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A Black Tie Affair

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CHAPTER 1

There was an early morning chill as Levi steps out of his car to start out his morning. It was barely 5 am when finally made his way through the doors of the jockey lounge. His previous night had not treated him as well as he hoped and his head spun as tried to recall the details. Finally giving up on trying to remember his drunken night, Levi pulls his jacket tight against his body and walks over to the scale. Stepping up slowly he frowns at the numbers in front of him. “Two fucking pounds over, shouldn’t have gone out last night.”

Levi steps off the scale and retreats into the locker room to change.

“Hey,” Levi hears someone call to him at the door “How much you weigh in at?”

Levi turns around to see Kenny lurking in the doorway.”Don’t worry about it, it’ll go down.”

“No one wants a fat jockey riding their horses, kid.”

Levi rolls his eyes. “Yeah, I’m aware of that. Thanks for reminding me, again.”

“Ain’t ever been a triple crown winner that weighed 130 kid,” he rocks back in his boots. “Bring it down or you’re gonna cost all of us money in the next race.”

Levi throws his clothes into his locker and slams the door. “I’ll see you during warm-ups,” he replies as he pushes past Kenny.

- - - - - -

The steam room does nothing to calm his anxious nerves. His head is spinning and he feels faint from the steam but, it would be a quick fix. His hands shake as he approaches the scale for the second time that morning.

“Come on show me what I wanna see,” he spits as he steps on the scale. “128...better than before.”

- - - - - -

Levi slinks to the stable, his thoughts still weighing heavily on his mind. He listens to the chatter of the other jockeys around him but it does little to distract him. The morning dust has not yet settled as Levi pulls his sleeve over his face. Sparrows in the rafters chirp their morning song as it follows Levi to the last box stall at the end of the row. A gold nameplate adorns the front of the stall and a large chestnut head peers from beyond the partition.

“Hey, Turkish” Levi reaches out and unlocks the chain. “You ready to run?” Turkish’s head bobs up and down as he gives little protest as he is lead out of his stall.

“Levi!” he hears from behind. “How’s he lookin’ today?”

Levi doesn’t turn around to look. “Not bad, he seemed pretty fired up when I took him out” Levi responds, turning back to tighten the girth. “I don’t know why everyone is so fucking worried about Turkish, he had one bad run”

“I wouldn’t say it was a bad run,” Jean rests his hands against his hips and leans back, “It just wasn’t a great one, he was late out the gate and you couldn’t close the gap.”

Levi grits his teeth as he lowers the reins from the horse's head. “One bad practice run is nothing to be worried about.” Levi’s hands linger on the horse's neck. “He’ll do better today.”

Levi walks Turkish out onto the morning` track more nervous than before. He knows it isn’t the horse that’s acting up, it's him. He silently curses the bender he’s been on for why they aren’t performing. Extra pounds add up and so does the guilt that comes with it. This is the horse that is supposed to take him to the Kentucky Derby, carry him to be the next triple crown winner, and here he is slacking on his end of the deal. His nerves are starting to set in again as he is given a leg up onto Turkish and is led to the gate.

- - - - - -

On the other side of the stable grounds, two men stand near the bleachers talking.

“So, Erwin, you ready to step into the horse racing world?” Darius Zackly turns toward his acquaintance but Erwin is looking out across the dusty track, taking in the full view.

“Yes, I’m ready.”

“Good. There's a lot of money to be made this business.” Zackly ushers him to take a seat on one of the bleachers.

“You know, I’m not in it for the money,” Erwin answers without taking his eyes away from the track.

“Yes, but it’s more than just that. It’s the experience, the win.” Zackly slaps a hand on his shoulder and gives Erwin an eager grin. “It’ll be fun, I promise you.”

“I'm not sure we have the same definition of fun.” Erwin gives the hand on his shoulder a sideways glance before turning his gaze away. Movement from the track catches his attention as the jockeys lead their horses to the course. He knew little about the racing world but what he saw fascinated him.

“Who is that? The jockey wearing green I mean.” Erwin looked toward Zackly before refocusing his eyes on the figure in question.

Zackly squinted. “Who...oh, that’s Levi. He rides Turkish for Kenny and me.”

Erwin raises his eyebrow. “Is he any good?” He watches as the small figure takes his place at the starting gate.

“Why don’t you just watch and see for yourself?”

The horses are out of the gate as soon as the starting bell sounds. Erwin watches as Levi takes to the inside and pulls into the lead. The distance between Turkish and the other horses grows as he powers through the final stretch.

Erwin smirks to himself as he watches Levi and Turkish cross the finish line. He knew he had to meet him. He turns toward Zackly. “Would you introduce me?”