Monday, February 05, 2018

Barn Kittens and Backyard Spirits

My second wife Anne and I had many cats as pets through the years. My first was King Tut, Anne’s cat, which became part of my family when she and I married. Glancing through some old pictures, I found images of the second and third cat members of my family.
Anne and I were in the oil business. A drilling contractor named John was dating Sheryl, a young woman that worked for Anne and me. He had a little ranch on the west side of Oklahoma City, several horses, and a barn. Blessed by many barn cats, he gave two kitties named Buster and Squeaky, to Sheryl. Sheryl kept Buster and gave Squeaky to Anne and me.
Squeaky became our first female cat, and neither of us realized how fast these beautiful animals mature. Because of our oversight, Squeaky became pregnant and had a litter of beautiful kittens. We found good homes for all the kittens except for one, a calico we kept and named Chani after a character in the Dune series that Anne loved. Squeaky and Chani soon became inseparable. When Squeaky had her second litter, Chani wasn’t far away, and often as not in the litter basket with the kittens.
When the oil business busted, Anne and I lost our home and moved to a rented house, Chani, Squeaky and Tut moving with us. During the difficult years that ensued, we moved five times. Some of the cats didn’t live that long, but Chani made all five moves.
Calicos are three-colored cats, and they are always females. Chani was a gorgeous, three-colored cat with a distinctive voice. She always let you know when she was around. She loved affection and would live on your lap if you’d let her. She also liked to drink water from the tap.
Chani died at the age of nineteen, still the queen bee of our cat family until the time of her death. I buried her in the flower bed where she liked to lie in the spring and summer. Now Anne is dead, a victim of cancer, and spirits abound around the Wilder household. I’m fairly sure Chani still holds sway over her departed brothers and sisters. I’m also certain that Squeaky is around and she and Chani, as they were in life, are again inseparable.

All of my books are available at AmazonBarnes & Noble, and on iBook, and please check out my Website.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Cyndi, Sandy, and Elvis

I bought my first motorcycle, an act I now realize symbolized newfound freedom, from Dave B. after divorcing my first wife. Dave now lives near Baton Rouge and was my best friend when we both worked as geologists at an Oklahoma City oil company. The rock and roll world of the last oil boom was hell on marriages, including Dave’s and mine. Both freshly divorced, we became running buddies.  A recent email from my old pal reminded me of one of our adventures.
We both had company cars and what seemed like endless expense accounts. The loose money was great for attracting attention. Between us, Dave and I knew practically every female that worked in downtown Oklahoma City. One night, six oil and gas secretaries persuaded us to spend some of our money and take them to see an Elvis impersonator. We were easily convinced.
Three of the young women were crazy about the recently departed Elvis. The band, backup singers, and Elvis impersonator sounded exactly like Elvis. Well, if you'd had a few drinks and were sexually excited because of being the center of attention of six adoring ladies.
The concert was entertaining, further enhanced when one young lady, in particular, began hitting on me, another on Dave. When we returned to my apartment, Dave and five of the women departed while Cyndi (not her real name) came inside with me for a nightcap. Hell, it was two in the morning! We both had our intentions, and for the moment, I assumed that they were the same.
We were sitting on the floor in front of a fire that I had hastily built in the fireplace, and we were groping around on the rug like a couple of boa constrictors in heat when the phone rang. I have waited to say that Cyndi was the girlfriend of a close friend of mine, Mike (not his real name). Mike was married, Cyndi only his girlfriend, and it is safe to say that he did not intend to marry her. Cyndi and I were both single.
"Have you seen Cyndi?" he asked, she's not at her apartment.
"Maybe," I said, our legs encircled and my hand under her blouse, still clamped on her right breast.
I began to smell a setup when he asked, "Is she at your place?" Cyndi, I suddenly sensed, had used me to make Mike jealous. Still very much engulfed in the throes of extreme passion, I said, "She was here, but she just left. I think she’s on her way back to her apartment. You need to go home," I told her after hanging up the phone and zipping up my pants."
"Are you sure about this?" she asked, standing and adjusting her own clothing.
"There's nothing I would like better than spending the night with you, but I think we would both regret it tomorrow."
Cyndi must have agreed because she was gone in less than five minutes, leaving me to contemplate my unexpected predicament. After all these years Mike is still my friend, as is Cyndi, although their relationship ended years ago. I never made it with Cyndi, though sometime later I had a little fling with Sandy, one of the other girls that Dave and I took to the concert. How did Dave do that night? I never asked, and he never volunteered the story.

