Win, Place, or Die – Chapter One

Win, Place, or Die: A Milan Jacovich / K.O. O’Bannion Mystery (#17), by Les Roberts and Dan S. Kennedy. Published by Gray & Company, Publishers. Front cover of book.

Win, Place, or Die, a book by Les Roberts: A Milan Jacovich / K.O. O’Bannion Mystery (#17)

Book Excerpt

From Win, Place, or Die, by Les Roberts

Tobe Blaine had come to work in Cleveland P.D.’s homicide division three months earlier, after long stints in Raleigh and Cincinnati, and although she’d immersed herself in learning who’s who in Cleveland—who’s rich, who’s important, who’s artistic, and who is a pushy, obnoxious pain in the ass—she’d never heard of Glenn Gallagher until he invited us to the track.

“So you saved Glenn Gallagher’s ass—and a lot of money,” Tobe observed over dinner at Lockkeeper’s. “I hope he paid you a bundle for it.”

“The difference between you and me is that I only get money when I work. You get a paycheck whether somebody gets murdered or not.”

“If nobody ever got murdered, I wouldn’t have a job.” She delicately placed a piece of salmon between her lips. They were kissable lips; I knew that for a fact. “I did a little research on Glenn Gallagher while you were working for him.”

“And you discovered he’s wanted by Interpol in seventeen different countries.”

“I didn’t find anything on him at all. He’s rich, which means he’s cheesed off a few people along the way, but for all intents and purposes, he’s clean. Divorced, with a grown son—Cullen Gallagher—whose regular day job is teaching political science at Hiram College. You know where that is?”

“Naturally I know where Hiram is,” I said. “I’ve lived here all my life. Liberal arts college with a nice little campus out in rural Ohio between here and Youngstown, less than an hour from where we’re sitting right now.”

“Sorry, I’m still new here,” Tobe reminded me. “Anyway, Gallagher’s a registered Republican, a member of the Union Club, and the Chagrin Valley Gun Club. As one of Greater Cleveland’s often-seen, he seems to show up most often for dinner at Johnny’s, Lola, and Mallorca—that’s a fancy-shmancy Spanish-Portuguese restaurant downtown.”

“I know where downtown is, too,” I said.

“Then you know where he goes on Sundays every fall, because he has season tickets to Browns games. His favorite after-dinner drink is Armagnac—but if he can’t get that, he’ll settle for Cognac.”

I laughed. “How did you find out about all this stuff?”

“Umm—because I’m a detective?”

“You must be a damn good one. I researched Gallagher, too, before I took his job, but I never found out where he eats and what he drinks.”

Tobe checked out the room. “I guess he doesn’t know about Lockkeeper’s Inn, because he’s not here.”

“Good,” I said. “This is our night.”

“We have quite a few of those, don’t we?”

Our nights? Yes, we do. Is that okay?”

“If it weren’t okay,” Tobe said, “I wouldn’t be here.”

“Will you come to Northcoast Downs with us? We can bet on every race if we want to—study the program and see who’s good and who’s not.”

“Too complicated. I’ll just bet on each jockey who’s wearing yellow pants.”

I laughed. “Actually, Glenn told me most women seem to bet on a gray horse—and gray horses don’t wear yellow pants. By the way, they don’t call them jockeys in harness racing. They refer to them as drivers. And their outfits aren’t silks like at thoroughbred tracks; they’re called ‘colors’. K.O. is coming, too—with Carli.”

Tobe smiled. “They’ve been dating as long as we have. He’s a lucky man. Carli is terminally adorable.”

“You aren’t terminal, and probably too old to be adorable, but you’re pretty hot, Tobe.”

“I’m too old but I’m hot, huh?”

“Not old, mature,” I said, too quickly. I’ve spent my life getting into trouble with women because I frequently say the wrong thing. “And sexy. Desirable. Great-looking.”

“That’s flattering, coming from a big swinger like you.”

“I’m hardly a swinger.”

“I’ve read those private eye novels—a gat in your pocket, a bottle of booze in the bottom drawer, and a blond client so gorgeous that you fall into her silver eyes.”

“Silver eyes? You need to read better books,” I said. “I don’t have a ‘gat’ in my pocket; they haven’t called a gun a ‘gat’ since The Maltese Falcon. There’s no booze in my desk because I drink beer. And I can’t remember my last blonde client, silver eyes or no. And that was a compliment, by the way.”

“Which one?”

“That you’re pretty hot. And you’re welcome.”

