John P Brady writes fiction and runs several blogs including one about life in Italy at JohnPBrady.com. He has had various articles and stories published online and in local publications in Dublin. He holds a BA International from UCD. Originally from Ireland, he now lives in Sicily, Italy where he writes, blogs, translates and endeavours to teach Italians how to speak English.
The Sport of Kings?
By John P Brady
Rory sat in work looking at the clock. The 5:30 at Punchestown was about to start and a sole punter came running up to the counter with a last minute docket. Rory took the bet which distracted momentarily from his forlorn deliberations as to why he was in this dead end job. Soon the racing would be finished and he could close the shop and go for a pint. He was off the next day.
At 6pm, he met Michael his constant friend since the days of secondary school in rural CountyMonaghan, and they set off for Mulligans, Poolbeg Street. Both now worked for the same bookmaker in Dublin and frustrated with their positions, often exchanged tales of work-related woe.
Michael, the more reckless yet efficient of the two, had to be in work the next morning at ten, but as he was in the enviable position of living on the same street that he worked, he could stumble out of bed and make it in unshaven and generally unkempt. The bookie opened its doors around ten thirty but later if Michael slept in, which he was fond of doing especially after a few pints of stout.
On their night out the lads had consumed a generous supply of crude oil stout and soon hunger knocked on the door. They returned to Michael’s house around 3 am armed with burgers and over-salted chips. Rory lived “out in the sticks” of Terenure and so avoided paying for a taxi home by electing for the convenience of Michael’s couch.
Michael’s new “gaff” was less than ideal from a point of view of comfort. There was no kitchen table and an old haggard stool served as a make shift, yet practical communal dining-table. They brought the chips and burgers to Michael’s room.
Rory groaned and complaining of his feet took off his shoes before devouring the fast food. Michael ate quickly and afterwards feeling suddenly tired, began to doze off. Rory bid him goodnight and headed for the splendour of the sitting room sofa where he lay trying to digest the indigestible.
Next morning Michael crawled out of bed and got together what he needed for work. He checked the time, locked his door and then made for work.
Mornings in the betting shop were slack in the extreme; all there was to do was tear out specific sections of the daily newspapers and attach them roughly to the boards around the shop. A feeble hung-over mind could accomplish this task most of the time.
The early prices for feature races would need to be written clearly on the whiteboard behind the counter. These odds could be scrawled in a vaguely horizontal manner or sketched in an artistic fashion, using imaginative colours, to attract often easily impressed punters to part with their cash. As for a regular punter, today is always your lucky day.
During the main part of the day, he sat at the counter for seemingly endless hours taking bets and watching punters approach the counter with the constancy of running water. They appeared to resemble zombies by the end of a long day.
Later in the day and long after Michael had left for work, Rory woke up on the sofa feeling less than bright-eyed. He began to prepare himself mentally for leaving the house out into the unknown wonders of Pearse Street.
He got up and investigated the disappearance of his shoes, then remembered that he had left them in Michael’s room. He went to get them only to find that Michael had locked his bedroom door. He shouted at the door in anger as he remembered Michael telling him that he always kept it locked because of the devious housemate who potentially couldn’t be trusted.
‘What the hell was he going to do now?’ he wondered. Everyone else had gone to work and he was alone in Michael’s house in his bare feet. He grabbed his mobile phone and called Michael.
‘Good day to you!’ answered a cheerful Michael, ‘How are you fixed?’
‘Ah, not too good buddy. A man’s mind could be broken and desperate,’ a strained voice replied.
‘Ha ha! That burger didn’t dry up the stout then?’ asked Michael.
An old man approached the counter and placed a docket before Michael with grubby brown tobacco-stained fingers. ‘I’ll take16/1 on that,’ he declared confidently.
‘No. You can have 12/1.’
‘Go ‘way outta dat!’ said the old Dubliner, ‘I want 16/1’.
‘It’s gone into twelve to one now from sixteen’s earlier…..what?….no, you can’t have sixteen to one…..no….it’s twelve to one now, that was the morning price, it’s gone now, twelve to one, take it or leave it…..feckin’ ejjit….sorry Rory, this punter is giving me abuse-what’s wrong? You still in the gaff?’
‘I’m still in the gaff alright and I may stay where I am- I’ve no shoes!’ said Rory.
‘What?! You had them on last night when you came in didn’t you?!’ Michael quizzed not entirely seriously.
‘Sure, I left them in your room when I came in steamed last night and then you locked your door,’ said Rory becoming exasperated. Pause as Michael breaks into fits of laughter.
‘Aye, you took them off last night when you came in,’ remembered Michael.
‘Have you a break from work anytime soon? Can you come down here with the keys and let me into your room?’ asked an overwrought Rory, who was also now beginning to see the funny side of it.
