Charlie spark villain.., p.22
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       Charlie Spark - Villain Extraordinaire, p.22

           J M S Macfarlane
 

  When he arrived at the stables, the Bolter appeared ready to take on the field. The horse was chuffling and prancing nervously about as Tony Valenti brushed him down and adjusted the saddle straps. Bob King was supervising the preparations.

  "How are we doing then ?" enquired Spark while looking around him for any sign of Griffey. "Where is he ?"

  King advanced a pace and said, "Ye see, there's been a wee problem – he's just freshening up a bit and shouldnae be long…"

  Translated, this meant that Griffey was dead drunk upstairs while one of the others was pushing his head under a cold water tap.

  "Sir Harry will flay him alive for this," he said, giving the Bolter an apple. "He's got a right bundle riding on this race – and he warned him, didn’t he ?"

  Bob King led the way to the stablehands room in the loft. Sprawled out on a bed, unknowing of the whirlwind brewing around him, Griffey was senseless with half his clothes on and one hand clutching an empty rum bottle. He hardly stirred when Spark threw a bucketful of cold water over him. Eventually, his arm reached up for the window latch to stop the rain getting in as his eyes flickered through the haze. Charlie Spark told Tony Valenti and Pat Rourke to drag the inebriate out of bed, walk him about until he was ready to drop and to fill him with black coffee, for any good it would do. And so they dragged him about as he staggered on rubbery legs and then one leg and eventually two, around and around and around until he became dizzy and even more incoherent. Soon he pushed them away and hung onto the stable wall for fear the room would stop whirling and he'd be thrown into space. Spark glared at him, wondering how they could find a replacement rider.

  After a quarter of an hour, Griffey was semi-conscious, realising the full extent of his crime so that instead of being a near cadaver, he was now semi-coherent. "Ohhh, whut'veadun ?" he howled pathetically. "Why've I gonan done this ? S’alright now, I'm alrigh'…"

  There passed a short exchange of glances from psychiatric nurses to patient and it was decided to subject him to a further barrage of slaps, pummels, cold water dousings, coffee draughts and walkies in the back room to wake him up properly before the third race started in an hour's time.

  King's strict orders were to squeeze all traces of alcohol out of Griffey then to dress him in the colours of the Bolter ‘syndicate’ – large, yellow polka dots against a flaming red background.

  While Griffey was staggering back to consciousness upstairs, in the stable yard below, Sir Harry had arrived with Chief Obobo.

  "Never a finer beast to run on four legs, Chief – apart from the times when I've had one too many, haw haw haw haw. I've ridden him myself and he can cut his way through the best of them, can't you, old boy ?" said Sir Harry, addressing the horse. "He has a heart of fire. He won't stint when you want him to stretch up to a full gallop, he's stout and iron-willed in the muck and he'll pound the others to dust on a fine track. You'll see if I'm not wrong, Chief."

  The horse himself heard these tributes and grew the vainer for it, by whinnying in agreement as if to say "You're absolutely right, tubby."

  Out of his pocket, the Chief drew his form guide, hooked on his spectacles and said, "Jockey – R.Griffey…hmm….who the hell is R.Griffey ?" The Chief turned enquiringly to his host. "Where is your jockey, Sir Harry, the race is due to start soon, isn't it ?"

  A pained look of doubt was cast in the direction of Charlie Spark by the vaguely suspicious great grandson of the famous Yorkshire spin bowler, Thomas Randomley. "Er…he's just on his way," came the reply.

  A cynical look around the stables concealed Sir Harry's impatience when a clamour was heard from the loft. Griffey then appeared, resplendent in the Bolter's colours, grasping hold of the banister railing until he tripped and fell down the stairs.

  After some steadying, he was able to see sufficiently clearly to walk in a straight line, if he concentrated hard enough. Charlie Spark decided a quick exit was in order and moved Griffey in the direction of the Stewards Office at the rear of the Old Pavilion for the jockeys’ weighing-in.

  Before they left, Spark took Sir Harry aside and told him about his confrontation with Snaggs who intended to blow open the vault on Saturday night. They could still get in ahead of him on Friday night after the wedding.

