Charlie spark villain.., p.23
Charlie Spark - Villain Extraordinaire, p.23J M S Macfarlane
"Get him a black cab someone," shouted The Flip's rider to his fellow jockeys. Across the course in the Pavilion bar, Sir Harry was following the events on the track, imagining himself in the slammer at Wandsworth or dangling underneath Blackfriars Bridge.
Elsewhere, Richie Snaggs was crowing malevolently as he watched the Bolter being led back and forth at the start and was mulling over an array of thoughts – of how miraculous it was that the Bolter had escaped the knacker’s yard and what he would do with Sir Harry's money, aside from what he could get out of the Manor House, all of which made him feel pleased with himself.
In the course Enclosure, Maxi Spark gave a short laugh as he watched the delay in the start to the race. Usually his son's advice was reliable but as he watched the events on the course, he was ready to tear up his betting card.
Finally, the steward himself decided to lead the Bolter close enough to the wire and signal the start. As soon as the horse was within five feet of the barrier, the steward dived away, his bowler hat fell onto the ground, the bell sounded, the wire went up and the race began in earnest, with horses and riders jostling for positions along the grassy track, chopping it up with their hooves as they went.
Only Bolton's Revenge was left behind, staring at the scene before him. Spark decided that it was now all or nothing and dug his spurs in and when that happened, the horse took the hint, if only to show what a pack of incontinent donkeys were trotting out that day. And off he tore in a rage.
At first, when gathering speed, the Bolter seemed unwieldy to handle. Spark allowed him to settle down at his own pace : the race was over a mile and a half with a dozen jumps over hedgerows and watercourses.
To everyone in the Enclosures and Grandstand, the horse was veering wildly at the tail end of the field ; it looked as if he was trying to decide how to advance forward.
"If that horse isn't nobbled, I'll streak stark naked around the Royal Enclosure," said one of the course judges over a large port and brandy. "Just look at the way he's tearing at the reins and weaving in and out. Used to ride a spirited fellow like that years ago – always had to calm him down with some Navy rum – wouldn't touch anything else, mind you – then he'd take as many jumps as you wanted. Trouble was, you couldn't stop him from jumping and he'd be off over anything else – the course rail….fences….trailers….was a bit of a nuisance in the end..."
Someone near him said he'd heard the horse had witnessed the violent assault on his jockey in broad daylight when the rider was clubbed to death with the very same weights probably strapped to the horse's back at that moment and without doubt the scene had had some effect on the animal “because….they understand, you know..” (Precisely what it was they understood, wasn’t specified.) The speaker then fell asleep in his chair and was forgotten about until a waiter roused him at clear out time.
With the urgency of a panda car sailing through traffic lights on red, narrowly missing pedestrians and oncoming traffic, the Bolter cleared his first two hedges to settle into the last third of runners in the race, with well over a mile to go. Some of the other jockeys were aghast to see Sir Harry's horse alongside them and gaped in amazement.
"What are you lookin' at, you plague o' pox ?" roared Charlie Spark to the other riders as he moved the Bolter through the mid-field runners into the serious contenders who were pacing themselves for a challenge to the leaders, one of which was the Loathbery nag.
Precisely at that moment, Lord Loathbery himself happened to be surveying the race with Simon Cadwaller's binoculars. The latter noticed his field glasses being adjusted and refocused several times over.
"Anything the matter ?" enquired the Cad.
"Damnedst thing I've seen in my damned life – that blasted gluepot of Sir Harry Hoppitt's – it's gone from nowhere to fourth in an absurd number of minutes. This is abominable, its damnable, it's…it's…it's....appalling..."
Having said this, he suddenly remembered where he was and quickly looked around to see whether the Bolter's owner was within earshot.
He needn’t have worried as Sir Harry's whereabouts were in fact unknown. This was unfortunate as he'd missed seeing Charlie Spark take the Bolter clear across three tricky hedgerows. By that time, Spark had caught sight of the twelve furlong mark with five more jumps to cover : he knew that he must shortly make his move or be left to fight it out for a place.
