Two Women Washing Horses – Edgar Degas

     The veterinarian euthanized Pax Kristi by feed time.  Her body was taken to the racetrack hospital for a necropsy and the barn was on lock down waiting for the tests to come back.  Needless to say, the word was already out, grooms were thinking about looking for other jobs and trainers were lurking around thinking about picking up the barn’s clients as soon as Jude Keenan’s business was officially kaput.

      Ann did her best to look and act normal while overseeing the feeding, afternoon walking, sanitizing and medications of the barn. Jude paced circles in his office with the door closed avoiding client’s phone calls and waiting for the call from the vet.

     The entire staff held a collective breath when Doc Conner’s spotless white truck pulled up to the barn. Without meeting Ann’s eye, he ducked into the office and closed the door behind him.  This couldn’t be good.  Despite her best and most loyal efforts, Ann calculated her job prospects.

      I could take Ian Froley up on his offer to work for him in Canada.  Ann thought.  Or maybe I could go back to free-lance gallop work. Hell, maybe I’ll get my trainer’s license and start my own barn. Ann snapped herself away from her selfish thoughts when she caught sight of Enrique.  Her heart broke at the sight of his broad shoulders slumped, his calloused hands wringing, his ball cap in his hands.  The top of his head showed a bald spot in his course salt and pepper hair that she’d not noticed before.  He looked up at her and swallowed hard.  She watched him gaze up and down the barn of the beautiful horses and his thoughts were transparent “Will anyone else get sick and die?  Who is next?”  Ann immediately lamented her selfish musings and joined him in looking down the shed-row at the stable of horses, each of whom they both knew intimately – their likes and dislikes, their aches and pains.  They each had a personality, a signature trait.  In a rush, her mind went to her favorites and she couldn’t bear the thoughts of them staggering around, lungs filling with fluid as they had poor Pax Kristi just this morning.

     Suddenly, the office door burst open and Jude and Doc Conner emerged, arms around each other’s shoulders laughing over one of Doc’s bawdy jokes.  They patted each other roughly and Doc looked up at the gathering of grooms, hot-walkers, Enrique and Ann and announced “

     PNEUMONIA!  Poor little bitch died of pneumonia!  Now, we’re gonna have to pull some blood for some tests and keep these horses from going to the track for three days, but, barring that, I think we are gonna be okay.  Enrique, you tell these boys to be sure and wash their hands about 18 times per day or more and to wash all the brushes and the tack with this soap I’m gonna give you, and call me the second any one of these nags even thinks about sneezing. Make DAMN sure that when these boys fill a water bucket, they don’t leave the nozzle in the bucket.  A hose nozzle is almost as contagious as sharing water buckets.”  He picked up the water bucket that hung in the walking ring and tossed it hard into the dumpster. “If I tell one more trainer NEVER to share water buckets I’m gonna puke.”  He shook his head. “Everyone gets their temperature taken twice a day and charted. Nobody goes in or out of the barn without washing the bottom of their boots in the foot bath I’m gonna give you.  Other than that old Boss Man, I guess you had better give the best damn gallop girl here a few well deserved days off.” He smiled sideways at Ann.

     Jude snorted and looked Ann’s way “You had just better get those bills out to the clients – don’t answer your phone from any of the people at the track unless it’s me or Doc and get your skinny ass out of here for 72 hours.”

     Ann immediately looked at Enrique who, instead of three days off, would have his hands full managing the health of the barn while sterilizing all the tools, bits, brushes and anything else that might touch the horses.  Expecting to see a resentful or tired Barn Manager, Ann looked up to see Enrique almost skipping down the barn aisle smiling at his favorite horses happily while handing out orders in Spanish to his grooms and hot walkers.  Ann mentally punched herself for her ungenerous thoughts about Enrique.  She should have known better.

     “Well, what are you still doing here?” Jude asked.  “Get your ass out of here before I change my mind!”

     “Um”  Ann stammered, “I thought I’d just, well, before I leave.”

     “Don’t you listen? Get OUTTA here!” Doc Conner chuckled and pointed his finger toward the parking lot.

     “But what about Viya Con Dios?” Ann pleaded.

     “The barn is quarantined for the time being, he won’t be going anywhere until you get back.”  Jude winked.  “So I’ll have to feed his hay-burning hide whether I like it or Russ Wells likes it.” Now get gone! And don’t you dare talk to any reporters on your way out.”

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