He’d been with them for three months when they first started noticing the odd behaviour.
They’d be watching movies when suddenly he’d stand up, alert to a call they couldn’t hear. He’d shadow the television, just looking at them. Then it got weirder. He’d actually shiver in anticipation, touch his snout to the screen and leave little wet smudges across its surface.
At first they’d tried to coax him away, patting the couch, even discussing the possibility of doggie Valium. But then, one night, Jaz came home to cries of great excitement.
“Honey!” Dave’s voice echoed down the hall, “I know what he wants! I showed him the Dapto Dogs and THAT WAS IT!”
“You know, the greyhounds. Racing.”
“Eww,” said Jaz, sliding in for a hug.
It was one of the reasons they’d adopted Smokey in the first place. To get him away from that grim life. They both hated exercise, and the thought of the newest member of their family at ‘the track’ made them terribly sad. They imagined a mournful face, echoing commentary, neon lighting. “I know,” said Dave, “but he was really into it. I’ ll show you next time.”
And within a week Dave got his chance. On race night, Smokey had started staring at the telly half an hour before the event. Dave groped the control and the dog duly tapped his nose on a particular spot. Smokey had placed his nose quite deliberately on lane four.
“He’s telling us something,” Dave whispered, jubilantly. “Good boy, good boy, Smokes, what is it?” Jaz pursed her lips, but the dog remained engrossed in his task. And when the starter gun sounded, their pet followed the progress down the track. As the dogs thundered into the home stretch, Dave shouted: “He picked the winner.” “Huh, how about that?” responded Jaz. And Dave wasn’t sure if her reaction was because of him stating the obvious, or something else …
“Where’s our boyo?” Jaz asked sleepily, as she wandered towards the kettle the following morning.
Dave smiled up from the paper. “Hmm?” he muttered vaguely. “Oh, down here,” he said as he nodded towards his Ugg-booted feet under the table. The grey coat was briefly visible, the tips of wolf-like ears. Jaz thought she may even have heard a contented little snuffle.
“Plans for today?” asked Jaz, rattling the last of the instant coffee from the glass jar.
“Um, yeah,” said Dave, “thought I’d get my script filled … post office, maybe swing by the op shop on my way back. You know the one where I got that cool ghetto blaster?”
“For sure,” Jaz laughed. But she was startled when she saw that next to Dave’s toast sat a copy of the form guide.
It was pretty awkward. Explaining to Jaz where the money had come from. So he tried humour. “So, have you ever tried lobster?” he asked.
“How about a bath in dollar bills?”
“What are you on about,” she laughed, rolling closer to him in the bed. “Did Elvio finally pay you rent for parking his drum kit in the front room?”
“No …” he replied, mysteriously. “Well, how come so flush with the dollars?” she teased. “Modelling gig?”
“Ahh, harsh! Promise not to get cross?” he asked, to curious silence.
And then it all went to shit.
“You actually made a serious decision based on what our DOG told you?” Jaz demanded.
“Yeh, well, you decided to propose to me after seeing that fortune teller!” he rejoined. He was disappointed that he’d missed the mark so badly.
She was getting up now, struggling out the door.
“That’s completely different!” she was saying. “Anyway, I’m the spiritual one and if there was something going on, I would have sensed it. I’ve got a great connection with Smokey!”
“Hang on – are you jealous of the dog or pissed about the money – because remember we made $900 off it?”
“Yeah, apparently from dog racing and it’s horrible and completely irresponsible,” she said. Then, in a very precise voice, one that hid the extent of her anger she spat the words: “I’m going for a drive.”
Dave and Smokey wove their way up a steep bank on the slopes of the local bushland.
“She thinks I imagined it,” he muttered to Smokey. “And that it’s horribly risky.” He was aware that his inner thoughts were petulant, but the win had honestly felt like a defining moment in nice-but-featureless middle life. He was not yet ready to let go of feeling like it again.
He’d meant to talk to Jaz about it, but hadn’t quite got around it. So he and Smokey had taken a discreet outing to a sports bar. Man and dog sat alongside each other, eyeing the many TV screens. He opened his wallet and thumbed the notes; tens, twenties, fifties. He felt tense, but in a pleasant, excitable way. “Okay, I’m thinking on betting on a Win this time. Reckon I should put my cash on Rosie Gardens?” he asked the dog. “Or do ya think Wheel of Fortune is a better bet? I’m going to put down 600.”
Smokey gave him a knowing look. In a darker corner of the pub, a passer-by recognised Dave. As Dave raised himself from the table and shambled towards the counter, this other, older fellow watched intently. “Hey!” the older man called out gruffly, “not placing a bet, are you?”
Dave looked up, embarrassed to be caught in the act, but acknowledged his friend.
“Steady on,” he laughed.
“And the doggies, too,” said the older man, shaking his head.
“Oh, mate,” said Dave, reaching over to give the man a hug, “you’ll never believe it – can I buy you a drink?”
Several drinks later Dave had revised his plan. Slightly. Somewhat chastened by the reminders of his old friend, Cam, he had seen some errors in his ways. Some small adjustments probably needed to be made.
Strangely, Cam hadn’t looked too weirded out by Dave’s insistence that his dog was psychic. Instead, his friend, who had done some time in the army, reminded him of the nerves these dogs developed. Which made Dave feel a bit shit.
