The February sky loomed forebodingly as the last shards of sunlight left its eerie remains on the dark, evil-looking clouds. It was cold and getting colder, as the three men sat motionless in the black limo parked behind the mid-town office building where J.D. Cumberland, owner and president of JointSystems.com, had parked his SUV. Facing bankruptcy, JointSystems.com had barely withstood another devastating setback in the stock market, and the loan shark from whom J.D. had borrowed the cash to salvage the company was waiting to reclaim his money.
“That’s him boss. Over there?”
“Okay, let’s go,” ordered Salvatore Salvari, as the three men, dressed in expensive overcoats, slid out of the limousine.
J.D. didn’t see the men walking toward him through the shadows of the parking lot as he reached in his pocket for his keys. Enwrapped in thoughts of his beloved three-year old colt, Blessed Charm, his mind was on his upcoming trip to Northern Crest Racetrack to see the speedy Thoroughbred poised to run the Grade II Cloverleaf stakes race the following afternoon. Having bought the horse when his company was on the rise and everything in his life seemed to be going well, J.D. was hopeful that Blessed Charm would have a good trip. But that was before he had to go into hock and borrow money from a loan shark to save his business. He was completely surprised when he heard the voice.
Startled by the manner in which he was addressed, J.D. spun quickly about to face the men as they moved in around him.
“What can I do for you?” he asked, eyeing them nervously. With the look on their faces, he knew he was in trouble and that the next few moments would be challenging. Walking up to stand face-to-face with him, Salvari spoke in a stern, deliberate voice.
“Where’s the money?”
“You what?” ordered Salvari, noticing how shaky the smartly dressed executive appeared.
“You been holdin’ out on me, aintcha?”
“N, no, I, I was just about to call you and…”
“And what? You were just about to call me and what? So, I guess you got the money, right?
“Ah, well, I, I haven’t got it just yet, Mr. Salvari. I thought I had until next month to…”
“Look, I’ve been keeping up with that business of yours and you ain’t doing so good. Know what I mean?”
“Yes sir, I sure do. I’ll have it in about a week.”
J.D. could taste the evil oozing out of every pore in the hit man’s concrete face. With eyes half-closed and a zombie like demeanor, Salvari moved in closer.
“You ain’t got no week. I’ll give you till the day after tomorrow. If we don’t get it by then, we’ll have to give you a little of this,” said the mobster as one of his henchmen punched J.D. in the stomach dropping him to the ground, then kicking him in the head just above his left eye.
“Day after tomorrow, got that? At this same time, or I’ll let Monte here finish the job.”
J.D. remained in a fetal position trying to hold his stomach and rub his head at the same time until well after Salvari’s limo screeched out of the parking lot. Stumbling to his feet, the thirty-seven year old Harvard graduate cursed as he climbed painfully into his vehicle.
You schmuck! Why’d you have to go to them for the damn money? You ignorant schmuck! All that education and what did it buy? Nothing! He thought.
Driving up the New Jersey Turnpike toward Northern Crest Racetrack and smarting from the henchman’s aggression, J.D. couldn’t decide what hurt worse, his head or his stomach. But traces of perfume and the multi-colored silk scarf his girlfriend, Hildie, had left behind, helped force the pain from his mind. He’d met her three months earlier in a nightclub not far from his office. She was partying with two of her friends, and he was just finishing his nightcap when he smiled at her from across the room. She blushed and turned quickly away when her eyes met his, but looked back toward him shyly, catching his eye a second time. J.D. strolled over to their table and introduced himself, offering to buy the entire entourage a drink. That night, he came away with her phone number as well as a date to meet her the following evening for dinner.
Hildie was the shy artistic type, having earned a BA in graphics design from New York University three years earlier. She remained as cheerful as her life allowed, always a good person and kind friend, but often suffered from bouts of depression ever since her twin sister had been found murdered during Hildie’s high school senior year. She’d spent time in and out of Charter Manor’s hospital for the emotionally disturbed, and had been on a plethora of mind-altering drugs for her manic experiences, but nothing completely soothed the uneasiness within her. That is, until she met J.D., and quickly took to his easy manner and kind spirit. They came together to comprise what many would call the perfect couple.
It was definitely time for J.D. to settle down. Every time thoughts of marriage crept into his mind, he ordered them out in a stern, NO! Hell NO!
His life had been progressing nicely. Not only was he falling in love with the young, sexy twenty-nine year old artist, but he was also on fire training his prized colt. The only problems he had were his failing business and that damned loan shark.
If Blessed Charm can just finish in the money tomorrow, he thought. I can pay that debt and I’m home free.
How he’d come to purchase the large silver-gray colt was a story in itself. Always an admirer of beautiful horses, he’d driven to Saratoga’s late summer auction several months earlier to watch the magnificent yearlings as they were paraded across the sales arena. Realizing a more than positive cash flow from his investments, he allowed himself to dabble in the sport of kings. Out behind the arena where the horses were staged for entry, J.D.’s eyes came to rest upon the most beautiful animal he’d ever seen. He noticed the hip tag number on the horse’s rump, and quickly made his way back inside to position himself for the opening bid. When it was all over, he’d bought hip number 234 for $124,000.00 that afternoon and was, without doubt, the happiest he’d ever been in his life.