She shook her head. “You’re a tough guy, Jacovich.”

“Not nearly as tough as you.”

“How so?”

“I’m not carrying a ‘gat,’ and you’ve got two of them—one on your hip, and one strapped inside your ankle.”

“Good guess,” she said. “Hurry and finish dinner because you can’t wait to take them off me.”

“That’s erotic. Removing a woman’s bra as prelude is sexy. Removing a woman’s weapons as foreplay is erotic. There’s a difference.”

“Thanks for reminding me, Mr. English major. Have you removed firearms from lots of women before you went to bed with them?”

“Never slept with a woman who carried a gun until I met you.”

“Lots of women have concealed-carry licenses in this state.”

“True,” I said, “but not many—men or women—actually know what to do with one.”

“They get in the way of cops who get trained and paid to do their jobs—and what’s to stop a cop from shooting an unknown civilian waving a gun around?” Tobe blew an angry breath out from between her lips. “I shot a guy once, several years ago. Thank God I didn’t kill him, but he was standing in the middle of the street in front of his house waving a Smith and Wesson at all of his neighbors, who’d come out to see what was going on because the guy thought a robber was trying to bust into his house. Of course, I didn’t know that until later.”

“Where’d you shoot him?”

“In Cincinnati,” she said, and didn’t reveal anything else. “So tell me—besides my being hot, sexy, and desirable—and too old to be adorable—what should I learn about harness racing?”

She did study the sport before we went to Northcoast, even getting a copy of The New Care and Training of the Trotter and Pacer, and one of the first things she realized was that the drivers hardly ever wore yellow pants. The book was big and heavy enough to kill someone with, but her interest kept her going. She loves learning about all sorts of things, and if you mention something she’s never heard of or knows little of, she’ll make it her business to find out about it. Besides carrying two weapons even when off-duty, Tobe goes nowhere without her iPad, even though she bought it for herself only six weeks before Apple came out with a brand new edition of the damn thing. Anything you want to learn about—anything—she’ll look it up on the spot. She tried laying all she’d learned about racing on me in my living room one Sunday afternoon while I was watching a Browns game on TV. It was too much. I lost focus, I guess; I wasn’t interested in getting deeply involved in the harness racing business.

At least I thought I wasn’t.

So the five of us—K.O., Carli, Tobe, Glenn Gallagher, and me—were up in the second-floor clubhouse, finishing our so-so dinners and watching the end of the fifth race. Glenn smirked as he rose, heading for the payoff window where he was about to collect a bundle. “How’s everyone doing on drinks?” he said, winning ticket in hand. We all said we were fine. Then he leaned his head close to mine, his shoulders hunched nervously.

“Milan, we should get together next week,” he said softly. “I’ve got something to tell you.”


“I mean, I want to hire you again.”

“More stuff at your office?”

He shook his head. “I’ll explain it all when we meet.”

“I’ll call you on Monday, then,” I said.

That relaxed him a bit. “If I were you guys,” he said to all of us, smiling happily, “I’d carefully check the horses in the seventh race.”

“Why?” Tobe asked.

“Read the program. You’ll find out.” Then he disappeared into the crowd.

“What’s so special about the seventh race?” Carli wanted to know.

“I’ll look it up,” K.O. said. For a guy who never moved a little finger to help anyone, he took very good care of Carli, probably hoping she wouldn’t have to open the program herself and risk a paper cut. I thought she wasn’t so fragile, but K.O. didn’t know that.

He thumbed through the pages, got to the seventh race, ran his finger down the list of horses, and said, “Holy shit!” He showed Carli first and then handed the program over to me, pointing to Number two in the seventh race. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Proud Milan,” was the horse’s name. I squinted at the small print. The horse owner was someone else, not Glenn Gallagher. I’d have to check the tote board on the track’s infield before the seventh to see what the odds were.

“Oh, great! Now we all have to bet on Proud Milan to win,” K.O. said.

“Is that because I’m a winner?”

“I’d never say that! I want to watch this race down by the rail and root for whoever I bet on, and it’ll be easy for me to remember his name.”

Carli hugged K.O.’s arm tight and put her face against his shoulder for a moment, closing her eyes and looking deliriously happy. I sighed. The last time I was around a very young couple that much in love, I was one of them—many decades ago.

