That afternoon Callie and Steven arrive at Chester’s hauling the trailer. She drops the tailgate as Eddie leads King out.
“The Kingster!” says Steven brightly. “How you been buddy?” as he pats him on his neck.
Louise and Chester are standing on the porch as Eddie walks him on. They lock up the tailgait and are about to get into the pickup when Louise brings a big casserole dish of the Minnie’s mini macaroni over and gives it to Eddie.
“A little snack for you folks tonight,” she says pleasantly as she hands Eddie the bowl.
“Why thank you Louise,” offers Eddie with a warm smile, “I know we will enjoy it.”
King looks out his window and calls out to his filly friend in the adjacent paddock. Eddie chuckles and says to himself. “Easy colt.”
They wave goodbye and drive on down the road to the Fairgrounds. Halfway back Callie turns to Eddie.
“I’m thinking of training him three trips tomorrow, the last one in about 2:10,” says Callie. “Whadda think?”
“Well,” says Eddie, “he’s been off a week and 2:10 won’t hurt him. Even-rated miles are great to build a horse up… we’ll see how that shoulder is now too.”
Callie nods appreciatively in agreement.
They turn into the Fairgrounds and have to wait in line behind three other trailers as the horses for Saturday’s 8-race program are arriving early.
“Everyone wants to train a trip over this track before they go to post,” notes Eddie.
“Wow,” say Steven, “them trailers are awful fancy!”
A brand-new 12-horse rig with dark green crests with a white RRR emblazoned on the side of the doors and the trailer pulls in behind them.
Callie looks over her shoulder, smiles and adds with a grin “the Big Bucks are here!”
“And the pressure is on,” exhales Steven.
They all laugh a bit nervously.
Callie pulls up to her barn where Sissy, Hank, Gabe and a few others are waiting for “The King.” Eddie is somewhat embarrassed as they all wave and chant “King, King!”
“All right, all right,” he chuckles as he gets out of the pickup. “No autographs today.”
“How is he Eddie?” asks a concerned Hank while Callie lets down the trailer’s tailgate. Eddie gets in the back to lead him off.
King bounces back down the ramp bellowing as he swishes his tail and looks around.
“Whoa colt,” says Eddie reassuringly as he walks him off.
Gabe laughs and shakes his head. “You got him sharp as a tack, Camptown. And just when you need him to be!”
“I hope so,” smiles Eddie as he leads King into the shedrow. King knickers as he goes by his neighbors.
Eddie puts him into his freshly-bedded stall and King immediately rolls, jumps up, and does a pirouette on his hind legs letting out a high-pitched squeal. He pokes his head out of the door and shakes it vigorously.
“He missed them!” laughs Steven.
“I think,” grins Eddie, “that he’s finally figured out what this is all about!”
Over by the clubhouse an Olentangy Distributers beer truck is unloading kegs of beer at the clubhouse kitchen as Step and Speedy walk by.
Step smiles at the driver and asks “How you doin’, Gerry?”
Gerry grins and nods to two cases of beer hidden behind a bush. Step gives him the thumbs up and says “Yo' da man!” and slips him a $10 bill. Speedy puts the beer into the maintenance closet. They walk through the grandstand lower level to emerge on the tarmac and see Amal cutting grass in the Winners Circle.
“Hey, Captain Hook,” calls out Step. “The boss doesn’t want anybody tripping over anything in here on national TV so you better do it right!”
“Oh no,” agrees Amal. “I will have it in tip-top shape even if I have to work all night!”
Speedy looks at him in wonder and turns to Step.
“That son-of-a-bitch almost smiled!”
“What in hell is the world coming to,” laughs Step as they walk across the infield shaking their heads.
Amal stops after they have left and looks at the coiled 25-foot 1” bare copper cable that he has hidden under a rose bush. He whispers to himself “el en ti com.”
He stabs at the grass with the trimming shears and laughs softly as he nods his head in realization. “El en ti com,” he says happily again, “…I will have my revenge!”
Later that afternoon Gabe and Eddie have fed the horses and are sitting in a couple of lawn chairs as they watch the flurry of activities around them.
Eddie nods over at Raymonds’ barn as his crew is still setting up the stable with all the flowers and carpets and brand-new equipment.
“I’ve been meaning to ask you Gabe,” says Eddie. “Is that Raymonds any relation to Miss Stephanie’s owner from back in the 60’s?”
“I thought you knew,” offer Gabe. “That’s his boy! He was only about 5 then and didn’t have a thing to do with the horses until the 1980’s. His father sold his car parts business and bought himself a twelve horse stable – paid top dollar for them too – and hired the best help there was. The boy got interested when they began to win and actually started to drive. Wasn’t too bad but he had the stock. He done good though and the kid was smart with money, syndicated three stud horses for a couple of million each and it just took off. Plus when the old man died about 10 years ago he left little RRR over 25 million.”
“25 Million!?!” says Eddie incredulously.
“He don’t have to work,” adds Gabe. “He does this just for the glory and to piss on people. Rumor has it he’s landing in the infield in the Shah’s private helicopter just in time for the race… showboatin’.”
Eddie just shakes his head and grins at Gabe. “As Joe Diffie sang: ‘I wish I had a problem like that.’”
“You and me both,” laughs Gabe.
At one of the sidewalk bistros downtown, Johnny MacArthur the catch driver of Staunch, is having a coffee and a sandwich as he reads a New York paper.
Two big goons walk up and sit down uninvited at his table. Johnny quickly looks up from the paper.
“Hey Johnny… long time no see,” says the taller of the two.
“Well if it isn't Bro and Moe,” smirks Johnny. “I don't have to ask what brings you two clowns to town.”
“The Circus Johnny,” laughs Bro, “we always come for the Circus.”
Moe leans closer to Johnny. “Been behavin’ there hotshot?”
“Yeah,” answers Johnny suspiciously.
“Johnny,” whispers Moe, “remember at the Downs a few years ago?”
“You wanted to get your hands on some more nose candy?” adds Bro.
“So you finished off the board with the 1-9 favorite, the one who ‘couldn’t be beat,’” smiles Moe. “We made one hell of a score.”
Johnny shifts uncomfortably in his seat. “I’ve been clean and sober for six years now.”
"That's good,” nods Moe, “real good, but we all need extra cash, don't we?”
“And our boss would like to make a wager in the race this Saturday,” says Bro, “a big wager.”
Johnny clears his throat. “I've given up playing games.”
“Listen, hotshot, you’ll only be racing for second money, Raymonds’ is so much the best in there,” says Moe sternly. “You’ll be second favorite. Finish off the board and let the Boss throw you out of the gimmicks.”
Johnny hesitantly shakes his head no.
“C'mon Johnny boy,” continues Moe as he lightens up. “You know once you go dirty you can never go clean and we've got videos of all those lackadaisical drives that you've been noted for.”
“That's all in my past. I've got a great wife and two fantastic kids now, those days are over!”
“You wanna keep driving, don’t you?” threatens Bro. He opens Johnny's jacket, tucks an envelope in, and
pats him on his chest.
“Just go along with it,” he says expressionlessly, “for your wife and kids' sake.”
“And especially yours,” adds Moe with a wink.
They both get up and walk away as Johnny sits with his head hung low, staring at the table.
Pete and Callie are in their trailer on the grounds. She stops as she pours herself a bottle of pop and looks at Pete.
“I’m going to train King three trips tomorrow,” she says quietly, “the last one in an even-rated 2:10.”
Pete looks at her in disbelief.
“He hasn’t raced in a week, you should go a mile about 1:58 or `:59.”
“He sored up!” says Callie a bit irritated. “Something wasn’t right so we took care of it. I don’t want him to strain himself anymore before the race.”
“Well, I think the only thing not right is your way of thinking!”
Callie stops and glares at him.
“Or do you mean my way of training?” she coolly asks.
“I didn't say that...” says a subdued Pete.
With tears in her eyes she turns her back on him and talks towards the cupboards. “Have I ever I criticized your driving?”
Chace and Evans are having a drink at a bar in Columbus after a long day.
“I’ve got that kid Miller listening in on the Greek,” says Chace, “but so far there’s been nothing.”
“That fat computer geek?” scoffs Evans. “I thought the only think he was good for was playing games on his iphone.”
“No, sometimes he pays attention,” laughs Chace. He turns to Evans.
“Did you run a background on Miklos?”
“Oh yeah… but no red flags that I can see. He got here from Crete as a ten-year-old as part of an amnesty group brought in by one of those “save the world” ministries. He got a sponsor up in Delaware by the name of Aella Drakos, she still lives here in town, works at the Donut Haven. She was only 13 years older than him, kinda strange.”
“Did Miklos ever get married?”
“Yeah,” answers Evans. “Back in ’98. An American girl but she passed in 2011. He has a son going to college in Boston, studying ancient history.”
“Hmmm,” ponders Chace. “Tomorrow morning let’s take a ride up and visit this Aella Drakos. I still got an uneasy feeling about this.”
“You just want to check out another donut shop you bastard,” laughs Evans as he finishes his drink, “you ain’t bullshittin’ me.”
In the back of the closed All American Variety a forlorn Nick is seated at his desk with a single lamp on as he reads his notes. He puts down the pencil and rubs his red eyes. He lets out a long sigh as he shakes his head and reaches for his cell phone. He dials a number. The phone gives two shorts rings and is quickly answered.
“Yes?” says the voice on the other end.
“It has started aderfi mou,” says Nick as he swallows hard. “It has started.”
Sitting alone in the dark in her small apartment a 60ish woman nods softly.
“Yes mikrós aderfós,” the stern-faced Aella agrees. “I know.”
The next morning at 6:30 a.m. numerous stables are starting to train. As they all have had a week off from racing since their eliminations each of the trainers are going three training trips. A crowd starts to line up around the track to watch them go their warm-up miles in 2:40 and 2:20. Most of them went the final trip around 1:59.
The growing crowd is abuzz when Raynonds arrives in his Mercedes dressed in a custom-fitted $800 training suit. His help almost snap to attention when he enters the shed row but he only acknowledges a few of them.
“Empty that,” he snaps at a groom as he points to a half-full muck bucket, “ and sweep up this mess!”
“Yes sir Mister Raymonds,” says the middle-aged man as he quickly springs into action noticeably in pain.
Cook comes out of the office carrying a cup of coffee. Raymonds glares at him sternly.