He thought for over a month about what he would name the horse of his dreams when he realized how blessed his life was becoming.
That’s it, he thought, Blessed… something. The more he thought the more he decided to chose a word that would go along with the ‘blessed’. It took two days of on-again off-again thinking to come up with the final word “charm”.
“Blessed Charm,” he said, out loud. “Wow, what a name?”
Blessed Charm was a big horse by Thoroughbred standards, standing approximately 17 hands and weighing just over eleven hundred pounds. He was a silver-gray colt having a dark gray mane and tail. To J.D., he was the most beautiful animal, especially with his coat and hooves manicured and shined to perfection. He thought if he ever wanted to understand what the word perfect meant, he could just look at Blessed Charm, and he would know.
He’d been driving for over an hour as he approached the long, winding road leading to the stables of the newly built racetrack. Parking in the small lot, he walked up to barn number 26, and noticed Blessed Charm’s groom rounding the corner of the shedrow.
“Well, what do ya think, Santo?” asked J.D. “Have we got a winner?”
“Fine, mister Cumberland,” answered the pint-sized Cuban in broken English. “He fine.”
“But, is he ready?”
“Oh, he’s ready. I know him. He’s ready.”
The huge colt stood quietly eyeing the happenings of the barn, as J.D. began talking to the horse in a voice reserved exclusively for the animal.
“Now there you are big fella.”
It was obvious the colt not only recognized the man speaking to him but nestled his nose, lovingly, into his owner’s hands.
“How’s my big boy today? Have they been good to you? Sure they have. Tomorrow’s your day, buddy, tomorrow’s your day.”
It was nearing eight o’clock when J.D. spied Moss Wells, returning from his dinner.
“Hello J.D., how ya doin’, mate?” said the middle-aged British trainer J. D. had hired to mentor Blessed Charm.
Moss had been recommended by a friend of a friend J.D. had met through his worldly connections in the investment business. Having been asked to participate with a consortium of investors in the purchase of a up-and-coming Thoroughbred, J.D. turned the group down, but retained his connections on a friendly basis.
“Well, tell me something, Moss. Is he ready?”
“As ready as he’ll ever be. I think you’ve got a winner on your hands. I do.”
“Now Moss, don’t make me any more excited than I already am.”
“You mark my words, he’s sharp and he’s had a great week. He’s as ready as any colt I’ve ever trained. And I’ve trained my share, I have.”
“I just wish I were ready.”
“Now cheer up, old man. We’ve got as good a chance as any, and you’ve got quite a colt here. I wouldn’t trade places with anybody, and I mean it.”
“I sure hope so, Moss. But one thing’s for sure. I’m really proud of what you’ve done with him.”
“It wasn’t me. It was him. And, you for buying him. He’s a dandy, he is.”
“I’m gonna get a room and stay here tonight. I’ve got a change of clothes in the car and…”
“Why not throw in with me? I’ve got an extra cot in my room. I’ll be up most of the night anyway, with Charmy here.”
The two horsemen walked to the small room at the end of the barn where J.D. placed his coat on the vacant cot. Just as he was preparing to change into his work clothes, his cell phone rang.
“Hi honey, how’s it going?” responded the cheerful voice of the woman with whom he was not sure if he was in love.
“Hey Hildie, how’s my favorite girl?”
“I’m great. Where are you?”
“I’m at the track.”
“How’s the boy?”
“He looks great. I’m as nervous as hell, but he looks fantastic.”
“So, what’s the game plan?”
“I’m gonna stay with him tonight. When are you getting here?”
“I should be there sometime before two tomorrow afternoon. Where shall I meet you?”
“Let’s just meet here at barn 26. That way we won’t be looking all over for each other.”
It seemed that no matter what he ever suggested, she always seemed agreeable. Not that she was anyone’s fool. She was sweet by nature, which was why J.D. always got hung-up when he’d think she wasn’t the right woman.
“So, you’ll be okay there at the barn? Where will you sleep?”
“Moss has an extra cot in his room. I’ll be okay.”
“Will you be warm enough? Have you got enough warm clothes with you?”
“Oh yeah, I’ll be fine. Don’t worry, I’ll be all right.”
“You better. Okay, honey, I’ll see ya tomorrow.”
Tomorrow, he thought. That’s the same thing Salvari said, “The day after tomorrow.” He dreaded seeing him again, but right now, he had a horse race on his mind.
Members of an evil terrorist group, known as the Knights of the Caliphate, infiltrate the city of Louisville on a mission of vengeance where they receive an explosive device which, according to plan, will kill thousands of Americans, turning the acclaimed Kentucky Derby into a virtual holocaust.
As faithful fans descend on Derby City, Tucker Flannery and Gwendolyn Gardot have their Thoroughbred, Sugar Thief, poised to run for the roses as does J. D. Cumberland with his favorite, Blessed Charm, before Tony Tronti, a sinister mob boss, manages to extort the stallion for himself. But, can either horse compete with the Sheikh of Karoumi’s odds-on favorite, Karoumi King? That is, if the city remains standing, when and if, they all hear those famous words… Riders Up!
Unbridled Terror is the third in Robert Monahan’s The Kentucky Chronicles series.