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36. A GIFT HORSE IN THE SCHEME OF THINGS

January 28, 2008

Each morning Maddy Quigley was grateful to God that he hadn’t died. Maddy that is, not God. Although… no, let’s not get into that.

 

In recent months, Maddy had begun to recite a bedtime prayer from his boyhood. The only words that he could recall were “If I should die before I wake”. So, he decided his prayer would become a composition of words and feelings. He knew there were elements of soul and God and handover in the original prayer but rather than look up the words he preferred to rely on God’s empathy. On silently uttering the words to get him into the right frame of mind, he would emit a mood that suggested he recognised his mortality and his state of submission to the Almighty. That’s right, a moment of reflection. He always felt better after ‘dipping his lid’ in this manner.

 

On his back this fine Easter Saturday morning, Maddy was acutely worried by tightness in his legs, random spasms in his chest and the niggling throbbing in his head. “C’mon let’s get through this little bit and take stock.” The worry and the aching body weren’t new symptoms, just part of his reducing life. And yeah, he was, you know, grateful to be still kicking about. Nice one God.

 

Unfortunately, what got him past his worry and his pains this morning was not his gratefulness but the sickening, stultifying fear that last night’s Call of the Card had brought upon him. Even less fortunately, the debilitating dread wasn’t new either but it had been many years since it had possessed him so strongly. It was always at its worst lying down and quite bad when seated or otherwise immobile. If he could just get up and thrash about, the fear would morph into frantic energy. Yep, the gambling gut was back again. A bellyful of anguish waiting for a card to turn or a horse to come on. And why, why, why did it always have to be all or nothing with him?

 

Of course, he had had a skinful last night at the Stawell Call of the Card. That wouldn’t have helped his physical matters. He’d cut down on the booze after this. Though that might have to be postponed if Layla won [God, she’d better win]. There’d be big celebrations all week and they would have to keep it going through the week-end. Yeah, Monday week would be the day to get some shape back. Promise. Dear God, he’d nearly give it up if she won. Well, he’d definitely give up gambling.

 

He turned to Susan asleep beside him and looked away as another swell of stomach nausea foamed within him. Good grief, she would be horrified if she knew what he’d done. Actually, she’d be livid. She’d be livid and he’d have his bags packed for him. When he lost the ranch it was Susan’s money that gave them enough to get a mortgage on the pub. It was a second chance for him, he had been grateful for that.

 

It had nearly been all over between them; in fact it had been all over between them. It took Father Andrews five visits before she was coaxed to let him join the family again. Thank God for Catholic marriage. It was too easy for the young people to divorce these days. Every marriage could do with a bit of third party cement.

 

But Susan, you wouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth would you? Maddy had taken out a loan against the pub to finance his Layla gamble. Susan never looked at the books… usually. He might be able to cover it up if he won and paid it all back next week but if he lost, well, phew, that monkey would be on his back for years. Jeez, what would he do if he won? She’d wonder where all the money came from. Cross that bridge… Right, right, time to get up and get on with it. It’ll soon be time to pick up Layla and head to Stawell.

 

Goodness me, the Call of the Card had been mad. On a mission, Maddy had hired a bus and gone down to Stawell’s Central Park stadium with Geoff, a heap of beer-doused Demon mates and $140,000 cash. One hundred his, forty Geoff’s. They split the cash up ten grand each and, strutting around in white hats and smoking expensive cigars, waited for the betting to begin.

 

The widespread publicity for this year’s Australia Post Gift, due to Linford Christie and Layla, had played into their hands. A vastly greater number of bookies and punters were drawn into the fray. There’d be more money circulating so surely they could get their money on nice and easy and at good odds.

 

The pre-betting atmosphere was as tense and touchy as the race itself. This was only part A of the plan but its successful completion was an absolute prerequisite to part B – Layla winning. Their anxiety was not about part B right now but whether they could get their money on at the best odds. Logistics. They’d thought it through. They couldn’t wait till race day in case all the mommas and poppas took a punt on that cute little Layla and brought her odds down. No, they had to lay as much as possible as early as possible and then lay the rest where they could. It was a huge ask but they had reasoned that ‘yep, twelve blokes from the club would be sufficient’. Twelve blokes can be counted on to handle most things. They were formidable planners – really they were – and you couldn’t blame them for not covering all the probabilities. Especially having twelve blokes to play with.

