There’s no telling what kind of trouble gambling can get you into. Even the mildest of flutters can end up with quite unexpected consequences: truth to tell though, it was betting and bad company combined which was my moral downfall. And winning, of course. If it had been a bad bet my conscience would still be clear — I’d be a lot poorer though.

Normally I never have anything at all to do with any kind of gambling, even though I live in a country which is renowned as a punter’s paradise. But at the beginning of November every Australian has a bet on because the first Tuesday in the month is Melbourne Cup day. They call it the race which stops a nation and it’s absolutely true. Even commercial jets go into a holding pattern while the hooves are actually hitting the turf. Every true Aussie everywhere watches or listens to the Cup being run, whether they’re at Rose Bay or Rabbit Flats, on tropical beaches or above the snow line. And — of course — there isn’t an office anywhere in the Commonwealth that doesn’t run an office sweepstake on the Cup.

Which is fun, but not as much fun as giving all the girls an excuse to come to work in their fanciest dresses and most extravagant hats. The guys let themselves go as well: maybe Australia on Cup day is the only chance you get to see the state manager of an insurance company coming to work wearing tails, surf shorts, thongs, and a Mexican sombrero decorated with empty beer cans. It wasn’t the manager I had the problem with though; it was a little shit called Chris Mack.

We’d all knocked off work for the day by two thirty and gone through into the lunch room where the boss had got a cold collation laid out and some bottles of wine on ice. By the time I was into my second glass most of the other people in the office had arrived and were hitting the grog as well. Everything was going along fine when I saw Chris sliding past me to get a good possie near the TV. He’s not been with the company very long and he’s a smarmy little smart arse, always trying to prove himself at other peoples’ expense. Apart from that and about twenty other things I dislike about him, he had a habit of borrowing money and taking longer to pay it back than a Scotsman with a superglued sporran. Like I say, he had the habit, until we wised up to him and his one way cash flow problem. Most everybody else had stopped bothering about trying to get their loans back from Chris but I look after my money like a dingo bitch looks after her cubs: the little prat had owed me five dollars for over a month and I wanted them back. This seemed like my last best chance to see my dough again. If I bailed him up in front of everybody Chris would have no option but to fork out.

“Hey, Chris, where’s that five bucks you owe me?” I asked loudly.

“Uh, hi, Perdita.” He started slapping at his pockets as though a red back spider had just scuttled up into his shorts. “Blast, I don’t seem to have any small stuff on me.”

“What a surprise.”

I hoped it sounded as sarcastic as it was meant to. I guess it did because he looked annoyed at me for having a go at him with so many other people overhearing everything I was saying.

“No, tell you what.” He produced a TAB betting slip from his top pocket. “How about this in lieu? It’s a twelve dollar bet on the Cup and you can take half the winnings if it comes up — is that cool?”

I was surprised he’d given in so easily. But when I looked at the slip I understood why. Sure, it was for a bet on the Cup, but it was a trifecta slip. Which meant that the three horses named on it had to run one, two and three in the order selected to win. No wonder he wanted to fob me off with this useless piece of paper instead a five dollar note.

“A trifecta bet? Gee, thanks a lot. This is about as likely to win as Bill Clinton is to go into a monastery.” But now I was hoist with my own petard because if I kept on arguing I’d be the one spoiling the afternoon’s fun with my bad manners. “OK, we’ll call it quits.”

“Hang on, if that trifecta comes up I’ll be down thousands and thousands,” Chris said. “I think you should promise to give me a consolation prize if you get a result with it.”

“What sort of a prize?”

He grinned like a schoolboy opening up a showbag: “Promise me you’ll do everything I tell you to for one night.”

Whether it was coincidence or not the voices in the lunch room seemed to go quiet at the exact same moment as he spoke. All the eyes swung towards us. The little bastard was trying to get his own back for the way I’d humiliated him before: what’s more he was making a good job of it. The quicker I got rid of him the better.

