Mercy Street at the Test Barn

Mercy Street snorted and growled all the way to the backside where she was expected at the test barn.  Every vein in her body was visible beneath her sweat lathered coat.  The groom, a strong and surly man managed her efficiently but was happy to hand her off to the state employed staff of the test barn.  He took his seat on a bench alongside the wall and attended to the welt  Mercy Street had raised on his arm when she bit him in the winner’s circle. It was already turning purple and the bruise would show through his olive skin for some time. He thought to ask for some ice from the staff but didn’t see anyone who was likely to speak Spanish and so he gave up the idea.

Mercy Street would be awhile in the test barn.  They would walk her and give her sips of water as her body cooled, then she would be bathed in warm water and walked some more until her coat was dry and her pulse close to normal. Then she would be taken to a test stall for blood and urine samples.  

Alexander Taming Bucephalus by F. Schomer, Germany, late 19th century

While the other horses walked, Mercy Street fussed and snorted, pawed the ground and sweated.  The State appointed vet on duty, Margaret Nehrlich was called when it was clear to the testing staff that the mare was out of sorts and possibly heading for distress.  The staff did their best to get a heart rate reading on the animal who refused to stand still.  Dr. Nerlich struggled to keep her stethoscope in contact with the mare’s ribcage, just behind her left elbow but Mercy Street cow-kicked violently at the veterinarian  just missing her kneecaps.  Maggie  jumped away and signaled to her employee to keep the mare walking and offer her water.  She pulled her racing program from her pocket and looked up the mare’s racing connections.  She expected one of four trainers she knew to have low regard for the rules of racing and was taken aback to find Jude Keenan’s name listed as Mercy Street’s trainer.  He had a good reputation, good owners and an excellent track record of little to no problems with the racing officials. This wasn’t making sense. Here was a horse obviously in metabolic distress and it sure looked like a chemical performance enhancement.  If she gave the animal a tranquilizer to calm her and save her from obvious distress, her system would be contaminated with the tranq.  She’d have to dive in and get the blood samples and hope that she wouldn’t get eaten alive by the agitated 900 pounds of raging muscles currently dragging around each of the test barn’s experienced staff.  She’d have to hope that the animal didn’t get worse and that she could eventually get a urine sample.   She let the staff know that she’d be back in a few minutes, she wanted to make a phone call or two before ordering them to take the blood sample.

Closing the door to her tiny office, she flipped through her stack of business cards in the old metal desk, found what she was looking for and placed a call on her personal cel phone.

Her old college buddy answered the phone from his van in Florida.

“Seth, this is Maggie calling you from California.”

“Mags! How’s that cushy desk job working for you?  I’m still out floating teeth and sewing up cuts.”

“It’s fine Seth.  Really fine. Sometimes I miss being out in the field but I’ll never miss 2am colic calls. I’m calling you because I know that you had a run in with some guys from Columbia  that were suspected of using that crazy Frog Juice. Did anything ever come of that?”

“Dermorphin? Crazy stuff. Well, they weren’t able to catch the dirty bastards we suspected of it here, but I heard that the lab in Denver at the University has been able to test for it.  Hard though.  And those horses here ran like raped apes – could hardly get the horses back to the winner’s circle they were so hyped and it was like these jerks were laughing at us, they knew they had tipped the game. But once you see a horse on it, you don’t forget.”

“Really, tell me what they look like?”

“Sweat like crazy, eyeballs rolling around in their heads, won’t cool out.  You go back and forth between feeling sorry for the poor beast and wanting anything to get away from them.  They bite and kick and strike.  Terrible stuff. I heard a bunch of match racing horses died while they figured out how to manage the dose. I can’t imagine what those poor horses went through.”

“Interesting.  Do you know anyone at the lab in Denver?”

“Not off the top of my head Maggie, but I’ll find out and email you tonight.  Sounds like some of those South American bastards found their way to your fair state?”

“I’m probably not at liberty to discuss.  Not until I get a sample tested. Promise me you will send me an email?”

“Pinky swear Maggie.  Happy to help.”

“Thanks Seth, gotta go.  Bye”

She hung up quickly in response to the opening of her door.  One of the Horse Racing Board’s investigators, a lazy bureaucrat she despised pushed his way in. Ted Knaak squared his flabby shoulders and puffed his chest to exude authority. “Anything I should know?”

“Nothing Ted.  There’s a horse that’s acting like she has a painful tummy ache and I’m watching her for colic that’s all.” 

“The boys out in the barn are making noise like we’ve got a dirty one out there.”

 “We don’t have anything until we get samples tested and back from the lab Ted. You do remember the premise of the American justice system right – innocent until proven guilty?” Maggie had quit trying to be civil with this man months ago.  Her bitterness seemed to have no effect on the man and she had the satisfaction at least of being honest in her dealings with him. 

“Who’s the trainer?”

“I didn’t notice Ted, I told you, I’m busy dealing with a horse who looks sick. Will you please get out of my office so I can do my job?”

Ted picked the program up off her desk “Jude Keenan?  Hmmm.  He’s the one that had that horse drop dead on the track last week. And he just had a big fight in the barn with an owner.  Security was there and everything.  I heard he totally lost his head. Looks like he’s getting desperate.”

Maggie grabbed the program out of Knaak’s meaty hand. “Did I stutter when I asked you to leave my office? And by the way, get your facts straight, Keenan’s horse was in a head on collision, that’s why it died.  It didn’t ‘drop dead’ as you say.  As an investigator, you would think you would be more interested in facts than in rumors. Please leave now, there’s got to be something you should be doing.”

“Touchy touchy little lady.  I’ve got my eye on you – don’t forget.” Inspector Knaak winked and backed out of the door.

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