I said to Tobe, “Shall we go downstairs and watch the race close-up? Although, knowing your super-sensitive nose, the smell of horse shit close up might bother you.” Tobe had confessed to me early in our relationship that she suffered from a physical problem called hyperosmia, an over-active sense of smell that made some odors intolerable to her and caused violent headaches, which is why I’d started using shampoo, shaving cream, deodorant and soap that was fragrance-free.

“I don’t like ca-ca, horse or otherwise,” she said, “but it won’t give me migraines the way some perfumes do. So by all means, let’s watch the Milan race from the rail.”

“The Milan race. Will that hound me for the rest of my life? The Milan race?”

“Lucky you,” Tobe said. “At least you’ll be a celebrity for a minute.”

By the way, my last name, Jacovich, is even harder to pronounce than my first name, which is Americanized to MY-lan. For the surname, just pretend the J is a Y. YOCK-o-vitch. I was born and raised in Cleveland, but my parents were from Slovenia. There are more Slovenians in Cleveland than anyplace else in the world besides Ljubljana, but that never seemed strange to me. Most of the kids I grew up with in the St. Clair-Superior corridor east of downtown were Slovenian or Croatian and toted around hard-to-spell, hard-to-pronounce monikers. None of them had changed their surname to Wilson or Johnson, either.

Glenn Gallagher returned, carrying a brandy snifter in one hand and some tickets in the other, grinning as he sat down. He’d barely eaten any dinner—all he’d ordered was a plate of deep-fried zucchini sticks, and he shared them with the rest of us. “Who’re you betting in the seventh?”

“Are you kidding? I’m in it to win,” I said. “Who named their horse after me, anyway?”

“He’s not named after you—he’s named after the owner’s father-in-law—who’s Serbian, by the way.”

“Serbian, huh?” Tobe nudged me in the ribs with one elbow. “Fame is fleeting.”

“I mentioned you’d be here tonight—and if Mee-LAHN wins, they’ll probably want to shake your hand anyway.” Glenn raised his snifter. “Cheers.” He swirled the drink around, inhaled it, and then took a sip.

Carli said, “What’s that you’re drinking, Mr. Gallagher?”

“Glenn,” he corrected her. “You’re too pretty to call me mister. It’s Armagnac.”

“Armagnac? What’s that?”

Tobe said, “You’ve heard of Cognac. It’s a brandy from a province in France, in the Gascony region. About a hundred miles south of there is another province where they make Armagnac. Both are brandies, but they’re very different in taste.”

Glenn Gallagher raised an eyebrow. “Where did you learn all that?”

Tobe didn’t want to admit she’d Googled Glenn and discovered what he liked to drink. “Oh—I research lots of things. I like a brandy myself now and then.”

“Want to try one of these, Tobe?”

“I started with vodka at dinner,” she said. “I’d better stick with it. But I’m surprised a racetrack like Northcoast Downs actually keeps Armagnac behind the bar.”

Glenn shrugged. “Not many bars sell it in Cleveland. They keep it at the clubhouse bar just because I drink it. I’m here three or four nights a week—of course, I don’t drink on the nights I’m driving—so the bar won’t go broke.”

We watched the next race; Glenn had a big bet down but the rest of us hadn’t wagered at all. Apparently Glenn had picked a loser because when all the horses and sulkies crossed the finish line, he crumpled up his ticket and tossed it onto the table. He’d bet a hundred bucks. To him, though, losing that much money was like me dropping a quarter on the street and watching it roll into a sewer opening.

“All of you go bet on Proud Milan,” he said, “and I’ll take you down to the grandstand so you can mingle with real gamblers.” Then he wandered away, and we trooped to the betting window. Carli bet two bucks, K.O. bet five, Tobe slipped a ten dollar bill through the window, and I put down a twenty—a big bet for me, but after all, the horse and I shared the name. According to the tote board, Proud Milan was going at 5-to-1.

Gallagher eventually found us and as he led us toward the stairs to the outdoor grandstand area, he stopped. Another couple was coming up toward us.

“Oh, Jesus,” Glenn muttered under his breath. Then, almost too loudly: “Evening, Chloe.”

The woman looked startled, then annoyed. In her early forties, she was overdressed in Saks Fifth Avenue elegance and overly made-up with too much eye shadow and a slash of bright red vampire-like lipstick. Her loaded-on blush made her look orange, or “tangerine,” as the cosmetics marketers called it. Her straight, dyed blonde hair hung loosely to her mid-back, with bangs. Most women that mature don’t wear bangs anymore. She was attractive enough, in an ice-cold way. Her male companion was at least twenty years younger than her, wearing light blue slacks, a linen jacket over a blue dress shirt, white loafers with no socks, and with an ascot tied at his neck.

