Almanac Fiction: Swifty Taylor and the Dead Coach (Episode 5)



It had been eons since I had slept late. But a milky sun was already high in the winter sky when I untangled myself from the doona. I was tempted to keep right on dozing, but why stay in a bed that had been cold and lonely since North Melbourne were last competitive? I scratched my head while beginning to piece together the remnants of the previous night.

Ah, yes, I’d had a few shekels on a 20-to-1 winner in the Get-Out Stakes at Werribee and then celebrated a little too long and hard in the Racecourse Hotel. It had been a long time since I had had a Chris Mew, but the whiff of vomit emanating from the clothes piled in the corner told me that the chicken parma I had wolfed down had not agreed with the celebratory shots of Jameson. Maybe later, I would check my credit card account to confirm just how much the Uber ride home had cost me.

I checked my phone. About half a dozen missed calls. Par for the course these days. All but one were numbers that I did not recognize. The one that I did know fairly screamed out at me: ‘Laura Day’. Well, that was a call which I would definitely be returning…

For the cost of a pint, a racetrack shirt-tugger whom I recognized in the pub the previous evening had given me a tidbit of information on Jack Shepherd. It seemed that Shep and his cronies ran a card game of a Thursday night, and it was pretty much open to anyone who could afford to buy in. I’d heard the rumours, and maybe now it was time to find out for myself first-hand. That was why I found myself walking through the stately old wooden doors of the Williamstown Croquet Club. While not quite tucked out of the sight of prying eyes, the building was inconspicuous enough. Inside, the décor was all timber panelling and plush arm-chairs. There were a few elderly drinkers huddled near the bar, making muted but enthusiastic conversation. They were either discussing their share portfolios or their knee and hip replacements – by the look on their faces, both their surgeons and the share-market were performing exceptionally well.

I ordered a beer and surveyed the room. And there, in the far corner of the main room, was a mirthful Jack Shepherd and about half a dozen other men whose countenances were decidedly gloomier. You didn’t need to know a two of clubs from an ace of hearts to see who was cleaning up on that table. I wandered over to get a bit closer to the action. Shep was short, squat, and balding, having gone to seed many years prior. He wore a permanent scowl, which brought to mind that old saying about not making a funny face lest the wind changes and your face stays like that.

“Well, if it isn’t Swifty Taylor!” exclaimed Jack Shepherd with a grin that could easily have passed for a grimace. Even though we were both Williamstown locals, I was certain that our paths had never previously crossed. His goons had obviously passed on that I was interested in speaking to him. “One and the same,” I replied. He gestured for me to take a seat, and no sooner had I made myself comfortable than I was reaching into my wallet for some lobsters and being dealt in.

I hadn’t played poker for since the card games I played with my old footy teammates, and we only really ever used matchsticks for currency. Playing with real dollars was a step up in seriousness, and not one I could really afford. A little like my love life, it was all near misses for me. On my second hand I had two pair, but Shepherd trumped me with a three of a kind. Later, I fluked a straight, but was beaten by another bloke who had a full house. I took a few collects, but it wasn’t long before I was clean out of dollars – and sense. Jack Shepherd could seriously play, and his rusted on scowl made for an excellent poker face. The room was empty now, and I stood to take my leave, suddenly recalling the soiled clothes in my bedroom. “I have laundry that urgently needs attending to.” Jack Shepherd shrugged. “That’s too bad, we were just getting to know each other.” He paused and wheezed “I’ll be in touch”.

As I stumbled out into the chill of the night, I pondered the return phone call that I really needed to make, and the words I might reach for that would make everything all right.


You can read more from Smokie HERE

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About Darren Dawson

Always North.


  1. Barry Nicholls says

    I’m late to this series, Smokie, but I picked up the themes straight away. I enjoyed the ‘voice’ of the narrator and the clear precise prose. Well done.

  2. Smokie, a Chris Mew !? That’s a whole new metaphor in my lexicon. Similar to Swifty it’s been a long time for me.

    Yes the old adage about making a face, then the wind changes. I was warned; did i listen?

    Await Episode 6.


  3. roger lowrey says

    Smokie, I am lapping these up.

    And rather like Enid Blyton, Charles Dickens and all good series writers, for that matter, you keep this reader hungrily scanning the Almanac homepage on a daily basis to see when the next episode has appeared – if only because I don’t want to miss Swifty’s BIG moment with Laura Day when that eventually rolls around.


  4. Rulebook says

    Chris Mew a oldie but a goldie well and truly – many many moons ago personally.The intrigue continues to build well played-Smokie

  5. matt watson says

    My grandmother warned me about the wind changing and freezing my face.
    It’s part of the reasons why I moved to Brisbane. I can make faces up here and no freeze…
    Jack seems like a friendly fella despite the scowl.
    I’m wondering how friendly his goons are going to be??

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