TED THE STUD'S BUCKET LIST
By AJ Kirby
Most ever day I was up before the alarm. Took a steaming pot a tar-thick coffee onto the porch so I could watch the sunrise and for a while, forget about what passes for my life now. Might surprise you I do this. Might get you to thinking I’m the ungrateful type. After all, according to most reckonings, I’m riding high, top a the tree, looking down on all and sundry as the most successful pimp on the planet. Certainly the client I pimp must be the most in demand in the whole rotten world. I deal with sheikhs, minor royals from the
, nobles from
sometimes with very rich folk from home: famous and rich actors, or singers, or
sports-types of them make their money pimping the internet. This the level a
customer with which I deal. And I don’t even need to be sneaky about it. Can
advertise in the highest quality publications and nobody swishes a tail. And my
customers keep coming because nobody but nobody got what I can promise them. Germany
It’s a taste of a brighter future for them, and a glory I suppose. A glimpse a what life could be like.
These moments a reflection the only time I get to myself when I’m not talking investments and options and guarantees. But usually that’s all they are, moments. Usually, I never get to the bottom that pot a coffee. Today no different. Before the red sun’s even blinked over the top field, my cell’s buzzing. See, who I pimp for don’t give a fuck I need me-time. Who I pimp for about as big a diva as you ever seen. Who I pimp for gets the impression I’m not providing one hundred and ten percent a my attention at all times? Gets ornery. Liable to smash the place up. Liable to cause itself a injury.
It’s one a my boys on the cell. Frantic with worry. They usually are. They know how valuable the one who I pimp for is, and what might happen to them if something happens to it. Boy tells me there’s a problem and I ask him when isn’t there one. End call.
Farm’s grown exponentially since who I pimp for became so “in demand.” Takes me some time to lumber across it from the farmhouse and all the while, more calls buzzing in on the cell in my pocket and I know the day’s horse-trading already begun. People bidding millions for an acre my and who I pimp for’s time. Sometimes journalists calling wanting to photograph who I pimp for, so they can shift copies whatever rag they work for. Other owners calling see how I’m diddling and whether who I pimp for’s tired, or else less in demand than once was.
On the way, I pay a visit to Ted. Ted is a old grey with piebald flanks and a bit of a duff leg. Whenever he sees me you can see him trying to straighten that back leg of his, trying to stand all tall and proud on account of I'll sometimes give him a carrot and a few pats to the nose. Ted could a been made into glue a long time ago, but I couldn’t do it. Sometimes when I look in Ted’s eyes I see a whole other world like when you put a shell to your ear and you hear a whole other sea. I can never stay with Ted long as I’d like to though because there are always more important things to do. So today I just give him a brief pat and then I’m on my way, leaving Ted, poor Ted, head down in a dented bucket, licking-out some dank rainwater.
Who I pimp for has the best a everthing. Comfortable living conditions, quality food on tap, a crew a girls for grooming it and the like. And ever since the place got upgraded, it’s weird, it’s like all sex chemicals—pheromones I think they called—are floating about in the atmosphere and it’s come on even the folks in the crew like a fever, and so they’re at it with my boys given half the chance, and sometimes it gets real catty down here because everone’s all blasted up on the chemicals. The chemicals come from who I pimp for, a course.
Who I pimp for is the center a the universe and emits a gravitational pull, affects all around it, changing times and tides. I pimp for it, but it rules me.
One a my boys waiting on top of a gate, kicking boots back and forth, looking worried like he’s just been caught out at something. Sees me and leaps off it into the muck and starts gesturing wildly, talking ten to the dozen. Kid’s one a my youngest. His ten gallon hat fair drowns him. I can’t get hardly any sense out a him, so I tell him lead the way. At this point I’m just thinking it a common or garden everyday problem he’s called me about and not nuthin serious.
We go into the yard. The yard ain’t like what it used to be like. There’s CCTV cameras roosting like birds in all the eaves and above every doorway and in every passageway. There a bouncer-type feller goes armed too and he does rounds a the whole place in a armoured Humvee thinking he’s a soldier. He’s not here now, but there are more a my boys gathered in the yard and one a them, I notice, has some blood on his checked shirt. Which gives me pause. But the youngest one is beckoning me quicksmart like, and so I follow him to where I will find who I pimp for.
