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Blood Lies
Blood Lies
Blood Lies
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Blood Lies

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"A real winner, this one!"--LA Times
Blood Lies brings romance and mystery in the Kentucky Bluegrass to horse lovers and suspense fans! At fifteen, Edward Falk Whysse, called Ted, fled his family's magnificent Kentucky Thoroughbred breeding farm, Holyhead. He fled as well his vengeful infatuation with Lucky, his hated father's beautiful young wife.
Now, eight years later, Ted returns to Kentucky. His father's dying, but Ted's not there to make peace. Nor has he come back to contest Lucky's ownership of Holyhead's most spectacular creation, the Triple Crown winner Kite. Instead he comes to pay homage to his best friend, premier jockey Alejo Asolo, who died when his Lexington horse-country home burned down.
The police conclude Alejo's death was murder and their investigation begins to implicate the residents of Holyhead, especially Lucky. Does she know what Alejo was up to? Did she have a hand in what got him killed? Ted hopes that shielding Lucky will buy him her love, spiting his father's ghost.
Slowly Ted pieces together the threat Lucky lives under—and the secret Alejo died for. Every truth he learns digs him deeper into heartache and betrayal. The life of the great stallion Kite hangs in the balance unless Ted can uncover the blood lies of his past and face them. But rescuing Kite means sacrificing Lucky and the vengeance he's long craved—and maybe his own life as well.

Release dateJul 1, 2015
Blood Lies
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V. S. Anderson

Would you rather see my books than read about me? (The books are a lot more entertaining--at least I suspect so). To find them, you can scroll endlessly to the bottom of this verbiage, or you can check out the titles and ID numbers:KIng of the Roses: A Horse Racing Mystery: "I used to think Dick Francis has no peer. . . . Now I am not so certain."--The Maryland Horse (547497)Jockey Chris Englund has won five Kentucky Derbies, horse racing's jewel. But his uncompromising honesty has stalled his career. Out of the blue, he gets the leg up on the odds-on Derby favorite. But Derby week turns to ashes when he's offered half a million dollars to throw the race. But if he rides to win, he will destroy a great horse and lose the woman he loves.Blood Lies: "A read winner, this one." --The Los Angeles Times (547498)Young Ted Whysse comes home to his family's fabulous breeding farm to investigate his best friend's death. He wants no part of his inheritance, nor of the magnificent stallion Kite. What he wants, though his heart knows better, is his dying father's beautiful young wife. But when he learns she has a deadly secret, he must risk other lives to save her—including his own.NEW! Three Strides Out: A Horse Show Novel of Suspense (1313051)Adrenaline’s good for something, Robb Slaughter tells people when they ask where he found the courage to climb into a burning trailer to rescue a valuable horse. But it will take more than adrenaline for Robb to find out who put that horse there and why—and to make the monsters pay.If you're a glutton for words, read on! (You've been warned.)I was probably about ten years old when a cousin (or perhaps an adult in my extended family?) told me, "You're just a kid. You can't write a book!" I remember planting my fists on my hips (well, metaphorically, anyway), and answering, "I can too!"And I did.My books were wilder, crazier, than the Black Stallion books I devoured. I still have the first one, in pencil on lined notebook paper. It was about this wild black mare who would come storming down out of the north Georgia mountains—believe it or not, an exotic never-never-land to an Atlanta schoolgirl—to steal tame horses right out of their stalls and carry them off to her secret hideout in a hidden cove.In fact, the whole reason I wanted to write books was to capture my dreams of horses. So I wrote and wrote and wrote, drafting, revising, feeling that flush of excitement when you just can't write fast enough to get down the exciting things that are happening. I was hooked on horses, and hooked on writing about horses. Then on writing itself. I had a special Schaeffer cartridge pen, and I loved the way the ink flowed out of it; I loved making the shapes of the beautiful letters on the page.But I still wanted most to write about horses, and to own one. It was my practical and sensible dad who said, "You can't save enough money to buy a horses." I was sixteen. Fists on hips again. "I can too!"And I did. For the next twenty-five years, I owned horses, all kinds. I taught riding, broke babies, bought, schooled, and sold Thoroughbreds off the racetrack. I went to work for a trainer on the backside at Tampa Bay Downs. I came to know busy shedrows as the sun rose; the heartbeat throb of galloping horses working in sets down the backstretch; Cuban coffee in the crowded tackroom; the creak of the walking machine after we gave the horses their baths. I knew what it was like, for a short time, to have my own racehorse, to master his wild explosions as he tried to wheel and bolt with me on the track. I knew what it was like to be run away with and learn to like it (almost). I loved it.And I finally put it in a book.This one was a lot more plausible than my wild-mare story, but it gave me the same thrill. But that was nothing to thrill of getting it published. King of the Roses (St. Martin’s, 1983, now available on Smashwords at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/547497) is the story of champion jockey Chris Englund: At the end of his career, he’s got one last chance to win a sixth, record-setting Kentucky Derby—until he’s offered $500,000 to throw the race. When he learns that defying the crooks and riding to win will possibly ruin the horse and cost him the woman he’s come to love, he finds that what his reputation demands isn’t what his conscience compels him to do. Into Chris and his world, I threw all the ins and outs, all the hopes and fears, all the people and their language, that had engulfed me on the racetrack. When I was done, I thought, now for something completely different. But my editor said, "I want you to write one about the Thoroughbred breeding industry."So I did.In Blood Lies (Bantam, 1989, also available on Smashwords at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/547498), young Ted Whysse comes home to Kentucky to investigate the murder of his best friend. He doesn’t want any part of his inheritance, the fabulous old stud farm, Holyhead; he doesn’t even want the farm’s finest treasure, the champion stallion Kite. What he does want, though in his heart he knows better, is his dying father’s beautiful young wife, Lucky. When he learns that Lucky has a secret that’s likely to kill her, he has to decide how many other lives he’ll put at risk to save her. Will he risk his own?So I owe a lot to horses--two whole books! But I owe more. It was the process of writing and rewriting, under the guidance of wonderful editors, that prepared me to move beyond my horse stories. After returning to grad school and earning a Ph.D. in teaching college writing, I published articles in most of our major journals. Now retired from teaching, I have as many as four different writing projects going all the time. My two novels-in-progress—no, wait, three—no, four!—proceed apace. I host two blogs, justcanthelpwriting.wordpress.com, about my experiences and observations as a published novelist, and collegecompositionweekly.com, which summarizes current research for college writing professionals.In all these projects I'm grateful for the gift of writing, which, in the end, I really owe to those darned horses who made me want to write in the first place. I've come to know that what writing teachers tell their students is true. Writing is a means of inquiry and discovery. It's a way of finding out what you know and what you'd like to know. It's a way of making daydreams solid. It's a way of finding out what's beyond those closed doors people sometimes tell you can't be opened. For me, writing has opened many doors.I used to do my writing sitting in a canoe tucked into a crook in a Florida river. Now I do it looking out at a southern Indiana cornfield, watching the goldfinches and cardinals and hummingbirds mob my feeders. The cats and dogs are sprawled all around me in their favorite places. And down the road, my lovely horse Paddy is no doubt dreaming that I'll come ride him. Or at least give him peppermints. I've got a story about him out there in dreamland, waiting. It's going to be about this girl who wanted more than anything to ride. . . .

