Thoroughbreds and Trailer Trash

By: Bev Pettersen

Perfect for her father too. He’d been too lazy to build a shelter or paddock, or perhaps he’d been in jail at the time. Memories blurred. She did remember her mother selling eggs and puppies, desperately trying to raise money for her horse-crazy daughters. Now it seemed natural to keep Peanut in a dog kennel and compensate by giving him the run of Three Brooks’ vast acreage.

“Sleep tight, little buddy,” she whispered. He pressed his head against her stomach and blew out a long sigh, his version of a goodnight kiss. She latched the gate and trudged through the dark toward the illuminated porch.

Beer always made her drowsy and she settled at the kitchen table, yawning as she flipped open the thick book: Massage and Chiropractic for Equines. Everyone assumed she had a college diploma. Wally had desperately wanted an effective horse masseuse on staff so had quietly fudged her resume, and everyone had been happy.

Besides, she did help horses. Clients were always pleased when their animals walked away much improved. Peanut was a great testimonial, still very limber for a senior citizen. She’d been massaging him for years so she must be doing something right.

Still, it was best to be prepared.

She propped the heavy book on the table. Her sister was probably studying too, and the notion that they were doing the same thing was rather comforting. Hopefully, Em wasn’t missing home too much and could concentrate on her courses, especially since her high school marks hadn’t been great, and Jenna was no longer around to help.

Fluttering moths distracted her, bumping loudly against the porch light, and she forced her attention back to the page. So much of this massage stuff was common sense, so simplistic her mind wandered. She needed to fertilize the vegetable garden, check on a lame donkey and she’d intended to ask Wally if the scowling man with the hint of a smile had landed a job.

She yawned twice, closed the book in defeat and crawled into bed with an equine heat pack tucked against her shoulder.

The sound of a vehicle woke her sometime during the night, but she was too tired to check the clock. She fell back to sleep, vaguely curious as to why the maintenance people were working so late.

Chapter Three

Derek Burke strode into the meeting room and scanned the group of silent, anxious faces. He didn’t have to check his notes—thirty-seven employees, including a manager, grooms, handlers, exercise riders, and technicians—plus one masseuse. It was the masseuse who intrigued him.

She’d been stealing and his first impulse had been to hand her a pink slip. Yet she’d bristled when he’d criticized the manager and he admired loyalty. It was going to be a tough transition and unwise to alienate employees at this early stage. Most of the staff lived in the district, an area plagued with high unemployment. Some unpopular policy changes had already been implemented and it seemed likely he’d have to replace the affable manager.

He glanced sideways at Wally Turner and his disdain churned. Staff might like Wally but the man didn’t even have enough initiative to keep the aisles clean. The accountants had also reported disturbing discrepancies and Three Brooks, operating at thirty percent capacity, should have achieved a healthier cash flow. There definitely needed to be an accounting, and he was prepared to cut and slash.

But first, soothe the masses.

Wally introduced him to a cautious scattering of applause. He studied the faces, memorizing the truculent who might cause trouble, and outlined the new goals and policies of the Center. “There will be no immediate layoffs,” he said. “In fact, all employee credentials will be reviewed and salaries adjusted to industry standards.”

The Burke public relations people had advised that his expression was much too grim so he concluded his speech with a tight smile. A big-busted lady near the front returned an inviting smile but his scowl was quick and automatic, and she averted her head.

And then they were finished. More applause, louder this time and clearly spiked with relief. Plenty of time now to weed out the poor performers, the hapless, the liars.

He lifted a hand, raising his voice so as to be heard over the buzzing crowd. “One final item. I’d like Jenna Murphy to meet me in my office.” He deliberately refrained from saying ‘please.’ He had nothing but scorn for the Canadians and the permissive corporate culture they’d fostered.

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