He was there looking for her.
Yes, it was his in his agreement with the Dispatch that he show up at meetings twice a week, but this was the first time in ten months that Fisher went to this dungeon with a purpose. All morning he had fretted about what he should wear. He changed three times, finally settling on a dark blue knit shirt that Claire had once complimented him on. Since he had no lights working in his apartment, he checked himself out in the cracked mirror at the Shell station rest room across the street from the church. Not too bad, eh?
The meeting was in progress when he arrived. The basement was almost full. Sundays were like that in football season. The temptation was enormous with all the betting-pools at jobs, clubs, bars, schools. “What's the spread? You got the lines? Dallas getting three? That's a steal right?” Not Fisher's choice of poison. He looked around but couldn't find Jo. He hoped he hadn't missed her. Maybe she'd come late. Fisher spotted his sponsor, Nick Lugo in the front row. Nick gave Fisher an affirmative nod. Nick, who ran a chop-shop on Western Highway, was a pretty easy-going sponsor. He didn't constantly bust Fisher's balls about where he was and what he did as long as he showed up at the meetings.
Jack M., a Trusted Servant, was asking the twenty questions to a stocky man in a Jets sweat shirt.
“Did you ever lose time from work due to gambling?”
“Has gambling ever made your home life unhappy?”
The door opened and Fisher craned his neck catching a flash of hair... but no. Just a kid with a Ramones' cut.
“Did gambling ever affect your reputation?”
As the leaders charged down the homestretch, Fisher's horse was already out of it. Up until then, he had a pretty good day going. He hit the third and fourth races, won the exacta on the sixth, and was momentarily up seven-hundred dollars.
But in the feature he bet heavily on the eight horse, a dubious choice, one he regretted the moment the gates opened and his choice went sideways as if it had to say “hi” to one of the railbirds. By the time the horse straightened out it was dead last and fading.
“And it's Red Rogue,” the track announcer called, “Red Rogue. Red Rogue.” Fisher watched through his binoculars as the stallion lengthened his lead. He had never even considered the horse. “Red Rogue going away, followed by Night Life and You Can't Do That.”
Fisher walked slowly through the crowd. A better man once told him to walk the same after victories and defeats. Yeah, good luck with that. Losses always did some damage. Particularly one as grievously bad as this one. He had dreams about races like that; bad dreams with horses he'd bet on losing a leg coming down the stretch, or yawning pits opening in the track swallowing horses whole. A fellow loser was screaming down at the female jockey who finished fourth. “What's the matter Julie? You pregnant?” Fisher needed a drink.
Fisher found an open spot at the bar, ordered a beer and caught a whiff of fresh flowers. There she was, sitting across from him studying the handicap sheets, her long beautiful hair falling down across her face. She sensed his gaze and looked up.
“Hello,” Fisher said.
“You have Red Rogue last race?”
“No. He was the seven horse. I never bet seven.”
Fisher's heart sank. Oh, please, no, he thought, she's not some nut job who bets colors and names of favorite pets.
“Cause everyone plays it. Lucky seven. Like it was that easy.”
“And it's not.”
Now Jo looked at him, as if challenged. “Who did you have that race?” she asked.
“He came in last.”
“Oh did he come in?” he said. “It was getting dark. Got tired of waiting.”
When she laughed, his heart bounced. All now was forgiven. She could bet blindfolded for all he cared.
“How'd your story go?”
“Which one was that?”
“My husband. About the...”
“Hole-in-one frenzy? I never reached him. I was under deadline, so I made some things up.”
“Said he was a drought specialist and learned to play using a divining rod.”
“Anyone ever laugh at this stuff?”
“Classical guitarists and children with limps.”
“Someone should shoot you and put you out of your misery.”
Let it be you, thought Fisher. Any place, any time. But she was right, time to put Dr. Funny Pants back in the barn for now. “So where is Mr. Golf, anyway? Scouting out the next race?”
“He's still in Florida,” she said.
