High Fever

Harry Hall – Kettledrum

Before the first break, Roxy and Ann had gotten eight horses to the track.  Each horse trained smoothly and the girls laughed and joked like 12 year old girls riding at summer camp. The barn was running like a well oiled machine.  They were in the office planning the next sets when Jude Keenan stormed in.  He refused to acknowledge Roxy’s presence and directed his comments but not his gaze to Ann while opening and closing the drawers on his desk  banging around as if to look for something.

“Are you in the habit of having our horses exercised by people who can tell other trainers how our horses are going?”

“Look, there is no way that I can get 14 horses to the track in one morning and I didn’t see you hiring us any help.  Plus it’s only for a few days while”

“While she gets a good look at all our stock and then tells her boyfriend which ones to claim?”

“Tony and I split up.” Roxy chimed in.

Jude still refused to look at her, instead snorted in disgust.  “Roxy Ayers does NOT work for me – do you understand?”  He turned and looked directly at a very surprised and frustrated Ann.

“Well, good to see that some people never change” Roxy sighed.  She turned to Ann “Sorry darling, it was fun to ride with you this morning.  I’ll see you around.”  Roxy mustered her pride and walked out of the office with her head down, but her back straight.

“What was that about?” Ann demanded.

“Does it bother you that you just don’t know everything?” He’d returned shuffling through his desk, his back to Ann.

“No, it bothers me that I finally got some good help around here – one who can handle a horse and will show up for work and you run her off.”

“She a’int much.”

“She’s one of the best hands around!”

“No, she’s a skanky whore.”

“Oh, I get it, it’s cool if you guys run around with anything that walks, but if a GIRL sleeps around, she’s useless?”  Ann was stammering angry.

“I don’t make the rules little girl…”

“Hey, Boss, I think you had better come and see this.”  Enrique beckoned to both of them from outside the door.

Pax Kristi stood panting in the middle of the walking ring.  From each dilated nostril tricked thick yellow ooze.  Her knees were locked and the only reason she was able to remain standing was because of it.  Any attempt to pull her forward resulted in a deep, choking cough and staggering.  Her ears hung sideways and her sides heaved with her labored panting.

“Let’s get a temperature on her and call the vet right away.” Jude barked.

Enrique had the thermometer in his hand, he showed it to Jude and to Ann.  It read 105.2

“Holy shit.” Jude cursed and stomped his feet.  “I want everything around that mare sterilized and only one groom to handle her, and with gloves.  Do you hear me?  Sterilize the goddamn brushes, the pitchforks – everything! Get that sick bitch out of my barn and to the hospital as soon as you can move her sorry ass.”

“You don’t know that it’s contagious. ” Ann reminded him.  But he was in no mood to be reminded of anything.  He was envisioning his entire barn quarantined or sick and his chances of racing his barn put on hold until further notice.  He pictured himself begging owners to be patient and it was not a pretty thought.

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