I am making steady progress with Kickback and thought I would post a short excerpt. Don’t forget to sign up for my Early Bird List to be notified when publication is due.
Kind regards and a Happy New Year to all!
Race days were the best days. They made it all worthwhile. All the feeding and mucking out, the grooming and the tack cleaning; the early mornings and late nights. And then there was the relentless training; all day, every day, round and round the gallops in all weathers.
Yes, it was all about race days. And the prospect, the hope, of a winner. There had not been many in recent months but he knew that, one day, it would be his turn to punch the air as he crossed the line, eight lengths clear of the field. That was his dream. That and being led into the winner’s circle, the crowd cheering and clapping. Better still, on board his beloved Arctic Warrior.
For now though, it was his job to do the mucking out. And race days made for an early start.
He was always at work at least an hour before anyone else but then he lived at the yard in an old static caravan. It was a little too close to the muckheap for comfort perhaps but it was free and he was near the horses.
The season was a few weeks old and today was to be the second outing for Arctic Warrior. Two miles and seven furlongs over the hurdles in the 3.10pm at Taunton. The Charles Hedges Handicap Hurdle. He had checked the odds the night before and the Warrior was evens favourite. Not only that but rain was forecast making for good to soft ground. Perfect.
Surely, he must win today?
He had fed the horses and was skipping out the worst of the muck while they were eating. All except Arctic Warrior, of course. No one went in the Warrior’s stable when he was eating.
He paused for a moment to listen to the crunching of the racehorse cubes. There was something comforting about the sound of horses eating.
By 5.00am he had skipped out the horses racing that day and had a wheelbarrow full of muck and shavings. It was still dark and raining hard so he had been putting off the dash to the muckheap. He pushed the heavy wheelbarrow along the front of the stables, sheltering under the canopy. He paused at the corner and reached up to switch on the outside light on the corner of the barn.
The first blow struck him on the back of the head, just above and behind his right ear. The noise was deafening. Like a shotgun blast going off right by his head. He felt the bones of his skull cracking and his teeth bite deep into his tongue. His mouth filled with blood causing him to cough and splutter. Blood dribbled down his chin but there was no pain. He expected it but it never came.
He dropped to his knees and slumped forward over the wheelbarrow, face down in the muck and straw. He heard footsteps and turned his head to look up. A figure was moving in the darkness.
The second blow hit him on the forehead above his left eye. It was louder than the first. He fell back onto the concrete plinth in front of the stables. He could smell urine and hear the rain running in the gutter in front of him. Blood began pouring down his forehead into his eyes.
He heard the familiar sound of the horses eating their haylage. Loud at first. Then it began to fade away.
He didn’t hear the third blow.
Or the fourth.
‘What shall we drink to?’
‘Good question, Jane.’ Dixon raised his pint glass in his right hand. ‘How about living to fight another day?’
‘I’ll drink to that,’ said Roger Poland.
‘Me too,’ said Jane Winter.
They touched glasses in the middle of the table and then each took a large swig of beer.
‘You really shouldn’t be drinking that,’ said Jane, frowning at Dixon.
Detective Inspector Nick Dixon had discharged himself from hospital earlier that day, following surgery to remove a fish filleting knife from his left shoulder two days before. His arm was still in a sling and he was topped up with painkillers, which made for the perfect cocktail with a pint of Kingfisher. He was enjoying a celebratory meal in his favourite curry house, The Zalshah in Burnham-on-Sea, with Detective Constable Jane Winter and the senior pathologist from Musgrove Park Hospital, Dr Roger Poland.
‘So, you two are a couple then?’ asked Poland.
‘The grapevine has been working overtime,’ said Dixon.
‘Who told you?’ asked Jane.
‘Can’t remember. It was weeks ago.’
‘Most people seem to think we started seeing each other before we really did,’ said Dixon.
‘Everyone enjoys a bit of gossip, don’t they?’ said Poland. ‘And police officers are no different.’
‘Worse, if anything,’ said Dixon.
‘How’s the arm?’
‘It’ll be fine, or so they tell me. It missed the important stuff, apparently. I’ve got a few internal stitches and some Tramadol to keep me going.’
‘Tramadol and Kingfisher?’ Poland turned to Jane Winter. ‘He’ll be asleep before the main course arrives.’
‘All the more for us,’ said Jane.
The restaurant was filling up by the time their starters arrived. It was popular, even on a Tuesday night.
‘I’m still pissed off I missed the carnival. I’ve not seen it since 1995 and the first chance I get to go, I’m in bloody hospital,’ said Dixon.
‘There’s always next year,’ said Jane.
‘If you live that long. You’ve only been here a few months and you’ve almost been shot and then got yourself stabbed.’
‘Thanks for that, Roger. You’ve cheered me up, no end.’
Jane was watching Dixon tucking into his sheek kebab starter. ‘Better than hospital food?’ she asked.
‘Don’t get me started on that. I’m sure they do their best but…’
‘Don’t look at me,’ said Poland. ‘It’s not something my patients usually complain about.’
Their laughter was drowned out by a commotion at a table at the back of the restaurant. Dixon heard raised voices and breaking glass. He turned to see lager pouring off the table onto the floor. Two waiters were already in attendance, one clearing up the broken glass and the other attempting to calm the situation. The diners were seated, two on the fixed bench seat with their backs to the wall, the third sitting opposite them on a wicker backed dining chair. Dixon watched while one waiter cleared up the spilt lager and the other fetched a replacement pint.
‘Relax, you’re off duty,’ said Poland.
‘Off sick,’ said Jane.
Dixon turned back to Jane and Roger Poland. They were sitting on the bench seat opposite Dixon, who had his back to the restaurant.
‘Just keep an eye on them, will you? It’s a bit early to be that pissed.’