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Winning the tierc� was exciting for them, even if the race wasn't. The No. 9 horse won wire to wire. No. 5 chased him the entire way and finished four lengths ahead of the third horse. Afterward our companion sat stunned for many minutes. At the announcement of the price, almost 5,000 francs, he merely stood, bowed and kissed Faith's hand. Tears were in his eyes.
Traffic crawled all the way back to our hotel. Not a word passed in the taxi. Faith just smiled. Somewhere near the Arc de Triomphe, I asked, "How come?"
"Don't you remember?" she said. "Those were the numbers the little man on the train gave us in London. His honeymoon present to us. Didn't work then, but everything comes around eventually, doesn't it?"
The day before we arrived in Athens the military seized control of the Greek government. After sensing the desperate spirit of the place, we quickly made plans to leave. We stayed only one day, but we at least got to the races at Phaleron Park, where Faith caught the eye of a major in the Greek army. He was a gross, perspiring man with a withered arm. With him was a tiny hunchback with mirrored glasses and a distorted face who ran here and there, making exotic bets at the major's bidding. For our benefit he announced in English how much his master wagered on each race—"forty drachmas...sixty drachmas...one hundred drachmas." It was this warped emissary who invited us to the major's box. I never for a moment would have considered refusing the major's invitation. Nor was I going to get into a betting competition with him.
When the horses took the track for the next race, I was surprised that they were almost all Arabian stallions. However, it was a small dark-brown thoroughbred filly that drew my attention. She was built along classic English lines. I pointed to the track and then to No. 9 on my program, because the major seemed curious about which horse I preferred. "No chance," he said threateningly in English and executed the horse by drawing a line through the Greek name on my program. How many men had he killed as easily, I wondered.
He smiled and winked at my wife. Faith looked away. He then tapped No. 5 in my program, closed his eyes and nodded to me assuredly. To emphasize the point, he gave his servant 300 drachmas.
"Three hundred drachmas to win on No. 5," shouted the dwarf.
Faith didn't have to tell me, but in pig Latin she said, while smiling appealingly for the major, "Et-bay the Ine-nay, darling." I disappeared and bet 50 drachmas on No. 9 to win. I returned in time to see my sleek little filly slip through on the rail and beat the major's front-runner by almost a length. She paid 15 to 1, thanks no doubt to all the bettors the major had scared off.
He stared cruelly at the finish line. Then he looked sideways at me, glowered and fixed his face in a tight smile. Clearly, he was most dangerous when he smiled. Faith patted his shoulder and his expression softened. She said, coyly, "You, no chance, either. Goodby." Pure Bacall. If only Bogart were really backing her up! I could see the major had the impression she would be back alone.
Fourteen years have passed since our horseplaying honeymoon. We have begun our slide into middle age, I a little faster than she. We rarely go to the track anymore, though I will play an occasional 9-5 daily double at OTB. But mortgage payments and the kids' tuition doth make cowards of us all. Still, there was a time when Faith and I knew we ought to take the chance. And we did. Let it be recorded.