Tag Archives: Sasscer Hill

A day in the life with Fia McKee by Sasscer Hill

flamingo-roadIt’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.

Spending Time With Nikki Latrelle by Sasscer Hill

The Seahorse TradeMy 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.

Born in Washington, D.C., Hill earned a BA in English Literature from Franklin and Marshall College and now lives with her husband in Aiken, SC. Visit Sasscer at www.sasscerhill.com or on Facebook.

Books are available at retail and online booksellers.

A Day In the Life of Nikki Latrelle by Sasscer Hill

In this scene from “Racing from Death,” Nikki Latrelle, her friend Lorna, and two grooms have arrived at Colonial Downs racetrack near Williamsburg, Virginia after hauling six race horses from Laurel, Maryland. They are driving through a darkening backstretch, searching for barn 23.

The sun had set a while back, and the few pink clouds riding the western horizon dimmed to a purplish blue. I thought I’d reached our stable, but it was only number 21. I kept going, not happy when the trees closed in around us, tall pines crowding against the edge of the paved road. The path curved, and I was relieved to see space open up, even if only two barns remained before the asphalt dead-ended at a dark expanse of forest.

No lights. No cars. Nobody.

“This place gives me the creeps.” Lorna’s fingers fussed with the rip in her jeans.

“Meet hasn’t started,” I said. “Most people haven’t shipped in yet.”

“I don’t see why we had to get here so early.”

“Jim likes the horses to get acclimated.” When the truck headlights picked up the number 23 painted on the end-wall just below the roof, I rolled to a stop beside the last barn.

Ramon, who’d been patiently following, stopped his truck and trailer behind ours. We got out, groping our way through the dark since the truck lights lit the darkness ahead, not the building to its side. Like most racing stables, the rectangular barn held about 60 stalls, 30 per side, backed up, with doors facing out. Wood posts supported a roof overhang that sheltered a dirt aisle outside the rows of stalls. The short ends of the rectangular building had rooms for tack, storage or a cot for a groom. The dirt path continued here, circling before these rooms, too.

The barn, or section of barn that housed a particular trainer’s horses and supplies was commonly called a “shedrow,” possibly a shortened version of row-of-sheds. Maybe not found in most dictionaries, but the name’s been around forever.

I stepped carefully into this one, my fingers scrabbling along the wall outside the nearest stall for light switches. I found one and flipped it. A single bulb cast a dim light onto the dirt path outside the nearby stalls. The second switch flooded the first two stalls with light. Now we were in business. I soon had our stalls located, with lights blazing all over the place.

Still, Ramon gestured at the woods. “Why they put us here? I don’t like. Is so far away.”

“Hey, they bedded us down.” Lorna stared with relief inside the first stall.

Jim had arranged for supplies with a local feed company. They’d agreed to bed our stalls with straw before we arrived, but you never knew. We had enough work to do without having to shake out sixteen bales of straw.

“They put the hay here.” Ramon held a wooden door open, peering into a stall about halfway along our shedrow. He disappeared inside, emerging with a handful of green hay. He sniffed it for mold, then shoved some in his mouth, tasting the quality of the dried grasses. His white teeth flashed. “Is good.”

I could almost hear a collective sigh of relief. It was one thing we wouldn’t have to worry about.

Manuel and Ramon set buckets, wire-and-metal gates, and rubber-covered chain ties outside each stall. We got a system going where I wound screw eyes into the inside walls, Lorna snapped buckets on them, and Manuel set up a hose and filled the buckets with water. Ramon worked on hanging the gates across the stall entryways.

Forty-five minutes later, we unloaded the six horses and led them into their stalls. Lorna and I unwound their shipping bandages, feeling through the hair on their legs for scrapes or unexpected heat. Ramon and Manuel loaded feed pails with late dinners. The horses picked up its scent, sweet and fragrant with molasses. They pawed and nickered, impatient for their grain.

Hellish prowled about her new lodgings, inspecting her fresh water, snatching hay from the rack filled with timothy and alfalfa. She shoved her head over her stall gate and stared briefly into the night, finally relaxed and got serious about her feed tub. Her contentment soothed me as few things can.

A moaning cry rode the pine scented air. It came again, soft, pitiful, and far away. I heard a rustling noise, as if something moved through the trees in our direction. A clank sounded just inside the pines, like metal striking a stone. The mournful wail echoed again deep in the woods, stirring the hairs on my neck.

Horse heads emerged over stall doors, their eyes boring into the woods, nostrils flared.

“What the hell was that?” Lorna stepped closer to me. Manuel picked up a metal pitchfork. Ramon whipped out a knife from his jacket pocket, and I grabbed the long metal bar I’d used to turn the screw eyes.

Armed and scared. Welcome to Virginia.

Meet the author
Mystery author Sasscer Hill lives on a Maryland farm and has bred racehorses for many years. A winner of amateur steeplechase events, she has galloped her horses on the farm and trained them into the winner’s circle. Sasscer’s first novel, “Full Mortality,” was a 2011 finalist for both Agatha and Macavity Best First Awards.

RACING FROM DEATH, the second in the “Nikki Latrelle Racing Mystery” series, came out in 2012 to rave reviews from the “Baltimore Sun,” “Mystery Scene Magazine,” and the “Washington Post.”

Hill has completed the third in the series, “The Sea Horse Trade,” due out in 2013. Sasscer is the author of several short stories available in the “Chesapeake Crimes” Anthologies. Her articles have appeared in numerous magazines.

Visit Sasscer at http://sasscerhill.com, on Facebook or Twitter.

Books are available at retail and online booksellers.