Excerpt of Second Wind by Dick Francis
(Page 6 of 11)
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"Get in, do," Bell told him, opening the Land Rover's front passenger door for him. "This party's today, not tomorrow."
The antagonism between them was faint but positive. I sat in the rear seat for the five-mile drive to Caspar Harvey's house listening to the semi-polite exchanges and wondering how far their mutual dislike would go, such as, would they save each other if it risked themselves.
Caspar Harvey's home proved to be more than halfway to grand but just definitely on the under side of ostentatious. The front, with small-scale Palladian pillars, seemed imposing, but the inside was only one room deep, and no one had tried to pretend otherwise. Entrance hall and sitting room, combined by a wall of arches, made a single space ample enough for the gathering of upwards of thirty people who stood around drinking hot red wine, eating handfuls of peanuts and talking about Newmarket's main profitable crop-racehorses.
Caspar Harvey, noticing Kris's arrival, eeled his way, drink held high, until he could greet his guest within shouting distance in the throng.
"I heard your overhead pass." He nodded to Kris. "And welcome to you, too," he added in my direction. "My trainer swears by your nose for rain. He's here somewhere. Do I run my filly on Friday? My wife puts her faith in the stars. Have some wine."
I accepted the wine, which tasted melodiously of cinnamon and sugar, and followed his identifying finger to his trainer across the crowd, Oliver Quigley, a-quiver and visibly ill at ease.
"Tell him it will be dry until Friday," Harvey said. "Tell him to run my horse."
He was enjoying, I thought, his role of lavish host. Reprehensible of me to think also that the role itself meant more to him than his guests. His expansive gestures were like his setting: a conscious indication of wealth and achievement, but one that carefully fell short of a flourish of trumpets. I told him I'd taken aerial photos of his house and would send them to him, and, pleased, he invited me to take as many shots of his guests as they would allow. In body he was as substantial as in means, a heavy-shouldered presence with a thick neck and a trim gray grizzled beard. Shorter by only three inches than Kris's willowy extent-as I was myself-Caspar Harvey would nevertheless have been noticeable at any height, or lack of it: he had, strongly developed, the indefinable aura that comes with success. I took his picture. He posed again, and nodded benignly at the flash.
Kris drank Coca-Cola as a good little pilot should and kept his manic extravagance within bounds. It was definitely an "up" day in his psyche; good for wit and laughter and with no question of despairing walks along railway tracks.
The non-poisonous Belladonna, appearing at my side and pouring from a steaming jug of replenishment, asked me baldly why a sensible-looking person like myself should bother with Ironside's mental switchback.
"He's clever," I said neutrally.
"Is that enough?"
"Why don't you like him?" I asked.
"Like him? I loved the bastard once." She gave me a twitch of a deeper smile and a shrug of shoulders and poured reinforcements for others and I, as one does at such events, in time fetched up in a chatting bunch that contained the ever-worried trainer, Oliver Quigley. What about this wind, he wanted to know. "It's cold," he said.
My harmless actual tangible presence-especially with camera-seemed to upset him. I was used to aggression and disbelief from the sort of horse-oriented people who seemed to think (like children) that bad weather was somehow my fault. I was accustomed to being the unpopular messenger who brought the bad news of battles lost, and I'd been often enough cursed for smiling while I forecast blizzards; but on the whole I'd not caused what looked unexpectedly like fear.
I must be misreading him, I thought. But then, I knew him only as an agitated weather-obsessed horse trainer, and he could have-who knew-all sorts of other problems.
From Second Wind by Dick Francis. Uused by permission of the publisher - Putnam.