Part 2 of the Noir Is The Old Black series by Ian Harrison
The Tricky Trek Along the Troc Track
Sunrise’s a rusty whorl, smudged hard-up against the smog. This time of day only people up, are up to no good.
Then there’s Jimmy ‘n’ me, getting to the bottom of it all.
My off-sider’s done two quick laps of the Trocadero horse-racing track already. Neither would merit a start, next race day.
“Only found this, boss,” he puffs.
Course veterinarian’s in his office. Massive horse skeleton, mid-stride, gallops against one plywood wall. Vet’s hunched over a neat desk piled high with reports. Order amid chaos.
White lab-coat, slicked-back greying hair and spectacles that don’t got arms. Strong smell of horse hangs thick everywhere. Sharp eyes take us in. Cleans his rifle : slow, deliberate. Deciding whether to stay put. Hesitation makes his decision plain. Point made, he stands at our approach.
“Dr Vickers,” he smiles. “And you are officers…”
Jimmy laughs. Everyone thinks we’re still cops. Sticks to us like that animal stink does here.
“Padraig O’Dell. This here’s Jimmy Sluff. We ain’t cops. But we do got a few questions for ya.”
We shake hands. Vickers’s got a solid grip. Maybe has to pull foals outta mares sometimes.
Grill him ‘bout the race meet, Friday week ago. Don’t even mention Garry the Mac’s disappearance. Vickers remembers.
“There’s two sure ways of influencing a result, gentlemen,” he starts. “Afflict one particular horse.”
“And the other?”
“Afflict the rest.”
“You drug them horses? Someone pay you to let Garry’s nag win?”
Someone doped them horses, all right. Garry the Mac’s nag had one hoof in the glue-pot.
I let Jimmy have his head.
“What ‘bout this? You ever seen this, before?”
Slaps down a picture. Size of a playing-card. Corner’s ripped. Design ain’t so good, to my eyes, when Jimmy showed me. Some warped jungle scene. And enough jigsaw pieces of more cards, to keep some old maid busy for days.
We watch Vickers, real careful. Big eyes peer through his glasses. Hands grip the rifle. Doesn’t give nothing away.
We hit the road.
Next morning, we trouble sparrows again.
Seems Jimmy and our secretary’s got some knack for jigsaws. All the pieces come from one of two sketches. Nine pictures, total.
One’s the jungle. Other’s some kinda cat. Sharp-looking teeth and claws. Neither are any good. Perspective’s all skewed. Cat shoulda been drawn longways, but both are straight up ‘n’ down.
Come daylight proper, we pace the track, like Jimmy done twice yesterday. Tiny fragments littered around – shredded jockey silks, betting slips, Trocadero form guides. Mashed into the turf by thundering hooves. Vickers changes tune after perusing Jimmy’s collection. He sees something we don’t. I curse myself for missing it.
“Gimme that card, Jimmy.”
Muck and grass picked off of it, but tacky dirt spots remain. Edges, front and back.
This business, you gotta think like your perp.
“You gotta horse we can borrow, Doc?”
“I’m not a suspect?”
“Not any more. We’ll be back tomorrow. Same time.” We shake hands and beat it.
Vickers’s done his homework. Sweet-talked a trainer. Some old mare’s saddled up, ready. Yawning jockey shoots daggers at us, but we gots to find out. Jimmy loves horses and makes sure it’s all set. Smooths down straps, adjusts blinkers. Leads horse and jockey to the far end of the unused straight.
Vet and I linger near the finish. I hold up an arm.
Standing to one side, Jimmy slaps the horse’s rump. Jockey jabs heels in. Horse bolts, approaching racing speed.
Spittle. Real lathered up. Hooves pound. Turf flies.
Suddenly, the horse shies like she’s seen a ghost. Keeps running, though it’s near stumbled, that split-second. Good horsemanship. I’ve witnessed enough.
“All runners wear blinkers, that race?”
Vickers nods, “As per.”
Heads off, to settle nerves : horse and rider.
Jimmy pulls up, out of breath. “This spooked ‘em, but good.”
Black silk. Lightly gummed, tucked over an aggressive wildcat. Matching dark blinkers so nothing looks suspicious. Rushing wind rips covering fabric away.
Underneath, the wildcat leaps outta the jungle, unexpected. Terrifying, from the horse’s narrow perspective. Damage done, the wildcat card falls off with the vibrations.
Heavy hooves destroy the evidence.
“I’m guessing someone paid the stable boys off.”
Jimmy nods agreement.