One Can Only Hope

Submitted into Contest #235 in response to: Make a race an important element of your story.... view prompt

1 comment

Crime Drama Fiction

This story contains themes or mentions of suicide or self harm.

One Can Only Hope

They thundered down the final straight. The crowd leapt to their feet, clamouring to see the finish. The horses, their gleaming coats dripping white foam, nostrils flared. Jockeys in brightly coloured silks waved their whips in a flurry. Louder… Faster… The grandstand erupted in unison as they flashed past the post in a blur of colours, horses and whips. Then it was over.

The young strapper, buzzing with adrenaline, retrieved the winner. The filly shied away, startled by her excess energy. By her side, Suzanne Smith, the trainer. A slim, attractive woman. Obviously from a well-to-do family, oozing class and wealth. She wore black, high heeled boots. A mini skirt, also black, hugged her figure perfectly. The white, low-cut blouse, buttons straining, struggled to contain her large breasts. On her head a black, pill-box hat. Piercing blue eyes, ruby-red lipstick. Natural blonde locks, swept back into a perfect French roll.

Suzanne’s usual, suave perfection now tossed overboard in a sea of excitement. Her hat now askew. Together they brought the magnificent young filly back to the mounting yard. Fist pumps and high fives surrounded them. As reality returned, Suzanne remembered her life hadn’t always been this blessed.

Six months after Suzanne’s birth, post-natal depression had her mother reaching for the pills in the bedside drawer. Two weeks later, heartbroken, unable to raise his baby daughter alone, her father had no choice. Riddled with guilt, he placed her on the doorstep of a church. Tears came as he wrote. “Her name is Suzanne. I love her too much to keep her.”

Suzanne went from one foster home to another. Labelled a problem child, uncontrollable and always running away. Now fifteen and expelled from every school in the area, options were running out. A newly qualified counsellor could be her last chance. He’d already had amazing results with “difficult” kids in his short career.

Entering his office, Suzanne was unimpressed. She’d been to these people before. She knew what to expect. The nerdy young man in front of her, however, did not fit the profile. His unruly, black, bed hair and sleepy expression. Was this even the right place? He approached her, hand outstretched. Suzanne shrunk back. His kind, brown eyes hidden behind small, round-framed glasses. A hint of a moustache struggling to push through on his pale face. The logo on his tattered, red rugby shirt barely visible. Dusty old joggers and faded jeans.

Withdrawing his hand, he began, “Hi Suzanne, I’m Simon. Can I tell you a bit about myself?” Didn’t want to ask about HER life. “Whatever,” Suzanne said.

“I’m 23 and only a year out of uni. I’d like to be your friend.” Suzanne ignored him. “SUZANNE,” his loud tone startled her. “Do you like horses?” he asked. “Dunno, never been near any,” she said. “Well, I’m going to a friend’s farm this arvo. You wanna come?” asked Simon. “Nah, I’m too busy,” she lied. “One of their mares is due to foal. If you don’t like it, I’ll bring you straight back. What d’ya say?” asked Simon. “Well, if it will get you off my back,” she replied. “Great, my car’s out back, let’s go.”

The unrelenting bumpy road gave the car’s shockies a good workout. Finally, in the distance a small house and several sheds came into view. The immaculate, white post and rail fences surrounding lush green pastures. The sign read, “Three Oaks Thoroughbred Stud.” The gravel crunched under the tyres as they negotiated the tree-lined driveway. Tanya heard them pull up and burst out the front door, smiling, arms outstretched. “Simon, Milly’s in labour, we’re gonna have a foal today!”

“Tanya, this is Suzanne, a friend of mine,” said Simon. “Suzanne, meet Tanya.” “Nice to meet you, Suzanne,” said Tanya. “I’d offer you a coffee, but Milly’s getting close. I’ve been watching her on the monitor. Follow me,” she called out as she headed towards the stables. The mare was down, straining. Suzanne was taken aback. “Is she OK?” asked Suzanne. “Sure, horses do this all the time,” Tanya replied, the concern etched on her face contradicted her words.

Hours passed, but still no foal. “Something’s wrong. We have to get it out now!” said Tanya. The black mare was now barely conscious. Knowing a vet would never get there in time, and desperate, Tanya decided to manually pull the foal out. Moments later, all wet and bloody, the filly plopped out onto the wood shavings. She was beautiful. Bay in colour, three white socks and a small white snip on her nose. She blinked at the brightness, shook her head, and flicked her little pink tongue in and out.

