Excerpt from Second Wind by Dick Francis, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Second Wind

By Dick Francis

Second Wind
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  • Hardcover: Oct 1999,
    293 pages.
    Paperback: Oct 2000,
    272 pages.

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Dead reckoning delivered us safely alive into the Newmarket area, where he sought out a large house some way south of the town and, descending to a thousand feet or so, circled round it twice, causing figures below to appear waving in the garden.

"Caspar Harvey's house," Kris shouted unnecessarily.

I nodded O.K.; and as he was circling clockwise, with the wing on my side low to give me a good view, I brought out the handy little camera I carried with me always and took enough shots, I reckoned, to thank and please our host.

Kris, breaking off from the circling, ascended again a few hundred more feet and gave me a Cherokee-eye view of the purpose-built town that the racing world called "Headquarters." I'd talked a hundred or more times on the telephone or voice mail to the trainers who worked there. I'd corresponded with e-mail by the electronic ton. I knew voices and I knew characters, and it wasn't only Oliver Quigley whose sharp anxieties begged assurances from me that I couldn't give. Neither Kris nor I, as I'd checked with him before the flight, knew which of the many stableyards in Newmarket were identifiable from the air, and once over the place and thundering along at a hundred and twenty knots, I found I was sure only of one or two of the biggest.

Oliver Quigley had told me often that his string could trot straight from his yard onto Warren Hill, but with the speed and the sunshine and my ground-to-air ignorance of the town's geography, I wasn't at all sure in which quadrangle stableyard stood Caspar Harvey's equine investments, not to mention a filly due to run on Friday. To be on the safe side of pleasing the trainer, therefore, I snapped as many stableyards as I could.

There wasn't a horse to be seen, neither on the well-marked gallops nor in the stableyards nor on the horse walks (special paths for horses) which laced the town. There were upwards of twelve hundred aristocratic thoroughbreds down there somewhere, but at lunchtime on a Sunday they weren't doing much but dreaming.

Kris looked at his watch and headed south of the town, where he put the wheels down sweetly on the official grass strip that ran beside the part of the racecourse used in high summer-the July course. The Jockey Club not only allowed this but, to Kris's indignation, charged a fee.

He taxied back fast to where a Land Rover waited with a young woman in an ultra short skirt leaning against it.

"Shit," Kris said forcefully.

"Why shit?"

"He's sent his daughter. He promised she wouldn't be here."

"She looks O.K. to me."

Kris said "Huh" with pity for my ignorance and slowed the Cherokee, and, swinging it round neatly into a tidy configuration for parking, cut the engine.

"Her name's Belladonna," Kris said. "Poison."

I unclipped my seat belt, unlatched the door, climbed out and jumped down from the wing. Kris, having checked his switches, scrambled after. I wasn't sure he meant it about her name but he casually introduced us. "Bell, this is Perry. Perry . . . Belladonna. Call her Bell."

I shook her hand. She said, eyebrows lifting, "Aren't you . . . ?"

"I expect so," I said.

She looked sugar-sweet, not deadly. Fair hair, more wispy than regulated. Blue eyes with innocuously blinking lids. Pink-outlined lips with a smile that never quite left them. Even without Kris's comment, I'd have been aware of witchcraft.

"Climb in," she invited, gesturing to the Land Rover. "Dad heard you circling overhead and sent me along. He's mulling wine. He'd never leave with cinnamon floating."

Kris, apparently deaf to the instruction, was walking round his aircraft and patting it with approval, listening to the small cracking noises of the metal cooling. Its white painted fuselage gleamed in the sun along with the dark blue personalized insignia of a lightning flash and the registration letters that identified Kris worldwide: and in fact he had flown in enough countries to be known (not without respect) as the "the fussy English." After his final landing on wet days he sponged and dried the undersides of the wings, not just the tops, to get rid of any mud thrown up by the wheels.

From Second Wind by Dick Francis. Uused by permission of the publisher - Putnam.

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