Chapter 6 – Of Fools And Horses

Marcus was enjoying his day. Nice weather, plenty of pretty girls to look at and nice cold beer. Dave on the other hand looked like he just drank some stale cat urine. “Dammit, how come I can never win two weeks in a row?”

“Well you never asked me one who I liked today”

“As if you are going to get lucky two weeks in a row. Ha!”

“Maybe, maybe not. I have pretty much picked every winner so far”

Dave looked over, shook his head and went silent. After a while he came back to life “Ok smartarse, who wins this one? I have fifty bucks left, its going straight on the nose”

“Coin Trader. Number 9 I think it is”

“Ok mate, its about twenty to one, if it gets up, we have doubled our money. I might even buy you a beer” Dave said with a wink.

“Holy shit…it would have to be at least a hundred to one for that to happen!”

They both laughed and Dave went off yet again to put on his last bet. The grandstand was not as full as before, and the two young men had left, leaving much lighter in the pocket also. A stockily built middle aged man sat next to him.

“How are you mate?”

“Not bad thanks” replied Marcus. “How's your day going?”

“Can't complain. Backed a winner today at all?”

“Nah, haven't had a bet at all. Kind of wish I did though, I picked that long odds winner earlier too”

“Oh wow! You would be kicking yourself” replied Jimmy

“All good. There is always next time”

“So do you come to the races much? Are you involved in horses or something?”

“Nope, this is my first time actually. My mate Dave got some free tickets and here we are. I couldn't even tell the front of the horse from the back”

“Well it's great to see you having fun” said Jimmy, a little slowly. 'This guy is good, he is giving away nothing' he thought.

“Well mate” continued Jimmy, “Seeing as this is your first time here and all, do you want to come up to the corporate box and have a beer? I have a few friends up there too”

“Umm I'm not sure” said Marcus. “I should wait for my mate”

“He will be right mate, we won't be long. Send him a text or something. You will love it up there, great view, free food and drinks”

“Ok then, why not?” said Marcus as he got up.

Marcus followed Jimmy up the stairs into the grandstand and took the lift up to the top floor, whilst he sent Dave a text saying he will be back shortly. When they got to the top floor, Marcus was impressed. Plush carpets, a fully stocked bar, television screens and laptops set up everywhere. There were around 10 people in the room, and two waitresses serving food and drinks.

“What would you like mate? Oh and I never caught your name”

“It's Marcus. Just a beer should be ok thanks mate”

“I'm Jimmy. Coming right up”

Jimmy returned with two beers. “Let's go say hello to these blokes hey”

They walked over to a group of three men and shook hands and introduced themselves. “Hi Marcus, I'm John” said John. He was trying to work out whether Marcus recognised him or not, but Marcus did not show any signs that he might know who he was. 'Interesting' he thought.

The two other men excused themselves and left, leaving Marcus, John and Jimmy sitting down by the huge windows that overlooked the course. John asked Marcus who he thought might go well in the next race, Marcus shrugged and said “I dunno, maybe Coin Trader”.

John looked at Jimmy and said “What you reckon? Any chance?”

“I'm not sure. Can't see it myself really”

“Well I will tell you what Marcus, I will put a couple of thousand on it. What do you think?”

“Shit” remarked Marcus. “I wouldn't do that. I don't have the slightest idea about horses”

“Bugger it, what's a couple of grand between friends”

They continued to sip their beer and the race started. Coin Trader settled in the middle of the field, but after slipping through a couple of gaps it was tacking the leaders two hundred metres out, and went on for an easy win. The jockey even eased the horse down before the finish. Marcus looked over at John. For someone who just won forty thousand dollars he was looking remarkably calm. Just then, his phone rang. It was Dave. “Mate where are you” Marcus could tell the excitement in his voice. “Did you see that? I won a grand! Where are you anyway?”

“I'm just up the top of the grandstand here, I bumped into someone I knew. I wont be long” Marcus lied. He didn't want to tell Dave about this place, he might feel bad.

“Ok mate, remember the beer is on me”

“Now that is something that has to be seen to be believed” said Marcus, laughing. “I'll see you in a little while”

“No worries mate”

Marcus went to sit back down. He would finish his beer and leave, best to be polite. Although he still wasn't exactly sure why he was there. Maybe Jimmy was just one of those nice guys. Yeah, that had be it.

The corporate box was now empty. Whilst he was on the phone, Marcus didn't notice everyone else but himself, Jimmy and John had left.

“So Marcus. I am guess you are wondering why you are here” said John.

“Well I kind of did. I'm not sure to tell you the truth”

“You see, Jimmy here” he motioned to where Jimmy was standing behind him “He was sitting behind you all day today. And he tells me that you picked every single winner. Even Archangel and Misty Maiden. Does that sound about right?'

Marcus looked at Jimmy. He started to feel a little uneasy “Well I sorta did. I was just guessing though. This is my first time to the races”

“Mate. I have been involved in this game all my life. Never, ever have I seen someone just guess and pick every single winner. Which makes me think one thing. How do you know? I mean how do you really know?”

“I wasn't aware I was being interrogated” Marcus started to feel a little edgy “Like I told you. I just guessed”

John smiled. “I'm not calling you a liar mate, I just want to know. I run the biggest bookmaking service in the country. If someone is doing something or fixing races, I need to know. Do you understand what I am saying?”

