A Day at the Races

Just a bit of fun. The following story was runner-up in the National Association of Writers’ Groups comedy writing competition

‘Christ, whack me sideways!’

And Johnny did. Well and truly elbowed, I’m lying on the ground with a face full of mud.

The race was close, two gee gees hurtling for the post, the jockeys mercilessly thrashing their flanks. But I’ve won. At last. I can house myself and eat for another week.

At least I could have done – I’m staring at my outstretched fingers wondering where my betting slip has gone. I peer out through the drizzle. Where the hell is it?

It’s been chill and rainy all morning, the punters thin on the ground. This race was my last chance, as we’d been backing losers all day, me and my mate Johnny – well, he’s no real mate, just a bloke who stands in the same place as me at meetings. Over the months we’ve struck up a friendship of sorts. Two losers, but ever hopeful.

Well, one loser this time, because Johnny’s dancing around and yelling to the skies ‘I’ve won, I’ve bloody won,’ completely oblivious of my plight.

Miserably I scan the enclosure, wondering where the damn betting slip has gone. There’s just a straggle of race goers, the women decked out in fancy frocks, legs coated in fake tan, hobbling awkwardly on high heels towards the bar, arm-in-arm with their Penguin-suited partners. The whole scene’s like a TV advert for Moss Bros.

And then I spot it. It’s well and truly pronged on a woman’s high heel. She’s a looker, no doubt about it, wearing a purple dress of cascading frills barely covering her knickers. Her party are heading away fast, so I clamber to my feet and set off in pursuit. Luckily she’s wearing a hat like a bowl of fruit so following her’s no problem. I slip and slop through thick mud after her, calling ‘Excuse me, love, you’ve got my betting slip on your shoe.’

Finally she hears me and turns. ‘You talking to me?’

‘My betting slip. It’s stuck on your heel. I need it to collect my winnings.’

Pursing her lips she gives me a look, then lifts her leg, puzzled.

‘Look, it won’t take me a mo,’ I say, reassuringly. ‘Lean on me and I’ll prise it off.’

‘Won’t be a moment, babes,’ she calls out to her bloke, who’s almost out of sight, heading for the bar with his mates.

‘Lift your leg higher, love, we’re getting there,’ I say. ‘A bit higher, a bit more.’

Reaching down I close two fingers round the betting slip and give it a tug. Her heels are like six-inch nails, you could fix floorboards with them. ‘Keep still, just a second more and I’ll …’

She overbalances and lurches over, and lies flailing around in the sticky mud, screaming and shouting. ‘Dean, babes, over here! Dean, quick!’

Dean is quick. He sprints across faster than Lucky Chance over the final furlong.

‘Christ, Donna!’ He turns to me and yells ‘What the have you done, you stupid idiot!’

‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry,’ I plead, ‘it was an accident. I was just trying to get my betting slip back. It’s a winner.’

‘Was mate, not now.’ A fist thuds into my stomach and I’m face down in the mud again.

‘Get up, I’ll bloody kill you. You’ve ruined babe’s day.’

Donna’s still screaming, her mates crowding round, doing their best to wipe her down. But the dress is ruined, even I can see that. It’s like a mud bath battle from ‘It’s a Knockout’.

I’m still on the ground gripping the betting slip. But it’s hopeless, it’s scrunched up, covered in mud, and there’s a gaping hole where the number should be. It’s as ruined as Donna’s dress.

‘Look, I just need to talk to the bookmaker to pick up my winnings. Then I’ll be happy to pay for the dry cleaning.’ Yet as I’m saying it I know there’s no way the bookmaker will pay out against it if he can’t read the number.

‘You’re  going nowhere till we get our money, chum. How much was it, babes? Tell the man.’

‘Dry cleaning’s no good, Dean, it’s ruined. Anyway, the dress ain’t mine.’

‘What d’you mean it ain’t yours, babes?’ Dean flexes his fists. He’s big and looks very dangerous. Donna looks guilty. Flinching, she gasps for breath and croaks ‘I bought it online, babes. Just wearing it for the day. I was gonna send it back tomorrow. I wanted to look special, Dean, for our anniversary.’

‘Well you’ve ruined up my lady’s day well and proper, haven’t you, mate. Right, Donna, shut up and tell me how much it was. What’s this idiot in for?’

‘Three hundred, babes. And a hundred for the hat.’

Christ, I’m thinking. I haven’t got that sort of money. In fact without my winnings I haven’t got a bean in the world. But thank God, my mate Johnny has, I know he backed Lucky Chance big time. And it was his fault for elbowing me, wasn’t it? He’ll pay. I breathe a sigh of relief. Right, find Johnny. I peer around the empty enclosure. Everyone’s gone. And so has Johnny. He’s deserted me, the bugger.

Donna’s weeping, and Dean’s in a huddle with his mates, probably discussing how they’re going to work me over. Seeing my chance I make a run for it, and I’m halfway to the exit gate before they spot me. Then it turns into a chase straight out of Benny Hill, with Donna hobbling after me followed by a crocodile of her screaming mates, with Dean and his penguin friends sprinting along behind. Putting on a spurt I make it to the car park, duck low out of sight, then inch between the cars making for my Corsa. When I reach it I ease the door open, fall inside, and turn the key. Then I’m off, careering through the mud, chicaning in and out of parked cars towards the outer gate.

Thank God, I’ve made it! I breathe another a sigh of relief, put my foot down, and race back up the hill towards the town and safety. A close shave.

Then I spot it in the mirror. A black Range Rover, a hood’s car if I ever saw one, accelerating towards me as if the Corsa’s going backwards. Already it’s nudging my back bumper, and Dean (I assume it’s Dean because the windows are black as the car’s body) is forcing me off the road. I change down, hit the accelerator pedal, and we career forward, the old car rocking and screeching. When I glance down at the dash the needle’s in the red, the engine close to blowing its top. A sudden explosion under the bonnet and we’re out of control, skidding across the verge, the Corsa rolling from side to side. When we hit a tree the chase is over. Desperate, I lock the doors and sit tight. Dean’s banging on the window, yelling.

Then my phone rings. For some reason I answer it.

‘Hi Tim, Pete here. Hope you’ve been enjoying your holiday. Afraid you won’t be any longer, mate. The rumours are true. They’re shutting us down, we’re redundant. Sorry for the bad news, but thought I’d better let you know. See you when you get back.’

Some great day at the races this has turned out to be. And so much for Lucky Chance. A stone smashes through the window and a hand grabs me by the throat.

About Terence Sackett

I am a writer and designer. I live in Nether Stowey, which is on the borders of the Quantock hills. I am a committee member of the Friends of Coleridge, and wrote and designed the booklet/visitor guide for the National Trust’s Coleridge Cottage. I look after the website for the Friends (www.friendsofcoleridge.com). My novel about Siamese twins titled ‘Riven is now on Kindle. It can be read with a free downloaded Kindle app for an iPad, smartphone, tablet, or computer. The book is available from Amazon. What’s it about? Brief blurb below: It is the story of the Victorian painter Thomas Tait Genoa and his desperate flight through the West Country to save his conjoined twin daughters from the surgeon’s knife. This was before the era of anaesthetics. A 5-start bAmazon review: 'A masterpiece, truly deserving of the five star rating I have given it. The very human experience described so eloquently could not fail to tug at the heart of any parent who has ever gazed on a poorly child in the dark hours of the night and anguished over what to do for the best. This novel might be set in a very particular time and space but the heartfelt emotions of the protagonists are timeless, I have no hesitation in recommending this wonderful work to anyone who has a heart.
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