However, all too suddenly, his difficulties were brought home to him. The front runners had spurred away and he was threatened with being overtaken by the midfield hacks. Forward was the only way to go yet the Bolter was boxed in by The Flip in front, the rail to the left and two other horses to the right – Bent Briefs and Old Trout. The course was teeming with sticky mud from the light overnight rain and small clods of earth were being showered over Charlie Spark by the Loathbery horse. Another hedge was jumped with the leading horse being challenged by Bent Briefs at the thirteen furlong mark. Three fences were left remaining, including the last one known as Ned's Gully for the deceptive dip and watercourse lying menacingly on the other side.
"They're squeezin’ him on tae the rail," said Bob King, as Pat Rourke and Tony Valenti shouted wild encouragement. "Those reptayles are priceless ones. They know this game and can suss out a poor wee novice blindfolded. It's curtains for sure – I'm tellin' ye."
The leader's pace was now in top gear with the brake pedal thrown out the window. The Flip was building up speed and distance and at the next fence, Old Trout seemed to slow markedly, allowing the Bolter no leeway. Spark knew that the horse wanted to be taken into his full stride and he yelled to the others, "Move over or I'll ride over you."
The other jockeys threw inverse victory signs without bothering to look back. This enraged the villain to spur the Bolter on through the thick and mud of the field until Old Trout was nudged aside and Bent Briefs had no choice but to go wide to avoid a collision. Meanwhile, Lord Loathbery's horse clung to its lead as the rest of the field jumped the second last hedge in a rag tag assortment.
No matter how he approached it, Spark was unable to take on the Loathbery horse without some irreverence by the Bolter : it was as though Sir Harry's mortification at the Manor House was understood by the horse who wanted revenge.
Finally, the Bolter ignored Spark's proddings and leadings of the reins and stretched into full gallop but constantly bumped against The Flip causing its jockey to curse at them, gesturing to Spark to move back.
To no avail, he tried to persuade the Bolter to take up a different position but the horse would have none of it and his imprecations disappeared beneath the clatter and rumble of hooves. After some moments, the Bolter gradually drew out, away and into the lead as the final jump at Ned's Gully suddenly loomed before them in the distance.
Across in the Royal Enclosure, a hornet's nest had been stirred up and was buzzing angrily. Lord Loathbery, Simon the Cad and several hangers-on had hastened to the course judiciary to lodge a protest.
"Blasted outrage," fumed The Flip's owner. "Unsportsmanlike behaviour – where did the fellow train as a jockey – Wormwood Scrubs ?"
The others echoed their disbelief and threatened to report the incident to the Jockey Club, the racing press and any other interested party.
Close to the finishing post, hanging forlornly across the railing, amid the press of punters, frantically biting the rim of his top hat and taking hurried sightings with his binoculars, was the sweating, bedevilled figure of Sir Harry hanging on every moment of the race.
He couldn't resist the temptation of seeing the outcome despite the proximity of Snaggs who would demand prompt payment if the race was lost by the Bolter. In readiness, Sir Harry had marked his escape route should the need arise, for there was more than one reason to be making preparations by the sound of the table-thumping rabble at the Steward’s office.
The scene which riveted the attention of everyone, around the course and in the grandstand, listening on the radio, i
It was a clear race between both horses to thrash it out over the remaining distance. And although the Bolter had managed to draw clear and seemed to have the run of the field, the end of his back hoof carelessly scraped against the top of the hedge at Ned's Gully, almost causing him to fall short into the ditch. For a moment, he was shaken out of his cockiness and The Flip didn't lose the opportunity as he cleared the final hedgerow slightly ahead of his adversary but enough to knock the Bolter out of the lead.
