Smile over four furlongs at 5.30. I’d like to see who’s around when they’re doing that. The owner’s given as Pissaro. One of the directors of the Tiara happens to be called that. He’s another one with a joke name. ‘Lame-brain’ Pissaro. Used to be in charge of their dope racket. Ran the stuff over the Mexican border and then broke it down and parcelled it out to middlemen on the coast. The FBI got on to him and he did a term in San Quentin. Then he came out and Spang gave him the job at the Tiara in exchange for the rap he’d carried. And now he’s a racehorse owner like the Vanderbilts. Nice going. I’ll be interested to see what sort of shape he’s in these days. He was almost a main-liner in the days he was dealing in coke. They gave him the cure in San Q, but it’s left him a bit soft in the head. Hence the ‘Lame-brain’. Then there’s the jock, ‘Tingaling’ Bell. Good rider but not above this sort of caper if the money’s right and he’s in the clear. I want to have a word with Tingaling if I can get him alone. I’ve got a little proposition for him. The trainer’s another hoodlum-name of Budd, ‘Rosy’ Budd. They all sound pretty funny, these names. But you don’t want to be taken in by it. He’s from Kentucky, so he knows all about horses. He’s been in trouble all over the South, what they call a ‘little habitch’ as opposed to a ‘big habitch’-habitual criminal. Larceny, mugging, rape-nothing big. Enough to give him quite a bulky packet in police records. But for the last few years he’s been running straight, if you care to call it that, as trainer for Spang.”
Leiter flicked his cigarette accurately through the open window into a bed of gladioli. He got up and stretched. “Those are the actors in the order of their appearance,” he said. “Distinguished cast. Look forward to lighting a fire under them.”
Bond was mystified. “But why don’t you just turn them over to the Stewards? Who are your principals in all this? Who pays the bills?”
“Retained by the leading owners,” said Leiter. “They pay us a retainer and extra by results. And I wouldn’t get far with the Stewards. Wouldn’t be fair to put the stable-boy in the box. Be the death sentence for him. The veterinary has passed the horse, and the real Shy Smile was shot and burned months ago. No. I’ve got my own ideas, and they’re going to hurt the Spangled boys far more than a disbarment from the tracks. You’ll see. Anyway, five o’clock, and I’ll come and hammer on the door just in case.”
“Don’t worry,” said Bond. “I’ll be on the doorstep with my boots and my saddle while the coyotes are still baying the. moon.”
Bond woke on time and there was a wonderful freshness in the air as he followed the limping figure of Leiter through the half light that filtered through the elms among the waking stables. In the east, the sky was pearly grey and iridescent, like a toy balloon filled with cigarette smoke, and among the shrubs the mocking birds were beginning their first song. Blue smoke rose straight up in the air from the fires in the camps behind the stables and there was a smell of coffee and wood-smoke and dew. There was the clank of pails and the other small noises of men and horses in the early morning and as they moved out from under the trees to the white wooden rail that bordered the track, a file of blanketed horses came by with a boy at each head, holding the leading rein right up close to the bit and talking with soft roughness to their charges. “Hey, lazybones, pick yo feet up. Giddap. You sho ain’t no Man-O-War dis mornin’.”
“They’ll be getting ready for the morning works,” said Leiter. “The gallops. This is the time the trainers hate most. When the owners come.”
They leant against the rail, thinking about the early morning, and about breakfast, and the sun suddenly caught the trees half a mile away on the other side of the track and brushed the topmost branches with pale gold, and in minutes the last shadows had gone and it was day.
As if they had been waiting for the sign, three men appeared from among the trees away to the left, and one of them was leading a big chestnut with a blaze face and four white stockings.
“Don’t look at them,” said Leiter softly. “Turn your back on the track and watch that file of horses coming up. That old bent man with them is ‘Sunny Jim’ Fitzsimmons, greatest trainer in America. And those are the Woodward horses. Most of them will be winners this meeting. Just look casual and I’ll keep an eye on our friends. Wouldn’t do to seem too interested. Now let’s see, there’s a stable-boy leading Shy Smile and that’s Budd all right and my old friend Lame-brain in a beautiful lavender shirt. Always a dresser. Nice-looking horse. Powerful shoulders. They’ve taken the blanket off him and he doesn’t like the cold. Bucking around like mad with the stable-boy hanging on. Sure hope he doesn’t kick Mr Pissaro in the face. Now Budd’s got him and he’s quietened down. Budd’s given the boy a leg up. Leading him on to the track. Now he’s cantering slowly up the far side of the track to one of the furlong posts. The hoodlums have got their watches out, they’re looking round. They’ve spotted us. Just look casual, James. Once the horse gets going they won’t be interested in us. Yeah. You can turn round now. Shy Smile’s on the far side of the track and they’ve got their glasses on her to be ready for the off. And it will be four furlongs. Pissaro’s just by the fifth post.”
Bond turned and looked along the rail to his left at the two stocky intent figures with the sun glinting on their glasses’and on the watches in their hands and, although he didn’t believe in these people, the dusk seerned to seep out around them from under the golden elms.
“He’s off.” Far away Bond could see a flying brown horse rounding the top end of the track and turning into the long stretch towards them. At that distance, not a sound came to them, but quickly there was a soft drumming on the tan track that grew until, with a swift thunder of hooves, the horse rounded the bend in front of them, right up against the far rails, and hurtled on the last furlong towards the watching men.