Milly was bleeding heavily. With the last of her energy, she raised her head and turned to look at her baby. Then her eyes closed as she took her last breath. Stunned, the onlookers were torn between joy and sadness.

The baby soon began scrambling to her feet. “We’ll have to bottle feed her,” said Tanya. Simon and Tanya both tried to get the filly to suckle, without success. Hours passed. Suzanne had been watching on, sad and helpless. “Let me try, please,” said Suzanne. “We have nothing to lose,” said Simon, looking over at Tanya. She handed over the bottle. “Come on little one, life’s not always easy. I should know,” Suzanne whispered in the foal’s ear. The filly still kept turning away, but Suzanne was not giving up that easily. Until …. Slurp, slurp, slurp. “Hey, she’s drinking!” 

“Well, I’ll be damned!” Simon and Tanya chorused, looking at each other in disbelief. “If she makes it, you can name her,” said Tanya. “Really?” Suzanne was crying. “I know she will, I am going to name her Hope.”

That foal was the turning point in Suzanne’s life. She asked for a job at the stud. Suzanne loved learning about the horse racing industry and progressed from a stud hand, to being stud manager. Tom, the stud’s owner was a quiet man, who seemed to  have an air of sadness about him. They shared a fondness for each other.

Three years later, Jill Toohey, a fellow stud manager, approached Suzanne with a proposal. “If you steal frozen semen from your stallion and bring it to me, we will share any future race winnings from the progeny.” Suzanne refused. She could never do that to Tom.

Five days later, Suzanne received an email saying her much loved filly, Hope, had been taken. “If you want her back, meet me at the pub at 2 pm.” Suzanne was there early, entered the pub and looked for the mystery emailer. Jill turned around to meet her gaze. “I should have known it was you!” Suzanne yelled. “Calm down girl, Hope is safe, for now. But I need a favour if you want her back.” Jill said. “You don’t scare me Jill,” said Suzanne. The terror in her eyes told a different story. “Just get the stuff from that damned horse of yours so I can service my mares.” Jill moved closer. “I won’t do it,” Suzanne said. “Don’t you want your mare back?” Jill knew she had the upper hand. “If you hurt her, I’ll…” Suzanne started. “You’ll what?” sneered Jill, right up in her face. “You couldn’t harm a fly.” 

Suzanne finally relented, unable to bear the thought of Hope being harmed. “OK, I’ll smuggle some out and bring it to you.” The plan was that Jill would call when ready, and it would be delivered. Suzanne hated deceiving Tom. He had always treated her so well.

The next day, Jill rang to organise a drop-off. Suzanne loaded up the tubes and made her way to Jill’s stud, her conscience heavy. She couldn’t go through with it. She had to tell the police, regardless of what Jill might do.

The road through the mountains was so pretty. On any other day it would have been calming and tranquil. Lush green rainforest, misty waterfalls cascading down into deep gullies, evoking a coolness and sense of peace that belied the reason behind the travel that day.

As the black wrought iron gates, with their huge, sandstone pillars, came into view, the nausea worsened. The drooping, old post and rail fences with their flaking paint, bordered the paddocks of mares and foals. The cobble stones, bumpy under the tyres.

Driving closer, the anxiety intensified. Beads of sweat formed on her brow, despite the cool weather. Her heart was pounding fast. She parked the car and retrieved the cargo from the passenger side. In her stomach the butterflies were doing somersaults.

The stables were built from the same sandstone as the gate pillars. The wooden shingles on the roof needed repairing. Two mongrel dogs ran out and barked a warning call. Jill heard the commotion and came out. She motioned to Suzanne to follow her. “This is Clancy, it’s her first foal.” Jill said, beaming like a proud grandmother. Jill opened the stable door and they both entered, Suzanne patted the mare on the forehead. “This is the only time I’m doing this for you, Jill!” Suzanne was proud of herself. Jill looked surprised. “So you’ve given up on your mare? I’ll have her shot if you back out now!” Jill’s demeanour changed instantly. “For all I know, she’s already dead. Without Hope I have no life anyway. You won’t intimidate me anymore!” Jill was shocked by Suzanne’s sudden dose of confidence. “Go ahead then, call the cops!” said Jill, calling her bluff. “I will.” Suzanne said, reaching for her mobile phone.

