Shades of Bleu

Lavinia Bleau’s sky colored Bentley rattled across the track’s backside. The sleek car stopped haphazardly in front of Jude Keenan’s office.  

Paul Gauguin, The White Horse 1898

Luckily, it was noon and all the horses were safely back in their stalls eating a leisurely lunch and settling in for a mid-day nap.

Lavinia stumbled out of her car, ducked under the quarantine tape that surrounded the stable and flopped onto the leather couch inside the barn office.  She threw a plump forearm across a sweaty forehead and exclaimed “I’ve taken the last of my dog’s Valium and I’m thinking  it was a bad idea.”

Jude swiveled his chair to face the bejeweled woman on his couch, shook his head and said

“Hello Lavinia, what’s brings you to my office so early in the day?”

Without opening her eyes, she sighed “Aren’t we running today?  Tell me I didn’t drive all the way from Rancho Santa Fe for nothing?”

“I told you Vinnie dear, the barn is quarantined for a few days, all horses are scratched.” Jude turned his chair back to his desk to review the latest feed bill.

“What do you mean quarantined? This is the first I’ve heard of it. We’ll have to talk about this, my horses have to run, they can’t just sit around eating all day.”  She sat bolt upright “Oh my Gawd, JASON!”  

Jason was Lavinia’s Pekinese dog.  Actually, Jason was the name of the last three Pekinese dogs in Lavinia’s life.  When one expired, Lavinia searched violently for a matching dog to replace it. This iteration of Jason was better tempered than the last two.  

Jude looked out his office window to see Jason wandering the barn sniffing and dragging a sequined leather leash. When the grooms tried to pick him up, he snarled and darted away. “He’s pissing on my feed bags Lavinia, go get him.”

“Where’s Little Orphan Annie? She can take him for a walk and you can explain to me what this  ‘quarantine’ business is.”

“I gave her a couple of days off.”

“Well she doesn’t live very far from here, just call her and have her watch Jason – will you?”

“Lavinia, Ann is not your dog walker, she’s my assistant and she’s the best in the business. She has a couple days off and I can guarantee you, she has no interest in watching your goddamn dog. Now go and get him before he gets stomped by a racehorse.”

“But he loves Annie and you know he hates your Mexican boys.”  Lavinia Bleau had not moved from the couch.  Jude threw back his chair and stomped out of the office, stepped hard onto Jason’s trailing leash and picked up the snarling mass of freshly groomed fur. He walked to the Bentley, cracked two windows open, threw in the dog, closed the heavy door and walked back into the office.  He tossed the car keys in Lavinia’s direction, sat back at his desk chair leaned back with his hands folded behind his head and said “Okay, you want to talk about your horses, let’s talk.”

Lavinia Bleau was heir to a fortune amassed by a brilliant mother who pioneered the commercialization of drug test screening. Joyce Bleau was a marketing executive for a large pharmaceutical company when America launched it’s “war on drugs” in the 80’s. Seeing the opportunity for huge profit, she lured a hand-full of talented chemists away from the mother company to start her company “Americans Against Drugs Inc.”  In company colors of red, white and blue the company’s urine tests using chemical binders to detect minuscule amounts of PCP, heroin, cocaine and speed were selling faster than they could make them to police departments and private boarding schools all over the country.  Joyce was quoted more than once that “Urine was the gold of the 80’s.”  She died of a tranquilizer overdose in 2005 leaving a tremendous fortune to her husband and Lavinia, her only daughter.  

Lavinia inherited her love of betting horses from her father.  Together they owned a strong stable of 30 or so runners that they spread over three or four trainers. Lavinia’s father was living in the Seychelle Islands reading poetry and  betting horses and baseball from his computer. He abdicated the management of the stable to his tempestuous daughter.

Lavinia was easy to spot at the races – she wore only shades of  blue, including robin’s egg shoes, cadet blue scarves, hyacinth colored nail polish and corresponding eyeshadow.  Jewelry clanked from her plump frame.  She was usually found in the turf club bar irritating her trainers and drinking gin. The only thing thin about her was her nasally voice. She did not lose races gracefully or quietly. She fired trainers regularly and publicly, but her runners were too good for the next trainer to turn down.  The Keenan barn currently had six horses for the Bleau’s and all of them were excellent horses with impressive pedigrees.  Jude managed Lavinia by treating her with the same disdain she showed the rest of the world. She had kept her business with him for almost two years now, a record for “Team Bleau” as she liked her stable called. 

“Well handsome, if you can’t run my horses, I’ll have to bring them to someone who can. You know I’d hate to move them, but this is a business and not a charity.”

Jude patted Lavina’s arm gently and reassured her with absolute calm.  He reached outside his office door and took a lead rope from a peg where it hung neatly with eight matching ropes.  He walked back to Lavinia and handed her the shank.  “Here love, take your horses and walk them over to whomever you would like to train them. But please take the wraps off their legs first, those wraps belong to me.” He smiled and sat down at his desk and returned to his work. Thoughts of Lavinia on her hands and knees in a stall taking the wraps off a stomping snorting racehorse’s legs in her blue cashmere sweater set and high heels in the throes of her Valium high, was almost too delicious to bear.

Lavina threw the lead shank on the office floor.  “You horrible man!  I’ve had it with you! Get your boys to fetch my ALL my horses.”

“Get them yourself – surely you speak some Spanish?” Jude was laughing outright now and enjoying every minute.

Lavinia slumped back down on the couch and heaved giant sighs. Jude could almost hear her trying to compose her thoughts and pride. Finally, she sat up, pudgy hands on her voluminous thighs and announced. “You have one week to get these animals running again and I want to see some wins!” Satisfied that she had made her point she continued “Now, I’m going up to the turf club and I need a horse for the second race so I can win the double.  Who do you like?”

“The shipper from Canada looks great, but you can’t bet against Cramer’s barn in cheap races. The bug boy Charlie Clahain is red hot and is on a horse that will pay a nice price.  Take your pick.”  Jude handed her his racing program for the day with a couple of notes in it, helped her up and into her car, patted the snarling Jason on his coiffed head and bade her farewell for the day.

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