“I understand that mate. But what has me picking these winners got to do with race fixing anyway? Mate, if you don't mind, I would like to go” Marcus tried to head towards the door.

Jimmy quickly stepped to the door and blocked his path. “We just want to talk a little, that's all. It's all good mate” he said.

“Well, if it's all good, I would like to go”

“Just take a seat and relax” said John.

Marcus realised these guys meant business. Best to sit down and just tell them what they need to hear and then leave.

“Let's start this again. Who do you work for?”

“I work in a glass factory”

“Really? I'm not so sure mate. We will find out. Just tell us what's going on, we can even arrange a little bit of a pay packet for you if you tell us the truth” John said, smiling.

“That is the truth. This is the first time I have even been to the races. You can ask my mate Dave”

“I'm sure that's what Dave will say. He is definitely not onto it, he is just a mug punter” said Jimmy.

“Look Marcus, I am a reasonable guy. I really am. But I am just not buying this bullshit”

Marcus shrugged his shoulder, and held his arms out “Mate, I am telling you the truth. I have two kids, a job that pays peanuts and can barely pay the rent each week”

John looked over to Jimmy and gave him a nod. Jimmy removed something from inside his jacket pocket. Marcus had never seen a gun before, other than on the waist of the odd police officer.

“I tried to reason with you. I really did” said John. “Looks like we are doing this the hard way. Now your phone please. Nice and slowly”

Marcus took the phone out of his pocket. At that moment it rang, it was Dave again. “Now you call him back. Say you met and old friend and you are going to go out to dinner and have few drinks to catch up. If you say anything else, we kill you. If you don't sound convincing, we kill you. Understood?”

Marcus nodded dumbly. He felt numb, and his hands were shaking. “Dave, sorry I missed your call”

“Where the hell are you mate? We should get going soon”

“Actually Dave, the friend I caught up with here is inviting me to dinner. We haven't seen each other for years, we will probably have a bit of a drink too. You will be right to go back by yourself?”

“Yeah I guess so” said Dave. He didn't sound convinced. “We came here together. I thought we would go back together”

“Sorry mate, it's just that I don't get to come to Melbourne often, two birds with one stone sort of thing you know”

“Ok, I guess you are right mate. At least we won some cash hey. I will see you on Monday”

“For sure. Take it easy mate, sorry I couldn't go back with you. You sure you will be right?”

“No worries. Seeya”

Marcus looked back at the other two men. “Not bad” said John. “Where is he going by himself, out of interest anyway?”

“Ballarat. On the train” said Marcus. He was really getting worried now. How would he get home?

“So you are from Ballarat hey?”

“Sort of. Ballan actually”

“Nice place” said John. “I go fishing in the dam there once in a while. Now tell me. Is there anyone in Ballan who will be worried if you get home late?”

Marcus had to think quickly. Should he tell them? Maybe if they knew someone would be looking for him they would let him go eventually. “Yeah my wife” he said.

“Ok, now call her and tell her the same thing. Now if I know women, she won't believe you, or she will be suspicious. You are going to tell her you met an old school friend. You are going back to their house for dinner and they will drive you home, or you may end up staying the night. At this point she will be reluctant. You pass the phone over to me. Now what's your wife's name?”

“Mary” said Marcus. He had a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach.

“Ok, Mary. And you said you had two kids right?”

Marcus started to get angry. “That's right” he snapped.

“Settle down mate. Just need to know” said John with a wink.

Marcus stared at his phone. Mary would be hard pressed believing him. He hardly ever went anywhere, and now out of the blue he was going to spend the night in Melbourne with a friend. Maybe she would get suspicious and call the police. He dialled her number.

“Hi darling, how were the races?”

“Great” he said flatly. John gave him a sharp look. “I mean really great. You should see it, we had a great time. Dave won a little money so he was happy too”

“Was happy?” asked Mary. “Isn't he there with you?”

“Well, funny story. I bumped into an old school friend of mine from Ballan. Do you remember John?”

“Umm can't say I do”

“Well, we were in year 12 together. I just happened to bump into him in the grandstand. He is insisting I go and meet his family and have dinner at his place. They live here in Melbourne. Dave is already on the train on his way back by now I'm guessing”

“Melbourne? How come you never talked about this John before? How will you get home?”

“We were really good friends but his family moved to Melbourne. He said he will drop me home when we are done”

“I'm not sure…” Mary said, she sounded a little puzzled and suspicious at the same time.

“Hang on a sec, I will put him on the phone”

Marcus passed the phone over to John. “Hi Mary, this is John”

“Hi John. Marcus tells me you are an old school friend”

“That's right. We used to hang out together all the time. Marcus has told me all about you, you and the kids really need to come and visit us some day. I have three kids myself”

“That would be nice, thanks for the offer”. Mary sounded relieved.

“Was nice talking to you Mary. I will put Marcus back on the phone” he passed the phone back to him.

“So you don't mind then darling?”

“Of course not. You don't go out ever. Have fun, it will do you good”

“Ok, I will let you know when I am on my way back. Love you”

“Love you too, bye, take care”

“You would make a good actor Marcus” said John evenly. Marcus didn't say anything, but if looks could kill, John would be dead.

“Ok Marcus. We are going for a little drive. Hand your phone to Jimmy please. And remember, any bullshit from you, any words to anyone, you know what happens right. Your wife seems so lovely too”

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