Stu was in big trouble this time. He`d not slept for days now, his mind continuously trying to find a way out, a way to conjure up another £1000, but he knew that he just didn`t have it, and there was little chance of him getting it in time.
Debbie didn`t have that sort of money either, and if she ever found out that he was in debt this badly, and to these sort of people - well he was sure he wouldn`t see her again. Which was exactly what Richie Lloyd had told him would happen if he didn`t come up with the full payment by Friday.
Well today was Friday.
With nowhere else to turn, and with time running out, Stu decided he couldn`t put it off any longer. He phoned Ian.
"I need some help Ian. I mean it - it`s really serious this time. I`m right in the..."
"Okay, okay. Let`s see what we can do. How much Stu?"
Stu told him, and he could tell by the cursing on the other end of the phone that Ian would be unable to help him.
"Listen Stu. God, I don`t know why I`m even telling you this. If you weren`t married to my sister I`d sit and watch you get your dues. But if anything should happen to her... Right. This is the last time. Now listen."
It was music to his ears. It would probably be true to say that it was the sweetest thing Stu had ever heard, and within an hour he`d put the simple plan into action. It was going to work. It must. And when it did, well, not only could he pay off Richie Lloyd, but he`d also have plenty to spare.
£500 on Thunderstorm at odds of 5 to 1.
The race was in Doncaster at 2.30. Stu had placed the bet at 12.30, and knew he now had an agonising wait until the race, so he spent some time in the pub, trying desperately to take his mind off the impending future. By 2.00 he was back in the bookies. 15 minutes of pacing up and down, and he actually thought for a time that the clock was broken. He didn`t normally smoke, but he scrounged a cigarette off one of the customers and stood outside to smoke it. Time crept by.
When Ian arrived it was almost 2.30. Stu hardly noticed him.
"How much did you put on him Stu?"
"All of it." He replied, watching his brother-in-law nod. "Five hundred pounds on the nose!"
"WHAT???" Ian burst out. His eyes were bulging, and he grabbed Stu by the collar and dragged him out of the shop. "I never said to put it on the nose you idiot. There`s no way that horse can beat Chancer. That`s why the bookies make Chancer favourite at 2 to 1!"
Stus heart sank. Lost for words, he knew he was doomed. "I thought you said to place all..."
"No, no. All on a place. Not a win!" Ian replied.
Stu tore away and burst back into the shop. He ran to the counter, thrusting aside the customer who was waiting to place his bet.
"It`s wrong, it`s wrong!" He shouted, waving his pink slip at the girl behind the desk.
"What`s wrong, sir?"
"My bet. I wrote it out wrong! I meant to put an each way bet on - not a win."
"Let me have a look and see what we can do..."
BONG! "And they`re off!"
Again his heart sank. The girl looked at him apologetically, but there was no need for her to say anything, and he gently took the slip back off her.
Ian came across, knowing at a glance what had happened. He dragged Stu across to one of the televisions displaying the race. "The only hope we`ve got is that Chancer stumbles. If he falls, we could still win. Cross your fingers buddy."
Chancer, damn him, was already in the lead. Thunderstorm was close, very close in fact, but it was obvious to even the uninitiated that the favourite was finding this pace easy, whereas the contender wouldn`t last.
The first hurdle approached. Stu was sure that his heart had stopped beating, and he swore softly when every horse cleared the jump. His breathing was already ragged.
The two lead horses had now pulled away. A battle for third place was on, but unless either of the front runners fell, the first two places were not up for grabs. Stu took none of this in. He was interested solely on Chancer and Thunderstorm. Their jockeys certainly knew how to ride their mounts, but that swine on the favourite also knew that he wouldn`t be beaten in this race.
They thundered towards another fence. One of the rear horses fell, tripping another. The camera lingered on the fallen horses, panning to check that the jockeys were unhurt.
"Show us the leaders!" Stu shouted uselessly. Some of the customers turned to stare.
Stu had not taken in a word of the commentary up to now, but through his intent concentration cut the phrase, "last fence." They were approaching the last jump. If there was to be any saving Stu, it had to be now.
The camera panned in on the leaders. An almost head on shot clearly showed the horses taking off for the jump.
"YES!" Shouted Stu. Chancer caught his front right foot on the fence. He stumbled, clumsily, letting Thunderstorm take the lead by a length, but his jockey regained his seat and then the race was really on. Both riders had their whips out. They were spurning their horses like there was no tomorrow, and both mounts were rising to the challenge, foam appearing at their mouths.
And then it all fell apart in front of his eyes. Exhausted at the pace of chasing the favourite, Thunderstorm was clearly not up to the final sprint. With surprising swiftness Chancer caught and quickly overtook the contender, galloping in to win by a clear length.
As if they all knew how much Stu had riding on the race, the room fell silent. Ian could say nothing. Instead of walking away with £3000 in his pocket, half of which he could have kept after paying his debt, Stu now had nothing. And worse than that he still had to face Richie Lloyd - broke.
Stu quietly screwed up the betting slip. It fell to the floor to join so many other losers, and a loser himself, Stu left the bookmakers. Ian made no attempt to follow.
He had no speech to give. No begging for forgiveness, for a little more time, for another loan that would surely sort him out - nothing. As he approached his house he saw the BMW parked at the roadside. It was empty, but he was sure that even Richie wouldn`t have done anything to Debbie yet. He`d want to see if Stu had his money first.
The door opened and Richie emerged even as Stu was walking up the path.
Richie grinned. "Morning Stu."
He said nothing, but rather waited to see what would follow. Debbie appeared at the door, and Richie turned and spoke to her. "I`ll be back tomorrow then, same time." He turned and faced Stu again, grinning.
"Now that`s love for you. Not every man has a wife like yours you know. Even though she`s got no money, she`s still willing to pay your debt."
Then he turned and left, leaving Stu, the loser, alone and crying.