Who I pimp for lying down. Quivering. Flecks a foam at the mouth. Legs twitching like a race is on. And I’m straight-away down on my haunches in the straw, with a hand on the flanks, an ocean a sweat choppy on my brow. And then I’m screaming what the fuck happened to him? What the fuck’s he been given? Is it drugs? Because this is the Jimi Hendrix a racehorses right here, choking on crap in his throat. Asphyxiating on something. And I’m desperately trying to open his mouth and I’m getting the youngest boy to get blankets and towels and hot water because that’s what you do, isn’t it, and I’m calling the vet and everthing all at once.
And all the while, I’m looking into Franschoek’s wide brown eyes and with some horses you see fear there because they know what’s coming, but with Franschoek you get a different kind a knowledge because though he knows he’s for the off, that he’s about to buy the farm, he knows it’ll hurt me more than it’ll hurt him. Way it is with him. Franschoek is, and has always been, a bastard. And yes, horses can be bastards just as they can be nice as pie or jumpy or unable to translate their form from training track to actual track. Frank—I call him Frank sometimes, though it don’t suit him, and I think I call it him just to rile him, like he’s an everyday Frank not a famous Franschoek—always knew he was the best and had this snooty attitude like he knew you were only there to serve him, groom him, let him sow his oats. Some horses, like old Ted, I loved like they my own children but I never took to Frank, even when he was a foal. Even when he was a winner. Even now he is “in demand.”
One a the boys has the vet on the cell and is doing what the vet is telling him to do which is stick some tube down Frank’s throat and get someone else to ram their whole bodyweight into the flank a him, like they bracing a tackle in football. We’re giving Frank an equine Heimlich manoeuvre. Some a the grooming crew are flapping blankets and trying to create air. And I’m just hunkered down there, staring into Frank’s eyes.
I see the moment they start to cloud up. Few moments later, he gives a heck of a kick, almost scrabbling to his feet all over, but all it is is dead cat bounce, for even as he’s doing it a fly buzzes onto his eye and he don’t even blink it away. When he was a champ, he was too quick for flies.
His life sets, like a sun. And all I can think is there is the last winning post for the most-talented flat-runner a his, or indeed most generations. There goes Franschoek, the winner a races in twelve countries across three continents. There goes my fucking golden goose. He’s hatched his last egg. See, even since he retired, just as the peak a his form would begin to nosedive (not that any folk noticed) he’s been “in demand.” Everone’s wanted a piece a him. Literally. He’s been put out to stud and every man and his dog wants him as a sire. His swimmers are a guarantee a good breeding.
Reason I like Ted so much is on account of sometimes I think he’s ashamed of what he has done for money, or for food, or even just for a kind word in his case. See, his role in the stables is like that a the old whore who’s been through it all in his life, and he could a turned out all ornery and bitter but somehow he’s just a nice animal with a nice story in him and he kind a looks out for ever one else, in his own equine way. Certainly the things he’s had to do for Frank in his time… The ways he’s had to make way for him, not even homing at the stables any more but in his own shed, just a pile a corrugated iron and wood-bits. Size a him – he’s sixteen hands, same as Frank is… was – should a maybe had something better.
Anyway, I’m at Ted’s pen at the field after Frank shuffles off this mortal coil, and I’m not necessarily in a bad mood. I’m smoking reflectively and giving the grey a odd pet, and I’m whispering in his ear that things’ll be back to normal now. Ted whickers some, as though he’s holding up his end a the conversation, swishes his tail back and forth. And I go yeah, Ted, you’re right, we’re both too old to take on another horse and train him up for racing. When you’re younger the heartache a that reminds you you’re alive. When you’re old that kind a thing reminds you you’re closing in on death, you’re on the last heart-pumping lap, in the final furlong. I tell Ted wouldn’t it be nice to just retire and we can sit and contemplate the fields and the sunrises to our heart’s content. And Ted chomps an apple and his ears are a twitching and it’s like he’s saying yeah but it’s been hella fun though.