All of my books are available at AmazonBarnes & Noble, and on iBook, and please check out my Website.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

New Orleans Dangerous - French Quarter Mystery # 7, Chapter 1

Here is Chapter 1 of the new French Quarter Mystery (#7) I'm working on for publication in June, 2018. Hope you love it.

New Orleans

A novel by
Eric Wilder

Chapter 1

Although only thirty-four years of age, Taj Davis was old by NBA standards. His surgically repaired left knee still ached whenever he ran or jumped. Arthritis had begun affecting his fingers although no one had yet noticed the knots deforming the digits of his shooting hand. As he followed a bellman down the hallway of a New Orleans hotel, he felt ancient.
Taj had hoped to play in Cleveland during his final years in the league. An early morning call from an assistant coach had informed him his dream was not to be. He’d had about three hours to pack his apartment before taking a taxi to the airport and flying to New Orleans, the team that had acquired him in an unexpected mid-season trade.
The bellman stopped in front of a door and opened it with a key, the odor of must and age accosting Taj’s senses as he followed the little man into the room. The person in the red velvet coat sat the suitcase on the bed, smiling when Taj handed him a twenty.
“Aren’t you Taj Davis?”
“Right on, brother. What’s your name?”
“Tommy. You’re way bigger than you look on TV. How tall are you?”
“Six-nine. You like basketball, Tommy?”
The little man massaged the stubble of beard on his chin. “Nothing much I like better, especially the Pelicans. They gonna be champs one of these days.”
“Hope it’s sooner rather than later,” Taj said. “At least now that I’m in town. I’ve dreamed of a championship ring, and I’m running out of time to find a winning team.”
“I hear that,” Tommy said. “Hope you’re good enough to replace Zee Ped. He been filling up the baskets lately.”
“Why in the world did the Pels trade their best player?” Taj asked.
“Beats the hell out of me,” Tommy said. “Nobody around here knew a thing about the trade until a few hours ago.”
“Neither did I. An assistant called this morning and told me to meet him in the locker room. He had a plane ticket and itinerary ready for me when I got there. I had no chance to say goodbye to anyone, and barely enough time to pack my apartment.”
“You mean today was the first you heard?”
The curtains on the large room’s windows were open. Taj nodded as he glanced out at the flashing neon of the French Quarter and running lights of boats out on the river.
“I had no clue,” he said. “I know it’s late. Any chance of scoring something to eat around here?”
“You kidding? This the Big Easy. Lots of places serve food, no matter what hour.”
“I mean here in the hotel. This unexpected move has dogged me out. All I want to do is eat, take a hot bath and then crash.”
“I hear that. Tell me what you want. I’ll have someone bring it up.”
“Ribeye, rare, and a bottle of your driest cabernet.”
“The chef makes the best gumbo in town,” Tommy said.
“Just the steak. I’m not much on seafood.”
“Better learn to like it,” Tommy said. “You might be here awhile, and this is the gumbo capital of the world.”
“Hope you’re right about me spending some time here. This is my third team in the past five years. I was hoping to play my final season in Cleveland. Tell you the truth, I’ve never eaten gumbo,” Taj said.
“I’ll bring you a cup, along with the steak. Give it a try. Nothing else like it on earth.”
“If you say so,” Taj said.
“Ever stayed here before?”
“First time. The Cavs use one of the newer hotels on Canal when they come to town. How old is this place?”
“Just short of a hundred and forty years. The oldest hotel in the French Quarter.”
“Love it,” Taj said. “The elegance, architecture, and service are impressive. What’s not to like?”
“Maybe the evil spirits hanging around every corner,” Tommy said.
“You don’t believe in ghosts, do you?”
“Me and everybody else in town. You might too after tonight.”
“You have information I need to hear?”
Tommy massaged his chin again. “I think I already said too much. I better go get your order in.”
“Not so fast,” Taj said. “You have something to tell me, so. . .”
“This hotel ain’t just haunted, it has more ghosts than St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 over on Basin Street.”
“And. . . ?”
“This room, 1413.”
“Go on.”
“It’s really room 1313. This is the thirteenth, not the fourteenth floor. The hotel stopped using it before I came to work here.”
“How long ago was that?” Taj asked.
“Almost thirty years.”
“Wow,” Taj said. “Bet you got lots of stories concerning this hotel.”
“Or most anything else you want to know.”
“Then why am I staying here if the hotel doesn’t use it anymore?”
“We’re busy this time of year, people coming to town to see the Christmas lights and all. Guess management put you here because they couldn’t turn down a call from the Pels, and this was the only room that wasn’t booked.”
“It may be haunted, but it has to be the most beautiful suite in town,” Taj said, staring at the panoramic view through the corner window. “I can’t imagine a better view in New Orleans. Why on earth would the hotel let a few spirits of the night stop them from using it?”
“Someone was murdered here,” Tommy said.
“Whoa, man,” Taj said. “Somebody was murdered in this room? You’re making this up, right?”
Tommy wasn’t smiling as he shook his head. “A cleaning lady found a headless body in the bathtub. The murdered woman had a missing head.”
“A crime of passion?”
“Don’t know,” Tommy said. “The police didn’t solve the murder.”
“How is that possible?” Taj asked when Tommy grew silent. “Wasn’t she a guest?”
“Like I said, it happened before I started work here.” Tommy handed Taj the key to the room. “I’ll go put in your dinner order.”
The little bellman smiled and hurried away down the antique hallway after Taj had given him another twenty.
It was the weekend, the Pelicans on a road trip out west, and Taj didn’t have to report to the training facilities until Monday. He’d visited New Orleans many times during his tenure in the NBA, though he’d never ventured far away from where the Pelicans played basketball at the Smoothie King Center or his hotel room. Tomorrow, he intended to change all that.
