"I want answers, Rooster," Mike said. "I really need some answers."
"You're about to get the ones that I can give. Others along the way will fill in their blanks."
"I was . . ." Mike tried to say, but choked.
"You were . . .?
"On my way out when you were in the stewards' office. You know I nearly died, don't you?"
"I seem to recall track security saying something about it. And while you were being taken to the hospital,
we were huddling together in the stewards' office, in shock about what had just happened to Brin, and terrified that the stewards
would falsely accuse us of conspiracy. . ."
The dark, narrow hallway outside the stewards' office was choked with the media; track security; sheriff's
deputies; and jockey's wives and valets. When the riders emerged from the office, their valets and security
surrounded them as the married jockeys clung to their wives for dear life.
The media camera lights were blinding spotlights. The reporters were becoming riotous as they shouted questions.
The valets were yelling, "STAY AWAY FROM OUR JOCKEYS!"
Rooster thought they'd never get out alive, and heaved a sigh when they reached the safety of the riders' lounge.
Burly security guards posted themselves outside the door. Sheriff's deputies stood inside.
"You guys are sequestered tonight," said the Clerk of Scales.
"What?!" the jockeys exclaimed.
"My daughter's got a dance recital tonight!" one jockey protested.
The Clerk held up his hand. "I'm just relaying a message from the stewards. Once you leave here tomorrow,
after they interview everyone individually, you'll be under gag order concerning the case. Understand?"
"Yeah, whatever," said Joel. His valet was crouched in front of him, and he was crying on the man's shoulder.
George emerged from the nap room, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
"Why didn't anyone get me up for the ninth?" he exclaimed. When he felt everyone's eyes on him, he brought
his hands down to chest level and surveyed the situation. The Southland riders were either crying in their wives' arms
or on their valet's shoulders. "What the. . ." he said.
Rooster got up from his dressing booth bench. "Brin got shot off her mount on the turn for home," he explained
through his tears.
George put his fists on his hips. "What?" he scoffed. "People don't get shot off of horses!"
"Whaddayathinkthatis?" the jockeys said, pointing at the monitors. Brin's assassination was being replayed as if
the tape were endless. George walked closer to a monitor and studied the footage. "But she's okay, isn't she?"
he said, turning back to the colony.
Rooster had had enough. "SHE'S DEAD, GEORGE!" he yelled. "BRIN'S DEAD OF A GUNSHOT WOUND TO THE CHEST!"
George's body seemed to get the message before his brain did. His face scrunched as he said, "Dead?"
In the blink of an eye, George was on his knees in front of a vacant sofa, continuously pushing the cushions up, screaming,
"NO! NO! NO!"
Rooster went to him and pulled him away from the couch. George buried his face in his roommate's chest and kept
screaming, "NO!" while wailing.
Mike looked skeptical. "Pardon my frankness, but I think he deserves an Academy Award for that performance."
"You need to talk to Mundelein," said Rooster. "He can fill in some more blanks where that's concerned."
Mike didn't like the feeling he was getting. He was surprised that he was feeling anything. "Mundelein,
huh?" he said, looking down and playing with the grass.
"Yeah, Mundelein. He's not been able to talk to you about the case more because you've been too upset."
Mike looked out over the ocean a minute, then back to Rooster. "Why were you so afraid of George, again?"
A dreamy look came into Rooster's eyes. . .
George burst through the apartment door, screaming.
"What's wrong?" Rooster asked as he ran to George. His roommate grabbed him by the collar and literally threw him
across the room. Rooster's head hit the wall and he was knocked unconscious.
When Rooster returned to consciousness, he thought a tornado had hit his living room. Books, pictures, and other
various items from the walls and shelves were on the floor, starting with the front wall and working around the room.
Furniture was overturned.
Rooster required a minute to get a bearing on his surroundings. He had no idea as to how long he'd been knocked
out. The sound of weeping made its way though his ears, and it sounded like it was coming from George's room.
Rooster crawled that direction, but couldn't see George anywhere.
Everything was hazy, but Rooster could make out the furniture. He saw something move under George's bed.
Peering closer, Rooster saw the man's foot. "George?" he queried, feeling every minute that he was going to either get
sick or pass out.
Rooster knew they needed to get help. He pulled himself up onto George's phone pedestal and dialed his agent.
When the man answered the phone, Rooster said, "Damon?" several times to make sure the man wouldn't hang up on him.
