My name is Nikki Latrelle. I’m a twenty-three-year-old female jockey, who ran away from home ten years ago when my mom died and left me in the hands of a pedophile stepfather. That night, I climbed a fence onto Pimlico racetrack and slept in a stall with a surprised but agreeable racehorse. I’ve worked with racehorses ever since and I’d like to tell you about my recent troubles in South Florida.
I heard the SUV before I saw it. The deep thump of subwoofers rumbled in the deserted street as I headed away from the sea, moving west on the sidewalk. Pausing, I glanced back.
A block away, the vehicle cruised slowly toward me, chrome and glossy black beneath the bright streetlights. At four a.m., it was the only car on Hallandale Beach Boulevard.
I quickened my pace, stepping around a pile of crushed beer cans and dirty party streamers, probably left over from New Year’s Eve. Overhead, the palm trees shimmered, their stiff fronds rattling in the humid breeze that blew along the boulevard from the Atlantic Ocean.
I didn’t need to be at Gulfstream Park racetrack this early, but sleep had evaded me, nervous energy driving me into these predawn hours. Again, I glanced behind me. The pounding music grew louder as the black SUV loomed closer, its chrome grill gleaming like shark’s teeth.
Ahead, an abandoned shopping cart lay against a small bus-stop shelter. Instinct drove me to step behind the shelter’s solid rear wall, and from there, I peered around the edge, my senses heightened. Inside the vehicle the music seemed to crescendo into a scream as the glistening metal drew even with the bus stop.
The rear door jerked open. A girl, her dark hair streaming, pushed herself away from the door frame, flinging herself into space. Her feet hit the pavement, she lost her balance, and went down. Tumbling across the concrete, she landed on her side near the curb. She was almost naked, dressed in a tiny sequined outfit.
The vehicle’s transmission slammed into reverse as the girl struggled to get to her feet. She cried out as one leg gave way and she fell back to the pavement. The SUV stopped, and I waited for someone to get out, to help her. The passenger window lowered, and loud Spanish rap poured into the street. I glimpsed a stubbled face behind dark-glasses.
“You stupid bitch,” his Latino accented voice yelled over the music. “You break your leg? What good are you now?”
The girl tried to crawl away and I almost rushed to her, but a glint of metal shone from the car’s window. A gun.
“No!” I screamed. “God, no!”
Two hot flames. Gunfire shattered my ears. The girl screamed, jerked twice. A geyser sprang from her chest, spilling blood over little strips of sparkling cloth. The SUV sped away.
Frantically, I searched the boulevard for help. We were on our own.
I ran into the street and squatted next to the girl. I thrust a hand out to steady myself, my palm skidding on her blood. Ripping off my hoodie, I wadded it and tried to compress her chest wound. A second hole darkened the skin above her collar bone.
The girl’s eyes were open, fixed on me as her heart pumped a well of blood beneath my hand.
“They’re gone.” My voice cracked. Did they hear me scream? God, don’t let them come back.
Carefully, I removed my cell phone from my blood-soaked hoodie. “I’m getting an ambulance.” I thumbed 911. “You’re gonna be fine,” I nodded like I believed it, my left hand pushing harder against the makeshift compress.
She coughed horribly. Blood dribbled from her mouth.
“No,” I whispered. Don’t die.
“A girl’s been shot,” I said, when the 911 dispatcher came on the line. “Hallandale Beach Boulevard at – ” I looked around wildly. “There’s something called a Publix, next to a Walgreens. What? Nikki Latrelle, my name is Nikki Latrelle.”
Beneath me, the girl shuddered. Her eyes became fixed and unseeing.
I slumped to the pavement, the girl’s blood soaking into my jeans. I stared at her. Beneath the blood, the tops of her small breasts were pushed up by a tight glittering bra. Lower down, a G-string hid almost nothing. God, she was still a child.
I could hear the dispatcher’s voice calling me from the phone. I set it on the curb, turned back to the girl.
Then I saw the dark turquoise sea horse on the flawless skin of her arm.
Sasscer is giving away one (1) copy of THE SEA HORSE TRADE. Leave a comment to be included in the giveaway. The book will be shipped directly from the author. Contest ends May 17 and US entries only.
You can read more about Nikki in The Sea Horse Trade, the third book in the “Nikki Latrelle” mystery series. The first book in the series is Full Mortality.
Meet the author
Author Sasscer Hill has been involved in horse racing as an amateur jockey and breeder for most of her life. Now that she has turned to writing, it is only natural that her first three mystery novels are about horse racing.
Hill has a rich history as an amateur steeplechase jockey, horse farm owner, and has ridden in fox hunts for 22 years. For some 30 years Hill owned and operated a horse breeding farm in Maryland where she raised thoroughbred horses. Among the best horses she bred and raised was For Love and Honor which won $418,000 in New York racing at Saratoga, Belmont and Aqueduct.
Hill’s love of horses, experience in steeplechase racing, knowledge of horses and writing style has prompted many book lovers and critics to compare Hill with the famous British horse racing mystery writer, Dick Francis.
Hill’s first novel, Full Mortality, was nominated for both the Agatha and Macavity Best First Mystery Awards. Her second novel, Racing from Death was nominated for the Dr. Tony Ryan Best of Racing Literature Award.
Books are available at retail and online booksellers.