He glanced out the window again before shutting the curtains. Mid-December, the weather had turned cold. Though not as frigid as Cleveland temperatures, the humid climate in New Orleans was uncomfortable. Taj turned up the thermostat, opened his suitcase, found a sweater and pulled it over his head.
Checking his email on his cell phone entertained Taj until a white smocked waiter knocked on the door. He was pushing a small table on wheels complete with tablecloth, fine china, and silverware. After opening the bottle of wine with a ceremonial flair, he accepted his tip with a nod and departed after saying almost nothing.
“Nice,” Taj said, sipping the cabernet.
Taj had forgotten Tommy’s story of murder as he twisted the tap on the antique porcelain tub, and then tested the water with his palm. When it grew hot, he returned to eat his steak. He turned up his nose at the steaming cup of gumbo, pushing it aside without so much as tasting it.
As haze wafted up from the tub, Taj sat the wine bottle and his glass on the barbershop tile floor, and then stripped off his clothes. Not bothering to test the temperature, he slid over the side, sinking into the water to the top of his shaved head.
Taj had a powerful frame for such a big man. Used to battling in the paint, he had a chest covered with bruises, contusions, and even a few cuts. The hot water soon began to soothe his sore body, and he finished drinking the wine straight from the bottle. After draining the last drop he closed his eyes, falling asleep.
Sometime later, Taj’s hand relaxed. He released his grip on the bottle, his eyes popping open when it shattered on the tile floor. He didn’t know how long he’d been asleep, but the water was tepid. Worse, the lights had gone out, the only illumination coming from a crack in the curtains. When he got out of the tub, he stepped on broken glass, cutting his foot.
Finding a towel, he wrapped it around his bleeding foot and hobbled to the window. Unable to find a light switch in the darkness, he pulled open the curtains, red flashing neon from the French Quarter flooding through the window.
The room had grown icy cold. Sticky globules dripped from the windowpane and Taj recoiled when he touched the gooey substance. The inhuman sound of something coming up behind him sent a shiver up his spine.
Though Taj wasn’t a person easily startled, the disturbing sound of heavy feet shuffling across the floor, along with the rattle of chains made him do a double take as he wheeled around. What he saw caused him to draw a gasping breath into his lungs.
Neither man nor beast, it was a cloud of white light with flashes of reds, yellows, and blues instead. Something alive, though anything but human, reeked of death as it floated toward him, the droning noise emitting from the specter sounding like the muted whine of a revving chainsaw.
Fists clenched in a fighter’s stance, Taj took a swing at the advancing demon. When his hand passed through it, he realized he needed to run instead of fight. Sidestepping the entity, he stumbled to the door. When he reached it, he found it locked. He couldn’t open it as he glanced over his shoulder at the terrifying apparition cloaked in a pulsating cloud of noxious gases moving ever closer to him.
With renewed effort, Taj slammed his fists against the door, trying to break the doorjamb and get away from the supernatural being behind him. He fell on his face into the hallway when it opened of its own accord. Even with the bloody towel wrapped around his cut foot, he sprinted into the arms of an inebriated couple returning from a French Quarter bistro.
Taj towered over the man and woman. Despite the alcohol they’d both consumed, nothing had prepared them for a meeting with a naked giant. They shouted for help as they hurried away. A dozen doors opened, staring out at the man with wild eyes and bare of clothes.
Hearing the commotion, Tommy came running. When he saw Taj standing naked in the hallway, he grabbed a terrycloth bathrobe from a service cart and tossed it to him. Before Taj could secure the tie around his waist, Tommy had pulled him into an elevator and punched the down button.
“What the hell? You gone crazy?”
“Son of a bitch!” Taj said. “You weren’t kidding. That room is haunted. I’ll be damned if I’m going back there.”
“Good God, man! What did you do to your foot?”
“Stepped on broken glass,” Taj said.
“You’re bleeding on the carpet. We need something to staunch it until I can get you downstairs to a doctor.”
Tommy stopped on a lower floor and found a handful of towels in a linen closet.
“Damn glad it was you that showed up and not the police,” Taj said. “My first day with the Pelicans might have been my last.”
“Got that right,” Tommy said. “You look like you been in a knife fight and got the worst of it.”
In the fluorescent lights of the elevator, Taj could see the little man was correct. By now, there was blood all over the bathrobe, and he felt light-headed.
“You’ll be okay,” Tommy said. “We got a doctor on staff downstairs. He’ll fix you up. What’s in your hand?”
Taj didn’t realize he was holding anything until he looked and saw it.
Recoiling, he let the object drop to his feet. “What in the hell is that thing?” he asked.
Before answering, Tommy stared with his mouth open as he nudged the gruesome item with the toe of his shoe.
“Good God almighty!” he said. “Looks like a voodoo doll that somebody just dunked in a bucket of blood. Where’d you get it?”
“I have no idea,” Taj said. “I know nothing about voodoo.”
“Then what about your tattoo?” Tommy asked.
The white terrycloth bathrobe had splayed open across Taj’s broad chest revealing a strange tattoo.
“I’ve had this thing since I was old enough to remember seeing it. Where it came from, I have no idea. You think you know what it is?”
“Voodoo symbol,” Tommy said. “Around here they call them veves.”
“Voodoo symbol? You’re shittin’ me,” Taj said.
“I’m not,” Tommy said.
Then what the hell does it mean?” Taj asked.
Tommy wrapped the bloody doll in a towel and picked it up. “Only one that knows that is the witch doctor that marked you with it.”

