The Corrupt Ones

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Episode 19 SINCE early morning the off-course betting venues in suburbs such as Rugby, Wynberg, Goodwood, Bellville and the city CBD are all hives of activity. The centres all experience unprecedented throngs of enthusiastic punters, the greedy mops preferring to lay bets at the totes instead of attending the races live at the course. This category of racing fanatics consists of semi-professional punters among them novices, fortune seekers and even religious people. The tote in Long Street close to the Supreme Court swarms with human activity, like an Eastern bazaar. People are standing in long, inexhaustible queues patiently waiting turns to eagerly lay bets. The atmosphere inside the venue is hot and stuffy, filled with a mixture of human odours. Many punters are filling in betting forms against walls with others consulting the morning newspapers for racing tips. A fat old lady faints and is unceremoniously carried out the building amid laughs and cries of shock by onlookers. Outside, around a corner of the building, an African witchdoctor is making a fortune from the superstitions of some punters. He dramatically throws his bones, gives satisfying answers and collects his fees with a broad smile. On this day everyone wants to win … Around midday an exodus of track punters from the suburbs and nearby small towns converges on the city. They all want to be part of the Handicap Race. Special trains are running in and out of the already overcrowded Cape Town station. Extra buses and taxis make roaring and brisk business. City hotels are fully booked whereas the commercialisation of the event does not know any limits. Race T-shirts, posters and even race cookies are being sold on street corners, everywhere. Big chain shops, charity organisations and local newspapers have launched competitions worth thousands of rand. Colin Macaskil, Mildred and Lucky Jim are also on their way to the racecourse in a vehicle for totally different reasons. Colin is in a very relaxed mood, even joining in the fun on offer. He is weirdly intrigued by Miss Race on the bonnet of a car in front of them waving at the passing crowds. At the track Colin’s vehicle is given permission to enter the back of the building. He is lifted from the front seat, put into the wheelchair and is being pushed towards the edge of the track where the main race will shortly be run. The former jockey acknowledges greetings from punters who recognize him. He is dressed in a black suit with an open neck shirt. A gold chain with the deadly device attached to it sharply reflects some sunlight, the chain of death. The expected 50ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 000-strong racetrack crowd is now quickly filling up the stands in the pavilion. A duet entertains the crowds with specially composed race-songs, while a blind one-man band plays a monotonous tune on his rare combination of musical instruments. The public bars swarm with customers strengthening their nerves and souls for the Big Race. Others drink to forget heavy financial losses incurred in preliminary races featured on the racing card. Thousands of rand every minute disappear over counters of greedy bookmakers in their stalls. The gang members are now strategically positioned among the crowd as not to attract too much attention. They all operate separately, too. * “And away they go,” the track commentator announces the start of one more local race before the Big Race. A minute ago Colin has also laid a substantial bet on the same race from money in a briefcase on his lap. Unfortunately, Mildred laid the bet at Luke Amato’s stall. “Give them hell, Henry the First,” Colin shouts desperately encouraging his chosen horse speeding like mad down the track with the other participating horses. “The horses are now past the first two-hundred metre mark with Henry the First in the lead,” the announcer billows over the public address system. “Come on, you beauty,” Colin shouts with pure joy and excitement. With an eye on the race and another closely watching her patient, Mildred is prepared for any eventuality. She knows that too much excitement can be catastrophic for Colin’s health, the doctor confirmed to her. “They are now in the straight and by Jove. Fly by Day takes over the lead from Henry the First …” are the last words Colin hears before he suddenly experiences a relapse. Unnoticed by Mildred, Colin breathes heavily and instantly faints in the wheelchair. Falling with his head down he desperately tries to grab at the mechanism around his neck, but to no avail. His head knocks against the device… With deafening sounds of foot stamping of the crowds in the pavilion still ringing in her ears, Mildred realises in horror that Colin has fainted. She quickly, but calmly jumps into action, removing his coat and rolls up the patient’s sleeve. The private nurse also instantly produces a syringe from her handbag, fills it up and injects the man with the life-giving fluid. He has suffered a mild heart attack, she realises, but not for long. Bewildered, Colin opens his eyes. In her long professional career Mildred has never ever witnessed such a quick recovery from any patient. “Did the bombs explode?” are the first words Colin utters. “No.” she assures him, wiping sweat from his fore head. “Do I need to call a doctor?” “No, don’t do it. I am quite okay,” Colin answers while carefully inspecting the device with a shivering hand. He finds nothing wrong with the exception of a slight dent on the side. “Are you sure I shouldn’t call a doctor?” Mildred insists. “I told you I am alright. Besides, I have to see this thing through,” he tells her. He and the gang are unaware of the fact that three of the four delicate wires inside the miniature box are destroyed by the impact of his head against the device. Only one deadly wire remains intact… * The Handicap Race is about to start in all its glory and traditional extras, which makes it the spectacular event that it is, as one of the richest horse races on the planet. The Turf Club has left no stone unturned to make the race an all time success. One of the extra perks installed this year at provincial betting centres is a giant outside silver screen. The event is relayed live from Durban to Cape Town watched by thousands of punters. The July Handicap lacks nothing in the line of entertainment dramatically presented to viewers on the big screen. First in focus is the arrival of the minister of sport by helicopter as the guest of honour. The viewers see how and his entourage step onto the red carpet and welcomed by the president of the Turf Club. At the Milnerton Race Track all public bars are closed for the duration of the race according to the rules and regulations of the Racing Association. Betting for this particular race had stopped a few minutes earlier. Even the restaurants have closed their doors for everyone to follow the race. Then it is the turn of a troupe of flimsy clad marching girls entertaining the crowds with fitting movements. At the Milnerton Racecourse a lot of security activities are underway behind the scenes. Every available security guard, male and female, is hard at work collecting millions of rand in metal boxes from pay points on the premises, supervised by security boss, George Brutus, shouting commands over walkie-talkies. The money collected is brought to the back entrance of the track’s finance centre … Final episode next week.