Charlie Clahain was at Ann’s bedside when she woke up. It took her a minute to realize where she was until the blinking lights from the monitors and the deep aching pain in her hips reminded her of the entire gory day.
“Easy girl, I’ll get you anything you need.” Charlie crooned as if talking to a nervous filly.
“Charlie, what the hell are you doing here and what time is it?” Ann was still struggling to get her bearings and was taking in the sights and sounds of a hospital room.
“Well, I figure this whole thing is my fault. The goofy fucker that hit you got loose when he dropped me on the track so I figured the least I could do was to come and sit with ya for a bit after surgery. Yer Boss has been here for hours waiting for you to wake up, but the nurse sent him home. You’ve had a rash of visitors here watching you snore girl.”
Ann threw her head back on the pillow as she recalled the gruesome scene and thought about the two dead horses laying on the track.
“Charlie, you are the king of escaping from hospitals, do you think you can get me out of this place. I really hate hospitals.”
“Girl, I’d pack you out on me back right now if you weren’t so wrecked. I think yer stuck here for a bit – but I’ll sneak ya anything you want to eat or drink until we can move ya.” He nudged her arm with a shiny flask. Ann tipped it back thrilled to find it filled with a sweet and smooth bourbon. Charlie winked and flashed the dimple that had landed him in many girls’ beds. Ann found it funny that she hadn’t realized just how adorable Charlie was before.
“What do you know?” Ann asked in her most businesslike manner as she tipped her head to indicate her leg and hips.
“Good news or bad news?”
“Both” Ann tried to breathe.
“Bad news is that the leg and pelvis are broken. Tibia broke clean through just below the knee joint. Coupla pins and one giant screw to stabilize it. Pelvis is cracked but very little displacement.” He took a swig at the flask and offered it to her again.
“The good news?” Ann tipped the flask and gulped hard, relishing the sweet heavy warmth of vanilla and tobacco flavors that flowed to the back of her tongue down to her belly.
“Yer helmet did it’s job. You hit something pretty hard and it was split up the back. I’ll bet yer neck hurts like a bitch. As for yer back; if they can keep the swelling down by keeping you still, they won’t operate on the pelvis, just let it heal. That and the fact that it coulda been your knee again and that would have been nasty.”
“What do you know about ‘again?’”
“It’s a racetrack Lass, there’s no secrets. And while you were sawing logs, yer boss and me and Roxy all had a good chat about your broken bone history. Ye could pass for a steeplechase jock with your file of x-rays.”
Ann stared at a corner of room as she took in the information. She remembered the emergency room and some kind doctors and nurses. She remembered the hustle and bustle and the crackle of a radio announcing an incoming helicopter with car accident victims on their way in. She remembered a homeless drug addict stumbling into her bed and the waves of pain when he tripped on a corner of her bed. She remembered gentle orderlies who picked him up and took him away as she groaned in pain.
She sighed and tried to shift in her bed to get more comfortable only to be sieged by darting pain in her hips, shooting pain in her neck and a dull thudding in her leg.
Charlie let her drain the last of the bourbon from the flask before he screwed the top on and he put it in his back pocket. Like most jockeys, he was fastidious in his appearance. His jeans were pressed, his fingernails clean. His hair was expensively and freshly cut, his body lean and tight. Ann had never thought of Charlie as anything but a friend, a work mate and a player with the ladies. She thought she may be understanding what all those girls saw in him.
“Well, ya know hospitals, they’ll be at ya night and day with pickings and probings, pills and catheters. So get some rest while ya can before they come in wakin’ ya up. Why these bastards can’t understand that what ya really need is some fuckin’ sleep I’ll never know. I’m gonna leave ya Lass, if that’s okay. I just hate hospitals.”
“Are you sure you can’t sneak me out?” Ann asked with a weak grin.
“Can’t do dear. Ask me somethin’ I can do.”
“How do you feel about getting on 12 gallopers tomorrow for me?” Ann knew that jockeys rarely galloped for morning exercise. Jockeys and exercise riders have different skills. A jockey’s job is to get a horse to run his fastest. An exercise rider’s job is to keep a horse at the pace directed by the trainer, to keep a horse begging for more, to make him game to give his best on race day. Most jockeys didn’t have the skills or the strength or patience and they focused on working speed drills in the mornings for horses they would ride in races. Jude rode Charlie on his horses from time to time, but had the services of two of the three top jocks and mainly stuck to them.
“Yer Boss-man made a deal with Roxy an me, we’ll be splittin’ yer workload for as long as it takes. Got a new kid that’s hungry too and she looks to be a pretty good hand. Not too hard on the eyes either.” Charlie winked.
Ann was surprised to find herself instantly jealous. Jealous of an unknown gallop girl on her horses or jealous of Charlie or Jude feasting their hungry eyes upon her or maybe jealous that she was so easily replaced right here in her hospital room while she was asleep; she didn’t know. But the feeling was visceral.
“Don’t get on Invictus, let Roxy ride him, I think he hates men.”
“Don’t you be worryin’ that curly head of yours about those nags, we’ll do our best until you can come back bossin’ everyone around.” Charlie kissed her on the forehead and tiptoed quickly and quietly out of the room. She saw from her bedside that he flirted with a nurse on his way to the elevator.