"Yeah. You can put that Laurita filly in the allowance race on Thursday."
"You've got a condition book, then."
"Oh, sure. I want to know what races are being run. You trainers keep everything so dark -- "
"Well, sure. Al, listen -- "
"Dick, Frank Henderson thinks it's the perfect race for her. A little step up in class, but not too much competi -- "
"I want to do it. Henderson said -- "
"Mr. Henderson -- "
"Frank Henderson knows horses and racing, right? His filly won the Kentucky Oaks last year, right? He would have had that other horse in the sprint yesterday if it hadn't broken down. Listen to me, Dick. I shouldn't have to beg you." This was more or less a threat, and as he said it, not having actually intended to, Mr. Maybrick reflected upon how true it was. He was the owner. Dick Winterson was the trainer. The relationship was a simple one. Henderson was always telling him not to be intimidated by trainers.
"You always say that. Look, I don't want to watch the Breeders' Cup on TV again next year. Henderson thinks this filly's got class."
"She does, but I want to go slow with her. We have to see how the filly -- "
Mr. Maybrick hung up. He didn't slam down the phone -- he no longer did that -- he simply hung up. If Dick had known him as long as Mr. Maybrick had known himself, he would have realized what a good thing it was, simply hanging up. And here was another thing he could use with his wife. He could say that if he didn't have to pass all those turds in the morning he could start off calmer and his capacity for accepting frustration would last a little longer.
It was scientific. When they didn't have the dog, he had gotten practically to the fourth phone call without offending anyone. Now he got maybe to the second. He took another sip of his coffee, and called his broker, then his partner, then his general manager, then his other partner, then his secretary, then his broker again, then his AA sponsor (who was still in bed). This guy's name was Harold W., and he was a proctologist as well as an alcoholic. Mr. Maybrick had chosen him because he was a man of infinite patience and because he knew everything there was to know about prostate glands.
"I want a drink," said Mr. Maybrick. "There's turds all over the house. I bet you can understand that one."
"Good morning, Al. What's really up? You haven't had a drink in two years."
"But I'm always on the verge. It's a real struggle with me."
"Say your serenity prayer."
"God -- "
"God -- "
They said the serenity prayer together.
"Look," said Al, "I got this pain in my groin -- "
"No freebies. That's the rule. My partner will be happy to -- "
"It's like water trickling out of a hose. I can't -- "
"You need to be working on your fourth step."
"What's that one again?"
"Taking a fearless inventory of your character defects."
"Trying to get something for nothing is one of your character defects."
"I never pay retail."
"Then you need to work on your third step, Al."
"What's that one?"
"Turning your life over to your higher power."
Mr. Maybrick cleared his throat, as he always did when someone said those higher-power words. Those words always made an image of Ralph Peters come into his head, the guy who used to be head of the Mercantile Exchange in Chicago, and who foiled the Hunt brothers when they tried to corner the silver market back in '80. Peters was an Austrian guy. He had "higher power" written all over him, and he was the last guy Mr. Maybrick had ever feared. He would never turn his life over to Peters.
Copyright Jane Smiley 2000. Published by permission of the publisher - Knopf.
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