August 11, 2008

Joel Underwood shook his head in exasperation.

“He looks well. He looks happy.”

12th November 2050. Home in Horsham.

Joel and Catherine were watching a Stream replay of the big overnight news. After more than two years, Mark McGuire had come out of his coma and was being released from medical and legal custody. He was all smiling as he made a very succinct comment to the massed media.

“I’m very grateful for the excellent medical care I’ve received. I especially appreciate that World Fed have decided to discontinue their investigation into my company and myself. I look forward to resuming a productive and quiet life – although, hopefully, a little less quiet than recently.”

“They’ve got to him. He’s given up. “

He could talk! These two years following that Manhatton meeting debacle had not been good for Joel. He had paralyzed himself with self-recrimination, anger and disillusionment. Now, McGuire’s unexpected recovery triggered Joel’s recurring script.

“There, I was right. World Fed induced the coma. I told you, he was talking to me when I last saw him. I thought he was dead but he talked clearly enough. They wanted to have a reason to delay the investigation so they put him out of action.”

This time had been hard on Catherine too. Horsham was home but not always comfortable due to the exceptionally high Baha’i population which now ran at sixty percent. Here, it was impossible to get away from the severe social plummet that had accompanied Joel’s exit from the House of Justice and his subsequent association with McGuire – a man patter-painted as the embodiment of Baha’i opposition. Now, she could walk down Robinson Street and be sharply shunned by people who used to seek indulgences from her when she resided in the heaven of Haifa.

Though still technically Baha’is, they were effectively ostracized from that community. At the same time, the couple hadn’t overly extended themselves in responding to those private invitations and initiations that did occur – sometimes from the succourers and rescuers but mainly from that relatively large group of Layla-philes who had been disorientated by this whole sorry episode.

The non-Baha’i portion of Horsham had been appalled that two well-respected members of their wider rural community should be treated in such cultish fashion. But even their clamour had subsided into ambivalence. Joel was the problem. It was extremely hard to maintain goodwill towards him as he assailed you with his latest outlandish conspiracy theory.

So, here he goes again with his unsought, half-cocked opinions. Catherine had stood by her husband resolutely in public but now, everything he said or did, even the noise he made in the bathroom evoked feelings of contempt within her.

[Catherine, abruptly and disdainfully]:
“Why would they Joel? If they had forcibly induced him into a coma, why would they let him live? They would know a man like him would be trouble when he woke. If I were them, when it all blew over, I would have given him something that made it look like a natural death. Pulled the plug or something.”

Not so, dear Catherine. Joel had thought long and hard about the World Fed strategy in this matter. World Fed thought ten moves ahead and Joel’s brain had to follow them down every possible path.

“That’s exactly why they let him out. It proves they didn’t do it… that they have nothing to hide.”

[Catherine, turning away from her husband and seething]:
“So, because it’s a completely stupid decision to wake him up… that’s exactly what they did. Nobody could ever believe that they would be that brainless if they had induced the coma in the first place? That right Joel?”

[Joel, so happy, believing his wife had seen the light]:
“Now you have it Cath. Obvious when you think it through. They’re brazen.”

[Catherine, condescendingly]:
“And what, pray tell, do they do when McGuire starts screaming on the Stream that World Fed had put him in a coma for no reason except to keep him quiet?”

“That’s the beauty of it… they have this plausible deniability. McGuire is no medical expert and besides… how much weight can you give to someone who’s been in a coma for two years?”

[Catherine, sarcastically]:
“And what about the doctors, the paramedics, the security officers, the hospital staff… the effing media? They must have all been in on it. How elaborate… you know Joel… I think I might just have gone with the plug option.”

[Joel, quietly defensive]:
“Well, World Fed is extremely well-resourced. And anyway, you’d probably only need to have the head doctor in on it. Nobody would question what the head doctor did. [after a moment or two] And now that I think of it, I bet the head doctor is appointed by some World Fed lackey.”

