Clive Ullswater had work to do. He’d met with the group that was purchasing the track. He wined and dined them at an intimate Italian place in West Hollywood. There were always notable stars at one dark table or another and the group were thrilled to be in and amongst the famous and the beautiful. Clive knew they had a young and ambitious executive queued up to take his place but if he played his cards right, he could supplant the young interloper and stay right where he was. He just needed to find some hole in the upstart and exploit it publicly.
Everyone had dirt if you knew where to look. Whoring and some drug use weren’t interesting to racing. His own philandering was often enough discussed and tolerated.
A racetrack executive could be incompetent, as long as he was charming, he could be a tyrant, as long as he surrounded himself with loyal people. Like a thoroughbred stallion, he could be lazy, he could be malicious, he could be sullen. What he couldn’t be was female, of mediocre pedigree or homosexual. Nor could he be a gambler. Such were the rules of racing.
Clive had resources. Friends. He’d find something.
There were other things on his plate of course. There was talk in the barns of a possible deadly bacterial infection that might quarantine some prominent barns. Perhaps there was some opportunity there as well. If he could protect some key barns run by trainers and owners to whom he owed favors, his position would further solidify. He could leverage it to quell a couple of upstart barns as the same time. That Canadian barn was winning too regularly.
Last week’s morning training accident had brought out the animal welfare folks en masse. There were still a couple of diehard protesters by the south entrance. Racing never minded them much. They always went away eventually after their ire was spent or when they found another chalice to bear – some dogfighting scheme up in the hills or wild horses being shot for sport in Nevada. Racing had endured them for a long time and would continue to do so.
He’d sent a personal condolence note to that shrew Lavinia Bleau. He might have called but the woman’s voice made his skin crawl. He knew the Irish jockey was unhurt and he’d heard that Kenan’s assistant, the cute little hard body that galloped for him was hurt but would recover. But the local papers had a heyday with the story. He’d have to look into some damage control there. Throwing the media a scapegoat like Keenan would suffice.
He’d heard that Pete Stone died. Pete was in his riding prime when Clive had his first job here, as the young second in charge of the parking lot and program selling operation. Clive’s father wanted him to work while attending USC and had gotten him a job at this very track. Clive admired Pete’s verve with the women and his easy rapport with everyone at the track. And yet Peter Stone died alone in a trailer park. Clive remembered that there was a time when their wives were good friends. Until Peter got too old to ride and began to take any job at the track that would have him while Clive rose through the ranks of management. Pedigree counted.
Clive’s secretary interrupted his reverie with a soft knock and a stack of papers to sign. While he was signing them, she brought in a freshly brewed espresso and his afternoon medication.
“Lavinia Bleau left a message. She’d like to meet. And Julie called. She was hoping to have dinner with you.”
“She didn’t say, but I got the feeling she meant tonight.”
“Is it on my schedule? Did you screw it up?”
Zola Shanti didn’t flinch. In fact, she rarely did. Hers was a job that kept regular hours, decent pay and good benefits. She had, over the years accepted that her boss was a self-absorbed, lazy, skirt-chasing ass and there was power in accepting this and not letting it affect her life.
“She just called ten minutes ago. I told her I would let you know she called. Can I take those off your desk?”
“What? Oh, yes and hold my calls for the rest of the day. A man needs to think.”
“What should I tell Julie if she calls back?”
“Tell her to make a damn dinner reservation! Don’t you hear anything I say?”
“I’ll do that.” Zola walked not too quickly and none too slowly from the Executive office. The pointy heels of her shoes left imprints on the emerald green carpet. She silently closed the heavy oak door behind her.
At her desk, she divested herself of the signed paperwork, reserved a lunch table in the turf club for Thursday afternoon, sent an email to Lavinia Bleau to confirm and dialed Julie’s cel number.
“Julie? It’s Ms. Shanti. Your father would love dinner with you tonight and he wanted me to make a reservation at Harlow’s for you both at eight. Would that be okay?”
“Great. Thanks. Bye.”
Zola cleared her desk, made the dinner reservation and planned out Clive Ullswater’s following day. If she left now at ten minutes to five, she would beat the bulk of the traffic and be home in her Echo Park garden tending to her azaleas by 6pm.
The phone buzzed – she tapped the button. “Zola, there’s a Lavinia Bleau down here in the lobby to see Mr. Ullswater.”
“Mr. Ullswater isn’t seeing any appointments this afternoon, I’m sorry.”
Zola heard the Clive’s door open behind her. “Lavina? How simply marvelous!” Clive Ullswater twisted his dry hands thinking and smiling.
“Would you like me to invite her up to your office?” Zola tried to hide her surprise and aggravation. Her azaleas would have to wait.
“Absolutely Zola. Brew us some coffee?”
Zola sighed, informed the receptionist to send Ms. Bleau up the stairs to the executive office and started the coffee.
“Helooooo?” Lavinia Bleau rapped on Clive’s door. Zola wiped her hands hurriedly and trotted to meet the visitor before she opened the door.
“Hello Ms. Bleau, sorry, I was in the back brewing some fresh coffee for you.”
“Ew,I never drink the stuff , it’s terrible for my skin and it wrecks my sleep. What I need is a stiff gin and tonic, make sure it’s Old Raj or Junipero and not any of that cheap stuff. I’ll just be in here.” Lavinia reached past Zola for the doorknob.
Zola did her best to interfere, but Lavinia was determined. She braced for the reprimand that would surely follow Zola allowing someone to barge in to Mr. Ullswater’s office. She was again surprised to find Clive striding across his office taking this Lavinia’s arm and guiding her toward the couch along the side wall of his spacious office.
“Is it a gin and tonic you want? Sounds perfect my dear. Zola, call the Turf Club bar and have two delivered tout de suite.”
Clive turned all his charm toward the woman on the couch. “You’re looking well. What can I do for you?” Clive seated himself in his chair, stretched his legs and propped his crossed feet on the corner of his desk, fingers laced behind his head as he leaned back. “Or is this a social call?”
Lavinia squirmed with pleasure. Clive didn’t stop. He took his feet from the desk, stomped them hard on the floor and leaned in with concern. “Pardon me Lavinia, I’m so thoughtless, I should be consoling you for the loss of your filly on the track the other morning. You did get my note didn’t you? Was that one of the ones you and your father bred?”
Lavinia touched her lapis lazuli necklace and held it against her ample bosom. “Thank goodness no, she’s one that my father bought through that bloodstock agent at Saratoga. It’s so kind of you to comment. It must be so difficult to keep up with all of the news around racing.”
“Possibly darling, but it’s easy to keep track of the people I think highly of.”
Zola entered and left the office silently leaving a tray of two drinks, a bowl of nuts and a plate of cucumber and shrimp sandwich wedges. Clive proffered the tray toward Lavinia who imbibed heartily.
“Clive,” Lavinia chirped between bites and gulps, “what do you think of Jude Keenan? I mean really, promise to give me your honest opinion.”
Clive Ullswater again leaned back, placed the back of his head in his hands, stretched and propped his feet onto his desk. This…. This was going swimmingly.