All of my books are available at AmazonBarnes & Noble, and on iBook, and please check out my Website.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Sisters of the Mist - Synopsis

Here is the full cover and the synopsis of the upcoming French Quarter Mystery #6. It's set to be released on Christmas day. It's available for preorder for the special price of 99 cents (price increases after Christmas Day) at Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, Kobo, and Smashwords, and will soon be available on Amazon. I had a blast writing Sisters. The story took me to places I never thought I'd go, and that I didn't even know existed (now I do!). Hope you love reading Sisters of the Mist as much as I loved writing it.


When his cat awakens Wyatt Thomas from a fitful dream and leads him outside to his second-story balcony, he watches in disbelief as a ghostly funeral procession passes on the street below. The lone woman staring up at him from a dark hearse is Desire Vallee, his former lover. She’d disappeared after her twin sister had jumped from a bridge to her death, and it’s the first time he’d seen her since then. Convinced she’s in grave peril, Wyatt begins a search to find her. His quest leads him through haunted cemeteries and back alleys of New Orleans, and finally to a mysterious castle hidden deep in the Honey Island Swamp. Will he be able to rescue Desire and exorcise her demons, or die himself trying? Sisters of the Mist is Book 6 of the French Quarter Mystery series set in that exotic, erotic Mecca known as New Orleans.

