Hot Money

One

I intensely disliked my father’s fifth wife, but not to the point of murder.

I, the fruit of his second ill-considered gallop up the aisle, had gone dutifully to the next two of his subsequent nuptials, the changes of ‘mother’ punctuating my life at six and fourteen.

At thirty however I’d revolted: wild horses couldn’t have dragged me to witness his wedding to the sharp-eyed honey-tongued Moira, his fifth choice. Moira had been the subject of the bitterest quarrel my father and I ever had and the direct cause of a non-speaking wilderness which had lasted three years.

After Moira was murdered, the police came bristling with suspicion to my door, and it was by the merest fluke that I could prove I’d been geographically elsewhere when her grasping little soul had left her carefully tended body. I didn’t go to her funeral, but I wasn’t alone in that. My father didn’t go either.

A month after her death he telephoned me, and it was so long since I’d heard his voice that it seemed that of a stranger.

‘Ian?’

‘Yes,’ I said.

‘Malcolm.’

‘Hello,’ I said.

‘Are you doing anything?’

‘Reading the price of gold.’

‘No, dammit,’ he said testily. ‘In general, are you busy?’

‘In general,’ I said, ‘fairly.’

The newspaper lay on my lap, an empty wine glass at my elbow. It was late evening, after eleven, growing cold. I had that day quit my job and put on idleness like a comfortable coat.

He sighed down the line. ‘I suppose you know about Moira?’

‘Front page news,’ I agreed. ‘The price of gold is on… er… page thirty-two.’

‘If you want me to apologise,’ he said, ‘I’m not going to.’

His image stood sharp and clear in my mind: a stocky, grey-haired man with bright blue eyes and a fizzing vitality that flowed from him in sparks of static electricity in cold weather. He was to my mind stubborn, opinionated, rash and often stupid. He was also financially canny, intuitive, quick-brained and courageous, and hadn’t been nicknamed Midas for nothing.

‘Are you still there?’ he demanded.

‘Yes.’

‘Well… I need your help.’

He said it as if it were an everyday requirement, but I couldn’t remember his asking anyone for help ever before, certainly not me.

‘Er…’ I said uncertainly. ‘What sort of help?’

‘I’ll tell you when you get here.’

‘Where is “here”?’

‘Newmarket,’ he said. ‘Come to the sales tomorrow afternoon.’

There was a note in his voice which couldn’t be called entreaty but was far from a direct order, and I was accustomed only to orders.

‘All right,’ I said slowly.

‘Good.’

He disconnected immediately, letting me ask no questions: and I thought of the last time I’d seen him, when I’d tried to dissuade him from marrying Moira, describing her progressively, in face of his implacable purpose, as a bad misjudgement on his part and as a skilful, untruthful manipulator and, finally, as a rapacious bloodsucking tramp. He’d knocked me down to the floor with one fast, dreadful blow, which he’d been quite capable of at sixty-five, three years ago. Striding furiously away, he’d left me lying dazed on my carpet and had afterwards behaved as if I no longer existed, packing into boxes everything I’d left in my old room in his house and sending them by public carrier to my flat.

Time had proved me right about Moira, but the unforgivable words had remained unforgiven to her death and, it had seemed, beyond. On this October evening, though, perhaps they were provisionally on ice.

I, Ian Pembroke, the fifth of my father’s nine children, had from the mists of infancy loved him blindly through thunderous years of domestic in-fighting which had left me permanently impervious to fortissimo voices and slammed doors. In