“I hope you’re enjoying your day,” he barks. “In case you’ve forgotten we’re going for $10 million on Saturday, we’re on international TV, and I come into the barn and it looks like something you’d see at a hole-in-the-wall county fair! If my owners came in and saw this mess what would they think? I want this place flawless from now on!”
“Will do RR,” agrees Cook as he defends the groom. “The boy got stepped on yesterday and he’s got a broken bone in his foot… he’s limping around kind of slowly today”
“Better him than the horse,” snorts back Raymond not really interested. “How was Gambler?”
“Good Chief,” offers Cook. “And we’ll be ready to roll the last trip with him in 15 minutes.”
Raymonds looks at his Rolex. “At least you’re on time,” he smirks, “I’ll give you that much.”
Over at Callie’s barn Eddie has just brought King after going his second trip. It will be an hour before he goes back out again.
Pete follows him in wiping off the dirt from his glasses.
“He was really good,” he smiles as he looks at Callie as she brings the lukewarm bathwater out to bathe the horse between trips.
Eddie scrapes him off, brings him back into the stall, and places two blankets on him. Steven hands him a cooler clamp.
“Gotta keep his core temperature warm,” he grins.
“You’re learning well,” laughs Eddie.
Outside Pete studies his stopwatch and raises his eyebrows expectantly at Callie.
“2:10,” she reiterates, “even rated.”
All around the track the spectators have swelled to almost a thousand and all eyes as well as numerous cellphones and TV cameras are focused on Gamble N as he is led to the track by two well-dressed grooms hooked to a new $7,000 sulky.
Raymonds nods condescendingly to the fans as he scores the majestic looking animal past them, moving effortlessly once around the now-devoid track.
Eddie, Steven, Sissy, Pete, and Callie join the rest of the crowd on the backside to watch as Raymonds turns to start the mile by himself. He sweeps into the head of the stretch of the half-mile oval and glides away from the two hole. Raymonds smirks as they have turned the teletimer on and it flashes a quarter in a leisurely :29 seconds.
“He’ll probably go a mile in about `:58,” says Fat George to Half-wit standing by the fence. “`:57 tops”
Raymonds hits the half in :59 flat and the crowd murmurs. He steps up the pace going into the backside and when the teletimer flashes 1:26.4 the crowd let’s out an audible gasp.
“He looks like he’s going a mile in 2:15,” says a startled Pete.
Raymonds doesn’t move a muscle and offers no urging other than whistling a “sveet, “sveet” quietly through his teeth.
Gambler N responds as he kicks in an awesome last eighth. The audience lets out a roar when he stops the timer in 1:53.3 …all by himself.
While the crowd shows their appreciation with a hearty round of applause Old Man Hopkins grimaces, walks back to his barn, and tells Willie that he’s going to go a fourth trip with Diverzified.
“But I already gave him a bath!” whines Willie.
“Just get him ready,” snaps Hopkins.
Ten minutes later Eddie and Sissy bring King out for his last trip and Pete goes to say something to Callie but she cuts him short.
“Horses are all different. 2:10,” she says emphatically, “even-rated.”
Up past the finish wire Bro and Moe watch as Staunch goes his mile in 2:00 and nod their presence at McArthur. He just ignores them when they say something smart as he goes by.
The crowd was quite disappointed when they put the watch to King’s mile in 2:09.4 and many of them shake their heads and began to leave.
Bro and Moe laugh as they walk away as well.
“I guess,” says a confident Moe, “that the show is all over.”
No one was really there to pay any attention when Old Man Hopkins came out for his fourth and last trip other than a few horsemen.
He went a mile in 1:56 all by himself.
He sat gloatingly in the sulky as he brought him back to his barn and spat at Callies’ shed row when he went by.
“How’d the hell did you lose your sunglasses?” asks an irritated Bro as he and Moe retrace their steps back onto the tarmac.
“If they were just a cheap pair I wouldn’t give a damn but I shelled out $70 bucks for the sonzabitches.” He stops and points to them lying along the rail fence. They look up just as Hopkins is passing by the half.
“Check this out,” says Bro as Moe glances at his wristwatch. He catches the last half in :57.
On the 2nd floor of the grandstand mezzanine the racing assistant Larry is excitedly on his phone to his pal Warren.
“Raymonds trained Gambler N in `:53.3 by himself,” he whispers, “but THEN Old Man Hopkins came out when everyone had gone and took Diverzified a mile in 1:56! They’re not gonna beat those two!”
He happily hops down the stairs and quicksteps it towards the exit only to be met by Moe and Bro.
“Hey kid,” calls out Moe. “What horse was that?”
“I, I…” stammers Larry as he diverts his eyes to the ground. “I don’t really know. I didn’t see him go.”
“Yeah?” smiles Bro knowingly as he flicks a $20 towards him. “”Would this help your eyesight?”
Larry hesitates a moment, looks cautiously left and right, then takes the twenty. “Diverzified,” he whispers. “Went a mile in `:56.”
He quickly puts the money in his pocket and heads on out.
Moe turns to Bro and smiles. “I think we got one cold exacta for the Boss to bet.”
“Y’know,” grins Bro. “I might even place a few bucks on it too.” He puts his sunglasses on. “Good thing we came back for these babies, eh?”
“You’re a veritable lucky genius,” says Moe with a shake of his head.
On the grassy area at the end of the barn area Eddie watches as Steven is walking King out. Gabe is letting Bert have his final sips of water and sees Hopkins go by their barn and spit.
“That man is full of jealousy and hate,” says a subdued Gabe. “There ain’t no need for that.”
Eddie just nods his head in agreement.
“Did you watch that horse go, Camptown?” asks Gabe.
“Yep,” says Eddie quietly.
“He pushin’ that horse to his limit,” observes Gabe. “He was all done at the end of the mile. Liftin’ his head up. You don’t strain a horse like that.”
“And I didn’t like those two quick snaps of the whip around the hocks,” adds Eddie. “He’s a mean man.”
“You and I are old school, Camptown… you don’t beat on these animals when they’re giving you all they got.”
“You’ve got that right,” says Eddie as he calls out to Steven. “Hey buddy, let him have a little grass. He deserves it.”
He smiles as King dives into the deep green vegetation and snorts.
“Now that’s what I’m talking about!” laughs Gabe. “Get that head down and drain them sinuses!”
Chace and Evens are just entering Delaware when the cellphone rings. Chace answers it immediately. “`Yello?”
“I was going to call you last night but it was late,” says Miller on the other end. “It didn’t seem like much but it was kind of strange. Miklos telephoned a woman named Aella Drakos about 11… called her “my sister” in Greek and said it had “started.” She replied “I know little brother” and then hung up. Miklos began to cry afterwards.”
“Good job,” says Chace. “Keep an eye and an ear on Miklos.”
He hangs up the phone, turns to Evans driving along, and points towards a side street. “Let’s go visit Aella… it’s time to make the donuts.”
Evans wheels the Chevy Yukon down Winter Street and pulls into the tiny parking lot of the Donut Haven. They both get out and walk into the small shop. Aella is cleaning off the counter after the morning rush and bantering back and forth with the one elderly customer.
“Morning,” she smiles pleasantly with no trace of an accent. “What would you fellas like?”
“Couple of coffees and two chocolate crullers,” says Chace as he checks out the shop. He notices an illuminated sign with lottery results. “You sell lottery too?”
“Doesn’t everybody?” laughs Aella. “What would you like to bet?”
“Oh, I ah…” says Chace but stops short when both he and Evans notice `Your Lucky Day’ posted next to the cash register.
“What’s this?” he asks with a smile.
“Oh, that’s just for my lottery players to have a little fun,” she smiles. “Each receipt I give them has a two digit number on it and they count it down on the numbers to get something to play.”
“I’ve hit three times this week,” grins the old guy at the counter, “it works!”
“Sheez,” says Evans, “I wish there was something like when I was throwing my money away. How long has this been going on?”
“Only off the computer for about the past 5 years,” laughs Aella. “We used to get a newsletter in the mail back in 'the old days'.”
“How long have you worked here?”
“Too long!” she laughs, “but it’s been over 30 years.”
She places the coffees and crullers on the counter and Chace glances at a small red heart tattoo on her forearm with a banner with 5.2.73 on it.
“The day my mother passed,” she says in a subdued tone.
“Oh, sorry to hear that,” says Chace as he motions Evans towards the door.
“Make these to go, if you would.”
Aella puts them in a bag and Chace and Evans head out the door.
“What?” asks Evans. “What’s the rush. That was a good interview.”
“I don’t want to show my hand just yet but I’m pretty sure Miklos has an identical tattoo on his arm. Let’s get over there to double check.”
Aella smiles and waves as the two drive away then turns and faces the donut case.
“Nai d’askalos,” she says under her breath expressionlessly. “Yes Teacher... 'be open and divert.'”
“Can I get a little service here?” calls out the old guy with a laugh as he holds up an empty cup.
“Quiet you old bastid,” says Aella with a forced smile as she brings the pot over to him, “or I’ll shut you off!”
“Not AGAIN!!!” the old timer cackles with delight.
On the outskirts of town, in a crowded 24-hour supermarket parking lot, Nick parks his car, walks up to a plain white cargo van, and punches in 43366 into its security system. The van unlocks and he gets in. He smiles ironically to himself and quietly says with a slight shake of his head “I-D-E-O-N… the birthplace of Zeus on Crete. Always with the national pride.” He looks in the back of the van at the food supplies, mostly canned goods and bottled water, lifts the console lid, takes out the key and an envelope. He opens it and studies the list of the three building supply stores then starts the van and, with a sigh, drives off towards Sunbury.
Unbeknownst to Nick, Aella had done the same scenario the day before when she picked the van up at the rental agency in Lewis Center, got the order of foodstuffs at Aldi’s on the way up to Delaware, and parked it in the same spot in the large parking lot.
At each of the three different stores there is a prepaid order waiting for Capital Realtors which he loads into the back of the van. Within two hours he is on his way back to the same parking lot in Delaware where he parks the van, puts the key into the console, and locks it up.
He walks over to his car, starts it, and drives up to his store with the sign on the door that says “Will open at noon.”
Before he was halfway to the center, the van was in motion again being driven west towards Ostrander.
Over at the track all of Callie’s horses are being walked and grassed by Eddie, Steven, and Sissy as she and Pete are having a bit of a discussion.
“We have too much on our plate this week to be trying to race the other horses at Scioto,” says Callie. “Besides one week off will not hurt them.”
“I could race Des and Burt myself, if you want,” offers Pete a bit exasperated. “They both could get in cheap this week.”
