March 2019 - A Damn Fine Hand
Written by by Joell Dunlap - all rights reserved by the author 2018
Wednesday, 27 February 2019 04:25


The Whole Enchilada & Three Phone Calls, Installments #8 & #9.

by Joell Dunlap - all rights reserved by the author 2018

Ann exhaled, pounded her forehead into the steering wheel and wondered what to do next. With no other ideas in mind, Ann continued driving and was not surprised that the parking lot did not contain Johnny’s shiny Land Rover.


Re-dialing his number sent her straight to voice mail. As did Mark’s number. She had to imagine that they were either together with their phones off, or apart and making up or fighting on the phone – somewhere. And there she was, sweating in her car in a parking lot with an angry boss calling on the phone, a doomed horse moving to the barn of an unscrupulous trainer, a co-worker mad as hell at her, a gallop boy and a groom short at the barn, it was three o’clock in the afternoon and she hadn’t had a decent meal all day. She desperately wished she was sitting in her backyard, drinking a cold glass of iced tea with the dog at her feet and a good book in her hand.


Ann parked the car and did her best to just breathe for a minute before making any decisions. After a few good inhalations, the one clear choice – was an enchilada plate.

Eating alone was never a burden for Ann. It was a blessing. Even more if she would leave the phone in her car away from her hearing. It pained her to think that Jude, Enrique or Johnny or her Dad might be calling, but she also knew that if she didn’t manage to eat at least one hot meal today, it would catch up with her sooner or later.  Refusing to look left or right in case somebody was watching the curly haired muscled girl bolt her food like a starving dog, Ann polished off a sizable plate of greasy food in record time. She bought a second Coke to wash it down with, committed herself to an extra 10 minutes of quiet before going to her phone to face the music that her absence at the barn had no doubt engaged. Curiosity and sense of duty got the best of her and she stomped her way back to the parking lot after less than two minutes.  There were only three text messages and no voice mail on her phone.

“R U allrite,”  from Mateo.

…and “Where the F*** did you go?” from Jude.

“we WON!” from Charlie Clahain, Pax Kristie’s jockey.

Nothing from Johnny. Nothing from Mark.  Somewhere between relief and disbelief, she started the truck and made an agreement with herself not to take a phone or an e-mail message from either Johnny or Mark for at least 48 hours. Looking at her watch, she realized she would make it back in time for evening feed if she didn’t hit any traffic. She dialed Enrique.

“Hey, it’s me. Listen, sorry I had to run out of the barn like that. I had some business to take care of.”

“Que?” Enrique asked.

“Just personal stuff. But maybe I can make it up to you if I do all the evening meds and feed for you this afternoon.”

“But you gotta go to dinner with Pax Kristi’s owners tonight. I heard the Boss make plans for you guys.”

“Enrique, there is no way I’m going out with those guys tonight. I have to get some rest.”

“Talk to the Boss, Patrona. Abe and the boys are excited about that mare’s win today and they claimed a horse in the sixth. They want more horses. Julie’s going too. So you know it’s some place fancy.”

Dinner with owners meant getting to bed sometime around midnight. She knew it was going to take more than four hours sleep to recover from today.
“I’ll call Jude. You tell the grooms that I’ll be there in 30 minutes and you take off.”

“You better call the boss first. I have the horses covered. You go and have a fancy dinner and bring old Enrique back a doggie bag.” There was cruelty in his laugh.

“Great. I’ll call him. Ciao,” she groaned as she hung up. The spicy lunch was playing havoc with her stomach. She made her next call.

Three Phone Calls

“Hey Peter, how’s my two favorite boys?”

“Well little Ms. Bo-Peep. It’s nice of you to remember us.”

“Listen Peter, I’m just having a heck of a day. Any chance you can keep Luke overnight for me? Do you have plenty of food for him? How about for you? Did Maggie come today and bring you some groceries? Did you have her pick up your prescription?”

“Slow down cowgirl. One question at a time. Whaddya have a hot date tonight?”

“Nothing even remotely that exciting. Just dinner with owners and I gotta make nice with Jude, I left him high and dry earlier today.”

“Serves that slick bastard right. You outta let him know how much he needs you.” Peter began wheezing.

“You sound worse. Are you taking your medicine?”

“Ah hell little girl, you don’t think I can take care of myself – do you? Luke and I do just fine I’ll have you know.”

“Did you get Maggie to take him out today?” she asked.

“I took him out myself, thanks for asking.”

“You know you aren’t supposed to go up and down those steps without someone there.”

“I had Luke here and he took good care of me.  Didn’t ya pal?” She could hear him patting Luke’s silky head.