Rooster dropped the phone as he passed out again.
After Rooster was taken to the hospital, a sheriff's deputy was on his knees next to George's bed, trying to talk the
"Hey, man, I'm not here to hurt you. I'm just tryin' to help," said the deputy.
George was shaking and held a pillow against his chest. He whimpered and turned his face to the wall.
"Hey," whispered the deputy. "Is it about a girl?"
George started crying.
"Why don't you come on out and we'll talk about it?"
"Makes sense," said Mike. "I guess I'd be scared of him, too, if I'd gone through something like that."
"George's conniption nearly got us evicted. The landlady came to visit us after we were . . .better. . .and asked
what had happened. I told her that George had been rejected by a love interest, and flew off the handle. She didn't
mince words when she said if it happened again, we were out of there."
A car horn sounded. "Time's up," said Rooster. "Don't forget your assignment." Mike watched as he walked
back to his car, where Dr. Poe awaited him.
Ten good things about Brin. I could probably name a thousand.
When Mike walked back into the house, he had to fight a flood of memories. The most poignant were those Mondays
and Tuesdays when she had had only half a day of work, and he happened to be off-duty. She'd come running
through the front door--he'd be awaiting her in the open area--and she'd leap up onto him, wrapping her legs around his waist,
and her arms around his neck. He'd wrap his arms around her tiny body, and they'd get a conversation in around the kissing.
He went straight to the alcove and flopped down onto the bed. Enough memories for one day.
Or so he thought.
Back to Mondays and Tuesdays again. If he'd been out on the fireground all night, he'd fall into the alcove bed,
too tired to climb the stairs to the master bedroom. Such had been the exact reason Brin designed the odd little
space into the house plans. She'd come in from work, and crawl in behind him, awakening him with a kiss on the cheek.
One day they went out for lunch after she did that. She didn't eat that much. On the other hand, he seemingly
couldn't get enough food. She started giggling, and he asked what was so funny as the waitress put a large plate of
ribs before him. "We're going to have to stop by Rampart after this."
"Why, because I ate too much?"
"No. To see how high your cholesterol climbed in the last hour."
With a mock frown, he wadded up a paper napkin and lifted it as if to throw it at her. She put her head down on
her arms crossed on the table and giggled harder.
"I think someone's a little punch happy," he said as he bit off some meat.
She couldn't stop laughing. After he was reassured that there was nothing wrong with him personally, her laughter
started getting contagious. Some of the wait staff were cracking grins.
Brin looked him in the eye, then put her head down again.
"You think I'm nuts," she said, lifting her head and looking at him.
"No, I don't!"
"Is there something wrong with being joyful?" she asked.
"No," he said. "I just hope I can still drive." He had started laughing, too. She's so silly, but
I love it.
Mike decided he would go to lunch at the same restaurant today, since he was getting very hungry. Maybe he'd get
the same booth they'd had that day.
He surveyed the eatery, but found. . .Mundelein? . . .in the booth. The detective saw him, and waved him
over. Perhaps the reason why he'd had the laughter memory was because he was in for some heavy information from Mundelein.
"I just came from a conference with Dr. Poe and Rooster," said Mike. "He said you'd have more information about
the case for me."
"Why don't you eat first, then we'll go back to your place. I'm buying."
Back at the house, he and Mundelein sat in the den. He took the couch; the detective, the recliner.
"Rooster said George had some kind of overtly shocked reaction to the news of . . ." Mike said, emotion choking off the
rest of the sentence.
"I guess the only way to tell you is to just come out and say it," said Mundelein. "The reason George reacted that
way was because he didn't think Ramsey would do it unless he had the entire twenty grand in hand."
"But Welles is still liable, as far as I'm concerned."
"Welles was going to try to cancel his order."
Mike wasn't sure he actually heard what he thought he just heard. "What?"
"Welles was trying to back out of the deal."
Something wasn't coming together. Or perhaps Mike's disdain for Welles wouldn't let him believe that the man had
had a change of mind and heart.
"It's still Welles' fault," Mike said, fighting back tears. "It's always going to be his fault. Was it his
idea to do it during a race?
Mundelein shook his head. "That was Ramsey's. Said it would . . .leave a greater impression upon her family,
and you in particular."
Mike grabbed a couch pillow and started bawling into it. What could've been didn't matter anymore. The results
were in; Brin was gone.
Has anyone seen Mike?