“No,” says Callie, “I want to concentrate of this race!”
“Good enough,” says Pete as he realizes it would be to no avail to argue with her.
And he slowly walks away.
At the store Chace and Evans read the sign and call Miller.
“What’s the story?” asks Evans. “Where’s the Greek?”
Sitting at his computer desk Miller leans back and stretches as he answers. “Don’t know. I haven’t seen nor heard hide nor hair of him since he closed last night. He must’ve put the sign on the door before he left.”
“Doesn’t he have any help?” questions Evans.
“Nope,” says Miller. “He’s here 17 hours a day. Seven days a week. He’s one of a helluva hard-working sonovabitch but he can pay for everything in cash: house, car, even his son’s college education.”
“Great country, this Hamerica,” chuckles Evans. “Okay,” he concludes. “Chace and I will hang around Delaware for a bit and see when he returns. We’ll keep you posted.”
“Antio sas,” says Miller brightly.
“What?” asks Evans.
“That’s goodbye in Greek,” grins Miller. “I’m learning a second language!”
“I’ll give you a goodbye,” Evans shakes his head. “Don’t be a pain in the Acropolis.”
At the Colonial Inn Suites a harried-looking young mother steps into the lobby totting a large carry on with a three-year-old clinging to her jacket. A weary cabdriver has an armful of luggage right behind her as her other two youngsters run in ahead of them.
“Travis, Justin,” she says tiredly, “come over here” as they scoot right to the large aquarium.
The cabdriver drops the luggage at the reception desk and says to the clerk “this is Linda Bethany, she’s one of the finalists for the Top Ten on Saturday.”
“Why yes, Mrs. Bethany,” smiles the clerk, “welcome to Delaware!”
The cabdriver tips his hat, says “good luck!” and quickly retreats out the door.
“And what horse did you get paired with?” asks the clerk as he eyes the two kids starting to climb onto a potted palm tree.
“Travis, Justin… come over here,” she looks resignedly at the kids.
Little Meghan at her side starts to tug at her jacket ”Mama? Mama?”
“Can you wait?” Linda pleads as the palm tree topples.
“TRAVIS! JUSTIN!” she yells exasperatedly to no avail. “I’m sorry,” she adds. “You were saying?”
“That’s no problem,” the clerk assures her as he motions for the janitor. “I was wondering what horse you got.”
“Oh,” she smiles widely, “Dancin’ King… he has the FOUR position. I think “4” might be my lucky number! I bought a scratch ticket on the lottery, I won $4 dollars and the serial number matched me up!”
“That’s great!” says the clerk just as the boys run through the lobby. “And you’ve got a guaranteed $10,000 prize as well as a chance for the $10 million! Too bad you didn’t draw Gambler N though… he looks like a cinch to win it all!”
“That’s okay,” Linda laughs as she pushes her hair out of her eyes. “Travis, Justin, come over here!”
“Mama,” say little Meghan as she tugs on her jacket.
“Wait!” implores Linda jostling the carry on and turns back to the clerk. “That’s okay,” she smiles. “I always like the underdog!”
“You’re right,” agrees the clerk. “You never know. I think I’ll put you in,” he adds with a wink, “Room 4… just for luck!” He rings for a bellhop.
“Thank you!” grins Linda as she calls to the boys. “Travis, Justin, come over here!" and the bellhop grabs the luggage and leads them to their room. Halfway there Linda looks down at Meghan.
“Okay honey,” she asks, “what did you want to tell me?”
Little Meghan looks up innocently and whispers “ I HAD to go to the bathroom.”
“Oh,” says Linda with a wrinkle of her nose.
Back at the desk the janitor eyes the clerk with a smile.
“Just another day at the Colon House, ” grins the janitor as he stands the palm tree upright. “For a minute I thought her horse’s name was ‘Travis, Justin’… jeezus, weren’t they a pair of wild ones?”
“The track reserved the room here,” adds the clerk quietly, “but I think they would have been better off to get them a cage down at the Columbus Zoo.”
They both laugh.
“Eh-eh-excu-u-use m-m-me,” stutters a tall thin man about forty as he approaches the reception desk. ”I-i-is th-th-this wh-wh-where th-th-the fi-fi-finalists check in?”
“Yes sir,” smiles the clerk welcomingly with a nod and raised eyebrows. “It is.”
Chace and Evens are driving through the center when the phone rings. They both recognize the number. Chace answers it.
“Yes Sir,” he says firmly. He listens for a bit, nods his head, and disconnects the call. Evens looks at him expectantly.
“They’ve got a delegation of Saudis coming in at John Glenn later today on a private jet,” says Chace. “They want us to check out the flight list and make sure the passengers are clear.”
“Ah, damn,” bemoans Evans. “More work. What about the Greek?”
“He can wait until tomorrow. We’ve got time.” He steers the Yukon onto Route 23 south and guns it towards the Columbus airport.
As workers put up multistage portable bleacher seats at the fence around the last turn Steven is grassing King over by the trees. Eddie is standing near him with a watchful eye on the phone talking to Old Fred back in Indiana.
“It was a gutsy call on Callie's part to turn him out,” says Eddie, “but he needed it… and it really helped him!”
“Do you think you have a chance in the big race?” asks Fred.
“I don't honestly know,” offers Eddie. “The two greenest animals are him and Gabe's colt, Bert O'Leanie. We still haven’t seen their full potential.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, we don’t know just how fast they can go…” answers Eddie. “They both only have less than 10 starts each. But it’d be great if they finished 1, 2, wouldn't it?” Eddie laughs at the thought of it. “We can dream, can't we?”
He looks at his watch and then the Jug Barn.
“I'll talk to you later, Fred. We’re going to have a photo op with the Top Ten horses and the contestants who’ve been matched up with them. That’ll be a crowd.”
“You always were a publicity hound, you old dawg!” kids Fred.
“And then tomorrow they're throwing us into the detention barn for the two days prior to the race. We’ll be under lockdown… almost like solitary confinement!”
“They finally caught up with you Eddie Houser!” roars Fred. “It took close to 60 years but they did it!”
“The funny part too,” says Eddie with a grin, “is that all of the grooms are staying with their horses while we’re in there… it’ll be just like camping out at the fairs when I was a kid!”
“Well,” says Fred seriously, “our hearts and hopes are with you, old buddy. The best of luck Saturday.”
“Thanks Fred. And don’t forget to `hello’ to the boys for me.”
Fred hangs up phone and hollers at the group playing cards: “Eddie Houser is gonna win it all! And I’ve got an ice-cold exacta for us to bet!”
At the Delaware post office after hours a tall distinguished silver-haired man with the air of authority walks into the empty lobby. He inserts a key into box 314 and takes out a small package, places it into his briefcase and walks out to his car. He then drives to a busy shopping mall where he unwraps the package, takes out the new phone, puts in a battery from his briefcase and turns it on. He enters "Archimedes." The numbers 272-446-3337 appear on the screen. He presses send. The phone rings once. It is quickly answered.
“Yes?” says an expectant man with a Spanish accent.
“Is Frederica there?” asks Silver Hair.
“I'm sorry,” answers the Spaniard, “but you have the wrong number.”
Silver Hair disconnects and dials 272-446-3336. The phone rings once.
“Is Frederica there?”
“I'm sorry,” answers an Italian lady, “but you have the wrong number.”
Silver Hair disconnects then dials 6 more sequential numbers, asks the same question, and is given the same response.
He starts the car again and smiles slightly.
“They have been taught well,” he says contentedly to himself, “very well.”
Then he drives off towards Ostrander.
In the Jug Barn it was controlled mayhem as the trainers, drivers, grooms, and most of the owners posed for publicity pictures with their Top Ten horses. Their various matching contestants – all of whom had been given airfare and hotel rooms for two for the weekend – joined in as well. It was quite a varied assortment. One by one the groups had their pictures taken and when Callie, Pete, Eddie, Sissy, and Steven stood with King, Linda – dressed in her Wytheville, West Virginia Sunday best - sheepishly brought Meghan and the twin boys onto the ”Green Carpet.”
“I couldn’t leave them alone,” she apologized. “Their daddy was killed in a mine accident two years ago and we stay together as a family. It’s been tough though.”
“Things are about to change,” smiled Eddie as Travis and Justin started to act out. Eddie, in a calming reassuring voice, said “let’s stand nicely and smile just like we won $10 million dollars.”
To everyone’s amazement the twins stood like gentlemen.
The papers throughout the world would print all the photos in the next edition and it was Dancin’ King and his menagerie that were grinning the widest as their stories tugged on the readers’ heartstrings.
Just before the press party breaks up Gabe walks over to Eddie with his driver, a tall lanky kid of 19 who couldn’t weigh more than 140 pounds soaking wet wearing brand-new colors.
“Hey Camptown,” smiles Gabe. “There's someone here I want you to meet.”
Eddie turns and nods cordially.
“Don’t you recognize an old friend?” grins Gabe.
“Old friend?” Eddie looks at him questioningly.
“This is my driver,” laughs Gabe. “Joe Powers the third! He's Joe's grandson!”
“Well, I'll be damned!” offers Eddie. “Where…”
“He’s been tearing up the Fair tracks throughout Pennsylvania and northeast Ohio. He’s a fresh new face with a ton of talent! This boy can drive!”
Joe turns a bit crimson and offers Eddie his hand.
“Gramps always talked about a good filly he once had way back when. He even mentioned your name a couple of times. Mr. Hauser. He said that you were a good man with a horse!”
“Your grandfather always treated me right,” smiles Eddie appreciatively. “He taught me a lot. I see he kept Stephie right up until she died. He cared for his animals. He was good like that.”
“He had her for 28 years even though she only had four foals. He always said that `someday her family was going to produce a world champion!' He looks admiringly at King. “I guess he was right! But why the heck did I have to end up racing against him!?!”
“Just luck of the draw!” laughs Gabe.
Joe looks over and smiles at Sissy alongside of King.
“So,” she teases, “the program says Joe Powers III or is that Joe Powers eye-yi-yi?” and bounces off to get water as Joe's eyes follow her.
“Ain't she a firecracker!” says Joe.
Gabe smiles and winks knowingly at Eddie.
“Whoa, colt! Keep your mind on driving, Joe Powers eye-yi-yi!”
They all laugh.
At the store Nick has returned and is studying the numbers on the latest posting of Your Lucky Day. He shakes his head solemnly and whispers quietly “what are they planning to do?” He picks up his phone and dials a local number. It rings three times before a male voice answers.