She looked at him as if to ask which man was he referring to. “Anyway, he hates the track. He says it's for people who are looking to lose.”
“Looking to lose,” Fisher snorted. “Stuff drives me crazy. Like life's not tough enough without someone sticking a label on you.” Jo's mouth parted slightly and her eyes told him “amen, brother.” Fisher paused a moment. He didn't want to her to think he was a scold.
“I was, uh, at the meeting today," he said. "I didn't see you there.”
“I'm a bad girl.”
“Usual tale of woe. 'Mr. Porky is addicted to slot machines, Sally Strudel sold her baby to play bingo.' Sponsors breathing down your neck wanting you to own up for your transgressions. O.K. We're all weak. Fine, everything is clear now, behavior is explainable, everybody can sleep through the night.”
“There's one question they never ask,” she said swishing the remains of ice in her drink.
She looked up at him, her green eyes taking aim. “How come the kick you get here isn't out there?”
He had felt it from the moment she looked back at him in the church basement saying without saying “What the hell are we doing here?” They were the same, they had the same hunger, had taken the same hits, heard the same criticisms, been asked the same questions, they had been spanked, spun around and chastened, told to stop it, shape up and step up, to be better, to try harder, to be stronger, but the substitutes offered were all substandard and the hunger still remained. At the track is exactly where they were suppose to be.
“Look,” he said. “Can I buy you a drink? I mean, no big deal.”
Jo closed her eyes like a cat. “All right,” she said.
“What are you drinking?”
“Irish Whiskey and soda”
They barely had a chance to start on their drinks when Fisher spotted the man in the blazer coming full tilt. There was something in the over abundance of purpose in his walk that immediately made Fisher want to shove him over the railing. Maybe he would pass them by, but Fisher wasn't betting on it.
“Excuse me, sir,” the man said flashing a badge. “I'm Pat Davis, I'm the chief of track security. Would you mind showing me some I.D?”
“What's this all about?”
“Would you mind, sir.”
“Yeah. I might.” Fisher felt the anger gathering inside him. All my life, thought Fisher, assholes like this.
“If you don't mind.”
The man's smile was stapled to his face. Fisher, making it obvious how little he gave a shit, handed Davis his driver's license. Davis slowly examined the document as if he was a scholar studying the Dead Sea Scrolls. He looked at Fisher, the smile off of his face.
“Were you here at the track last Friday?”
“Yes, Friday. A man fitting your description was seen arguing with a Mr. Jack Savulage during the third race.”
“I don't know anyone by that name.”
“Mr. Savulage was beaten up in the parking lot sometime after the eighth race. He's still in the hospital with a broken jaw and two cracked ribs.”
“Fitting my description?”
“What time did you leave the track on Friday?”
“What time did I leave?” Davis was getting to Fisher and he knew it. Fucking assholes in fucking blue blazers. One more question and Fisher would slug him.
“We left right after the fifth race, remember?” said Jo. “We wanted to beat the Friday traffic. Definitely after the fifth race.”
“Right,” said Fisher covering her as fast as she had covered him, “Fifth race.”
Davis squinted at Jo as if she'd dropped through the roof. “And you are?”
Smiling, Jo pulled her I.D. out of her pocketbook. “Johanna Landy. A friend. We drive out together from Rosehill.”
What could Davis do? She had not been part of his junior detective deduction and crime scene solution scenario. His eyes shifted back and forth between Fisher and Jo. He sniffed twice, as if trying to discern the air's bullshit content. He'd been sure that Fisher was his man. But Fisher had an alibi and Davis had nothing.
“Thank you,” Davis said re-summoning his perpetual smile as he returned their licenses. “Sorry to bother you.”
“No problem, Pat,” said Fisher.
Davis nodded and walked away, regaining his strut in two strides.
“Asshole,” said Fisher, adjusting his neck out of the ringer. “Man fitting my description? What the hell does that mean?”
“Could be anyone.”
“Once one of those ferret faces gets a bone for you... Anyway, thanks for saying... you know, about the ride home.”
