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©02 The Media Desk
Sometimes missions never turn out the way you expected. Which was one of the reasons I always went prepared for the worst. If I drove to a mission site, I was able to literally live in my car for three days. I packed at least dad's .38. I had enough cash on me to catch a bus back home if I had too. I would have maps of the area, and even a phone book if I could get one. Being prepared cost little more than not, but not being ready for anything could get very expensive in a hurry.
Almost every time I went out, I learned something, and seldom did I have to be taught twice.
And this time was no exception.
I hadn't ever been to Louisville, Kentucky. And now I was right in the middle of it during Derby Week and wondering how to extract myself from the situation without winding up floating in the Ohio River.
theHunter: I thought fixing horse races was a thing of the past?
Bishp42: The last time one of the field horses finished in 'place' in a major race, our boys won a quarter of a million dollars combined.
theHunter: But the payout isn't that big for them.
Bishop42: Given the odds, and spreading their bets out over several frontmen, they do very well. And the risk of getting caught by dealing with the second and third place finishers is greatly reduced. The focus is on the winner.
>theHunter is nodding thoughtfully.
theHunter: So how do they fix the race?
Bishop42: If we knew that, you wouldn't be involved.
theHunter: But I'm not a horse doctor, I've never even BEEN to a horse race.
Bishop42: We have a doctor who will meet you there, and I don't expect you to do more than drop a few dollars at the mutual window.
theHunter: Any tips?
Bishop42: Ten dollars on Sarg's Pride to win at 12 to 1.
The veterinarian, Dr. Lucas, was a very old man who started telling me horseracing stories when I picked him up at the Louisville airport. He had seen horses swapped before and after races, he told me about shooting horses up with everything from oyster extract to adrenaline, and then there was the old electric zapper under the saddle.
"On the horse they were betting on?"
He chuckled at me. "Sometimes, but usually they'd stick it on the competition to break the horses stride, real big with trotters."
He went on to explain how the gambelers knew all the tricks, and stayed one jump ahead of the tracks and authorities.
I was beginning to get the picture. "So even if there is no fix in, just the rumor there is can throw the betting off on a race and give them an edge."
He touched the end of his nose, "Boy. You ain't as dumb as the Bishop said you is." He chuckled for ten minutes.
The credentials the doctor had with him said we were from some gaming and licensing commission. The gate attendant at the track looked at us curiously, but let us pass in a minute. I drove to the paddock area and parked out of the way.
"Where to first?" I asked Dr. Lucas.
"I think we should just walk around and take a look at the field horses that are here. Become familiar with them and see if we see anything unusual."
I shrugged. I wouldn't know something unusual in a horse stall if I were looking at it unless it was a giraffe, but it seemed like a plan. At least someplace to start.
Several of the people working in the horse barns knew the doctor. They talked at length about everything to do with horses. I stood around, looked around, and people watched.
I don't know anything about horses and horse people, true enough. But I do know something about people that are up to no good. And I saw a couple of them in the next barn over.
As Dr. Lucas talked to one of the trainers, I stood behind him and watched the guys across the road. One of them seemed very nervous. He looked around and moved a lot. The other guy was very intent on a clipboard and a calculator. They paid some attention to the horse in the stall, then went away.
"I'll be right back." I told the doctor after they had been gone about five minutes.
He nodded and continued discussing the finer points of horseshoe alloys.
In the stall was a rather unremarkable horse. Most of the ones I had seen so far had a fire in their eyes, or were high strung, or looked more or less intelligent. This one, Mayor Brighton, according to the name on its stall, didn't look like the rest. It stood in its stall and seemed to be half-asleep on its feet. It looked at me with complete unconcern and swished its tail to keep the flies moving.
I walked down the barn. Other horses neighed or watched me curiously. I looked over my lineup for the race. Mayor Brighton wasn't in the Derby itself. But it was in a race before that, and listed as a longshot. I kept looking around.
My two characters were in another barn, petting a different horse, while checking the clipboard.
This horse, Hollywood Starr, was in the Derby. And with odds like a phone number.
I don't know anything about horses. But I know people. And my instincts were telling me to bet on Mayor Brighton and Hollywood Starr to come in near the front this coming weekend.
I told the doctor about what I had seen and my feelings. He agreed and would see what he could find out about the horses. Meanwhile I dug through my car for some surveillance equipment.
Within a couple of hours I had a horse's eye view of the stables, with some small eavesdropping microphones in the area of the two stalls. I set up in the office of the track vet who was an old buddy of the doctor's and was upset just with the idea that somebody might be trying to influence the sacred Kentucky Derby.
Within the next day and a half I had gathered a good deal of information, but to me it didn't make any sense. I took what I had to the doctor, and the track vet.
"They're feeding the field horses downers?" I asked.
"In effect. These horses will be lucky to get out of their own way by post time. But even a good blood test looking for these chemicals would be hard put to detect them."
"It sounds like they are giving different amounts to several of the animals." I pointed out, "So the finishing order will be stacked."
