ride by thumbin'

Wearin' my high boots, got all my worldlies here in a sack.
Looking for something, knowing that it ainít here where Iím at.
Ainít lookiní back.

~ Neil Diamond—"Glory Road"

June 26, 1951

"Where you headed?"

Bill Regan ignored the question and took a step toward the horse trailer. "Mom and foal?"

"Yup." The driver of the faded maroon Ford Deluxe gestured with a nod of his head. "You need a ride, son?"

Regan turned away from the black Thoroughbred mare and her filly, slipping the knapsack off his shoulder. "Yeah, thanks." He slid into the passenger seat and only then noticed that the driver who had stopped for him had hair nearly as red as his own.

"Jed." The man introduced himself.

Regan nearly used his real name in return, but the Gadfly scandal was still too close on his heels. He couldn't risk this guy having seen his name in the papers. Instead he used the first name that popped into his mind—Sarah's son's name. "Daniel."

"Saw you walking down the road, thought you could use a lift. We redheads have to stick together, don't we, Daniel?" Jed chuckled.

"Thanks." Regan turned to look behind him, out the dusty rear window at the trailer. "Where are you taking them?"

"Got a ranch outside Woodbury." Jed glanced over at Regan. "You work with horses?"

"Yeah. Well, I did. Hope to again soon." Regan couldn't help frowning. He'd picked up a newspaper in Mechanicville that morning only to see that Carl Stinson had made his accusation public. Now the whole town probably believed he'd been the one to drug Gadfly. He figured when he'd turned Louie down flat, the thug would go to Carl directly. And when the drugs were found in the post-race testing, Carl had tried to throw the blame on him. He wasn't about to stick around and be his boss' scapegoat. And he couldn't stay in the area to clear his name, either. No one would believe a seventeen-year-old kid like him—orphaned, runaway, came from nowhere.

His sister was down in New York City, and the next closest people he had to family were outside of Albany. It was time to move on. No turning back. Not even for Joan. He closed his eyes and pictured the pretty brunette. Then he shook his head and tried to forget her. She probably believed her father; why wouldn't she? And she probably hates me.

"Something troubling you?" Jed asked.

"No references, is all." It wasn't bothering him, but it was the truth.

"I wouldn't worry about that." Jed gave him a onceover before turning his eyes back to the road. "You seem like a strong lad, and if you can show that you know your way around a horse, I'm sure you'll find work."

"Any chance you're hiring?" Regan let out a sarcastic sound.

"Well, now, I just might be." Jed gave a friendly chuckle. "Where were you headed?"

"Albany. Well, Glenmont, really." Regan knew Mrs. Oleksiuk would take him back in if he asked. He could work on her farm for a bit, until the Gadfly scandal died down. Thinking of her now, he could almost taste her pot roast.

"That's just a half-hour down the road, give or take." The other redhead looked thoughtful. "Got family there?"

"Nope. But I have some friends there. Thought I might stay with them a bit." Regan studied the driver. He was a middle-aged man, probably in his late forties. Despite the red hair, a shade or two darker than his own, the man had a tan—the kind that came from working outdoors a lot. His face was friendly and open. "Tell me about the horses," he requested.

"Opis and Ceres?" Jed glanced in his rear-view mirror. "I picked them up at an estate in Malta. The owner had wanted a colt, but when the mare bore a filly, he decided to sell the pair."

"And you're taking them to your ranch?" Regan was trying to get a better feel on how this man treated his animals.

"Yup. Tomlin Ranch. I've got about 60 acres of land. I keep Thoroughbreds, mostly, but have a few Arabians and some Quarter Horses, too, right now." Jed stared straight ahead, concentrating on the road as he spoke.

"And all purebred?"

"Maybe a few of 'em. The ones I've gotten from racetrack owners before they sell 'em to the slaughterhouses." Jed frowned. "But mostly it's overworked farm horses. I try to save the ones I can, work with 'em so they're not so skittish—a lot of the horses I get are afraid of folks. It's shameful the way so many of 'em have been treated."

Regan nodded. "But the two back there, they're not racehorses or farm horses. You said you picked them up at an estate."

