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Extract From Field of 13


Time has an uncanny way of laughing at fiction. The goings-on of a bomb-scare at Kingdom Hill – an imaginary racecourse – were invented for the summer entertainment of readers of The Times newspaper in 1975. Years later the major fantasy was put into fact: a bomb hoax halted the running of the 1997 Grand National Steeplechase at Aintree.

There has been a great change in security and the value of money since Tricksy Wilcox had his brainwave. At Kingdom Hill and throughout Field of 13, money and usages have been millenniumized.

Thursday afternoon, Tricksy Wilcox scratched his armpit absent-mindedly and decided Claypits wasn't worth backing in the 2.30. Tricksy Wilcox sprawled in the sagging armchair with a half-drunk can of beer within comforting reach and a huge colour television bringing him the blow-by-blow from the opening race of the three-day meeting at Kingdom Hill. Only mugs, he reflected complacently, would be putting in a nine to five stint in the sort of July heatwave that would have done justice to the Sahara. Sensible guys like himself sat around at home with the windows open and their shirts off, letting their beards grow while the sticky afternoon waned towards evening.

In winter Tricksy was of the opinion that only mugs struggled to travel to work through snow and sleet, while sensible guys stayed warm in front of the TV, betting on the jumpers; and in spring there was rain, and in the autumn, fog. Tricksy at thirty-four had brought unemployment to a fine art and considered the idea of a full honest day's work to be a joke. It was Tricksy's wife who went out in all weathers to her job in the supermarket, Tricksy's wife who paid the rent on the council flat and left the exact money for the milkman. Eleven years of Tricksy had left her cheerful, unresentful, and practical. She had waited without emotion through his two nine-month spells in prison and accepted that one day would find him back there. Her dad had been in and out all her childhood. She felt at home with the minor criminal mind.

Tricksy watched Claypits win the 2.30 with insulting ease and drank down his dented self-esteem with the last of the beer. Nothing he bloody touched, he thought gloomily, was any bloody good these days. He was distinctly short of the readies and had once or twice had to cut down on necessities like drink and fags. What he wanted, now, was a nice little wheeze, a nice little tickle, to con a lot of unsuspecting mugs into opening their wallets. The scarce ticket racket, now that had done him proud for years, until the coppers nicked him with a stack of forged duplicates in his pocket at Wimbledon. And tourists were too fly by half these days, you couldn't sell them subscriptions to nonexistent porn magazines, let alone London Bridge.

He could never afterwards work out exactly what gave him the great Bandwagon idea. One minute he was peacefully watching the 3 o'clock at Kingdom Hill, and the next he was flooded with a breathtaking, wild and unholy glee.

He laughed aloud. He slapped his thigh. He stood up and jigged about, unable to bear the audacity of his thoughts sitting down. 'Oh Moses,' he said, gulping for air. 'Money for old rope. Kingdom Hill, here I come.'

Tricksy Wilcox was not the most intelligent of men.

Friday morning, Major Kevin Cawdor-Jones, Manager of Kingdom Hill Racecourse, took his briefcase to the routine meeting of the Executive Committee, most of whom detested each other. Owned and run by a small private company constantly engaged in boardroom wars, the racecourse suffered from the results of spiteful internecine decisions and never made the profit it could have done.

The appointment of Cawdor-Jones was typical of the mismanagement. Third on the list of possibles, and far less able than one and two, he had been chosen solely to side-step the bitter deadlock between the pro one line-up and the pro two. Kingdom Hill in consequence had acquired a mediocre administrator; and the squabbling executives usually managed to thwart his more sensible suggestions.

As a soldier Cawdor-Jones had been impulsive, rashly courageous, and easygoing, qualities which had ensured that he had not been given the essential promotion to Colonel. As a man he was lazy and likeable, and as a manager, soft.

The Friday meeting as usual wasted little time in coming to blows.

'Massive step-up of security,' repeated Bellamy, positively. 'Number one priority. Starting at once. Today.'

Thin and sharp featured, Bellamy glared aggressively round the table, and Roskin as usual with drawling voice opposed him.

'Security costs money, my dear Bellamy.'

Roskin spoke patronizingly, knowing that nothing infuriated Bellamy more. Bellamy's face darkened with fury, and the security of the racecourse, like so much else, was left to the outcome of a personal quarrel.

