“It’s just a joke that’s gonna be shouted from loudspeakers for the next 7 years. He’s gonna kill you.”
“No one will care.”
“You didn’t think about it at all?”
“Didn’t think that horse has the best bloodlines of any you’ve ever owned? Didn’t think he was going to be a winner? Jesus, I’m nervous just looking at him. He’s going to win, Gabe.”
“Not today,” Jesse yawns. “I’m going to bed. Two years, Gabe, mark my words, but your chickens are coming home sooner than that.”
“We’ll see,” is all Gabe says.
It’s two months almost to the day when Gabe’s phone rings and the caller ID shows Jack Morrison’s name.
“Jack. I’ve missed your dulcet tones. What’s the occasion?”
“You know damn well what the occasion is!”
Gabe grins. “I knew you couldn’t stay away forever,” he coos, patronizing
“Thought it was a good name. Reminds me of you.”
“Change it,” Jack says.
“I can’t,” Gabe says with amusement. “It’s already registered.”
He hears Jack hiss angrily. “You registered that name?”
“Sure did, last week.”
“I can’t afford the fee,” Gabe says with feigned, mournful, helplessness, and holds the phone away again as Jack starts shouting. He catches bits and pieces of the rant, waves at a passing stable boy and picks at a fingernail as Jack winds down.
“Everyone is going to know,” Jack says finally, and there’s catch in the last word so Gabe knows this is really getting to him.
“They already know,” Gabe replies. “C’mon, Jack. It’s a bit of fun.”
Gabe tries to picture him, face red, shaking his head and trembling with emotion.
“Gabe,” Jack says, and Gabe can hear the underlying emotion. He wouldn’t call it desperation, but it’s plaintive, a hint of vulnerability coming through. “Everyone will know. Not just the whole racing circuit. The country. The world.”
A moment of silence passes. Gabe hears a mockingbird call nearby.
“I wouldn’t have named a lesser horse for you,” he says in the quiet. “He’ll win, Jack. I suggest you make your peace with it.”
Time passes, and Jackie Boy flourishes. Under Jesse’s skilled supervision, he outpaces Gabe’s other yearlings in steadily widening gaps. Gabe’s hopes unfurl slowly like the tender wing of new hatched butterfly.
When Jesse comes to him late the next winter, he knows why.
Jesse sucks his teeth. “It could wait another year.”
Now Gabe’s attention is caught. “Do you think he needs another year?”
“No,” Jesse says immediately. “He’s ready. Are you?”
“If he’s ready, we run.”
“Will he be there?”
“He’s got that filly out of Liberty Beaches from the same year as Jackie Boy. I think he’s like to run her.”
Gabe drums his fingers on the table. “Good,” he says finally.
“What?” Gabe asks.
“I ran into Brigitte Lindholm last week,” Jesse says.
Gabe manages not to scowl. He remembers the girl.
“How is she?” he asks out of courtesy.
“She’s a groom now.”
Gabe grunts under his breath in acknowledgment. “At...”
“At Watchover, yeah.”
“If you have a point, can we get to it?”
Gabe doesn’t stop the smile that comes. “Guess he’s still mad.”
Gabe spreads his hands. “What’s he gonna do? Get out there and run himself? He doesn’t have a horse on Jackie’s level. I’d know if he did. Come on, Jesse. What’ve I got to lose?”
There’s no way out of it, he reasons with himself.
“Well formed,” Gabe repeats.
“He gets it from his father’s line,” Gabe says, walking closer.
“Out of Mistaken Identity.”
“Going back to the great Identity Crisis.”
“Of course I know it.” Jack doesn’t take his eyes off the horse. “I know everything about him.”
“I do,” Jack says, suddenly fierce.
Gabe takes his hand from his pocket and reaches forward, offering a peppermint to the horse on an open palm. Jackie takes it quickly, velvety lips brushing Gabe’s fingers. “Want one?”
“No,” Jack says tersely.
Jack shrugs. “Some people know what loyalty is. Getting in wasn’t hard.”
Gabe wishes he could take his gaze off Jack, because he’s still steadfastly refusing eye contact, but Jack being near to him is too rare a thing.
“Only if your security really can’t tell a real threat and someone else gets in.”
“It doesn’t matter.” Gabe lets it go.
