For fans of The Silver Spurs Series – here is a glimpse into book three in the series.
Who Killed Cade
The Silver Spurs Series: Book Three
by Laura Hesse
Who Killed Cade COPYRIGHT© 2021 Laura Hesse. All rights Reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means or stored in a database or retrieval system without prior written permission of the publisher.
All characters in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
To ride a horse is to ride the wind.
The bandy legged old man stood at the rail, a stained Tilley hat cocked jauntily to one side, a long silver pony poking out the back, his icy blue eyes fixed upon the gangly dappled grey stud colt prancing by on its way to the gate. He wore a nondescript brown oilskin raincoat. The jockey, dressed in burgundy and silver, allowed the colt named Steam Train to skip sideways towards the rail. The jockey caught the old man’s eye briefly and then looked quickly away. There was an imperceptible nod, a slight dip of the chin as the colt kicked out at the side walker’s horse. The old man grinned crookedly.
Steam Train was the favorite to win, the odds only two to one, but if he placed, the odds were five to three.
Shamus Finnegan, the owner and trainer of Steam Train, and his silver-blond middle-aged faded trophy wife, Lacy, matched the pace of the horse along the rail. The couple sauntered by him, the horse’s owner not even muttering an apology as he jostled the grey haired spectator. Lacy’s brown eyes glittered with mirth, her lips puckering into what she thought of as a come-hither smirk as her finger’s casually brushed against the old man’s before she disappeared into the crowd, her colorful rose patterned umbrella marking her progress. The pony-tailed senior would have laughed, but there was an ironic sadness to the situation that wasn’t lost on him.
Behind Steam Train walked the long shot at fifty to one. The chestnut filly’s name, One Flashy Dame, didn’t suit her. The filly wasn’t flashy at all. She had a pencil thin neck, spindly legs, light of frame and demeanor, despite being a descendant of the great Secretariat. The filly was entered into the Derby at the last minute after two scratches the day before. One Flashy Dame was owned by a singularly happy old lady with more money than sense.
The old man knew that didn’t mean anything. One Flashy Dame had only run two races, floundering at the back of the pack in both so her true abilities were yet to be discovered. The filly had steadfastly refused the jockey’s whip and urgings to run faster. She had remained like that until yesterday when her regular jockey was thrown during a training ride and broke his collar bone. A young girl with coal black hair and an infectious grin, the owner’s niece, agreed to ride the filly for her elderly aunt after just receiving her jockey’s license.
The old man had strolled through the stables the day before with an air of confidence, looking every bit the seasoned stock agent. No one questioned him. He stopped outside of One Flashy Dame’s stall to congratulate the girl on her first professional ride and to wish her good luck.
“Thank you,” the girl grinned. “Me and Flash are going to crush it tomorrow, you wait and see. She just has no use for men, especially that lame brain who’s been riding her.”
“Is that so,” the man smiled in return, turning on the charm. His blue eyes sparkled merrily as he held out his palm for the filly to sniff. ‘Flash’ as the girl called the filly sniffed his palm and then nuzzled his cheek, licking her lips in the process.
“Oooh, make a liar out of me, eh, girl,” the jockey stuttered, her eyes widening.
“She’s got good taste, is all,” the balding horseman whispered, lovingly stroking the filly’s soft velvet nose. “I rode a mare like her years ago. She’d have taken me all the way to the top if I hadn’t had a falling out with the owner.”
“Really,” the girl said, shooting him a questioning look.
He knew what the rookie jockey was thinking. He was much too tall to be a jockey.
“When I was your age all I could think of was racing,” the soft spoken horseman whispered hoarsely, his eyes taking on a faraway look. “I went across the pond. I was thin as a reed then and willing to get on anything with four legs so I did. Like you, it was my first professional ride. The mare’s name was Star Crossed. It did her justice. She was a rangy mean tempered cow, tossed anyone foolish enough to throw a leg over her, but oh that mare could jump. It took me awhile, but finally me and Star Crossed came to an understanding.”
“You were a steeplechase jockey,” the girl replied, her eyes widening.
“Aye, one of the best until I got blackballed by Star Crossed’s pompous owner,” the retired steeple chaser growled. “I banged about for awhile at various training stables, but the good ones wouldn’t hire me so I came home.”
The tiny jockey patted his shoulder sympathetically.
“Because Flash obviously likes you and you’re one of us,” the girl whispered fiercely, carefully glancing around to make sure no one was within ear shot, “I’ll tell you a secret.”
“I don’t know, luv, I don’t do secrets well,” the old man replied with a shake of his head.
“Wager big on my girl tomorrow,” the jockey murmured. “The weather’s supposed to turn. Flash loves to run in the rain. She can take that grey in the mud any day. That and she hated that no talent sod. He used the whip too much and she doesn’t respond to it, only the voice. You got to sing to her. The faster the song, the faster she runs.”
The retired jockey slapped his leg and laughed raucously. Women, they were all the same. You just needed to figure out what got them going.
“I’ll do that, Missie,” he crooned to the inexperienced jockey. “You and Flash make a good team.”
“Thank you,” the girl beamed. “Oye, what’s your name? I’ll watch for you in the stands.”
“O’Hara,” the old man answered with a mischievous grin. “Just call me O’Hara.”
“It was nice to meet you Mister O’Hara,” the jockey waved a goodbye to the funny balding retired jockey.