Both runners battled it out neck and neck to the finish, Lord Loathbery's jockey liberally applying the whip as Spark dug in his heels and called on the Bolter to give everything he had in him. The crowd roared and screamed them on. Sir Harry was thunderstruck and couldn't move ; Lord Loathbery had ceased mauling the race Steward to catch the final moments through his binoculars ; Richie Snaggs was tearing his newspaper to pieces shouting "You dog, you dog," ; Maxi Spark was scouring the ground under people's feet to find his torn up betting card. And then – it was over.
No one could tell who had got to the finishing post first. After some dithering by the Stewards, a photo finish was declared over the course loudspeakers and everyone in the Members Stand either rushed straight to the bar or mixed themselves a gin and tonic from their hamper during the interval of fidgeting and finger-crossing.
Within five minutes, the judges announced their decision : "After hearing three appeals from the riders of several horses...amongst others...and from the Obsydian syndicate, it has been decided that due to a false start together with incidents which occurred during the race, the result is declared null and void with all runners disqualified. A formal Stewards enquiry will be held into the race at the next meeting of the Blunderwood Jockey Club."
Hunched over the course railing, Sir Harry breathed a sigh of relief and blessed the Bolter for saving his hide. Now the wager forced on him by Snaggs would disappear as if the race had never been run.
While Sir Harry might have been cock-a-hoop, the crowd certainly weren’t and to say that the judges’ decision caused something of a stir was an understatement. The Flip had been the two to one favourite and most of the crowd had bet on him. It was as if the judges had snatched their winnings away to save the bookies from annihilation. Accusations of foul play were soon heard along with cries of rigging and fixing and jockeys throwing races and crooked syndicates and duped punters. Soon, a maddening ferment began to stir.
As for the villains, the frying pan was to become the fire.
Outside the Racecourse
The decision by the course judiciary produced a stampede, similar to a run on the banks. From all sides, the men of the turf – the course bookies – were besieged by punters demanding their money back and they had their hands full placating the angry mobs who felt cheated. Those bookies fortunate enough to get away, swiftly disappeared out of sight and made refunds from their offices, in deepest, darkest south east London where no one ventured.
Earlier, when the judges were reaching their decision, Spark had sweated it out in the Paddock : taunts and threats were made by The Flip's supporters, accusing him of sabotaging the race. A wave of resentment swept through the crowd who were convinced that the race had been thrown. And after the decision was announced, the scene turned ugly.
Meanwhile, in the racecourse gardens near the car park, Simon Cadwaller and five of his friends were limbering up as if a rugby match was about to start, using Spark in place of the ball. Knuckles were cracked with promises that every bone in his body would be broken twice ; he’d end up wrapped in bandages for months and forced to eat hospital slop. This was fit punishment for the outrage to a noble family (although Cadwaller saw his own indiscretions rather differently.)
Just as they were about to give up waiting for him and were cursing him for a coward, the Saddlers' Gates at the entry to the racecourse opened, releasing a crowd of several hundred enraged punters who were chasing Spark and Sir Harry on one side and Lord Loathbery and the continentals on the other side, both of whom were shielding themselves from missiles thrown at them as they tried to get to their cars.
As Charlie Spark ran at full throttle, out of the tulip beds stepped the Cad and his friends in the distance. But there was nowhere else to run except straight at them as the crowd converged from either side. There were shouts and screams (mainly from some of the 'ladies') of "Stop 'im, luv," or "Don't let him get away," with others yelling "crims”, “race fixers”, “fraud merchants” and even "villains" which gratified both Spark and Sir Harry beyond measure and caused them to laugh as they ran, so that they almost gave up caring whether they were caught or not. Spark began laughing so hard that he was in danger of falling over until Sir Harry bellowed at him : "Hurry, ye fool, open the car door. And be quick about it."
As Cadwaller and his rugger muggers ran with open arms and cudgels to greet their victim, they were swooped upon by the gorilla-sized Bob King, Tony Valenti, Pat Rourke, Tim Rooney, Mick Riley, Taffey and a local contingent of skinheads who were eager for an afternoon's outing.
