His first night on the run found him in a cheap hotel outside San Bernadino. He’d decided to hike around the National Forest and to camp on the banks of Big Bear lake. It seemed like a good plan – nothing but trees and mountains and the water. The thought alone was generally enough to quiet him. He’d done the same when he left tracks all over the world. There was always some beautiful place to explore if you were okay with the inconvenience of living outdoors by yourself for a time. This time however was different. Something was wrong. Something was drawing him back to the track even though he knew that if he was caught, there would be no telling the extent of the damage. If he was outed as the jockey that had travelled all over the world assuming different names so that each time he could start fresh with a five pound apprentice weight advantage his entire past could come crashing down on him. Owners, trainers, other jockeys, agents, girls he’d left, racing officials, criminal investigation, all of it all at once and he’d have to face it all. Out of the question.
But still, there was this feeling of wanting someone to know the real him and the person he wanted to know was laying on her couch injured because of him. He wasn’t used to fretting. He was a traveller, a light spirit, a man of action. He paced knowing that the only answer was to set out in the morning into the San Bernadino mountains. From there he would figure out who to be and where to go. But for now there was no resting. His arm ached. His shoulder had been dislocated several times in his career and this last race was not the first time he’d jumped off a horse in a race and dislocated it on purpose. But it sure as hell was sore.
Rest would not come. He settled by writing and re-writing his letter to Ann all night. The next morning he hitchhiked his way out Highway 38 through Fawnskin towards the lake. He’d bought a few things in town and headed into the wilderness to think. He knew he couldn’t go back but the stories the silly gallop girl, whatever-her-name-was about the couple in the hills outside San Diego and all of the crippled ex-race horses they took in filled his head as he lay under the stars on the mountain the next night. Heading south made sense anyway, if trouble followed him, it would be an easy trip into Mexico where there were always races to ride, good food and fun and nobody cared about your past.
The following day as he hiked through the forest, it became clear to him that he would go and see this ranch and meet these people and understand what made them tick. Automatically, his body turned south. The further he got, the more sure of where he needed to be. Life, and a carload of vacationing college girls had brought him here.
Paul hitched the old truck to the even older trailer and was cleaning out the trailer when Nate re-appeared.
“You look jockey size. You a rider?”
“Sort of.” Paul replied.
“You’re pretty skinny, are you a hop-head? We don’t need any druggies around here. My wife will run you out on a rail if she even thinks there are drugs around. Not a lot gets that old gal’s goat like pipes and needles and stuff. She won’t tolerate any of it. You hear?”
“I promise” said Paul.