As Mercy Street’s groom readied the jumpy mare for the afternoon’s sixth race, Jude and Enrique watched Invictus on his afternoon walk. Both stood silently studying the pattern of the footfalls, listening for the rhythm, eyeing the expression. Expertly, each took in every nuance of the stride and calculated in a horseman’s mind what it could mean. The horse darted belligerent looks at both of them swishing his tail violently and routinely snatching his head to pull his hot walker off balance.
“Did he eat everything?” Jude asked Enrique.
“He always makes such a mess flinging his food, you never know how much he eats, but it’s the same.”
“Do you think the new pads help his feet?”
The loudspeaker blurted,“20 MINUTE CALL FOR HORSES IN THE SIXTH RACE. HORSES IN THE SIXTH RACE ARE DUE IN THE RECEIVING BARN IN 20 MINUTES.”
Enrique looked toward Mercy Street’s stall. The groom was double checking the bandages and tucking the mare’s blinkers into the bag he would bring with him to the saddling paddock for the race. Enrique felt a pang of worry – the groom was thorough but his shiftiness bothered the sensitive mare. He thought about taking the horse over to the races himself, but there was so much to do here at the barn. He sighed and turned his attention back to Jude and Invictus.
“Think we run him here one time and then ship to France for the fame and the record books or do we try and catch a muddy track in Chicago for the big money?”
“No se. What does la Patrona loca want?”
“She wants what I tell her to want. Don’t worry about that. You keep this nasty bastard happy any way you need to and leave Lavinia to me.”
“I think he misses la chica.”
“We all do.”
“La Patrona esta aqui.”
“Well THERE you are! I’ve been waiting in your office for ages!” Lavinia Bleau was preceded by the yapping and snarling Jason under her arm. He squirmed and broke free darting toward the center of the walking ring where Jude and Enrique watched Invictus. Seven pounds of Jason charged 1,200 pound of Invictus who shied from the tiny snarling dog. Rearing and pulling loose of his groom, Invictus galloped down the shed row – his lead rope trailing.
“You stupid bitch!” Jude cried as he, Enrique and the hot walker scrambled to catch the loose horse.
Invictus bolted through the neighboring barn and out to the main road heading toward the back stable gate. Both Enrique and Jude could hear his aluminum shoes clattering on the asphalt. He kicked wildly at the flailing lead rope while snorting and screaming. Grooms from neighboring barns ran out to the road, their arms lifted to create a human fence around the loose animal. He stopped, spun and headed back the other way to find it blocked by both Jude and Enrique, their arms similarly raised, their gaze directly in his eyes. He wheeled again, trapped. He screamed in rage, pawed the ground and dared any man to approach. His hot walker made his way toward him, eyes averted, hands low. Invictus squealed and struck out a hoof towards the man’s chest only missing because of the quick reaction of the man. Invictus’s ears twirled round and round, waiting for movement from the humans who surrounded him. He growled, neck arched, head low, eyes alert. The hot walker approached again, reached his hand for the trailing lead rope. Invictus wheeled and kicked this time, his hoof finding it’s mark on the shin of the man who fell back bleeding. As Invictus faced the injured man, Enrique stepped in and grabbed the lead rope and touched the shoulder of the red demon. The horse pulled back his lips and bit savagely at Enrique’s face. Enrique stepped in toward the horse, rather than feint back and Invictus quieted. He was caught.
The other grooms dropped their hands and went back to their work. Invictus’s groom limped over and offered to take the rope from Enrique. Enrique told him to go back to the barn and tend to his bleeding leg.
Lavinia Bleu, with Jason in tow, tottered toward the group.
“Jude Keenan! Don’t you ever talk to me like that!!!” She was hardly audible over the snarling and barking of the dog.
“Lavinia, if you don’t go back to my office with that cur this very second, I will ban you from my barn forever!” Jude’s voice carried to Lavinia, but his gaze was locked with Enrique’s. Both were anxious to assess the damage that Invictus’s romp on the asphalt had done to his tender hooves. Both had seen him slip and slide as he galloped and spun.
“Well, you can yell all you want to Jude Keenan, because I was just coming over to tell you that I’ve been thinking since you killed my good filly last week and now that I see you hire hot walkers that can’t even hold on to a horse, I’m taking all my horses over to be trained by someone else.”
“I’ve heard that before Lavinia. Why don’t you just fix yourself a drink and we will talk about it tomorrow? Right now I have to see if your goddamn dog just cost us the fastest horse your daddy ever owned.”
“Oh God, don’t tell me that’s Invictus that your moron of a hot walker just let loose?”
Enrique had started walking the horse forward to keep him from rearing. His limp was apparent to all including Lavinia Bleau.
“Look, you’ve crippled him!” Screamed Lavinia. “I’ll sue you I swear! I’ve never had such an incompetent trainer. First you kill my good young filly and now my stakes horse is useless. I’m taking all my other horses from you right now and bringing them to Tony Montalvo.” She let Jason drop to the ground fished in her bag, pulled out her phone and started dialing as Jason ran around wildly lifting his leg on every corner.
“Security? Yes, this is Lavinia Bleu. I need at least four officers to Jude Keenan’s barn immediately, I’m moving six horses to Tony Montalvo’s barn and I don’t want any interference. Yes, immediately. I want them RIGHT NOW!”
