Shalan Kettlewell was a bookmaker. He always insisted on ‘full title’ and refused to be called a ‘bookie.’ This term he felt to be objectionable and he held that it denigrated a proud profession. Still whether you thought of him as a ‘bookie’ or a ‘book maker’ he made his money by taking bets. He maintained not especially prestigious premises two streets back from the less fashionable end of Ropewalk. Here you could go in and place your bet. On race days he had a stall on the course itself.
His permanent establishment had the name, ‘House of Kettlewell’ emblazoned across the front in gold letters. In some circles this might have been considered a little immoderate, but compared to the man himself it was distinctly understated. There is a black and white print of Shalan Kettlewell in his prime hanging in the gent’s privy in the Misanthropes Hall. One or two people have suggested having it coloured but frankly if it was true to life it would be so bright as to force those using the room to squint. This was felt by the management to be inappropriate.
So other than a taste for garish clothing, tasteless accessories, and a certain precision in speech, what else marked Kettlewell out? Well, between ourselves, he did have a tendency to gloat. Other bookies take your money and will offer worthless congratulations (often through clenched teeth) if you win, and equally worthless commiserations when, as happens far more often, you lose.
But Kettlewell seemed to regard each bet as a personal challenge to him. If he won, you would think that he had overcome the odds and defeated you by the exercise of his personal virtue. If he lost, then he was prone to sulking and depression.
This probably wouldn’t have mattered, but he was also proud of his ability to calculate the odds. Indeed his catch phrase when he won was, “What are the chances of that? In my experience, the successful bookie has no real grasp of numbers. What he does have is an instinctive grasp of the punter and the world in general. He will look at the punter, contemplate the bet and somewhere deep in his shrivelled and possibly mortgaged soul a small voice tells him, “Three to two, on.”
Kettlewell was an exponent of the subtle calculus of computation. Not for him the mere adding up of a column of numbers, he went far far deeper than that. Deeper perhaps than it is safe for a mere mortal to go. At last he gazed upon forbidden things and drew upon himself the attention of those far more powerful in the art than he was.
So it happened that one day a cloaked and hooded figure appeared at the ‘House of Kettlewell’. He announced himself at Valair the Numerator, thaumaturgist, sage and student of the mathematical arts. He proceeded to look down the odds offered on various horses and made a complicated bet.
On the chosen day there were seven races and Valair had picked out seven winners. But the winnings from the first bet would become the stake for the second bet; the winnings of the second bet would become the stake for the third bet, and so on.
Kettlewell dropped the stake money into his chest with a superior smile and thought no more about it. Yet on the chosen day, from his stall at the racecourse, Kettlewell experienced the first vague sense of unease. The horse backed by Valair won the first race so as instructed, Kettlewell placed the winnings as stake money on the horse picked for the second race. Somewhat to his surprise Valair’s horse won the second race. The amount of money placed on the horse chosen for the third race was considerable. Kettlewell could only remember two other bets as large.
Valair’s horse won the third race. When Kettlewell placed the winnings as a stake for the horse in the fourth race it was a purely paper exercise, he didn’t have enough money with him to use cash. He was beginning to get desperate. He summoned a loyal and trusted servant, surreptitiously handed him a small bottle and whispered in his ear the name of the horse Valair had backed for the seventh race. The minion went on his way and Kettlewell continued to pace nervously up and down behind his stall. He attempted to calm his nerves by taking sips of brandy from his hip flask.
When the fourth horse won, it won more money that Kettlewell could afford. Even if he sold everything he had, he couldn’t have paid off the bet. Almost mechanically he pushed all the money onto the fifth horse. This won by an embarrassingly large margin. By now the stake money on the sixth horse was beyond Kettlewell’s comprehension. He proceeded to do a hasty calculation on the back of an old betting slip. He checked it twice and the numbers kept adding up. If the sixth and seventh horses won, even if Kettlewell sold the entire city of Port Naain, lock, stock and barrel, it still wouldn’t raise enough money to pay off the final bet.
