“Do you know Lilith? The really quiet little gallop girl that used to gallop those skinny horses for the old man?”
“Doesn’t ring a bell. Wait, the one that wears the old style helmet and never talks to anyone? I didn’t even know she spoke English.”
“Well, she barely talks at all. But we needed help and so I hired her to get on some of the easier ones and I made her talk to me. She’s got these kittens up in her room and once you get her talking about the cats, she kind of opens up. Strange chick, but aren’t we all?
“Anyway, it turns out, she’s a total night owl and she is up most of the night and she hates that new groom Enrique hired – she’s terrified of him.”
“Enrique doesn’t like the guy either.”
“So this spooky little Lilith saw him load that crippled old campaigner you liked so much into a rusty trailer last week in the middle of the night.”
“And it took her this long to say anything about it? What the hell?”
“Hang on Ann, she’s terrified of this guy. But then she was dumping her cat box into the dumpster behind the kitchen and she sees the same guy talking to that goofy bitch Lavinia and she sees her slip him something into his hand. The same day, that filly Mercy Street that he grooms for us runs like a raped ape and tests dirty for Dermorphin.”
“So we’ve got them!”
“Not so fast. This poor Lilith kid will never testify. She’s spooky as hell and I can barely get her to talk to me – when I told her that we needed to make a report she looked like I’d just held her a gunpoint. She won’t talk and she’s crazy terrified of that shifty groom.”
“So we just let Lavina ruin Jude’s business and all our lives and we make like it’s okay that this groom stole Vaya Con Dios in the middle of the night and Jude Keenan’s barn takes the heat for it because some shy gallop girl doesn’t like to talk to strangers?”
Mark exhaled in the corner and Ann realized she’d forgotten her dear friend in his worst hours in exchange for racetrack gossip.
“Jesus Mark, I’m sorry. It’s a terrible day. What can we do for you?”
“Ann, Johnny was a lawyer. Because he loved justice. And frankly, he loved you. We are going to figure out how to make this right and I’m willing to throw some resources into it to make it right. It feels like what Johnny would want.”
“Are you sure Mark?”
“Well, where do we start?”
“So walk me through this. As I understand it, we’ve got a few things going on. First your barn loses it’s big owner and she sounds like a nut. What is her story?” asked Mark.
Roxy chimed in “Team Bleau is run by that crazy bitch Lavinia Bleau. Her mom owned a company that tested people for drugs. Parents could spend $100 and see if their kid was taking drugs. They made a fortune in the 90’s.”
“So she’s got access to drug labs?”
“How would I know? I guess.”
“What is happening with the drug sample of the horse, I can’t remember the name…”
“Yeah, what is the process if they decide she was drugged?”
“Well, Jude is the trainer and so he will have to go in front of the State Racing Board and he could be liable for criminal charges I guess.”
“But didn’t I hear that Jude is dating Julie Ullswater and her dad owns the track or something?”
“Her dad is the general manager but the new owners of the track are going to replace him or something. About time too.”
“How does Julie feel about that?”
“How the fuck should I know what that bitch does or cares about?” Roxy said.
“Look, I feel like I need to go. My life is super crazy right now – but helping you Ann and getting this art produced is the only thing keeping me from melting into a puddle of desperation – so work with me?”
Ann turned to Roxy and explained “Mark lost his partner, my friend Johnny, to” she swallowed and looked at Mark who nodded “to suicide.”
“Fuck! I’m really sorry and here I am with my stupid hunk of clay and a bunch of racetrack gossip. I’ll go. I’m really sorry!” Roxy stammered.
“Hang on, you weren’t listening. I said that helping you guys is the only thing keeping me together right now. Let’s figure this out. Now, we are going to bring Julie into this to help you with your art but will she want to help Jude if her dad doesn’t want to be associated with anyone coming up on charges of drugging horses? And tell me more about this Lilith person.”
“Yeah” chimed in Ann “how do we get her to talk?”
“Seriously guys, she’s not going to be much help. She clams up when you even look at her head on. The only time she talks to me is when I ask her to take me up to her room to pet the kittens.”
“Weirdo then.” Said Ann.
“Not weird. Just doing her thing. She likes animals and I think people have been mean to her. She’s really scared of that asshole groom. Makes me think he hurt her or something.”
“Okay, so Roxy – leave the sculpture here and go and find this Lilith person. Do whatever you need to do to get her to open up.” Said Mark.
Roxy hadn’t expected them to remember her piece and moved toward it protectively.
“Rox, seriously, Mark is an art collector and an art critic. There is no safer place for your stuff than with him. I promise.” Said Ann.
“Okay, so here’s the thing, I’m worried about this Lilith kid. She could bolt and we would never know where she went. She’s scared and spooky and she’s now out of a job with everything going on at the barn. I think we need to bring her here Ann and let her crash on your couch.”
“Seriously?” said Ann. “I have to share my space with this weirdo?”
“Look, she’s just a scared little gallop girl and I don’t think she has any family or any friends and she worships you Ann. I’m not kidding, if I even say your name around her she acts like it’s a sacred word or something. She’s cool Ann, she’s not going to steal your stuff or talk your ear off or bug you in any way. You need to make friends with her and get her comfortable enough to talk. It’s not like you are going anywhere and you could use the company and the help. So don’t argue – this is how we are going to untangle this mess. Oh, and one last thing. I went to the racing office to find the papers for that horse Vaya Con Dios. It looks like the owners sold him to someone named Juan Alberto Sanchez Aguilar for $1. But they were smart enough to put a ‘no racing’ clause on the papers.”
Ann laid her head back on the couch and closed her eyes. Both Ann and Roxy knew what the $1 bill of sale and the cryptic name meant. She choked back tears.
“I don’t understand” said Mark. This is the horse that you figured couldn’t race anymore and it sounds like the owners did the right thing to make sure he wouldn’t race anymore. Am I missing something?”
“That horse is worth $250 cash for meat.”
“But slaughtering horses is illegal in the US now. Johnny and I both donated to the Humane Society years ago to make that a law.
“You are correct, it is illegal to slaughter horses in the US. So now they pack them into cattle trailers and over the boarder and slaughter them there where there is no FDA and no regulations on how it’s done. Which means Vaya Con Dios is either match racing out in the desert or hanging on a meathook in some border-town.”
“So the law means nothing?” Mark was aghast.
“In some ways, worse than nothing. When horses were slaughtered in the US, there was oversight from the FDA and transport laws that had to be obeyed but now they get hauled to Mexico and sometimes Canada in trailers not built for horses with sick horses together with big strong broodmares and backyard stallions. I can’t even think about it.” Ann sighed.
“But you have to think about it! Americans didn’t pass this law just to have horses in worse conditions!”
“Americans passed the law to make themselves feel better – that’s it.”
“So now, on top of everything, we have to find this horse – don’t the horses have some microchip or something?”
“The horses that race have an identifying tattoo on their upper lip. But if he’s out in the desert or already killed in Mexico, we have no shot.”