“Olentangy Distributors Warehouse. How can I help you?”
“Yes,” says Nick, “this is Nick Papadakis at the All American Variety in Delaware. I need to place a large order for delivery early this Saturday morning.”
“Saturday morning? Can’t you take it Friday?” asks the male voice a bit irritated.
“No, no,” replies Nick. “I have no storage space. It must be early Saturday morning for the big race customers.”
“Wait a minute,” growls the man as he covers the receiver with his hand. “Hey,” he barks to his assistant, “who’s on the list to cover this Saturday?”
“Gerry,” calls out the assistant.
“Okay,” says the man as he grabs a pen and order form. We can do between 8 and 9 on Saturday morning. Whaddaya need…”
At the Donut Haven Aella is closing up as she too is studying Your Lucky Day with pen and paper in hand. Without any change of expression, she takes her leftover day old donuts, gets in her car, drives to the local homeless shelter to drop off the donuts, then heads to mall parking lot. The white van is sitting in a spot among the shoppers as she enters the number 43366, gets into the now empty and spotless van, and takes the keys out of the console.
She will bring it back to the rental agency, drop off the keys, and return by bus to her car in Delaware.
As dusk falls she starts her car up and stares straight ahead at the Delaware skyline.
“My work is done,” she whispers as she breathes a sigh of relief. Then she goes home to her apartment and her two cats.
At the Delaware Library Amal is by himself at a computer along the back wall immersed into diagrams of electric circuitry. His eyes dart side to side at the screen as he studies the schematics and half-smiles at the realization of what he has to do.
“Yes. Yes,” he chuckles quietly to himself, “but I’d better get another 50 feet of coil.”
Two kids playing games a station directly behind him look at each other, shake their heads, and roll their eyes.
At the table at the far left of the room Larry’s buddy Warren quietly gets up from the console, takes out a 64 gigabyte flashdrive, drops it in his pocket, and walks unnoticed out of the room. He quickly glances over his shoulder at Amal to see if he’s been seen and upon realizing he hasn’t, steps up his pace to the exit.
“What the fu... why's that camel jockey here?” he asks himself as he unlocks his car door remotely. Then he ducks behind the wheel and drives off to his apartment by the river.
Over at the All American Variety Nick is preparing to call it a day when the door opens with a ring of the bell.
“Hello, how are yo…” says Nick as he stops in midsentence.
His face falls flat when he sees the tall distinguished silver-haired man close the door without a sound. Silver-hair studies Nick with a smile of recognition and nods approvingly.
“Geia mou foititis,” says Silver-hair benignly.
“Daskolos,” Nick says without any emotion.
“You have aged well, my Student,” says Silver-hair thoughtfully. “And,” he adds as he pushes an envelope across the counter, “have done a good job.”
Nick stares at the envelope. He opens it up and studies the $2,000 in new $100 bills and a gate pass to the track’s premier dining room for Saturday night.
“A reward for you,” nods Silver-hair, “enjoy yourself. Take the night off.”
“But Teacher, I…” Nick starts to say. And Silver-hair was out the door without a jingle of the bell.
In his small compact car across the street Miller is on the cellphone to Evans.
“Some tall dude showed up like a shadow and they kibitzed in Greek for a minute, called each other Student and Teacher.”
“Get over there and get an eye on this `Teacher,’ see if you can get a picture off our camera to run a facial recognition on him.”
“Will do,” says Miller but before he could even get out of the car Silver-hair had disappeared into the night.
When Aella unlocked her front door of her apartment the two cats were there to greet her as she cooed as they purred and rolled against her legs. When she put the lamp on she noticed an envelope on the floor while the cats walked indifferently over it.
“What do we have here?” she asked herself as she picked up the envelope that contained $2,000 and a gate pass to the track’s premier dining room for Saturday night.
As he pulled his car out of the parking space from across the street, Silver-hair studied the woman in the doorway light.
“Ochi chalera cheili,” he said solemnly as he drove towards Ostrander, “…no loose lips."
Eddie and Sissy are packing up all of King’s equipment as Mary and Steven arrive with a satchel of clothes for Eddie.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to sit with him Uncle Eddie?” asks Sissy. “I don’t mind.”
“I’m okay,” Eddie chuckles, “this is bringing me back to my roots! Why they’ve set up portable showers stalls and even have mobile dorm rooms if any of us want to use them!”
“What about food?” asks a concerned Mary.
“They’re have 3 catered meals a day right up to it’s time to go to the paddock!” answers Eddie. “And from the sound of it I’ll have to go on a diet when this is all through!”
As they each grab a bundle to carry, Eddie puts the leadshank on King and walks him out of the barn on the way to the Detention Barn. The small entourage follows him like a mini-caravan.
Over at Mel Hopkins’ barn Perkins is standing over Willy as he puts equipment onto a racebike.
“Don’t forget your hopples,” he eggs Willy.
"Go to hell," snaps Willy.
Mel walks into the shedrow and calls Willy over. Perkins quickly busies himself as he double-checks the equipment. Willy walks over to Hopkins.
“It’s too bad about those headaches you've been having,” says Hopkins quietly.
“Headaches?” asks Willy questioningly.
Hopkins smiles as he hands him a small CVS bag.
“Take this powdered aspirin with you to detention… for your headaches. Just be careful not to get any in any horse's feed, especially the night before the race.”
Willy looks at him with a slight smile.
“Why,” adds Hopkins, “it’ll show up as a positive in the pre-race testing and the horse will get scratched!”
He leans closer to Willy with a toothy sneer. “Then all the King’s horses and all the King’s men won’t be able to torment us again!”
Willy nods knowingly and puts the bag in his shirt pocket. He gives it a slight tap of his hand.
At the Colonial Inn Linda and the three kids are enjoying a swim when the two lawyers from Columbus walk through the lobby and head straight to the indoor pool. They stop by the glass partition and watch as Linda tries to corral the wild youngsters.
“Is that her?” asks the first.
“That’s her,” says the second.
And then they walk back out of the hotel.
Bro is on the cell phone with the mob boss Shaky Louie.
“You can bet all you want on a Raymonds and Hopkins exacta… with Staunch out of it that should pay about $20. What? No, the other horses are just filler,” he assures him. “They can’t keep up with those two.”
He laughs nervously as he hangs up and stares at Moe.
“Shakey Louie wants to bet a half a million dollar exacta… cold.”
“I hope to hell you’re right,” laments Moe. “He ain’t too pleasant when he loses.”
Bro holds up a scarred and bent ill-healed pinky finger.
“Remember that sonovabitch that fell down at the head of the lane at Monticello?”
“Well... yeah,” offers Moe.
“And he only had $20,000 on him that night.”
Under the darkened night skies Amal walks across the track carrying several bags into the Winners Circle. He places the cables by the electrical junction box along with the legit equipment and hides the plug under a pile of TV wires. He whispers to himself.
“And when they bring up the lights on the pig he will squeal loudly and be roasted to death!”
He starts to laugh insanely.
“And everyone will say `Well done, Amal! WELL DONE!'”
After the press and officials have left the detention barn Eddie and Gabe are sitting in their lawn chairs as the horses quietly munch on hay.
Eddie lets out a thoughtful sigh.
“Y’know Gabe, after the filly got hurt I lost my heart.
“That truly was a shame Camptown,” agrees Gabe, "she was gonna be a good one."
“I give up the horses,” continues Eddie, “joined the service, went over to Vietnam, and nearly got my young ass shot off.”
He smiles as he looks at King munching away contentedly.
“But I still dreamed. I could feel the lines in my hands in my sleep, talking to them softly as they listen to the sound of your voice and trust you completely. Then something bad happens and there ain’t a damn thing you can do.”
“But that’s life, Camptown, you can’t avoid it. It’s just like with kids,” Gabe looks at his son chatting with the security guard. “His momma died when he was young and he hung onto me like a lost colt. I always didn’t do the right thing but you hope and pray that things turn out for the best.”
Eddie nods in agreement. “He’s a fine man. I think my son and him would’ve been best of buddies too.” He puts his hand on Gabe’s shoulder. “I think I’ll hit the sack old friend. We've got a couple of big days coming up. You, me, Bert, and King.”
“G’night, Camptown,” says Gabe as they both lift themselves out of the chairs with a bit of a strain and effort.
“Ain’t old age wonderful,” laughs Gabe as an afterthought.
The barn settles down for the night.
Miller walks into the store as the bell rings loudly. Nick is standing behind the counter and he doesn’t even look up.
“Hey Miklos,” offers Miller, “that guy that was just in here…”
Nick just stares at him with a tear-stained blank expression. “What?” he mumbles.
“That man that was in here a minute ago,” presses Miller, “who…”
“He is not…” stammers Nick.
And then he puts his face into his hands and starts to sob uncontrollably.
Miller quickly gets on the phone to Evans who answers on the first ring.
“Whadda ya got?”
“I’m at the Greek’s,” says Miller quietly, “and the guy just broke down and started crying like a sonovabitch. He seems kinda out of it too. Doesn’t even know where he’s at… keeps fiddling with an envelope that looks like it has a bundle of cash in it.”
“Oh boy,” says Evans. “I knew he had issues going on. Check the cameras and see if you can talk some sense with him. If he doesn’t respond we’re going to have take him into protective custody and get him over the ER at Grady. We’ll see you in about a half an hour.”
Miller looks up at Nick who starts to babble to himself as he shrugs his shoulders and shakes his head.
Back in the car Evans disconnects the phone and stares at Chace.
“What is it?” asks Chace.
“This,” says Evans with a shake of his head, “has just got messier than a one-handed Arab with a case of the shits.”
Then he spins the Yukon towards Delaware.
Over at Disco Inferno Yee Haw and Frenchie are trying to get Hank to leave as he’s out on the dance floor with “Lola.”
“Dammit,” barks Yee Haw at Hank, “they’re gonna close the track to joggin’ tomorrow morning from 8-10 and clearing all the equipment of it so the Top Ten horses can do their thing. We’ve got seven of our smelts that got to go out. Let’s ROLL!”
Frenchie grimaces in agreement.
“Alright, alright,” say Hank reluctantly. He stops and smiles sweetly at Lola. “Now, now I gotta get back to the fairgrounds but I want you to be my guest on Saturday night for the big race.”
She bats her eyes and grins widely at the smitten Hank.
“Let’s ROLL!” calls out Yee Haw as an angry Frenchie waves him towards the exit.
