talk about addictive! ... Straight is another winner for Francis, who shows no sign of slowing down.”
—The Sacramento Bee
“Francis is a most adroit storyteller, able to create unusual worlds filled with convincing characters. He’s on his feed here; this is one of his best outings.”
—The San Diego Union-Tribune
“With Straight, Dick Francis proves once again that his skills as a novelist include—but are not limited to—smash—ups and clever endings.”
—The Baltimore Sun
“Appealing ... The combination of treasure hunt and chase is irresistible.”
—The New York Times
“Tightly plotted ... Motives, plots, and conspiracies rise and fall with regularity, and it delivers just the kind of reading satisfaction that fans have come to expect from Francis.”
“Straight lives up to its predecessors in style, characters, and pace. It is unlikely that Dick Francis will ever disappoint.”
—The Houston Post
“Clearly his best ... What a delight! ... Mysteries, horses, and gemstones aside, Straight is the story of brothers. Francis has become a tender admirer of the human heart. He reaffirms hope, determination, and nobility.”
“A good adventure with a bit of horseflesh and a spot of danger.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“The savvy trimmings—painful derring-do, tenderly amusing supporting players, stable shenanigans, and lots of treasure-hunting-help to make this nice lope around the track from an old pro.”
“The authentic feeling of English racetrack life is what gives the best Francis works their special charm and that is here in this book in splendid supply, making it one of the writer’s better efforts.”
—The Sunday Newark Star-Ledger
Fiction by Dick Francis
FIELD OF THIRTEEN
10 LB. PENALTY
TO THE HILT
COME TO GRIEF
IN THE FRAME
Nonfiction by Dick Francis
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.)
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Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R ORL, England
This is a work of flction. 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.
A Berkley Book / published by arrangement with G. P. Putnam’s Sons
Copyright © 1989 by Dick Francis.
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 : 978-1-101-46473-1
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 belonging to Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
My thanks especially to
JOSEPH and DANIELLE ZERGER
of ZARLENE IMPORTS
Dealers in semiprecious stones
and also to MARY BROMILEY—ankle specialist
BARRY PARK—veterinary surgeon
JEREMY THOMPSON—doctor, pharmacologist
ANDREW HEWSON—literary agent
and as always to
MERRICK and FELIX, our sons.
All the people in this story are imaginary.
All the gadgets exist.
I inherited my brother’s life. Inherited his desk, his business, his gadgets, his enemies, his horses and his mistress. I inherited my brother’s life, and it nearly killed me.
I was thirty-four at the time and walking about on elbow crutches owing to a serious disagreement with the last fence in a steeplechase at Cheltenham. If you’ve never felt your ankle explode, don’t try it. As usual, it hadn’t been the high-speed tumble that had done the damage but the half-ton of one of the other runners coming over the fence after me, his forefoot landing squarely on my boot on the baked earth of an Indian summer. The hoof mark was imprinted on the leather. The doctor who cut the boot off handed it to me as a souvenir. Medical minds have a macabre sense of humor.
Two days after this occurrence, while I was reluctantly coming to terms with the fact that I was going to miss at least six weeks of the steeplechasing season and with them possibly my last chance of making it to champion again (the middle thirties being the beginning of the end for jump jockeys), I answered the telephone for about the tenth time that morning and found it was not another friend ringing to commiserate.
“Could I speak,” a female voice asked, “to Derek Franklin?”
“I’m Derek Franklin,” I said.
“Right.” She was both brisk and hesitant, and one could understand why. “We have you listed,” she said, “as your brother Greville’s next-of-kin.”
Those three words, I thought with an accelerating heart, must be among the most ominous in the language.
I said slowly, not wanting to know, “What’s happened?”
“I’m speaking from St. Catherine’s Hospital, Ipswich. Your brother is here, in the intensive care unit ...”
At least he was alive, I thought numbly.
“... and the doctors think you should be told.”
“How is he?”
“I’m sorry. I haven’t seen him. This is the social worker. But I understand that his condition is very serious.”
“What’s the matter with him?”
“He was involved in an accident,” she said. “He has multiple injuries and is on life support.”
“I’ll come,” I said.
“Yes. It might be best.”
I thanked her, not knowing exactly what for, and put down the receiver, taking the shock physically in lightheadedness and a constricted throat.
He would be all right, I told myself. Intensive care meant simply that he was being carefully looked after. He would recover, of course.