  “Why would we want to do that ? If he finds out we misled him, we’ll all be hanging upside down underneath Tower Bridge.”

  “I only told him the truth, Sir Harry. But that doesn’t stop us from getting what we came here for. ”

  “We should leave the field open for him.”

  “You want to give up on it ? After all our hard work ?”

  Well might Charlie Spark have asked that question because it so happened that that was exactly what Sir Harry wanted. He was tired of taking bets in the Black Lion, of dodging traffic in the Elephant & Castle and risking prison for paltry returns. Although he would never admit it, he missed the comfortable middle-class life of his youth : Lord Loathbery was handing him a golden opportunity to move into a higher sphere where he’d be protected by phalanxes of exorbitant lawyers and accountants, bribed officials and politicians, offshore bank accounts and tax havens. His only problem was how to stop what he’d started with the others while escaping from the clutches of Snaggs. Perhaps it was now impossible, who could say ? “We shall just have to wait and see which way the wind blows,” he thought.

  Meanwhile, his understudy was becoming insistent.

  “Look, Sir Harry – the others won’t be well pleased. They’re expecting a pay-off from this little pantomime around the countryside. If anything stops them blowing the vault, they’ll be after you, along with Snaggs.”

  “Alright, alright…we’ll do it your way, only it had better go like clockwork so that we can vanish with a head start – because if any of them catch up with us….well, we know what will happen, don’t we ?”

  Then Spark found Griffey and they negotiated their way past the stable buildings and the other trainers, owners and jockeys with Griffey guaranteeing that the race was over before it had started and that the Bolter would tear the rest of the field apart. In his stupor, he'd grown bolder and began raving and shouting at what he would do to the other horses and riders when the race started.

  Just after they left and while the Chief had been looking at the other horses in the stables, Snaggs suddenly appeared and repeated the same warning to Sir Harry which he’d given to Charlie Spark. Sir Harry reassured him that he needn’t worry and that they would be leaving things well alone on the Saturday night. Snaggs scoffed that that was just as well and that Harry should concentrate on the horserace instead. From the scrawny look of the Bolter, he would have his work cut out for him.

  “Just so that I forget all about this little incident, I’ll place two hundred thousand pounds with you at five to one on Bolton’s Revenge – to lose,” said Snaggs who, in a roundabout way, was demanding compensation for his trouble about the vault. Seeing Sir Harry’s look of puzzlement, Snaggs said “That’s right, ‘old boy’ – if your horse loses the race, I win the bet. What’s wrong ? Don’t think much of his chances ? Haw haw.”

  Sir Harry knew that it was unlikely the Bolter would win as Lord Loathbery’s horse was the clear favourite in the race. And even though Snaggs would never put up the stake and the odds were ridiculous, he had no choice than to take the bet and didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

  This was yet another reason for him to abandon their plan and to side with Loathbery in a corporate money-raking scheme. Yet, if the Bolter lost the race, it wouldn’t matter if they did carry out the robbery because he’d have no way of paying Snaggs anyway and might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb. His only recourse then, would be a one-way ticket on a tramp steamer to South America.

  In a hot and cold sweat, he racked his mind for some way of wiping the slate clean for what would shortly become an impossible debt to Snaggs.

  Chapter 55

  Griffey In the Saddle

  The jockeys weighing-in room was
large and open and filled with light.

  The room flashed with bright colours and designs in satin and silk patterns and shapes, like some Middle Ages pageant with each jockey wearing his horse's colours and dragging his saddle and bridle behind him, the metal parts jingling.

  A number of riders stood idly about, looking distracted and bored as most people do when they're at their daily drudgery. Others were grumbling, impatient to be weighed and despatched for the third race which was scheduled to start in half an hour.

  Many of the jockeys were accompanied by their trainers, all of whom wore brown flat caps or hats and drab brown overcoats or leather jackets. The only person not multi-coloured or wearing brown was the weighing-in official dressed in a grey suit and looking just as sombre.

  Everyone had one feature in common, however : they all positively reeked to high heaven, of anything to do with horses, be it horse sweat, horse manure, horsehair, hay or stabling. None of them noticed because they all had the same stale odour which could overwhelm anything else within a hundred yards.