Jill had to think fast. Her reputation was in jeopardy. She had to stop her making that call. Suzanne began to dial. “HOLD IT!” Yelled Jill, as she pulled out her 9mm and aimed it at Suzanne. “Put that phone down!” 

All the commotion was upsetting the highly-strung mare, who became increasingly agitated. “You won’t shoot me!” Suzanne yelled. The terrified mare attempted to run for the half-open door. Jill’s finger tightened on the trigger. The mare leapt forward, knocking Jill down. BANG! The gun discharged. In a blind panic, the horse bolted out the door and up the driveway, trampling Jill and knocking Suzanne’s phone from her hand. Suzanne looked over and saw Jill laying in a crumpled heap. The usually immaculate, designer label clothes now covered in wood shavings and horse manure. Her pastel blue shirt had a claret-coloured stain growing larger on the front. Jill had been hit in the chest by her own bullet and was bleeding out.

“Hold on, Jill! I’ll get help.” After all Jill had done, Suzanne still had to help her. After sifting through the wood shavings to locate the phone, she dialled 911. “Ambulance, please hurry!” Suzanne was panic-stricken.

As the colour drained out of Jill’s face, she beckoned to Suzanne to come closer. In a weak voice, she whispered, “Your mare’s in my back paddock with the geldings.” Jill faded from consciousness just as the paramedics arrived. Strapped to the gurney, motionless, Jill was taken away. Despite their best efforts, she was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.

The police concluded their interviews, wrote their notes, and left. Suzanne was still reeling from the shock and disbelief of the day’s events.

The following day the Fraud Squad returned, telling them Jill had been in their sights for a while. They had been organising a raid on her property. Jill had allegedly recruited four others from nearby studs and was blackmailing them too. About a month earlier, one of them decided he’d had enough and informed the police of Jill’s scheme. They had asked him to continue the charade, only now the Fraud Squad was aware of her every move. They were aware of Suzanne’s involvement too, and the others that were tangled in Jill’s web of lies and cover-ups.

As a result of the deception, all Jill’s horses had their registrations immediately suspended. DNA testing would be needed to establish their breeding and any wrong papers corrected.

After the police had left, Tom asked to speak with Suzanne. Fearing for her job, she bravely entered Tom’s office, pulled out the chair and sat down without making eye contact. Pictures of past winners decorated the walls. In front of him on the desk, was an old picture frame. It must have been a picture of his favourite horse, as Tom didn’t have a wife or children.

“Suzanne, I suppose you are worried about your job?” He sounded serious. She nodded, afraid to speak in case she broke down. “Although I don’t condone what you did, I know you felt you had no choice.” Suzanne nodded and looked up at him, trying to be optimistic. “So, against my better judgement, I want you to stay on.” Tom was smiling now.

“Really?” Suzanne couldn’t believe it. “Yes, and to thank you for your decision to turn Jill in, I am also giving you one of the next crop of foals. You can pick whichever one you like. It will be yours to train as you wish. Don’t make me regret this decision.” Now Tom was looking serious again. “Thank you. You won’t regret it, I promise,” Suzanne was ecstatic.

When the foals started arriving, Suzanne wondered how she would pick just one, they were all so perfect. Then she saw her, a perfect bay filly, three white socks and a small white snip on her nose. Just like Hope. “I’ll name her Eternal Hope.”

When Eternal Hope was two years old, she began race training. Suzanne dreamed of the day she would race.

“And the winner is….” The race caller’s voice jolted Suzanne back to the present day. “Eternal Hope by a full length, second is…….,” the words drowned out by the shouting. Tom was jumping up and down with excitement, he ran forward and grabbed Suzanne by the arm. “I wish my daughter could have seen this,” blurted Tom. Her jaw dropped. “What did you just say?” Suzanne asked.

Tom had been like a father to her for years and had never mentioned a daughter. “Yes, her mother passed away six months after she was born, and I made the heart-wrenching decision to give her up. I knew I couldn’t be what she needed me to be. Not a day goes by that I don’t wish I could see her again. I have her picture on my desk.” 

February 01, 2024 00:29

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

1 comment

Sam Newsome
01:43 Feb 08, 2024

I liked this story a lot. I was slightly confused as to whether Suzanne had actually called the police or not. Also, the initial paragraph seems out of place with a troubled past.


Show 0 replies
RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.