Charlie stood in the long queue nervously waiting to place his bet. “A sure thing”, the snitch had told him.
A sweaty palm clutched a thick wad of banknotes. “Come on, come on.” He cocked his head to the side so he could see what was holding things up. The sound of the trumpet blared out and ten pairs of feet shuffled forward a pace. “They’re parading them now. Hurry up. Get a move on.”
The line edged closer and finally Charlie could lay his cash on the counter. He snatched up his ticket and turned to head out to the paddock.
He ran past a few stragglers still waiting to get their money on. He almost felt sorry for them. “Suckers, he thought. I’m the one gonna be cleaning up here.”
He didn’t know if it was the black leather jacket thrown casually over the shoulder or the dark sombre eyes but the last guy waiting in line stopped Charlie dead in his tracks.
“Hey Charlie. What’s up? You didn’t come round like we agreed man.”
“Johnny. Hi Johnny. How you doin’ man?” Charlie’s eyes flicked from Johnny to the beckoning door. “I been meaning to come round and pay you what I owe you.”
“Time’s up Charlie. You borrow money; you gotta pay it back…” The steel edge in the voice warned Charlie.
“Hey Johnny, you know me. I’m always good for it. Hey look, I got this real sure thing. I’ll come find you right after my horse wins.”
“Hey, that’s OK Charlie, I’ll come find you.”
Charlie raced outside into the bright sunshine. The steps in the grandstand flew beneath his feet. He found his usual place that gave him a clear view of the track. The same place of many a ritual tearing up of tickets as a result of the last sure thing.
Suddenly the noise in the stands exploded like an express train through a station. The wires were up and the whips were flying. They were off. The electric atmosphere crackled throughout the stands. Charlie pumped his arm in the air. “Go boy, go.”
Charlie’s horse stayed three back in perfect position coming round the bound. The lead horse made some ground and Charlie felt his mouth go dry. A dappled grey moved up and then a chestnut and Charlie couldn’t pick out his horse in the bunch. They turned into the straight, strung out and charged like cavalry towards the enemy lines. The little warriors flayed their mounts urging them on. Charlie’s horse put on a spurt. It passed one. It passed another. It drew level and together the two horses flashed past the post.
A thousand souls jockeyed for position on the grandstand steps and headed off to the betting counters. Their hopes and dreams now focused on the next race. Charlie kicked at the discarded tickets littering the stands and took a deep breath.
A bony hand clamped down on Charlie’s shoulder. “There you are.” The steel edge still in the voice.
“Hey Johnny, I was just coming to find you.” Suddenly Charlie felt the knife probing his soft skin through his jacket.
“Come on Johnny put that away. We don’t want no trouble here, do we?”
“So what now Charlie? Do I get my money? Or you gonna pay me in blood?”
“No Johnny, I’m good for it honest.”
“So where is it then? Come on, pay up or I’ll slice you up right here.”
Charlie’s hand went to his pocket but Johnny was quicker.
“What you got in here, huh? A knife, maybe? A gun?” Johnny laughed. He felt in Charlies pocket but could only find the betting slip. He waved the betting slip under Charlie’s nose.
Johnny sniggered. “You gonna kill me with this, Charlie?”
Charlie’s breath came out in a long sigh. The blade buried in his liver paralysed him.
He stared into Johnny’s cold bleak eyes. “It was a dead heat. My horse won, you stupid mother…”