The horses were in the post parade for the seventh at Pimlico, a twenty thousand dollar Optional Claiming Race for three year old winners of two races. For the most part, they were pretty good fillies who had proven they could run. Jack agreed with the crowd that the favorite, the One horse, was a lock. But, three or four others in the field of eight could run second. He needed that Place horse to pair with the nine-to-five favorite in a straight Exacta. It was the only way he was going to find any value at all in this race. With his stake dwindling, he couldn’t afford to key the One over four other possible second place finishers. He needed that second horse and at good odds. Jack settled on the Seven at ten-to-one. She had an outside post with speed inside of her. This was not good. She seemed fit, though, coming off the layoff, steady works, bred okay for the mile and a sixteenth distance. A ten-dollar straight exacta, One over Seven, was his bet. If he hit, it would be worth about two hundred bucks, putting him ahead for the day.
Jack stood behind Lentz and Roach who were up and screaming at the Churchill Downs monitor. The Sheetssaid the Three at fifteen-to-one, was the fastest in a field of twelve and he was pulling away in the deep stretch. They were all over it and were already congratulating themselves. Their day was made.
“You guys look at Pimlico?” Jack asked.
“Pimlico? The money’s at Churchill!” said Roach, doing a modified moonwalk.
“The money’s here, right here in my pocket. Ooh, yeah!” crowed Lentz.
Jack walked away toward the betting windows. It wasn’t jealousy, exactly. It was closer to that feeling you get when your wife’s dinner looks a lot better than the one you ordered. He was also distracted. The innate, bat-like radar that keeps bettors from careening off of each other when they’re glued toThe Formwasn’t working for him. He almost left shoe prints on the bald head of a very short, rotund handicapper. The guy couldn’t have been more than four and a half feet tall.
Amazingly, Jack recognized his victim as someone he knew from the National Guard. He didn’t know him, exactly. He was one of a whole lot of strange people that found themselves in the quasi-military life that was the Maryland National Guard during Nam. He remembered overhearing this guy say that he made a living in saloons, selling socks to the patrons. (He called them “hose.”) He described going in and out of the bars lining Pennsylvania Avenue. Jack was amazed that he was still alive. Actually, the man was very much alive.
“What the hell’s a matter with you! I’m standing here!”
It was the aggressiveness one might expect from a Joe Pesce in Good Fellows. But his face carried that placid, stupid look, found only on certain Guernsey’s. Or, what was that guy’s name on that old TV show with Sergeant Bilko? Doberman. Yeah, like Private Doberman.
The little round man wore a pair of bleach-stained, husky-boy dungarees with the cuffs rolled up. The blue jeans bulged, and then disappeared under an orange sweat-shirt with a big cartoon chicken on it. His shirt read: “Big Pecker’s Café.” In his hands he held The Racing Formand a plastic rain hat, the kind that old ladies keep in their purses just in case. The stub of a Swisher’s Sweet crook cigar hung in the spot that used to be occupied by a canine tooth.
“Hey, don’t I know you?”
“No. I don’t think you do.” Jack replied quickly, attempting to flee.
“Yeah, I do. You were one of those snotty Guard pukes I once knew. Who do you like in this race? How about the Six? She looks full of herself.”
“I’m betting the One-Seven. What do you mean she’s full of herself?”
“I hangout in the paddock when they’re saddling up. The Six, Darla’s X-Press, looks like shit, four ankle wraps and a narrow ass, but she tried to bite two other horses. I’m bettin’ she’s hungry.”
With that, they were accosted by a blousy woman, wearing a big-haired, blonde wig. She could have been a hundred years old, but she was wearing skin-tight, red Capri pants. She was also attracting stares from all the old farts who couldn’t remember whether a nice ass looked like that or not.
“Come on, honey. Stop hanging around with these deadbeats. I’m hungry,” she whined.
“Nice seeing you again, sport.”
As she dragged him off in the direction of the Triple Crown Room, Doberman leaned back toward Jack and whispered with a lewd wink: “I told her I was an ex-jockey. They love jocks.”