Authors: Connie Johnson Hambley
First Published 2012 by Charylar Press in the United States of America
Copyright 1996 by Connie Johnson Hambley
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Hambley, Connie Johnson
The Charity/Connie Johnson Hambley
PB ISBN: 978-0615695259
HB ISBN: 978-1300164722
Epub ISBN: 978-1452427614
1. Legal Procedure — Fiction 2. Terrorism—Fiction
3. Irish Republican Army—Terrorism—Fiction
4. Horse Training—Fiction I. Title.
All rights reserved. This eBook may not be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in whole or in part by any means, including graphic, electronic, or mechanical without the express written consent of the publisher and author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
This is a work of fiction. The events and characters described herein are imaginary and are not intended to refer to specific places or living persons. The opinions expressed in this manuscript are solely the opinions of the author and do not represent the opinions or thoughts of any other person, corporation, or entity. The author has represented and warranted full ownership and/or legal right to publish all the materials in this book.
THE CHARITY’S JOURNEY
from idea to reality traveled on the wings and support of many people. I am humbled by their encouragement and praise, and through their eyes and ears I grew confident in my voice and learned I had an important story to tell.
I first wrote this book many years ago, then career and family forced it into a back seat. My thanks go to all who read and commented on my drafts, who held my hand when I was frustrated and who acted as resilient sounding boards. For Anne MacDonald, who gave me the confidence to get out there and do it already! Special thanks go to Lieutenant Colonel James S. Bauchspies, US Army retired, for his keen eye for detail and his tireless efforts in providing a fresh perspective and guidance through many drafts. Jim’s insights let me know my story was sound, my pacing good and my details straight. Would a West Point guy have it any other way? For Tracy Hambley, an incredible artist, aunt and friend, whose insights and help in my cover design were inspirational.
I especially want to thank my husband, Scott. Who could ever imagine the adventures we could become embroiled in without ever leaving our cocoon? Your unflagging support and encouragement have kept me strong and focused even when I grew tired of my folly. To my three children—Chase, Ryder and Skylar—who inspire me to do more and to push harder.
All of the characters in my book are fictitious and any resemblance to a real live person is strictly coincidental and unintentional. The use of my ancestral name, Heinchon, and reference to barn fires is to pay homage to my past and know that hope can be found when sifting through the ashes.
To my mother and father,
Margaret Heinchon Johnson and Kent Johnson.
You taught me more about pure and unconditional love
than a person can absorb in one lifetime.
THE PARKING LOT
next to the emergency room was nearly vacant at the late hour. Two men sat unobserved in a car. They watched a woman in a white uniform walk to the entrance and hesitate. A young man rushed to open the door for her.
“They’re late for their shift.”
“Yeah, but the head nurse’ll be focused on them and not me.”
The older man absently picked at the tweed of his coat as he looked out the window. There was no need to make small talk. He looked at his watch. “Do you have any questions?”
The younger man shifted uncomfortably in his blue scrubs. “It’s just the usual, right? Three minutes forty-five seconds without oxygen.” He slackened his facial muscles into an imbecilic mask and formed a garbled sound at the back of his throat. Green eyes sparkled in merriment as he laughed at his own joke.
“Just the usual.” The men fell back into silence. Another minute passed. “It’s time. I’ll meet you ‘round front.”
Sarge got out of the car and strode up to the metal door of the hospital marked “Staff Only.” He walked quickly past the employee lounge littered with sleeping interns and rancid coffee cups, bounced up two flights of stairs and tugged on the heavy metal door a bit too hard. It whisked open, startling him into freezing in his tracks. Expertly he assessed his surroundings, remaining motionless just long enough to know he was not observed and then moved quickly to the room on his right. The sprawled body of an exhausted doctor barely twitched at his intrusion. The activity from the recent shift change had died down, and Sarge could not see, hear, or sense anyone else. The lab coat and ID were in the agreed upon locker. He put them on, careful to clip the ID on the left lapel over the embroidered name. Then he read the neatly folded slip of paper retrieved from the pocket.
Soundlessly, he cracked the door open and looked around. The hall was gray with the dimmed lights of the night shift, making the small cart used to push medicines harder to see. It was where it was supposed to be. There was a welcomed emptiness in the halls, void of any families or panting patients. He looked at the walls painted soft pinks and blues along with murals of smiling teddy bears and lambs and briefly thought of his own children. His resolve hardened.
The head nurse’s face was taut with anger as she listened to the obligatory excuses thrust at her from the young nurses. Sarge lumbered up to the desk, slowly pushing the med cart ahead of him, and glanced quickly at the names and room numbers on the patient charts. He looked through the ‘W’s. Good. No changes.
