The Final Furlong
I quickly grabbed a brown envelope stuffed with a few thousand pounds in old white five pound notes, pushed it down my trouser front and dove behind the door. I heard the footsteps on the landing, closely followed by the shutting of the bathroom door. I deftly and as quietly as I could eased open the bedroom door and tip toed down the stairs and out of the house.
As I stepped out into the street I could see that I had indeed travelled back in time.The old pub across the road was hardly five years old and the road had the fresh look of new tarmac.In the pub carpark there were no more than three cars and a motorbike. Three middle aged women were crossing the road and paid me no mind at all.
I looked left and right and crossed the road and went inside the pub, Benskin’s Quiet Man. In later years it became anything but quiet. In my own time the landlord shot dead a difficult drunken customer who refused to leave the premises. For now it all looked very civilised. I crossed the road and went inside and straight to the oak topped bar.
“Alright Jack, I hear you had a touch of luck on there neddies down at the betting shop. Are you getting one in for everybody then?” said the landlord.
“Nah, don’t believe everything you hear, you know what they’re like round here, too quick to talk for my liking.” I replied.
“Aint that the truth.” said the landlord. “The usual, is it Jack? A pint of best bitter?”
“Make it half, not too well off at the mo despite what the rumour mongers say.” I replied.
“Here, you don’t want to sell me that leather jacket you’re wearing, do you?”
“That’s right, I don’t want to sell it to you thanks.” I said. “But I do have an idea how you can make a few extra pennies if you can wait half an hour.”
“When you’re ready Jack.” said the eager to please landlord.
I picked up the half pint of beer and went and sat down in a quiet corner of what was called ‘The Lounge’. I sat by a window from where I could see my parents’ house. I needed to be sure that my mother wasn’t around and that my father was. Clearly the landlord thought I was my father, and that gave an idea.
After half an hour, confident that my father was at home alone, I girded my loins and strolled back across the road. Now was the moment of truth, the point at which I made my play, pitching my idea to my father in the hope that he would buy it. Here goes nothing, I thought as I lifted the brass knocker, let it drop against the old ply and waited for my father to open the door.
My father opened the door and seemed to go into some state of confused shock. “Bob, is it really you?” my father said hopefully.
“They said you were lost in action somewhere in South Korea.”
It suddenly hit me that just as the landlord had taken me for my father, my father took me for his younger brother Robert, who had indeed been declared missing presumed dead in the Korean conflict of 1950-53. What’s more, when I was born in 1954 I was named after my father and his brother. Robert Jack Chandler is my name and it is one I carry with great pride. Back in the moment, realising that this was a gift of mistaken identity I decided to milk it for all the advantages I could, as I would do later with the landlord, if all went according to plan.
“Yes well, you know, god moves in mysterious ways, Jack.” I said.
“Come in, come in......good god, we thought we’d lost you forever bro. Have you been to mum’s house yet? Jeez, I’m not sure how she would take it. I mean....wow, shit man. C’mon, sit down I’ll make us a brew.”
I sat down at the formica topped table whilst my father made a pot of Earl Grey tea.
“The thing is Jack, I’m here only for a short while and for one very good reason.”
“Go on, what’s up?” said my father.
“I’m here to save you from yourself jack. You know, now the war is over and although we all passed a very hard time, you in a German Prisoner of War Camp in Poland, me over in South Korea, it’s time to build a new and better future for ourselves.
Jack, I know you think it’s no big problem now, but I can tell you it will be if you don’t do something about it now.”
“What the devil are you talking about Bob, are you ok?” my father replied.
“I’m fine Jack, but listen to me please. Hear me out a little and then you tell me what you think.
This morning you had a good win on the gee gees with Old Leather Jacket romping home to win at twenty to one.”
My father’s face lit up. “How did you know that Bob, are you telepathic or what?”
“No Jack, it was me who tipped you off. It’s hard to explain, better to just listen to me and trust me please.”
My father sat at the table and poured us both a cup of tea.
“Go on, I’m all ears Bob.Tell me.” my father said softly.
“I know you had a winner this morning. But I also know as well as you do that there is really only one winner and that’s the bookie. Right? The fact is you lose more than you win. And as you get poorer and poorer the bookie gets richer and richer.
So, here’s my idea Jack. You be the bookie. All your bets are free and you make money off all the other punters.”
“Yeah Bob, and you know that that takes money. To set up a bookies is not a cheap thing. You need money behind you.” my father sighed.
“Yes I know, and that is why I brought this.” I said as I placed the brown envelope full of money on the table.
My father picked up the thick envelope and whistled. “Boy, did you rob a bank or what Bob? Where did you get this from?”
“I got it from you Jack, it’s your money. It’s yours from doing what I am about to set you up doing.”
“Do what!” gasped my father. “What in the blazes are you talking about Bob?”
“It’s kind of too complicated to explain. In the end you will get it, don’t worry Jack.Everything is going to be alright.”
The fact of the matter was that the money was only partly from my father running with my idea and opening a betting shop. A good part of the money was from my mother who had worked very hard all of her life. After she passed away I found the money in an old shoebox at the back of a top shelf in the wardrobe. In the shoe box was a short note from my mother.
