Tuesday, October 13, 2009
The weather turned cold and damp, in the drizzling rain all the color seemed to have been sucked out of the race track. The grandstand looked like a penitentiary, the crowd thinned down to the hard core, the desperate and the lifers. Jo and Fisher's winning streak was over. Since the day Fisher cracked his head in the freezer, neither he or Jo could pick a thing. Long shots, favorites, hedge-bet parlays... nothing, nothing but losers. With the losing came the finger pointing; they were snapping at each other like turtles.
“What do we have left?" Fisher asked.
“Not much after that flyer we took on your horse," said Jo. "What was that brilliance? 'Green Fields'?”
“A prayer shot. Horse had done nothing.”
“Like you're picking anything,” said Fisher.
Jo muttered under her breath "better than you," and walked away.
“Where you going? Jo?"
“The can. You mind?”
“I'll be at the bar,” said Fisher. “You want something?”
He couldn't hear her reply so he ordered them both doubles and watched the replay of the race on the monitor over the bar. Green Fields was late out of the gate and never a factor. Ten lengths behind by the first turn, the horse didn't seem to give a damn, wanting nothing more than to get out of the cold and rain. Smart horse.
Almost a week had past since the ax fell at the Dispatch, but Fisher still hadn't told Jo. What the hell, just a job, right? On the worst day of the year he'd rather be at the track than cover soccer sectionals in the sunniest of fields. Still, being fired ate at him. He never liked being kicked out the door. Christ. Why the hell couldn't the God damn kid keep his God damn mouth shut? What would Jo think of him now that he was unemployed? How different was he from the rest of the sad face clowns roaming the the vast half-deserted stands?
Jo returned and sat next to him at the bar. She flipped the hair off of her face and picked up her double-Irish.
“I'm sorry, Fish. I don't like fighting.”
He felt better immediately, like a heat lamp had been turned on bathing him in warmth. He had never been a hand holder, particularly in public, but something about having her hand in his changed all the rules. Before he even knew it he told her about the Dispatch.
“Fired? Why would they fire you?”
“Some fucked up thing. They had it in for me.”
“But I thought your editor...”
“She's a whore.”
“I'm sorry, Fish.”
“Hey. What are you gonna do?” He forced a smile. But she knew better.
“You want to go?”
“Yeah, let's get out of here.” For the first time he could remember, Fisher realized there was someplace he'd rather be than the track.
Up the parkway they could see the flashing lights of police cars and E.M.S. vehicles. Traffic had moved less than a mile in the last half hour and frustrated drivers were leaning on their horns. Overhead, Fisher heard a different honking. He leaned out the car window and saw the geese in chevron flight flying south. He imagined what the water fowl saw below them, the long grey island turning brown, cars small as snails inching along.
Jo, reading his mind, said “Fish, let's get out of here.”
"I can take the next exit, but Broadway is going to be just as bad."
"No. I meant get out of Rosehill. I hate this place."
“Fine with me. Pretty much shot my wad.”
“You know... that horse you like...”
Fisher's pulse jumped. "J.D.'s Catfish."
"Yeah. He races Monday, right?"
“What do you have at Edgar's?”
“I don't know. Maybe five grand.”
“Not much. He'll go off as one of the favorites. Short odds”
“It's only Wednesday. By Sunday night after the weekend receipts, and if I don't make any deposits the rest of the week...”
Fisher nodded. Ahead the police had cleared a lane and traffic began to move.
She was late. They were suppose to meet at the paddock before the third race. He'd already backtracked their circuit from the saddle-up to the grandstand three times. Faces, faces everywhere, but not hers. He fed the anxious devil in his stomach a chili dog and washed it down with two beers and a Jack and Coke. Now he was fighting off the urge to throw up as the whole mess churned inside of him.
For the first time in weeks there was a good sized crowd filling the stands, definitely a bit of electricity in the air. Already on the day two long shots had come in, the second a fifty-to-one shot part of a daily-double pay out of over nine hundred dollars for a two dollar bet. On the track the third race was in progress. Two horses charged down the stretch, less than a neck separating them. Fisher had eschewed betting on any of the preliminaries, preferring to plow the few hundred he had left to his name all in on J.D.'s Catfish.
Their plan was to place the bet as close to post-time as possible, too late for the sharpies to jump in on their action and drive down the odds when the twenty-thou hit the win pool on the big board.
A roar went up from the crowd as another long shot pulled out the third race. Happy bettors were jumping up and down on their seats. So far, not a day for the favorites. For the tenth time, Fisher looked at his watch. Where was she?
Jo knew she was running late. The morning had been filled with small Edgar's fires that had to be put out; broken dishwasher, floor schedule fuck-ups, a pothole the size of an open grave in the parking lot. When the smoke cleared she ran down the basement steps not even bothering to turn on the office light as she knelt at the foot of the safe. It had been a banner weekend at the fish house. Two large parties arrived late and ate and drank well past closing on Saturday, and a surprise engagement brunch more than doubled Edgar's usual cover numbers on Sunday. She hadn't yet counted it all, but she was sure there was almost twenty-five thousand dollars in cash stuffed inside the safe. She wiped the sweat from her hand and spun the four number combination. The lock was stubborn, you had to be precise in order for the tumblers to click. When the safe gave way on her first try, she thought it augured well for all concerned. But when she opened the door the shelves were empty. Behind her she could hear the office chair turning. Jo nearly jumped out of skin as the desk lamp clicked on.
“How's it going, sweetheart?” a voice said.
“God damn it, Jack! That's not funny.”
“I thought you were going to hit the ceiling,” he said.
“And that would've been a riot. I almost swallowed my tongue.”
“Keep telling you. Always watch your back.”
“You're a sick fuck, you know that? A complete sick fuck."
