The schleps are back schlepping around. The Dames… Well they are less schlep.
Dames are Wild and Turning Up Black
By Ian Harrison
Oughta get us some personalised bundy punch-cards, here at the Trocadero racetrack. Every day for this past week, Jimmy Sluff and me’ve schlepped out. Unlike the snooty stiffs in their snootier suits, we, at least, won’t lose our shirts when that final horse crosses the finishing post.
See, hot tips are cold comfort when the end result’s lukewarm. Nothing sits heavier’n an empty pocketbook when there’s hungry mouths to feed.
Course manager ferries us ‘round the place like it’s our first time. Keep up appearances for race day. Pretend we don’t notice the Mob arriving.
Dirty money. Flashy cars. Disgorging flashier Mafioso dames. One stands out. In more ways than one.
Wouldn’a guessed she’d show her mug so soon. Supposedly, the last person who’d spoken to the man we’re tasked with finding.
I’m assisting resident vet, Doctor Anthony Vickers. We’re decked out in matching over-starched white lab-coats. Can blame my thrice-busted conk on gnarly horses, what don’t like check-ups.
If anyone asks.
Anyone asks twice, I’ll demonstrate what the horses done.
Jimmy’s cover story : steward’s off-sider. We gots the run of the place, albeit with course-employees breathing down our necks. Ready to snitch if we stick a toe outta line.
Vickers’s been a pal. See, someone’s fixing races. A few obvious leads and ideas, but none sit true.
One race had tampered equipment. The false skin of the blinker peeled away as horse ears flattened out. Hidden beneath black silk, a wildcat postcard. Drawn on perspective, close to the horse’s eye. It was a mystery how the animal could focus on it.
Before long, movement shook off the wildcat postcard too. With enough speed up, the blinker’d be clean and all evidence, trampled.
Anyway, focus or not, horses spook easy. We tested the theory. Mare darn-near tossed the jockey over the reins, once the wildcat was revealed.
Steward summons the vet for race two. I tag along.
Stable boys prepare the horses. Fitting bits, bridles and blinkers. One’s mis-sized. Kid swaps ‘em over for another set. Lickety-split, courtesy of the burly on-course blacksmith’s apprentice. Adjusting straps takes too long. Apprentice ties knots like nobody’s business. Vickers gives the suspect horse the all-clear, and they go on parade.
Jimmy spies me eyeballing the whippersnappers, real close.
Later, we make our separate ways to this outta the way dive. A debrief and some grub await.
“Weren’t the stable boys,” I stir coffee. “You see ‘em when equipment don’t fit?”
“Sure, they switch it.”
“Vet says all horses wear blinkers. Or did.”
Jimmy’n my backgrounds mean we think alike. Sometimes I unconsciously think aloud. “That means…”
“What?” Jimmy’s a mite slow today.
So’s the chow.
“Perhaps Garry the Mac’s horse weren’t wearing blinkers.” I clear my throat. “Or, better still? His horse got the same equipment as the rest.”
“Makes sense. Eleven runners?” Muses Jimmy. “Garry’s a one in eleven chance of getting untainted blinkers. Bad odds. We gotta conclude Garry’s nag don’t scare easy.”
“Yeah? Well, neither do I. I’m tracking down who trained it. And Garry the Mac. I’ll find him, too.”
* * *
Several dozen long-in-the-tooth, ex-performing horses call the Borland family farm home, a ways outta town. Jimmy’s missing Nina, so I’m flying solo. Receptionist gets a long weekend.
Hired hands pretend not to watch my approach. I introduce myself to Uncle Mort.
Points me to the stables, indifferent. Tells me which stall’s Garry’s. Done it already for the cops. Straw stalk in his mouth barely bobs as he speaks. I thank him.
Four farmhands file through behind me, blocking the only doorway. None carry Mort’s heft. All wear large grotesque masks. Oversized eye-holes. Explains how they prepare horses for surprises.
Biggest threat’s Wolfman. Near six and a half feet, he carries two-hundred-sixty pounds of solid muscle. And a rusty pitchfork.
This is old-fashioned detective work, then. I back into an empty stall – Garry’s. Goons can’t follow, more’n two at a time. Fedora, overcoat and jacket are off, quicker’n you can say “Jack Robinson”. Tie’s loosened, shirtsleeves shoved to elbows.
Hay, chickens, dust and blood fly. Piggy’s snout shatters against my knuckledusters. He drops, squealing. Cow-boy, backhanded in the ear. I spit out a couple teeth I don’t need. Wildcat comes up-close and personal with a support beam.
Trading blows with Wolfy, I squeeze a lucky jab through. He doubles over, tasting breakfast again. I capitalise, slugging his unguarded jaw. Soon, four groan on the ground.
One of them’s me.
Through a swollen eye-slit, I see a riding-crop swing. Swing. Swing again. That’s all of ‘em taken care of.
A hand reaches down.
Jimmy? Uncle Mort? Dr Vickers? Jane Borland? Garry?
I black out before I can focus.