‘Ha! Ha!’ Michael was still getting over it. Then he said: ‘Well I’ve bad news for you, I just took my break and I can’t leave the store now ‘cos one of the cashiers is out sick and I have to take bets here, hang on a sec…’ A shaky punter approached the counter with a crumpled betting slip and presented it to Michael implying that it was a winning bet. Michael looked at the slip and recognising the name of a losing horse declares: ‘No, that’s a loser.’
‘Where did he finish?’ asked the shaky customer.
‘He’s still running!’ said Michael. The punter was confused.
‘He’s still running? But the race was at 12 o’clock.’
‘No, only joking, he came nowhere…. sorry Rory I have to go, it’s mad busy here; the zombies keep coming at me! If you want the keys, you’ll have to walk down here and get them!’
‘What! In me bare feet?!’ contested a surprised Rory, faced squarely with the hopelessness of the situation.
Rory grabbed his jacket and left Michael’s flat shutting the door behind him with a frustrated bang. As he walked downstairs towards the main entrance of the building, he could hear the noise outside of a busy Pearse Street. Michael’s landlord was a solicitor and owned not just Michael’s flat but the whole building. He had an office downstairs, by the main entrance, where he spent most of his time.
Rory descended the stairs apprehensively and when he was at the bottom, noticed that the landlord was standing in his office looking through some letters. Eager to avoid a scene, he marched onwards towards the door but once there struggled with a bewildering doorknob.
The landlord heard his fumbles in the corridor and came out to be greeted by the grim sight of Rory looking like a man who had just emerged from the jungle. Rory looked at the landlord and the landlord looked at him. The landlord looked down at Rory’s feet then up at him again. Nothing was said. Rory fumbled further with the doorknob but to no avail. The landlord, anxious to be rid of this unkempt individual, pushed the door release button that Rory had missed.
Rory left the building barefoot and walked down the filthy street. It was bin day and the footpath was occupied by countless black refuse sacks which smelled of yesterday’s dinner. He walked tentatively, aware of people regarding him suspiciously. There were comments from passers-by on the street:
‘Where’s he goin’ with no shoes?’ asked one Pearse Street resident as he opened his lunchtime can of strong cider.
‘To the St. Vincent de Paul’ replied another.
‘Bloody junkies!’ remarked a passer-by to his wife. ‘He probably sold his shoes for some heroin.’
‘I’m having a bad day,’ thought Rory, as he walked down the street. He had yet to pass the large Garda station, where he would have to explain himself to an officer of the law for sure if stopped. In all, it took him five long minutes to get to the bookies where Michael was waiting behind the counter, eager to see this degenerate of a human being enter.
Michael couldn’t even look at him for the laughter as he dropped the house keys on the counter. The befuddled punters were more concerned with the 2:00 from Leopardstown than the sight of poor Rory. He left the bookies, feet now as grubby as a tramps vest and began another long barefoot walk back to the house to secure his shoes.
When Rory arrived back at the bookies, this time with his shoes on, Michael let him in to the employee area behind the counter which resembled a bank teller’s work space. Rory sat for a while relaxing after his troublesome start to the day. His hangover reappeared, this time with renewed vigour. Michael continued working, taking bets from the endless stream of zombies. After a while Rory felt better and laughed with Michael about his bizarre morning. He was thinking that this might turn out to be a good day after all.
As they talked, a man suddenly approached the counter and began shouting. He produced a gun and pointed it at Michael, shouting ‘Let me in!’ Everyone froze. He shouted again ‘Let me in or I’ll shoot!’ Michael decided that he wouldn’t take any chances and shouted to Rory to open the door for the maniac.
Once inside the madman started waving the gun around wildly and shouting. ‘You want to be shot? I’ll shoot you all!’ A flurry of chaos ensued as people screamed and left the store. ‘Where’s the safe?’ demanded the crook. Michael pointed to his right. The robber raced over to it and found the door open but no money inside. All the money was sitting beside the till, where Michael had been counting it – a large wad of notes totalling about 3000 Euro.
While the crook was looking into the safe, Michael casually covered the cash with the Racing Post which was conveniently located close by. The robber couldn’t believe that the safe was empty and so continued to rant. Rory looked at the gun.
‘Wait a minute,’ he said, ‘that’s a water pistol!’ He couldn’t believe the neck on the man; to try and rob a bookie with a water pistol! The robber sensed his power rapidly fading. He wanted to get out of there.
There were some money bags filled with coppers near the counter each holding one or two Euro. Michael picked up the bags and handed them to the crook who took them gladly looking rather frustrated. Knowing the game was up, he decided to run. He had secured the grand total of about 10 euro for his troubles. He left very unimpressed. Michael closed the shop immediately and called both head office and the Gardaí. He had saved the company over 3000 Euro, surely they would be appreciative?
Once finished explaining the event, Rory trying not to think about how grubby the soles of his feet were, turned to Michael and suggested “Mulligans, for one?”