Art courtesy of Jen Ferguson
This feature contains adult content intended for mature audiences
Note from author John Perrotta: This blog is the writer’s depiction of an imagined racetrack-based story, an ongoing saga, which includes some of the characters depicted in the ill-fated “Luck” series.
Cast of characters
Marcus - wheelchair-bound since falling from a tree as a child, he’s irascible but sensitive, and his world revolves around trying to pick winners at the track.
Jerry – Marcus’ best friend, a player in many senses of the word, he’s a clever horse handicapper with a weakness for Texas Hold ’Em poker and good-looking women.
Renzo - a sweet guy who’s not that great at handicapping but loves the familial relationship of a group of gamblers.
Lonnie – another good soul who has a load of self-esteem issues and deals with them by trying to be the “cool” one.
Ronnie Jenkins – a veteran jockey nearing the end of a career. He’s a former top rider and Derby winner but suffers from PTSD after a series of spills and wants one more chance with a “big” horse.
Joey Rathburn – longtime jockey agent, he has toiled in ambiguity for years and now has a shot at the gold ring.
Rosie Shanahan – the Irish import, she’s moved up from exercise girl to jockey and is proving she can hold her own with the boys.
Walter Smith – an old-school horseman, he’s come to California with his only horse to get away from bad memories in Kentucky. When the horse turns out to be a real runner, he gets more attention than he wanted.
Turo Escalante – a Peruvian misanthrope, he’s a skilled horseman with a big ego that gets tested when a talented horse with shady connections lands in his barn.
Ace Bernstein – mob-connected “businessman” who has done time for a frame-up, and now he is looking for revenge. Bernstein loves the track and has a dream of resurrecting the sport.
Gus Demitriou – Ace’s longtime driver, bodyguard and confidante. Winning a big slot jackpot fixed by Ace, he’s been the beard for the purchase of a talented Irish colt.
Mike Smythe – an evil mob guy who framed Ace and is obsessed with making his life difficult. Sometimes seems like the devil himself.
Goose – the “fifth wheel” of the Degenerates, he’s a lifetime racetracker who gambles every day and occasionally trains horses. He and Renzo bonded when they tried to claim Mon Gateau.
Bayou Bobby – the short-order cook in the Jockeys’ Room — a perennial wise guy.
Birddog – a shady jockey agent.
Chaz – Renzo’s little brother, done with a stint in rehab.
Moonbeam – Renzo’s waitress girlfriend from the diner.
Naomi – Jerry’s card-dealer girlfriend.
Several days later …
“Old Man” Smith and Escalante find themselves next to each other on the grandstand steps, watching Gettin’ Up Morning and Pint of Plain gallop past, the two colts nearly in company.
“Your colt looks good, Senor,” says Smith.
“That cowboy sonofabitch going to get what he deserves real soon,” replies Escalante, confusing the Old Man.
“Beg pardon?” he says.
Escalante shifts back to the present, gestures toward the track.
“The two best horses in the country, those there,” Escalante says.
Smith nods in agreement.
Out of Luck Blog Archive
Strategically situated at a prominent table on the second level of Clocker’s Corner so other patrons have the opportunity to congratulate him for Rosie’s wins the previous day, Joey Rathburn sips coffee while studying his Racing Form.
The mopey, disheveled Birddog slides into a vacant chair.
“Lemmie hold twenty ’til tomorrow Joey,” says Birddog.
Rathburn goes to his pocket.
“Get some breakfast and clean yourself up,” Rathburn replies sternly.
“My jock can’t lose the second,” mutters Birddog as he snatches the double sawbuck and splits, his tip dismissed by a wave of Rathburn’s hand.
The agent returns his attention to the Form until another interloper, an attractive blonde woman appears.
“Congrats Joey, two more winners,” she says.
“Got lucky, Pammie.”
“Buy you a drink at Mister C’s after the races – you’re still single, right?”
Rathburn looks her up and down.
“Harry left town again, huh?” he says.
“Like the one in the first today?” she whispers.
“Got a shot,” he says, closing his Racing Form.
As Pam exits, Rathburn says, “I’ll try to make it for that drink.”
Renzo bites his lip at the wheel of Marcus’ van, negotiating an extremely curvy country road with Goose riding shotgun as Marcus and Lonnie bicker in back like an old, married couple. They’re on their way through the mountains to visit Lonnie’s filly Niagra’s Fall at the Thoroughbred retirement farm.