  As they waited in the queue, Spark could see that Griffey was still drunk as he swayed from side to side or stumbled with every step. His mumbling and bragging annoyed the other jockeys who complained that the weigh-in had become a side-show.

  For Griffey, it was his first proper race and everything was a novelty. By the time they’d reached the top of the queue, he was adjusting his trousers which were like a sack until they fell down completely and the steward saw before him a dishevelled wreck who could hardly see straight.

  “Bit of a heavy night…”said Charlie Spark to the steward.

  As Griffey struggled to stand on the scales, everything was spinning and whirling around him until he fell backwards, sending the entire queue of jockeys onto the floor like a set of dominoes falling on each other.

  Several pairs of hands seized him, hauled him up and bounced him onto the scales for a second time while his weight was taken down and entered in the course log.

  The steward who was himself also showing the effects of a heavy lunch after entertaining some friends at the club, decided that Griffey was light and ordered twelve pounds to be added to his saddle and his weight taken again.

  Two six pound lead weights were then produced and fitted into the leather pockets on either side of the saddle as Griffey wobbled and lurched about, trying to adjust his trousers as the scales were re-set and the new weight recorded.

  From the looks of impatience in the queue, it had become a tea-party.

  Griffey was having to carry his saddle, now made heavier, with reins and harness. He kept moving it about from one arm to the other and decided it might be easier to carry it on his shoulder.

  Everything was a blur. As he lifted it above his head, one of the weights in the saddle flew out, landed with a 'crack' on the top of his crown, sending him crashing from the scales, face-first, flat on the ground and unconscious.

  The weighing-in room was in an uproar with calls for a doctor, an ambulance, smelling salts or brandy. Griffey was peered over from several positions until he was removed by stretcher to the Jockey Club office. The course medic prodded and poked his head and after a studied pause, pronounced him fit.

  They tried to rouse him by flicking water in his face and it was only the scent of a brandy bottle which made his eyes open. After a cup of tea with a slurp of brandy, he tottered his way back to the Bolter's stable to prepare for the race.

  At the same moment, back at the weighing-in, other events were brewing : theories were offered for Griffey’s collapse ; some said there was a murderous feud with many blaming the 'sly-looking' trainer (Charlie Spark) ; still others said the incident was planned so the race could be thrown. And as the jockeys discussed it more and more, they were convinced that the bonk to Griffey's head was no accident. None of them discounted the idea, from their experience of unscrupulous owners, shifty trainers and other racehorse cranks.

  It also happened that Lord Loathbery's jockey had seen Griffey’s tumble and the ensuing panic to revive him. As soon as he was weighed, the Flip’s jockey scuttled back to his stable and reported the news of the ‘assault’ – Spark had forced Griffey to swing the race ; a violent struggle had been fought between them ; Spark had hit Griffey on the head with a metal bar ; the course judiciary and police were investigating ; the Bolter was certain to be scratched from the race ; this was all well and good as a hairy dog could run faster.

  When Spark and the horse-pilot were back at the stable, the Bolter was saddled and Griffey was shown the stirrup. On their first attempt to get him in the saddle, he lost his footing and slid over the horse's back onto the ground. Then they picked him up, dusted him down but avoiding the stirrup, threw him over the horse's back to land in a heap of straw and manure. Valenti and Earls rushed to stand him on his feet : the Bolter's colours were becoming less distinguishable by the moment and so four of them grabbed him from either side and cast him firmly in the middle of the saddle, placing his feet in the stirrups and telling him to clutch onto the reins.

  "Does this fellow know how to ride the horse ?" asked Chief Obobo in amazement. Sir Harry stammered that he didn't quite know the answer himself.

  While Griffey was trying to manage himself in the saddle, the Bolter had no doubts about who was going to lead the field of nags and was alert to the expectancy and tension in the air before the race. His ears were straight and sharp, catching the roar of the crowd from the Grandstand and the pounding of hooves past the finishing post in the second race.

  While the horse was shoving furiously from side to side with legs going at a half dance, Charlie Spark said : "Don’t worry about the jockey, Chief. The horse knows the way and by the look of him, he's ready to take them all on. Uh, what do you think, Sir Harry ?"