All of Eric's books are available at AmazonBarnes & Noble, and on his iBook author pages, and his Website.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Sisters of the Mist - Chapter 2

A gloomy day had turned rainy and overcast as Eddie Toledo waited in the drizzle outside the main building of the racetrack. Rain had begun dampening his long hair. Pulling the trench coat over his head, he gave up his grandstand seat and made a run for the entrance. After a quick glance at his watch, he let the door shut behind him.
His friend, Wyatt Thomas was thirty minutes late. It was still an hour before the first race. Plenty of time to lay a bet or two. He double-stepped up the escalator to an upstairs bar he liked, planning to settle in at a table overlooking the track.
Eddie had invited two attractive women he’d met at Bertram Picou’s Chartres Street bar. They hadn’t showed, and he was miffed. What he needed now was a stiff drink and a racing form. He could get the former in the dark bar; the latter could wait. As he approached the bar, a familiar voice called to him.
“Trying to ignore us, Mr. D.A.?”
Eddie could barely see the person who had just spoken, though he recognized the gravelly voice in an instant.
“Mr. Castellano,” he said, shaking the older man’s hand.
“It’s Frankie,” the man said. “My dad was Mr. Castellano.”
Castellano was probably mid-sixties with black hair just beginning to gray around the edges. A red carnation matching the silk handkerchief in his coat pocket protruded from the lapel of his seersucker suit. Had it not been so dark in the cozy fern bar overlooking the expansive racetrack, you could have seen your reflection in his thousand dollar shoes. Frankie wasn’t alone. His companion, a very attractive, middle-aged woman, bounded from her seat and hugged Eddie.
“How you been?” she said in her Italian-laced, old Metairie accent.
“Adele! Been missing you, babe. How’s marriage treating you?”
“Frankie swept me off my feet the first time I met him. Things haven’t changed. We been to Italy twice, Bermuda and two cruises. Believe me when I tell you I’m ready to stay home awhile and cook canolis and lasagna for my wonderful husband.”
Adele had dark hair and eyes, and a perfect olive complexion. Her welcoming smile left no doubt about how much she liked Eddie. Another woman was with the happy couple. When Eddie’s eyes adjusted to the dimness of the room, he saw she looked like a young Sophia Loren. Their eyes locked. For the first time in his life, he was speechless. Frankie rescued him.
“Don’t have a coronary. This is my daughter, Josie.”
“Then you better shoot me now because I think I’m in love.”
The comment brought a frown to Frankie’s face and a smile to the young woman as Eddie grasped her hand. He was wrong. She didn’t look like Sophia Loren. More like a Greek goddess with dark liquid eyes and black hair braided in intricate cornrows. Her black dress matched Adele’s, and he could only catch his breath.
Adele bumped his shoulder with the palm of her hand. “What’s the matter, Eddie? Never seen a pretty girl before?”
“Sorry,” he said, regaining his senses. “It’s just I didn’t expect to be in the presence of the two most gorgeous women in New Orleans.”
“You haven’t changed a bit,” Adele said, hugging him again.
“Watch it,” Frankie said. “Don’t be disrespectful or I may have to bump you off.”
“Something I would never do,” Eddie said. “But you’d kill me now if you knew the thoughts I’m having about your beautiful daughter.”
When Frankie frowned and started to stand, Josie grabbed his arm. She was laughing, her eyes dancing.
“He’s just kidding, Papa. Isn’t someone going to introduce us?”
“This pretty boy with the big mouth is Eddie Toledo. A Federal D.A. who works with the G-men downtown.”
Josie ignored her dad’s sarcasm. “Happy to meet you, Eddie,” she said. “Will you join us?”
Frankie grumbled as Eddie grabbed the chair beside Josie. His daughter’s laughter had stemmed his anger. It helped when Adele kissed his forehead, sat in his lap, and squeezed him to her ample breasts.
With the races nearing, patrons had begun pouring into the bar. Frankie’s table was the best seat in the house with a panoramic view of the track through the wall-sized window fronting the room. Frankie’s frown returned.
“What’s the matter?” Eddie asked. “Your horse throw a shoe before the big race?”
