The Last Newspaper in the World
26 September 20142
13 A MUDDIED TRACK
Two other photographers leaned against the fence near the starting line. Both had one camera with a large lens at the ready and another slung around their necks. I felt a bit underdone with my single camera and not-so-long lens. At least I had a good digital and a great lens. I tried to figure out the best angle for a shot but really I was just fiddling around.
It can be quite quiet on a race course when you are away from the crowd, or when you are thinking about something else. I turned around and looked up into the stand. A few people were climbing quickly up into their seats. I could see Christine at the top of the stairs. I think she was looking at me and pointing to the starting gate. I heard a click and turned around.
‘You won’t see much looking that way,’ said the woman next to me. She had an open face, with brown hair tied into a sporting pony tail. I guessed she must have been local as she was wearing a ski jacket to keep out the cold. I shivered involuntarily.
‘Which media are you from,’ she asked, looking towards the gates as the last horse was loaded in.
‘The Last Newspaper in the World, over on the coast.’
‘What the heck are you doing here on a day like today?’
‘I wish I knew myself,’ I said, but was drowned out as the gates opened and the race caller’s voice wound into his work.
Twelve hundred metre races can be a big race for three-year-old horses. Not quite like first day at school, that’s more the two-year-olds, but more like little kids trying to be big kids. As it was, I didn’t see the first 200 metres because I was thinking about what Harry really wanted me to do here.
I looked up and could just see the horses on the fair side of track. They seemed to be running in slow motion, going up and down like they really were at a circus, but as they approached the bend their speed increased. Amber’s Gold was somewhere near the front and wide.
I noticed the woman next to me was tracking the field with her big grey lens, looking like she was going to blow them away with a great shot. Just as I adjusted my position on the fence rail, the horses swung into the straight. People were calling for their favourites but the names were all entwined like the rope of hope. I got the field into focus and tracked them forward as they quickly run down the distance. Suddenly the little horses were racing very fast.
‘Where’s Amber’s Gold; I can’t see Amber’s Gold,’ I called, swinging the camera back and forward.
‘Wide. On the outside.’
I steered my camera down the rails and saw Pat’s horse charging down the outside straight at me, leading by several lengths. Mud flew up from his hooves. I swung around and holding the camera above my head kept shooting as Amber’s Gold galloped past. I fell on my back. The other photographers gave me that loser look and the woman shot off a quick pic before I could scramble back up. I quickly checked my shots. They were mostly all a blur but there was a really nice one.
The jockey was smiling a sleepy smile as they hit the finish line and Amber’s Gold seemed to be winking directly at the camera. Harry’d like that, I thought.
As I straightened myself out, I felt spits of rain and turned my face to the sky. Then I just about fell over again, as Christine arrived and gave me a surprisingly heft shove. I looked around and she grabbed my arm, giving my back a healthy slap as she brushed me down.
‘At least tell me you’ve got a decent pic somewhere in there,’ she said, smiling but angry at the same time. I showed her the sequence.
‘Nice pic but I can’t see the finish line. Hmm, it’ll have to do. Come on, let’s at least get a shot of them coming back.’
The placegetters were coming back into the birdcage now and Christine pushed me forward to take a pic of Amber’s Gold and the jockey saluting the crowd. As Pat came down to the winner’s chute, I slipped around the barrier and picked him up talking to the jockey and stroking the horse. Christine chatted to him and took some notes. As he was about to lead the horse away to the stalls behind the stand, I asked him if we could have a drink later.
‘Up in the bar. I’ll shout you a whiskey if you like,’ I said, pointing at the grandstand.
‘Nah, I don’t do that any more,’ Pat said as he turned to lead the horse away.
‘Well where then?’
He nodded over at the cafeteria. I guess it really had been a long time since Harry had been to the races.
Christine said she was going to catch up with some friends and we could meet up after the next race. I said that suited me fine and headed around to the tote to pick up my winnings. Not a bad return for a lazy punt. It was raining quite heavily, so instead of walking over to see Pat working on Amber’s Gold, I went into the lounge area and worked on my phone. The beach web cam was pretty obscured but I could see a nice swell building up underneath a low sky. Suddenly, I wanted to get out of there, go home, and go to the beach. The sea was clean even when it was filled with seaweed and rubble washed down in winter storms. Looking around, the race course seemed claustrophobic, the people mundane and even the usually comforting green expanse of the race track like a giant corral.