Hank grabs his jacket and they head out the door. They start up the backstreets toward the fairgrounds.
“I, I don’t know why you guys are being such a fart-in-the-mitten,” complains Hank. “It’s not that late and the club doesn’t close for another five hours.”
They all notice a familiar figure running silently through the back alley with a look of panic on his face. Without acknowledging the trio he shoots across another side street and quickly fades off into the darkness.
“Wasn’t that Nick?” asks Yee Haw.
“What the hell was he doing running out this time of night?” says a dumbfounded Hank.
Back at the store Chace and Evans pull into the small parking lot and get out of the SUV. A sweaty and panting Miller emerges from the back of the building.
“What’s going on,” asks a concerned Chace, “where the hell is the Greek?”
Miller stops and leans on his knees to catch his breath and painfully straightens up. “He was just standing there mumbling to himself,” puffs Miller. “I asked him if he was alright and when I got off the phone with you guys he just bolted out the back door.”
“And…” offers Evans.
“I took off after the sonovabitch,” huffs Miller, “but he was a marathoner in high school and he ditched me after two blocks.”
“Which way did he go?”
“Towards the center,” points Miller as he grabs his sides in pain.
“He can’t get too far,” says Chace as they quickly climb into the Yukon and start it up. “You stay here in case he comes back,” he barks at Miller.
They head towards Winter Street that is alive with a festive summertime crowd.
“That 320 pounds the kid is carrying isn’t helping him,” says Evans as he shakes his head.
“Ain’t helpin’ us either,” adds Chace. “Where do you think he went to?”
“Let’s try his house over on Joy Ave,” points Evans. “He might’ve taken a shortcut through Mingo Park but we can cross over the Route 37 bridge and double-check the neighborhoods off 42.”
Halfway up Sandusky Street Hank, Yee Haw, and Frenchie look at the Yukon as it speeds off in the opposite direction that Nick was running.
At the trailer Mary, Sissy, and Steven spot a large package that was delivered on their porch while they were at the fairgrounds.
“What’s this?” says Mary as she stares at the hefty box. “Did you two order something without asking first?”
They both shake their heads no.
On Montrose Street an urgent knocking rouses Aella from her bed. She quickly puts on a bathrobe and hurriedly comes downstairs and turns on her hallway light as the knocking persists.
“Perimene!” she complains, “Wait! Wait a minute.”
She opens the doors to see a haggard-looking and heavily perspiring Nick standing in front of her.
“Adelfi,” he says begging, “we have to talk.”
“You know it is forbidden,” says a subdued Aella. “But come.”
She lets Nick in and cautiously looks around the quiet neighborhood before she closes the door.
Chace and Evans cross over the Olentangy, take a quick left on Milo and follow Flax Street out to a left onto 42 north. They spot a figure walking in the dark onto Joy Ave.
“There’s the sonovabitch now,” says Chace as Evans accelerates towards Joy Ave and pull up alongside the curb. An older blond lady turns and looks at them apprehensively.
“Shit!” says Evans. “Call Miller and see what Miklos was wearing.”
Chace dials the number, asks, and nods in agreement.
“He had a red OSU sweatshirt on and a pair of jeans.”
“Great,” says Evans. “So doesn’t everyone else in Delaware. Let’s check out the house.”
They pull the Yukon into the driveway of the neatly-kept two story Cape. It was unlit and unoccupied.
“He probably cut through Mingo Park,” offers Chace. “Drive up to that trailer park that’s just across the stream from it and wait a few minutes. If he did he’ll be coming out any minute now.”
Evans drives up 42 and turns into the old trailer park. He positions the Yukon just atop the hill in an unlit empty lot, turns his lights off, and waits.
“Give him a few minutes,” says Chace, “and then we’re back downtown.”
Hank, Yee Haw, and Frenchie walk into the fairgrounds and are hailed by Howard the security guard.
“You guys got to show your ORC licenses now,” he says.
“What the hell you talkin’ about Howard? You know us,” growls Hank.
“Protocol,” shrugs Howard as he points to a new overhead security camera in place, “I’ve got to enter all comings and goings and they’ve got their eyes on us.”
The three of them begrudgingly dig into their wallets.
“How the hell is Charlie gonna handle this?” asks Yee Haw, “he always got his head buried in the sports pages.”
“They stuck Moose out by the back gate,” says Howard. “He’s just sitting there watching TV and enjoying himself.”
“Well, I hope to hell he’s got a big piss jug with him,” grins Hank.
And they all laugh heartily.
“Have a good night guys,” says Howard as they walk into the barn area and to their dorms.
In the seldom-used maintenance shed under a dim light Amal is studying the printout that he had gotten at the library.
“Yes, yes,” he smiles as his finger traces the electric circuitry of the diagrams. “It will work. It will work.”
And then he impulsively starts to sing a Song of Praise in Arabic.
Old Charlie is standing outside the small security booth stretching his legs. He listens as he thinks he hears the faint sounds of the song echoing though the warm night air and looks around questioningly and mumbles to himself. “What the hell…”
Evans and Chace had waited ten minutes and were now heading back into the center. As they are stopped at the set of lights on Sandusky Chace drums his fingers on the dashboard.
“Sometimes Evans,” he says as he looks at the crowded sidewalks, “you’ve got to go with your hunches. D’we got the home address of Aella the donut girl?”
“I can get it,” says Evans as he taps into his computer.
They hit another light at Williams Street and were across from The Bale House whose outdoor bar was full with laughing, celebrating people.
“I’m glad they’re getting to enjoy themselves,” shrugs Chace, "take a right here.”
And they were quickly on their way over to Montrose Ave.
In the middle of the crowded patio were four of the Top Ten drivers, Larry Jansen, Ted Waller, Rob Pointer, and Johnnyy Mac Arthur as they recollected old times and the races from years past over a few beers.
“Do you remember those two spinster sisters from Tennessee when we raced the fall meet at Lexington about ten years ago?” asks Jansen.
“Pepper and Ginger?” adds Waller. “Didn’t their old man own that big grain company just north of Livingston.”
“Yeah,” chimes in MacArthur with a laugh, “and he sure put the grain to those two… they had to tip the scales at least 300 pounds each.”
“At LEAST,” agrees Waller. “Nice ladies but a wee bit short in the looks department too.”
“And they had this old orangutan named… Henry… Henry Able.”
“By Able Almahearse,” says Pointer. “They should have called him NOT Able, never threw anything.”
“Well it was the last day of the meet,” says Jansen, “and the two gals come up to me and say that this would be it for old Henry. They were going to retire him after the race.”
“A blessing in disguise,” laughs Pointer.
“And they pat Henry on his head and say ‘now you be nice to Mr. Jansen and don’t throw those steps in like you do.’ I just smiled and nodded accommodatingly. So they lead him out onto the track and add ‘make sure you don’t whip Henry, Mr. Jansen, because he’s very temperamental.’ And I just smiled and nodded accommodatingly again.”
The whole group laughs.
“I get behind the gate and the old hippity-hoppin’ bastard ain’t hippity hoppin as bad as he usually is and acts like he wants to race. So I leave out of there. And you,” he looks at Waller, “try to park me the quarter!”
“Well I ain’t gonna get stuck behind the fallin’ down sonovabitch!” protests Waller.
“I just sent him,” says Jansen. “Three quarters in 1:26 and a piece. At the head of the lane I’m on top by ten.”
“And that loooong stretch looms ahead of you,” laughs Pointer.
“An understatement,” agrees Jansen. “All of a sudden the old bastard crawls to a walk halfway home and I’m shakin’ the lines, jumpin’ and whistlin’ and pushin’ the bike as he goes even slower and I’ve got a cavalry charge closin’ in on me.”
“The troops were almost there!” adds MacArthur.
“So Pepper and Ginger, being the fine Southern Ladies that they were, both climb up onto the fence and began bellowing: ‘Whip him! Lace the son-of-a-bitch! Keep him going! Hit him in the hocks!’” finishes a tired Jansen. “A four-horse photo and we win by just a nose. Toughest last 50 feet I even went.”
“A new lifetime mark,” chuckles Pointer.
“And he died with that tab too,” assures Jansen.
“Did they ever tip you for such a fine outstanding drive?” asks Waller.
“Tip me?” grins Jansen. “Why I got to sleep between the two them that night!”
The four of them lean back and roar.
Over by the bar in the back Bro and Moe look towards MacArthur. When they catch his eye Moe nods ‘hello’ and tips his glass towards him. MacArthur’s smile falls flat.
At the trailer Mary brings the box in and places it the table. She looks at the label which reads: The Dancin’ King Stable.
“Can we open it?” asks an excited Steven.
“Who’s it from?” queries Sissy.
“It’s just a P.O. box in Indiana,” says Mary almost to herself. “I think we’d better wait and call Uncle Charlie in the morning and ask him if he knows anything about this.”
Steven lets loose a disappointed groan and says “alright.”
They turn off the light and head to bed.
On Montrose Avenue Evans shuts off the headlights and parks a few houses up from Aella’s place.
“As they say on TV,” says Chace to Evans, “you take the front and I’ll take the back” as they both get out of the Yukon and quietly go up to the house. Evans nods to Chace who goes around back then walks softly onto the front porch. A kitchen light is still on. He waits a minute and then rings the bell.
There were the sounds of chairs being quickly pushed from the table, the soft murmur of voices in Greek and then a lapse of a minute before Aella arrived at the door. She straightens her nightgown and finally opens the door.
“Yes,” she asks quietly.
“Hello Ms. Drakos,” says Evans, “can I ask you a few questions?”
Aella looks at him a bit puzzled then says in recognition “Two coffees, two chocolate crullers… you miss my donuts so much you can’t wait until morning?”
“No Aella,” says Evans as he pulls out his identification and holds up his badge, ”I’m Agent David Evans with Homeland Security and your friend Miklos just ran away from one of my associates. We are actively looking for him.”
“Friend?” she stammers. “I…”
“We know you sponsored him when he arrived in Delaware and that he lived with you for over 12 years.”
“Well yes,” she begins to back paddle, “but I haven’t seen him for a couple of years…” Her eyes quickly glance at a red OSU sweatshirt that lay on the hall chair but she instantly returns her gaze to Evans. “I don’t know where he is.”
Evans leans over and picks up the still warm and wet sweatshirt and checks the label.
“Medium, Aella?” he says with a smirk and a twist of his nose, “and if this is yours you’d better get yourself a stronger deodorant.”
