‘What would you say,’ said the child, ‘if I told you that I could predict the races?
Howard looked at him.
The child continued to run his pen through the newspaper, crossing out first the jockey, then the trainer, then the horse.
‘I know who’ll win tonight.’
‘I’m sure you do.’
‘You won’t be laughing when you see the results,’ said the child, somewhat menacingly.
‘Alright, who is it?’ Howard asked.
‘Have you seen the odds on that thing?’
‘It’s gonna win,’ finished the child, handing him the paper. There was only one name left amidst the biro crossings.
‘So why is Skipping so special?’
‘I can predict the results,’ repeated the child. ‘I see them even before they’ve loaded the starting gate.’
Howard grinned. The child watched him seriously before turning and walking away.
‘Watch the race. You’ll see.’
Howard did watch the race. He had a wager on the favourite. He went to the pub where a group of hungry-eyed man stared at the screen hanging in the corner. They all shouted in unified disappointment as Skipping crossed the line.
The boy came back the next day.
‘I told you, didn’t I?’
‘Pot luck, son.’
‘It’ll be Brian today.’
‘He’s running in the 2.35.’
Howard forgot all about it until the next morning when the postman delivered the paper. Brian was the victor.
And every day the child came back. He’d tell Howard the result, and that afternoon, well, it was the result. On the fifth day, the child appeared and watched him gravely.
‘I’ve given you four out of four correct predictions. Do you believe me now?’
Howard eyed the boy, who was standing still as stone.
‘How do you do it?’
‘I just know.’
‘No-one just knows things. Come on, how do you do it?’
A slight smile crept across the child’s face. ‘You’d do alright, wouldn’t you; if you bet on my predictions.’
‘You’d be quite a rich man.’
‘I guess I would.’
The child took a step forward. ‘I could use this myself, but I can’t until I’m eighteen. Six years is a long time to wait.’
‘I guess it is.’
‘But I could tell you, and you could bet. You’d keep all the money you won. I’d only ask for a small fee.’
‘Two hundred pounds.’
‘Two hundred pounds!’
‘Well, it’s nothing compared to what you’d win, is it?’
‘Better than evens,’ said the boy.
He didn’t know how the child came up with the results, but he couldn’t just name them out of thin air. Four out of four was no coincidence. But no-one could predict the future. Or could they? His mind was split between common sense and the fanciful.
‘Alright,’ Howard said. ‘It’s a deal.’
He gave the boy the money the next day.
‘Criss Cross,’ said the child.
At 100-1 Criss Cross didn’t seem an obvious choice, but Howard went to the bookmakers and wagered fifty pounds.
He found a seat at the pub and analysed the screen. His heart sped up when the coverage started.
The gates opened and the horses ran.
Criss Cross fell behind. Howard stared in disbelief as the other horses careered ahead. Some other name was announced as the winner. Another name was called for second, another for third. Criss Cross cantered feebly across the line. Howard called for another drink.
The child walked up the next day.
‘Did you win?’
Rage swelled up inside Howard.
‘How did you do it?’ He shouted. ‘How did you get all of them right?’
The child raised an eyebrow.
‘Okay,’ he said. ‘If you really want to know. I only predict six horse races, right? If I start with 1,252 people, and give a different horse as my prediction to each sixth of those people, then I’ve told 192 people that Skipping will win. And another 192 believe some other horse will win.
Howard nodded painfully.
‘Then at the end of the race, 192 people still believe me. So I split those people into sixths, and I tell 32 people Brian is going to win. And I do the same thing over and over until 32 people become 6 people, and 6 people become one person; and that person is you, Howard.’
Howard sunk to the ground. ‘But how did you tell over a thousand people?’
The child smiled. ‘Email.’
He squinted into the sun. ‘It’s simple when you think about it. You know, I almost thought you wouldn’t take my offer. Just for a second, I thought you’d resist. I mean, it’s two hundred pounds, isn’t it? That’s a lot of money.’ He kicked at the ground. ‘But who can resist an offer like that… not a lot of people, it seems.’
The boy looked earnestly into Howard’s eyes. ‘I’m sorry, Howard. But it was your own fault.’
Then he put his hands in his pockets, and walked away.