THE TURF ACCOUNTANT

Ockerrooians had long been accustomed to the odd, the weird and the most decidedly bonkers. Strange individuals that drifted in and out of their isolated environment.

None were prepared for the ultimate in eccentricity that arrived in the morning heat haze, pedalling a bicycle fitted with an adjustable parasol and painted with strange geometric designs.

The middle aged gent supplying the pedal power would, when dressed in a business suit, have seemed almost insignificant in normal company. However, Briac Gawain Caratacus, known to his friends and associates as the Beloved One, was far from normal and most definitely not the personification of mediocrity.

A smallish, slim individual wearing a coolie hat, a goatee beard, a Buddhist monk’s clothing and a pair of super heavy duty Roman sandals made out of recycled truck tyres, adorned with bells, baubles, beads, whistles and smells, the latter of which wafted from a cylindrical brass incense burner attached to the bicycle frame.

‘Shall I arrest him now, sarge?’

‘On what grounds, constable Bent? Is it because he is wearing Buddhist monk’s clothing, or on the grounds that the pipe attached to his bike smells suspiciously like pot?’

‘Whichever one do you prefer sarge?’

‘Forget it, constable. Seems our tourist is about to book into Mulligans, so let us go and officially welcome the gent to our fine, upstanding, grog-guzzling, fly-blown community. Only last week Milly delivered a lecture on the importance of tourism to this area and how we should display a friendly, loving face to our uninvited visitors, show them that we care and treasure their hard-earned cash.’

‘What about the pot, sarge? Remember you said you could smell pot.’

‘Correction, constable Bent, I said suspiciously like pot. I do believe my sinus problem has returned.
First I must enhance me amazing powers of sensory detection. I need to stimulate and irrigate my nasal passages, preferably by the time-honoured olfaction of a good schooner of beer.’

‘What brings you into my joint at this hour of the morning, Clappers?’ asked Mulligan.

‘Nothing special, mine host, although, now you ask, a couple of schooners would not go astray. You could say the constable and I are just nosing around, sniffing out the possibility of any low life polluting the atmosphere.’

‘I guess that is another way of suggesting you need to know who it is that just booked into my salubrious establishment. Well for your information, Mr Caratacus has paid for full board and room, two weeks in advance and, unlike most citizens roaming around Ockerroo, he is well cashed up with genuine money.’

’What’s he going to do for a whole two weeks?’ asked constable Bent.

‘Mr Caratacus is, I do believe, interested in rocks and gibbers of which, like our emus, we have a bountiful supply,’ informed Mulligan.

Come the next morning the gentleman in question consumed a hearty breakfast, packed food and liquid to survive on the arid plains, lit up the incense burner, mounted his odd form of transportation then, for the amusement of the locals, headed due west with much whistling and bell ringing.

‘Why is he going west?’ one bloke asked.

‘Buggered if I know,’ said another. ‘Makes no difference scenicwise whichever way you pedal. Maybe he has been sent here to count emus.’

Over the next few days the town gathered up quite a comprehensive dossier on their eccentric visitor, particularly from those who followed him in his travels. It was confirmed that at various intervals the Monk, as they had now christened him, would sweep a small area of earth, gather up dirt and gibbers, and throw them straight up into the air, allowing the collection to fall where it may.
Then the Monk would kneel and draw lines upon the earth, which he then appeared to study with the utmost concentration.

All very mysterious, but the most bizarre act of all, that was to become a daily occurrence, took place towards the end of the first week.

Having investigated and read the signs in all points of the compass, the Monk appeared to have selected a location of special significance in the east. Here he busily cleared a large area of debris then set about constructing a circle of stones. From an ant’s perspective it probably resembled something akin to Stonehenge.

The Monk marked out the very centre of the circle, on which he placed a largish flat slab of slate, then, after performing a little dance accompanied by much chanting in an unknown language, he removed all his clothing and erected the parasol before squatting yoga fashion on top of the central slab. There he remained, unmoving, for hour, after hour, after hour.

