Friday, October 14, 2016

Horses of Courses

I have written a novel, The Inexplicable Affair of the Mesmerising Russian Nobleman, a comedy-crime story set in 1902. It is available now exclusively as a e-book from the Amazon Kindle Store. This is the last exerpt for the moment; if this interests you, then why not click on the link and buy a copy?

He drew up his feet to sit cross legged on the straw bale, straightened his back and put his hands on his knees. He breathed in, deep and slow. He would have liked a book or paper to read but lights would give him away. A cigarillo would have been nice, but he had been told that smoking was strictly forbidden in the stables due to the risk of fire. Pushed back on his own resources he sank into meditation.

It was the second night waiting here. He hoped that his overnight presence had not been noticed yesterday and passed on to interested parties. If so his watch might be long and futile or, worse, short and violent.

Time passed as he sat alone with his thoughts, poised but resting. At last there was an unexpected noise from outside in the stable yard. Consciousness and alertness returned to his mind and body. He estimated that it was relatively early, not yet midnight, but racing stables, like many country establishments, ran their schedules according to the clock of the sun. The stable lads would all have been in bed for hours.

More noise, now some quiet conversation. Schneemann rose, stretched a little. His arms and ribs seemed to be healed from the damage done to them in his earlier exertions. He undid his overcoat, brushed straw from the hem. He adjusted the carnation in the buttonhole and picked up his cane. Footsteps came up to the door. From outside he could hear some words. “It’s this one.”

The door opened and two men dressed for rough work were discovered standing there in the light of their lantern. Schneemann smiled. “Good evening gentlemen. I do believe that you have opened the stable door after the horse has gone.”

“Who’re you? Where’s Gabriel’s Trumpet?”

“I am terribly sorry. The horse you are looking for has been removed.  The exact details of your scheme are somewhat complex and, turning as they do on the minutiae of the British racing and bloodstock businesses, are opaque to a foreigner such as myself. Something to do with identical appearing horses of differing abilities, racing under each others’ names to confuse handicappers and gamblers, followed up by selling an inferior horse for stud for an inflated sum? I think that may be the heart of it. However once discovered, some very wealthy people with no sense of humour when it comes to racing and their stables will become most unhappy.”

They stared at him, struck dumb. He sighed. “We know what’s up. The horse is gone. Time to quit while you’re ahead.”

The one without the lantern swung a short piece of rope threateningly. “Where’s the horse? You’ll tell me if you know what’s good for you.”

Schneemann shook his head, gestured with the cane. “Gabriel’s Trumpet is concealed amongst eight similar looking horses in a field on another farm, some miles from here, watched over by several large men who used to be rough riders in a cavalry regiment. Even if I were willing to tell you where to find him, you will not succeed in absconding with him.”

The one with the lantern nodded to his partner. “Get him.”

“Oh for pity’s sake. Listen to me. The jig’s up. Friends of mine have copies of the accounts of the gambling syndicate you are part of. If I am not in contact with them tomorrow morning they will be sent to the Jockey Club and the Police. As off-course betting is illegal in this country you will be arrested if you continue to pursue this affair.”

“What is this? What do you want?” The one with the lamp seemed to have finally got a grasp of the situation.

“I am warning you off. You stop with the scams. Make and take bets if you want, but from now on you are honest bookies. No fixing races. No shuffling identical horses. No selling nags for the price of champions.”

The one with the rope was unconvinced. “I say we beat where the ‘orse is out of him, then send ‘im back to ‘is friends as an ‘int to stay mum.”

“I don’t think that will convince them. For that matter, the police are not the only people interested in your activities. Some much nastier fellows will hear about what you’re up to.”

The one with the lantern nodded. “This ain’t the end of this mister. You’ll hear from us again.”

Schneemann smiled broadly. “Well done. I knew you wouldn’t look this gift horse in the mouth. I look forward to hearing from you anon.”

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