An ascot! Nobody’s worn an ascot since charming actor David Niven died. It was hard to believe anyone wearing an ascot to a harness race, let alone wearing one in Cleveland—ever! If this guy walked around a neighborhood like Parma dolled up in an ascot, he’d never even make it to the corner.

The unsmiling woman bobbed her head once. “Glenn.”

“Please say hello to my guests,” he said. “Milan Jacovich, Kevin O’Bannion, Tobe Blaine, Carli Wysocki—this is Chloe Markham, the owner of Northcoast Downs.”

Chloe Markham lifted her head to look a bit more like royalty, perhaps put out that no one bowed or curtsied. She deliberately ignored the two women but studied K.O. and me like zoology specimens. Finally she said, “You’re Milan Jacovich.”


“You’re the private detective.”

“Investigator,” I corrected her. “Only police officers of a certain rank are detectives.” I was about to explain that Tobe was indeed a detective, but Chloe didn’t care enough to shut up and listen.

“I read about you. Your name gets in the papers a lot, doesn’t it?”

“More than I’d like it to.”

Sneer. “Get off on being famous, do you?”

I was getting annoyed, even if I’d only been talking to her for ten seconds. Maybe it was her tone—or her wintry personality. I said, “If I ever do get famous, you’ll be the first to know.”

When Chloe spoke again, it sounded as if her jaw was wired shut. “What are you ‘investigating’ around here? Wanting to find out something bad and tell your newspaper buddies about it? I don’t like snoops.”

“Every once in a great while, I take an evening off from work and have fun. I hope my ‘fun’ tonight doesn’t bother you too much.”

I couldn’t imagine even the Queen of England stiffening her neck that way, but Chloe Markham did so, staring off into a fantasy future inside her own head and ignoring me as if I hadn’t spoken at all. “Come on, Skip,” she ordered her companion, and they stalked off toward the clubhouse level.

“Skip,” I mumbled. “Skip—with an ascot. Jesus!”

“What a personality that woman needs!” Tobe said loud enough for Chloe to hear. “She looked right through me like I was invisible. Is that a racial thing?”

Glenn said, “She ignores all women—and everyone else, too. It’s probably a good thing she doesn’t drink like her little friend there, or she’d really be a pain in the ass. We’ve had our problems in the past, mostly because I’m almost as rich as she is, and that gets her dander up. So she doesn’t like me. Frankly, I can’t stand her, either.”

“If she hates everybody,” K.O. said, “why own a racetrack that caters to people?”

“She inherited it from her uncle six years ago,” Glenn said as we proceeded down the steps. “She tells anyone who’ll listen to her that she cares about this park to honor her uncle’s legacy.” He snorted. “That’s a load of horse puckey. Her younger brother Manley didn’t get a piece of it, even though he thinks he should have.”


“That’s his name. Chloe’s already turning this place into what they call a racino—a racetrack with slot machines, but what she really wants is to own a genuine casino, just like the one downtown, so she can make more money than even she can piss away. She’s already been handed a ton of money and a minority interest by a nationally known food chain to do just that. The restaurant company will be in charge, but I doubt Chloe gives a damn—and she won’t have to pay people to shovel up horse shit every day, either.”

“Skip!” Tobe said. “Who over the age of eight calls himself ‘Skip’?”

“His name is Skip Swain,” Glenn explained, “Chloe’s boy-toy-of-the-moment. His father’s one of the richest guys in Ohio. He already owns half the state legislature, and whenever he wants something to happen around here, it does. So Chloe’s doing Skip—and if that doesn’t work, she’ll do Skip’s daddy, too.”

“Wearing an ascot is bad enough,” Tobe said, shaking her head. “But Skip?”

We made our way down to the first floor, which was almost an alternate universe. While the upstairs clubhouse and restaurant were staid and relatively comfortable, the downstairs hosted a different species of sports fans.

Stretching almost the entire length of Northcoast Downs was a series of tiny carrels, like the soulless cubicles in which one might find the office employees of some huge corporation. There were probably six hundred carrels, each with its own personal TV set. Hunkering behind them in chairs much less comfortable than the ones upstairs were hardcore, dedicated gamblers—Glenn Gallagher had called them “degenerate gamblers.” They were intent on what they were doing, which was betting not only on the races that went on approximately two hundred feet away from them but also on those taking place at many other race venues all over the country and the world. If they were real race bettors, Glenn had said, they knew how to handicap a race, which could take up to an hour or more. Their best work, however, was only about eighty percent successful—which happened to be much better than a baseball player’s batting average.

