A Horse to Kill For

Chapter 1

The sinister shadow of death lurks as an uninvited stranger in our sub-consciousness. Dr. Michael Jenson took a deep breath of the mist laden air and exhaled. The cold, foggy dawn only added to the vague feeling of apprehension that had followed him as he went about his daily morning routine. He tightened the collar of his heavy down parka and shivered in the bone chilling mist. Hunched over, hands deep in the pockets of his jacket, he walked toward the hazy outline of the barn. He pulled down on the brass handle and pushed against the redwood sliding door. He entered into the dank sweet comforting warmth of a well-kept stable.

Once inside, he heard a male voice humming a traditional Mexican cantata. The soft scraping sound of a rake rhythmically stroking the dirt of the barn floor was in perfect counter-point to the tune. The melody caressed the silence like a sweet lullaby. Jenson felt himself relax and his demons fade away.

Even from behind, he recognized the squat form of Pedro Martinez, long time groom and all around handy-man. Jenson intentionally interrupted his song with a loud cough.

"Hey, Pedro, what’s the problem with ‘Diablo Rojo’? . . . I hear that he’s not feeling well."

Jenson looked at him and Pedro stopped everything. He glared at Jenson and just as suddenly, looked down at an unknown speck of debris on the floor. Dr. Jenson, his wife, and the syndicated partners that owned ‘Diablo Rojo’ had employed Pablo ever since the colt won the mile and a quarter California Classic Stakes race for two year olds. That was eight years ago. He was a long shot and went off at forty to one odds.

Jenson and his other veterinary partner, Dr. Parker Williams, made a ton of money, five times his original price as a yearling. Williams quickly sold shares of the horse to a syndicate for even more money. Jenson retained part ownership. The horse never won another race. That was also the beginning of the end of their veterinary partnership. No one really knew why this past year, Williams had left the practice. Rumors placed the blame on Jenson and his increasingly egregious behavior towards clients and friends. At any rate, it had not been an amicable breakup.

Jenson walked away from Pedro and said,

"Are there any serious health problems?"

"Well, Doc I haven’t noticed anything I can put my finger on. I mean he is not the stud he once was. . . he gets tired and lazy... do you need any help? I..."

Jenson cut him off.

"No. You know I’ve known this horse for years . . . almost like a pet."

Pedro shrugged his shoulders and leaned his fine-toothed rake against the polished wood wall. He nodded to Jenson and ambled down the causeway to the end of the barn. Alone now, Jenson heard the soft rustle of animals in motion. A brown creature in the corner scurried amongst the hay bales. An orange tabby with tattered ears and a battle worn face purred and rubbed his jowls against the newly pressed trousers of the vet. He reached down and scratched him under his scarred chin. The cat flipped on his back and with pure pleasure rolled in the dust that covered the barn floor. He had patched up this barn cat warrior many times. They had a close patient-doctor relationship. Dr. Jenson straightened his angular frame and sauntered down the center of the barn, his stethoscope casually slung around his neck and black medicine bag in his right hand. He almost felt like a swaggering gunslinger from a western movie. That moment quickly faded as he entered the stall. Instinctively, he knew that something was not quite right. He had known this horse for ten years. Slowly, as his eyes became adjusted to the murky darkness, a form took shape, a shape that swayed back and forth, and circled only to the right. Still unable to see clearly, Dr. Jenson groped for the light switch that he knew was to the right of the stall door. With a flick of his finger, the stall exploded into blinding brightness. The sudden illumination startled Jenson and the horse. Jenson dropped the medicine bag and threw his hand across his face. He blinked, squinted and stepped quickly backward. Simultaneously, "Diablo Rojo" reared, turned and faced him.

Despite the intensity of the light, Diablo’s pupils were fully dilated. A ‘pink-curtain’ of tissue swiftly covered the corneas and then retracted. Jenson recognized this as a protective mechanism of the "third eyelid" of horses and other domestic animals. It had somehow been stimulated. He had seen this phenomenon occasionally, but only in severe tetanus cases or in drug overdoses.

Now the horse stood perfectly still. The sides of his chest heaved as if he had just run in The Belmont Stakes. His nostrils were flared like the intakes of a jet fighter plane and his eyes were still partially covered by this blood-red membrane.

Jenson approached the horse with an uplifted palm. With his voice in a low monotone, he intoned, "Easy boy, its O.K... I’m right here . . . easy now . . ."

Sweat dripped in small rivulets down the horse’s neck. Despite the cold dank morning, Jenson also felt beads of sweat form on his upper lip. He licked the salt from his lips, inhaled deeply and tried to calm his jittery nerves. He willed his body into a state of control. He felt ‘Zen-Like" and slowly exhaled through the gap in his front teeth.

Whether it was the escape of air from Dr. Jenson’s mouth or a furtive movement from an unwitting rodent, again something triggered the over sensitized neurons of Diablo’s brain and he attacked. He exploded in a wild fury and whirled to the left. With lightning speed the horse reared and his left foreleg hit Jensen solidly on the right shoulder blade. The crack of breaking.....

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