“Never helped a cop in my life,” Jo said. It was more than that, and they both knew it. Fisher stared at her. “What? I got some food on my face?”
“Five minutes to post,” said the P.A.
“So,” said Jo, “who do you like this race?”
Fisher checked to see the circled name on his racing form. “Great Jones.”
“That's the seven horse.”
“Oh, right, no sevens. So he should be eliminated like some thirteenth floor in a building.”
“I like the three.”
Fisher checked the form. “Twice Told Tails? He's twelve to one.”
Jo traced across the handicap sheet with her pencil. “He's coming down in class. He ran for seventeen-and-a-half, now he's running for seventy-five hundred. Last year he was in the money five... no six, six out of seven races. And two of his wins were on this track. Plus his jockey has already won three races today.”
“Well, that's right...”
“Think I'm here for my health?” Jo said sticking out her jaw. Fisher shook his head “no.” Jo pulled two fifties out of her wallet. “I'm putting a hundred on him.”
“Don't tell me you're sticking with the seven.”
“Free country,” Fisher said.
“Three minutes to post...” came the voice of God from the P.A.
Jo slid off the bar stool. “Want me to put your bet in?” When Fisher hesitated, Jo put her arm on her side, a little teapot. “What? You don't trust me?”
“All right. Lay fifty on Great Jones and...” digging all he had left out of his pockets, “Forty-five, six, seven...forty-seven on that long shot of yours.”
“Save me a seat?”
“I have to. You got all my money.”
Fisher found two seats in the grandstand next to a large woman with a birthmark the shape of Texas on her forehead. He lifted his binoculars and watched the horses loading into the gate at the far end of the track Great Jones was fighting against going in.
“Easy, boy,” Fisher muttered.
When the track announcer called post time, Jo was still M.I.A. The thought crept into Fisher's mind that he'd been had. Who was this woman? What was he doing handing her money? Maybe she was on her way down the ramp and out. "A sure thing" someone was saying behind him. "A sure thing." Fisher felt a pain deep inside. How many yawning pits, Fisher wondered, could he fall into in one day?
Great Jones was finally guided in, the bell rang and the gate sprung. “And they're off.” Fisher watched through his binoculars as the number seven horse jumped to the lead.
“Great Jones in front,” called the track announcer.
The field raced into the first turn with Great Jones lengthening his early lead to three lengths.
“Easy, seven,” prodded Fisher, worried that his jittery horse had gone out too fast. Great Jones continued his lead into the back stretch. “Keep it going, keep it going,” Fisher urged, but the field was closing. “Hang in there. Man. Hang.” But Great Jones' stride was shortening, a sure sign that the horse had shot his wad way to early. Midway through the backstretch Great Jones was running neck and neck with three horses. “C'mon, seven. C'mon.” But Great Jones was fading. “Christ.” Fisher shifted his binoculars to the field passing Great Jones. “Where's the number three horse?”
“On the outside.” Jo squeezed past Miss Texas into the next seat. The pain in Fisher's gut suddenly disappeared.
Using his field glasses, Fisher found Twice Told Tails. The horse, a large bay with a dark mane, was running easily as the horses swung into the turn. Fisher followed the three horse drifting wide.
“What's he doing out there? He's giving up a hell of a lot of ground! Too much ground!”
But as the field hit the stretch, Twice Told Tails straightened.
“And down the stretch they come!” Called the track announcer. “Firemist in front, Standandeliver second, Blue Rider third.” Now as the jock on the three horse went to the whip Twice Told Tails found another gear and began passing horses.
“He's moving, he's moving,” said Fisher. “Big move!”
“Go, baby,” Jo called down at the track. “Go, baby.” The horse was in fourth and gunning for the leaders.
“Twice Told Tails moves into third,” called the announcer.
In a full-out sprint, the bay reeled in Standandeliver as if he was standing still, and now there was only Firemist to catch. The lead was three lengths and shrinking. Jo grabbed the back of Fisher's jacket.
