Barn No. 43, Palm Beach International Equestrian Center, Wellington, Florida, Monday early morning, December 14, 2015
The early morning mist was still hovering over the practice paddocks and jump arena, and Jessop Stoneman was cold even though he wore jeans and a heavy sweatshirt. What the fuck? Jess pulled his black Porsche 911 into his reserved parking space in the parking lot near his corner block of eight stalls in Barn No. 43. He’d brought four horses down from his farm in Ocala, Florida for the annual international winter horse show—two open jumpers ready to compete and two jumpers in training.
King’s Man was the veteran, thirteen-year-old, dark bay Dutch Warmblood stallion he hoped to be riding in the jumping competition in the Summer Olympics in Rio next year. If King didn’t hold up to the rigorous pre-Olympics schedule, he had Thor’s Hammer waiting for his chance at the gold. The younger, more volatile, big gray Thoroughbred stallion could absolutely fly over the scary six six-foot and had better jumps, but he loved to sail over the triple combinations the best. The problem was Thor had a tendency to get distracted—a butterfly, a spectator’s hat blowing off in the breeze, or nothing but his imagination—could put him off his stride. Gordon had often said, “If he had a feather he could fly.” Maybe that was fly away.
The Winter Equestrian Festival, or as it was more commonly known in the horse world, WEF, was a glittering three-month long international horse show that drew participants from all over the world, and it had started yesterday. Its high-dollar prizes, prestige, and the fact it was a pre-Olympic venue added gloss to the extravaganza. The show grounds were a bustling enclave within the wealthy Village of Wellington and were currently buzzing with excitement.
What were the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s cruisers and yellow crime scene tape doing closing off access to Barn No. 42 just across from his stalls? Jess and King’s Man had a practice session with a new trainer this morning, and he didn’t want to be late. This guy was not on his payroll as Gordon Smith had been, and he charged by the hour. Or was that by the minute? Not to mention the fact that practice time was a valuable and limited commodity.
Jess unfolded his long, lanky but well-muscled frame from the Porsche and strode over to the yellow crime scene tape. He stood beside one of the grooms he recognized from the shedrow. “So what’s going on?”
“Not sure, man, but I think something has happened to one of Darcy MacAllister’s horses.”
“Why is the Sheriff’s Department here and not a vet?”
“Don’t know. I’m waiting to find out something more.”
Jess and King walked at a leisurely pace back to Barn No. 43 after a grueling workout with Dave Moorehill. The guy was a pain in the ass, but Jess could see that both he and King would benefit greatly from working with him. In just an hour session, he’d helped fine tune their timing over the jumps in the practice field. A jumper could never have too much precision, too much polish.
There was still a lot of activity around Barn No. 42. Now the cruisers had been joined by a crime scene unit. The groom he’d spoken with that morning rushed over when he saw Jess dismounting in front of his stalls. “Hey, man, you’ll never guess what happened.”
“Well, you are right. I’ll never guess. Fill me in.”
“Oh, sorry. It turns out one of Darcy MacAllister’s horses was kidnapped. Horsenapped. Whatever. One of her top horses, Verdad, is gone. They’re looking for clues and stuff. Wow. Nothing this exciting ever happens on the backside.”
Quinn O’Laughlin pulled his shiny new, white veterinary truck up in front of Barn No. 42 and parked. He bundled his long, red hair into an elastic band and pulled the tail through the back of his baseball cap. Darcy MacAllister had called him in to check over her agitated horses and give them sedatives if necessary. Quinn thought they would calm down as soon as all the outsiders with all their strange smelling equipment cleared out of their domain. Horses were herd animals and sensitive to any disruption in their routines, and they would also be upset by the disappearance of one of their stall mates.
Darcy came running out to the truck as he climbed out into a mud puddle, soiling his clean-for-the-moment boots. Damn. Why can’t bloody people just use the bloody wash racks? He hated the muddy mess they made when they hosed down the horses in front of the barns. The tall, curvy, slightly muscular but very attractive woman with her blonde hair bound into a messy bun on the back of her head stood in front of him. “Good morning, Ms. Darcy. I’m terribly sorry about your trouble. Is there any news about Verdad?”
Quinn tried to tone down his broad Dublin accent when speaking with clients. He wanted to fit into this new country, not stand out like a sore thumb. His sexual preferences were apparent to anyone who opened their eyes to look, but it was surprising how many people in this country didn’t. They just accepted him at face value. Maybe, finally, sexual preference wasn’t that important to them in their dealings with others. That would surely be a welcome change. The Irish were generally not that evolved. If people didn’t pick up on the fact that he was gay, they surely didn’t pick up on his extra-sensory talents and his ability to transmit healing energy. He was able to read people and animal auras, and sometimes know their thoughts. It wasn’t always a comfortable knack. He could plainly feel Darcy’s distress now.