Cam rattled on about the government and then the way races were so often rigged. Yeah, he’d do his bit, he decided. He loved dogs and now he’d copped a load from both Jaz and his old mate, but he conceded that they were probably right. As he shook Smokey’s lead, his dog stood up eagerly. They headed off home with Plan 3# buzzing to life inside Dave’s head.
It wasn’t hard hiding his online research. Jaz was so adorably clueless with computers that she had no idea what a ‘browser history’ was! And she loved her sleep. All he had to do was mooch around near the computer in the later evening, checking emails until she wasn’t really watching, and then he could look up all the information he wanted. Sometimes he’d even wake up later, in the middle of the night, and log back in. Always because he had a good idea – not because of any compulsion!
He wanted to avoid borrowing money from friends, but he was pretty sure he could manage this because his mother was selling her homes. Plural. She had a place in the country, another at Old Beach and a cottage she let out in the city. And they’d been helping her out managing the Airbnb, so he knew the numbers and codes to all the business side of things.
He didn’t intend to hold on to the money, just make a wise gamble on the deposit. Then, with his returns from the track, he’d be able to look after her better than ever.
Smokey bumped his leg under the table and absent- mindedly he scratched his dog’s ear. Only a couple more nights until race day, and he’d actually go out to the track this time.
The track wasn’t at all what he was expecting – just a lot of old men standing round fire bins drinking beer. They were nice, too – much friendlier than he’d expected. Over by a sign that read ‘Get your Backside Trackside’ was a guy who must have been about 70, in an old-fashioned tracksuit and a cap. He was listening to the surrounding conversation intently. When Dave made eye contact with him, the capped man nodded in Dave’s direction.
Emboldened, Dave took hold of the moment. “Hey mate, do you want me to get you a drink? Going up to the bar anyway.”
His new acquaintance looked surprised but agreed. “I’m here on business,” he said, “but maybe a lemon squash.”
A couple of drinks later he’d learnt the fellow’s name (Jo) and job (trackside vet, to help any greyhounds who needed care). Attention piqued, Dave ventured a few further questions.
“Hey, I’m new to this, mate … but what are the things you have to check? With the greyhounds?”
Jo explained his main job was to weigh the dogs and make sure that none were underweight – as this would put them at risk of cardiac issues. He also kept an eye out for the damaged hocks that could occur during training and racing.
“But they’re treated okay here?” Dave asked cautiously.
“Well – they are and they aren’t. Their kennels are pretty awful compared to what they’d get as a pet, and most of them are ‘retired’ from racing at about 6 years … so you can read between the lines there. But those myths of the people rubbing the paws of dogs to rig races, I’ve never seen that in Tasmania.”
“Yeah, right!” said Dave. And then: “Do they get any, you know, emotional responses, from the racing?”
“Well, they’re a pretty sensitive breed, so yeah, you do see some nervous responses. They can be pretty needy … anxious to please.”
“Yeah, I’ve got one like that,” Dave laughed, “but seriously, sometimes it’s like he can see the future and he’s trying to warn me about it.”
Jo eyed Dave quizzically, then continued in a contemplative tone. “There’s been a bit of discussion about that lately. People aren’t convinced, as it’s a bit ‘woo woo’, but there been a bit of anecdotal evidence … sceptics reckon that they could just be picking up on subtle cues, a slight lean or an excited look, but there’s a real consistency to some of the predictions.”
“Some of the predictions?” Jo laughed.
“There was this mad story about the Melbourne Cup in Sandown last year. Some bloke cleaned up! Took the total purse! Weird case: this bloke had never been to Sandown before. And there were whispers …”
“Yeah, wow,” said Dave, trying to keep a poker face.
That night Dave learnt the Sandown Cup was one month away. There was a good chance of the cottage selling in the next couple of weeks, freeing up the amount he’d need.
He looked at Smokey, then whispered in his dog’s ear: “Which one do ya reckon, pup?” Strangely, his dog only held eye contact for a moment and then broke it, seemingly disinterested.
“Weird,” mumbled Dave.
Two days before the race, the sale of the cottage went through. Dave was still on the phone to the estate agent as he pulled up the racing page. He scrolled until he reached the information ‘next up’ and very deliberately selected the names of the dogs. As he was closing his browser he heard the front door click. Perfect timing, he thought to himself.
Jaz had left him.
She was staying with a friend and not answering any of his texts. Turned out she was okay with computers and pretty upset about the whole thing. She’d kept her gaze steady as she mouthed the words ‘fraud’, ‘addiction’ and ‘selfish’, and then she asked him if he intended to tell his mother about the money. He was ashen by the time she left. He didn’t even have a chance to explain himself properly, about the upcoming race. To make matters worse, now even the dog seemed wary of his company.
Miserably, he slouched down to the couch to watch the race on the telly. Dread and regret ran through his veins and he considered a beer. Except it wasn’t even 11 o’clock, and he still wanted to prove to Jaz that he could be responsible. What a mess. He started at the screen, numbed first by the commercials. Then his phone buzzed.
About the author
Anna Forward has lived all her life in Hobart, Tasmania, where she dwells in the shadow of Mount Wellington. She works as a teacher, loves her garden, Kate Bush songs and cats. She currently doesn’t own a dog, but aspires to own one in the future.