Afternoon and some fellers roll up our lane in a big four-wheel drive. Blacked-out windows. Fight-type music thrumming out a it. When it was a speck in the distance, coughing up dust, we thought it might’ve been the vet but the vet wouldn’t turn up like this for a autopsy, loud as the Four Horsemen and showy with it.
They steam up nearly to the yard. Private security ain’t stopped them, so what is the use a him? Anyway, the fellers clamber out, and they’re all sharp-suited types. Their windows blacked-out too with wrap-around shades. Stink a money. One a them jumps right down into a cow dung and it gets all over his shined shoes.
One a my boys says should he go down there and tell them about Frank and how he’s passed now. After he says Frank his bottom lip gets all wobbly and I’m thinking poor kid probably felt more for the horse’n I ever did.
I tell him no wait.
So the fellers come up to us and at first they are just asking where Mr. Duchamp may be. Kid cocks a thumb my way and the fellers give it the double take on account a they weren’t expecting it to be me. I’ve never dressed like the biggest pimp in the world. No Colgate white suits for me. Don’t drive no souped-up vehicle neither. Nah, I’m just dressed like everone else here in boots and denim and a wide-brim hat and a curl to my lip.
The smallest a the guys is clad in a shiny-materialled suit and has a kerchief in his pocket. He seems to be their leader. Holds himself that way. What he does is he removes his Ray-Bans and fixes me with his eyes looking a lot like Frank’s. And he says we had an appointment. But I’m good with these things and I know he never did. He’s just here on spec. Kind a person thinks he can just barge his way in and is used to being allowed to take what he wants. I tell him there was no appointment. He says show him the appointment book. And I shrug. There isn’t one.
Feller jerks his head back, indicating the four-wheel drive, tells one a his cronies to go fetch something from it. This crony a big hulk of a brute with muscles on muscles and he does exactly what he is told like he’s been trained this way, using carrot or stick. Comes back with this stainless steel cylinder type thing about the size of a flask a coffee. Hands it over.
The smallest guy unscrews the cap a it and it makes a hiss. He says maybe we can do this one off the books anyway. He says all he needs is some a Frank’s swimmers in here and the cylinder will keep them the right temperature. Then when they back at where they stay, they’ll apply a spatula or something to their mare.
My boy makes to speak, and I twitch my eyes at him, hush now. Then I turn to the small feller and offer him my hand. Tell him we got a deal. He should wait in the car and we’ll fill the cylinder.
They go. The boy looks at me funny. So I grab his shoulders in my hands and look in his eyes. And this is what I tell him. I tell him I ain’t a pimp and I don’t like it one iota. I don’t like dealing with types like these. I waft my hand at the fellers in their vehicle. I tell him truth is I’m a owner, and a trainer. I’m good at getting a good horse and making it a great one. S’what I do. Did. Maybe will do again. Or maybe won’t after Ted and I’s talk. Certainly I haven’t enjoyed all the hob-nobbing and deal-making which is hawking Frank’s swimmers to all and sundry.
Boy’s nodding along like a dog, but he interrupts finally. Reminds me Frank is dead.
I say I know Frank is dead but how’s about we get ahold of a syringe and fill up that cylinder anyways. Nobody will be any the wiser.
And so we do. And a messy business it is, but better than if we were doing it and Frank was alive. And when we go back out to them, they hook the cylinder up to some kind a laptop computer, and it makes some analysis and then they all nod. Go away happy, making a K-turn creeping out into the yard before high-tailing it out a there. Leaving me and the boy with a nice, fat cheque.
My “office” ain’t really an office at all. A caravan on bricks, it abuts the luxury stables like an afterthought, like the servant’s quarters or something. Right really seeing as though Frank paid for everthing and I catered for his every need. Inside it, I got a rack with all the cups and trophies Franschoek won in his “fairytale” career. Most a them anyway. Some rosettes as well and a monitor shows a camera-view from his stable. His stable’s empty now and seems a bit ghostly. One a my boys has even cleared out all the hay now so it’s just bare like a waiting room.