“I don’t own quarter horses,” Frankie said.
“Oh, why not?”
“Thoroughbred racing is the sport of kings. Nobody likes quarter horses except a bunch of damn Mexicans.”
“You kidding me?” Eddie said. “Quarter horses are among the fastest animals on earth. It’s still misting rain, and just take a gander at all those people filling the outside grandstand. What do you have against Mexicans?”
“They been flooding the place ever since Katrina. Taking jobs that should go to Americans; living off welfare and paying no taxes. They also control the quarter horse business around here and it’s time someone investigated.”
“Is that a hint?” Eddie asked.
“Someone needs to stop their nonsense.”
“Most Mexicans I know are hard-working, church going, law abiding citizens,” Eddie said.
Frankie snickered. “Now I get it. You’re a tree-hugging, bleeding heart liberal. I hope, at least, you’re not on their payroll.”
Eddie let the thinly veiled accusation of corruption pass without replying to it.
“I’m here to watch the ponies run, not to talk politics,” he said. “If you don’t like quarter horses, what are you doing here?”
Josie raised a hand. “Blame me. They’re my favorite. I dragged Dad and Adele with me. He couldn’t come to a horse race without an entry so he bought one.”
“You’re running a horse today?” Eddie asked. “Thought you said you don’t own quarter horses.”
“For Josie, I made an exception.”
“And where did you get the horse?”
“Just an old nag I picked up for next to nothing. Like Josie said, I hate watching a horse race unless I have one running.”
“Uh huh. How’d you get a trainer and a jockey so fast?”
Josie answered the question for him. “Dad has a horse farm north of Covington. Murky Bayou Farms. One hundred eighty acre working horse facility. All pasture under fence with pipe on three sides. Three stock ponds, 16,000 square foot metal barn with twenty four twelve by twelve stalls, tack room, feed room, wash rack, stocks, and storage galore. Exceptional apartment above barn with three bedrooms and two baths. Ten loafing sheds in pasture.”
“You sound like a real estate agent,” Eddie said.
Josie nodded. “Because that’s what I am.”
“Josie’s been in the ten million dollar club three years in a row,” Adele said.
“Impressive,” Eddie said.
“Are you in the market for a horse farm, Eddie?” Josie asked.
He laughed. “Never gonna happen on my salary,” he said.
Frankie frowned when Josie said, “You can visit Murky Bayou Farms anytime you like.”
“Sounds secluded,” Eddie said.
“On the banks of a scenic bayou and ten miles from the nearest town. It’s like a slice of heaven on earth. Dad’s not a fan.”
“Give me the city anytime. I don’t like having to drive twenty miles for a decent plate of spaghetti,” Eddie said.
“You don’t have to drive anywhere,” Josie said. “You have a world-class chef that works full-time at the farm and cooks you anything you like.”
“That just ain’t the same,” Frankie said.
“Sounds like heaven to me. Josie, I’ll take you up on that offer,” Eddie said. “I love horses.”
“Want to see Dad’s quarter horse?” Josie asked.
“Love to.”
“You’ll miss the first race,” Frankie said. “Who you betting on?”
“I don’t even have a racing form yet. You betting?”
“Always, even if they are quarter horses.”
“Then here’s a twenty. Can you pick a winner for me?”
“You trust me with your money?” Frankie said.
“You kidding? If I had your money, I’d burn mine.”
Josie grabbed Eddie’s hand. “We’ll be back,” she said.
She led him through the crowd starting to gather for the first race. It was still misting rain when they reached the paddock. Eddie didn’t care, too enthralled by the gorgeous young woman pulling him through the throng of spectators viewing the horses parading out for the first race. The crowd abated when they reached the stalls.
“That’s Lightning Bolt,” she said.
She petted the mane of the black stallion, its head protruding from the stall.
“This is your dad’s horse?” Eddie asked.
“Isn’t he beautiful?”
“Doesn’t look like a nag to me. Check out his muscular hindquarters and barrel chest. He’s the best looking horse in the paddock area.”
“He’s gorgeous,” Josie said. “I love the lightning-shaped blaze on his face. That’s how he got his name.”
Eddie touched the horse’s forehead. “What blaze?” he asked.
Josie touched the wet dye on Lightning Bolt’s forehead.