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    Blood Lies - V. S. Anderson

    Praise for Blood Lies

    Another welcome find is Virginia Anderson, whose hefty BLOOD LIES (Bantam Crime Line) borders on Dick Francis’ turf, the world of thoroughbred breeding and training in Kentucky. It is not surprising to learn that Anderson . . . has herself raised and trained thoroughbreds. The workings of the business, from feeding to syndication, are written out of obvious and engrossing knowledge. . . . Action abounds, and it all centers on characters, the boy especially, who have dimension, including depth. A real winner, this one.

    ---Charles Champlin, Los Angeles Times

    The plot is complex, the character development is detailed and the style is eminently readable. . . . The climactic scene will keep you on the edge of your seat. Altogether, I would call Blood Lies an extremely good read.

    ---St. Petersburg Times


    By V. S. Anderson

    Copyright 2015 V. S. Anderson

    License Notes

    This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

    Author Note

    Blood Lies was originally published in 1989 by Bantam Books. This is a revised edition. However, it has not been revised to reflect changes in technology, such as the use of cell phones, since its original publication. It is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any actual person, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

    Cover Design by DDCovers

    Also by V. S. Anderson



    Table of Contents

    Part One

    Part Two

    Part Three

    Other Books by V. S. Anderson


    About the Author

    Connect with Me Online!


    Chapter 1


    Two days and a night. Bitter roadside coffee, the slimy stars of dead moths on the windshield. Poisonous truck fumes on 1-75. An hour’s fitful sleep in the back seat of the Firebird, an hour in which he dreamed that it was Holyhead that had burned.

    He had never been to the trailer, but he knew exactly where it was. Alejo had said, You know the big tree in Langston’s south pasture that lightning hit? Just down the hill from that, on the corner. And Ted had answered, Oh, yeah.

    Alejo spent every spring and fall in the fancy doublewide on the small square of land. Now I am so rich, he said, all America is my home. But Keeneland Racetrack was always good to me. I will always ride there. Even when I am more famous than Willie Shoemaker, I will always go back to Kentucky.