I sit with my boots up on the desk, chewing a blade of grass. My ears are burning. I can still feel where the cell was pressed against my cheek like it was a hot iron. I can still hear the man’s voice who’d been calling me. Spoke as quick as a race commentator, like there was some type a fine to be levied if he didn’t tell me everthing he needed to tell me in seconds-flat. And I just yessirred and nosirred and let him talk. And agreed that sure he could come down to the farm, sure my arm could be twisted that he could get a little bit a Frank if he came. Even when I was agreeing to it, I had no idea why I was doing it. Not like I need the green. Farm’s paid for and I live meagrely, like a old feller on rations. Surely ain’t too many years left in these old bones either. So I could a survived and lived well rest a my days. Ain’t no psychoanalysing it. Just that after all they years looking after Frank, maybe I feel like being a bastard awhile. Could be hella fun.
Without really realizing it, I been formulating a plan over the past few days. Or, if I’m being entirely honest, ever since Frank first popped his hoss-shoes. See, at the time, when I called the vet and told her it had been a false alarm and that she had no need to come down to us, that Frank was alive and kicking, and big and ugly with it, I didn’t think why I was saying that, just did it, like I wasn’t fully conscious or aware of my actions. And then, when we eschewed a proper racehorse’s funeral for the famous Franschoek, putting the old kibosh on the twelve horse guard of honour and the rifle salute, instead burying him in top field with only Ted looking on, chewing on some cud, impassively, I just thought it was maybe the whole delayed shock of the thing. Oh Lordy, the Golden Goose is dead, what'm I to do now? Just bury it, pretend it never happened, maybe it’ll sprout up from the ground and become again.
Other than my boys and my grooming crew work here, there’s nobody on Earth knows Frank is dead. Which means, in theory, business as usual. And do you know? It’ll be easy as pie to pull this off for a while. Not everone has one of those fancy-dan stainless steel cylinders can hook up to a laptop. In the most cases, the stud business works according to the old and traditional Animal Channel methods. And that, for animals and humans alike as we know, can get all kinds of messy. What you have is plenty a windows a opportunity where you can change out the product, or else provide a product which isn’t of sufficient quality.
Or else what you do is this. I’m not sure how much you know about studding in general, but most a the time the received wisdom is you get in these other horses first, just to get the mare all hot and frisky, before Red Rum or Franschoek, or whoever, steps in and sires the heir. The job a this other horse, the Beta horse if you like, generally falls to some horse doesn’t quite cut the mustard and won’t have his confidence knocked for racing and all. Perhaps he has a crooked back leg and is only really fit for the knacker’s yard. Perhaps he lives in a whole nother field and has a stable made of corrugated iron and bits of wood. Perhaps his name is Ted.
Ted has traditionally been my other horse. Why I always feel a bit sorry for him. Why, maybe, I’ve decided to cut him some slack now, give him his heavenly reward for all those uncomplaining years a service right here on the farm. Serve him up some class horse pussy so he can have the time of his life in his decrepitude.
Give him a proper bucket-list instead of a dented old bucket filled with a stew of rank, dank water.
There’s a steady stream of horse-boxes chugs up my lane still, each of them containing the Misses of the Horsing World. Yesterday it was Puddleduck, a easy-on-the-eye showjumper shipped all the way over four states to here. Done up all nice like a present for Ted, with ribbons on her pleated tail and bows about her ears. Today, there’s a Arabian mare. Bone-structure to die for, like some artist’s impression of the perfect horse. Maryam, she called, and she pranced out of that box all high-tailed and proud, like she owned the place and everone in it. Took her in to meet old Ted just now and from the noises in there, seems they’re getting on fine.
We get over the whole Ted-not-being-Frank thing in two ways. On account of there’s two different types a owners.
