The tortoise came in first and so must be hanged. Grudgingly we saddle our horses, rope at the ready. What is there to do but hang such a tortoise?
In truth, many of us quietly supported his efforts, secretly rooting for him as he inched along the final stretch, victory his. We didn’t put our money down per se, let her ride or roll the dice, although the tortoise was doubtless our sentimental favorite. We like his gumption. Also, this tortoise is a great speed enthusiast, which is natural once you think about it.
Had we trusted our instincts, had we dared breach protocol…well. Let us just say that we’d be deep-sea fishing (while our backs and appetites are strong) aboard our own lavishly outfitted pleasure crafts and fattening up our investment portfolios, instead of woefully facing our current woeful dilemma. But we are the officials’ officials, making base pay in our chosen field, without benefits or lunch vouchers and even less compensation come the big holidays. We’re the officials’ officials and expect little for ourselves and as a result of ourselves and thus our reach barely meets our grasp. So we need the bread, yes, the hot rush, too, when the unpredictable if not impossible suddenly turns a profit. But we remain (as always) neutral or at least unbiased, altruistically—albeit dourly—dedicated to calling a clean race from start to finish.
As a side job, however, just this once (we hesitate to divulge this, but must, because at bottom we feel we’re moral creatures) we’ve each accepted a handsome sum of cash (unmarked bills professionally laundered by a third, unnamable party) to execute the victor if he is a tortoise. We know, we know. Sorry.
What can be said about the hare? (Damn him.) He did not train well. He did not manage his weight or sleep (recommended minimum of ten hours per night). He did not take the competition seriously. At heart the hare is a slothful creature, which is also natural when you stop to think about it. Had we known this in advance…well. We had an inkling. It’s no secret that this hare’s won countless races of varying lengths for which he prepared not a lick. But this time he seemed never to leave his barstool at Kirby’s. Hours before the contest we held in our hands a report detailing the extent of his two-week bender: his visits to the town cathouse, his visits to Rabbit Punch Lounge and Velvet Teen’s, all-nighters at Cottontails, Pelts, and The Bunny Hole. Rare was the photo of him running in his tracksuit, or eating anything other than hotdogs, mottled little paws and cheeks smeared with ketchup.
His belch, seconds before the shot of the starter pistol, smelled entirely of the sour caramel notes of half-absorbed bourbon.
In our opinion this hare is responsible for our shameful pickle. We took the money and we are accountable. We are the officials’ humble officials and we follow through, regardless of any ethically shaky decision we regret making. But damn that arrogant hare. Damn his insolence and indolence, his damned extraordinary physical ability (he is a specimen), damn his damn weakness for the ladies, rank food, and stiff drink. Oh, we’ll hang the tortoise: There is no choice. But as we irritably tug on our riding gloves, as the leather cracks and creaks beneath us mounting our horses (rearing in outrage against the injustice), even after we choose the perfect hilltop tree and pull the tortoise screaming from his shell (our guilty hands trembling) to cinch the noose around his pale skinny throat (tears in our admiring eyes), we will have that hare by the neck. The sun setting to his right, left, right, as he swings like a fiery orange pendulum.