Understandably it became somewhat boring for Ockerrooians to travel and watch a naked bloke sitting immobile, contemplating his navel for hours on end, so the number of observers quickly dribbled away to hardly anyone and finally even the most addicted voyeur packed it in and relied upon his imagination.

The main point of interest now turned to nighttime discussions inside Mulligan’s pub.

The publican was amazed. Quite unexpectedly he had inherited an instant floor show and the star act not only came free of charge but actually paid real money to eat, drink and sleep on his premises. The audience grew to capacity. Mulligans had never before enjoyed such popularity.

One feature, often repeated by special request, was when an empty beer carton would be produced and the Monk chanted, squirmed and so contorted his body that it seemed to shrink to such a size as being small enough to fit within the carton. Then, amidst much clapping and cheering, the Monk would slowly unwind to resume normal stature.

Nightly the Monk had regaled them with his tales of world travel. As for the reasons behind his strange behaviour, he told them …

’My full name is Briac Gawain Caratacus, and yes I am of ancient Celtic origin. Whilst I am not a Buddhist monk, I have adopted their clothing because it best suits my physical and spiritual needs.
Before you ask, I am not an adherent to any of the established religions. However, I do belong to an exclusive brotherhood that incorporates the higher elements of Yoga, Feng Shui, Shamanism and Druidism.

’What you have observed in recent days, when I am yoga seated in naked contemplation, is the first step in my quest to attain total perfection by reaching the highest degree of mystical, cosmic transparency in which my body would appear to vanish, maybe for just a few seconds. For some of my more proficient brothers, the state of invisibility may last for much longer.

‘I also hold the qualifications of a professor of geomancy.’

‘What in the hell is that when it is at home?’ some bloke yelled from the rear.

Unperturbed by the interjection, Briac went on to explain. ‘As a professional geomancer I am a prophesier of events in the near and distant future.’

…………………………………………..

‘I thank you so much for coming to the school today,’ said Milly ‘to give an educational talk to my students, and I am sure they would ask me to ask you the big question of this moment, like do you mean you can forecast what horse is going to win the Melbourne Cup?’

‘Not precisely as such, Miss Centerfold. However, given the desired information I could draw up the odds that favoured certain horses to finish in the first five places, thereby considerably reducing the risk for someone making a wager.’

This professorial statement, made with such a voice of knowledgeable authority, sparked immediate conversation. Matthieu emerged from the animated huddles to become the declared spokesman …

‘Coming from Ireland, professor, you may not realise the importance of the Melbourne Cup. It’s described as the race that stops the nation. Be assured, professor, that no true blue Aussie would fail to have a bet on the runners in the world famous Melbourne Cup. That’s why we poor souls, stuck in Ockerroo at this time of year, experience an unfortunate dilemma. There are a few radios in town, but way out here in Ockerroo, the reception is dodgy at the best of times. We even considered recreating the atmosphere by racing emus, but somehow it didn’t seem the same. ‘The whole town would like to back their favourites in the Cup.’ Here Matthieu raised his glass and focused his gaze on Clappers.

‘But there is no TAB and the law doesn’t allow SP Bookies. Hell, we are reduced to holding kindergarten stuff sweepstakes to enjoy our fun on Melbourne Cup Day.’

‘Fair enough, Matthieu,’ says Clappers, ‘but in the interest of maintaining community sanity on such an iconic day, constable Bent and I could suffer from a severe case of Trachoma. The only problem is there’s no-one in this town who is rich enough to be the flaming turf accountant.’

‘What is a turf accountant ?’ asked professor Caratacus.

‘It is the legit name for the bookie. He is the one who names the odds and handles the bets.’

‘Oh, I could be your turf accountant. That is quite within the ethics of a professional geomancer. All I require is for you lovely people to furnish me with the names of all the runners and, after my cosmic session in the desert tomorrow, I will present you with my list of betting odds for the runners in the big race.’