"Calm down." Landy lit a cigar and smoked. He knew Jo hated when he did this in the small office, how territorial it was forcing her to breathe his imposed stink.
"When did you get back?” she coughed.
“Thanks for calling. Letting me know anything about where you were.”
“I did. I called a couple of times.” His smile faded. “I was told you were out."
"Where's the money?"
“Got it all right here.”
“Well, give it back. That's for the bills.”
“Twenty-five thousand dollars, Jo. That's a lot of money to keep sitting around. Doesn't look like you paid anything this week.”
“I've been letting the float get up a little bit. None of the purveyors are yelping.”
“Yeah, but if we should happen to get robbed... again.” Landy chuckled. Was there really a time, Jo thought, when she found that laugh sexy?
“Why did you take the money?”
“Because,” said Landy, staring at the glowing tip of his cigar, “I'm buying a restaurant in Florida.” The phone rang. Landy waited for Jo to answer it, but she just let it ring and ring.
“Another restaurant? Are you crazy? We're losing money here.”
“That's why I put it on the market.”
“You put Edgar's on the market! I don't believe it.”
“Believe it. I even put an add in your sportswriter's little paper.”
“You don't even ask me or give me some sort of...”
“Some sort of what?”
“I run this place. I've been here six days a week, fifty-two weeks a year...”
“You weren't here today.”
“Go fuck yourself,” she practically spat.
“What? I thought you'd be happy. Aren't you always telling me how much you hate it here? How dead it is? So now I'm getting us out. A new place on the Gulf Coast. Things are hopping there. You'll love it.”
“And whose gonna run it? You?”
“I'll set it up. Get everything going. But run it? That's what you do.”
“And if I don't want to?”
The corners of Landy's mouth lifted, stretching his thin lips into a smile of mockery. “What else you gonna do?” he asked. “Seriously. I mean besides dealing dope and blowing money at the track, what do you know how to do?”
Fisher ordered another Jack and Coke watching the time drip away like bubbles in a syringe. Fourth race, fifth race, sixth, seventh... No answer at Edgar's and it was fifteen minutes to post for the feature. "Jesus, Jo, c'mon," he muttered. He caught himself praying “God, please, give me this one, give me this one and I'll never ask again.” He was watching the odds on J.D.'s Catfish climb up to seven-to-one when a woman sitting on the next stool knocked his drink onto his lap.
“Jesus fucking Christ!” Fisher stood up, the crotch of his jeans soaked with whiskey and Coke.
“I'm so sorry,” the woman said wiping a bar nap across Fisher's groin. “Sorry, sorry, sorry,” she continued pressing with her palm feeling his penis through his pants.
“It's all right,” Fisher said pulling away. “It's all right.”
The woman signaled the bartender. “Could you buy this man a drink? A shot of Cuervo Gold for me.” When the young woman turned back she smiled in recognition. "You're David. Johanna's friend. We met at the harness races. I'm Sarah Dupre.”
“Yeah. I never forget a face. Take a picture in my mind. Click, click. I am so sorry about the golden shower. I don't know what happened. My balance is usually like a gyroscope. The earth must've moved or something.”
“How they running for you?”
“Not so great,” said Fisher.
“Man oh man. I know how that goes.”
The bartender, misunderstanding the order, set both of them up with shots of tequila. “No, I was Jack Daniels and..."
“Oh have a shot,” said Sarah. “It's on me. C'mon. Cheers.” She lifted her shot glass. Anxious to get rid of her, Fisher lifted his as well and drank. The sting of the mescal hit the back of his throat as Sarah inquired “Ever do a three way?”
“What?” coughed Fisher, nearly spitting up the drink.
“Box three horses. Trifecta,” said Sarah suggestively licking around the rim of her shot glass. “One time I bet every horse in the race.”
Fisher blinked. What did she say? What the hell was Sarah doing here? She was going to ruin everything. If Jo saw her at the bar she might turn around and abort the bet, thinking something was wrong. But nothing was wrong. The horse looked great at the mount-up in the paddock, the odds had gone up, they stood to make a killing if Jo would get her ass to the track in time to place the wager. Fisher checked his watch.
“Waiting on someone?”
“I see you keep looking at your watch.
“Maybe they're in the can. The excitement of the races and all. One of those facts of life.”
“No, I'm just trying to get a bet in.”
“Yeah? Who do you like?”
“Uh, Runaway Dan,” he lied.
“Three minutes to post,” announced the track P.A. Sarah downed the rest of her Cuervo and slid off the stool.
“Runaway Dan, eh? Well, thanks for the tip. Good luck, partner,” she said with a salute and disappeared into a crowd at the mutual windows.
Fisher walked away from the bar and stopped. He felt dizzy, had his drink been spiked? The grandstand spun around him.
He bent over waiting for the feeling to pass. Feet passed by him on the left and right. “Two minutes to post” announced the public address. "Two minutes." Two minutes. A hundred-and-twenty seconds, a hundred-and-forty-thousand dollars. Still time, still time. For Christ's sake pull it together. A pair of shoes stopped by him and Fisher looked up to see Jo.
“Jo! Jesus Christ. Where you been?”
“Two minutes to post. He's seven-to-one. Give me the money.”
“Jack took it.”
Took it? It didn't make sense. Fisher opened his mouth, but it was saliva-less and no words came out.
“He took all the money,” Jo said. “He's selling Edgar's. He was waiting for me in the office." Tears streaked her face. "He's buying a place in Florida. He wants me to go there and run it.”
Fisher held Jo in his arms, she was trembling like a winged sparrow, he could feel her bones through her skin. He ground his teeth together hard enough to chip a molar and his tongue instinctively felt for the empty space.
"And they're off," called the announcer.
Garbage gulls swooped from the sky diving for detritus, down on the track J.D.'s Catfish charged to the lead.