    Yeah, Ted had answered. And maybe one day Lexington will elect you mayor.

    A statue in the paddock at the racetrack is all I ask.

    Alejandro Asolo had not earned his statue. He had not become more famous than Willie Shoemaker. He had not had time.

    Ten years ago, Ted’s thirteenth summer, three broodmares had been killed when lightning struck that tree in Langston’s pasture. He found the trailer easily. Very little had changed.

    The cops had stretched a large sheet of black plastic on the trodden grass. On the plastic they were dumping small, charred piles. Ted could not believe the framed win picture had survived. He reached to pick it up. It was scorched, blistered, but the row of familiar faces grinned bravely through the soot: Alejandro’s, Teresa’s, Sunny’s, his own.

    One of the policemen turned and saw him. Hey! Put that down!

    He straightened. The cop waved a buddy over and they both advanced, arms held out from their sides.

    Something we can do for you? one of them asked. He had round, soft-looking cheeks, and a plump, pursed mouth, but his hard little eyes glinted under his hat brim.

    Ted dropped the picture wearily at their feet. I’m looking for Mrs. Asolo.

    She’s gone. What’s your name?

    I was a friend of Asolo’s. I drove up from Miami when I heard.

    Friends got names, the cop said.

    He could smell it. He had told himself the spring wind and the harsh overlay of charred wood, fused metal, and melted plastic would have carried it off, but he had been wrong. He stepped backward, groping behind him. Maybe the fat-cheeked policeman thought he was bolting; he shoved him back against a tree. But the other policeman, a younger, leaner man, said, Sit down on the ground a minute, kid. Put your head between your knees. You’ll be okay.

    The inner walls of the trailer had been reduced to gummy filaments; the cops sorting the rubbish brushed them gingerly aside, shaking their hands afterwards, as if freeing themselves from cobwebs.

    So you were a friend, the lean cop said.

    Ted tugged his wallet from his hip pocket, thumbed out his driver’s license, and offered it silently. The cop flipped it back and forth, looking at both sides. So when did you last talk to your friend?

    February. End of the Gulfstream meet.

    The cops looked at each other. Racetrack in Miami, said the lean one. You a jockey, too?

    Exercise rider.

    The fat-cheeked one smiled. And you came running up from Miami to see Asolo’s wife the minute you heard he was dead.

    Ted didn’t let himself answer. The cop handed his license back. He kept himself busy putting it away.

    Whysse, said the lean cop thoughtfully. He had a quick country grin and he used it, invitingly. We got a family named Whysse here. Out the Barbury Pike, big fancy stud farm called Holyhead. You any relation?

    Would I be galloping horses on the racetrack if I was?

    I don’t know, the lean cop answered. Whysse isn’t a name you see a lot. S. J. Tellich, said the brass plate on his uniform pocket; he wore regulation shoes, blunt, shiny; he went on grinning as he stubbed them in the dirt. You know any of this guy Asolo’s other friends?

    Just people he knew around the racetrack.

    Then maybe you were his closest friend?

    In Miami I guess I was.

    You told each other things?

    Like what?

    Well, said the young cop, looking as if he were hard put not to start yawning, like, did he happen to drink a lot?

    As much as anybody, I guess.

    You ever see him really drunk?

    Like, pig-eyed, staggering drunk? the fat-cheeked cop said.

    But it was the young cop, Tellich, Ted answered. So drunk he couldn’t get out of a burning trailer? No. He kept his tone quiet. Wasn’t it the fire that killed him, then?

    But once more, instead of answering, Tellich changed tack. You planning to stick around, Mr. Whysse?

    If Teresa—Mrs. Asolo—needs me.

    You might call in to the sheriff’s department, let us know where you’re staying. If you want to help out, that is.

    Where is Mrs. Asolo staying?

    The Dogwood. Her sister’s with her.

    Maybe I’ll stay there.

    Yeah, maybe you can translate for them, the fat-cheeked cop sneered.

    Grief like Teresa’s would need no translation. But Ted bit back his answer and let Tellich follow him back to the Firebird. The cop traced a line in the dust on the hood.

    Be thinking who his friends were, he said quietly. Friends he might have told things to.

    Alejo knew a lot of people. He liked company.

    Enjoy the Dogwood. There’s a truck stop down the street But when you go there don’t order Frieda’s home fries. They suck.

    Thanks for the warning, Ted said.


    At the Dogwood Motel, Teresa Asolo’s sister answered his knock. The sister had a scarred face like rough-cut cedar; the two sharp wings of her brows stooped down over suspicious eyes. She closed the door quickly behind her. Teresa is sleeping.