“I think someone must have put shoe polish to cover it up.”
“Why would they do that?”
“No idea. You’ll have to ask Dad,” she said,
Even without the distinctive blaze, the horse was gorgeous. Someone had braided its mane and tail with a red ribbon, and decorated his fetlocks with bright red tape. He looked ready for a horse show competition.
“The way he’s all dolled up, someone must expect him to win.”
“Dad says he’s never won a race. Precisely the reason he was able to purchase him so cheaply. He’s forty-to-one in the morning line.”
“Guess looks are deceiving,” Eddie said. “We better head back. From the sound of the crowd, the first race just finished. If we stay away much longer, your dad will come looking for me with a gun.”
“He wouldn’t do that, silly. Dad’s a pussycat.”
Eddie knew differently, though refrained from voicing his opinion. He followed her through the crowd of people, some with smiles, others with frowns, returning from the betting windows.
“If you say so,” he said.
Adele was back in Frankie’s lap and both were smiling when Josie and Eddie joined them at the table overlooking the track. Frankie handed Eddie a wad of cash.
“You won,” he said.
“Wow! Must have been a long shot.”
“Can’t make any money betting on the favorite,” Frankie said.
“How’d you know it would win?”
“Betters’ luck,” Eddie said. “There’s no other way to bet on these damn quarter horses.”
A waitress in a revealing skirt and skimpy blouse brought everyone fresh drinks. Josie saw Eddie glancing at the young woman’s long legs clad sexily in black mesh stockings. She smiled at him when he realized she’d caught him looking. He grinned back at her and shrugged his shoulders. Adele also noticed.
“Eddie likes the ladies,” she said.
“Guilty as charged, Your Honor,” he said.
“At least he ain’t looking at my legs,” Frankie said. The comment caused both Josie and Adele to erupt into laughter. “What’s so funny?” he demanded.
Neither of them answered, or stopped laughing. Frankie rolled his eyes as he sipped his drink.
“Can I have a look at your racing form?” Eddie said.
Frankie handed it to him. “For all the good it’ll do you,” he said.
Eddie thumbed through the magazine. “Is pure speed all you look at?” he asked.
“Lots more than that,” Josie said.
“Please tell me.”
“The races are short. Most are less than a quarter mile and last only twenty seconds, or so.”
“What’s your point?”
“There’s not much time to correct if a mistake is made coming out of the gate. A bump can end a horse’s race before it gets started. There’s also the matter of track bias.”
“Most of the races have no turns,” Eddie said. “How can there be a track bias?”
Josie handed him a pair of powerful binoculars. “Look at the turf directly in front of the gate. Specifically, the fifth through the tenth spots. What do you see?”
“The dirt’s not as even,” he said.
“Whoever smoothed the track left the turf in front of the last five slots deeper and more furrowed than the first five.”
“That can’t make that much of a difference,” Eddie said.
“In a race that takes only twenty seconds to complete, every tenth is critical. Trust me. In this race, horses one through five have a definite advantage. Gate three has the smoothest exit from the gate.”
Eddie glanced at the racing form. “The number three horse is a twelve to one long shot.”
“And it’s the horse I’m betting on,” Josie said.
Frankie didn’t comment, though Eddie noticed his wry smile.
“Tell us who you’re betting on, Frankie,” he said.
“Not the three horse.”
“You think he’s too much of a long shot, even with the favorable track bias?” Eddie asked.
“Nope,” he said. “I think an even bigger long shot will win.”
“You know something you’re not telling us?”
“The number three is a plant. Everyone in the paddock knows he’s supposed to win. He’ll be bet down to less than three to one by the time they come out of the gate.”
“This is all sounding complicated,” Eddie said. “How do you know so much?”
“The four horse is gonna come across the track and bump the three,” Frankie said. “He’ll veer to the left and take out the one and two. The six horse is a twenty to one that’s never won a race. It’ll win this one.”
“How do you know that?” Eddie demanded.
“His owner is Diego Contrado, the nephew of Chuy Delgado.”
Chuy Delgado, the Mexican drug lord?” Eddie asked. Frankie nodded. “Should I believe you?”
“I didn’t make it up.”