In the darkened pantry Nick listens to the conversation and then quietly makes his way towards the back door. He releases the lock in silence and eases himself onto the small veranda. As he cautiously descends the three small steps holding onto the flimsy railing he keeps his eyes riveted on the kitchen window. He freezes when he reaches the ground level. Without even an exhale he turns and comes face-to-face with a stern Chace who stands with his arms folded as he blocks his path out of the yard.
“Nick, Nick, Nick,” he says softly as he shakes his head. “What are we going to do with you?”
Nick sucks in his breath.
As Chace takes him by the arm he notices the small red heart tattoo with the numbers 7276 on a white banner.
“Interesting,” he smiles to himself and leads him back into the kitchen. “I’ve got him,” he calls out to Evans as he motions for a defeated and solemn Nick to sit at the table. The table is strewn with paperwork and money along with pencils and rulers.
Evans leads Aella into the kitchen and checks out the table. He looks up at Chace with raised eyebrows.
“Okay kids,” says Chace. “Do you want to explain this? And we’re not in any mood for any bullshit. We’ve already got you both on federal charges so it’s best to come clean.”
“What charges,” protests Aeilla.
“As soon as I identified myself as a federal officer,” explains Evans, “you lied about seeing Nick. Obstruction of justice”
Nick starts to wring his hands as his eyes well with tears.
“I did not want to do this,” he says as he stares at the floor, “I love America but they have been pressing me for years.”
“Who’s `they’ Miklos?” asks Chace.
“The placement agency,” begins Nick as Aella glares at him.
“Trelos,” she blurts. “He’s crazy. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
Chace motions with a quick nod of his head towards Evans who takes Aella by the arm and leads her protesting into the parlor. He sits her down on the divan and adds “Cool your heels honey.”
“Okay Nick,” says Evans reassuringly. “What do you want to tell me? Let’s start with those tattoos you both have.”
“We all got them just before we left the placement agencies. They told us to `not forget our heritage.’ The number is supposed to be something to do with a relative but it’s not.”
“So what do they represent?”
“They are our codes for this,” say Nick as he pulls a printout of `Your Lucky Day’ off of the table. The number square had been highlighted in yellow diagonally and across lengthwise and top to bottom dividing it into eight different sections.
“This is the first time Aella and I have discussed this,” says Nick. “And only because the `Teacher’ showed up at both our doors the very same night. He is planning something very evil but we don’t know what.”
“Why don’t you know?”
“Because each one of his former `pupils’ only know one other student,” sighs Nick. “and we never know who the other coded message is for. We figured out tonight that the sections are targeted for either male or female but not both.”
“Which was?” says Evans as he studies the numbers.
“The men’s numbers are diagonal. The females are lined up top to bottom. The key is the center number where they all intersect. That gives the count and the section for each number from our tattoos.”
“Jeezus,” says Evans as he goes over it, “This is one helluva code.”
“Teacher is a perfectionist,” agrees Nick.
“Chace!” calls out Evans. “Come on back in here!”
Chance brings Aeila into the kitchen and sits her at the table. She gives them all a dirty look.
“Whadda we got?” he asks.
All of a sudden there is a muffled “whoomph” as the windows in the room shake a bit.
“What the hell was that?” says Evans.
Almost immediately the wail of sirens and fire engines are heard throughout the city heading north.
“That sounded like it came from the northwest corner of the town,” says Chace. “Call Miller and see if he knows what’s going on.”
Evans gets on the cellphone and connects with Miller. He listens and nods and then says to Chace: “he says there was a large explosion across the river. It looks like it could have been in the trailer park. He says he’ll call us when he finds out more.”
“Oh boy,” groans Chace with a slump of his shoulders. “I think that one-handed Arab just lost a couple of his fingers.”
The noise woke Eddie with a start. He sat upright on his fold-a-bed and looked around in the semi-darkness.
“D’you hear that?” asks a wide awake Gabe as he rests on his elbow on his cot the next stall over. “Sounded like someone fired off a shotgun.”
"More like an explosion,” grimaced Eddie, “a mortar shell being lopped in at you.”
The EMS Station #1 at the bottom of the back gate came to life and an ambulance and a fire truck lit their lights and sirens as they sped off south on Route 23.
“Somethin’s going on,” says a concerned Eddie as he throws on his jeans and gets his sneakers on. He grabs a light jacket and walks out of the barn. Already the security guard and a state trooper were outside as well.
“What is it??” asks Eddie as Gabe joins the three of them. They stare at a faint glow two miles southeast on the other side of the Olentangy.
The Trooper’s radio squawks to life in the night air: “Be advised we have a report of a house trailer explosion and fire with numerous injuries at…”
Eddie quickly digs into his pocket and speed dials Mary’s cellphone number.
“We’re sorry… the number you are trying to reach is not available right now.”
He dials Sissy’s number.
“We’re sorry… the number you are trying to reach is not available right now.”
“Gabe,” was all that Eddie could say as he looked at him with a pained look of helplessness.
Evans had been studying the paperwork on the table and holds up the money and the reservations.
“You know you got seats next to each other on the second floor of the grandstand” he asks the pair.
“We didn’t have time to look at them only that we both got an envelope,” says Nick.
Aella remains stone-faced.
“I’d have to say that whatever he is planning he wants you two to be part of it,” adds Evans.
“It is forbidden,” blurts out Aella.
“All I was supposed to do was pick up a white van at the shopping center on Columbus Pike on Tuesday and get three orders of supplies at three different stores,” explains Nick. “Then I left the van, locked, right where I found it. It already had several boxes of food in it.”
Aella looks questioningly at Nick.
“Did you do anything else? Asks Chace.
“Yesterday… I called and placed a large beer order for delivery on Saturday. I don’t need anymore beer until next week. Then ‘Teacher’ shows up and gives me the envelope.”
“You didn’t leave this envelope here?’ asks a concerned Aella.
“For what?” shrugs Nick.
She stops and thinks a minute.
“`The Teacher’ has done this before in France a few years ago,” says Aella with a look of realization. “He said that the students had ‘graduated’ and several of them – one I knew from my days at the school - were lost in the Paris subway bombing. I thought she was just an innocent part of the casualties.”
She clears her voice, sits up straight, and begins to explain.
“We call it `the Square.’ I deciphered my instructions from it on Saturday,” she offers with a look of determination. “On Monday after work I took the bus down to Orange, picked up the van and got the groceries – everything was paid for – and parked it in the same spot at the shopping center. Yesterday after work I brought the empty van back to the rental agency and got the bus back home. That’s all I know,” she added with a shrug. “I too thought my work was done.”
Chace’s phone rings. He quickly answers it and listens. He turns to Evans.
“That was Miller. A house trailer blew up off 42 North… multiple injuries, several fatalities.”
“Okay Aella,” grunts Evans as he scoops up all the paperwork from the table, “get some clothes on. You, Nick, Chace, and I are going to go check out the trailer park and see what happened. And then,” he smiles, “we’re gonna figure out this puzzle together and see what `Teacher’ is planning at the Fairgrounds.”
By now there’s a crowd outside the Jug Barn as people gather around the State Trooper.
“My family’s staying at that Park,” says the worried groom of Three Times Even, “what’s going on?”
“There’s been a report of an explosion,” says the trooper calmly. “Let me have a few minutes and I’ll see if I can get any info for you. The trooper walks away just out of earshot talking into his radio.
“I gotta get over there,” says Eddie to Gabe, “and see if they’re all okay."
“We can’t leave Camptown. We’re under lockdown.”
“Let me try your phone,” says Eddie. Gabe hands it over to him and he dials Mary’s number.
“We’re sorry… the number you are trying to reach is not available right now.”
Hank, Yee Haw, and Frenchie walk over from their tack rooms and ask “What’s all the commotion?”
Eddie quickly turns and looks at Hank. “Can you get that pickup truck and get into Mingo Park up by the tennis courts by Sugar Creek just across from the trailer park?”
“Why hell yeah,” says Hank, "but it's 3:15 in the morning. We'll have to sneak."
Yee Haw and Frenchie nod their heads excitedly in agreement.
“We can get across the stream easy, adds Hank. "It can’t be but a foot deep now, what with all this dry weather.”
"It's almost bare ground," says Eddie.
"How'd you know so much about Mingo Park and Sugar Creek?" asks Gabe in wonder.
"It's Steven's shortcut to school," smiles Eddie. "Him and I take a walk around the park just about every night..." his voice trails off.
“Here,” offers Gabe to Hank, ”take my phone and keep in touch with us.”
“You got it!” says Hank as the trio of them head back into the barn area to get the the pick up.
The trooper returns and tells the crowd that “it isn’t as bad as first reported. There’s injuries but no fatalities. One trailer has been badly damaged and is on fire and its two neighboring trailers are burning as well.”
“Did they say which trailer?” asks Eddie nervously.
“No,” apologizes the trooper, “they didn’t say.”
“We’ll find out Eddie,” says Gabe assuredly. “Hell,” he adds for a little relief humor, “we’ve got Hank and the Odd Squad working on the case.”
Eddie smiles a bit but then looks worriedly towards the trailer park and the glow. He presses the redial on Mary’s number. It rings once.
“We’re sorry… the number you are trying to reach is not available right now.”
Chace and Evans bring Nick and Aella along with them up Lake Ave where the street is filled with the flashing lights of fire engines, police cars, and rubber-necking neighbors still clad in their nightclothes.
“Jeezus,” exhales Chace as he surveys the scene. “I might as well join in the fray.” He flips his blue lights on and drives through the crowd. He spots a local deputy sheriff at the entrance directing traffic and emergency crews. He pulls up alongside of him.
“Any info,” Chace asks as he shows his I.D. to the sheriff, “on what’s going?”
“An explosion in one of the trailers,” says the sheriff. “No fatalities but some injuries. Three trailers were involved but we’ve got the fires under control. Blew out quite a few windows. They’re looking for the cause as we speak.”
“Okay,” says Evans to Chace. “Nothing we can do here. Let’s get over to Nick’s store and see what we can make of our own mess.”
“Yes,” agrees Nick, “I’ve saved some of the Squares from the past two weeks.”
“Looks like a long night,” grimaces Chace as he aims the Yukon up to the back shortcut to 23. “I hope,” he says to Nick, “you’ve got coffee.”
“Yes, yes,” smiles Nick, “the best in town!”
Aella just makes a face.
Across the river in Mingo Park Hank brings the pickup onto the service road with the lights off. He drives it along the perimeter into the woods.
