Walter felt as though his life was spinning out of control. As he walked the mile to his work he passed the railway station where his wife and child would be leaving that afternoon. He had been deeply shocked when Ruby told him about her unwelcome visitors. That must be why she was leaving. If only he could get out of debt all would be well again.
Jack greeted him as he entered the workshop.
“Have I got a good one for you today! 100 to 1 and a sure thing! Five pounds on Knock Back and you could win £500. Set you up for life that would.”
“100 to 1!”, scoffed Walter. “Not a hope in Hell”.
Jack leaned in closer to Walter’s ear. “I have it on very good authority that the other horses are, how do you say, goin’ a bit slow that particular race.”
Walter thought fast. If the housekeeping money was still in the canister on the shelf above the stove he could run back home and get it. That would make him very late for work.
Jack solved the problem. “Here, borrow me bike. You’ll be back in no time.”
Walter’s mind was racing as he pedalled towards home. How would he get past Ruby? Would the money still be there? The front door would be locked so he would have to go around the back. Maybe he could bluff his way into the kitchen and get her out of the room. Good God, it was his money. He didn’t need to beg from his wife. He would just walk in and take it.
Ruby and Annie were nowhere to be seen and all the doors were locked. Walter found the key under the mat and carefully opened the back door. Walking silently on tip toes he reached for the canister. Inside were two pound notes, three ten shilling notes and a pile of florins, shillings and small change. Without bothering to count he thrust the money into a small leather bag and rushed back to the bike, taking care to replace the key under the mat.
“You count it,” Walter said to Jack, throwing the bag at him before reporting for work. He mumbled some excuse to the foreman about his sick child and busied himself measuring timber for his next project.
The race was on at half past four. The day dragged interminably for Walter. If he won he would run to the station, no, he would borrow Jack’s bike and ride. Ruby would be overwhelmed that he had won so much money and would stay. He would buy her a new sewing machine and maybe they would go somewhere nice for a meal. He would tell her the debts had been paid and there would be no more ugly men knocking on her door. Then again, what if the horse lost? Well, she was going anyway so at least he could say he had tried.
Sweat formed on Walter’s brow as the Workshop clock chimed four o’clock. He felt unable to breath. His heart was pounding as his hand rhythmically sanded a piece of jarrah.
Half past four! The clock chimed once and Walter froze. Unable to work he excused himself for a toilet break. He dry retched into the dunny can disturbing some green flies that flew up into his face.
“I’m just on the phone,” Jack spoke tersely. “Right, you sure? Knock Back? I’ll be over to collect right away.”
He smiled at Walter. “We did it! 100 to 1 and he did it!”
“I don’t mind telling you, I had a bit of a flutter me’self. We’re rich.”
“How much?” Walter could hardly believe what Jack was saying.
“You gave me four pounds, three and sixpence halfpenny so multiply that by 100 and you get 417 pounds, 14 shillings and twopence.”
“The bike! Can I borrow your bike? I have to get to the station by 10 to 5.”