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       Comeback, p.1

           Dick Francis
 
Comeback


  Table of Contents

  Title Page

  Copyright Page

  Dedication

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  "Dick Francis still knows how to spin a yarn ... With

  Mr. Francis’s sure hands at the reins of the narrative, the

  reader is sure to enjoy the ride.”

  —The New York Times

  On holiday from the Foreign Office, Peter Darwin was visiting his childhood village in Gloucestershire when he found himself at the service of a veterinarian whose surgical procedures left more corpses than not.

  The police were unable to determine why so many priceless racehorses were dying. But Darwin was local. He remembered the villagers and what was at stake.

  And now he knew enough to get himself killed . . .

  “[Comeback] shows once again why Dick Francis is a major brand name in the thriller genre; the components here include seamless and swift plotting, a wonderful mix of believable characters, suspense, and a bang-on horse-racing background ... The Gold Cup locale is atmospheric and the medical background fascinating and informative ... And the smart, likable hero deserves more adventures from the master.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “[Francis] keeps his readers jumping.”

  —Booklist

  “The bestselling author’s touch with a story is as sure as ever.”

  —Kirkus Reviews

  “The finish had me sweating. The Gold Cup is tame by comparison.”

  —Evening Standard (London)

  “All the drama of a photo finish.”

  —Daily Express (London)

  “Still the best bet for a winning read.”

  —The Mail On Sunday (London)

  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

  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 0RL, 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 0RL, 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.

  COMEBACK

  A Berkley Book / published by arrangement with Dick Francis Corporation

  Copyright © 1991 by Dick Francis.

  eISBN : 978-1-101-19760-8

  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.

  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 heartfelt thanks

  to

  Jenny Hall

  Veterinary Surgeon

  and to

  Peter Spicely

  and

  Philip Grice

  British Consuls

  1

  I’m Peter Darwin.

  Everyone asks, so I may as well say at once that no, I’m not related to Charles.

  I was in fact born Peter Perry, but John Darwin, marrying my widowed mother when I was twelve, gave me, among many other things, a new life, a new name and a new identity.

  Twenty years rolled like mist over the memories of my distant childhood in Gloucestershire, and now I, Peter Darwin, was thirty-two, adopted son of a diplomat, in the diplomatic service myself.

  As my stepfather’s postings and later my own were all at the whim of the Foreign Office, I’d mostly lived those twenty years abroad in scattered three- or four-year segments, some blazing, some boring, from Caracas to Lima, from Moscow to Cairo to Madrid, housed in Foreign Office lodgings
from one-bedroom concrete to gilt-decked mansions, counting nowhere home.

  Friendships were transitory. Locals, left behind. Other diplomats and their children came and went. I was rootless and nomadic, well used to it and content.

  “Look us up if you’re ever in Florida,” Fred Hutchings said casually, leaving Tokyo to be consul in Miami. “Stay for a day or so if you’re passing through.”

  That “day or so,” I thought wryly, was a pretty good indicator of the warmth of our feelings for each other: tepid to luke.

  “Thanks,” I said.

  He nodded. We’d worked together for months without friction. He half-meant the invitation. He was trained in politeness, as we all were.

  My own posting, when it came through nearly a year later, was surprisingly to England, to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Whitehall.

  “What?” My stepfather in Mexico City chuckled with pleasure on the phone when I told him. “Private secretary! Well done! The pay’s rotten. You’ll have some leave first, though. Come and see us. Your mother misses you.”

  So I spent nearly a month with them and then set off to England via Miami, which was why, after a delayed flight and a missed connection, I found myself with twenty-four hours to kill and the echo of Fred Hutchings’s invitation in my head. Why not, I thought, and on an impulse found his number from Enquiries, and phoned him.

  His answering voice sounded genuinely welcoming and I pictured him on the other end of the line: forty, plump, freckled, eager, with a forehead that perspired under the slightest nervous pressure. The mildness of my liking for him flooded belatedly back; but it was too late to retreat.

  “Great, great,” he was saying heartily. “I’d ask you here for the night but the children aren’t well. How about dinner, though? Get a taxi to The Diving Pelican on a Hundred and Eighty-sixth Street, North Miami Beach. I’ll meet you there about eight. How’s that?”

  “Splendid,” I said.

  “Good. Good. Great to see old friends.” He told me the address of the restaurant again, carefully. “We eat there all the time. Come to think of it”—his voice brightened enthusiastically—“two of our friends there are going to England tomorrow too. You’ll like them. Maybe you’ll all be on the same plane. I’ll introduce you.”

  “Thank you,” I said faintly.

  “A pleasure.” I could feel him beaming with goodwill down the wire. “See you then.”

  With a sigh I replaced the receiver, booked myself and my bags into the airport hotel for the night and in due course taxied as instructed to the rendezvous.

  The Diving Pelican, less striking than its name, glowed dimly at one end of a dark row of shops. There seemed to be few other signs of neighborhood life, but the twenty or so parking spaces in front were full. I pulled open the outwards-opening door, stepped into a small entrance hall and was greeted by a young woman with a bright smile who said, “And how are you today?” as if she’d known me for years.

  “Fine,” I said, and mentioned Fred.

  The smile grew wider. Fred had arrived. Fred, it seemed, was good news.

  He was sitting alone at a round table spread with a cream lace cloth over a pink underlay. Stainless steel flatware, pink napkins, unfussy wineglasses, little oil lamps, carnation in a bud vase, the trappings of halfway up the scale. Not very large overall, the place was pleasantly packed. Not a pelican in sight, diving or otherwise.

