Shown: Santa Castillo-Reyes, Trainer Cornelius Turnbull, jockey Ellie Campbell, and "Subversive"The Mana Farms story line frequently contains mature language, topics, and situations. The characters within are fictional beings with weaknesses and faults, and I cannot promise you that you will like them for what they believe, say and do.
Subversive did not look like an old man. Other horses, famous horses, who contended for the last jewel in the Triple Crown in previous years had looked like old men, slumped in their chairs at the foot of a creaky old wooden porch, waving their cane in the air at the neighborhood children; full of fight yet, but weary and disinterested in chasing after those lawn treading little monsters. They’d reach out with their long bony arms, their neck stretching all the way, as far as it could go from the shoulders, screeching, “If you get any closer I’ll wallop you!” all the way down the stretch but usually some urchin would skirt right past, just out of reach, giggling and squealing under the wire first. Subversive, the Outlaw, the Mr. No-Ears, stood there glaring out at them and did not look like an old man. Visitors stayed just out of reach, and no one doubted his ability to wallop them.
“He looks too much like how Big Brown did,” Ramon thought aloud. He sighed out the last few words, his eyes focused on the snorting pawing bruiser behind the door, his gaze hard.
Subversive was prancing about his stall, neck arched, head down, lifting up his large black feet and driving them down into the hay strewn floor as though stamping out imaginary gophers in the tall prairie grass with the blade of a shovel. His ears were flat and tight against his skull giving him the “No-Ears” look he’d recently made iconic and he was twisting and turning and pacing and dancing.
“I don’t like it at all,” Ramon repeated, “I should, because you keep telling me I should, but I don’t.”
Santa uncrossed her arms and leaned a little closer to the fan, avoiding the presence of Brett North directly behind her, watching her, aware of the switch on his brother’s horse Martin StLouis and aware of what she and Eddie were currently attempting. It made her more conscious of the sweat and the fact that the fan she was depending upon for support was useless. The morning was already hot, steam rose in angry curling waves off of the gravel trails and the yellow track. Heads drooped, sweat trickled, unusually punishingly warm. The first week of June had rolled in like a French Revolution....aimed at the royals but unkindest of all to the peasants. In the dressed up offices of Belmont Park, owners donned their suits and prepared for the post position draw, hovering over trays of hors d’oeuvres shaped like horseshoes and round crackers topped with red pepper paste and oil laden olives, the whole treat resembling breasts. There they shook hands comfortably with others who met their criterion for class and wealth, coloured neck ties betrayed alliances to horses and farms, a gentle perfume of feminine charm, cigar smoke, and the ripe sweet scent of cosmopolitans wafted ghost-like through the suites. Down in the barns, however, cobwebs hung limp and unmoving in the breezeless corners, the smell of oats, warm and earthy, clung to droplets in the air as someone sprayed a tub clean. The whole group of them sat there, in dusty jeans, helmets, and protective vests, staring at the horse, waiting for a reply.
“Alright Eddie,” Cornelius began gruffly, “help me out.”
“Why?” Eddie snapped.
“Because Randy Harada is footing your hospital bill right now, that’s why,” Cornelius shot back. He pulled his cowboy hat off and fanned himself. Everyone stared at the small fan, wobbling back and forth on a metal folding chair, and wondered whether it was pumping out any air at all. Eddie remained silent. When it went on for too long, Ramon and Cornelius glanced pleadingly in Santa’s direction. It was, after all, the only use Mana Farms still had for her. Reason with Eddie.
“Eds,” she began.
“Oh is that Santa,” he chirped mockingly from back in the hospital room, “I thought you weren’t riding for us anymore.”
Santa’s tentative eyes met Cornelius’ hard ones.
“Of course I may have been delusional,” Eddie continued.
The silence hung in the air for a few seconds.
“Am I delusional?” Eddie demanded.
Cornelius sighed and turned back to the phone propped against the frame. “Now Eddie...”
“Because,” Eddie started again, “I remember some mean sonofabitch coming in yesterday and telling me that you’ve shoved my girls out of the picture.”
Cornelius glanced at the contented creature spread out on a saddle bench across from Subversive’s stall. His gleaming teeth were straight and clean and shaped in a perfect half moon of a smile. Brett North shrugged and raised his hand, “Uh...the meansonofabitch...that was me. He’s not hallucinating.” Brett raised his voice, “You weren’t hallucinating, Eddie!”
“Fuck off, Brett.”
“Fuck yourself, Eddie.”
“Alright enough!” Cornelius snapped, slamming his fist down onto the frame. Subversive jumped and snorted.
“He isn’t your horse anymore you sad sentimental bastard,” Brett whined from his bench, getting a final dig in. Santa shot him an angry look and he merely waggled his eyebrows at her. There was something about the way he taunted Eddie that made Santa stare. Something about his casual posture, the way his half smile came so loosely and freely to his lips, as if he was in possession of some great little secret. As if everything he said, everything he did, was a distraction so he could pull a quarter from her ear. She mistrusted his hands, his eyes, his mouth, didn’t care for the way he leaned back against the wall, the way his legs were spread, but she couldn’t stop staring at him. She was frozen in anticipation perhaps waiting for the quarter.