‘But you don’t know anything about the horses in the Cup, Professor,’ said Clappers.

‘Worry not, sergeant Clappers. Remember, I am a professional geomancer. Predictions of this nature are my expertise. As your turf accountant I will back my skills against your chances. So please, let me have your list of horses. I will quite enjoy the mental exercise.’

The Professor, as he had now been rechristened, took his list into the desert, promising that on his return they would be able to study the turf accountant’s offering for the Melbourne Cup.

‘What do yer reckon, Clappers?’ asked Milly. ‘Is this bloke for real or is he having us on?’

‘Must admit, Milly, he had me worried there for a spell, but when he agreed to put his own money on the line and play bookie, I had to admire his faith in his profession.’

‘So you and Sal are going to splurge on a bet, then?’

‘Provided the odds are attractive, why not? Cripes, it is bloody traditional. Struth, it is just un-Australian not to have a flutter on the Melbourne Cup. Sal fancies some roughy called Miss Sunshine, but I’ve yet to study the form … and arrive at an educated guess.’

‘Miss Sunshine,’ says Milly. ‘Hey, I like the sound of Sal’s thinking. Sunshine is what we have buckets of in Ockerroo so I reckon that is a great omen to follow, when the Professor produces the odds.’

There was much excitement in Mulligans that night when the Professor asked Milly to provide her best school marm’s printing to draw up the cup field on the back of an old beer poster. Once the Professor’s odds had been inserted, the poster would be displayed upon the wall for the patrons to see and argue about the odds on offer.

There was one more performance before the poster went on public display.

The Professor cleaned off Mulligan’s blackboard and invited twenty-five citizens to come and place random chalk dots upon the board. Then, with much theatrical chanting, the Professor connected the dots to form converging lines, none of which made an iota of sense to his captivated audience but appeared to be of magical importance to the geomancer now assessing the final odds to be displayed on the poster.

‘Do you reckon I should warn the mad professor that his odds look all skew-whiff? He has the pre-race favourite at one hundred to one.’

‘Hell no, Matthieu,’ advised Clappers. ‘The gent informs us he is a professional expert in the field of setting the odds. We don’t want to upset the lad now, do we? Besides, he is over twenty-one and constable Bent and I can’t tell him anything because SP bookmaking is illegal and, officially, we are suffering from a severe case of desert blindness. Constable Bent and I cannot see a bloody thing. Do us a favour will yer mate, and put my hand on that schooner.’

‘What schooner?’ asked Matthieu.

‘Cripes, Matthieu, have you gone blind as well? I could have sworn you just shouted me a beer.’

The night the odds were posted, and for every night until the eve of the big race, Briac was kept busy writing out the betting slips and shovelling the money into his oversized carry bag.

Sal and Milly were a trifle disappointed when the odds for Miss Sunshine were advertised at five to one, but then, as Sal said, ‘The professor displays excellent knowledge of horse flesh. He has doubtless seen it written in the stones. I reckon Clappers picked one of the newspaper favourites and it is going to drop dead in the middle of the race, all the others will crash into one another and Miss Sunshine will be first past the post. Far better to have five to one on a winner than with Clappers at fifty to one flogging a dead horse.’

‘Hey sarge,’ asked Milly, ‘what with all this money, what are the odds on the professor doing a midnight flit?’

‘Not bloody likely,’ says Clappers, ‘seeing as how he is pushing a bike and we are two hundred and fifty miles from Burke. Not good odds, Milly, if you want to outrun us coppers.’

On the day of the big race, three-quarters of the town flocked out to watch the Professor go into his routine business of serious contemplation.

Milly delivered the awe-struck schoolkids to observe how some people experience meditation. Then, as the hour drew near, all charged back to Mulligan’s, leaving the now unanimously certified, totally insane, non-Australian turf accountant to reflect on his future and the possibility of attaining the ultimate perfection by reaching the highest degree of mystical, cosmic transparency.

