“Irish Cream” appears in Horse Tales and Rough Cut: Vincent Diamond Collected.
Most mornings I’m here with Jerry Sputmeir and Steve the Sleeve. Steve did some time back in the day, and well, we just like using the names from the old days. Makes it kinda homey. None of us were made guys but we worked the game. Jerry was into the numbers up in Brooklyn, and Steve did some loan sharking in addition to his regular burglary gigs. Me? I’m not spillin’. Suffice to say that the horses and me, we go way back.
Anyway, this one morning, I’m on the rail. It’s mid-January, cold for Florida, about forty, and misty. The horses come onto the track at the west end, skittering around like hockey pucks, cantering sideways, all antsy. These days, exercise riders wear vests and helmets. Some wear gloves to grip the reins. A spooked thoroughbred can take off and hit forty miles an hour, so if one starts to run away with you, you’d better have gloves to help you haul his ass in.
Exercise riders still ride butt up though, just like the old days. Nice.
This gray jogs by, tossing his head, kicking up dirt, being feisty, ya know? And when I see the kid on him, it arrows right through me.
The strawberry blonde of his hair. The cool green eyes. The muscular chest.
It wasn’t just that this kid looked like Liam, it was the way he sat the horse. Some exercise riders use brute strength that’s where they get those fabulous arms but some use finesse and sweet talk with their charges. That’s what this kid was doing. I saw him leaning over the gray’s withers, stroking the horse’s neck, even its chest. That took some doing with the way this horse antsed around.
What it took was great legs.
I closed my eyes and remembered Liam’s legs. Their strength tight around me, so tight I couldn’t move or breathe or think. And didn’t want to.
Back in the fifties, things was different, and not just at the track. Men wore hats and suits everyday, and the only guys wearing jeans were the boys mucking out stalls. You tipped your hat to women, you were polite, you took care of business without a lot of drama.
That also meant if you walked the other way around the track, you didn’t advertise it. Sure, there were queer guys back in the fifties; we just didn’t make a big deal about it. I never saw guys living together like they do nowadays, least not in the tri-state area. Not in my crowd. My guys learned not to make jokes about women with me, and by the time I was in my thirties and running my own crew, it wasn’t a matter of discussion. Not in my earshot.
I wasn’t even at the track when I met Liam. It was at Leprechaun Farms down to Ocala. I was visiting the trainer””on certain uh, collections business, let’s just say””and he was giving me the tour of the barns. Horses never really did much for me, beyond what they could earn for me at the betting windows, but even I knew these were special animals. They gleamed. They had the look of conditioned athletes: the bulging muscle, the thick veins just beneath their smooth pelts. Healthy as, well, horses. It was May and the barn had fans running in all four corners. It was still warm, though, and I sweated beneath my pinstriped suit. I fanned myself with my hat.
Jimmy, the trainer guy, was talking my ear off about bloodlines and race cards and numbers. After ten minutes of this, I kinda tuned him out. Some splashing and whinnying came from the north side of the barn so I edged over, just to see what I can see, ya know? And hoping to catch a breeze.
What I caught was an eyeful.
There was a stallion on the padded area with the hose set-up. Tied on both sides of his head but he tried to rear up, front legs pawing at the air. He bellowed and I’ve never heard a sound like that “deeper than a regular whinny” more of a groaning. The way people might groan in bed.