“Please put this to good use after I have passed away Robert. Use it to build a new life for yourself.”
“And where am I going to set up this little betting shop may I ask?” said my father.
“Of course, in the carpark of the Quiet Man right across the road Jack. It’s the ideal location. Close to home and right where the punters like to have a bet and a pint of beer within a few yards of each other.
Don’t worry, I’ll set it all up and when it’s up and running I’ll hand it over to you. All you have to do is run it. Your father in law is a bookie’s runner already, so he can help you.It will provide a good living for you and for Margaret and any kids you might have.”
I stopped to take a few sips of hot tea whilst my father ran the idea through his mind. I could see from my father’s expression that he was having doubts.
“Ok Jack, I’m not asking you, I’m telling you that that’s how it’s going to be. Do you want to be poor all of your life, or do you want to get on with living a good life?”
“Ok, I get you. When do we start?”
“This morning. I am going back over to the pub to speak with the landlord to explain how we are going to pay him rental every month to let us set up a portakabin in the carpark. He will agree, of course, it’s easy money. A monthly rental, plus when they win, the punters will go into the pub to lash out celebrating. He can’t lose Jack, just like you.”
And with that I finished my tea and went to the pub to set things in motion with the landlord. As I crossed the road I took one look back at my parent’s house just in time to see my mother arriving home. I couldn’t have timed it better. I carried on back into the Quiet Man and, as I fully expected, the landlord, Jimbo, was well up for the idea and in less than half an hour everything was set in motion.
I went outside and took the jacket off just as I passed through the double doors. By the time I stepped outside everything had changed back to the present day. The carpark was full of modern cars and motorbikes and the traffic on the badly pot-holed road was dense.
I was back in my parents’ bedroom mulling over the events of the past. My father’s betting shop did well, well enough for them to buy the house I was now living in and have a great standard of living. In all, they had eight children and all fared well in their respective lives due to the good example set by my father.
The betting shop did eventually go out of business after the shooting of the obstreperous drunk who got himself killed. The man had had a win on the gee gees at my father’s betting shop and went on a binge with his winnings. In that way I suppose my father was the indirect cause of his own demise.
The police closed down both the pub and the betting shop and finally it was all too much for my father. Still, he and my mother had had a good run for their money and lived a good life.
Sadly, the stress of the betting shop going out of business took its toll on my father and in the end he passed away on exactly the same date as he would have done without my intervention. The only thing I had succeeded in doing was ensuring that my father and mother had had good life. In a way, that was all that I wanted from the outset anyway. It would have been nice for my father to have lived a few years more.
Over the years I did have many more secret meetings with my father, hence my mother always going on about how he would suddenly mysteriously disappear only to reappear sometime later. Neither I nor my father I never told my mother about what was really going on.
Neither did I ever tell my father who I really was. It was easier to let him continue to believe that I was his younger brother. All I asked of him was two things. one was to not tell my grandmother about the return of her other son, Robert. The other was to put a certain amount of money to one side in five pound notes and to keep it somewhere safe for a rainy day. That was the money that in the end I used to set up the betting shop.
The leather jacket that allowed all of the past events to be played out was eventually hung up in the wardrobe only ever to be worn some time long into the future. It was just three weeks after my mother’s funeral, when I had reached the end of this journey, that I put the jacket on for what I thought would be the last time. Nothing happened, no time travel, nothing. It was as if none of it had ever happened. And yet........
I sat quietly by myself in a beautiful park on the banks of the River Han in Seoul, South Korea. As I ran my fingers around the collar of the old leather jacket I wondered as I wandered. It was a far, far cry from where I came. Nobody knew me here, and that’s how I liked it. Just me and my memories of a long distant past. How many of those memories are my own I really do not know. Sometimes, I’m not entirely sure of who I am.
One of my most abiding memories is flying through some very strange cloud over the Bay of Biscay, north of Spain in about 1945, just before the end of WWII. I haven’t aged much since that time. Yet I feel like a thousand year old man. I have lived many lives. And in some ways, I still am living through them, trying to help guide others to a better life.
For a brief moment I saw a young boy fishing on the bank of the river. There was something about his face which was strikingly familiar. The thought occurred that he could easily pass for the grandchild of my Uncle who had gone missing in action. Perhaps my Uncle Robert had managed to survive and start a new life in South Korea with a local girl.
Suddenly the boy turned backwards to cast his fishing line out into the fast moving river and saw me looking at him. He smiled at me and on the wind I could hear him say to his mother “Mommy, look! It’s grandpa Jack!” The boys mother gave me a quick glance and replied “Don’t be silly, Grandpa Jack passed away up into the clouds a long time ago. Come on, we have to go home.” And with that the woman took hold of the boys hand. As they walked away the boy kept looking back at me until they were out of sight.
How much longer I shall live I really do not know. Maybe I shall live long enough to guide many generations to come.I suppose with this old leather jacket anything is possible.
Robert Jack Chandler, Seoul, South Korea.