“There’s… there’s the remains of an old foot bridge at the end of this road,” says Hank. “We can step across it and we’ll come right out at the bottom of the trailer park.”
“Don’t a couple guys we know stay over here?” asks Yee Haw.
“Yeah, yeah,” snaps Hank. “That’s why I know about this place. Now be quiet and get that flashlight out of the glove compartment.” He rolls the pickup to a stop and shuts it off.
The three of them all get cautiously out of the truck as Yee Haw turns on the flashlight which just casts a faint yellow glow.
“Gaddamit,” says Hank as he pulls out Eddie’s phone and turns on the light. “Get outta my way, I’ll cut the mile.” He leads them gingerly onto the algae-covered stones as Frenchie holds onto Yee Haw’s shirttail for balance. Halfway across Hank stops and points the light at the water.
“It’s only about foot deep here so don’t act like we’re walkin’ a tightrope across the gaddam Grand Canyon.”
Still Frenchie and Yee Haw stand unsteadily on the rocks.
Hank peers through the trees at the now smoldering trailers being hosed down with foam and aims the light onto the nearby shore.
“Jeezus,” says Hank, "isn't that…”
The phone vibrates suddenly in his hand as “Camptown Races” rings loudly from it. Frenchie falls backwards holding onto Yee Haw who instinctively grabs Hank for support. The three of them land hind end first like dominoes into the water and sit there.
“Gaddamit Frenchie,” says Hank, “as soon as I get out of here…”
The phone rings louder and Hank answers it.
“Eddie Houser’s phone.”
“Hank?” asks a bewildered Mary, “where’s Uncle Eddie?”
“He couldn’t leave the detention barn,” says Hank. “He sent us over here to see if you’re okay. Are you?”
“Yes, yes,” offers Mary. “We all are. Where are you now?”
“We’re sitting in the middle of the damn creek,” says Hank as he glares at Frenchie. “What happened?”
“That guy from Tennessee with the foot long ponytail was mixing up a batch of his leg paint on the stove when the whole trailer exploded. He was lucky,” explains Mary “he was going out the door when it went up and threw him about 20 feet away from the fire.”
“You talking about Old Raysum?” asks Hank as he sits in the stream.
“Yeah,” answers Mary. “He had that little tag-along down at the bottom of the hill away from everyone. The two trailers next to him were empty and about to be junked. He’s a bit shell-shocked and his ponytail is burnt off but he’s okay.”
Frenchie and Yee Haw get onto their feet and offer Hank some help to get up but he irritatedly shakes them off.
“Well Mary… Mary, you’d better call Eddie,” say Hank, “he was worried to death. You got Gabe’s number?”
“It’s on my phone,” she answers. “Thank you.”
“Okay,” smiles Hank as he stands, “our mission is complete.” He ends the call and points the two towards the truck.
“Leg paint my ass,” laughs Hank, “that old rebel bastard was brewin’ up a batch of that rotten overpriced moonshine of his. Serves him right.”
He motions for Yee Haw and Frenchie to hurry up and adds with a growl “you two are ridin’ in the back. You can airdry yourselves on the way home.”
He starts the truck, pulls a U turn, and drives out of the Park.
Eddie, Gabe, and several others are clinging to the state troopers phone conversation when Gabe’s phone buzzes awake. Gabe quickly answers it.
“Yes?” he answers. Why absolutely!” He breaks into a wide smile and hands the phone to Eddie. “It’s for you!”
Eddie takes the phone, recognizes the number, and asks hopefully “Mary?”
“Uncle Eddie!” replies Mary. “I’ve been trying to reach you but everyone else here was using all their phones at the same time.”
“Are you and the kids okay?”
“Yes. We’re fine. It just sounded worse than it really was!”
Eddie looks over at Gabe and mouths “they’re good” with a nod of his head and a relieved smile.
“That old hippy Raysum down at the bottom of the hill,” says Mary, “mixed up a batch of his legpaint on the stove and blew up his trailer and nearly himself. His hair got burnt off and he still doesn’t know where he is but he’ll be okay. About six trailers near his lost their windows but all the ones around us are good.”
“Well thank God,” sighs Eddie, “we were incommunicado here too. So I’ll see you all tomorrow?”
“Bright and early,” laughs Mary.
“Okay hon,” grins Eddie. “King and all the Top Ten horses are jogging between 8 and 9.”
“Oh… and Uncle Eddie?” adds Mary. “There was a package from Indiana that was delivered here tonight. Do you know anything about it?”
“That’s from Old Fred at the Pioneer Club,” laughs Eddie. “He said he was sending us a surprise. But I think we’ve had enough surprises for tonight… it can wait until tomorrow.”
“Right!” agrees Mary with a laugh, “G’night!”
Hank drives the pickup on Sandusky just as Chace and Evans are heading down towards the store. As they pass Yee Haw notices Nick and Aella seated in the back of the Yukon. He motions to Frenchie who raises his eyebrows. Yee Hah taps on the back window.
“What?” says Hank a bit irritated as he pulls it open.
“Nick just went by seated in a SUV with a fat blond lady. The two guys in front definitely looked like Feds.”
“Wellll,” says Hank with a grin, “maybe he was out partying a bit. You can’t knock a fella for that.”
“Shouldn’t we follow them and see what’s up?”
“You want us to follow a cop car at four in the morning? What… did your brain get waterlogged? We’re getting’ back to the Fairgrounds as quick as we can. Old Nick can handle himself!”
Hank turns the pickup into the gate and checks in. He drives over to the Jug barn and tells Eddie and Gabe that everyone’s okay as he returns the phone to Gabe. The group disperses and Gabe, Eddie, and several others go back into the Jug Barn chattering happily with relief.
Over by a corner stall Willy’s plaintiff whine calls out loudly “can we have a little quiet? Some of us are trying to get some sleep!”
The group just eye each other and shake their heads slowly.
Chace and Evans pull into Nick’s store where Miller has been sitting in his car keeping watch over things.
As Nick and Aella get out of the Yukon Evans tells Miller to “sit tight. We’ve got a bit of a question and answer session with these two." Miller nods okay and settles back in his car.
The four of them go into the store as Nick motions them to the back room.
“I’ve got printouts of the past three weeks of the Square,” he says as he points towards the desk draw. Ever since my number came up.”
Chace pulls the sheets out of the bottom draw and studies each one. On several of them each of the four corners have Nick’s tattoo number in the proper sequence and the page has been diagonally highlighted into 4 sections like a pizza.
“How does it work?” asks Chace.
“The number in the middle is the key,” Nick says as he puts his finger on a 5. “It tells us the count. Then the number that matches it either above or below it lets us know which “slices” to use and whether to add or subtract from it.
“So,” chimes in Evans, “this particular Square is to add 5 to the top numbers on the page.
“Yes,” explains Nick. “I count each of my tattoo numbers over to the set of two digits, like 20, then add 5 to it. 25 is the number of the letter of the alphabet, "y", that I will use. I keep at it until I reach a double zero… end of message.”
“I call mine a `pita’,” adds Aella as she sips on a freshly-brewed coffee. “A pie. I get my numbers from the lines drawn into a square like a spanakopita.” She raises her eyebrows and salutes Nick with her cup of coffee. ”Not bad,” she admits with a smile, “but then I teach you well.”
“What about these other sheets with different tattoo numbers?” asks Evans.
“We do not know,” says Nick. “They are for someone else. We were not allowed to decipher them.”
“And this one says…” asks Chace as he holds up the sheet.
“For me to find a white Ford van at Walmart and key in 43366. There were instructions for me left in the console.”
“That was the one they told me to pick up in Orange early that morning,” adds Aella. “My number came up the day before. What we know is very limited... we do what they say and ask no questions.”
“Oh boy,” moans Evans as he sifts through numerous pages, ”there about seven other “tattoos” and we don’t know how the pie slices up.”
“Well,” says Chace with a smile and a shake of his head. “You always said that you liked a good puzzle…”
“And to think outside the box,” agrees Evans. He turns to Nick and adds “You’d better put on another pot of coffee.”
While Evans sorts through the sheets by dates Chace turns to Aella.
“Who is this `teacher’ character of yours”
“He was the physical education instructor at the orphanage in Glyfada just south of Athens when we were residents there,” answers Aella. “He was very strict and we only called him `Teacher’ or `Sir.’”
“I remember him well,” adds Nick. “I left the School when I was 10-years-old but he drilled it into my head to `be loyal to my number’ and `remember your roots.’”
“And what was the story with that?” asks Evans. “You were just 22 when you sponsored Nick.”
“Yes I was,” replied Aella, “but it was actually my sponsor Dietra Deminos who began the process. She died of an aneurism just as Nick was on the way here. I took responsibly for him. She was,” said Aella as she paused in recollection, “a cold and demanding woman. A good mathematician - she was a bookkeeper - but emotionless. I think both her and Teacher were products of the Children Camps that were created after World War II.”
“Children Camps?” asks Chace as Evans hops up to go outside.
“I need my laptop and Miller,” he explains as he opens the door.
“The Childrens Camps were created in 1947 by Queen Fredrica to help all the displaced orphans of the Greek Civil war. There were about 30,000 of them of many different nationalities that were forcibly removed,” Aella tells Chace.
Evans returns with Miller who sits in with his own laptop as Aella continues. “The `Reform Camps’ took 12,000 children aged 4-14 and were indoctrinated as Communist janissaries – that’s Turkish for `New Soldiers’ and placed in 30 `Child Towns’ throughout the Greek isles under the control of Frederica and then given up for adoption. `Teacher’ and Dietra were products of them.”
“So that puts `Teacher’ well into his 70’s by now?”
“Yes,” adds Nick. “and very successful here in America but still a stern and spiteful person.”
“Alright,” says Evans as he finishes typing into his laptop. I’ve put in an old Basic Program that I made back in the eighties when I was a kid that will automatically add or subtract and convert numbers to letters.” He turns to Chace. “Read me a `tattoo’ and the key numeral and we’ll enter it as either a cross slice or a diagonal slice for each one. We won’t know whoever it was meant for but at least we’ll know what the message was.”
“This will take hours,” says Nick.
"Yes it will,” agrees Evans. “You can open up your store on time but just keep everybody away the backroom. Aella?” he looks at her questioningly.
“I don’t have to go into work until 11 today,” she answers.
“Good,” says Evans, “and you can as long as you keep cooperating. Miller,” he adds, “pull up anything you can on these `Child Camps.’ Get me some more information on them. I think we’re working with something of a large-scale operation here.”
