A story written for the Anthology
|Word count 1614
“How can I help you, sir?” The salesman walked over to where the man stood staring at the blue 1948 Holden FX sedan. Something seemed to be puzzling him.
The customer gave a start. “Please forgive me, I’ve just arrived. I’m feeling a little disoriented.”
Dan Trader, who owned the used car yard, was used to all kinds of people. He ignored the strangeness of the man and stuck out his hand. “Pleased to make your acquaintance, sir. I’m Dan the Man. You’ve no doubt seen my adverts on the television?” He pointed to the picture of his smiling face on an enormous billboard.
“Jack Spencer,” the man shook the car dealer’s hand.
Attired in some sort of loose-fitting outfit, white running shoes and a red cap worn backwards on his head, he was in sharp contrast to Dan’s white shirt and tie, sports jacket and trilby hat.
“Are you interested in this car? Would you like to take it for a test drive?”
“Hmm, okay. How about you drive? You can give me the lowdown. You know, the ins and outs, so to speak.”
Dan wasn’t sure what he was getting at, and asked, “You can drive. Can’t you?”
“Oh, yes. I’m just not sure about this model.”
“Sure, okay, I’ll get the keys. You can park your car around the back.”
“I didn’t drive,” Jack replied, “I walked here.”
After they returned from the test drive, during which he asked many questions about the mechanics of the vehicle, the young man said, “Okay, I’ll buy it. Will you take a cheque?” He shrugged a backpack from his shoulder.
The car dealer prided himself on being an excellent judge of character. He assessed the risk and agreed to the transaction.
Once they’d completed the paperwork, Spencer climbed into the car and drove from the lot out onto the road. Dan cringed as he crashed through the gears and kangaroo hopped the car out of sight.
“Hi, Dan, this is Delores from the bank. How are you this fine morning?”
“Well, the day just got better for hearing your lovely voice, Delores.” What can I do for you?”
“I was just processing a cheque you deposited from a Mr Spencer?”
“Yes? Is there something wrong with it?”
“It’s the date, Dan. Instead of 1953, he’s written 2018.” Delores laughed, “I’ve heard about post-dating a cheque, but…,” she trilled.
“Just change it, Delores. It’s obviously simply an error,” he coaxed.
“Oh, I can’t do that, Dan, it’s against the law to tamper with a cheque. We’ll return it. You can get him to change the date and sign the alteration.”
He had no idea where to find this Spencer guy. “Okay, Delores, I’ll sort it out,” he sighed.
Wagga Wagga, being 320 miles from Sydney, was a small country town where nothing much happens, but the Spring Race Meeting brought people from miles around the district. It presented a rare opportunity for the ladies to show off their finest summer dresses and hats, whilst the farmers could meet up and chew the fat around the makeshift bar.
Dan drove into the dusty field being used to park the hundreds of cars arriving for race day. He waved an acknowledgment to the young guy directing the traffic and pulled up at the end of a row. The car parked next to him appeared familiar, and as he got out, he checked the number plate.
“Well! Who’d have thought it? He murmured. It was the car he’d sold to Mr. Spencer. Dan chuckled. “Righto, I’ll find you, even if it takes all day.”
The first race had already been run when he arrived at the entrance gate. Checking the form guide, Dan made his way to the bookie’s circle to place a bet. A flutter on the horses was one of his greatest pleasures and his heart rate increased as he checked the runners and starting prices. The favourite, in the second race, ‘Take a Chance’ took his fancy. Placing £100 on the nose, he made his way to the bar to get a beer.
All the while his eyes scanned the crowd for the elusive Mr. Spencer. He should be easy to spot, especially if he’s still wearing the strange get-up, he was wearing last week, noticing most of the men in the crowd were wearing suits, ties and hats.
The local high school brass band, hired to play for the afternoon to add to the festival atmosphere, was torturing ‘The Camptown Races’ with plenty of bum notes. However, the group were tapping their feet and singing and the crowd showed their appreciation by throwing coins into a strategically placed trombone case.
The race caller’s distorted voice came from the loudspeakers dotted around the course.
“Time to place your bets, ladies and gentlemen. They’re lining up at the starting gate.”