Bellamy insisted, 'We need bigger barriers, specialized extra locks on all internal doors and double the number of police. Work must start at once.'

'Race crowds are not hooligans, my dear Bellamy.'

Cawdor-Jones inwardly groaned. He found it tedious enough already, on non-race days, to make his tours of inspection, and he was inclined anyway not to stick punctiliously to the safeguards that already existed. Bigger barriers between enclosures would mean he could no longer climb over or through, but would have to walk the long way round. More locks meant more keys, more time-wasting, more nuisance. And all presumably for the sake of frustrating the very few scroungers who tried to cross from a cheaper to a dearer enclosure without paying. He thought he would very much prefer the status quo.

The tempers rose around him, and the voices also. He waited resignedly for a gap. 'Er...' he said, clearing his throat.

The heated pro-Bellamy faction and the sneering pro-Roskin clique both turned towards him hopefully. Cawdor-Jones was their mutual let-out; except, that was, when his solution was genuinely constructive, when they both vetoed it because they wished they had thought of it themselves.

'A lot of extra security would mean more work for our staff,' he said diffidently. 'We might have to take on an extra man or two to cope with it . . . and after the big initial outlay there would always be maintenance .. . and . . . er .. . well, what real harm can anyone do to a racecourse?'

This weak oil stilled the waters enough for both sides to begin their retreat with their positions and opinions intact.

'You have a point about the staff,' Bellamy conceded begrudgingly, knowing that two extra men would cost a great deal more than locks, and that the racecourse couldn't afford them, 'but I still maintain that tighter security is essential and very much overdue.'

Cawdor-Jones, in his easygoing way, privately disagreed. Nothing had ever happened to date. Why should anything ever happen in future?

The discussion grumbled on for half an hour, and nothing at all was done.

Friday afternoon, Tricksy Wilcox went to the races having pinched half of his wife's holiday fund from the best teapot. The trip was a recce to spy out the land, and Tricksy, walking around with his greedy eyes wide open, couldn't stop himself chuckling. It did occur to him once or twice that his light-hearted single-handed approach was a waste: the big boys would have had it all planned to a second and would have set their sights high in their humourless way. But Tricksy was a loner who avoided gang life on the grounds that it was too much like hard work; bossed around all the time, and with no pension rights into the bargain.

He downed half pints of beer at various bars and wagered smallish amounts on the Tote. He looked at the horses in the parade ring and identified those jockeys whose faces he knew from TV, and he attentively watched the races. At the end of the afternoon, with modest winnings keeping him solvent, he chuckled his way home.

Friday afternoon, Mrs Angelisa Ludville sold two Tote tickets to Tricksy Wilcox, and hundreds to other people whom she knew as little. Her mind was not on her job, but on the worrying pile of unpaid bills on her bookshelf at home. Life had treated her unkindly since her fiftieth birthday, robbing her of her looks, because of worry, and her husband, because of a blonde. Deserted, divorced and childless, she could neverthe-less have adapted contentedly to life alone had it not been for the drastic drop in comfort. Natural optimism and good humour were gradually draining away in the constant grinding struggle to make shortening ends meet.

Angelisa Ludville eyed longingly the money she took through her Tote window. Wads of the stuff passed through her hands each working day, and only a fraction of what the public wasted on gambling would, she felt, solve all her problems handsomely. But honesty was a lifetime habit; and, besides, stealing from the Tote was impossible. The takings for each race were collected and checked immediately. Theft would be instantly revealed. Angelisa sighed and tried to resign herself to the imminent cutting off of her telephone.

Saturday morning, Tricksy Wilcox dressed himself carefully for the job in hand. His wife, had she not been stacking baked beans in the supermarket, would have advised against the fluorescent orange socks. Tricksy, seeing his image in the bedroom mirror only as far down as the knees, was confident that the dark suit, dim tie and brown felt trilby gave him the look of a proper race-going gent. He had even, without reluc-tance, cut two inches off his hair, and removed a flourishing moustache. Complete with outsize binoculars case slung over his shoulder, he smirked at his transformation with approval and set out with a light step to catch the train to Kingdom Hill.

On the racecourse Major Kevin Cawdor-Jones made his race-day round of inspection with his usual lack of thoroughness. Slipshod holes in his management resulted also in the police contingent arriving half an hour late and under strength; and not enough racecards had been ordered from the printers.