Some owners find the whole business as messy and as mucky as you probably do, reading this. And they prefer to just let nature take its course without them looking-in. So they’ll see the black and white images on my CCTV monitor, and they’ll see a horse of exactly 16 hands, and they’ll think they seen Frank and have done with it. And while the horses are doing what they do, I’ll take these owners on a tour a the farm in my Security Humvee and show them this and that, taking especial time to show them the plot of land where grass barely grows on top field, remarking don’t it look like some kind a grave? And then they’ll go back and put their mare back in the box and leave post-haste.
Other owners get infected by them pheromones in the air I was talking about. And they like to watch. Some even want to go in the stables and see with the naked eye. With them people it a little more difficult to pull the wool over their eyes. So we taken to dyeing Ted’s coat. He don’t mind. Fact, I think he’s in on the joke. I swear his whinny sounds like a old man laughing. Like me when I get to a wheezing and a spluttering out there on the porch as I do now everday, when I’m waiting for the sun to blink over the top field.
Sometimes we give this type a owner one a Frank’s old trophies or rosettes to take away with them, and man, you should see the eyes on these owners then. It like they just been given a certificate of authenticity right there. It like they suddenly know for a fact the foal which will be begat from the equine coupling in the stable which they’ve seen with their own bare eyes, will be the Second Coming and bound for kingliness.
Sometimes we get phone calls. A owner wanting to thank us. The foal what they’ve got is “already displaying signs it might be a champion,” and honestly I “should see the way it canters.” We had one dodgy call, from the owners a that mare we set up the stainless steel cylinder for. Apparently their foal “wasn’t much different from the others” in their stables, “despite it being the heir of the famous Franschoek.” And I have an answer for them. I tell them it not all about nature, there’s some nurture in there too. And secretly I find it all very funny because this the only real heir to Frank, and yet it not what they wanted. Or maybe it is. Maybe that foal is more Frank than they’ll ever know. Maybe it pretending to be a shitty horse just so it can be a bastard. Being a bastard runs in families, I hear.
And what of Ted? Ted seems positive coltish now. His fetlock no longer appears to be giving him so much gip, and he loves his new stable. Sometimes, a course, he’s tired. Knackered is the relevant term, I believe. Or shagged-out maybe. He’ll kind a lean against the wall of the stable and breathe all heavy, but when you look in his eyes, you can see the amusement in them. He is having hella kinds of fun. And hell, even if I do get caught out one day, maybe when some a these owners start to run proper paternity tests and the like, then old Ted won’t get punished any end up.
And eventually, the sun’ll set for the old, wily horse, and he’ll shuffle off this mortal coil like Frank did. But Ted will go and he’ll go knowing he was lucky in this life. Goddamn lucky.
Same with me. Now I was no longer pimping out Frank, my qualms and my honest to goodness dislike of the whole business kind a evaporated. When you’re a pimp a not really much and when you’re pimping out something that’s not really much a anything, then it’s actually just a bit a fun. Only it is a bit a fun what can continue to make you a lot a money.
The law a true happy endings says I should end this story with one last final twist, something’ll lasso the reader and make them think yeah, that Duchamp was a good sort and all, despite being a horsebreeding bastard. Like maybe I give all the money we earn to charity or somesuch. And I’d like to be able to tell you that...
Or, maybe no I wouldn’t. I’m happy as I am, crossing the rich folks know nuthin about what makes a good horse. And when I’ve run my final race, I’ll finish with a smile on my face.
Know what it’s called? It’s called making hay while the sun shines. Old Ted knows zactly what I mean when I tell him that.
AJ Kirby is the award-winning author of six published novels (Sharkways, 2012; Paint this Town Red, 2012; Perfect World, 2011; Bully, 2009; The Magpie Trap, 2008; When Elephants Walk through the Gorbals, 2007), two collections of short stories (The Art of Ventriloquism, a collection of crime shorts, which was released August 2012, and Mix Tape 2010), three novellas (The Haunting of Annie Nicol, 2012; The Black Book, 2011; Call of the Sea, 2010), and over fifty published short stories, which can be found widely in print anthologies, magazines and journals and across the web in zines, writing sites and more.