I spotted Pat coming in and waved him over. We got something to eat – me a hot dog and Pat a salad bun. Tea and coffee was self service. I shouted; it was the least I could do. As we sat down, Amber’s Gold’s owner came in and joined us with a cup of black tea.
‘Bill this is Danny Chang. Danny, this is Bill Brown, Harry’s son,’ Pat said.
‘You’re the owner of Amber’s Gold right? Must be pretty happy?’
‘Yes, and you’re the reporter from The Last Newspaper in the World with an interest in the death of our late poor mayor, Barry Brand, and our racing club?’
I was tempted to say something really Little Texas, like ‘you’re not from around these parts are you pard’ner?’ but decided against it, for now.
‘Mr Chang is from Singapore but has interests in our district,’ said Pat. He looked around but he need not have worried about anybody overhearing us, as the on-screen commentator was winding up for the next race and the punters filed by after placing their bets. A couple of women wandered by holding wine glasses and wearing tight dresses too light for a winter’s day but just right for a day out. They glanced briefly at us. We must have seemed an odd threesome. Me with my unmanageable surfer hair and ill-disciplined tie; Danny Chang with the cowboy hat he was now slowly turning around by the rim; and Pat slouching in a winter tweed coat.
‘So you’ve got an interest in the mayor’s death? I asked.
‘Yes, of course, and can I tell you why?’
I nodded but quickly held up my hand, remembering the rark up Harry had given me after the furore following my pic of the dead mayor and my miscommunication with Officer Stead.
‘Hold on a minute Mr Chang. Is this on the record or off the record?’
Chang looked at Pat, who shrugged then tilted his head from side-to-side.
‘Can we just say that I would rather you don’t use my name at this stage please?’
‘On background then,’ I said. Harry would maybe smile when he found out I was getting wound into the technicalities of reportage.
‘On ‘background’. Yes, I like that. Background. Here but not there; there but not here.’
‘Of course it reduces the impact of what you might tell me. People might question why you won’t put your name to it.’
Leaning forward with his tea cup now mostly emptied, he said: ‘But I don’t want to make an impact. I just want to help you with your story Bill, if I may call you that.’
It was my turn to shrug. The announcer had started calling the race, so we were pretty much alone in the cafeteria.
‘Christine will be here after this race. I will have to go soon.’
‘You know that I am part of group who are interested in developing the Te Teko Racing Club into a luxury recreational facility?’
Although I knew nothing about this scheme, I thought it would be rude to disagree. I nodded but encouraged him to go on.
‘We want to keep the race track and will, in fact, improve on its current status. We can add a golf course and will build an upscale condominium for our visitors and club members. Of course, there is more to it than just the race course.’
Chang was silent then and I listened and put my hands upwards to encourage him to continue.
‘We have an option for an interest in the Awakeri Hot Springs. They will make an ideal addition to our resort plans.’
I leaned back now. The race was coming to an end. Looking around I could see the jockeys grimly urging on tired horses through the rain as mud flew into view.
‘And?’ I asked.
‘And we are going to transform The Coast Boat Club into a deep-sea fishing jumping off point for high net worth individuals who love to chase tuna and marlin.’
‘Mayor Brand. Did somebody kill him because he stood in the way of the grand plan?’
Chang didn’t laugh but looked up at the crowd filtering back as the horses returned the birdcage. He looked at Pat then turned his hat around in his hands.
‘What you have to realise is that these are difficult times to raise money for this kind of venture.’
‘Difficult? I’d say impossible.’
‘Difficult but not impossible, if you know the right people.’
‘Or the wrong people,’ Pat said.
‘Yes Pat, quite right, the wrong people.’
My phone went. It was Christine wanting to meet up.
‘Look, I have to go. What do you mean wrong people?’
Our three heads were by this time quite close together. Chang raised a hand, then dropped it.
‘It seems some of our members had their interests taken over by unofficial investors when they couldn’t meet certain repayments. These investors seem to have other interests they are putting ahead of our resort plans.’
‘Sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll by any chance? So why not tell Mr Stead and the local police about all this?’
‘We have and they are doing their best, but they don’t have the resources for this kind of investigation.’
‘So where do I come in, if the combined forces of the police can’t solve this case?’
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
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