A small crowd was gathered around a man well known in our town; Glenn pointed him out to me as a big race fan and bettor. Mike Trivisonno is a much-listened-to sports guy on Cleveland radio, mostly because he tells listeners exactly what he thinks, and if they don’t like it, it’s their problem. Trivisonno waved at Glenn, but was too busy chatting up his fans to come over and talk. That was fine with me; I hear him talk enough on his radio show.

I actually saw two men I knew, dressed differently from everyone else at the carrels. Their clothes were more expensive; loud suits with open-necked sports shirts. One wore sunglasses—at nine fifteen in the evening. I thought I’d seen him around in Little Italy, that colorful neighborhood on the east side of Cleveland where the Italian mob hangs out. The other I knew by name. John Terranova had for years been the designated driver of the local godfather, Giancarlo D’Allessandro. When the old man passed away a few years back, his nephew, Victor Gaimari, took over things. At one time Gaimari and I had been friends—but that came after I had punched him in the nose and he’d sent some punks to my home to get even.

John Terranova had been one of those punks.

The sunglasses man leaned over and whispered. Terranova glanced at me and nodded, the barest of smiles at the corners of his mouth. Then they returned to figuring out their bet in the next race.

We were all suitably amazed by the multitude of huge TV screens on every wall, side by side—more than fifty in that one carrel area, most tuned to racing at different tracks all over the country, but others showing a Major League Baseball playoff game, a soccer match somewhere, ESPN, and even a tired old sitcom.

K.O. shook his head in wonder. “How many TVs are there? They’ve got just about everything playing on one set or another, except maybe porn.”

I said, “That’s because no one ever bets on porn.”

We went out into the crisp fall air to the grandstand, watching the horses warming up at a relaxed jog, stretching their muscles. The maintenance people raked the track with a grater, as they do between each race to smooth the ground and lay down deeper grooves. As we approached the rail, the horse smell was even stronger. I glanced over at Tobe and sniffed discreetly. “Okay?”

She flicked the end of her nose with a finger. “So far.”

Glenn stood close behind me. “This isn’t turning out to be one of my better nights,” he mumbled. Another couple approached us; the guy didn’t look any too pleased.

“You shouldn’t be down here with us peasants,” the man snarled as he got close to Glenn. “You should be upstairs with other people like you who think their shit don’t smell.” Mid-forties, grizzled, whipcord thin and needing a shave, his hands were curled into fists at his side, as if he were ready to fight.

The woman with him was a few years younger and several inches shorter, with one of those hard, slut-pretty faces looking as if she’d begun stripping for money when she was thirteen. Her dirty-blonde hair needed combing and her vivid scarlet lipstick smeared on her mouth was a red come-fuck-me flag visible for miles. Her breasts were too big for the rest of her, undulating with every step, struggling to burst free from her low-cut blouse. She ignored both Tobe and Carli, and her eye-batting, lip-licking flirtation with K.O. was subtle as a hurricane.

She finally tore her eyes from him and nodded to our host. “Hiya, Glenn.”

“Wanda,” he said without cheer, “you’re looking great tonight, as usual.”

She moved closer to him—by extension closer to me, too, and barely whispered, “Still just looking?”

The man with her grabbed her arm and almost jerked her away from us, throwing a looks-could-kill glare back at Gallagher.

Carli glared after Wanda as she was being taken away. “I love it when some bimbo hits on my boyfriend while I’m standing right next to him!”

Glenn said, “That was Del Fiddler—a trainer. He used to train my horses but we had—words.”

“Words about the lady?” I looked after them as they moved away, or more specifically at her butt as it swayed and twitched beneath her flimsy peasant skirt.

“Wanda Fiddler flirts with everyone, sometimes ending with a payoff. I wasn’t interested, but almost everyone else around here was. Del won’t believe I turned her down, which is why he and I don’t hang together anymore.”

“He looked ready to punch you.”

“He’d love to, but I’m twice his size.”

“You’re twice everybody’s size,” K.O. observed.

“Del gets into fights a lot around here. Now not many people want to work with him. Too bad—he was a damn good trainer.”

“All this time,” I said, “I’ve only thought of you as an investment banker with a hobby. But you live a pretty interesting life at this track.”

