The Sleeper Caper
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by Richard Prather
Description: Richard S. Prather's creation, Shell Scott, was the second most popular private detective (after Spillane's Mike Hammer) of the 1950s. With over 40 million books sold. The Shell Scott stories were as powerful as a gut-wrenching Spillane story, but used more tongue-in-cheek humor. In The Sleeper Caper, Shell is sent to Mexico to find who is rigging the horse races. When the most honest jockey south of the border is drugged and literally bites the dust on the race track. Shell is not only out to close this case--he out for revenge!
eBook Publisher: Wonder Audiobooks, LLC/Wonder eBooks, 1953 Manhunt
eBookwise Release Date: July 2009
4 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [45 KB]
Reading time: 27-38 min.
You take a plane from the States and head south; a few hours later and up more than seven thousand feet, where the air is thin and clear, you land at Mexico City and take a cab to the Hipódromo de las Americas where the horses run sideways, backwards, and occasionally around the seven-furlong track, and you go out to the paddock area after the fourth race.
You see a big, young, husky, unhandsome character with a Mexico City tan, short, prematurely white hair sticking up in the air like the end of a clipped whiskbroom, and his arms around the waists of two lovely young gals who look like Latin screen stars, and you say, "Geez, look at the slob with the two tomatoes."
That's me. I am the slob with the two tomatoes, and the hell with you. Five days ago I'd left Los Angeles and my one-man agency, "Sheldon Scott, Investigations," and flown to Mexico for my client, Cookie Martini, an L.A. bookmaker. A big one. You may sneer at the thought of my taking a bookie for a client. Okay, sneer. As far as I'm concerned, people are going to gamble whether there are bookies or not. If they can't bet on the nags, they'll bet on the number of warts on some guy's nose. Cookie Martini was at least an honest bookie, and his money was clean. In the last year or so he'd started booking bets on tracks outside the States: France, South America--and Mexico City. He and some other books taking Mexico City bets had recently been clipped for nearly three hundred thousand dollars. Cookie figured that too many longshots were coming in, too many sleepers, and he suspected a fix. So he'd hired me to find out if anything smelled here at the Hipódromo. It smelled. And it was starting to look as if a guy could get killed just sniffing.
"I wonder where Pete is?" Vera asked.
Vera was the tomato on my left, and I had to reach way down to put my arm around her. She was only five feet tall, but that still made her a head taller than Pete. Pedro Ramirez, her husband, was one of the season's leading riders at the Hipódromo, even though he was still an apprentice.
"He'll be here in a minute, Vera," I said.
He was a few minutes late, and we were to meet him here and wish him luck. Pete was riding Jetboy, the solid favorite in the fifth race coming up, and it was a big race for him. He'd started the day with a total of thirty-eight wins behind him and won the second race. One more winner and he'd lose his "bug," his apprentice's two-kilo weight allowance, and become a full-fledged jockey. It was important in another way, too. He was supposed to throw the race.
Elena Angel squeezed my right arm. "Here he comes, Shell."
For a moment, I just enjoyed the squeeze. This Elena was married to nobody and that pleased me hugely. She was tall, blackhaired, with creamy skin and what I thought of simply as "Mexican" eyes. Dark eyes, soft, big, shadowed eyes with both the question and the answer in them. And her body could best be described with words that are pornographic.
I gave Elena a squeeze to make us even--actually, that particular squeeze put me way ahead--and looked to my left. I could see Pete walking toward us fast from the Jockey's Room, practically sprinting. I always got a kick out of him when he was in a hurry--unless he was on a horse. He was only about four feet tall, wiry, a man of twenty-four, but he still looked like a kid. A tough kid. A kid who'd haul off and slug you in the knee if you cracked wrong.
When he got close, I said, "Hi, champ. I'm sinking the roll this trip."
He grinned, jaws working while he flashed white teeth. Pete was nervous, high-strung, like a thoroughbred, and he constantly chewed little candy-coated Chiclets.
"Si," said. "You sink it all, Shell. This one is a shoo-in. This one, I lose the bug for sure."
He spit out his gum and fished in his pocket for the pack, shook two white Chiclets out into his small palm. "Dio, they go fast," he said in surprise. "I thought I had a full box." He shrugged. "Gum?" He tossed one cube into his mouth and held out his hand.
The girls didn't chew. I took the gum, started to pop it into my mouth, and stopped when I saw Pete's face. I'd just noticed that his lips were puffed and the side of his jaw was swollen.
"What happened, Pete?" I asked. "You kiss a horse?"
He stopped grinning. "I kiss a fist. Jimmy Rath's." He saw the hot anger boil up in me at mention of the name, and he added, "I fix him. Don't worry. Sometime I fix him with a baseball bat. Anyway, I fix him good when I boot Jetboy in."
I looked toward the oval walking ring. Jimmy Rath was there with another guy about my size. I took a step toward them but Elena and Vera both hung onto my arms and Pete said, "Relax, Shell. So what do we prove this way? When I boot this one home, I'm through for the day. I come up to your table, and you can stand right behind me when I spit in his eyes. I don't need no bodyguard. Anyway, Rath's just Hammond's stooge. Hammond, he's back of it."
I knew what Pete meant. We both knew it, and everybody knew it, but proving it was another thing. When Cookie Martini sent me down here he'd given me a letter to Pete, and Cookie told me he'd checked and there wasn't a more honest jock in the business than Pete Ramirez. I'd watched Pete race Sunday, and met him afterwards. I told him what I was here for, laid it on the line. Pete was, if anything, more interested in cleaning up any mess here than I was. Like a lot of Mexican kids born in the poor outlying states, he'd had it tough as a kid. Now he was a jockey starting to make the grade and dreaming the big dream: a fine house, clothes--and a hundred pairs of shoes. Racing was his job, the center of his dream. Pete wanted it to be clean--and let the best man win.
And, Pete said, jocks were throwing races. He couldn't prove it but he knew it was happening because he could ride alongside the other jocks and see them pulling leather, holding their mounts back. Sometimes owners gave their jocks instructions that their horse wasn't to finish in the money, but Pete said this other thing was different; it happened too often, to the wrong horses. And Pete had heard soft-talk, rumors of fixes and payoffs and threats against jocks who weren't supposed to win. Almost always it was the favorite supposed to lose, and a longshot that actually won.
Pete had nosed around, questioned the other jocks; I'd done a pile of routine legwork in Mexico City, checking the books I could find, talking to horseplayers, trying to get a lead to who was putting the fixes in. The picture was pretty conclusive: at the top was a fat guy named Arthur Hammond whom everybody seemed to be scared of. He was from the States, had once been a trainer, but was ruled off the tracks for life because of shady practices. His retinue was a little mug named Jimmy Rath, and usually a couple of heavies. Hammond occupied the same table at the track every day. He'd been in a few scraps with the local cops, but never went to jail, mainly because he was "like that" with a Mexican biggie named Valdez. Valdez wasn't a politico, but he had almost as much behind-the-scenes power as the President. And Valdez always helped his pals. Always.
Jimmy Rath had got Pete alone yesterday and told him to lose the fifth race today, Thursday, for ten thousand pesos. Pete laughed at him and walked away, reporting the bribe offer to the Racing Commission and later to me. There were no witnesses or corroboration, and consequently no proof. Apparently Rath had just now made his offer again, a little differently.