“OK, it’s a deal. The chances of me going out with you are about as likely as winning a trifecta in the cup anyway.”

Chris smiled: “A man never knows his luck in the big city, Perdita. He never knows.”

He moved off and Lisa, one of my friends, was laughing about the incident. “Gee, Perdita, is your face going to be red if that ticket’s a winner!”

“Ha! Tell that to … ” I checked the slip. “To ‘Paddy’s Boy, ‘Alaric’ and ‘Dear Me’. Maybe you can get them to share the joke by going past the post one after the other.”

Twenty minutes later Paddy’s Boy took out the cup, a nose ahead of Alaric, with Dear Me trampling on Alaric’s fetlocks. Bart Cummins had trained his twelfth Cup winner and I’d nearly scored my first heart attack. There were two consolations: the first was when I found out I’d won over six thousand dollars; the second was the look on Chris’s face when he realized how much he’d lost by sharing the bet with me. But with the entire office staff listening in to our conversation there was no way he could wheedle out of it. Then he brightened up and walked over to me. There was no background noise at all this time and no way was anybody thinking about getting down to serious drinking until they’d earwigged our conversation. The little bastard was smirking all over his face.

“OK, Perdita, make me an offer to let you off your promise. How much will you pay not to go out with me?”

“Nothing at all. I don’t welch on my bets and you’re not getting a single bloody cent more than you’re entitled to.”

That caused uproar all right, all the guys and chicks laughing and applauding. “And in the meantime, you ugly little creep I’ll have that slip before you can get a running start with it to the TAB.”

He shrugged and handed over the betting slip. “You should be nice to me, Perdita. I could have a whole bunch of photos taken of you and me and put on all the notice boards.”

I gave him my shyest, sweetest, most feminine smile: “Take as many photos as you like, you shit, because I’m taking half of your money.”

I did as well: the problem was that the only thing anybody wanted to talk, guess and gossip about around the office was ‘When’s the big night – when’s it going to happen, guys?’. The arseholes in the claims section even put up a poem about it. I didn’t mind the obscenities but I was really pissed at being described as a filly racing with a weight handicap, i.e., too much lead in my fun bags. I crossed out ‘lead’ and wrote ‘gold’ instead. That took the smile off their shit sucking faces.

Mind you, I got the smile wiped off my own face on Friday when Chris asked me if I was willing to exchange the night for Saturday afternoon. I asked him what difference it made and he said he’d got a friend of his who was a professional photographer to set up a shooting session for the two of us. The reason he wanted an afternoon shoot was because the rates were cheaper.

I guess he was still hoping that the threat of making me perform in front of a camera would be enough to shake a wad of cash out of me. If that was what was on his mind he was sitting on top of the world with a sack of shit around his shoulders because the only way he’d ever get another dollar from me was by prizing it out of my cold, dead fingers. I did agree to trading a night for the afternoon though: at least that way I’d still be able to enjoy my Saturday night out. When I willingly agreed Chris looked baffled. He couldn’t believe that I’d willingly pose for horny pictures with somebody who was threatening to show them around the office where I worked.

The first answer to that was that if I got the slightest shred of evidence that he’d ever done such a thing I’d swear out a charge of blackmail against him. The second point was that no Aussie is ever going to be censored very much by other Aussies for paying out on a gambling debt: far, far better to be a slut than a welcher. But I wasn’t doing one damned thing more than I had to; if Chris was looking for me to play through with a threesome then either he or his photosnapping mate was going to get a camera bounced off his head.

“You needn’t worry about that, Perdita. Phil is very much into dainty boys, not girls built like Jesse Ventura.”

“Are you trying to put me down, Chris?”

He sneered as though I’d farted at a funeral: “No, all I’m saying is that every time I look at you I remember the old gag about Australian women being the best female impersonators in the world.”