And it isn’t up to anything good,” agrees Chace as he holds up a sheet to read. “Are you ready, Maestro?”
Chace studies the dozen pages and says to Evans “let’s test this program of yours… we’ll start with Nick’s number and see if it can translate his messages.”
“How many does he have?” asks Evans.
“Only two,” offers Chace, “same as Aella.”
“That’s what we tell you,” notes Nick. “Only two times in these many years.”
“What did you do before the internet came along?”
“We get a monthly newsletter,” chimes in Aella. “It was called “Home Times” and it had the Square as a puzzle for kids… count which number is used the most. A simple innocent thing.”
“And little did we know,” says Evans softly as he nods to Chace.
Chace calls out “plus 4 from the righthand side of the top” as he counts 5 places over. Nick points to the two numbers side-by-side: 1-9
“It’s always a two-digit number,” he explains.
Evans taps in a few instructions and the numeral 19. Instantly a “W” appears on the screen. Evans smiles proudly to himself. “Not too bad for a 12-year-old kid, eh? NEXT!”
Chace counts two numerals over.
“04,” he calls out as Evans quickly enter it.
The letter “H” pops onto the screen.'
They enter in 5-2-7-3 repeatedly until they come to an “0-0” signaling end of message: “white van at Walmart pick up weds. Ideon.”
“See?” says Nick excitedly. “That is all they tell us. I had instructions in the glove compartment in a sealed envelope.”
“Which came with the food order that I pick up,” adds Aella.
“Okay kids,” acknowledges Evans, “let’s see what these other Squares can tell us.”
The four of them hunker down with pad and pencil.
“It’s almost like bingo,” smiles Aella. “I love bingo! I play every Wednesday and Sunday!”
Chace and Evans just look at each other as Miller shakes his head softly.
The Fairgrounds it a flurry of activity as most of the stables are getting their “joggers” done before the track is closed for the Top Ten horses at 8 a.m. Mary, Sissy, and Steven arrive at 6:30 with the box in the backseat of Greenie Bug. They show the guard their passes and drive over to Callie’s barn. Callie and Pete are already there.
“Morning!” calls out Mary as Sissy and Steven pull the box from the backseat. ”I’ve brought the help and a surprise from Old Fred in Indiana!”
“Who’s Old Fred in Indiana?” asks Callie.
“He's Uncle Eddie’s lifelong pal, “grins Mary. “They hang out at the Sons of Pioneers Club outside of Bloomington.”
Steven calls Eddie’s cellphone. It buzzes once.
“Hey buddy,” comes Eddie’s voice on the line. “You already at the barn?” Steven seems puzzled a bit then looks over to the Detention Barn. Uncle Eddie is outside on the phone and waving to him.
“Yeah Uncle Eddie!” he happily answers as he waves back. “We brought that box here with us too!”
“Are you wonderin’ what’s inside?” grins Eddie.
“YEAH,” says Steven with the curiosity and impatience of a 12-year-old.
“Well open it up and tell me!”
Steven puts down the phone and gleefully starts to open the box as Sissy and Mary help him. They push the flaps back and pull out a clear plastic bag of white Tee shirts.
“Open it up,” say Sissy excitedly as Pete and Callie edge closer.
Steven unfurls a sharp-looking full-color head-shot of King with the words “Dancin' King” blazoned across the top. “And not just for a day!” is lettered on the bottom of the picture.
“Wow,” exclaims Steven, “way too cool.”
Mary reaches into the box and pulls out a manilla envelope which she opens. It is an 8X10 glossy photo of the 50-member strong Pioneer Club wearing their shirts as they all have their arms raised in a V with thumbs up. There’s a note attached which she reads out loud: “Good Luck from the Official Dancin’ King Fan Club. Indiana Chapter. Fred Harker, President.”
P.S. There’s another 48 shirts in here. Hand them out to our supporters!”
Steven laughs delightedly. “Can I take one over to Uncle Eddie?”
“Absolutely,” grins Mary as Steven quickly grabs a shirt and runs it over to Eddie.
They watch as he holds it up to his chest, laughs loudly, and returns an enthusiastic thumbs up.”
“I’ve got to get to work,” smiles Mary. “I’d like to take 4 of these for the girls at the unofficial downtown chapter at Burns!”
She gets the shirts and putters off in Greenie Bug as Pete, Callie, and Sissy head over to the Detention Barn to talk with Eddie.
Gabe comes out of the barn and sees Eddie modeling the new T- Shirt.
“What you got there, Camptown?” he smiles.
“Pretty sharp, eh?” grins Eddie. “If you’d like I can get one for you.”
“We be good friends,” laughs Gabe, “but I have my own loyalties. No thank you.”
The early morning crowds began arriving in the grandstand to watch the “big” horses jog. Several tables were set up to offer free coffee and donuts to the spectators which they enjoyed with a relish. It was a festive air alongside the track as Old Man Hopkins in full colors began to jog Diverzified as several others followed suite. Sissy and Eddie, both sporting their new T-shirts, were putting the bridle on King as Pete bringhs the jog cart over to hook him up.
“D’you want me to go with him?” he asks Callie. She looks at him as if he has two heads.
“No,” she says slowly, “we’re not changing riders in the middle of a stream. Uncle Eddie,” she asks.
“Yeah Callie?” says Eddie from the stall.
“Are you ready to go with him?”
She hands Eddie her helmet as Pete makes a bit of a face.
“Go as far as whatever he feels like,” she adds with a wink.
Among the other 8 horses being jogged by their trainers in their Sunday Best, Eddie brings King onto the track. As he goes by the various groups they all call out good-naturedly: “Hey Eddie! You gonna drive him in the race?” Eddie rolls his eyes.
“Hey Hoosier,” calls Old Chester standing next to Louise up by the first turn, “you’re looking kinda professional!”
Eddie, wearing a wide grin, just shakes his head.
Hank and the boys give a hoot “Hey Eddie! Don’t be shortin’ him now!”
“I’ll short you,” calls out Eddie with a laugh as the cameras and the iPhone click away.
“Moose” salutes Eddie when he passes in front of the stands.
Linda Bethany and her terrible trio wave happily each time Eddie passes by and the boys are behaving themselves for once.
The two lawyers are about twenty feet behind her studying Eddie.
“Did he give her any signal,” says the first.
“He just smiled and said `hello’,” answers the second, “but that could mean something.”
Bro and Moe are back in the shadows as they keep an eye on Johnny MacArthur as he jogs along with Staunch.
“Son-of-a-bitch won’t even give us the time of day,” growls Moe as Bro adjusts his shoulder holster with a grunt.
“He’d better,” Bro adds sternly, “or else.”
At Nick’s store the deciphering has turned a lot more difficult after the initial ones and Evans is getting frustrated.
“We’ve got one almost identical message at the Marysville Walmart saying to pickup a van but then the text turns into gibberish.”
“I knew this was too good to be true,” adds Chace.
In the front of the store Nick is busily selling quick-picks on all the lottery games as a lot of customers file in and out. He walks into the back during a lull.
“This is the last day they can by lottery tickets to be entered into the drawing,” he explains. “One man just bought $500 worth of pick 3 numbers, straight. Tomorrow they can only be entered at the track.”
“A waste,” grunts Aella as she is sitting in a chair, "I work too hard for my money. The three of them go over the half-decoded sheets. “And remember," she adds, "the pupils were not all English-speaking Greeks. “Many of the children were German, Italian, Spanish, Croatian, French, and Hungarian and the alphabet used could be their own. We do not know.”
“Oh boy,” groans Evans. “that’s all we need.”
“Is there any one of them that makes any sense?” asks Chace.
“An older one from two weeks ago,” answers Evans, “but it only translates in one phrase and it’s meant for both a male or female, I think.
“What’s the phrase?” asks Chace as he leans in to take a closer look.
“Ephialtes,” says Evans with a sigh.
Aella seem to drop deeper in the chair.
“Ephialtes?” asks Miller with a look of recognition.
Aella’s face glazes over as she begins to perspire and breath heavily.
“Ephialtes?” echoes Nick. “He was…
“TRAITOR!!!” screams Aella as she lunges out of her chair and hurls herself onto an unsuspecting Nick. They both crash heavily to the floor as Nick’s head slams into the side of the desk. A spurt of crimson sprays over Chace and Evans as Aella has her hands locked around Nick’s throat.
“Whoa, whoa, WHOA!” bellows Evans as Chance dives to grab Aella’s shoulders. He reaches in to try to pull the insane woman off of Nick. Miller is standing slack-jawed as Aella continues to scream “TRAITOR!” as she rocks back and forth on the unconscious Nick.
“He’s turning blue!” yells Chace but neither of them can get Aella to release her grasp. Miller joins into the fray and they are finally able to pull her off. She continues to fight and kick before she arches her whole body, rolls her eyes back into her head, and let’s out a low guttural moan.
“She’s going into a grand mal,” yells an unbelieving Chace, “get something so she won’t bite her tongue off.”
Miller spots a hammer and puts the handle in her mouth as she then goes into body spasms.
“Restrain her!” says Chace and Miller quickly grabs a roll of duct tape off a shelf. With all the efforts of the three of them they get Aella’s wrists and ankles bound as she keeps struggling to get at Nick.
He lays motionless in a pool of blood.
They pull Aella away from him and check his pulse and the gash alongside his head.
“He’s alive,” says Evans, “get me some water to clean him up and see if he comes to.”
As they wipe him down and put pressure to the wound Aella continues to struggle. She has a look of absolute hatred in her eyes when Nick revives a bit.
“We’re gonna have to get these two over to County,” says Chace as he motions to the door. Miller goes out to get the Yukon.
“What the hell happened?” says a shell-shocked Evans as he gets to his feet. “All I said was `ephialtes’.”
Aella starts to struggle against her restraints even more as she growls from deep in her throat.
“I don’t know for sure,” explains Chace as he looks at her, “but Aella shows all the signs of some pretty deep subliminal programming. Don’t forget,” he adds, “she was a pupil for her entire childhood.”
“Okay,” agrees Evans as Miller comes back in, “shut this place down. I’ll take Nick in the car with me, you and Miller can bring Aella in the Yukon.”
Chace nods his head in agreement as they help Nick to his feet. “What hap…?” is all Nick can manage as he presses the cloth to his head. They sit him in a chair as the three of them ready themselves to carry Aella out to the Yukon.
Evans looks at Chace and raises his eyebrows.
“Just another lovely day in the neighborhood,” he shakes his head.