  Fred rose to his feet to pump my hand and the smiling lady pulled out a chair for me, producing a shiny menu and showing her molars.

  “Great, great,” Fred was saying. “Sorry I’m alone but Meg didn’t want to leave the children. They’ve got chicken pox.”

  I made sympathetic noises.

  “Covered in spots, poor little buggers,” Fred said. “Like some wine?”

  We ate our salads first, in the American way, and drank some reasonable red. Fred, at my prompting, told me about life in his consulate, mostly a matter, he said, of British tourists complaining of lost documents, stolen money and decamping boyfriends.

  “They’ll con you rigid,” Fred said. “Sob stories by the dozen.” With a sly gleam of amusement he looked at me sideways. “People like you, smooth two-a-penny first secretaries used to embassy life, you’d fall for the wet-handkerchief routine like a knockover. All half of them want is a free ticket home.”

  “You’ve grown cynical, Fred.”

  “Experienced,” he said.

  Always expect a lie, my stepfather had said right back at the beginning of my enlightenment into what his job entailed. Politicians and diplomats, he’d said, are liars until proved different. “You too?” I asked, dismayed, and he’d smiled his civilized smile and educated me. “I don’t lie to you or your mother. You will not lie to us. If you hear me tell an untruth in public you will remain calm and keep your mouth shut and work out why I said it.”

  We got on fine from the start. I couldn’t remember my natural father, who had died when I was a baby, and I had no hangups about anyone taking his place. I’d longed to have a father like other boys, and then suddenly there was this big stranger, full of jokes, who’d swept like a gale into our single-parent-only-child existence and carried us off to the equator before we could gasp. It was only gradually, afterwards, that I realized how irrevocably he’d changed me, and how fortunate I had been.

  Fred said, “Where have they posted you, after your leave?”

  “Nowhere. I mean, England. Private secretary.”

  “Lucky old you!” There was a jealous edge to his voice at my promotion, all of a piece, I thought, with his gibe about two-a-penny gullible young men in embassies: and he’d been one himself in the past.

  “Perhaps I’ll get Ulan Bator after that,” I said. Ulan Bator was the pits with everyone. It was heavily rumored that instead of a car there the ambassador got issued an official yak. “No one gets plums in a row.”

  Fred flicked me a rueful smile, acknowledging that I’d seen his envy, and welcomed our seafood fettucini with yum-yum noises and a vigorous appetite. Fred had recommended the house speciality. I’d been persuaded, and in fact it was good.

  Midway through, there was a small burst of clapping, and Fred, pausing with fork in the air, exuded pleasure.

  “Ah,” he said proprietorially. “Vicky Larch and Greg Wayfield. They’re the friends I told you about, who are going to the U.K. tomorrow. They live just round the corner.”

  Vicky Larch and Greg Wayfield were more than friends; they were singers. They had come into the restaurant without fanfare through curtains at the far end, she dressed in a white sequined tunic, he in a Madras-checked tailored jacket, both in light-colored trousers. The only thing really surprising about them was their age. They were mature, one might perhaps say, and no longer slim.

  I thought reprehensibly that I could have done without the embarrassment of having to applaud earnest elderly amateurs all the way back to England. They fiddled around with amplifying equipment and tapped microphones to make sure they were working. Fred nodded encouragingly to them and to me and happily returned to his pasta.

  They got the equipment going and ran a tape: soft sweet music from old stage shows, well known, undemanding, a background to food. Greg Wayfield hummed a few bars after a while and then began to sing the words, and I looked up from my fettucini in surprise because this was no geriatric disaster but a good true voice, gentle, virile and full of timbre.

  Fred glanced at my expression and smiled with satisfaction. The song ended, the diners applauded and there was more tape. Then, again without announcement or fuss, the woman smoothed into a love song, the words a touch sad, moody, expressed with the catchy syncopated timing of long experience. Dear heavens, I thought with relief, they’re pros. Good old pros, having a ball.

  They sang six songs alternately and finished with a duet, and then to enthusiastic clapping they threaded a way round the tables and sat down with Fred and me.

  Fred made introductions. Half-standing, I shook the singers’ ha
nds across the lace cloth and said with perfect honesty how much I’d enjoyed their performance.

  “They’ll sing again,” Fred promised, pouring wine for them as if from long habit. “This is just a break.”

  At close quarters they looked as wholesome and old-fashioned as their act, he still handsome, she with the air of a young chanteuse trapped in a grandmotherly body.

  “Did you sing in nightclubs?” I asked her as she sat beside me.

  Her blue eyes widened. “How did you know?”

  “Something about your phrasing. Intimate. Designed for shadowy late-night spaces. Something about the way you move your head.”

  “Well yes, I did clubs for years.” She was amused, aware of me physically despite her age. Once a woman, always a woman, I thought.

  Her hair was white, a fluffy well-cut helmet. She had good skin lightly made up and her only real concession to theatricality lay in the silky dark up-curling false lashes, second nature to her eyes.

  “But I retired ages ago,” she said, lowering the lids and raising them in harmless coquetry. “Had a bunch of babies and got too fat. Too old. We sing here just for fun.”

  Her speaking voice was English, without regional accent, her diction trained and precise. Under the mild banter she seemed serene, secure and sensible, and I revised my gloomiest views of the next night’s journey. Flight attendants could be chatted-up another time, I supposed.

 
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