You could tell from the cheering and mad waving of betting slips those citizens who had beaten the professor’s odds. There was much sharing of celebratory drinks and claims of fellow kinship with the less fortunate members of the community.

Finally, in the midst of such joviality, some suggested that, what with the importance of this occasion, it would not be too ungracious to disturb the professor’s meditation and advise him of the outcome of the race.

‘Looks like the professor achieved his degree of cosmic perfection and vanished,’ moaned Milly as the good citizens silently gazed with gob-smacked expressions on a ring of stones uncontaminated by meditating humans. ‘There is just his robe, parasol and recycled truck tyre sandals.’

‘Hang on a sec,’ said Clappers. ‘Remember how the professor could fold himself to fit inside a beer carton? Give me a hand here, constable. I reckon the sneaky bugger is in a hole under this slab.’

‘Good one, Clappers,’ said Mulligan. ‘There is no hole, no money and no professor. So what do you plan to do for your next trick?’

‘Well, Mulligan, there is no report of a stolen vehicle and the bloke is on an old pushbike, so we are going to charge up the highway until we catch him. Should have him decorating a cell before nightfall.’

Clappers was quite right about the hole and the professor blissfully residing under a slab, except it was not the one within the magical ring of stones. This was a hole much closer to the highway.

With the coming of darkness, only the emus observed the figure emerge from under the ground, mount a strange two wheeled vehicle and furiously pedal into invisibility.

The same person, quite exhausted from the long ride, loaded his possessions into a waiting vehicle, offered a quick prayer of gratitude to one of the many druid gods, then merrily drove in the general direction of Melbourne.

It was late the next afternoon before the coppers, as evidenced by unused betting slips, discovered the second hiding hole, but nary a sign of the missing turf accountant.

That night, Mulligan himself called the town meeting of the poor and sorrowful to discuss the matter with the town’s representatives of law and order.

‘Okay, Clappers,’ roared Mulligan, ‘you got us into this mess. We want our money back, so what are you going to do now?’

‘What mess, what money?’ asks Clappers.

’Don’t monkey around, Clappers. We want action on the thieving SP bookie what pinched the Melbourne Cup money.’

‘Geez, yer got me there, Mulligan. You fellers haven’t been betting SP, have you? Struth, constable Bent and I are only just now recovering from our serious dose of desert blindness. Don’t tell me youse blokes have been making illegal bets while we weren’t looking.

‘Cripes, lucky for you I have sand in me ears. I would have to arrest the lot of yer for breaking the law.’

‘Yer gotta be joking, Clappers. Are you trying to tell me you are not going to do anything about that thieving pedal pusher what pinched our hard-earned dough?’

‘By now, Mulligan, Mr Caratacus, if indeed that is his real name, will no longer be pedalling a pushbike. He will be driving a flash car, having a ball in the bright lights, and drinking a cold one to celebrate all the suckers he just caught while sunning himself in downtown Ockerroo.’

‘Well I’m telling you, Clappers’ moaned Mulligan, ‘it ain’t fair and it ain’t right.’

‘Neither is a Gin’s left foot, Mulligan. Put a sock in it, mate. Just be thankful he paid his bed board and grog bill in advance. I am in enough strife with Sal and Milly for the cash they lost on Miss Sunshine without having you and your mates annoying my earhole. You win some and you lose some, and you can write this down to experience.

‘Now give me a refill before I am forced to arrest you for letting a poor copper die of thirst.’

THE TURF ACCOUNTANT

iAN Derrick

Tweed Heads, Australia

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Artist's Description

Briac Gawain Caratacus seemed heaven sent when he pedaled his way into Ockerroo on the eve of the Melbourne Cup …… But who could foretell the mischief that lurked inside
the devious mind of the bloke disguised within the respectability of the monks clothing, right down to the truck tyre sandals.
Truly it may be said “Pull the other one Clappers, it has whistles on it.”

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