[Catherine, who’d had enough of it]:
“Well it’s been great that you’ve given this one its first outing Joel. It’s finding the first few hurdles a bit difficult though, isn’t it? Next time, you should race it on the flat.

For the last two years, Joel, you’ve been ranting on about how McGuire was as good as dead… how he’d never see the sun again. Now, hey presto, he’s off to the beach and your implying they’ve tampered with his sunscreen.

Oh Jesus, I’ve married my fucking father.”

Whoa, that was harsh. Catherine’s father, Luke, was a mad gee-gee watcher. By analyzing the results of thousands of races, he had developed his fool-proof system. He was an affable and big-hearted man who, unprompted, would explain the results of his research to anyone in his vicinity. The passer-by, often a guest, would willingly comply with her father’s beckon. Readying for a bit of press-the-flesh hospitality from the head of the house, they’d have a lovely looking glee on their face as they approached. From a distance you could watch that evaporate and morph into the kind of monotonous terror that Hades must have induced.

The uncontestable assumption at the heart of the system was that horse racing is corrupt and most races are decided by a cabal in advance. Luke wasn’t sure who was in this cabal… it could have been the trainers, the bookies, the owners, the jockeys or a mix of them… but that didn’t matter. What mattered was to decrypt the ingenious way these pre-determined results were signaled to crooked syndicates. It always involved a combination of the race time and the prize money in relation to the horse or stall numbers. His system was 100% accurate in hindsight but needed some tightening up on the forecasting side before he could use it for a flutter. He was onto something though… it’s all he talked about.

“Look at this! The 14:35. The trifector paid out 800 to 1… on numbers 6, 2 and 13. Now, how is that figured out? I’ll give you a clue. Forget about studying their form. Forget about the odds. Look at the race time.

No? You can’t see it?

Let me show you.

Look right along the numbers in order. Take the hour 14, add the 5 and the 3 giving 8. 14 – 8 identifies the winner 6.

Now, the key number for the second place is the 3. Take the first and the last numbers, 1 plus 5 is 6… divided by the key number 3 and you have the runner up 2. In this case you have to ignore the 4… the second number.

Are you following this? Tell me, how would you get the third place, the 13? Oh God no, you can’t just pluck the 1 and the 3 bypassing the 4 altogether. The 1 in the first position and the 3 in the third position should have told you that was unlikely. No… it’s easy. Just go along and add up the numbers… 1 and 4 and 3 and 5 is … 13. Sank you very much.”

Catherine felt deeply embarrassed by his idiocy. She’d told him that he could always find some way to get between two sets of numbers. If he could predict the results using his system, that’s the day she’d listen to him. Do this next race. Go on then.

[Luke, surprisingly taking her up on the challenge]:
“I will. Let’s see. It’s a matter of finding the key number and seeing if there’s a pattern.”

He deduced some numbers whilst humming and hawing and sneaking looks at the form figures. “Now, they don’t influence it but sometimes a race can be excluded from the system because of the form… you know, especially in really big races. If you don’t understand my system you can only bet on the big races Cath… it’s your best chance that they haven’t been arranged. Yes, it’ll be 9, 1 and 7.”

As the horses entered the final furlong with none of his charges in a promising position Luke realized what happened. “Hold on, I didn’t consider the non-runners. It all turns on the non-runners.” Post race, Luke, having recalibrated his system with the missing information, successfully managed to arrive at the stall numbers of the top 3 finishers.

What a fool her dad was. People avoided him. “Can’t stay Luke, can’t stay. I have no ears today. But God bless you Luke.”

Catherine, still bristling at the memory of her late father, stared hatefully at Joel. She had lost her voice in her religion and there was no point waiting around for this imbecile husband to make sense. After an eternity she stomped off to her bedroom. He was left feeling old, alone and worthless. He fretted… now he had managed to alienate and fail even Cath.

“Oh Mark, if you could have continued, I might not have had to go through this terrible trauma.”

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