“You too, sweetie,” he laughed heartily.
Why not, he thought to himself as he strode back towards the exercise yard where Steam Train’s jockey was climbing aboard the grey colt, no reason not to bet on the rookie jockey and sleepy eyed filly. Maybe lightning would strike twice. Wouldn’t that be a hoot?
That was yesterday. This was today. The girl was right. The track before him was a muddy mess. The down pour had receded into a light drizzle, but the damage was done.
He left the rail and strode quickly through the crowd up to the long line of ticket booths inside the main building. He approached the wicket that he had been using to place smaller bets all day and put ten thousand cash down on One Flashy Dame to win.
“Criminy, you aren’t serious,” the boy at the ticket booth asked. The kid looked more like a sixteen year-old than a twenty-one year-old, the peach fuzz on his chin barely passing for a beard. “You’re going to blow everything you won today.”
“What can I say, I love underdogs and redheads,” he chortled, “and not necessarily in that order.”
“Your loss,” peach fuzz shrugged, handing the old man the ticket.
He had already called his bookie that morning to place his main bet: twenty-five thousand on Steam Train to place. His bookie had thought he was as daft as the kid did betting on Steam Train to lose, but the rookie jockey had inspired him.
The starting horn bellowed. O’Hara hurried back down to the gate, jostling through the crowd of raincoat clad betters until he was leaning over the rail beside the finish line.
Steam Train barrelled around the track, in the lead from the start. It was clear the grey colt was a contender for the Kentucky Derby if he continued to run like he did now. Had O’Hara just blown thirty-five thousand?
One Flashy Dame and her cute little jockey were at the back of the pack, eating mud, but half way around the oval, the chestnut filly started to gain ground. A ray of sun peeked out from between the scuttling clouds, the light drizzle that had been falling suddenly subsiding. Waves of fog drifted along the ground making it look as if the galloping horses were painted metal pieces on a game board, their legs completely cut off by the swirling grey mist.
The retired jockey willed the filly on, reveling in the girl’s expert handling of the thoroughbred. He idly wondered what song she was singing to the surging horse.
An opening appeared between two bays and the chestnut plowed through it.
“And it’s Locomotion in second, Everlasting Glow in third, three strides behind Steam Train. Wait! Holy cow, it’s One Flashy Dame on the outside moving fast. Look at that filly run,” the announcer cried.
“Come on, Flash,” the old man yelled, pounding the rail with a fist, his eyes alight, his cheeks reddening as if he too was astride the filly as it barrelled past Everlasting Glow and Locomotion.
“It’s Steam Train and One Flashy Dame heading for the finish line,” the announcer screamed as the crowd in the stands went wild.
“It’s One Flashy Dame in the lead,” the announcer hollered excitedly. “Now its Steam Train by a nose, but here comes One Flashy Dame. It’s One Flashy Dame! It’s One Flashy Dame. The long shot, One Flashy Dame, with rookie jockey Sadie Nesbitt on board has just one the Derby. What an upset!”
The retired jockey hooted encouragement as the chestnut filly cantered a victory lap past the stands, soupy mud flying in every direction, the raven haired jockey standing in the stirrups looking more like a mud wrestler than a rider, her green and gold jockey silks barely recognizable, and one hand raised in the air in triumph.
Sadie noticed the old man leaning against the rail and shot him a thumbs-up sign. He tipped his hat in a silent salute.
Behind Sadie cantered the former favorite, Steam Train. The jockey shook his head in mock consternation as he rode by.
O’Hara followed the crowd to the winner’s circle, unable to suppress his joy. One Flashy Dame and her diminutive jockey together just won him a half million bucks.
He was delighted to see the filly’s owner, aided by a racetrack employee, hobble into the winner’s circle to receive an armful of red roses from the racetrack manager.
“You idiot,” Shamus Finnegan shouted at his jockey. “How the Hell could you lose to that fleabag? And to a rookie jockey?”
The crowd booed loudly as the grey colt spooked sideways away from the furious trainer.
“Just wasn’t our day, boss,” the jockey shrugged. “Train’s not a mudder.”
One of the course administrators raced to the scene, hauling Finnegan to one side to caution him. Lacy Finnegan, ever the lady, took a moment to speak a few words of encouragement to Sadie and her over-the-moon happy auntie, ignoring the furious glances of her husband.
O’Hara would have laughed, but the smile was wiped off his face when the jockey aboard Steam Train shot him a pointed look.
Really, the old man grimaced. You think you’re going to get paid when One Flashy Dame clearly won by sheer talent?
O’Hara whistled happily as he walked up to his favorite ticket window.
The kid shot him a high-five through the Plexiglas above the wicket.
“I got to wait for the manager for this,” peach fuzz grinned. “We got to withhold taxes for this kind of a win and the track manager will want a picture with you and your winnings cheque, I’m sure.”
“No pictures,” O’Hara responded, his visage clouding over.
“Okay, but I still need your name for the cheque,” the kid wheedled.
“Make it out to… uh… yeah, make it out to Cade O’Hara,” the old man grinned, his trepidation fading. “That’s C.A.D.E. Cade with a ‘C’, not a ‘K’. O. Apostrophe. H. A. R. A. O’Hara.”
“I can spell, you know,” peach fuzz grumbled.