A tingle of excitement ran down Bond’s spine as the chestnut flashed by, its teeth bared and its eyes wild with the effort, its gleaming quarters pounding and the breath snorting out of its wide nostrils, the boy’on its back arched like a cat in the stirrups, his face low down and almost touching the horse’s neck. And then they had gone in a spray of sound and upflung earth and Bond’s eyes moved to the two watching men, now crouching, and he saw the two arms jerk downwards as they jammed down the stops on their watches.
Leiter touched him on the arm and they moved casually away and back under the trees towards the car.
“Moving dam’ well,” commented Leiter. “Better’than the real Shy Smile ever did. No idea what the time was, but he was certainly burning up the track. If he can do that for a mile and a quarter he’ll get home. And he’ll have an allowance of six pounds seeing as how he hasn’t won a race this year. And that’ll give him an extra edge. Now let’s go and have the hell of a breakfast. It’s given me an appetite seeing these crooks so early in the morning.” And then he added softly, almost to himself, “And then I’m going to see how much Master Bell will take to ride foul and get himself disqualified.”
After breakfast, and after hearing some more of Leiter’s plans, Bond idled away the morning and then had lunch at the track and watched the indifferent racing that Leiter had warned him he would see on the first afternoon of the meeting.
But it was a beautiful day and Bond enjoyed absorbing the Saratoga idiom, the mixture of Brooklyn and Kentucky in the milling crowds, the elegance of the owners and their friends in the tree-shaded paddock, the efficient mechanics of the pari-mutuel and the big board with its flashing lights recording the odds and the money invested, the trouble-fre,e starts through the tractor-drawn starting-gate, the toy lake with its six swans and the anchored canoe and, everywhere, that extra exotic touch of the Negroes who, except as jockeys, are so much a part of American racing.
The organization looked better than in England. There seemed less chance of crookedness where so much crookedness had been insured against, but, back of it all, Bond knew that the illegal wire services were relaying the results of each race throughout the States, cutting the tote odds to a maximum of 20-8-4, twentys for a win, eights for first or second, and fours for a place, and that millions of dollars every year were going straight into the pockets of gangsters to whom racing was just another source of revenue like prostitution or drugs.
Bond tried out the system made famous by ‘Chicago’ O’Brien, He backed every firm favourite for a place, or ‘to show’ as his first ticket-hatch told him to call it, and he had somehow made fifteen dollars and some cents by the end of the eighth race and the day’s meeting. He walked home with the crowds, had a shower and some sleep and then found his way to a restaurant near the sales ring and spent an hour drinking the drink that Leiter had told him was fashionable in racing circles-Bourbon and branch-water. Bond guessed that in fact the water was from the tap behind the bar, but Leiter had said that real Bourbon drinkers insist on having their whisky in the traditional style, with water from high up in the branch of the local river where it will be purest. The barman didn’t seem surprised when he asked for it, and Bond was amused at the conceit. Then he ate an adequate steak and, after a final Bourbon, walked over to the sales ring, which Leiter had fixed as a rendezvous.
It was a white-painted wooden enclosure, roofed but without walls, in which tiered benches descended to a circle of mock greensward enclosed with silver-painted ropes in front of the auctioneer’s platform. As each horse was led in under the glare of the neon lighting, the auctioneer, the redoubtable Swinebroad from Tennessee, would give the history of the horse and start the bidding at what he thought a likely figure, and run it up through the hundreds in a kind of rhythmic chant, catching, with the help of two dinnerr-jacketed men in the aisles, every nod or raised pencil among, the tiers of smartly dressed owners and agents.
Bond sat down behind a scrawny woman in evening dress and mink whose wrists clanked and glittered with jewellery every time she bid. Beside her sat a bored man in a white dinner jacket and a dark red evening tie who might have been her husband or her trainer.
A nervous bay came chassying into the ring with the number 201 pasted carelessly on his rump. The harsh chant began. “I’m bid six thousand now seven thousand will yer? I’m bid seven thousand and three and four and five only seven and a half for this good-looking colt by Tehran, eight thousand thank you sir and nine will yer do it? Eight thousand five hundred I am bid will yer give me nine eight five will yer give me nine and six and seven and who’ll bid the big figure?”
A pause, a bang of the hammer, a look of sincere reproach towards the ringside seats where the big money sat. “Folks, this two-year-old is too cheap. I’m selling more winning colt for this amount of money than I’ve sold all summer long. Now, eight thousand seven hundred and who’ll give me nine? Where’s nine, nine, nine?” (The mummified hand in the rings and bracelets took the gold-and-bamboo pencil out of the bag and scribbled a calculation on the programme which Bond could see said ‘34th Annual Saratoga Yearling Sales. No 201. A Bay Colt.” Then the leaden eyes of the woman looked across the silver ropes into the electric eyes of the horse and she raised the gold pencil) “And nine thousand is bid nine wilt yer give me ten will yer do it? Any increase on nine thousand do I hear nine one nine one nine one?” (A pause and a last questing look round the crammed white seats and then a bang of the hammer.) “Sold for nine thousand dollars. Thank you, ma’am.”