“If I ever write a book about this business, nobody’ll believe it.” He searched the crowd then nudged me and pointed to a strange-looking man in tattered blue jeans and a stained pink hoodie. His hands were deep in his pockets and his jaw worked manfully on a chunk of chewing tobacco. He was middle-aged and obese, his gut and spare tire drooping over his too-tight Levis, and his face looked as if the entire Turkish army had marched over it. “Take Gecko over there,” Gallagher said.

“Gecko? Like a lizard?”

“We call him that because he looks like one. Nobody seems to know his real name. He’s a groom—takes care of things in the barn when he’s of a mind to. An honest-to-God redneck. Whatever money he earns, he spends. His math starts and stops with how many packs of cigarettes can buy a blow job from one of the low-rent hookers living at his motel.”

I stole a peek at Tobe and Carli, but they were talking together and laughing. K.O. paid no attention to either of them, leaning over the rail and studying the track as if he knew what he was doing.

“Otherwise, all Gecko cares about is his dog, a weird-looking thing. He’s almost as fat as Gecko himself. He’s got the body of a too-old English bulldog and the head of a wolf. That’ll give you nightmares, believe me.”

Gecko came over and said hello to Glenn Gallagher, head bowed respectfully, and then said “hi” to me in his hillbilly voice, wiggling his fingers in an almost feminine wave, his grin gap-toothed in both upper and lower jaw. He probably hadn’t shaved for a week and didn’t smell very good, but he seemed pleasant enough as long as he didn’t get too close. When he merged back into the crowd, Gallagher said, “He’s really a funny guy when you talk to him. He’s kind and caring and so simple-minded that, except for his steady diet of creepy skanks he can buy cheap, he’s almost childlike. And he’s a damn good groom, too.”

“Does he work for you?”

“Sometimes. Once he was actually late getting one of my horses ready for a race because he got distracted; his excuse was his hooker friend was running a special that evening: a bubble bath, a back rub, and a BJ, all for fifteen bucks.”

I rubbed my eyes. “I’m trying to lose the mental image of Gecko in a bubble bath.”

“You’ll never forget it,” Glenn laughed. “It’ll be with you always.”

Horses and drivers filed onto the track. I squinted to get a good look at Number two, Proud Milan, carrying his chestnut head high, living up to his name. His driver wore black and gold colors, and looked every bit as menacing as the Pittsburgh Steelers on one of their good days. Unlike thoroughbred racing, where jockeys always wore the colors of the stable that owned the horse, in harness racing the drivers all had their own colors registered. I fingered the betting slip in my pocket, and while I haven’t actually prayed since I was eight years old, I thought good vibes for Proud Milan and hoped they’d reach whomever was in omnipotent charge of horse races.

I moved over to stand with my group, Tobe, K.O., and Carli. The women had a lot to say about “our” horse.

“He’s really pretty,” Carli observed, pointing at the horse, except whenever K.O. heard the word “pretty,” he looked at Carli.

“D’you suppose,” Tobe murmured, “Proud Milan realizes how important this is?”

“I should’ve spoken to him personally,” I said.

Gallagher joined us again at the rail. “He’s in Number two position, you’ll notice. That means he’ll be able to drop right in behind the Number one horse, who leaves out of there like a rocket. He should carry Proud Milan right with him all the way around, twice, to the head of the stretch where the inside lane opens up. If Proud Milan has it in him, he can shoot inside, just past Number one, to win.”

Hard-bitten gamblers—Glenn had called them “railbirds”—leaned as far out as they could, as if they wanted to be on the track, clutching betting tickets. They were probably at the track every day or evening—not to enjoy the sport, but to watch, trembling, as two dollars, ten dollars, or however much they’d wagered, galloped around the track pulling a driver and sulky. Within two minutes, they’d be smiling more broadly than usual or looking as if the weight of the world had just collapsed on their shoulders.

“Are you excited to watch your horse run?” Carli asked me.

“He’s not my horse. And he only shares my name if you read it, not when you pronounce it. But I bet on him anyway.”

Glenn lifted his snifter in a toast. “Here’s to Proud Milan,” he said, “all the way.”

The crowd at the track got quiet for a few seconds, fortifying themselves for the race and the result, whatever it might be. Tobe quietly took my hand in hers and squeezed. That fortified me.

Then, the track announcer: “And they’re off and racing!”

From the book Win, Place, or Die, © Les Roberts. All rights reserved.

This excerpt may not be used in any form for commercial purposes without the written permission of Gray & Company, Publishers.