The False Favorite

A Kentucky Derby Noir by Josh Boldt

Chapter Two

“I can’t trust anyone. The chief of police came to all of our parties. Not even a month ago, he was smoking cigars on the veranda with my husband and all of his friends.”

“Why is that a problem?” he asked.

“I’m afraid the chief is in their pockets. I’ve seen so many hundred dollar handshakes that I’ve lost count. If one of my husband’s friends is involved in his death, I have no doubt that the proper palms have been greased enough to make the whole thing disappear.”

He nodded slightly and took a sip from the glass of bourbon. He stood and walked slowly back around to his chair on the other side of the desk. As he sat, he slid open the drawer to his right and retrieved a notepad and pen.

– Trust no one
– Possible inside job

He looked up from his notes and fixed his eyes back on Harper, waiting for her to continue the story.

“I can’t go to the police. They have already closed the book on my husband’s death. As far as I can tell, they don’t plan to investigate a single detail. When I called Chief Perry he treated me like a child. I need to get some rest, he said. I should talk to a psychiatrist. Try not to get too excited. The more paranoid I get, the more patronizing he becomes.”

Cal listened intently. He had dealt with the local police on numerous occasions, and had occasionally run into the same wall that Harper was now hitting. He had heard rumors of corruption, the implications of horse money influencers. Some even argued that the thoroughbred industry controls the local economy, and that not a decision is made in this state without input from the few golden families that own eighty percent of the land in the Bluegrass region.

“I have nowhere else to turn. I need someone on the outside who can look in and dig up the dirt that I believe is being swept under the rug. My husband had many friends, and he also had many enemies. I believe one of them is responsible for his death, and I need to find out who. Can you help me? Will you help me?”

Her eyes glistened again. A tear? Cal couldn’t tell. She was remarkably composed for a woman whose husband had just committed suicide one week before. But if she was hiding something, she was doing a damn good job of it. She seemed earnest, real. She did want his help. And besides, he was personally interested in the case. He had to take it.

“My usual fee is $200 a day, plus expenses. But this case is unusual. It’s dangerous and it will require some risky work.”

“Money is of no concern to me. I have more than I could ever spend. Will $1,000 a day suffice?” she asked, reaching into her bag and removing a leather pocketbook. “Use this to get started and bill me for the rest.”

She spoke into the checkbook as she scrawled out her signature. Her nails wagged back and forth as the pen made long strokes on the check. Perfectly manicured. The lamp’s bulb reflected in the deep red paint.

The ripping of the check broke his trance and tore through the silence. She slid the check across the desk and rose from her chair.

“Do you have everything you need to get started?”

“Yes, I believe so. Just one more question. Who would you say was your husband’s biggest enemy?”

She thought for a moment, staring again out the window at the lights of the city.

“Three possibilities come to mind,” she finally replied. “Augusto Gallo, the Argentine breeder who sends horses up to run in all of the major Kentucky meets. He and my husband used to rendezvous in Miami a few times each year to discuss business and thoroughbreds. They acted friendly, but they were in deep competition and I’m sure either would have loved to see the other disappear.”

“Second is our former trainer, Jubal Early. We let him go in January. My husband wanted to start this season fresh with a new trainer. He felt that Jubal wasn’t doing what was necessary to bring home the roses this year, and he decided to let him go. Since January, we’ve seen Early wandering around the stables a few times and we eventually had to ask, John Hood, our head of security to bar him from the grounds. According to John, Early became agitated and had to be forcibly removed from the barn where our prized horses are housed.”

Cal jotted down a few more notes on his pad as he listened.

– Investigate former trainer
– Pull criminal record and work history

She continued, “And third would be practically anyone from PETA. We constantly face scrutiny and even castigation from the organization due to our involvement in the horse racing industry. Let’s just say they don’t like us very much.”

“Interesting. Makes sense, I guess,” he replied. “Well, Ms. Halcott, this should do for now. I have a good start here. I will let you know as soon as I find anything.”

“Thank you. And please call me Harper.”

She picked up her bag and turned to go.

“Wait, one more thing,” he called after her.

She looked back over her shoulder.

“Yes?”

“I”ll need access to the Derby parties you and your husband would normally attend over the course of the next month.”

He knew Louisville was more or less one big party between now and the first Saturday in May. The week before Derby, the debauchery would rise to a crescendo and any celebrity who was anybody could be found at the mansions within a 20-mile radius of Churchill Downs. If there was information to be gleaned, it could be overheard in the conversations at one of those elaborate soirees.

“Of course. I’ll make sure you are on all the lists.”

“Thank you, Ms.—I mean Harper. Good night.”

“Good night, Mr. Tyson.”

She tilted her head slightly and smiled before vanishing out his door into the yellow hall light.

He sat quietly at his desk, staring into the space she had just vacated. This was going to be a very dangerous case. People with this kind of money can do anything they want. They can make people vanish into thin air and then close the book before anyone asks questions. The families he would be investigating were some of the richest and most powerful people in the country.

Harper’s check lay on the desk by his notepad. He turned it over. A one followed by five zeros.

“That’ll do,” he thought to himself. “At least it’s one good thing about the trouble I’m getting myself into.”

He stood and walked to the window. The gym across the street was dark now. The swimmers had all gone home. Most of the offices were also dark. The keyboards were silent, the papers were filed, the drawers were closed for the day. The men had all moved on to whatever place was next.

Cal sipped the glass of bourbon and watched the city below as it transitioned to night.


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