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“You never did. All I wanted was a chance, you never even let me try.”
“Nothing you said would have brought her back.”
Jack sniffs suddenly, brushing a hand over his cheek and chin. Gabe realizes that he’s wiping away tears. “Jack,” he says, startled and concerned.
Jack leans forward, like he wants to extend his hand to the horse, but he pulls back.
Jack sniffs again. “It’s too late. We both know the rules.”
“It can’t be changed once the horse runs its first race. Tell me to do it right now, and I’ll scratch him. We won’t run today.”
“No,” pleads Gabe. “I mean it.”
“Tell me, and I’ll do it. You- you can pick the name.” Gabe feels an awful wrench to say the words. It feels like a tremendous betrayal, after two years of knowing this brave beautiful colt, to pull the rug out and remake him.
“No,” he says at last, and Gabe finds a breath. “No, this is what you wanted. What you thought was all right to do to me.”
Gabe nods, wordless. He is relieved, and disappointed, frustrated and unsatisfied. “Do you think you have a good chance today?” he asks with affected apathy, as if making ordinary conversation is unnatural.
He’d guess a fair few people.
He’s doubly glad he didn’t ask Jack to join him when Jack suddenly gives him a cold glare.
“Jack,” Gabe starts.
“Have your fun, Gabe. Today’s the big debut.” He gives the horse a last glance, and turns sharply to leave.
“Boss,” Jesse says immediately, breathless. “We got trouble.”
Gabe is at full attention now. “I just saw him...” he says.
“You did?” Much of the background noise on Jesse’s end drops off. “Did you, uh, talk?”
“He say anything about his horse?”
“A little. Not much.”
“What’s he running?”
“I don’t know exactly yet,” Jesse says, his voice growing from. “Ana will tell me, if I can find her.”
“But you saw it?”
Gabe swears under his breath. “That’s a Phantom.”
“I think so,” Jesse says.
“How?” Gabe asks dumbly. “Why? What was he-“
“Dam’s line,” Jesse says. “He found one, somehow. No one would advertise it, but they’re out there.”
“What are you going to do?”
“It’s not just him at risk,” Gabe struggles not to raise his voice, walking away from Jackie’s stall.
Gabe rubs his forehead. “What post position did he draw?”
There’s a brief rustling noise of paper. “Two.”
Gabe exhales measuredly. Jackie’s position is 12. “We run,” he says.
“Okay,” Jesse says.
“Tell Lúcio,” Gabe says as the thought occurs to him.
“I’ll pass the message on. You don’t want to see him yourself before we get started?”
Gabe does, but he can feel his pulse in his temples.
“If you didn’t catch it, I’m sure no one else is watching him closer.”
“What madman do they have riding that beast?” Gabe asks. White spots are forming in his vision and he wants to hang up but he’s still curious.
Gabe blinks, but it’s not a huge surprise. It may even be a slight relief; although he doesn’t envy the man the task before him, Genji Shimada is a talented jockey.
“Fine,” Gabe says. “Fine. Good. I’m going to, to talk to some people.”
“Hopefully I’ll be hammered by the time the news reaches me.”
Jesse doesn’t know if he means good news, bad news, or the local news media. He doesn’t ask. “See you in the box,” is all he says.
“Take... your.... hands... off me!” Jack’s face is flushed with anger.
“You know, I thought I knew the worst of you.”
“I knew you were petty, and unforgiving, that you hate yourself and everyone around you, I knew all that. But I didn’t think you’d stoop to this.” Gabe shakes his head. “Even for you...”
“It’s heartless. It’s cruel. Not just to the horse himself - and god knows if he’s anything like the rest of Phantom’s get, he’ll hate every second of it - but to every horse out there. You’d do that for your revenge?”
“You really are a piece of work,” Gabe laughs darkly. “You can’t honestly believe that.”
“I suggest you worry about your own horse,” Jack says, clipped, smoothing out his coat where Gabe had gripped it and left unsightly wrinkles.
“Keep your voice down,” Jack snaps, and Gabe forces himself to take a deep breath.
“Don’t do this, Jack. It’s not worth it.”
Jack smiles at him cryptically.
He pushes past Gabe, jerks the door open, and doesn’t look back.
“What do you mean, love will-“ Gabe calls after the shutting door, but it’s too late. He reaches in his jacket for his program, but it’s too late.
