Thoroughbreds and Trailer Trash

By: Bev Pettersen

“Yes, I’d definitely assume that. But horses are always unpredictable, sir.”

“Exactly. Which is why you should have a chain over his nose.”

“Of course. We were just…hurrying. Sorry, sir.”

Derek nodded and stepped back. The second man grabbed a chain and looped it over the gelding’s nose. Clearly this animal wasn’t going to cause any problems. However, the Center’s future patients would be fresh off the track and powered up from racing. He’d wait a few weeks before treating any top class horses. Let the staff practice on cheaper, more expendable animals.

He pushed through the swinging door and into the solarium. A chestnut mare stood under the infrared lights, head lowered, hind leg tilted, clearly enjoying her light treatment.

A slim brunette nodded but didn’t meet his gaze. “Good afternoon. I’m Anna,” she mumbled.

“I’m Mr. Burke.” He stepped closer. “If you have owners or trainers checking on their horse, what would you tell them about this treatment?”

“That infrared stimulates circulation and helps skin issues or dermatitis. That it promotes their general well-being.”

She faltered and he nodded encouragingly.

“I might also say,” she added, “that they sometimes fall asleep under the lights and that it’s especially beneficial after a massage. And that they love it.”

“Very good, Anna. Now jog my memory—where exactly is the massage room?”

“Down the hall, to the left. But Jenna wants people to knock before entering.”

He strode down the hall and pushed the door open, deliberately not knocking. Jenna glanced up from a thick textbook, her eyes flashing with annoyance. “Hey, Burke. Next time knock. Don’t scare my horse.”

“There’s no horse in here.”

Her smile was slightly mischievous. “But you didn’t know that. Have a seat.”

He didn’t like to be offered anything that was already his, but it had been a tiring day and she, at least, wasn’t uptight. He stretched out his legs, folded his arms behind his head and watched her through narrowed lids. Rather odd to have a textbook beside her. None of the other technicians had books.

“Studying for something?” he asked.

Her hesitation was almost imperceptible but it was there. “I have my massage diploma but I’m finishing my…equine sports certificate.”

“Burke policy is to increase salary with all post secondary education.”

Interest flared in her blue eyes. “Yes, I heard. Actually, I’m pretty much finished. So that’s a ten percent increase, right?”

“That’s right. How many horses can you massage a day?”

“As many as you want.” She laughed. “And it also depends on what’s wrong with them and how quiet they are.”

“I need an exact time for scheduling. Is there an appointment book somewhere?” Massage was probably the least important treatment offered with less tangible results. If the profit margin was negligible, he intended to drop the service. Not that he’d tell her, not yet. And for now, it would increase profits to squeeze in as many massages as possible.

“Of course, there’s an appointment book. Wally keeps it up to date.” She subtly shifted on the chair, but his senses were honed and he knew the signs of guilt. “Would you like to see the next patient?” She gestured at the end doors. “Molly will be arriving soon.”

And indeed Molly did arrive. He’d never seen such an ugly mare, with cow hocks, a swayback and a dragging left hip. “Jesus, why don’t we just shoot her,” he said.

“Shush, Burke. You’ll hurt her feelings.”

The handler’s eyes widened. Jenna really shouldn’t be telling him to shush—and she definitely shouldn’t be calling him Burke—but he was too stunned by the horse to bother with a reprimand. This unsightly animal couldn’t possibly be a Thoroughbred.

Jenna dragged a blue plastic block behind the horse’s hindquarters and stepped up. He hadn’t seen many massages before, but the ones he’d viewed had always started at the front. Maybe she was doing a shorter version since the horse was evidently on its last legs.

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