It’s dawn, and dense fog covers the Saratoga backstretch as I do my undercover work for the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau. The heavy mist leaves Saratoga’s training track virtually invisible, but I can smell its sandy dirt and sense the expanse of the mile oval stretching away from me.
Jogging the gravel path that parallels the track, I shove my hands deeper into the pockets of my jacket, hugging the black denim around my rib cage against the chill.
Out on the dirt, the pounding of hooves draws closer, the sound muffled by the moisture-laden air. Beyond the rail, the horses flying past me are ill-defined, almost ghostly.
The sudden, deafening crack of a handgun is neither muffled nor poorly defined. My earlier years as a Baltimore street cop leave no doubt what I’ve heard. I stand motionless, eyes and ears straining.
Ahead, someone screams, “Oh, my God!”
I raced forward. The high-pitched wails of a woman grow louder. As I draw close, I see her pale face staring at a form splayed on the ground at her feet. The acrid scent of gunpowder floats past me. The coppery stench of blood is unmistakable.
I close the distance between us. “Hey,” I say, heading off her next cry. “Maybe you should step back. Cops will come. You don’t want to mess up the scene, right?”
Though she’s stopped screaming, she doesn’t seem to hear me. She stares at the figure on the ground, her body shaking. I stare, too. Male, the back of his head blown out, his hand still clutching a revolver. Suicide?
The woman moans. I can almost see another scream rising in her throat. “Do you have a phone?” I ask, trying to distract her. “Hey, look at me!”
She does, her eyes huge and round.
“Do you know him?”
“I, no. I mean, I’ve seen him before. At the track.”
Gently, I grasp her arm. “Come on. Don’t stare at him anymore. We need to get help. Do you have a phone?” I ask again.
She nods numbly.
“Okay, good. Call 911.”
I realize I had almost pulled my own cell to make the call, before stopping. Though no longer a street cop, I’m working undercover and need to keep a low profile.
As the woman talks to the dispatcher, she grows more focused, giving her name, saying a man has been shot– or maybe shot himself– at the training track just inside the East Avenue entrance to Saratoga’s backstretch.
“No,” I hear her say, “I ran over here when I heard the gun go off, and I saw–”
The dispatcher must sense a rising hysteria. I think he says something to divert her. As they are trained to do, he keeps her on the phone.
The mist begins to break up and rise toward the treetops and spires crowning the historic wooden barns to my right. I ease away from the woman, step into a lingering column of fog, and glance back. Good, I can barely see her. I shouldn’t be involved in this shooting and double-time it back toward my original destination, the barn where I work as a hot walker.
In the distance, a police siren wails. The sound draws closer, and I hurry away.
You can read more about Fia in FLAMINGO ROAD, the first book in this NEW Fia McKee mystery series, out April 18, 2017.
Baltimore police officer Fia McKee is put on leave for excessive use of force after interfering in a crime that turns deadly. Given a second chance, she is sent to work undercover for the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau (TRPB) at the Gulfstream Park in Florida, where she works as an exercise rider. Her assignment is to watch and report back on two racetrack workers who have been suspected of illegal activities and whose horses continue to outperform all expectations, winning their owners unseemly amounts of money in the races.
To complete her cover story, Fia moves in with her semi-estranged brother, Patrick, who lives near the racetrack. Her investigations are complicated when her niece, Jilly, disappears after a shadow gang takes Jilly’s beloved horse. Now Fia must work two angles―first to find out what’s really going on with the men who might or might not be gaming the system, and second to bring the men who prey on horses to justice. Along the way, Fia encounters Cuban gangs living off the grid, a (very handsome) do-gooder who’s close on their trail, and a cabal of super wealthy gamblers who will stop at nothing to ensure they always win.
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About the author
Sasscer Hill, a former Maryland racehorse breeder, trainer, and rider, uses the sport of kings as a backdrop for her mysteries. Her “Nikki Latrelle” novels earned multiple award nominations, including an Agatha, a Macavity, and the Dr. Tony Ryan Best in Racing Literature awards.
Her new series about Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau agent, Fia McKee, debuts from St. Martins, Minotaur, on April 18.
Hill earned a BA in English Literature from Franklin and Marshall College and now lives with her husband, a dog, and a cat in Aiken, SC, where she still rides horses. Contact Sasscer at SasscerHill.com.
All comments are welcomed.
Flamingo Road is available at retail and online booksellers.