Thoroughbreds and Trailer Trash

By: Bev Pettersen



“I’m still an employee then?” She replaced the frame and swung around, her shoulders relaxing, and he realized then he’d made a mistake. The job mattered to her; it mattered very much.

Good. It was always easier to control staff if he understood their motivations. “Of course, you’re still an employee,” he said. “At this stage, you’re my closest friend in Stillwater.”

Her mouth curved with irrepressible humor. “Kind of like your number one employee?”

“Let’s not push it,” he said, trying not to smile back. “And I don’t want to see you lugging any more company supplies to your car.”

“Oh, you won’t see that again, Burke. Promise.”

She flashed him a jaunty wave. He stupidly waved back, and she was gone before he could tell her not to call him Burke.



***



The next ten interviews were tedious and much more routine, ranging from a stammering receptionist to a brown-nosing groom. Derek turned his chair, glancing out the window at the construction site, watching as wood was expertly planed. Yesterday they’d been resizing planks, and he itched to get his hands on a power saw.

“Three Brooks is very important to me, Mr. Burke. I’m hoping to make head groom in five years.”

Derek nodded, adding another doodle on his yellow pad.

“I’ve been working here for three years and always intended to take courses on animal husbandry. There’s a college close by—”

“Yes, yes. That’s excellent.” Derek waved a hand in dismissal. “Your salary will raise ten percent when you complete a diploma. That will be all.”

The man—pointless to remember all their names—rose and rushed away with a bounce in his step. Derek stretched his legs and exhaled. Clearly high unemployment in the area would make changes palatable and also help keep the most qualified staff. Tiresome though. Everyone had been nodding and bending over backwards, telling him anything they thought he wanted to hear, everyone but Jenna.

He swiveled his chair toward the big window, checking the parking lot for her car. There it was, jammed right beside his Audi, along with Fords, Fiats and a couple other rust buckets. That motley mix was definitely not good for Three Brooks’ image. If he were to establish this as an elite facility, it had to look the part. He scrawled a notation on his pad, then rose from his chair and stalked down the aisle. It was time to see his new staff in action.

The hyperbaric oxygen chamber, in his opinion the most valuable technology at Three Brooks, was his first stop.

When he walked into the room, the technician sitting by the blinking control panel slammed down her mug and jerked upright in the chair. “Good afternoon, Mr. Burke.”

Behind her, a horse’s flicking ears were visible through the porthole window of the oxygen chamber. “Good morning,” he said. “How many minutes is your average session?”

“Sixty.”

“And you never leave the controls? You’re always watching the horse?”

“Absolutely.” The technician’s head bobbed. “This is a pressurized environment. Someone always has to watch the monitors.”

His eyes narrowed on the steam rising from her mug. “You never leave? Not even to grab a coffee?”

Her gaze darted downward. She flushed but didn’t speak.

“Well?” he asked.

She withered under his flat tone. “Maybe just to grab a coffee, but it’s only for a second—”

“When a horse is in the chamber, you do not leave. Ever. This is a flammable environment. If you need a break, call on the phone for a technician to replace you. I assume we have other trained staff members?”

“Yes, sir.”

He nodded in dismissal and pushed through the end door, watching as two handlers held a bay gelding on a treadmill. Water bubbled against the transparent sides, swirling around the horse’s legs.

The digital display showed one minute remaining.

“How many times has this horse had hydrotherapy?” he asked.

“At least five times, sir,” the shorter handler said, frantically scanning his chart. “It’s noted here somewhere.”

“So you would assume he’ll be quiet and not scramble out, possibly injuring himself or his handlers?”

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