 

Round One. Out of the blocks and as betting started, most bookies were offering odds of three hundred to one on Layla in the obvious belief that they might pick up dead money. The Demons men fought their way through to their bookies and whipped in their ten grand bets. As expected, an exposure to a $3million loss didn’t find favour with any bookie. They were far too long in the truth. They wouldn’t risk letting you back a cardboard cut-out for that money in case the wind blew unexpectedly. The boys got a few jabs in though; a couple of bookies took two grand, some took a grand, most would only take a couple of hundred dollars. The Demons skipped round the bookies at fast as possible but their guard was well up and the odds went down quickly and within five minutes not one bookie was taking a wager on Layla. It was a sucker punch.

 

The betting school of Geoff, Maddy et al went to their corner to assess the situation. Abysmally, they had only got fifteen grand on. On the upside the odds had been good. They stood to win $4.15million. That was nearly $3million for Maddy and over $1million for Geoff. They still felt they had lost on points though as the part A objective hadn’t been realized. They decided they may as well throw in the towel and sit around drinking beer and bitching. All around them the hordes wagered more and more money with beaming bookies.

 

“Hey look, we’re back on.” shouted one of team Demons.

 

One bookie had put up odds on Layla at ten to one. And then another and another.

 

“Shall we go for it Geoff?” inquired another.

 

Geoff glanced at Maddy and made a very pronounced and serious nod. “Don’t leave anything in the shed boys; leave it all out on the field.”

 

Round Two. Off shot the team. They were more successful this time and got a flurry of bets on before the odds dwindled and, eventually, all betting on Layla was suspended. They’d been wrapped up again.

 

The second assessment revealed they had got sixty grand on for a possible win of $450,000. They hung around but time was called on the betting without any further odds on Layla being accessible and so the fourteen had to slouch back to Horsham with sixty five grand in their pockets. There was talk of a rematch but no plans as such; their planning faculties had retired hurt.

 

Geoff and Maddy were as juiced up as the rest of their mates on the bus. However, whilst their mates played poker and sang songs they sat together looking beaten. Part A was a neigh. And later, just as they were approaching Horsham it occurred to Geoff, and it seeped it’s way very quickly to Maddy, “why the fuck did we put on an extra sixty grand for less than half a million when fifteen grand was giving us over four million? Talk about fucking idiots.” Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Look, those bastard bookies had taken them for a ride again. It felt like they’d already lost. Losing part A was a bad omen and now they were losing their confidence in part B. Anything could happen you know. She could be tripped up. It had been done before by bookies. In hindsight, they should have walked out after putting the fifteen grand on.

 

Yeah, they had scored more than enough with the fifteen grand. Dear Maddy, you could have got away with about ten grand. No-one would have missed it. But you have to go and throw four times that after it for no better benefit. Will you ever learn?

 

[Geoff]:

“Ah c’mon Maddy, cheer up. Life’s a gamble. She’ll pull through for us.”

 

[Maddy]:

“Yeah, well they should have taught us how to gamble in school then.”

 

But at least they made national headlines! The morning TV and radio programs all lead with Layla Parkin being the unbackable favourite for the Stawell Gift after an unprecedented betting splurge by an organized group which included Geoff Derwent and Matthew Quigley. A dismayed Maddy heard it all over black coffee. And grimacing, saw the bright tele faces cover headlines such as ‘More money than sense?’ with such wisdom as ‘when push comes to shove, and in The Gift it usually does, my money’s on Linford’

 

Deny it, Maddy, deny it. Tell her it’s all Geoff’s money. Tell Geoff too. Too many tells.

 

[Maddy]:

“Right Layla, hop in. How ya traveling?”

 

[Layla]:

“I’m good thanks Maddy. Hey, guess what? I’m favourite! I saw it on the news. Did you guys bet a load of dosh on me?”

 

[Maddy]:

“No, no, well, it was Geoff’s idea. A way of publicizing the club I think… and charities no doubt. It’s nothing, really. A bit of fun.”

 

[Layla]:

“Oh well, its very nice of you. I don’t mind telling you Maddy, I’ve got butterflies. I’m very nervous. Legs like jelly.”

 

[Maddy, brightening]:

“You could withdraw you know. No harm in it.”

 

[Layla]:

“Oh, I couldn’t do that to the club and … the charities. And my tooth’s been playing up a bit too. This one here, do you want to have a look at it?”

 

[Maddy]:

“I certainly don’t Layla, never. I might have something here to get you through it. Brandy?”

 

[Layla]:

“Pass.”

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