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.
Kitti – one of Ronnie Jenkin’s ex-wives, she’s a former Las Vegas showgirl with a wild streak.
Two days later …
Haggard with a two-day beard, Marcus dozes in his wheelchair while Jerry’s monitoring devices beep softly in the background.
A nurse peeks in the door, startling Marcus.
“How are we doing?” she says.
“Good, good,” he snaps. “Nothing happening.”
As the door clicks behind her, Marcus looks at Jerry and realizes his friend’s eyes are open.
“NURSE!” he shouts.
The “Old Man” steps up to the counter in the racing office and catches the attention of an entry clerk.
“I’d like to nominate my bay colt, Gettin’ Up Morning, to that stake race, closes today, runs the 29th. The one that says ‘win and you’re in.’ ”
In another part of the office, Escalante’s across the desk from the Racing Secretary.
“Put the Irish horse, Pint of Plain, in those two stakes, end of the month. To prep for the big ones.”
Like an afterthought, as he’s at the doorway exiting …
“And that gelding Mon Gateau, put him in the grass stake.”
On the kitchen phone, the Greek leans around the corner.
“Plane will be ready at six,” says Gus, “meeting’s set for seven-thirty.”
Bernstein doesn’t look up from the morning paper, simply nods his understanding.
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Ronnie Jenkins waits on the steps to Clocker’s Corner, watching Rathburn at a high-top table near the track, flanked by Rosie on one side and Kitti on the other.
“Ronnie should be riding more than two horses,” Kitti’s complains.
“I’ve got other things to do, than listen to this,” Rosie says as she exits.
While Birddog sidles up to Joey, smiling.
“Who’s he?” asks Kitti.
“Just a friend,” says Rathburn.
Goose labors to keep pace with the blonde woman trainer as they follow a handsome bay colt wearing an ‘MM’ saddle towel.
“Let him roll through the lane,” she says to the exercise boy as they pass the clocker’s sentry.
“Daylight Savings, going a half, Jennifer,” she says to the girl in the booth.
Mike Smythe at the bar on his yacht, sips a morning whiskey, smiling as he listens to someone on the phone.
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world, darling. Half-seven. Delightful,” he says, hanging up.
To a young woman in crew’s uniform, Smythe says: “Tell Bruno I’ll need the plane at five.”
Smythe pulls a large billfold from the inside pocket of his jacket.
“And see if you can find my passport, toots.”
Renzo and Lonnie have nearly finished breakfast at the coffee shop when a portly older gentleman pulls up a chair.
“Morning, boys,” he says.
“Morning, Monte,” they respond in unison.
Monte slides an envelope across the table to Lonnie.
“Nice picking, boys. Who hits a three-game parlay in preseason? You guys are going to clean me out,” says Monte.
“Prob’ly,” says Lonnie, pleased with himself.
Moonbeam is clearing the breakfast dishes, topping coffee cups.
“Me and Lon made over twelve hundred betting football last weekend,” says Renzo proudly.
“Cool … ”says Moonbeam as Renzo’s cell phone rings.
“It’s Marcus,” he whispers. “Jerry’s awake.”
On the Clubhouse steps, Goose shakes his stopwatch like he can’t believe it, turns toward the clocker above in the box seats.
“What’d you get him in Gary?” asks Goose.
“Might be able to jump tall buildings with a single bound,” kids the clocker.
Goose half-smiles, “That good?”
“Forty-six flat is the fastest work of the meet,” says the clocker, as Goose hustles down the steps to catch up with the trainer.
The Flack’s on the phone sotto voce in a surreptitious tone:
“Smith nominated him to the same stake as Escalante’s horse … heading for a showdown. I’d make your bid now before the price goes up.”
He listens for a moment, then, “Yep, ten million with a five-percent commission to me,” he says.
“Trust me, sound as a dollar … ”
Bernstein holds out the desk chair for Brent to have a seat. A painter is lettering the door “Vice President” as a secretary takes notes.
“If I’m not here, refer them to Brent,” says Bernstein, “he’s decided to put his Harvard MBA to use.”
“I won’t let you down, gramps,” says Brent.
“As a matter of the fact, I’m out of town tonight,” to Brent he kids. “Make sure nothing happens while I’m gone.”
Escalante’s at the wheel of his truck as Jo checks Eduardo’s seatbelt.
“You probably can’t believe this,” he says, “but I’ve never been to the Disneyland before.”
“Funny, I would have thought you had a season pass,” Jo retorts.
Bayou Bobby chops onions with a cleaver as Rosie and Ronnie Jenkins kill time at the snack bar.