It was a pale and nervous Kettlewell who watched Valair’s chosen horse win the sixth race. Indeed his hands shook as he paid out those punters who had bet merely on that race. He had discarded the hipflask and was now drinking openly from the bottle.
As the seventh race started, Kettlewell noticed Valair walking towards the stand. The bookie was too tense to even pretend to smile at him. The savant leaned against one of the poles that held up the canopy over the stall and he and Kettlewell watched the race together.
Valair’s choice got a good start; as the tape dropped it leapt clear. With a quarter of the race run it was two lengths clear. At the turn it was four lengths clear. Kettlewell felt a cramping in his bowels.
Then at the three quarter point the horse slowly slumped to the ground and lay there, snoring as its jockey danced round it cursing. It was at this point that Kettlewell had realised he was holding his breath. He let it out with a gasp as the rest of the race thundered past the sleeping horse and the race was over.
Finally he turned to face Valair. The face of the savant was contorted with fury. Before the other man could say anything, Kettlewell smiled insincerely at him and said, “What are the chances of that?”
Strangely nobody ever saw Shalan Kettlewell after that day. His staff, assuming he was on some errand, paid out punters as usual after the last race, then closed the stall down and made their way back into town. They reopened the shop next morning but when he still failed to appear, finally the business was handed to his sister who sold it.
As an aside, the area around the shop is now known for the gaudy and exotic butterflies that you can see in the area. What are the chances of that?
At this point Tallis drifts off and leaves me, Jim Webster to let you know what is going on.
I’m promoting a book, that’s what is going on. You see, for a number of years I’ve been writing about the adventures of Benor, a cartographer living in a fantasy setting. First I published a couple of novels and then tried something different. I wrote a number of novellas about him, under the title of ‘The Port Naain Intelligencer.’
The thing about the stories in the Port Naain Intelligencer collection, you can read them in any order. It’s a bit like the Sherlock Holmes stories, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote them in a particular order, but you can dip in and out of them, you don’t need to start with volume one and work through them chronologically.
So I’ve just published, ‘A licence to print money: The Port Naain Intelligencer.’ It’s available on Amazon at
In it, Benor, who just wants to get paid for some work he’s done, struggles against corrupt officials, bent bookies, and all manner of other problems. On the positive side he does get to meet a Magistrate who is also a performance poet, and young Mutt finds somebody who might even be tougher than he is.
Tallis, the leading poet of his generation, first appeared in one of the Port Naain Intelligencer stories, so for those of you who still love Tallis, his blog is still there at
And some more collections of anecdotes from Tallis Steelyard are in the publishing pipeline.
And you can find my books at
Oh and I’ve got another blog which I write which is mainly sheep, quad bikes and stuff. Or perhaps not?
Also, in case you’re interested, I’m trying an experiment. I’ve split a Port Naain Intelligencer novel into episodes (or chapters) and these can be followed on the web as part of a blog tour. If you fancy following them then here’s the timetable:
|A licence to print money tour, addresses|
|Wednesday 20thJune||Annette Rochelle Aben||Episode 1||https://annetterochelleaben.wordpress.com/|
|Thursday 21stJune||Suzanne Joshi||Episode 2||https://patriciaruthsusan.wordpress.com/|
|Friday 22nd June||Chris Graham||Episode 3||http://thestoryreadingapeblog.com/2018/06/22/tales-from-the-port-naain-intelligencer-collection-blog-tour-episode-3/|
|Saturday 23rdJune||Robbie Cheadle||Episode 4||https://robbiesinspiration.wordpress.com/|
|Sunday 24th June||Craig Boyack||Episode 5||https://coldhandboyack.wordpress.com/2018/06/24/a-license-to-print-money/|
|Monday 25thJune||Sue Vincent||Episode 6||https://scvincent.com/|
|Tuesday 26thJune||Chris Graham||Episode 7||http://thestoryreadingapeblog.com/2018/06/26/reserved-for-jim-webster-2/|
|Wednesday 27thJune||Sue Vincent||Episode 8||https://wp.me/p1wss8-fyz|
|Thursday 28thJune||Annette Rochelle Aben||Episode 9||https://annetterochelleaben.wordpress.com/|