"Rich folks—they want horses, want to show them, teach 'em to jump and look pretty. But they don't know a thing about the breed. Half the time they hire grooms with little to no experience, and the horses suffer. Or the owners just get bored with it all. This guy was a combination of both—his groom couldn't find his way out of a stable, and the owner's son was the one that would ride and enter the horses in shows. It was the son who decided to try and breed the mare. Not sure what he was thinking. But since she never won a single ribbon, and with the boy going off to college, the owner didn't have the time for her or her filly anymore." There was an air of contempt in his voice as he spoke.

"You complain about rich folks, but with 60 acres and what sounds like a lot of horses on your land, you'll have a hard time convincing me you're not rich yourself."

Jed laughed out loud at that. "Right you are, Daniel. I have a business, and it's very successful. But most of the profits I make go right back into the business, so you see, it's not like I have a lot of cash floating around to go tour Europe or somethin'."

Regan winced at the false name. He should have been upfront with this man. But would a horse-lover like Jed pick up a runaway who might also be a crook? Especially one accused of drugging one of those beautiful beasts? He wondered how long it would take before he could use his real name again after what happened at Worthington Farms. And would he ever see Joan again? But that was a thought he couldn't waste too much time on. Sticking around Saratoga Springs and being blamed for something he didn't do—that wouldn't have done any good. I'd probably be sitting in a jail cell by now.

They'd driven through the town of Albany in silence. Regan barely gave a glance to the taller buildings that marked the city. It wasn't long before the multi-story apartment buildings gave way to store fronts with flashy signs and then dwindled to tightly-packed houses. The houses became more and more spread out and soon they had passed the city limits. The Hudson was visible on his left, and farmland on the right.

A sign along the road indicated they were approaching the Glenmont turnoff. "Your stop's comin' up," Jed stated. "Unless ...."

"You said you might be hiring?" Regan asked. Here was his chance to keep working with horses, and with a guy who obviously cared about them—then again, he'd thought Carl had cared, too.

"Maybe. Can't pay much. Staff is pretty full right now."

"A roof over my head and a couple of meals a day is all I need." Regan hoped he was making the right decision. "But before you decide, I should be honest with you."

Jed peered at him briefly. "Honest?"

"My name's Bill Regan." Jed didn't say anything and Regan couldn't detect any glimmer of recognition. "You may have seen a mention of it in the paper?"

"Something about a race horse," Jed acknowledged. His hands were still relaxed on the steering wheel.

"Yeah." It didn't surprise Regan that the man knew. "I didn't do it, though. Boss blamed me, but I think he's the one that drugged that horse. Him or the owner. They both had reasons they might have done it."

The other man didn't seem fazed by the story, but he did ask one question. "And you didn't stick around to clear your name?"

"Right." Regan scoffed. "Who's going to believe a nobody kid over a wealthy owner and an established, respected trainer?"

"Tough break, son." Jed shook his head.

That was it, then. Jed wasn't going to hire him, either. Not now that he knew the truth. But he felt better having been upfront. He didn't want to have to keep lying to the man.

"You can let me out here," Regan stated, grabbing the straps of his knapsack. It wasn't far to the Oleksiuk's home. He could walk the rest of the way.

"Wait, now. I thought you wanted a job?" Jed frowned as he pulled the car and trailer over to the side of the road. "I was all set to give you a chance. I have those two girls in the back; they'll need someone to take care of them."

"Opis and ... Sarah?" Regan couldn't remember the young filly's name—he knew it wasn't Sarah but it had sounded similar. And since the name reminded him of his sister, he could only hope it was a good sign.

Jed smiled at him. "Ceres. They're named after Roman gods. Or goddesses, I should say. So, you want the job or not?"

Regan dropped the knapsack back on the floor of the car by his feet. "Yes, sir."

Jed nodded and pulled back onto the highway. "Just one thing. Who's Daniel, then?"

"My sister's son." Regan sighed as he settled back against the seat. "Not that I've ever met him. I do wonder if he's a redhead, though."

Jed laughed—that friendly chuckle that Regan was learning to associate with him. "Let's hope so."

The End