Starting Fresh

What's that they say about an ugly mug? Nose broken more times than a gambler's promises...

You win some. You lose more. Bill Baber proves it has little to do with skill, and everything to do with timing...

Starting Fresh by Bill Baber

Looking east from the grandstand, I couldn’t see the fog but I could feel it. I knew San Francisco was socked in and that billowy waves were still rolling through the Golden Gate, so thick you could spread it on sourdough.

I watched the post parade for the seventh race, clutching two thousand dollars' worth of win tickets on No More Tears. She was going to turn things around, get me out of the hole I was in and get Gus Savori and his muscle off of my ass.

I’d never had much luck at Golden Gate Fields and that was part of the reason why I was in such a mess. But that was going to change today. The sun shone brightly on the East Bay Hills in advance of the fog. I shivered—and not just from the chill; I thought of what would happen if I didn’t have the money tonight.

No More Tears looked sharp in the Post Parade as I tried to put any negative thoughts out of my mind. She went into the gate without a fuss and when they were all loaded, she was ready to run. When the gate popped, she was quickly rolling. I got that adrenaline rush I always did when I made a big bet. Better than the cocaine I gave up years ago.

She opened up five lengths on the back stretch and extended her lead coming around the turn. She looked like poetry in motion, the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, muscles rolling with each stride, the jocks’ pink and green silks bright in the afternoon sun. She was in front by ten at the 16th pole. I started to relax; my heart rate slowed as I dared to think what it would be like not to be afraid every time a car came up behind me, or how I wouldn’t have to jump any time someone passed by my door.

For a moment, I even told myself I was done with the ponies—this was my last bet. I’d give that bastard Savori his money and tell him to go screw. But I immediately doubted that was going to happen.

Just then, the advancing fog overtook the sun as it began its retreat toward the Pacific. The track was suddenly cast in shadow and it must have spooked the horse. The jockey had her lying on the rail and I’ll be goddamned if she didn’t jump over it, throwing the poor jockey in the process. The horse pranced around the infield and the jockey stood up and shook himself off. They were both okay, but just like that I was a dead man.

The last time they caught up with me, they beat me like a drum, then put a gun in my face and pulled the trigger. The hammer landed on an empty cylinder causing them to laugh like hyenas. I knew tonight the gun would be loaded. And that they would enjoy pounding the shit out of me even more before they put me out of my misery. I shouldn’t have bet the whole wad, should have kept something to give them and just face another ass kicking. But I was sure; No More Tears looked like a lead pipe cinch. Now, a lead pipe might be what killed me.

I left the track and pointed my beat-up, old Nova toward San Francisco, which was just a rumor in the gloom. I had to turn the wipers on before I got to the Bay Bridge. If I was crossing the Golden Gate, I would have considered jumping. The Bay Bridge isn’t high enough to kill you.

I had thirty-eight dollars when I sat on a stool at the Seven Mile House out in the Bayshore. After ordering a beer and a shot—figuring I wanted to be drunk when they came to kill me—I turned my attention to the Evening News, which was playing on a television above a corner of the bar. I watched without much interest, gunned the shot and waved to the barkeep for another.

Before a commercial, the anchor announced that when they returned, they would have the story of four underworld figures who were gunned down by police during a raid.

Son of a bitch if it wasn’t Gus Savori and his crew. I left the bar and walked down the street to a liquor store and bought the racing form for the next day. A horse in the first really caught my eye.

Its name was Starting Fresh. 

Bill Baber grew up in San Francisco. His crime fiction has appeared at Flash Fiction Offensive, Powder Burn Flash, Darkest before the Dawn, Shotgun Honey and Near to the Knuckle. A book of his poetry, Where the Wind Comes to Play was published by Berberis Press in 2011. He lives with his wife and a dog in Tucson, AZ.