Down two more halls, then a left. Only the soft hum of the vending machines filled the patient’s lounge. Adopting the pace of a weary orderly, he continued around a corner and stopped at the last door. He opened it silently and peered in. For reasons given as ‘personal,’ they had been placed in a private room. He could see her sleeping on the far side of the room with the body of the mother forming a soft mound of covers. He looked for anything that would give away the presence of another person. Only the sounds of a deeply sedated sleep met his ears. In those few seconds of total stillness, he thought about the loyalty he was about to ensure.
Tonight’s job was a little tougher than he expected. He walked over to the sleeping girl and looked down at her. She seemed so small. So peaceful. So perfect. He never told his wife any part of it, but somehow she knew. A mother’s instinct told her to distance her children from him. She’d divorce him if it weren’t against her religion. How did she think Sarge provided for them all? Straight killing had its uses, but not for this case and he was paid handsomely for his efforts.
This part was his idea, and it was wildly successful. Cerebral hypoxic-anoxic events always offered the most advantages. To the uninitiated and naïve, the events looked like a close call with SIDS, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, where a perfectly healthy infant died an unexplained and sudden death in her sleep. To the initiated and aware they offered a living reminder of how powerful they really were, and how committed. A pure ‘Hearts and Minds’ campaign. The old man had another specially groomed soldier he used for complete eradication. After all, this was a war, right?
As a soldier, he had orders to follow not questions to answer. Still, the old man was rich but the cause was starving. It just didn’t make sense.
Then again, it didn’t have to. He produced a small piece of rubber from his pocket. It was an oddly triangular shape and slightly cupped at the edges. It fit easily into the palm of his hand.
He filled his lungs several times, then held his breath and listened. No footsteps. Not even an elevator whirred in the distance. There was enough time. He reached over the rails.
The rubber of his shoe squeaked slightly, and the girl’s eyelids flickered open. Her eyes grew wide as her brain tried to fathom what the blurry images were and what they meant to her. She tried to take a breath to cry out.
Sarge looked at the second hand on his watch.
THE EFFORT OF
pretending to rejoice in victory was exhausting. Jim Wyeth, the young owner of Wyeth’s Worldwind Farm, was more than trapped inside the day’s events. Today’s win closed off another painfully constructed escape route. He dug a forefinger in behind the knot of his necktie and pulled to loosen its grip. Taking the coastal route home along Massachusetts’ North Shore normally helped him relax. He turned up the radio and let the wind from the Mercedes’ open windows play against his face and arms. The day was bright and warm, the air tinged with saltiness from the ocean. He downshifted and accelerated around a turn, focusing on the pull of the engine and the grip of the tires, ignoring the double yellow lines. It was no use. He could still see the powerful body of Worldwind’s Dark Irish hurtling across the finish line with the rest of the lathered pack inhaling Dark’s dust, mouths open and eyes wide. Then, seconds later, Dark’s right foreleg crumpled, pitching his jockey onto the muddy track.
Dark won Suffolk Downs’ Massachusetts Handicap race and it cost him his life. The MassCap was one of thoroughbred racing’s most prestigious and lucrative races. In a handicap horse race, varying amounts of weight are added to the horse’s saddles in an attempt to even out the competition when some horses are clearly more dominant than others. Jim knew this was supposed to make the outcome of the races more difficult to predict, which meant the track would make more money. Or should. But it did not happen that way today.
Today they hit a minus pool. Again. It was on one of Jim’s horses. Again. Dark’s odds were so heavily skewed that the track did not have enough money in its pool to pay the full purse for horses that finished further back in the field. This rare event was becoming a bit too common for Jim’s horses. Skyrocketing odds. Big payouts. It was bad enough to get attention for winning so big, but having a dead horse to show for it was beyond comprehension.
Jim had no time to think in the hectic moments after his win. A van whisked onto the field and track personnel quickly aided the screaming horse and stunned jockey. He barely acknowledged the grinning faces and slaps on the back as officials herded him into the winner’s circle in spite of the fact that there was no horse to stand beside with the obligatory rose blanket across its withers. A huge and overdone silver trophy, the kind people stupidly referred to as a ‘Loving Cup,’ was thrust into his hands. Wyeth’s top trainer, Gus Adams, shouldered his way in front of Jim and grabbed a handle of the trophy with a proprietary jerk. Habit graced Jim’s face with a relaxed smile as he looked into the stony faces of the race officials and scattershot camera flashes. He remembered how hard he worked to keep the tension from showing in his eyes as he tried to play the role of the handsome and lucky man who just won another fortune. His mind was with Dark Irish and his heart was heavy with the knowledge of what lay ahead.