  "Mmm….could be...." was the studied response.

  As for Griffey, it was impossible for him to see where he was going and he decided to hang low in the saddle and cling onto the horse’s neck. If he really could have seen in front of him, he would only have panicked, so it didn't matter much whatever he did.

  Charlie Spark picked up the reins which had fallen to the ground and watched in disbelief by some of the others, slowly led the Bolter out of the stable, past the Enclosure gate and along a dirt path at the side of the course leading to the start. The Bolter knew the way from watching the other horses canter up and down to warm up. They were all laughing at him which made him all the more excitable as Spark tried to calm him down and stop him rearing.

  Back at the stables, Sir Harry had taken leave of Chief Obobo and the others and at that moment was racing across the outer Enclosure to locate Richie Snaggs in the Members Stand. At last, he tracked him down in the bar and began explaining how the Bolter had gone lame at the last moment and that despite every remedy, the horse was being taken out of the race which sadly, regrettably would mean that his two hundred thou’ wager was cancelled.

  "Yeah ? You don't say ? Huh, huh, well, that's a miracul," said Snaggs derisively, "because there he is being led out to the start. Looks as if he's made a quick recovery. And anyhow, wot's this I hear about the jockey attacked by the trainer – I heard he was charged with Grievous Bodily Harm and Charlie boy had made tracks, followed by rozzers and the bloodhounds ?"

  Sir Harry could only stare into space while mumbling to himself : "I'm ruined…..ruined....ruined….." and then grinding his teeth and staring maliciously in the direction of Griffey, imagined his fate when the race was over.

  At the same moment, in the Royal Enclosure, other events of a more serious turn, were winding themselves in knots.

  After failing to persuade her father to have all the villains arrested, Antoinette the sleuth was distraught and had not even noticed how many glasses of champagne she’d tipped down, one after another, to steady her nerves and at last, had ended up going on a magnificent bender.

  In this state, she’d rushed to her husband and brother to tell them about her discovery but both of
them ignored her. Neither could make out a word of what she said and advised her to sober up. This was met with a snarl of resentment.

  “Very well,” she thought to herself, “these silly men are useless. I’ll have to do the job myself,” and she imagined the thrilling dénouement – she would capture the gang red-handed. She would keep the appointment with Spark and show them all.

  Chapter 56

  Charlie Spark Takes Over

  At the starting area, the runners had assembled, all in a jumble : some were galloping up and down the short length before the start while others were showing their best profile including Lord Loathbery's horse, The Flip. His jockey sneered at the other riders that his nag eclipsed the field and that the race was a non-event.

  As soon as the Bolter entered the course, he began rearing up and it seemed apparent to Spark that Griffey had lost control.

  Perched in the saddle, a feeling of nausea accompanied the pounding inside the wheelman’s head. In a moment of panic, he dug his spurs into the horse's sides – and that was the last thing he remembered about the race : in an instant, he was thrown clear of the saddle and came to rest on top of a hedgerow near a few stable hands.

  "'Oi mate," said one of the stable boys to Spark, "that geezer's sure to have worked in a circus – as the human cannonball. Har har har."

  Charlie didn't reply to the jibe. He knew he had to act quickly and dragged Griffey over to the far side of the hedge, out of sight of the Stewards.

  Some minutes later, Spark re-appeared, decked out in the yellow and red of the Bolter's colours. No-one had bothered about the human missile ; the Bolter's reins were found, Spark climbed into the saddle and soon had the horse under control.

  By coincidence just at that moment, J.Sleenze (‘Licensed Turf Accountant’) was remarking about the Bolter's appearance and the even stranger presence of his jockey who, it was said on good authority, had had his arm broken as a warning to others not to cross the racecourse ‘fixers’.

  At the side of the starter's position, the horses were led to the automatic wire which would swing upwards to begin the race. As he already knew that the Bolter was a bighead, Spark wheeled him gently towards the start but each time they got anywhere near it, the horse decided he wouldn't have it and shied away. Soon, all the other horses were lined up at the wire and were ready for the off. A strapper took the Bolter's bridle then led him up to the start but just as the button was about to be pushed, the horse reversed away. Patiently, he was led up again and the same thing happened again.

 
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