Patrick Allen bent down, the brown paper bag lay on the ground in full view. He picked it up and he looked inside. It was money, a lot of money, crisp new notes. Someone’s betting money Patrick thought. Maybe it’s ill gotten gains, he had no way of knowing, it was a racetrack after all and gains were there to be had, both ill gotten and legitimate. He looked around, punters scurried, some purposefully, checking betting stubs, scouring betting boards for the best odds, some smiling at their winnings, most walking with wan appearances hoping for another chance. No one had noticed, seemingly, the brown paper bag that Patrick now held in his hands. He considered the incongruity of it, that a large brown paper bag filled with what he now knew was a lot money, would go unnoticed for any length of time.
He hurried over to a table and opened up the bag to get an idea of how much money he held in his hands. He ran idea around his brain as to what to do with this unexpected windfall. Aren’t all windfall’s unexpected. Would the owner disparage his instant modest fortune? The owner obviously could afford to lose it, the guiding principle of gambling, that you only bet what you can afford to lose. Patrick sat on the table and weighed up the consequences, wrestled with a conscience rambling, racing for attention, like girl so fine wanting attention her effort had so deserved. He could walk away with it, close to five thousand dollars by his quick count, without anyone knowing. He was vet, a veterinary surgeon, people knew him but no one approached, although a friend afar off, gave hime a wave when he noticed him reclining at the table. He was known because he had acted, on occasion, an on course vet at this particular track. He had treated many of the horses that had been running this day, and he had a policy of not betting on them because of the perceived conflict of interest. If the vet had the inside word about a horse and is seen laying off against a local bookmaker then there’d be a run on the nag. It would be priced down to un-backable.
He could go home to his wife and tell her he had a big win, she would reel back in shock and he would tell her they were going on a proper holiday. No one would know. He’d buy Theo a new bike, out of guilt, Theo would think his father the best man in town. He’d give his wife some of it and tell her to go and buy something nice with it.
Patrick Allen pursed his lips, kicked himself inside, slammed the synapse that damned him and walked the thirty or so yards to the administration office, it was known as the Stewards Room, and smacked the brown paper bag on the front desk and proclaimed ‘I’ve found someones property that I need to hand in.’
‘What have you got Pat?’ said the fat man known as Jim.
‘It’s a bag full of money.’ There would be no big holiday, no new bike for Theo, nothing nice for the wife.
Jim took it and shook his head, looked at Patrick as if in his own surreal denial. ‘That’s a lot of money Al, you weren’t tempered to keep it.’ The big man guffawed at his own duplicity. ‘It’s not mine to keep.’ Righteousness oozed out of him like an Alaskan oil slick. It made him sick.
‘Wait there,’ said Jim. ‘I’ll put out a call for claimants to form a queue outside.’ Jim laughed at his own joke as Patrick smirked impatience for it to be over. Patrick walked out as Jim told him he’d let him know. ‘If no one claims it by the end of the day it’s yours,’ said Jim.
Patrick walked to the bar and bought himself a drink. He leant on it, or slumped, resigned to wonder what kind of decision he’d made, cursed himself for being so moral, finalised a conclusion that affirmed the whole tawdry mess. He wondered if he should hope that no one would come to claim the money and thereby lay claim to it himself as the man who saved the paper bag from being swept up by the garbage collectors after the punters had gone home.
He wanted to go home but he needed to hang around in the unlikely event the owner of the money had either forgotten that he’d lost it or that the money was ill gotten and therefore the owner was too embarrassed to front up. He’d be smoked out as the dealer everyone talks about, the sly illegal on course starting price bookie that everybody used but no one confessed to knowing. There were still three races to go. Mr Big might be getting nervous. No call over the public address system was made. Jim figured that the owner would realise he was short a few grand and head tut sweet for the office.
Patrick waited, and waited some more, like a man slaughtered dragnet yet to be put out of his misery. He sat down and just as he was about to order some food a lady, who looked like she belonged in administration, walked towards him. Eunice Shaw was her name, she worked the back office and was Saturday afternoon at the track efficiency defined.
‘Hello Patrick, Jim wants you in the office.’
‘You don’t know what for,’ said Patrick.
‘He didn’t say.’ Patrick sprang to his feet. It wasn’t the end of the race meeting, the statute of limitations hadn’t expired, so it was bound to be disappointment. Mr Big had reported his money stolen and had been able to tell Jim exactly how much money was in the bad, type of note, even a serial number or two, and had disappeared into the late afternoon haze.
Patrick walked up the stairs and as he ascended he saw a well dressed gentleman in a three piece suit looking his way. ‘How do you do. I’ll bet you’re Patrick Herbert,’ said the man. He was dressed like a respectable board member, the chairman. ‘Yes I am,’ said Patrick. ‘My name is Tristan Abco.’ Patrick extended his hand. ‘Gidday again Jim,’ as he half turned to a smiling big Jim. ‘You found my money and were good enough to bring it in.’
‘Oh,’ said Patrick. ‘It’s yours. I’m glad I’m able to help.’
‘You’ve more than helped,’ said Mr Tristan Abco. ‘You’ve restored my faith in the human race. You could’ve made off with the money and I’d been none the wiser.’
‘Well, it wasn’t my money. I thought it right that the rightful owner should have it back.’
‘Well,’ said Tristan Abco. ‘I would like you to have this in appreciation for your honesty.’ He handed Patrick an envelope. Patrick took the envelope, he didn’t bother opening it. He said ‘I appreciate your very kind gesture Mr Abco but I can’t accept it.’
Tristan was aghast. ‘What? You don’t want a thousand dollars.’ Tristan spoke with a foreign accent, he thought it may have been Italian but he wasn’t sure, nevertheless, Tristan’s tone was certainly one of incredulity. He took the envelope back off Patrick and took half the money out and said ‘well, take five hundred dollars then, please, as a token of my appreciation.’
‘I’m sorry Mr Abco but I can’t, it’s not my money, it’s your money.’
Tristan was struck dumb, he threw back his head. ‘Okay, okay, here is two hundred dollars, take it and put it my horse in the last race. It will win.’ Patrick wondered how many times he had heard such an urging, as if all horse owners, being the insufferable optimists they are, they never had the money to pay his bills so he knew that the optimism was somewhat misplaced, would believe their nag was so significantly better than all the other nags that it was plausible, or in this case, advisable to place one’s hard earned on such a speculation.
‘I’m telling you it will win. The two hundred will make you ten thousand.’
‘It’s a long shot then.’
‘It will win Patrick, I’m telling you. It’s twenty to one.’
‘What’s it called.’
‘Good name, Cruisomatic you say. Twenty to one you say. Right.’
‘An honour to meet you Patrick. What do you do.’
‘He’s a Vet,’ shouted Jim.
‘A Vet? Really? Do you treat horses.’
‘I treat the odd horse, yeah. I’m one of the on-course vets, so I suppose I have to treat them.’