    But suddenly Teresa squirmed past her and grabbed Ted’s arms, dragging him inside. Teresa’s face was round and full, with flat, black, almost Asian eyes. Her bronze cheeks glistened. She pulled him down beside her on the rumpled bed.

    He lied to me, Ted. He said he quit it. He said he don’t see those people no more. Her accent gave her words a sharp, short tone, like the notes of a porcelain bell. All lies.

    They are calling it an accident, aren’t they?

    But it was! You think those people killed him?

    Nobody kill him, the sister said from the doorway. He kill himself. Her accent was stronger: not porcelain but clay. You heard the policemen, Teresa. You heard what they said.

    Tell me, Ted asked Teresa. Tell me what they said.

    He was drunk.


    He had cocaine—

    There was a slight spitting noise from the doorway. Teresa turned on her sister, wild-eyed. You don’t know, she said. You never knew him.

    The sister didn’t answer. Her black eyes sparked.

    She’s just jealous, Teresa hissed, clutching Ted’s hand. Because not even her own husband loves her like Alejo loved me.

    The sister went to the mirror. She pulled a barrette from her hair and stabbed it back in. What do you know about my husband? About the three good sons I raised who never touched that stuff in their lives? She went into the bathroom and slammed the door.

    Teresa closed her eyes. She’s right. I shouldn’t have said it. Her tears beaded like oil on that fine-grained honey skin.

    ‘Teresa . . . they found cocaine? Actually found it?"

    I don’t know. They asked me who he bought it from. She shook her head. I don’t know. I don’t want to know.

    I want you to think. I want to know, for myself.

    She made a quiet effort, just as she had the time Alejo strapped her into a hang glider and showed her where to put her hands and calmly asked her to step off a California mountainside. And, as then, she succeeded.

    They asked me what he would use a blowtorch for. And if he had any pipes. Glass pipes. They found pieces. I told them it must have been other people, my husband did not do such things.

    You told them you knew what they were talking about?

    Anyone can know that. If you read the magazines in the supermarket line you know about that. She jerked her head toward the bathroom door. Even her good sons know, I bet. They go to school, don’t they?

    The tears came faster, a silver sheen. He wrapped his arms around her. Don’t worry about the cops. Let them think what they want. They can’t hurt you.

    No, she agreed. That was for Alejo to do.


    In the spring the air still remembers snow, and four o'clock in the morning is a cold time anyway. Moisture rising from the ground turns to fog, white on the chill. He slept in his car by the Keeneland Racecourse stable gate, and when he woke around four the misty air outside the rimed windows seemed so solid he might have been wrapped in white tissue inside a box.

    He couldn’t drive into the stable area because he didn’t have a Kentucky track license or a sticker on his car. But soon the headlights started coming, boring toward him through the fog.

    He didn’t have to wait long. The car was low-slung and dark. It stopped a hundred yards past him, paused, and then backed. It was the Turk. The Turk sat for a minute with his elbow out the window, frowning. Ted turned on the dome light. The Turk got out and climbed in beside him. The jockey had been reducing hard. His face was like something that had been wrung out over a sink.

    Well, I ain’t surprised to see you, he said. What a shame, huh? You think somebody snuffed him, Ted?

    What for?

    How should I know? God knows what he was into.

    Nothing we haven’t all had a taste of.

    Well, maybe you have.

    Ted let it drop. It sounds like he was freebasing. He never did that shit in Miami.

    He never did it where you could see him, son.

    Did you see him?

    I wasn’t that good a friend of his.

    Then who the hell was?

    What’s the matter? The Turk propped a cowboy boot on the dashboard and scratched the inside of his thigh. Grow up, Teddy. So the car’s yours now, huh?

    I could have done without it.

    And the colt?

    I thought you weren’t that good a friend of his.

    But I know people who were. The Turk patted the car door absently. Who’d you come out here to see? Not me. McKinnon? He’s probably not even here yet. It’s just poor jocks like me who have to hit this place before they get the coffee warm. Say, Teddy, you been home?

    Nobody’s died there.

    You don’t know what a hell of a joke you just made.

    Ted looked at him. But there was nothing to be read in that haggard face other than a mild, mocking pleasure. The Turk swung his foot down and opened the door. Gotta go to work. Tell Mrs. Asolo I’m real sorry. I hope she’s not pregnant or nothing.

    She’s not.

    If I see McKinnon, I’ll tell him to come out and get you.


    The black Camaro shot forward, disappearing into the predawn darkness. And Ted settled back to hope that whoever came along next would be someone he could ask who else had died.