“The little creep whips me and then tries to drop Eddie, and they give him 10 days?” Rosie says.
“He did the same thing when Paco got his mount for Big ’Cap last year - put him over the rail,” says Ronnie.
“Yeah? What did they do about it?”
“I think he got two weeks,” says Ronnie.
“Tries me again, he won’t be out of hospital for two months,” says Rosie.
“He tole me, you won’t even be here in two months, girl,” says Bayou Bobby.
Renzo and Lonnie stop for a red light on the way to the hospital when Lonnie points toward the park as Chaz and Birddog exchange packages on the footpath.
“Isn’t that your brother?” says Lonnie, “Looks like he’s made a friend.”
“Nice,” says Renzo, “I was hoping he’d meet someone his age.”
A man in a black Mercedes sedan parked in the marina lot clocks the activity with a pair of binoculars as the crew prepares Smythe’s yacht to make way.
Smythe hops in the back of his Bentley, heading toward the freeway as several crew cast off lines and the ship leaves the dock toward open sea.
“You’re betting what? Football? Are you nuts, what do you know about football?” says Marcus to Lonnie and Renzo.
“Actually, probably more than you do about horses, now that I think about it.”
Jerry’s sitting up in bed, his right arm in a cast and his face covered with abrasions, and manages a weak smile.
“Anybody know what time it is?” says Jerry looking at his wrist. “I seem to have misplaced my watch.”
“Yeah, well let’s be thankful they didn’t hurt you worse than they did, the little pricks,” says Marcus.
“Escalante news, I forgot to tell you,” says Renzo to Jerry, excited.
“He says our horse is going to run soon, Mon Gateau!”
“And I put you in the ‘syndicate’ with Goose’s horse. He might win a merry-go-round race,” growls Marcus. “Maybe we can write it off as a charitable contribution.”
Rathburn scans the room, finds Ronnie Jenkins at the bar. As he approaches, a heavy-set man sitting next to Jenkins spots him coming and makes a hasty retreat to the back door.
“What are you doing with him?” says Rathburn. “Don’t you know who he is?”
“Just a fan, bought me a drink,” says the jockey.
“That’s a whole ’nother issue, for someone’s supposed to be in AA. He’s known as ‘the Big Guy’ … got sent away for fixing races in ’87. Lost about a hundred pounds, looks pretty good for a criminal. Not the kind of person you should be seen with, an ‘undesirable.’ ”
Jenkins’ gaze is locked over Rathburn’s shoulder at a booth in the corner.
“Did you hear a word I said?” says Rathburn, turning to see Kitti in the booth, making out with another jockey.
“Oh, boy,” says the deflated Rathburn. “Here we go.”
The desert sun is setting as Ace and Gus disembark the Citation jet.
“I’ll get the car and meet you in front,” says Gus, hustling toward the building.
As Ace pauses on the tarmac to punch a number on his cellphone, a pickup truck turns toward him, picking up speed.
Gus hears squealing tires and glances back through a window just as the truck mows Bernstein down and keeps going out the exit.
“Ace!” says Gus to himself.
Rathburn’s smooching on his couch with Pammie and there’s a knock at the door.
“Perfect timing,” he says,
“Maybe they’ll go away,” she says, snuggling closer.
Another knock on the door.
“Hold your water, I’m coming,” says Rathburn.
He opens the door to find two uniformed policemen, one of whom is holding a document.
“James ‘Birddog’ Burton live here?” asks one of the cops.
“He’s just staying for a couple of days, but he’s not here now,” says Rathburn.
“Got a warrant to search the premises,” says the other cop, entering the room.
Escalante’s in front of the television drinking a beer, his stocking feet on the coffee table when there’s a knock at the front door.
“Yeah, whatever. Hold on,” says Turo as he slips his shoes on.
He opens the door to see the same two cops who arrested him last week.
“Arturo Escalante?” says one.
“Yeah, that’s me, isn’t it,” he answers, “Like you don’t know.”
“You’re under arrest for attempted murder,” says one cop as the other begins to read him his Miranda rights.
“I been at Disneyland all day,” says Escalante as they put the cuffs on.
“They found your pal Mulligan in a stall with a pitchfork in his back,” says the first cop. “The charge will be murder if he doesn’t wake up.”
In a dimly lit hospital room, Gus speaks softly to the unconscious Bernstein, trying to understand what just transpired.
“Who knew we were going, Ace? Who knew about the private jet? Cohen?”
Gus begins to pace, “Did you tell Claire?”
© 2013 John R. Perrotta