From the loudspeaker: “HORSES IN THE SIXTH RACE DUE IN THE RECEIVING BARN IN FIVE MINUTES. THIS IS THE FIVE MINUTE CALL FOR THE SIXTH RACE.
Jude’s mind was spinning. None of this was supposed to be happening. He looked to Enrique who was leading the limping horse and looking to him to understand where he should go. If only Ann were here, at least she could go and saddle Mercy Street while he calmed this crazed owner and called the vet to see if Invictus’ career was over or if he just needed a rest. Maybe his dreams of running in the Arc or winning a Grade I race might not be over.
“Jude, security is on their way, get your boys to get all my horses out and headed to Tony Montalvo’s barn immediately or I promise you, you will be sorry!” Lavina spun on her pointy shoes and called for her dog.
“You stupid bitch!” Jude screamed “Can’t you see this horse is injured and needs a vet?” Jude gestured toward Invictus.
“My new trainer will handle it, I have every confidence and just so you know, I’m recording everything you say.” Lavinia pointed her cel phone directly at Jude.
“Mr. Keenan,” spoke the stable security’s head “I must advise you to turn over the horses and watch your mouth.”
“Lars? You’ve known me for years, you know I’m not out to make trouble, but this horse is injured and he needs immediate attention. Can’t you see that?”
“My job is to make sure that you deliver the horses to barn 48 right now and without fuss.”
“You mean you aren’t going to let me call a veterinarian?” Jude was incredulous.
“Mr. Keenan, I need you to follow instructions.”
“Lavinia, can’t you see that walking this horse across the entire barn area could cripple him for life?” Jude was pleading.
“I’m not talking to you Jude. You are mean and you are harassing me.” She waved her cel phone under her chins as she spoke.
Enrique and Jude locked glances, both sick to their stomachs. Invictus was now holding his right front foot off the ground pawing the air not daring to put weight on the foot. He was shaking his head and biting at Enrique both in agitation and in obvious pain.
“You get Tony Montalvo to get his ass over here this very second and fetch this horse, neither me nor my staff will take responsibility for moving this animal without an ambulance,” Jude demanded.
Lars Gideon spoke into his walkie talkie. “Jude, we’re sending someone over to get the horse. I’m really sorry about this.”
“You’re supposed to be on my side!” Screeched Lavnia at the guard.
“M’am, I’m trying to protect your horse. Mr. Keenan is too. And your dog is going to get ruled off if you don’t control it.”
Lavinia was enraged “I’m recording you too! I’m on excellent terms with the General Manager of this place and I’ll have your job by tonight if you don’t get my horses to their new barn!”
“Lady, I’m trying to, for your safety and the safety of your animals, I’m asking you to wait at Barn 48. Your horses will be there in a matter of minutes.” Lars was doing his best to control his anger, but the veins in his temples were pulsing and his teeth were clenched.
“You had better get them there NOW!” Lavinia glared and tottered off.
A crowd had gathered of course with all of the yelling and swarming of uniformed security. Among them was Roxy who was now alongside Enrique trying to steady the unruly horse who was nearly out of his mind with excitement and pain.
“YOU!” Jude screamed at Roxy “Get the fuck out of my sight. You got what you came for didn’t you? I knew I couldn’t trust you for a minute and now you’ve got it all, a brand new owner and congratulations bitch, now you have a giant cripple to deal with instead of a stake horse. Are you fucking happy?”
Roxy spun round to meet Jude nose to nose. “What the fuck are you talking about? I came over because I heard that Invictus got loose and now it’s all my fault? What kind of a crazed idiot are you?”
“All of Team Bleau’s horses are on their way to your sweet Tony Montalvo’s barn and don’t even try to pretend that you didn’t know about it!”
“Jude, I’ve taken your shit on and off for 20 years now and I sure as hell don’t know what you are talking about. I haven’t spoken to Tony in weeks and you know it – you think I haven’t seen you flipping through my phone to see if I’ve called or texted him? I told you I was done and I’ve galloped your horses and put up with your shit for no other reason than I’m trying to do for Ann Garrison what I know she would do for me. Well you know, there are some things even I can’t put up with and you are one of them. DICK!” Roxy strode away almost running toward the racetrack hot tears streaming down her cheeks.
Tony Montalvo pulled up with his veterinarian in tow, a young woman hungry for business and still wet behind the ears. “Jude, I’m really sorry about all this. That Lavinia is a nut job, I just heard that she’s bringing horses to me. What’s going on here? Lars just called and said that we needed a vet. And here she is, sweet as Georgia peaches.” Tony reached over and patted the young doctor on her rump, she blushed and swatted him away while she organized a splint and bandages.
“You, you guys are together?” Jude managed to mumble.
“She’s the one I’ve been looking for.” Tony beamed.
“What about Roxy?”
“Roxy who? Skanky bitch. I haven’t even talked to that crazy girl since she walked out weeks ago. She’s all yours pal. Now what’s the story with this horse?” Tony gestured towards the chestnut giant who was now sweating and exhausted.
“He’s the best horse I ever trained and I’ll just bet that he broke a bone in his foot 10 minutes ago. Your problem now bro, I gotta go, I have a horse in the sixth. Go and ask one of my grooms to bring the other horses to you.” Jude grabbed the lead rope from Enrique and handed it to Tony Montalvo. He put his hand on Enrique’s shoulder and they jogged off toward the track. The would need to run in order to saddle Mercy Street for the sixth race. It took Enrique all the strength in his body not to look back at Invictus.