Dan stood at the bar, holding his beer and watching the crowd.
His attention turned to the race. From where he stood, he had an excellent view of the track. A sea of grey hats bobbed in front of him as all eyes turned to watch the race. Then he spotted a red peaked cap amongst the crowd.
Yes, it’s him. Dan tried to push his way through to get to Jack Spencer, but the crowd surged towards the fence as the horses flew by the finishing post.
“The winner is number 22, Nancy Boy, second place, ‘Take a Chance’…”
Tearing up his ticket in disgust, Dan saw the flash of red again and pushed through the crowd.
“Hey, wait up. Mr. Spencer!”
The man in the red cap turned to see who it was shouting out his name.
“Why Mr. Trader, it’s you!”
“I spotted the car in the car park. I was hoping I’d catch you.” Dan said, catching his breath.
“Why? Something wrong?”
“It’s the cheque you gave me.” Dan explained, “Wrong date. The cheque bounced.”
Jack’s face looked crestfallen, “Oh, Mr. Trader, I’m so sorry. I was a little out of sorts that day. I’ll fix you up right now.”
“I don’t have the cheque with me, can you write another?” Dan asked, trying to decide whether the man was genuinely sorry or simply bullshitting.
“I’ll do better than that, I’ll give you cash right now.” Jack smiled, “Come with me to pick up my winnings.”
Dan followed the man as he pushed through the crowd to the Bookie’s stand where he’d placed his bet.
The bookmaker, ‘Layoff Larry‘, took Jack’s ticket. He looked none too pleased as he handed it to the cashier.
“£100 on Nancy Boy at 10/1.” The bag man said, counting out £1000 to Jack, who took the cash and turned to Dan.
“Let’s see, how much was it?” he asked.
“£450, mate. Thanks.” Dan took the cash, shoving it in his pocket and said, “What on earth made you pick, Nancy Boy, he’d got no form.”
“If I told you, you wouldn’t believe me.” Jack smiled.
“Try me, mate, I could do with a few good tips. I’ve been having a bad run of luck. Yours was the only car I sold last week, and then when the cheque bounced it felt like the last straw.”
Jack whispered, “I have inside knowledge.”
This intrigued Dan; he would have loved some inside knowledge. “Okay, what’s going to win the next race?” he challenged.
“Summer’s Day, at 6/1.” Jack winked, and the two of them placed bets on the horse, to win.
Jack was as good as his word as ‘Summer’s Day romped in to win by two lengths.
“I’ll come clean,” Jack said, “You’ll have a hard time believing me, but I feel I owe you an explanation.”
The car salesman paused mid drink, peering over the rim of his glass at the strangely dressed man opposite. “Try me.”
“Okay, I’ll start with the date mix-up. The reason I put 2018 instead of 1953 was because that’s where I’m from. The future,” he added, looking at Dan’s sceptical expression.
Seeking to humour his companion, Dan nodded, “Go on,” he urged.
“I can’t explain it myself, but I keep going back in time. I never know what year it’ll be. Usually it’s just for a couple of weeks before I’m back in 2018”
”Okay. You must forgive my scepticism, but honestly you have to admit it sounds crazy.”
“It is crazy. I always look out of place, dressed wrong, date wrong, everything wrong. The only good thing is the information I can find out about the era in which I find myself.”
“Oh, so that’s why you know which horse is going to win?”
“Well, that, but also this. Jack reached into his backpack, producing a thick volume. ‘The Horse Racing Almanac. 1959-2000.’ “Look, Dan, you’re the first person I’ve ever told about this. I never know when I’ll transport back in time or home.” Jack’s eyes widened. “You got a pen?” he asked.
Dan passed him his fountain pen.
Scribbling on his form guide, the time traveller passed it over to his new friend.
“Keep this safe, Dan. It’s the Melbourne Cup in a couple of weeks. Here’s the winner, mate. A fourteen to one shot.”
Dan was about to reply, when he saw Jack’s image begin to wobble and fade and then he was no longer sitting opposite him. Just an empty chair.
In shock and wondering for a moment if he’d imagined it, the car dealer held the crumpled form guide in the his shaking hand, before noticing the Almanac lying on the beer-soaked table.