'Not to worry,' said Cawdor-Jones, shrugging it all off easily.

Mrs Angelisa Ludville travelled to the course in the Tote's own coach, along with fifty colleagues. She looked out of the window at the passing suburbs and thought gloomily about the price of electricity.

Saturday afternoon at 2.30 she was immersed in the routine of issuing tickets and taking money, concentrating on her work and feeling reasonably happy. She tidied her cash drawer ready for the 3 o'clock, the biggest race of the day. The extra long queues would be forming soon outside, and speed and efficiency in serving the punters was not only her job but, indeed, her pride.

At 2.55 Cawdor-Jones was in his office next to the weighing-room trying to sort out a muddle over the casual workers' pay. At 2.57 the telephone at his elbow rang for about the twentieth time in the past two hours and he picked up the receiver with his mind still on the disputed hourly rates due to the stickers-back of kicked-up chunks of turf.

'Cawdor-Jones,' he said automatically.

A man with an Irish accent began speaking quietly.

'What?' said Cawdor-Jones. 'Speak up, can't you? There's too much noise here . . . I can't hear you.'

The man with the Irish accent repeated his message with the same soft half-whisper.

'What?' said Cawdor-Jones. But his caller had rung off.

'Oh my God,' said Cawdor-Jones, and stretched a hand to the switch which connected him to the internal broadcasting system. He glanced urgently at the clock. Its hands clicked round to 2.59, and at that moment the fourteen runners for the 3 o'clock were being led into the starting stalls.

'Ladies and gentlemen,' said Cawdor-Jones, his voice reverberating from every loudspeaker on the racecourse. 'We have been warned that a bomb has been planted somewhere in the stands. Would you please all leave at once and go over into the centre of the course while the police arrange a search.'

The moment of general shock lasted less than a second: then the huge race crowd streamed like a river down from the steps, up from the tunnels, out of the doors, running, pelting, elbowing towards the safety of the open spaces on the far side of the track.

Bars emptied dramatically with half-full glasses overturned and smashed in the panic. The Tote queues melted instantaneously and the ticket sellers followed them helter-skelter. The stewards vacated their high box at a dignified downhill rush and the racing press pell-melled to the exit without hanging round to alert their papers. City editors could wait half an hour. Bombs wouldn't.

The scrambling thousands deserted all the racecourse buildings within a space of five minutes. Only a very few stayed behind, and chief of these was Kevin Cawdor-Jones, who had never lacked for personal courage and now saw it as his duty as a soldier to remain at his post.

The under-strength band of policemen collected bit by bit outside the weighing-room, each man hiding his natural apprehension under a reassuring front. Probably another bloody hoax, they told each other. It was always a hoax. Or nearly always. Their officer took charge of organizing the search and told the civilian Cawdor-Jones to remove himself to safety.

'No, no,' said Cawdor-Jones. 'While you look for the bomb, I'll make quite sure that everyone's out.' He smiled a little anxiously and dived purposefully into the weighing-room.

All clear there, he thought, peering rapidly round the jockeys' washroom. All clear in the judge's box, the photo-finish developing room, the kitchens, the boiler room, the Tote, the offices, the stores . . . He bustled from building to building, knowing all the back rooms, the nooks and crannies where some deaf member of the staff, some drunk member of the public, might be sitting unawares.

He saw no people. He saw no bomb. He returned a little breathlessly to the open space outside the weighing-room and waited for a report from the slower police.

Around the stands Tricksy Wilcox was putting the great Bandwagon idea into sloppy execution. Chuckling away internally over the memory of his Irish impersonation (good enough for entry to Equity, he thought), he bustled speedily from bar to bar and in and out of the other doors, filling his large empty binoculars case with provender. It was amazing, he thought, giggling, how careless people were in a panic.

Twice, he came face to face with policemen.

'All clear in there, Officer,' he said purposefully, each time pointing back to where he had been. Each time the police gaze flickered unsuspectingly over the brown trilby, the dark suit, dim tie, and took him for one of the racecourse staff.

Only the orange socks stopped him getting clean away. One policeman, watching his receding back view, frowned uncertainly at the brilliant segments between trouser-leg and shoe and started slowly after him.

'Hey—' he said.