I shut out the anxiety to work prosaically instead on the practicalities of getting from the town of Hungerford in Berkshire, where I lived, to Ipswich in Suffolk, about a hundred and fifty miles across country, with a crunched ankle. It was fortunately the left ankle, which meant I would soon be able to drive my automatic gears without trouble, but it was on that particular day at peak discomfort and even with painkillers and icepacks was hot, swollen and throbbing. I couldn’t move it without holding my breath, and that was partly my own fault.
Owing to my hatred—not to say phobia—about the damaging immobility of plaster of Paris, I had spent a good deal of the previous day persuading a long-suffering orthopedic surgeon to give me the support of a plain crepe bandage instead of imprisonment in a cast. He was himself a plate-and-screw man by preference but had grumbled as usual at my request. Such a bandage as I was demanding might be better in the end for one’s muscles, but it gave no protection against knocks, as he had reminded me on other occasions, and it would be more painful, he said.
“I’ll be racing much quicker with a bandage.”
“It’s time you stopped breaking your bones,” he said, giving in with a shrug and a sigh and obligingly winding the crepe on tightly. “One of these days you’ll crack something serious.”
“I don’t actually like breaking them.”
“At least I haven’t had to pin anything this time,” he said. “And you’re mad.”
“Yes. Thanks very much.”
“Go home and rest it. Give those ligaments a chance.”
The ligaments took their chance along the back seat of my car while Brad, an unemployed welder, drove it to Ipswich. Brad, taciturn and obstinate, was unemployed by habit and choice but made a scratchy living doing odd jobs in the neighborhood for anyone willing to endure his moods. As I much preferred his long silences to his infrequent conversation, we got along fine. He looked forty, hadn’t reached thirty, and lived with his mother.
He found St. Catherine’s Hospital without much trouble and at the door helped me out and handed me the crutches, saying he would park and wait inside in the reception area and I could take my time. He had waited for me similarly for hours the day before, expressing neither impatience nor sympathy but simply being restfully and neutrally morose.
The intensive care unit proved to be guarded by brisk nurses who looked at the crutches and said I’d come to the wrong department, but once I’d persuaded them of my identity they kitted me sympathetically with a mask and gown and let me in to see Greville.
I had vaguely expected Intensive Care to involve a lot of bright lights and clanging bustle, but I found that it didn’t, or at least not in that room in that hospital. The light was dim, the atmosphere peaceful, the noise level, once my ears adjusted to it, just above silence but lower than identification.
Greville lay alone in the room on a high bed with wires and tubes all over the place. He was naked except for a strip of sheeting lying loosely across his loins and they had shaved half the hair off his head. Other evidences of surgery marched like centipede tracks across his abdomen and down one thigh, and there were darkening bruises everywhere.
Behind his bed a bank of screens showed blank rectangular faces, as the information from the electrodes fed into other screens in a room directly outside. He didn’t need, they said, an attendant constantly with him, but they kept an eye on his reactions all the time.
He was unconscious, his face pale and calm, his head turned slightly toward the door as if expecting visitors. Decompression procedures had been performed on his skull, and that wound was covered by a large padded dressing which seemed more like a pillow to support him.
Greville Saxony Franklin, my brother. Nineteen years my senior: not expected to live. It had to be faced. To be accepted.
“Hi, guy,” I said.
It was an Americanism he himself used often, but it produced no response. I touched his hand, which was warm and relaxed, the nails, as always, clean and cared for. He had a pulse, he had circulation: his heart beat by electrical stimulus. Air went in and ou
I didn’t want just to leave him. No one should die alone. I went outside and said so.
A doctor in a green overall replied that when all the remaining brain activity had ceased, they would ask my consent before switching off the machines. I was welcome to be with my brother at that crisis point as well as before. “But death,” he said austerely, “will be for him an infinitesimal process, not a definitive moment.” He paused. “There is a waiting room along the hall with coffee and things.”
Bathos and drama, I thought: his everyday life. I crutched all the way down to the general reception area, found Brad, gave him an update and told him I might be a long time. All night perhaps.
He waved a permissive hand. He would be around, he said, or he would leave a message at the desk. Either way, I could reach him. I nodded and went back upstairs, and found the waiting room already occupied by a very young couple engulfed in grief, whose baby was hanging on to life by threads not much stronger than Greville’s.
The room itself was bright, comfortable and impersonal, and I listened to the mother’s slow sobs and thought of the misery that soaked daily into those walls. Life has a way of kicking one along like a football, or so I’ve found. Fate had never dealt me personally a particularly easy time, but that was OK, that was normal. Most people, it seemed to me, took their turn to be the football. Most survived. Some didn’t.
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