I turned off the freeway at Santa Rosita Racetrack. It was a small racetrack but it was beautiful. There were tall trees by the dusty track. There were high, dark-blue mountains behind it. Some jockeys were riding their horses on the track. The sun shone down from the blue sky. It was late afternoon, but the sun was very bright. Everything was peaceful.
There weren't many cars in the car park. I parked my car and I put on a baseball cap and some dark glasses. Then I left the Chrysler and walked towards the track. I stood by the dusty track and watched the horses. There was no racing today. These horses were training.
The horses were very large and very fast. I was surprised. When a horse went past me, the noise from its feet was loud and dust flew into the air.
I looked around me. Near the track, there were some office buildings and some stables. There was a high fence around these buildings. I walked towards the stables area.
There was a gateway in the fence. The gate was very tall. It was closed. As I went nearer, I saw the gate open. A truck with a trailer came out. I didn't see anyone near the gate, but it closed behind the trailer.
I waited and watched. A few minutes passed. Then a 4x4 with a trailer came in from the road. The car stopped by the gate. There was a car-park ticket on the front window of the 4x4.
The driver put his head out of the side window of the car. He spoke into a metal box near the fence. Then the gate opened and the car and the trailer went through the gateway.
I walked over to the gate and I waited. A minute later, another car came in from the road. The driver spoke into the box. The gate opened. As the car went through the gateway, I walked beside it. Now I was inside the stables area. I walked a few metres away from the gateway.
'Hey, you!' a man shouted. Suddenly, someone came up behind me. He held my arms and pushed me against a stable wall.
'Stand against the wall! Hold your arms out! Don't turn round!' the man said.
I did what the man told me. He searched the pockets of my clothes. The man was behind me and I couldn't see his face. He took my detective's licence out of my pocket. Then there was a loud laugh. The man pulled off my baseball cap and my dark glasses.
'Lenny Samuel!' the man said. 'Turn round!'
I turned round. A big man was standing in front of me. He was wearing a brown uniform with a dark cap and glasses. I knew him. His name was Slim Peters. But his name was a joke. He wasn't thin - he was fat! Many years ago, both Slim and I had been L.A. policemen.
'Slim!' I said. 'What are you doing here?'
Slim pointed at his uniform. 'I'm a racetrack security guard,' he replied. 'But I'm asking you a question. What are you doing here?'
I didn't answer his question.
'How did you see me?' I asked.
Slim pointed to the gateway. 'I saw you on TV,' he replied. He laughed again.
There was a TV camera on the fence above the gate. Then Slim pointed to a small building near the gateway.
'I work over there,' he said.
'So you can see everyone who enters and leaves on TV?' I asked.
'Yes,' Slim replied. 'But Lenny, you haven't answered my question. What are you doing here?'
'I want to talk to someone who knows about racehorses, Slim,' I said. 'What happens to the best racehorses when they retire? Can you help me?'
I didn't ask Slim about the thin dark man who drove a red 4x4.
'Come to my office,' said Slim. 'We'll have some coffee. And we'll talk about your problem.'
We went to Slim's office and we sat down.
Slim gave me back my detective's licence.
'Are you the only security guard here, Slim?' I asked.
'I'm the only guard here this afternoon,' Slim replied. 'There's no racing today. Friday is a training day. The horses are training today. Security is low on training days. There are more guards on racing days. When there's racing, security is very high. On racing days, we have to check everyone's ID. And the racetrack officials have to check the horses' IDs on racing days.'
'Do horses have ID?' I asked.
'Yes,' Slim replied. 'Every racehorse has a passport with a photograph and all the horse's details written in it. And every horse has a number tattooed inside its mouth.' Slim made some coffee. We sat at his desk and drank the coffee.
Slim looked at the TV screen as cars went in and out of the gate. Then we talked about my problem.
'Who shall I talk to about retired racehorses?' I asked Slim.
'Talk to the racehorse trainers who are here today,' Slim said. 'Ask one of the trainers about retired racehorses. But if you are going into the stables area, you must have a security pass. I'll give you one.'
He opened a drawer in his desk and he pulled out a pass. It was a small yellow card on a piece of cord. The words ALL AREAS were written on the card. Slim gave me the pass.
'You can use this today,' Slim said. 'Put it round your neck.'
'Can I use it tomorrow?' I asked.
'No. You can't use it tomorrow,' Slim replied. There are yellow passes for training days and blue passes for racing days. I can't give you a blue pass. Only racetrack officials, owners, trainers, jockeys and the people who take care of the horses have blue passes. Other people can't go into the stables area on racing days.'
I took the pass, but I continued talking to Slim. I learnt a lot about racetrack security. There was racing at Santa Rosita Racetrack from December to April. There were races on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Horses trained at the racetrack on the other days.
The horses' owners had stables at the racetrack. Horses were brought to the racetrack to train. They stayed in the stables while they were waiting to train. And they rested in the stables after training. Then the horses were taken away. On training days, trailers with horses were arriving and leaving all day. Nobody checked the horses or the trailers on training days.
On racing days, the horses stayed in the stables while they were waiting to race. And they rested in the stables after their races. But on racing days, the horses' IDs were checked carefully. The IDs were checked when the horses arrived at the racetrack. And they were checked again when they left. Racetrack officials looked at the horses' passports and at their tattoos.
After thirty minutes, I stood up and walked to the door. Slim had given me a lot of information. I tried to remember everything that he had told me.
'Thank you for your help,' I said to Slim. 'Iíll talk to some trainers now.' I put the yellow security pass round my neck.
'OK, Lenny,' Slim said. 'I was pleased to help. Give me back the pass when you leave. Come here and watch the races tomorrow afternoon!'
I smiled. 'No, thank you,' I said, Iíll be working.'
A few minutes later, I was watching some jockeys bringing their horses back to the stables. I talked to one of them. Then I talked to some of the people who took care of the horses. I found out some interesting facts about racing.
'People earn a lot of money from horse racing,' one woman told me. 'People bet millions of dollars on horse-races. The best racehorses are very valuable.
'Most racehorses are less valuable when they retire,' she went on. 'But some retired racehorses are used for breeding. Their owners breed young racehorses from them. These breeding horses are very valuable.'
None of this information helped me. Sandy didn't use The Chief for breeding. The Chief earned money because people wanted to ride a famous winner. The Chief was Sandy's horse. People who wanted to ride him knew that. Only Sandy could use the horse to earn money. So who had taken The Chief? And who was the thin dark man at the ranch? I decided to look for the red 4x4.