    Surprisingly, the Turk kept his word. He did send Sunny McKinnon out to get him. Sunny was a licensed trainer, with all the appropriate insignia, and when Ted rode through the stable gate beside him in the littered truck cab, the guard didn’t even look to see who his passenger was.

    Sunny was a big man, with a mashed-in, bouncer’s face. He glanced sideways at Ted’s profile as they rattled through the fog. Why in shit didn’t you phone and tell me you were coming?

    When was the last time you knew me to do a sensible thing like that?

    Kid, I been telling you for years, you got to look for a place to land before you jump off the cliff, not after.

    Man, I just look to see where you’re standing. I know you’ll catch me.

    Yeah, how long is it, almost five years now I been catching you? You know what I should have done five years ago? I should have run like hell that day at Hialeah, when I saw it was you had me paged to the stable gate.

    And miss out on getting back your two hundred dollars?

    If I’d had sense I woulda burned it.

    The hell you would.

    There was a commotion in the shed row. Half-seen human shapes played dodge and jump with a plunging shadow. Now what? groused Sunny, popping the clutch so suddenly Ted bounced off the seat.

    It’s one of Sparks’ babies! someone shouted. Ain’t even got a fuckin’ halter on!

    Ted followed Sunny through the fog. The loose filly came barreling down the shedrow. Grooms flung their arms in her face, their shouts of Whoa! Whoa! enough to terrify her into faster flight.

    Only Sunny stood his ground. A stride short of slamming into him, the filly stopped, eyed him, then wheeled. Before the frantic grooms could grab her, she romped off into the darkness, trailing snorts of excitement behind her like a string of firecrackers tied to her tail.

    That’s right! Sunny hollered to no one in particular. Put your brand-new two-year-olds on the walking machines at five in the morning! Boy, I’d like to be in the horse-catching business around here!

    The tack room was lit by a bare bulb, and its glow was so bright and gold Ted knew he must have been homing in on it every inch of the long drive north from Miami. A sticky doughnut breakfast had been laid on a trunk. As Ted settled wearily onto an overturned bucket, Sunny picked up a thermos. You know that good stuff they call coffee? Well, this ain’t it. But drink some of it anyway.

    Ted sipped the bitter black liquid. Sunny, I just can’t believe Alejo was doing such a stupid thing.

    Maybe he wasn’t. Maybe he was just smoking in bed. The cops tell you for sure he was high?

    The cops didn’t tell me anything.

    Well, they are paid to do the job, Ted.

    Ted didn’t answer. Instead he waited long moments for Sunny to look at him again. But when Sunny did, it was with an unmistakable and belligerent impenetrability. So I guess I came blasting up here just to get another fix of your tack room coffee.

    What you did was drive two thousand miles instead of sending flowers to the funeral. I know Teresa’s glad you came.

    After a minute Ted said quietly, This has never . . . I’ve never lost anyone I care about before.

    You didn’t care a couple of years ago when you heard about your mother?

    Unfortunately, during the five years he and Sunny had worked together, Sunny had gotten in the habit of expecting honest answers. It’d been six years since the divorce and I doubt if in all that time I exchanged more than a couple of sentences with her.

    That doesn’t mean you never thought about her. She was your mother.

    Ted finished the cooling coffee. I thought about all of them, he said.

    They could hear the grooms outside hosing the dirt from the horses’ legs as they brought them in off the walker. A girl with dark braids tapped at the door. Rider’s here, Mr. McKinnon. Beyond her, the air had turned flat gray, as if someone had hung up a dirty sheet against the dark.

    Sunny looked back at Ted, brows raised. Ted rose stiffly to follow. But Sunny stopped him at the door.

    Then make it worth the trip, he said. Go home.

    What for? It won’t make any difference.

    They’re bound to find out you’re here.

    Ted chewed his lip, trying to read Sunny's expression. All right, Sunny, what is it? Is he dead, too?

    Not yet. He had a stroke. He don’t have long.

    Then he wouldn’t even know me.

    Once and for all, kid. What’s at Holyhead you’re so scared of?

    You know damn well there’s nothing I’m scared of. I just don’t want anyone thinking I want his frigging money.

    Sunny glowered for a minute, then snorted. Right, like your sister would let you within a country mile of the money.

    Ted had to hurry to keep up with him as he stalked out into the grim dawn.

    Chapter 2


    When he was young, Sunny McKinnon was tough. He would have thought that forty years on the racetrack would have made him tougher, but it had only made him sicker of the hell people would go through and still call it living. He’d seen old men whose drug of choice was liniment, and sixteen-year-old girls who’d abort jocks’ babies with a straightened-out bucket handle, and people who didn’t know what day it was unless it was the day you could bet the pick-six.