Tricksy turned his head, saw the Law advancing, lost his nerve, and bolted. Tricksy was never the most intelligent of men.

Saturday afternoon at 4 o'clock, Cawdor-Jones made another announcement.

'It appears the bomb warning was just another hoax. It is now safe for everyone to return to the stands.'

The crowd streamed back in reverse and made for the bars. The barmaids returned to their posts and immediately raised hands and voices in a screeching sharp chorus of affronted horror.

'Someone's pinched all the takings!'

'The cheek of it! Taken our tips, and all!'

In the various Tote buildings, the ticket sellers stood appalled. Most of the huge intake for the biggest race of the meeting had simply vanished.

Angelisa Ludville looked with utter disbelief at her own plundered cash drawer. White, shaking, she joined the clamour of voices. 'The money's gone.'

Cawdor-Jones received report after report with a face of anxious despair. He knew no doors had been locked after the stampede to the exit. He knew no security measures whatever had been taken. The racecourse wasn't equipped to deal with such a situation. The Committee would undoubtedly blame him. Might even give him the sack.

At 4.30 he listened with astounded relief to news from the police that a man had been apprehended and was now helping to explain how his binoculars case came to be crammed to overflowing with used treasury notes, many of them bearing a fresh watermark resulting from the use of a wet beer glass as a paper-weight.

Monday morning, Tricksy Wilcox appeared gloomily before a magistrate and was remanded in custody for seven days. The great Bandwagon idea hadn't been so hot after all, and they would undoubtedly send him down for more than nine months this time.

Only one thought brightened his future. The police had tried all weekend to get information out of him, and he had kept his mouth tight shut. Where, they wanted to know, had he hidden the biggest part of his loot?

Tricksy said nothing.

There had only been room in the binoculars case for one-tenth of the stolen money. Where had he put the bulk?

Tricksy wasn't telling.

He would get off more lightly, they said, if he surrendered the rest.

Tricksy didn't believe it. He grinned disdainfully and shook his head. Tricksy knew from past experience that he would have a much easier time inside as the owner of a large hidden cache. He'd be respected. Treated with proper awe. He'd have status. Nothing on earth would have persuaded him to spill the beans.

Monday morning, Major Cawdor-Jones took his red face to an emergency meeting of his Executive Committee and agreed helplessly with Bellamy's sharply reiterated opinion that the racecourse security was a disgrace.

'I warned you,' Bellamy repeated for the tenth self-righteous time. 'I warned you all. We need more locks. There are some excellent slam-shut devices available for the cash drawers in the Tote. I'm told that all money can be secured in five seconds. I propose that these devices be installed immediately throughout the racecourse.'

He glared belligerently round the table. Roskin kept his eyes down and merely pursed his mouth, and Kingdom Hill voted to bolt its doors now that the horse was gone.

Monday evening, Angelisa Ludville poured a double gin, switched on the television and put her feet up. Beside her lay a pile of stamped and addressed envelopes, each containing a cheque clearing one of her dreaded debts. She sighed contentedly. Never, she thought, would she forget the shock of seeing her empty till. Never would she get over the fright it had given her. Never would she forget the rush of relief when she realized that everyone had been robbed, not just herself. Because she knew perfectly well that it was one of the other sellers whose take she had scooped up on the scramble to the door. She had thought it plain stupid to lift the money from her own place. She couldn't know that there would be another, more ambitious thief. It would have been plain silly at the time to steal from her own place. And besides, there was far more cash at the other window.

Monday evening, Kevin Cawdor-Jones sat in his bachelor flat thinking about the second search of Kingdom Hill. All day Sunday the police had repeated the nookand-cranny inspection, but slowly, without fear, looking not for a bang but a bank. Cawdor-Jones had given his willing assistance, but nothing at all had been found. The money had vanished.

'Tricksy must have had a partner,' said the police officer in charge morosely. 'But we won't get a dicky bird out of him.'

Cawdor-Jones, unsacked from his managership, smiled gently at the memory of the past few days. Cawdor-Jones, impulsive and rashly courageous, had made the most of the opportunity Tricksy Wilcox had provided.

Cawdor-Jones, whose nerve could never be doubted, had driven away unchallenged on Saturday evening with the jackpot from the Tote.

He leaned over the arm of his chair and fondly patted his bulging briefcase.