“We’re late,” growls Marcus.
“Just told them we’d be there in the morning; I didn’t say what time,” says Lonnie.
“Looks like a nice place in the brochure,” says Goose.
“For what it costs, it should be,” snaps Marcus.
“I just hope she’s happy,” says Lonnie, “she’s going to make a great mother.”
Ronnie Jenkins and Palmieri lean on a high-top counter, apart from the breakfast crowd to discuss business.
“Just one for Connors after the break … easy half, then you’re done,” says the agent.
“Tell me it’s that maiden you got me flying to Sunland to ride in a stake,” says Jenkins.
“Yeah, that’s the one.”
Jenkins takes a step back.
“Do me a favor, Palmieri? Put your other jock on that beauty.”
He waits a beat for emphasis.
“Oh, that’s right, you can’t – riding favorites, he don’t have time to go pull rabbits out of a hat.”
Palmieri’s had enough.
“Hey big time, how about you take a look in the mirror? They ask for that kid. The guys you were big with are all dead or in a nursing home.”
“I might be on the back nine, but I’m as good as I ever was,” snaps Jenkins.
“Well, tell it to somebody believes it, besides that wacko broad you used to be married to, the one walks around talking like it’s still 20 years ago and you’re still leading rider,” says the agent.
“I got a better idea, maybe I divorce you, just like I did her,” scowls Jenkins.
Palmieri gestures toward Rathburn at the other end of the patio.
“And maybe get Porky Pig to be your agent again, too. He’ll probably let you sit behind his little Irish broad.”
Jenkins marches off, flipping Palmieri the bird as he heads down the steps.
Bernstein’s behind his desk, stoic. Stooped in a chair before him like a penitent delinquent, Cohen takes a nervous glance at Gus, who’s by the window looking at the track below.
“No sign of ‘D’, three days now. I know Mike is cleaning house,” says Cohen. “You gotta help me. I’m next.”
“He’s stuck a million on his little stock scam, trying to implicate me, maybe the boys can settle it. Call and make a meeting at the place in Vegas,” Ace says to the Greek.
Head in hands, Cohen nods his accession.
“Gus will tell you where and when.”
Jo leans in the doorway to Escalante’s office. He’s on the laptop and doesn’t notice her for a few moments.
“Think you can stay out of trouble for the rest of the day?” she says.
“I think I claim that favorite from the bum with a face like a dog today,” replies Escalante. “Dangling him out there to dare me, I’ll fix him good.”
She shakes her head in frustration.
“That promise you made me, that means nothing?” she says. “Why did I bail you out?”
Nonplussed, Escalante snaps: “I said thank you. I mean like I said, I’ll be good with you and the kid. Soon as I finish something.”
The Degenerates and Goose watch through the paddock fence as a groom in a prison jumpsuit snaps a shank on Niagra’s Fall and leads her toward them. They can see dapples on the gray mare’s coat as the man wipes her down with a rub-rag.
“Who you gonna breed her to, Lon?” asks Goose.
“How about that Unusual Heat, I was maybe thinking,” replies Lonnie.
“Great,” says Marcus. “They’d have a lot in common, considering he’s her father.”
“Yeah, probably not a good idea then,” says Lonnie.
Brent is emptying a large portfolio on the conference table as he speaks:
“… and live music in both bars after the races on Friday and Saturday.”
Bernstein has put on his glasses to study colorful renderings showing people crowding busy cocktail lounges.
“This one overlooks the track,” Ace says.
“And this one the paddock,” replies Brent.
They study notes and spreadsheets for a few minutes, then:
“Plus, the horse giveaway, a big bet jackpot every weekend and a kid’s program.”
“Well done, Brent, the job is yours if you want it.”
“You’re okay with me being on board?”
“Nothing would please me more,” smiles Bernstein.
Rathburn’s got his binoculars on the leaders as Rosie’s mount drops out of it and a trio of horses pass the eighth pole nose and nose, their riders whipping and driving for the wire. The jock on the inside horse switches the whip to his left hand and tightens his right rein, causing the horse in the middle to take up sharply to avoid a collision.
“Whoa there, Rico,” says Rathburn to himself as the horses cross the finish line and the INQUIRY sign immediately illuminates.
“Enough is enough,” says the Head Steward as they watch the video replay, clearly showing Ramirez’ intentional foul.
“Ten days suspension might not be enough,” says another steward.