    But maybe it was being tough to realize there was nothing you could do about it, and it was no good worrying. Maybe it was being tough when the only thing you felt was relief it wasn’t you. Maybe he was tough after all.

    Sunny had never known much about rich people. He didn’t have the gift of pleasing them, didn’t cut the figure. He trained $3,500 claimers, not million-dollar stars. He would watch old pals on TV at the Belmont, at the Travers, the Derby. What made them different? Did they try harder? Did they lie? He tried to be glad for their good fortune, but the effort only made him tired.

    That was why, about eight years back, he quit training. His brother had a rag business in Newark and agreed to cut him in. Marjorie, his wife, was ecstatic. It meant breakfast together in the mornings and picnics with her sister’s family on Sundays, joys they had never had.

    But he made the mistake one rainy August day of agreeing to do Jack Catalana a favor. Jack had a van-load of two-year-olds he wanted to send to Florida, but his driver’s mother died. I got to get them down to Calder, Jack pleaded. Track management’ll give my stalls to someone else if I don’t. I mean, think about it, Sunny—three days on the road, four in the sun. I hear there’s so many little lost Cuban girls down there the state pays you to give ’em a bed for the night.

    So Sunny started for Miami that August morning in a downpour that washed the hint of summer heat right out of the air. Those eight years couldn’t dim the memory: that first sight, through the slashing rain, of a drenched little figure hunched on the parkway ramp near the racetrack, skeletal fist and thumb stuck out as if testing the squally wind.

    Even as he eased the rig out of traffic, Sunny knew the kid was a runaway. You often saw runaways at the track, bumming jobs. The little ones thought they’d all make jocks. This kid fed him lies from the start, about going home to his folks in Florida. Your folks must be horse people, Sunny said.

    No, I just know some horse people. I know they’re always shipping somewhere.

    Only a kid from a horse family would have said shipping. Sunny eyed him: the down jacket, sodden with rain, a Swiss label stitched into the seam; the fancy double-soled running shoes; the tight-fitting jeans.

    And the kind of face you didn’t get by breeding Raggedy Gal to Dirt Farmer. The kid was incredibly blond, with a high-domed forehead, a fine, arched upper lip, and a jaw as clean-edged and pale as bone china. In fact, he was too delicate, too perfect, as if someone had worked over him too long. It made him look twelve, instead of the fifteen Sunny would soon learn he was. He had wondered if there was a reward out for this kid; if, when he pulled into the agricultural inspection station, he ought to give the cops the high sign and let them collar this costly piece of fluff.

    But instead he let the kid scrunch down and sleep all day, until he stopped for a meal and coffee just over the North Carolina line. It was still raining. The kid wouldn’t come in. But like a schmuck, Sunny decided he should eat something, so he left his food on the counter and hiked back out to the van through the drizzle with a cup of chili and a Coke.

    And caught him at it. The kid had already rifled the glove compartment and the papers behind the sun visor; he’d found Sunny’s extra jacket behind the seat, and when he ducked out the far door on the run he took the crisp fifties in emergency cash with him, wadded in his small, wan fist.

    Sunny could still move when he was mad. He caught a fistful of wet down and slammed the boy against the van, shaking him so hard his blond head snapped back and forth. You really know how to repay a favor, don’t you, kid?

    Instead of answering, the kid had hurled the money in his face. Stung by the scorn in those blue eyes, Sunny slung the boy around and shoved him toward the highway, toward the dirty wall of spray the stream of cars hurled up.

    Go on, he said. Go hang your ass out. Let somebody else give a shit.

    The trainer stopped to gather the scattered bills. But a gust of wind sent the money flying. This time the kid was quicker. He scooped up the four fifties and ran. Sunny started after him again, but it had been a long time since his heart had let him run far. The kid reached the highway, and the first car he put his thumb out to picked him up.


    Oh, yes, that trip to Florida was a bad mistake.

    He hadn’t spent his free time that week on the beaches; he spent it at the racetrack, at Calder. He spent it palling around with trainers and grooms and jock agents in the kitchen before daylight; hanging over the training track rail as the sun rose. In the afternoons he followed his friends back and forth from barns to paddock, from the silent, waiting shedrows to that ring of moving color and dancing light where daily treks to glory, ten of them an afternoon, began for everyone but him. No wonder racing simply sucked him up again.

    So it was less than a year later that he found himself once more back in Florida, at Calder. It didn’t matter that the horses he’d managed to pull together were no good. He got to see the sticky Miami sunrise every morning, and just as he’d suspected, that was what it took to make him feel alive.