“Chris, fuck off and get a blood test from the nearest VD clinic. And if they discover you’ve got leukemia or something else that’s fatal let me know straight away so I can phone it through to ‘Good News Week’.”

I watched him go with a downcast heart. OK, I was six thousand dollars ahead of the game but when I thought of all the sexy guys in the office I’d have enjoyed being a naughty girl with … . The story of my life — I kept dreaming of a super stud and all I ever got was South Park.

Anyway, I showed up on time. On time and with a bloodstream well laced with Stolichnaya . If you’ve got to endure the unendurable the only way to get through it is with plenty of vodka. Ideally, of course, it should be drunk just before you go in front of a firing squad so that the hangover isn’t a problem. Well, I wasn’t going to get any high velocity weapons pointed at me that afternoon, only a kid’s pop gun.

Phil sure wasn’t going to be any danger. If he’d been a dog he’d have been a toy poodle. Small and bright eyed and yappy with lots of white hair. Why it was white I don’t know, he was only thirty or so. Maybe being a photographer had forced him into seeing a lot of things he had never wanted to look at — like me, for instance. A point of view with which I had no sympathy at all. If I die and get turned away from the gates of paradise I’m going below to ask the devil for the job of spit roasting skinny fashion models and Calista Flockhart — they’ve made my life hell so I’d be delighted to return the favor in our respective afterlives.

But putting up with Phil’s curled lips was nothing compared to the sight of Chris’s leer at the sight of me. For some weird reason he’d got a bandanna on his head which had a motif of anti-nuke symbols and the word ‘PEACE’.

“What are you wearing that silly fucking thing for?”

He smirked: “It’s a message, Perdita. Somehow I seem to have gotten off on the wrong foot with you and I wanted you to know I’d like us to be friends from now on.”

“Thanks, but I’d rather have you as an enemy — it’s less expensive in non-performing loans.”

“Women! I put six grand in your kick and you’re still whinging about one plastic portrait of the Queen. What the hell, you’re a republican anyway.”

“Guys, guys!” Phil was waving his hands around as though they were butterflies looking for somewhere to land. “I’ve got to be at a very important wedding on the other side of the harbor by four o’clock. If we’re going to do this, can we please get on with it?”

“Good idea,” Chris said. “Be a nice change for you, Phil, to be snapping a honeymoon instead of a wedding.”

Phil looked at me, about to say something, then clamped his lips tight on whatever words it was he’d been about to utter. A smart move. Maybe I had to do whatever Chris wanted me to but he hadn’t said a word so far about not beating the crap out of this piss-taking picture-taker.

“OK, guys, let’s get started. Perdita, how about stripping off to the waist and then slipping your jacket back on. We’ll start with a shot of you and Chris standing together and smiling for the camera.”

I gritted my teeth and started the strip tease. As far as Phil was concerned it was all strip and no tease.

“OK, look at me, Perdita. Chris, you look at Perdita.”

He aimed the camera at us through the viewfinder, his white hair lit up by the bright lights like an shampoo ad.

“No, no, I want smiles. This is supposed to be a fun thing, not a marriage. Perdita, say something to Chris guaranteed to make him look happy.”

“Sure. Wayne Bobbitt.”

“I’m going to make you eat those words, Perdita.”

“Piss off and find a parrot to put on your shoulder.”

“Yeah, I’ve always fancied myself as a pirate.”

“A pirate! You couldn’t pirate a Frank Sinatra album.”

 Phil was seriously unimpressed: “People! If you two can’t take this seriously I don’t see any reason why I should. Perdita, might I suggest that it would help set the scene for romance if you at least put down your handbag. And Chris, why don’t you kiss her and show off a discreet little grope?”

Chris chuckled: “There’s so much hanging loose I don’t know where to start.”

“For God’s sake, start wherever you start at any love in.”

“A love in! With Chris?” I sneered. “It’s a lot more likely to be a let down.”

“Keep your mouth closed,” Chris snarled. “And that’s an order.”

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