“Who owns the number four?” Eddie asked.
“Angus Anderson. He owns the three and the four.”
“Angus Anderson, the president of Anderson Energy Corporation?”
“Probably the richest man in New Orleans. He’s also a media mogul and owns more radio and TV stations, newspapers, and Internet properties than you can count.”
“The four is the favorite to win. Why would he ruin his own horse’s chance to help Chuy Delgado?” Eddie asked.
“Maybe he owes him a favor.”
“If what you say is true, your sources are better than those we have downtown. Who are your sources?”
“I didn’t say,” Frankie said.
“You know I can subpoena you and get all the answers I need,” Eddie said.
Frankie smiled again. “Answers to what?” I can’t even remember what we were talking about.”
Eddie took a deep breath as he stared at Frankie. “I gotcha,” he said. “You’re probably pulling my leg, anyway. Horses one and two are both good bets. If the four doesn’t win, my money says it’ll be the one or the two.”
“You’re a smart man, Eddie. I wouldn’t bet all my money on it, if I were you.”
“Stop it, you two,” Adele said. “We’re here to have fun.”
“She’s right, you know?” Josie said. “You shouldn’t disrespect your new bride by arguing in front of her.”
Frankie grabbed Adele’s hand and kissed it. “My wonderful daughter speaks the truth. Please accept my humble apology. There’ll be no more harsh words out of my mouth the rest of the day. Forgive me?”
Adele hugged his neck. “You big galoot, you know I do.”
“I’m also sorry,” Eddie said. “Let me buy the next round of drinks. I’m on vacation for the whole week. I intend to quit thinking about work, and I promise to keep my big mouth shut.”
“Good idea,” Frankie said. “I’m gonna place my bet. You coming, Josie?”
Josie grabbed Eddie’s wrist again. “Come with me to the betting window?”
“Why not? I have money burning a hole in my pocket.”
“Not for very long unless you take my advice,” Frankie said.
Frankie hurried ahead through the crowd, Josie and Eddie holding hands as they followed him.
“No matter what your dad thinks, I’m still betting with you, babe.”
“I was going to bet a hundred to win on the three-horse,” she said. “Dad sounded pretty sure of himself. I’m putting the hundred on the six horse instead.”
“You think your dad has inside information?”
“Don’t be silly. He has excellent instincts when it comes to horse racing, though from the absolutely crazy story he told us, I’d say he has a bit of fiction writer in him.”
“Then I’m betting with you,” Eddie said.
There were fresh drinks waiting for them when they returned to their table. Frankie and Adele were standing outside on the balcony, preparing for the start of the next race. Eddie and Josie joined them.
“Hope your prediction proves correct, Frankie. I put all my money on the six horse. If it doesn’t win, I’ll be living off my credit card for the rest of my vacation.”
“Hey, no guarantees,” Frankie said.
The starting bell rang as they watched the horses bound out of the gate. The three horse was almost too fast for Frankie’s scenario to occur. Almost. The four veered toward the rail, bumping into the three horse. The collision caused the three to impede the path of the one and the two. Taking advantage of the chaos, the six horse raced into the lead, holding it all the way through to the finish line. Josie and Eddie were going wild.
Eddie clutched Josie to him, twirling her twice before returning her feet to the balcony.
“Oh my God!” he said. “We won.”
The other spectators on the balcony weren’t so happy, most of them frowning as they wadded their tickets and tossed them into the trash. Eddie and Josie, smiling as they counted their money, were soon back at their table overlooking the track.
“How much did you win?” Adele asked.
“Twenty eight hundred and change,” Eddie said. “Gonna be a hot time in the old town tonight.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Frankie said. “You amateur betters are all the same. You’ll be penniless when you leave the track.”
“No more tips?”
Frankie crossed his arms. “You’re on your own, big boy. My horse is running in the next race. Hold the fort down up here. Josie, Adele and me are gonna watch from the owner’s box near the track.”
Eddie blew Josie a kiss as she, her dad and Adele disappeared down the escalator. He wasn’t alone for long.

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