    Over the more than two years that followed, he thought often of that bad day’s work in the North Carolina rain. How could he help it, when all he had to do was pick up The Thoroughbred Record or The Blood-Horse to find himself staring at the name or face of the legendary millionaire Carroll F. Whysse III? For it was the very year that Sunny returned to Calder that Kite, the last great champion from Whysse’s Holyhead Stud, made his two-year-old debut.

    There had been a time, back in the twenties and thirties, racing’s golden era, when the name Holyhead Stud had been a synonym for splendor. Its peerless horses had been lionized in tabloids and newsreels, cheered on yachts and in boardrooms, injected into schoolchildren’s prayers. Over the years, the Whysse family barons—dark, taciturn geniuses—had, it seemed, delegated more and more of their business responsibilities so they could devote themselves to breeding racing legends, a part of their family heritage that seemed both passion and art.

    But by the sixties and seventies, the world had changed. In racing, as elsewhere, it no longer mattered whether money was new or old. Plumbers owned Derby winners. Great families sold out to Arab sheiks. Though Holyhead still bred classic horses, the competition had trebled, and the name of Holyhead was among those that slowly began to fade.

    But the money was still there, not visibly diminished. Kite was the great farm’s last resurgence. He came to his maiden race that summer at Calder with a legend already trailing off him. Its fiber was the shock and doom-saying that had followed Carroll F. Whysse’s decision to tie the venerable lines of his great filly Spring Play to the less notable genes of a second-class stallion named Windy Ben.

    Some five years before, Sunny had seen Windy Ben’s first race. The performance itself had not been remarkable; the event was just a ten-thousand-dollar maiden claimer, where even the best entrants were running for a sales price. Windy Ben had fought to win it, just creeping up in the last yards, nostrils flaring scarlet, his jockey whipping hard.

    As it turned out Windy Ben truly was a nice horse, as would be any $30,000 sales yearling that went on to win five hundred grand. He was distinctively handsome, and sound, and he retired to stud at a comfortable fee. But these qualifications could not quite explain, to Sunny or anyone else, what intuition, what secret brilliance, led the fabulously wealthy Whysse to select Windy Ben for Spring Play.

    Of course the old millionaire must have been hoping for a nick, a marriage of selected bloodlines that would exert some sort of synergistic effect on each other, so that in repeated breedings the resulting offspring would outshine both parents again and again. If Kite was any sign, Spring Play’s splendid parentage (Exclusive Native—March Fancy, by Graustark) matched with Windy Ben’s less notable credentials would have been a magic lode. But Windy Ben died of a bacterial infection in the spring of his second season. Other than the get from a couple of test breedings to unregistered mares, the first year he fathered only ten foals, the second year only two. Spring Play was the only stakes-winning mare he was bred to. There were no other Kites.

    Oh, how people had rushed around buying up those Windy Ben babies, how people hoped he had marked his offspring with speed as well as his striking good looks and vivid chestnut coat. But it seemed the only virtues the stallion passed on were his distinctive dished face, his high, curving rump, and his own vocation as sire of useful, unspectacular horses. Only Kite shone.

    Nor did Spring Play live up to her great promise: among her several foals by other stallions, there was nothing like Kite.

    So great had been the public incredulity over Whysse’s gamble that everybody stopped work that day of Kite’s debut at Calder to see him run. Run he did. By the three-eighths pole he’d worn Danny Pinto’s best colt to a staggering wreck. He was so bright and red and glowing you thought you were seeing the sun behind him shining through his veins.

    In the spring Kite won the Triple Crown. He jerked his rivals’ heads off in the Travers and danced on their graves in the Marlboro Cup. At four he left the world’s best standing in the Breeders' Cup. He made Alejandro Asolo, the young jock who inherited the mount when Rick Hanna got hurt, a star.

    Kite was nectar to the press, not just because of his brilliance, but because behind his story hung an alluring titillation. For one thing, shortly after Kite’s birth, Whysse, well into his sixties, had divorced his wife of thirty-five years to take a beautiful twenty-one-year-old bride. When it became clear that Kite was, indeed, something matchless, Whysse made a gift of him to the young woman. It was said—though not confirmed at the time—that in exchange for this treasure, young Mrs. Whysse had renounced all claim to any other expectations she might have had from the Whysse estate.

    She turned out to have made a shrewd bargain. As Kite went to post for the last race of his four-year-old season, a conglomerate of California businessmen offered Mrs. Whysse fifty million dollars to syndicate her horse—to apportion his ownership and the breeding rights that went with it among the syndicate members. Mrs. Whysse proved she had no childish romantic illusions: she widened her candid green eyes, smiled sweetly, thought five minutes, and said yes.

