Over the space of several weeks in the summer of 1935, 13 starving horses and ponies, along with one very fat pony and a goat, are left in Woodhill, Ohio. The people of Woodhill rally behind horse owner Laura Darvey and newly arrived Ramona Hernandez, to help restore the abused horses to health. The unknown person behind the arrival of the horses earns the nickname, The Horse Fairy, but The Horse Fairy is not out to save lives; he is racketeer Bobby Darvey, who is determined to harm Laura and Fire Chief Jake McCann to avenge his cousin, Dan Darvey’s death. Bobby wants the abused horses to pass on a disease that will kill all of Laura’s horses, and he is determined to see Jake publicly humiliated and forced out of his job. For this, Bobby uses two Woodhill residents who want to oust Jake from the chief’s job for their own agenda. Among the victims in Bobby’s scheme are Alex Carpenter and Nelson Dobos, who learn too late that Alex’s son, Bill, is working for Bobby and could be a danger to them both. With advice from his father, New York City homicide detective J. P. McCann, and the help of Woodhill Police Chief, Matt Gardner, Jake teams up with Bobby’s top man, Benjy Talbot, to stop Bobby from carrying out his plans for vengeance.
“I don’t want to go home yet,” Tilly Carpenter murmured into Peter Black’s ear. She was as close to him as she could manage without interfering with the floor-mounted gearshift lever in Peter’s brand new Ford.
Peter grinned and awkwardly reached under Tilly’s skirt to press his fingers into her crotch. She hadn’t bothered to put her panties on after their romp in his hotel room. He was hard again. She could sure as hell turn him on and keep him turned on. Maybe they should find a place to park for what was left of the night and not bother with either one of them going to their respective homes.
Tilly lived in Woodhill, a village of 3500 people twenty miles southeast of Cleveland, and they were nearly there, but Peter, whose wife and children awaited his return in Canton, wouldn’t be looking for him until sometime tomorrow. As a salesman with territory covering most of northeastern Ohio, Peter was often away overnight, sometimes even two nights in a row. Most of those nights were spent—just as he’d spent tonight—with women he picked up in bars.
Peter thought Tilly was a good-looking woman when he first spotted her at the Dew Drop Inn. She was older than he generally preferred, maybe somewhere in her late forties, he guessed. Her dark hair glistened in the meager lighting of the bar and her large brown eyes invited him to join her. Her lips curved into a smile that promised whatever he wanted. Promised and delivered. Tilly could make him change his mind about older women, especially older women who’d learned some good stuff along the way.
She’d taken the bus over from Woodhill, about five miles from New Colton, and she had been eager to see Peter’s room at the New Colton hotel. Eager to get both of them undressed and free to roam each other’s body, setting off the kind of sparks you couldn’t get from the same old partner time after time.
Jesus, now she was opening his fly, rubbing his cock with her fingertips, turning him on even more . . . sweet Jesus . . . it was so damn good. Peter closed his eyes in sheer pleasure and forgot he was driving at twenty-five miles an hour.
John and Dorothy Hilliard were on their way home from playing bridge at the Fisher’s house in Woodhill. The Hilliards lived in Allen Falls, a few miles south of Woodhill, and Dorothy couldn’t wait to get there.
“You just totally embarrassed me tonight,” she declared for the third time since leaving the Fisher’s house. “If I didn’t know better, I’d have thought you were a total newcomer to the game. How could you have let that—”
“Oh, shut up, Dorothy, for heaven’s sake. So, I made a few bad plays, so what? It’s not the end of the world, you know.”
“Bad plays? They weren’t just bad, John, they were totally stupid—” Dorothy suddenly screamed, “Oh my gawd!”
John Hilliard didn’t have time to react as Peter Black’s Ford connected with John Hilliard’s Ford. The grinding screech of metal on metal sounded throughout Woodhill like the clanging of church bells. Only it wasn’t Sunday morning. It was 1:30 A.M on Friday, April 26, 1935.
- * * *
Every horse in the barn except Diamond Bell stood motionless in his or her stall. Not so much as a piece of straw rustled. A single light above the tack room door at the end of the aisle was the only illumination save for moonlight beaming brilliantly through the windows. Diamond Bell’s stall door was ajar and in the aisle next to the door, Fire Chief Jake McCann dozed on a straw bale, legs stretched out before him, arms crossed on his chest, and head resting against the front of the stall. A plaid wool cooler draped around his shoulders was anchored to his lap by Streak, the barn cat.
Inside the stall with Diamond Bell, Laura Darvey hunkered down, using the wall as a backrest. Unlike Jake, she was intensely alert, her hazel eyes fixed on the black Appaloosa mare, who was within minutes of giving birth. Diamond Bell was still up, but she was sweating on her neck and flanks and making half-hearted kicking motions towards her belly. Suddenly she lay down in the deep straw bedding. Laura tensed. This would be Diamond Bell’s fourth foal. In a whisper she prayed that this birth would be as quick and normal as each of the others. Then Diamond Bell grunted and got up again. Laura sighed and shifted to sitting on her knees in the straw. She’d been up for most of the past three days, ever since Diamond Bell’s udder began to fill and the muscles on each side of her spine close to her tail softened and sank in, making the mare look gaunt, as if she needed more food and better grooming.
“Jake,” Laura said in a loud whisper.
“Is she starting?” Jake responded in a similar manner. He didn’t stand up, merely rolled off the bale and crawled the couple of feet from the bale into Diamond Bell’s stall. Streak meowed angrily at being displaced so abruptly, then immediately took Jake’s place on the bale and went back to sleep.