From his vantage in the stands, he has an excellent view of the field.
“You see him?” Jesse murmurs after a brief greeting.
“Yeah,” Gabe says. “He looks good.”
“Not him, of course he’s fine. Look.”
“Ten bucks says they can’t get him in the gate,” Jesse says with a little glee.
“It’s not funny,” Gave responds flatly. “I’m not taking that bet.”
Jesse sobers quickly. “You’re right,” he says. “Did you uh...”
“See the name?”
He gets the program out, scans the overcrowded page until he finds the lines he seeks.
2. No Love Lost
Owner: Jack Morrison/ Watchover Farms LLC - Trainer: Reinhardt Wilhelm - Jockey: Genji Shimada
“Almost as subtle as yours,” Jesse says, earning himself a glare.
“Whose side are you on, anyway?” Gabe demands.
It takes five tries to get Jack’s horse in the gate, and after the third attempt, Gabe is wincing and glancing away. The crowd has noticed the difficult horse; he can hear the murmuring.
“AND THEY’RE OFF!” The announcer crows through the speakers.
“Gabe,” he says. “What you told me to tell Lúcio...”
“I told him,” Jesse has to yell over the roar of the crowd, “I told him-“
Gabe can’t hear the rest, eyes fixed on the track.
That’s fine, Gabe thinks, that’s fine, but a little closer, almost time now and as if he can hear Gabe’s thoughts, he sees Lúcio give Jackie his head and let him run.
“THEY’RE NECK AND NECK!” screams the announcer, “ IT’S MY BOY JACK, NO, IT’S NO LOVE LOST, AND THEY’RE COMING DOWN TO THE WIRE!”
Gabe knows the answer in his heart before the photo appears on the Jumbotron.
“Ladies and gentlemen, your winner, the number 2 horse, No Love Lost! Certainly a lot of love gained today for a horse with a lot of heart!”
“That’s all you have to say?”
Jesse spreads his hands helplessly. “What should I say?”
“You could start with sorry,” Gabe grumbles. Now that the shock has passed, the tension is draining out of his limbs
“It’s not the end times,” Gabe grumbles. “Let’s go, move.”
Jesse lurches out of the way as Gabe crowds him. “Where we goin?”
A vague memory bubbles up, of Jack a few hours prior, telling him he wouldn’t want to see him after the race. He brushes it off.
Jack had said if the race went as expected, he wouldn’t want to stay.
“You’ve got a weird look on your face,” Jesse informs him
Jesse mutters something under his breath that sounds suspiciously like “wouldn’t count on it,” but when Gabe says “hm?” he switches gears.
“It’s a damn shame,” he says, “but he didn’t race badly, y’know.”
Jesse coughs. “I don’t doubt him.”
“Is that a but I hear?”
Gabe nods as they approach the track, ducking through the crowd. Ahead of them, Genji Shimada is bringing Jack’s horse around from its victory lap, and the horse is in much the same state as when they’d seen him before.
“He sure is a nervous beast.”
Both men turn at the sound of the voice, a familiar rasp.
“Jack,” Jesse says with a warm smile. “I should congratulate you, though I’m not sure I agree with your methods.”
“Everyone will,” Jack says, and he looks at Gabe finally, like he hadn’t noticed he’d been standing there the whole time. “Gabriel.”
“Oh?” Jack’s smile is chilly. “Will you? I thought you’d be headed down to Miami. I won’t be there.”
Jesse shifts beside him and clears his throat “WELL,” he says loudly. “Gabe. Time to check on the boy.”
“Of course,” Gabe says, staring Jack down even as he feels Jesse’s hand tug his elbow.
“I guess we’re going to fucking Miami!” Gabriel snaps, at the end of his patience.
“You did good, kid.”
Lúcio looks disappointed nonetheless. “Sorry, boss. He wanted it.”
Lúcio grins. It’s a joke, he’s ridden several of Gabe’s horses in the same race in past years. “Always wanted to see Miami.”
“Let’s make it happen,” Gabe says.
Gabe is pleased to win but ready to look forward. He plots out several races over the next few months, a steady schedule that will prepare them for major stakes races.
He absolutely does not consider which races Jack will be likely to attend with his hellbeast. He puts the thought completely out of mind.