“Run,” she pleaded, “run, run, run...” The bay closed to a length, than a half, then to a head. “Go,” screamed Jo. “Go, go.”
The crowd was on its feet, roaring. The horses ran stride for stride for the finish as if in lockstep, each seeming for an instant to nose ahead only to have the other horse pull even.
Jo was moaning, urging from a place deep inside her, her head thrusting back and forth, back and forth. “Ah, ah, ah, ah...” sweat was beading on her brow. “Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah...” The horses flashed across the finish. “Did he get it?”
“It's a photo,” said Fisher.
“Did you see?”
“I don't know. It looked dead even. Could you let go of my...” Jo realized she was still hanging on to the back of Fisher's coat like a lifeline.
“Sorry. I didn't even...”
“It's O.K., don't worry about it.” They were both exhausted.
“Sometimes it gets a little hairy,” she said.
“I know.” He smiled. He held out his hand and let her see that it was shaking. She leaned against him for a moment catching her breath. “Your horse ran big.”
“Your horse, too,” she said. Yes, their horse, joined together in the bet as if they'd been lashed to the horse's back. “He won, right?” Her eyes were Christmas morning wide. “He definitely won.”
“Don't know. Close.”
“No, he won,” she said determinedly as they walked in circles waiting for the board to post the official placings. “I know it. He won.”
“The results of the ninth race are now final...”
“Please, please please,” Jo begged as the P.A. paused for an hour seeming moment.
“...and the winner is number three, Twice Told Tails, followed by...”
Jo leaped into Fisher's arms and wrapped her arms around him. “Yes. Yes. Yes.”
“Yeah, baby. Yeah, baby.”
“I told you that horse," Jo said. "I told you.”
“Yes you did.”
“God, I love it. I love it.”
Fisher held her tightly, he could feel her body shaking with excitement. As he slowly lowered her down, her thigh brushed between his legs.
“You were right," said Fisher. "That horse coming down in class.”
“Stick with me kid.”
“I'd like to," he said.
“I love it, I love it, I love it.” She did an Irish jig over the torn bet stubs and spilled beer and Fisher laughed and clapped his hands watching her dancing for joy. “O.K., what do we got next?” she asked, still dancing.
“That was it.”
“That was it. The last race.”
“Oh, no. God.” She looked like she might cry. “Over?” Fisher knew the feeling, the coming off the high, suddenly there was no bottom, the fall went straight down. The only cure was the next bet. “Oh shit.”
“Are you all right?”
For a moment, she staggered, She reached for the wall, leaning on it like a fighter buying time on the ropes. “Yeah. Yeah.” She straightened up, throwing back her hair. “Why does it go so fast? Bad stuff drags. Things you like... pfft. Gone.” .
“Always was, always will be,” Fisher said.
“Why is that?”
“God?” And then she laughed; the laugh of knowing. “Yeah. That's about right.”
“So. I owe you another drink. Drink? Hell, dinner,” Fisher said. Jo smiled and started to nod, but something made her stop. She looked at her watch.” “I... I can't. Got to get back to Edgar's.”
“Yeah. I mean... yeah.”
“Come on. Win like this? Have to celebrate.”
She looked at him, clearly agreeing if only this was any other world. “Look. I can't. I can't.”
Of course you can, he thought. Come with me. Leap into the deep end with me, he wanted to say. But the words stuck in his mouth. Say something! Say something! Why couldn't he talk? Tell her that she can't go, that the time was now and in a moment it would be gone. This was their chance and she had to come with him. Fuck, Edgar's, fuck everything else on the planet. Bet on a longshot, shake up the world, Come with me now! But he said nothing and the moment was gone
“I'll take a rain check,” she said.
“Yeah. Well, I'm going to cash in.”
"Thanks for the...” Fisher held up the winning ticket.
Jo smiled. “No problem.” And she walked away.
Fisher followed her with his eyes, holding on as long as he could. “Turn around,” he whispered. “Turn around.” But when she finally did turn to look back, he had turned away and missed it.