Diamond Bell pawed at the straw for a minute, then she circled twice and lay down again. Her water bag ruptured, splashing fluid onto the bedding. Several minutes later, much to Laura’s and Jake’s relief, a pair of hooves and a tiny muzzle appeared, and shortly after that Diamond Bell’s foal was fully delivered. After resting for a few minutes, Diamond Bell got to her feet, breaking the umbilical cord. Laura rubbed the sides and rump of the foal with a soft towel, leaving the foal’s head and neck wet so Diamond Bell could identify her offspring.
Laura said, “It’s a colt, and will you look at all this color!” She leaned back, took off the watch cap she wore and ran a hand through her chestnut-colored hair.
In the dim light of the stall Jake couldn’t tell what the base color of the colt was, but the large white blanket covering his rump was positively that of an Appaloosa. He and Laura looked at each other and smiled. Another dream had been realized, another miracle witnessed. For Laura Darvey and Jake McCann, that was all that mattered on this chilly April night.
- * * *
At the same time Diamond Bell was giving birth in Ohio, the person Laura feared most in the world was seated on a chaise lounge on the porch of his ranch home in Paradise Valley, several miles south of Las Vegas, Nevada.
Bobby Darvey had been pale and thin on the January day his most trusted employee, Benjy Talbot, had picked him up outside the gates of the federal prison at Leavenworth, Kansas. Back then Benjy, who was of medium build and six feet tall, had shown the healthy benefits of time spent in the sun. He had dark brown hair and brown eyes by which he viewed the world keenly, and interpreted what he saw with above average intelligence. His features were not quite handsome, but they were comfortable and gave a person a feeling of being safe in his company.
In comparison to Benjy’s healthy glow back in January, Bobby had definitely been a sallow, sad looking individual. But now, having enjoyed life in the desert for several months, Bobby’s bronzed skin rippled over a muscular body, his wavy blonde hair was bleached almost white by the sun, and his sapphire blue eyes gleamed once more with the challenge of retaking control of his various businesses. Bobby was immensely pleased with his rapid return to success. It hadn’t always been easy keeping track of his people from prison and making sure nobody weaseled in on his various ventures. Twice, upon orders from Bobby, Benjy convinced certain parties to keep hands off, a fact Bobby appreciated so much he’d given Benjy a five hundred dollar bonus. But Bobby was even more excited about being approached by Jules Modgilewsky, who Bobby, like everyone else in the business, called Julie Martin. Julie was Dutch Schultz’s point man in collecting dues and other funds from New York City restaurant owners who had been forced to join Schultz’s Metropolitan Restaurant and Cafeteria Owners Association.
Bobby had been three months shy of his release date when Julie contacted him and asked if he would be interested in taking on a similar operation in Cleveland, and later, possibly, in Las Vegas. The great thing about the job was that Bobby could continue to run his own enterprises. Schultz wanted a hefty cut, but the added business would produce a huge income that would more than cover the cost of hiring more men and paying Schultz his percentage.
Bobby had some concerns about Dutch Schultz, though. Schultz was quick to anger and quick to use a gun to solve his problems, as he had last month when, after accusing Julie Martin of skimming, he stuck his pistol in Julie’s mouth and pulled the trigger. Just thinking about the incident raised goose bumps on Bobby’s arms even though it was still so hot the night air shimmered off the sand in what passed for a front yard.
Julie Martin’s death hovered at the edge of Bobby’s mind every time Bobby thought about Dutch Schultz, but other than his concern over Schultz’s temper, Bobby figured he wouldn’t be at Schultz’s New Jersey headquarters very often so the risk to his personal safety was minimal—as long as he kept Schultz happy.
On the other hand, the offer from Joey Finkel and his partners, who were moving from Chicago to Las Vegas to build a casino, had been even more tempting and infinitely safer, and that’s why Bobby had come ahead of Finkel and the others and bought this place near Vegas. He was sure he could handle Schultz’s operation and Finkel’s casino construction without too much trouble since they didn’t overlap. Of course, once the casino was built, Schultz’s restaurant owners association would move in.
Bobby was reading The Postman Always Rings Twice when Benjy came out of the house carrying a telephone with the cord trailing behind him. “Your Aunt Alma,” he announced, handing the telephone to Bobby, who set it in his lap and covered the receiver with his hand.
“What’s she calling for so late? It’s about midnight back in Ohio, isn’t it? Gotta be bad news.” He took his hand off the receiver. “Aunt Alma, how are you?”
“Not good, dear, not good at all. I need some help. I’ve just gotten off the longest, saddest telephone call from my sister Florence. Grandpa has gotten worse and she can’t take care of him alone anymore. You know, his mind’s still sharp as a tack, it’s his body that’s failing. Anyway, Florence wants me to move back home to Wheeling, but I don’t want to leave Woodhill. How can I leave when my husband and only child are buried here?”
“You can’t, I know . . . let me think for a minute . . . hold on, okay?” Bobby covered the receiver with his hand and shook his head. Now what? Aunt Alma and her sister, Aunt Florence, would never agree to put their father in a nursing home. It just wasn’t done. Only people with no family were put in nursing homes. Warehouses, Bobby’s mother, Minerva, had called them. She had married Russell Darvey at a young age, borne Bobby a couple of years later, and died when he was twelve. Three stepmothers followed, none of them lasting more than a year or two, and then Bobby’s father had departed this world, courtesy of a runaway carriage horse. Bobby would have liked to have forgotten his extended family and been on his own after seeing his father buried, but he had developed a deep friendship with his cousin, Dan, who lived in Woodhill, and as a result, he had been taken into the bosom of the rest of the Darvey family. Whether he liked it or not, because of Dan, he was part of the Darvey family.