Dr. Lucas nodded. "Ingenious." He stared at the screen of my laptop with the still pictures of the men. "Now, this seems to be moving into your area. What do we do about it?"
"Find out who their bosses are." I clicked through the pictures until I came across a well-dressed gentleman with a cane talking to the men outside the stall of Hollywood Starr. "Beginning with him."
"Can you enlarge that?" The track vet asked over our shoulders.
I clicked here and there. "That's the best we're gonna get."
"Colonel VonBraken." The track vet said slowly.
"That's him." Dr. Lucas added.
I wrote the name down. "And who is Colonel VonBraken?"
The veterinarians looked at each other. "Money." Dr. Lucas said.
"Dirty money." The track vet added.
I nodded as I stared at the screen. "I'll see what else there is to know about the good Colonel."
Keia worked her magic with the research in a matter of hours. She sent me a file with everything there was to know about the man including what he liked for dinner at the track; steak and lobster tail, with greens and a fruit cup.
With the new information and what I had at the track, I literally drew a picture of the people the two with the clipboard, Misters Herman Ross and Leroy Donnybrook, and the Colonel had dealings with. It became a spider web of trainers and owners of the lower ranking horses at several tracks nationwide.
With that the picture started getting a lot clearer.
One of the perpetual also-rans would suddenly finish well in a major race. And the betting wing of the syndicate would make out like bandits at the windows.
"Using off track betting from California to Delaware they keep from changing the odds on their horse. And from the background the Research Division has given us, this bunch has been active in tracks all over the place for the last year or so."
Dr. Lucas nodded thoughtfully. The track vet's face got longer and longer.
Finally he spoke, "And some of the horses listed have come in with papers saying they had a private vet."
"Can you check that? See who the vet is for these owners?" Dr. Lucas asked.
"Easier done than said." I smirked and typed into the laptop. It connected with Keia's machine and in a few minutes I had the information compiled.
"Gulfview Large Animal Veterinary Association." Dr. Lucas read off the screen. "I've never heard of them."
"Neither have I." The track vet said. He reached for a directory on his desk. After checking a few pages he shook his head. "They're not in here."
"A front for the Colonel's buddies no doubt. The same basic thing with minor changes is listed here three or four times for everybody on the list." I said.
"We need to get inside this outfit and find out who is behind all this."
Dr. Lucas smiled. "That's what our boy here is for." He patted me on the shoulder.
It didn't make my day.
And two days later when I was attending a cocktail party posing as a waiter to get some more names and background information, I decided maybe there could have been a better way.
Three thugs, heavily armed wearing bulletproof vests under their double-breasted suits stood at every door. The Colonel sat at the head table with several very important looking people. Wandering around taking pictures with my micro-camera, I recognized a few individuals. One was a Mafia heavyweight, another was a major sports figure, some politicians were in the crowd.
I realized not all of them were in the conspiracy, but a lot of them were by the biographical information we had. I started noticing cliques towards the end of the evening, and some of them were involved in the ring.
"HOLD IT! HOLD EVERYTHING! Ricardo, Boris, shut those doors right now!" A man shouted from the front table. My blood began to grow cold, but I kept ferrying drinks back and forth from the bar to some of the back tables. "I have just been informed that somebody we all know has turned state's evidence against a couple of horse owners about blood doping. If you had a pony in a race in the last month, and I think we all have, you had better call your lawyers and find out what's going on."
My internal alarm went off. It was a smoke screen. Somewhere there had been a leak and my cover was now thinner than the salt on the rim of a used margarita glass. But so far none of the goons were looking my way. The audience was talking amongst themselves. Many phones were out and being dialed. Some of the people got up and headed for the exits with pagers or databanks in hand.
I used the commotion to grab a rack of dirty plates and headed for the exit. Knowing I may only have a few seconds to get out before the Colonel or somebody got my description and had the gorilla squad looking for me.
I had made it to the kitchen before the storm broke in the dining room. I dropped my waiter's coat in the trash and ducked out the back door, dad's gun in my hand. Two of the hired guns were standing in the parking lot, looking around. I dove behind a bush and wondered how best to get to my car a block away.
There was voices coming closer from behind me, I decided to go for it by the most direct route. I got about halfway before several of the men were behind me. They never even shouted, they just started shooting.
I didn't return fire. There was no point. I knew in moments they would be after me in cars. It was all I could do to get in my car and barrel out of town. Not wanting to risk being perused on unfamiliar roads in Kentucky, I crossed the river as soon as possible and headed into Ohio. Once I got some distance between me and any pursuit I called Keia and had her send a message to Dr. Lucas to collect our stuff and get out. She assured me that he already had but wasn't sure how to warn me that somebody at the track had discovered our endeavor.
In the end, it worked out for the best. The Colonel and several others were busted on fixing races at other tracks, and the suspected horses were replaced in the Derby. Many of the others were given suspensions by the racing associations or the tracks, others went underground.
The sticker I got from the Bishop the next day said, 'Better Luck Next Time' around a horse that could best be described as an also-ran.
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