While Mulligan and his owners are having their win photo taken, Escalante makes a show of collecting the claim slip from the Steward’s secretary.
As the horse exits, followed by Escalante’s assistant, Mulligan cracks:
“You can eat that one, Cucaracha boy.”
“You like a rat, someone should get an exterminator,” Escalante retorts.
Rathburn’s on the ‘down’ escalator, among the crowd exiting after the last race when he realizes Birddog is right behind him.
“See what that bum Ramirez did to me? Like to drop my jock. They ought to give him a month off for that act.”
Rathburn nods tacit agreement.
“Too bad,” he says.
“I’m really jammed up, Joey. Could I sleep on your couch, just for tonight, please?” implores Birddog.
Marcus’ bed is littered with Styrofoam take-out containers of Mexican food as Goose displays an 8x10 color photo of the bay horse he’s convinced the Degenerates to invest in.
“Should be ready to run in two weeks,” says Goose.
“I like the name, Daylight Savings,” says Renzo, and Lonnie nods agreement.
“Two weeks,” laughs Marcus, “he’s not saying which two weeks.”
“Just wait,” snaps Goose, “we already have a call with Rosie to ride him. You’ll see.” Goose exits in a huff.
“Mr. Sensitive,” says Marcus as his cell phone rings.
“Jerry,” he whispers to the others, moving to the corner of the room for privacy.
“An hour? Home in an hour?” whispers Marcus.
Happy Hour at the racetrack crowd’s watering hole.
Alone in the crowd, Rathburn’s attempting to make himself look busy, fiddling with his cellphone as he keeps one eye on the door.
“Waiting for somebody, Joey?” asks the bartender.
“Yeah, well, you know,” he replies. “Rum and tonic, thanks.”
He turns at the tap on his elbow, surprised to see Ronnie Jenkins.
“What’s up, Joey?” says the jockey.
“‘Thought you were avoiding these places.”
“I need to have a talk with you, maybe patch things up between us.”
“I heard you fired Palmieri,” says Rathburn. “If this is another ‘make up to break up,’ Ronnie, I’m not biting.”
“I’m clean and sober now, Joey.”
“Nobody’s been rooting for you harder than me, jock, but we’ve done this before and I’m not so inclined.”
“I only need to ride one or two a day that got a shot, you know. Rosie’s okay with that.”
“And Kitti’s back, that have anything to do with this?”
“You and her always got along,” says Jenkins.
“Yeah, she only dumped a bowl of spaghetti on my head the one time.”
Joey points to a table. “Right there, wasn’t it?”
They share a chuckle at the reminiscence.
“First time the dog bites you, it’s his fault. What’s this for us, about the fifth?” asks Rathburn.
“Different, I swear,” says Jenkins.
“Ground rules,” says the agent, “no personal abuse, no hurtful words between us if we’re to be of use to each other. No secrets, no second-guessing. I’m there 5 a.m., you’re there when I need you to be.”
As Jenkins nods agreement, Rathburn extends his hand.
“All right Ronnie, one last time.”
Gus writes on a yellow legal pad as Bernstein forages in the refrigerator.
“Bottom line, I been making lists of things could go wrong,” says Gus, “and the only thing makes sense is ‘do it to him before he does it to you.’ ”
Bernstein is quartering an apple on a wooden cutting board with a large knife.
“The meeting first, with everyone there to see and hear what craziness been going on. Then there’s no mistaking who’s in the right,” says Bernstein.
“You’re the boss,” says the Greek.
The bathroom door is open as Rathburn prepares to brush his teeth while Birddog puts sheets on the pullout couch.
“Some towels on the kitchen table,” says Rathburn, closing the door.
“Thanks,” replies Birddog, removing a brown paper bag from his backpack and quickly shoving it under the couch.
Jerry reaches into the back of his car for his suitcase, sensing that he’s not alone.
“Got a light?” asks one of the three punks in black leather jackets.
Jerry shakes his head, resigned to being rolled in his own parking lot.
“You caught me the wrong night, guys,” says Jerry, turning out his pockets and handing over the few bucks they contain. “They cleaned me out in Vegas.”
“Your watch,” says one punk, pointing at Jerry’s wrist as the other two are removing his pool cue and golf clubs from the car.
The crew turns to leave and Jerry cracks wise.
“Have a nice evening.”
While one punk smacks Jerry in the head with his own pool stick, the others join in, beating him senseless.
As the three thugs exit, their leader comes back again and takes Jerry’s shoes.