Both sides crashed headlong and hurled themselves at each other, smashing together like storm waves pounding the seafront at Brighton on a Bank holiday. The scene resembled the Gordon Riots except that in the confusion, Cadwaller was somehow mistaken for being a Londoner and was set upon from all sides and risked being trampled underfoot or beaten to a pulp. Just at that moment, a busload of constables drew out of the racecourse, having considered that hundreds of worn out combatants beaten senseless by each other, would be less trouble than the firey mob which had seethed out of the course grounds only minutes before.
The carnage of the battlefield displayed flattened top hats and ripped cravats, wrenched grey suit collars, smashed bottles and fence palings, barking police dogs, followed by a line of horses nudging at the crowd until they were all herded into vans or had run off into the distance.
In a short time, silence returned to the small area around the Saddlers Gate. Then, after a further half hour, a faint clunking sound was heard from near the rubbish bins. Charlie Spark emerged from under a car, followed by Sir Harry who crawled out of a dustbin caked in greasy black grime, watched by a few pigeons. They dusted themselves down which equated with almost entirely disrobing in the car and returned to the Manor House to find Bob King and the others re-enacting scenes of Lord Loathbery evading arrest by sprinting down the street and jumping on the rear platform of a number eighty seven red bus, bound for Oxford Circus and all points north of Turnpike Lane.
In the Humidor
"Geeza's daft as a brush, man. We could be standing here like brooms in a cupboard for weeks, man…"
This was part of a whispered conversation in the State Room but from a vantage point inside a humidor for cigars where Lord Loathbery stored his most expensive cheroots (mostly given to him by wealthy guests).
"Yeah – I never thought cigars could stink as much as this."
Neither Taffey, Clifton Earls, Mick Riley or Reg Griffey knew how long they would have to stay in the humidor or whether the time release lock on the vault was set to open in an hour hence or a month away.
"I'll never smoke another cigar for years. Hey, Reg – I hear you're going to be tarred and feathered. Har har har..."
The getaway man made no answer : one of them had clamped their hand across his mouth to stop him talking at the precise moment when the door to the State Room opened and Piers Loathbery entered with Amanda Teece.
Both of them stood chatting in front of the hearth until Piers checked his watch, clicked the switch on the unicorn, swung the marble fireplace aside and waited several more minutes until the grandfather clock
On the seventh chime, the mechanism in the vault began whizzing and whirring with steel bolts unwrenching and clinking aside. Then, a small green light illuminated below the handle and the two ton vault door moved its entire face by a few inches as it opened itself.
Piers and Amanda grabbed the handle together and began pushing and pulling at the door until after several minutes they'd moved it far enough to allow one of them to squeeze inside.
After a few minutes, young Loathbery emerged from the vault, clucking with glee and holding two thick bundles of red fifty pound notes, each the size of breezeblocks. Placing them on a nearby table, he pressed a button above the handle, prompting the vault door to move itself back into position when the clunking and clicking recommenced as it locked itself again.
"What luck, eh Amanda ? And just in the nick of time – down to our last hundred thou'. Well, we shan't be doing this again for another three months," said Piers with a hint of regret. Then they moved the fireplace back into position, collected the money and made their exit.
As soon as the door to the State Room had closed, the four villains burst out of the humidor, coughing and hacking and reeking of cured tobacco with their eyes streaming and their taste-buds tingling from the dried out tobacco leaves.
"Did you hear that ?" coughed out Griffey. "It won't be opened by time release for another three months. What are we going to do ?"
"Man, we'll just have to get the Bob King geeza to put his thinking cap on, man – the damned thing will just have to be blown up, man. There's no other way," said Clifton Earls.
Charlie Spark - Villain Extraordinaire by J M S Macfarlane / Humor / Thrillers & Crime have rating 2.4 out of 5 / Based on39 votes