expectations of some faceless group of shareholders. I was the sole shareholder in my business, and I felt the pain.

I lived in daily fear that Luca would be enticed away from me by some other outfit, maybe one of those big firms who, it seemed, would stop at nothing to put the likes of me out of business in their greedy quest to capture a larger share of the betting market.

I took the slip from the printer and handed it to the man standing patiently in front of me.

“Are you Teddy Talbot?” he asked.

“Who wants to know?” I asked him back while looking beyond for my next customer.

“I know your grandfather,” said the man, ignoring my question.

My grandfather’s name had indeed been Teddy Talbot, and it was his name that was still prominently displayed above our prices board next to me. The slogan actually read TRUST TEDDY TALBOT, as if the extra word might somehow encourage punters to bet with us rather than the next man.

“My grandfather’s dead,” I said, still looking beyond him and hoping that he would move away. He was disrupting my business.

“Oh,” he said. “When did he die?”

I looked down at him from my lofty position on a foot-high metal platform. He was gray haired, in his late fifties or early sixties, and wearing a cream linen suit over a light blue shirt that was open at the neck. I envied the coolness of his attire. “Look,” I said, “I’m busy. If you want to talk, come back later-after the last. Now, please move aside.”

“Oh,” he said again. “Sorry.”

He moved away, but only a short distance, from where he stood and watched me. I found it quite disconcerting.

“Weighed in,” announced someone over the public-address system.

A lady in a straw hat came up and held out a slip to me. I took it from her. TRUST TEDDY TALBOT was printed across the top, as it was on all our betting slips. It was a winning ticket from the previous race, the first of rather too many. Nowadays, the potential win amount had to be printed on the slip, so I scanned the details and paid her out for her win, tearing the slip in half and placing the bits into a hopper to my left. The transaction was wordless- no communication was necessary.

A line of winning-ticket holders was forming in front of me.

Betsy, Luca’s girlfriend, came and stood on my left. She paid out the winners while I took some of their winnings back as new bets on the next race. Luca scanned his screen and adjusted the prices on our board according to the bets I took and also the bets and lays he made on the Internet gambling exchanges via his computer behind me. It was like a balancing act, comparing potential gains against potential losses, always trying to keep both possibilities within acceptable ranges.

It was my surname on our board, and I was the handler of the punters’ cash, but, in truth, it was Luca with his computer who was the real bookmaker, betting online and setting our board prices to always try to keep our predicted return greater than one hundred percent, as indicated on his screen. Anything over a hundred percent was called the “overround” and represented profit, less than a hundred indicated loss. Our aim was to keep the overround at about nine percent, but all the mathematics relied on us taking bets in the correct proportions for our odds, something we tried to ensure by continually adjusting our prices. However, the punters didn’t always cooperate with our plans, so Luca tried his best to compensate by betting and laying on the Internet.

The computer was both our best friend and our worst enemy. We liked to think that it was our slave, doing the jobs we gave it more efficiently than we could have done them ourselves. But, in reality, the computer was the master, and we were its slaves. The analysis and figures on its screen controlled our decisions without question. Technology, rather than insight, was now the idol we worshipped.

And so our day progressed. I became hotter and hotter, both over and under the collar, as the sun broke through the veil of cloud, while heavily backed, short-priced winners continued to make it a great day for the punters while pushing down our percentage return into the red.

I didn’t need to wear my stifling morning suit, as our pitch wasn’t actually in the Royal Enclosure. But we were close to the enclosure rail, in a prime position, and many of my clients wore the coveted name badges of those admitted to the inner sanctum. Besides, my grandfather had always worn formal dress at this meeting, and, since my eighteenth birthday, he had insisted that I did so too. At least he hadn’t decreed that we should have top hats as well.

I had never in fact applied to be admitted to the Royal Enclosure because there were no bookmaker pitches on that side of the fence. I did sometimes wonder if being a bookmaker would somehow disqualify one from admittance, like being a divorcee had once done.

Another favorite won the fifth race to huge cheers from the packed grandstand. I sighed audibly.

“It’s not so bad,” said Luca in my ear. “I had most of that covered.”

“Good,” I said over my shoulder.

The string of short-priced winners had forced us to try to limit our losses by adjusting down the offered prices on our board. Unlike in a shop, punters went in search of the highest prices as that represented a better return for their bets, provided, of course, they won. So lower prices meant that we didn’t do as much business. Even our regular clients tended to go elsewhere, chasing the fractionally better odds offered by others-there was absolutely no loyalty amongst punters.

The man in the linen suit still stood about five yards away and watched.

“Hold the fort,” I said to Betsy. “I need a pee.”

“Will do,” she said.

I walked across to the man.

“What exactly do you want?” I demanded.

“Nothing,” he said defensively. “I was just watching.”

“Why?” I demanded again.

“No reason,” he said.

“Then why don’t you go and watch someone else instead?” I said forcefully.

“I’m not doing any harm,” he almost wailed.

“Maybe not, but I don’t like it,” I said. “So go away. Now.”

I walked past him and into the grandstand in search of the Gents’.

When I returned, he’d gone.

“Thanks,” I said to Betsy as I again stood up on the platform.

“Come on,” I shouted at the small crowd in front of me. “Who wants a wager?” I glanced up at the board. “Eleven-to-four the field.”

There were a few takers but business was slow. As every race seemed to be a losing one from our point of view, it was probably just as well. At this rate, the more business we did, the more we lost.

However, there was some respite when the last race of the day was won by a twenty-to-one outsider, the favorite having been boxed in against the rails until it was too late.

“That saved our bacon,” said Luca with a broad grin.

“Saved your job, you mean,” I said, smiling back at him.

“In your dreams,” he replied.

In my nightmares, more like.

“So what’s the total?” I asked him.

In the good old days, it was easy to tell how we had done simply by the size of the wad of banknotes in my pocket, but these days we also had to consider our credit card balance with the Internet exchanges.

“Down fifteen hundred and sixty-two,” he said with certainty, consulting his machine.

“Could be worse,” I said, but I couldn’t actually remember a previous first-day Tuesday at Royal Ascot when we had lost money.

“Sure could,” he said. “If the favorite had won the last, we would have been off another grand more at least.”

I raised my eyebrows at him, and he grinned. “I didn’t manage to take as much of the favorite as I wanted on the exchanges. Damn Internet link went down.”

“Just us or everyone?” I asked seriously.

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