He gave her a knowing grin.
Cornelius continued, “Eddie, This is Subversive.”
“Corny, This is Ellie. The girl’s first time on the Outlaw and she wins the goddamned Preakness. That’s a hell of a cherry popping, boss.”
Santa smiled to herself. Where was Ellie? She should have heard that, that moment, that split moment where Eddie sounded himself again. She looked over her shoulder in the direction of the Brazen Fields barn which had, concerningly, been quiet and near void of activity all morning. It was only a second later, as that millstone-like sensation that had been hanging from her neck since the moment she’d woken up began to press a little harder on her chest, that she realized again that Laurence had not called her since they’d both returned from Quebec two days ago and Eddie Ne, just now, had not vouched for her. She wrapped her arms tightly around herself and waited for him to add her name to the case being presented.
Cornelius sighed and glanced at Brett North lounging on the bench behind him. “Can you win?”
“Sir, I can win while riding both the horse and the girl if you want.”
Cornelius ran his palm over the length of his face and murmured into the sweaty cup of it, “While that’d be quite the show, Brett, but I don’t need two jockeys for one horse.”
Brett shrugged, “I’m the better rider. I have a lot more endurance and strength and experience than an eighteen year old girl. But if you’re feeling charitable and want to let the little blonde girl have a shot at padding her college savings fund, it’s your tax deduction. I will get another mount for this race and I will ride to win.”
“That what I’m afraid of,” Cornelius mumbled to himself.
“Ellie has more than enough in her savings account,” Santa muttered under her breath but no one paid her any mind.
“Neither the Toughgirlie nor Blondie have any other options right now,” Brett pressed. He turned to Santa, “Aren’t I right? Who else has asked for you to ride in the Belmont?”
Santa looked away.
“Go shag another barn then, Brett,” Eddie snapped over the phone.
“This is just business, Ed. You weren’t a pussy either back in the day. You are now but...”
“Alright,” Cornelius growled, hands on his sides, staring down at his boots. The small group grew quiet. Even the Outlaw brought his head out over the door to listen. “Santa, I have to ask you one more favor.”
“I’ll tell her she still has the mount,” Santa answered.
“That’s not what I was going to say,” Cornelius sighed.
“Ella es un icono y tenemos fe en ella. Es la cosa correcta a hacer
,” Santa finished for him. She felt an urge, a sudden desperate desire to plead her own case, to take her old boss by the shoulders and beg Timpanac back, but she felt Brett’s eyes on her and tasted cold cheap beer in her mouth again. She wanted to trade places with him. She wanted what Brett had managed to obtain in as many years. She wanted to be able to easily shrug off a lost mount in a race as big as the Belmont, to be able to say, “I will get another mount and ride to win.” And when she looked over her shoulder at him, Brett North was still watching her, with his superior endurance and his superior strength and his superior experience, still smiling like he was reading her mind and feeling a puff of pride at her envy.
“Alright,” Cornelius sighed, “Alright. Brett?”
“I’ll move my gear to another barn.”
Santa watched him go as Cornelius took Eddie off of speakerphone and disappeared as well down the gravel trail that lead to the grandstand offices. Her mouth opened before her brain could process what it was up to.
He stopped half way between barns, turned and looked at her.
“That’s it? Santa waved her hands about her.
“Ellie has the mount,” he answered indifferently.
“And Marty? I have Marty, si?!”
“Oh...you mean this,” he asked, mimicking her waving her hands about. “You think my choice of clients is personal?”
“Aren’t you ‘playing the game’?”
Brett looked about him. “It’s not about you. You’re beautiful, sweetheart, but you’re not the reason I try everyday to get you off of every horse you’re on.”
“¿Dónde está la moneda?
“I don’t speak Spanish. Not even remotely.”
“Where’s the quarter!” she blurted.
He raised an eyebrow. “The quarter?”
“The quarter! I know you have one. You’re going to pull one out of my ear. You’re going to ruin this for me I just know it. Just like California.”
Brett laughed aloud. “I’m not ruining anything. In fact, I think Blondie getting Subversive and you getting my Martin StLouis is an act of distinctly not ruining anything.”
“You’re a dishonest ass.”
“And you’re a gorgeous woman, but you don’t see me complaining.” In the blink of an eye, he ran a practiced hand through the hair behind her left ear and grinned when she slapped the quarter in his hand away.
“Usted está enfureciendo
“Wow, look at you, formally insulting me. Usted
” he cheered, curling his fingers into quotation marks, “I give you a quarter and you slap my hand away. But at least I got an usted. Does Leclerc get this sort of fancy treatment? Or are the rumours true....you are on a more informal level now?”
“That’s none of your business!”
“I like you; thus, it’s entirely my business.”
“I’m listening,” came a small voice from the side.
The two sparring partners turned and regarded Ellie Campbell regarding them. Her arms were crossed tightly over her chest and her expression was sharp but sad. Santa Castillo-Reyes’ face drained when she saw the look in Ellie’s eyes.
“I thought you should know,” Ellie began, “That Laurence’s mother passed away this morning. And...,” she shot Brett a mistrustful look, “...I think it’d be better if we talked in private.”