Jungle Horses by Scott Adlerberg focuses on a London man, who after falling into debt with the wrong people, is forced on a trip to a Caribbean island to study a mysterious breed of horses (available August 19, 2014).
The horses that Arthur saw in his dreams were always running through tropical terrain. The land was green and the sky deep blue, but this was not the African farm where he'd once bred racing horses. These were not those sleek thoroughbreds nor were they tame farm horses burdened by saddle, stirrup, and bit. The horses ran through a lush place, and despite the denseness of the terrain they seemed to run with complete abandon, never stumbling as they tore through bush. They were jungle horses, immense yet graceful, and somehow he knew as one knows in dreams that none of these majestic creatures had ever been mounted by a man. How different they were from the horses he'd ridden in his life, and how different too from the London ponies he would bet day after day. They were unique, he would think in his dreams, and the vision of their bright green jungle would fade, the beautiful horses would disappear, and he would awaken in the hard double bed with the grayness of the ceiling above him.
Then would come the obsessive thoughts. Would he win today? Would he make the smart picks? Often he felt like avoiding the track, doing something else with his afternoon, but he had racing in his blood by now and would find that the days were long when his wife or the needs of the store kept him away from the bookies and the turf.
This morning it was drizzling. He could hear the rain as he lay in bed waiting for Jenny to finish her shower, and he smiled to himself because Chalk Cliff ran his best on a moist track. Just don't rain too long, he thought, and make the track a swampy mess; but the radio forecast reassured him that there would be sun by noon.
Dressed in her robe, Jenny put on the water for tea. She turned on the oven to heat the bran muffins. Even for something as simple as breakfast his wife conducted herself with style, setting out plates and the things for the tea in an attractive arrangement. A collector of china and silver and tea sets, she liked to use the stuff she collected, and to use it not only when company came. Besides, they rarely had guests. Their one close friend was Vaughn, and more often than not, they got together with him at his house. Vaughn enjoyed cooking for them, and in this respect, Arthur knew they were lucky; you could do a lot worse than to have a great chef living across the street from you.
The water in the kettle began to whistle, sending off steam. Jenny lifted the pot, and as she began to strain the tea, Arthur walked down the hall to bring the papers in from the stoop. He opened the door, feeling the mist in the cool morning air. He gazed up at the sky to see if indeed he could discern any thinning in the clouds. Not yet; everything was still gray and foreboding, and the city had a strange hushed quality as if the air was absorbing sound. It so happened that Vaughn, wearing a suit and tie already, had just come out to get his papers and as a car went by in the street, Arthur waved good morning to him, saying that yes, he had slept well.
“Tell Jenny we're set,” Vaughn said. “I got the tickets.”
“Starting at eight. You can pop round for drinks first if you like.”
Arthur nodded and stepped back inside. He'd never met a bachelor who seemed more pleased to live by himself, and yet Vaughn's affection for Jenny held true year after year. An ideal companion, a perfect lover for Jenny, Vaughn had money and the same cultivated tastes as her, and Jenny said she always felt proud when she and Vaughn went somewhere and he turned the heads of other women. Girls half his age would make passes at him, hoping that Vaughn would dump Jenny, the older woman, but he would merely string them along until he tired of the little game.
“Covent Garden tonight,” Arthur said, returning to the kitchen and putting the papers on the table. “Vaughn expects us around six.”
He stirred two sugar lumps into his tea and opened a paper to read the sports section. Jenny, meanwhile, skimmed through The Times, her head bent over the table edge and one hand free to grab her tea cup or a muffin. Outside the window it was quiet, and neither of them uttered a word until she mentioned the political crisis in Kenya. Any article on Kenya prompted a discussion because they had met in that country, but she would avoid as much as he did the nostalgic tone they'd hear among others who had lived in the colonies. Nothing you could find in cool, damp England compared to the beauty of the Kenyan plains or the way the green hills looked when the sun burned red above them, but one had to do one's absolute best to live in the present. To be honest, Jenny did that better than he did, flitting all over London with Vaughn, going with Vaughn to concerts or the theater, and perhaps this was the reason why she had aged less than him. Tennis with Vaughn kept her trim, a spot of dye now and then kept her stylish bob black, and whatever wrinkles she had acquired only gave her face more character.
“You think we should ever go back?” he said. “Go for a month and take a safari?”
“I'd love to,” she said. “But would you be up to it?”
She meant no cruelty, yet her question stung. Jenny really looked at him as one who had little energy left. Not that he ever did very much to make her change her view of him; to her he lived a torpid life shuttling between this flat and the pubs. And though he'd admit that he drank too much, that ever since his discharge from the army he had become rather sluggish, nonetheless he had the feeling that out of England and in a different climate he would recover the vigor of his youth. Whether breeding thoroughbreds in Kenya or fighting the Germans in Egypt, he had thrived in the heat and sun, and it was only now, in dusky London, in this domestic life he led, that he was struggling with the weight of lethargy.
Jenny went to dress; Arthur cleared the table and washed the dishes. The rain had stopped, he saw through the window, but the overcast sky threatened more. If no more fell, he'd be all right—Chalk Cliff would be running in what for him were prime conditions. Twenty on Chalk Cliff. No, make it fifty. Or maybe today he'd let himself risk it and plunk down all of his gambling money, and then tonight he might come home and spread his winnings in front of Jenny. He would tell his wife that if she wanted she could put the store up for sale and live retired for the rest of her days. And you thought I spent all day in the pubs? Only sometimes, my dear, and rarely at that because I've been working at a job of my own. These are the dividends.
He met her in the hall and she put on her coat. Her black umbrella matched the color of her coat and these both went with her elegant shoes. As usual, she had applied cherry-red lipstick, but the rest of her make-up was discreet. His wife never overpainted herself, never overdid the perfume or powder. She had (once again he thought it) style, and even if they did sleep in separate beds, he was thankful to have her with him.
“Toodle-oo, love,” she said, opening the door, and Arthur leaned forward and kissed her cheek. Fog had come in off the river again, and Arthur watched her go down the stoop, along the lane, and out through the enveloping whiteness. A half-hour later, carrying his own umbrella, Arthur left the flat himself. He made for the stand where each day he would buy the racing schedule, and after that he walked to the hotel where among foreign guests he would sit in the restaurant sipping tea and eating toast. This was a part of his day Jenny knew nothing about, just as she had no idea that he ever went to the track. As far as she knew, he hit the pubs early and would spend his day sitting on a stool.
Copyright © 2014 Scott Adlerberg
Available through Broken River Books.
Scott Adlerberg lives in New York City. A film nut as well as a writer, he co-hosts the Word for Word Reel Talks film commentary series each summer at the HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival in Manhattan. He blogs about books, movies, and writing at Scott Adlerberg’s Mysterious Island. His Martinique-set crime novel, Spiders and Flies, is available now from Harvard Square editions at Amazon, B&N, and wherever books are sold.