He had driven around long enough after the race and knew he had to face his wife with his failure. Reluctantly he turned for home. The car smoothly rounded the last turn and swept up the tree-lined drive to his Hamilton farm. Acres of manicured meadows stretched out from both sides of the drive to the rolling wooded hillsides, split rail wooden fences separated grazing areas for the yearlings and mares. A gracious New England farmhouse seemed to welcome all with its broad wooden porch and waiting wicker rocking chairs. Around another bend in the drive were two huge barns with burnished slate roofs. An indoor arena and a dirt workout track sat farther away down a sloping grassy expanse. Smaller houses for help and groomsmen were tucked away out of sight of the main house and barns.
Jim noted that the turnout paddocks were empty of their usual complement of stable hands and gallop boys. Out of the corner of his eye he saw one of his yearling thoroughbreds thundering across a meadow with its young rider waving and laughing with delight. He returned Jessica’s wave and pulled the car up to the big barn’s main door just in time to meet the big bay and its rider.
“Daddy! Daddy! Dark won but then he fell! Is he okay? We saw it on TV! When I looked at him yesterday I didn’t think he was going to win but he did! I
you he could win, but he was hurt!”
“You were right, Jessie. Where’s Gus now?” He distractedly put his hands around her shoulders and gave her a kiss.
“Ouch, Daddy. Not so tight.” The wiry girl squirmed free from his arms. “Gus came back from the track a little while ago but he didn’t bring Dark back with him. Gus said Dark is still at the track and his tendon didn’t feel hot at all!”
tendon?” Jim mocked confusion, intent upon keeping his daughter away from the truth of Dark’s accident as long as possible. A light giggle floated up from Jessica. He placed another kiss to the top of her blonde head.
“Da-ad.” Jessica rolled her eyes, “No!
tendon. Daddy, where is Dark?”
Jim hesitated for a minute considering his lie. He couldn’t tell her that Dark had been euthanized on the spot because his leg had shattered so badly. There would be time enough for truth. He finally answered her. “Gus is right. Dark is still at the track. We’ll know more tomorrow.”
The young girl would not be put off so easily. She continued, “I saw the whole race and Mom said every reporter in Boston’s been callin’ here for an interview! She’s not too happy about
at all.” Jessica craned her head around and looked at the trophy in the back of the car. “Wow! It’s huge! Mom’s gonna flip when she sees it. Can I show her?”
“Slow down, sweetheart. Yes, you can bring the trophy to your Mom. Um, Jessie, did you mention Dark’s injury to anyone?”
“What? No way! You said that if I told a soul you were going to make me wear a dress for a whole month and not let me ride. I just talked to you and Gus about it.” Jessica led her sweat-slicked horse toward the barn, a contrasting image of a little girl with no fear beside an animal ten times her size. A stocky figure with wiry gray hair and wearing a thick sweater over faded dark gray pants appeared at the door.
Gus walked over to Jessica and took the horse’s reins from her. He led the horse inside and clipped the left and right side of its bridle into crossties, two ropes that hung on either side of the barn’s corridor to make it easier to secure a horse during grooming. “You’re late,” he spoke without raising his eyes.
“Am not,” Jessica said with a sniff and toss of her head.
She was about to launch into her defense when Jim broke in and handed her the trophy. “Bring this to the house. I’ll be in soon.” He watched the retreating figure until she was well out of earshot before he turned to face Gus. The stout trainer should have looked small beside the taller Jim, but the older man had a coiled quality that belied his short stature. “We were supposed to lose. I want out
“You think a stretched tendon is enough to get you out of this? Faith be had, man. I thought by now you knew better.” Gus’ brogue made the words roll off his tongue like a song.
“My God, Gus. Dark
. This was not a stretched tendon. Dark was being pushed beyond his physical limits and as his trainer you knew it.”
“He had a few more good races in him.”
“Gus! We’ve talked about this before. A thoroughbred’s legs are barely strong enough to withstand the punishment of frequent races when they are healthy. When they are weakened by tendon tears or hairline stress fractures, they just can’t take the pounding of an all-out race. I thought we agreed that the pain meds are only for the horse’s comfort so they can heal naturally. You know that overuse of that stuff weakens the bones. Dark’s leg shattered like glass today and his fall almost killed his jockey. The saving grace was that his leg broke after the finish line so jockeys were already pulling up their horses and no one else collided with him. Gus, you’ve been doping him to mask his injury not just make him comfortable.”
“I did what I had to do and you know it.”
“Gus! Are you insane? The odds! The minus purse! A dead horse!”
Gus reached out as if to pat Jim’s back and then thought better of it. “I’m sorry.”
Jim dragged his hand through his sandy colored hair and looked at the man with whom, against all odds, he had forged a tenuous friendship. Ten years ago Jim’s sister-in-law, Bridget, asked him for a favor and Gus began to work the farm. If Jim had known then what he knew now, he never would have said yes. In the years that followed, Gus worked for Jim as a miracle worker, taking injured or good horses with potential and turning them into legends on the track. Worldwind Farm would never have been as successful if it weren’t for Gus. When Jim finally found out why, it was too late.