    Kite lost that race. He ran third: for him, a dismal showing. Some said he was hurting. No one blamed Mrs. Whysse for snatching the colt out of training before he could be beaten again, and getting that fifty million in the bank.

    It was part of the syndication contract that Kite would perform his first three years as a breeding stallion in California. His departure for the West Coast, it seemed, rang the death knell of Holyhead Stud. The aging Whysse no longer ran any horses; he sold off most of his broodmares and sent no more yearlings to the sales. People said he was ailing. Even young Mrs. Whysse vanished from the society pages. It seemed that wherever Kite’s glory had disappeared to, the Whysse charisma had gone along.

    But there had been another scandal connected with the Whysse legend: the story of the runaway son. It took Sunny McKinnon only a glance at the first of the many blurry pictures ferreted out by the tabloids to be absolutely certain that the boy in that truck stop parking lot had been Edward Falk Whysse, called Ted.

    Sunny told his wife Marjorie about Ted Whysse. She shrugged. Money can’t buy everything.

    And he told Alejo. When he had first come to America, Alejo had cleaned stalls at Holyhead.

    Little shrimp of a kid, said Alejo, with his cheeky, mocking grin. Spoiled rotten. They’re all crazy there.

    What did he run away for? Because the old man remarried? Hell, I wish that was the only kind of problem I had.

    Hey, don’t ask me, Alejo had answered, the mustache he was trying so valiantly to grow in those days stretching like hen scratches across his face. I’m not allowed on the place no more. Not since I told Big Sister Jean she had about as much sex appeal as something you find in a cow pasture, only it ain’t a cow.

    Sunny had shaken his head numbly.

    Alejo winked. Hey, I was high. Things pop out of your mouth. It must have been this dress she had on. Weird-looking.

    That stuff’s gonna eat you up one day.

    But Alejo had only grinned wider. He had the brightest smile of anybody Sunny had ever seen.

    It must have been in the stars for Sunny, the way good fortune at cards and luck at love are for some people. The very fall four-year-old Kite, newly retired and syndicated, set off for California, Sunny heard himself paged to the stable gate at Hialeah. More than three years had passed since the incident in North Carolina, two since Sunny had recognized the first newspaper picture, yet on his winding way through the sun-dappled barns, he had a premonition. Somehow, inexplicably, he knew who would be waiting for him in the mellow backstretch shade.


    Of course, three years of growing up had rung some changes. It had hardened the petulant child’s mouth Sunny remembered into a set line, and had left the delicate beauty brittle. But nothing had managed to dull the golden glint of his sideburns or to blur the expensive line of his jaw and chin. Ted Whysse held out not four fifties, but five. Sunny took them all.

    Yeah, he told the kid, I guess I knew I’d be seeing you again.

    I remembered your name from your driver’s license. That was a bad time of my life. I’ve learned better.

    Well, you lived through it.

    You know who I am.

    It was all over the papers.

    They know where to find me now, but I’m eighteen, and there’s nothing they can do about it even if they wanted to.

    Sunny folded the money and stuffed it in his pocket. Yeah, well, thanks.

    Mr. McKinnon . . .

    Sunny had turned back reluctantly.

    I know horses, the kid said. I’ve been thinking about getting a job around here.

    No one’s going to give you a job shoveling shit.

    I’ve been on a shrimp boat for over a year. My boss’ll tell you I’m okay.

    You better go back there, then.

    I’d like to work for you.

    You got nothing to make up to me. Sunny flipped a hand at a passing carful of ragged grooms and hotwalkers. I don’t know what kind of kicks you’re getting out of this, but for us it’s not a game.

    It’s not for me, either.

    Ain’t it? Excuse me, I got horses waiting.

    The kid shrugged. Well, I’ll ask around.

    Sunny had turned to get in his car. Alejo had been bumping toward the gate in that old Mustang he drove then, the one he was always supposed to be fixing up. Sunny saw the jock squeal to a stop in a cloud of oil fumes and spring across the prow of an approaching hay truck to grab Ted Whysse’s shoulders and start jumping up and down. Sunny got the hell out of there, but not quite fast enough to miss Ted’s broad grin and the desperate hug he gave that dancing little jock.

    Sure enough, half an hour later Alejo came hurrying to the barn. You got to give Teddy that job.

    I thought you didn’t like him.

    I didn’t say that. In fact, we was buddies when I used to work there, li’l Teddy ’n’ me.

    I don’t need those people. Neither do you. No job.

    Alejo had been determined. I’m gonna go get him, Sunny I’m gonna bring him around. You’ll love him, I swear.

    You bring that rich brat within ten feet of me, and you’ll both be wearing eye makeup. Black.


    Marjorie had died

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