The Last Newspaper in the World
Chapter 4 - 20 CENTS AND HORSE 9
Instead of heading back into town, I turned left and went across the bridge into Victory. In summer there were usually kids on the bridge, jumping into the river to cool off. Often during summer a cop was parked in the main street to pick up holidaymakers passing through at speed. Victory, instead of being a place of triumph, was the kind of place you really wanted to drive through fast if you were a family of holidaymakers, returning sun burnt and a little reluctantly from the beach. This reverse reality was one reason why I enjoyed visiting Mr Tatua. The reality of people’s lives in such places is so often different to those imagined by passersby. Turning right, I went out to the race track, passing a row of tall pine trees acting as a wind break on the plains. The race track was quiet and, as I got out of the car and walked over to the rails, a light rain was falling and the wind was struggling through the pines. Across the other side of the track I could see a horse and rider cantering along in a training gallop. Nothing about the track gave any immediate impression of something worth dying for, a bit of turf in the middle of a bit of a hard case district. Maybe the mayor’s meeting with the well-dressed visitor on the far side of the track the day before his death was just a coincidence.
As the rain eased and a weak sun tried to break through, the horse and rider ran into the home straight, picking up speed. The horse looked to be a young brown gelding with a tawny mane and tail. Pretty plain really but moving very well even on the sticky winter surface. Of course, I recognised the rider as Pat O’Rourke, or ‘20 cents’ as most people knew him. Why he was called ‘20 cents’ was never really clear but it had something to do with his stock reply when punters asked him if a horse was worth backing that it was worth putting 20 cents on. Although I’d liked horses when I was a kid, gambling wasn’t my thing, but it had in the past been Harry’s. Pat and Harry had been friends for a few years but didn’t see so much of each now as Harry became obsessed with The Last Newspaper in the World. Pat cantered past on the young horse and slowed it down to a walk before turning around at the end of the straight and trotting back towards me.
‘Hiya 20,’ I gave him a wave as they came back down the track towards where I was standing near the finish line. Some sun was shining through, although the wind seemed stronger. ‘Bill, hi, what’re you doing here?’ Pat called as he jumped out of the saddled and hit the turf lightly. A former taxi driver, he ran some horses on a property near the race track, mostly training up fillies and colts for trials and early races. Pat was in his late 60s but had that happy knack of looking younger. He walked over to the rail, short but not pinched thin like a jockey.
‘How’s your grandfather?’ he asked. Some surprise must have registered on my face, because his smile momentarily dropped and he looked confused. I had forgotten that Harry wasn’t really my dad, even though I called him that. Harry had brought me up since I was about nine and my parents had been out of the picture since then. When I was a kid, it just seemed right for me to call him dad. When you’re in your early twenties, things do start to get a bit more complicated.
‘Harry’s fine. I’m just out and about trying to figure out why our good mayor ended up in a ditch with a hole in his head.’
‘Yeah, I saw you cocked that story up. The cops have banned you, right? That’d make Harry even more delighted than usual.’
‘Nah, he’s surprisingly okay. We’re just trying to work around it.’
Pat nodded and stroked the young horse’s nose.
‘Not much to look at but he’s getting stronger,’ he said, holding the reins at arm’s length looking appraisingly at his charge as the horse shook his head.
He looked set to go, so I asked ‘Hey 20, somebody was saying the mayor was out here the other day. Any idea as to why that might be?’
‘Not for the view,’ Pat said as he pulled the collar of his jacket up and gave an involuntary shiver. He and the horse were starting to cool down quickly after their run.
‘He wasn’t alone. He was with some suit. Is there anything going on out here of interest do you think?’
‘Well, the only thing I know is that the racing club is just about on its last legs financially. But isn’t that old news? A few guys have been cooking up schemes, but they’re dreamers.’
‘What’ve they been dreaming about, these guys?’