Jim acknowledged Gus’ spoken sentiment with a slight nod of his head. His voice was thin. “I thought we agreed that Dark was not supposed to be the favorite. You said the best he would do was place behind Jazzy Lady and Meadow’s Mead to show. I thought the track officials were going to drag me off then and there.” A sense of dread built inside of him. “I can’t do this anymore. You’ve got to stop.”
“It’s not up to me.”
“Gus. We’ve won too much. People have started to ask questions. Think about the risks.”
“I know about risks. Look around you,” Gus said with a vague nod of his head. “You should be grateful for what you have. Your every need is taken care of and you have a beautiful wife and family. Think of them.”
“I am thinking of them, damn it! And you. We all have to get out of this together. That’s why today was so important. Gus, I’ve failed. I thought I knew how big our problem was, but I was so wrong. On the way home tonight, I took a look at the histories of all the races for the past six years. The patterns are obvious and the race officials must see the same things I do when I look through my records. I...”
The rest of his words were choked off as Gus threw him against the wall. Gus brought his face down close to Jim’s, quickly looking around the barn as he did so. “Records?” he said in a hoarse whisper.
“And you had them with you today?”
“Yes. Well, no. Sort of. Gus, please. Margaret and I helped you. My God, man! You owe us
Gus leveled a steady stare at Jim. The eyes of the Irishman were flecked with pity and a brand of loathing that sent chills down Jim’s back, making him instantly regret his disclosure. Without a word, Gus turned and walked down the corridor of the barn.
Jessica bounded over to Jim as soon as he walked through the kitchen door. “Daddy! Erin loves the trophy! Come see her!” she said, grabbing the edge of his sleeve. Jim feigned reluctance as she dragged him forward to the small den. Their home was smaller than most people expected on a farm the size of his, but Jim liked it that way. It had started as a modest sized farmhouse over one hundred years ago and had been added on to with each generation or new owner. Now its first floor rambled from a huge kitchen and pantry to a dining room, living room and a smaller den they used as a family room. Another addition jutted off to one side away from the main living areas functioned as Jim’s office. Brick hearths graced the less formal rooms with more ornate tile hearths in the living and dining rooms. Their mantels of wood were simple and unadorned but of obvious fine craftsmanship. The furnishings were rich and functional for an active family.
On this warm spring night, the hearth in the den was filled only with ashes of the past winter’s fires and heavy drapes were drawn across locked windows. Jim’s wife, Margaret, and his six-year-old daughter sat cuddled together in the oversized leather chair, heads bowed over a book. Margaret raised her head when he entered the room. Their eyes met and then quickly flinched away.
A taut smile forced its way to Margaret’s face. “Everyone’s been calling to talk about the race. Where’ve you been?”
Jim bent down and enveloped his wife and daughter in a lasting hug, kissing Margaret on the forehead and brushing a black curl from her cheek. Her soft fragrance somehow beckoned him to enfold her, to cloister her away. The ache to do so was almost more than he could bear. If he had told her then how she stirred him, she would have flushed and looked nervously at the girls. Passion was something private to her. Well, almost sacred. It was a part of her that she saved only for him. Outsiders saw her as someone strong, upright and someone they could lean on. Jim saw her as the other half of his soul. Their relationship was the cornerstone of his strength.
Now, with all of his heart, he wanted to protect her and to bring her back to the safety they had been so ignorant of when they married. “I love you.”
Margaret took his hand and held it against her. He looked down at Jessica as she placed the trophy on the chair next to her sister. The mockery of his home life pressed against him, making him take an uncomfortable step backward.
“Erin? Erin? C’mon. Look! The trophy! D’ya see how shiny it is?” Jessica took her hands and guided the gaze of her sister to the object. Erin’s head seemed too heavy for her, lagging to one side. “That’s right. Now feel. Cold, huh?” She dragged her sister’s listless hand along the golden garland which made a noose around the lip of the prize. After a few minutes, her efforts were rewarded. Erin tilted her head back and gave a huge lopsided grin.
“There! You see? She loves it!” Jessica sat back on her heels and raised her chin with a triumphant thrust. “I
I could make her see it.”
Margaret tugged at a strand of Jessica’s hair and smiled. Jim could see the strain of love etched into the lines of his wife’s face as she asked, “You just never give up, do you?”
“She’s my best friend, Mom.” The young girl squirmed and hugged her knees to her chest. “Sometimes she looks at me and I can see all the clouds move away. She’s
there, but she just doesn’t know how to come out. But I’m gonna teach her. Just you see!”
Jim and Margaret exchanged glances over Jessica’s head. He motioned with a flick of his eyes for Margaret to join him in his office.