“You go along to your party. Luke and I have plenty to eat and we get to see the Cubs beat these lazy-ass Dodgers tonight. We’ll see you tomorrow. Good night.”

“Night Pete. Thanks for looking after Luke.”

“Yup. Bye” he clicked off.

Next call:

“Mea Culpa?”

“Who is this?” Jude Keenan demanded.

“It’s me, Ann.”

“What the f*&k did you say?”

“Mea Culpa. It’s Latin and means ‘I messed up.‘”

“No sh*t you messed up. Where did you run off to like that?”

“I had some personal business to do. It was kind of an emergency.”

“Kind of an emergency?  What the f*&k is that?”

“I really don’t want to go into it. It’s fine now and it won’t happen again.” she assured him.

“Yeah. Well, we have reservations at seven o’clock tonight at the Brown Derby with Abe and a couple other folks from the syndicate. You’d better go home and shower and meet us there. Dress nice.”

“Is there any way I can skip tonight? I really have to finish the billing on the computer at my house and then I really have to get some sleep.”

“Sleep? Sleep is for sissies. You’ve gotta have a better excuse than that.”

“Sleep is for people who have to get on 14 horses tomorrow morning, unless you’ve hired someone this afternoon while I was gone.”

“Fine, go to bed and don’t even think about ditching the races tomorrow like your little stunt today.”

“Don’t forget I have to take Peter in for doctor’s appointments tomorrow afternoon, so I’ll be back for the fourth race.”

“Well, you don’t have to worry about the fourth tomorrow, remember we scratched ‘Dios.” He reminded her.

She felt a pain in her stomach that wasn’t just bad Mexican food. “I can’t even talk about ‘Dios right now.”

“I guess you heard what that jerk Wells had to say.”

“I’m going to call Alice Wells tonight and see if I can talk some sense into her. Okay?” She asked hopefully.

“Why do you worry about that old horse?”

“I just think he deserves better, that’s all.”

“That’s what I get for hiring a woman as an assistant trainer.”

“Yeah, that’s what you get. I’m going home to bed.”

“Maybe you ought to bring somebody with you and then you wouldn’t be so grumpy and emotional.” he snickered.

“Great, just what I need.”

“Might be Chica. Might be. See you in the morning. Don’t you dare be late.”

“Give my best to Abe and the boys.” she said.

One last call:

“Hello, Alice? This is Ann from the barn. Um, I wanted to talk to you about Viya Con Dios.”

“Yes Ann, Russ and I were very disappointed that he won’t be running tomorrow. We had friends in from out of town and lunch in the Turf Club planned.Russ is very upset you know.”

“I’m sure he is. The vet said that he would be okay in a few days. And that’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”

“Russ has made a decision, he wants Dickie Cramer to train the horse from now on. I know that you have taken very good care of him for a long time, but Russ has his mind made up.”

“Listen Alice, I want you to know that I understand that he’s your horse and that you can do anything you want with him, but I think you should know that he’s not a young horse and he’s got a lot of problems. I think what you should do is donate him to a non-profit I know and take the tax write off and retire him before he breaks down.”  She was trying not to sound pleading and pathetic.  But the pace of the day was setting in and she was having trouble keeping the panic out of her voice.

“What do you mean ‘break down?‘” Alice inquired.

“I mean permanently crippled, get vanned off the racetrack or worse.”

“This is the first we’ve heard of this. Why didn’t you say anything before?” Alice was peeved and it showed.

“Mrs. Wells, this isn’t your first race horse. I know that. But sometimes you get to know a horse really well and they just kind of tell you that they can’t or shouldn’t race anymore. Does that make sense?”

“It makes sense to me that you and your boss don’t want to see Dickie Cramer beat you with a horse you wouldn’t run. That’s what this sounds like.”

Oh Christ, she was making a mess of this.  “Mrs. Wells, I can’t tell you what to do with your own horse. I just thought that I owed it to you to tell you my professional opinion. Actually, I don’t owe you a thing, I just thought I owed it to your poor old horse. Have a nice day.” She clicked off, her heart beating wildly. She’d created a mess for Jude and didn’t manage to help the horse at all. Worst of all was that she couldn’t shake the notion of strangling both Russ and Alice Wells. Even though she knew that they were typical owners who had been screwed by trainers before and felt that they were just protecting themselves and their interests.

Author Joell Dunlap lives in Half Moon Bay with her husband, some smelly old hound dogs and 19 rescued and donated horses - most of them OTTBs. She is the founder and executive director of The Square Peg Foundation ( You can subscribe to read weekly installments of A Damn Fine Hand here:, or follow along in upcoming issues of CRM as we serialize her compelling novel.