‘The usual stuff; selling a bit of this, doing a bit of that, you know. Anyway, I better go and give this horse a cool down before we both get a chill. Say hi to Harry. I’ll let you know if I hear anything.’
As he walked the horse away down the track I called out after him: ‘Hey got a tip for Saturday?’
‘Yeah put 20 cents on number nine in the third.’
I could see the old guy walking up the concourse to the horse boxes in my rear mirror as I drove away. I made a diversion to the beach. Winding down through the bush, I could see the tide was way out and narrow lines of waves walked through rips. Later, with a high tide, and a change to an offshore wind, I’d expect the surf to stand up nicely. Maybe, but my mind was elsewhere as I pulled into the car park outside Gordon’s, tyres crunching on the wet sand and shell mix. It really was winter, just me and two seniors I only knew as Mr McKenzie and Mr David. Mr McKenzie, who had retired to the beach from a large farm inland, was smartly dressed with a tie and a driving cap and Mr David, who seemed to have been at the beach forever, was shabby in a coat with wet hair plastered across his forehead. Quite different, they seemed always to hang out and grumble quietly to each other. Today, they seemed to be having a laugh at something as I came through the door. It felt unusual.
Angelique was alone and greeted me with a smile as I ordered my long black. God I loved her round smiling face and strong lips. Sitting at a table near the front, I could look out over the road and just see the tops of the surf in the distance at the end of grey wet sand. I didn’t think about our dead mayor, the newspaper or my role in the story. Instead, I was thinking about what old Pat had said about my grandfather. Moments like that had long since failed to bring me up short, yet just occasionally I was caught unawares. Harry was and always would be my grandfather. He had looked after me only from when I was nine or 10, so effectively had I shut out memories of my parents. They only existed in another world, one where the commune was more important than the family and I learned to roll joints at an early age. Harry had bought The Last Newspaper in the World down the coast at about that time and had rescued me. It must have been dramatic at the time but I could only remember driving down the coast in his old car, between cliffs covered in flaming trees and the empty sea. So, even though he was terse and swore every second sentence, Harry became my dad and legal guardian.
‘Bill, are you okay?’ It was Angelique. She put my cup of coffee on the table, alongside some hot water, and sat next to me holding my hand as we looked out the window. The old guys left and walked off in opposite directions in the light wind. Angelique stood up and went over to lock the door and turn the ‘Closed – back in five’ sign to face outwards. I went over and wrapped my arms around her waist and kissed her neck behind her right ear. ‘Not here,’ she said as she pushed me back. As we walked hand-in-hand out to the back room, I could feel my history fall away bit by tiny bit. Radio Zd was playing a song by Beirut*:
‘It’s been a long time, long time now
since I’ve seen you smile
and I’ll gamble away my fright
and I’ll gamble away my time
and in a year, a year or so
this will slip into the sea
nobody raise their voices
just another night to mourn to
nobody raise their voices
just another night to mourn to’
‘Too mournful,’ Angelique said as she closed the door and shut out the sounds. For a moment there was only her and me and four walls of the room stacked with cartons of tea, canned food and dry goods. I looked down at her and we kissed. And, as we kissed, the sadness left me and was replaced by a spirit of optimistic love. We embraced. I must have squeezed too tightly, because she pushed me back slightly. A fumbling attempt at the front of her smock was stopped by her nimble but firm fingers. ‘Not now, just hold me,’ she said quietly. We were like that for a few moments. Then I could feel the life going out of me and my reality draining back in. Gordon’s van was pulling up outside as we went back into the café. My coffee was cold but I heaped it with sugar and downed the sweetness.
* Copyright Notice: These verses are from the song 'Nantes' written by Zach Condon of Beirut; EMI Music Publishing.
The next chapter of this book will be posted next week
The Last Newspaper in the World
By Mick Stone
Published by BMS Books
An imprint of Business Media Services Ltd
The Last Newspaper in the World
Copyright © 2012 Mick Stone
All rights reserved.
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BMS Books an imprint of
Business Media Services Ltd
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