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Naming the Horse

Desmond L. Kelly

2,250 words   21 June 2016

Mr Beaker Jones  sat at his desk, his elbows on the large and clean sheet of blotter in its holder with the blue leather, hand tooled corners. Between the fingers of his two hands he rolled and turned the shiny black barrel of his fat and comfortable Mont Blanc fountain pen. He loved this desk of solid mahogany and rosewood, planned every inch of it with the architect who had built this imposing house very near the top of the hill. There were striking views to be had from three sides but none held more pleasure for Mr Beaker Jones than the view across the broad deck of his solid wood desk. Indeed, he would admit to himself the whole house had been designed around that desk. The whole empire of his holdings, the secrets and persuasion of his court cases – everything was planned and mapped upon this centre of his world.

Mr Beaker Jones smiled to himself. He knew how people envied his effectiveness, and his rewards. But then, how many of them had been prepared to work as hard as he? How many of them searched and prised until every layer of a case had been peeled back to its tender heart where lay the secret of success? No, they wanted the baubles of life and the blandishments of reward far too early. They wee too busy with trophy wives using four wheel drives to take children to exclusive schools in the next street. They seemed to think the world owed them a living. It was not a mistake he had or would make. The only thing he valued as much as his desk was his reputation as the nation’s most effective barrister. No matter how hopeless the case, Beaker Jones would take it, learn every molecule of it and understand the scope and detail of it more thoroughly than anyone had before. How many times had the world gasped at his results? How many times had grateful clients paid his weighty fees. If only his classmates of yesteryear could see him now, what would they think?… those classes of bullying school louts who made him so self-conscious of his appearance?

And now, turning forty, he had indulged himself. Just a little. God knows he’d earned it and the opportunity had come along.

He’d been offered shares in thoroughbred horses before, many times, since numbers of his clients were not only grateful but shrewd enough to know that his name on a buyer’s list would rapidly fill the remaining slots. Some of those offers had proved to be very successful for the investors but that wasn’t what Beaker Jones had in mind.

He enjoyed the pomp and circumstance of race days and tried to go as often as he could. He was a member of course. And secretly he did imagine himself leading his horse to the victor’s enclosure. That was a very  clear vision in his mind’s eye. So when the possibility of his buying had once again cropped up he rather liked the idea that a fortieth birthday present to himself should be the yearling he had been shown,

What a magnificent animal it was. Such unusual colouring, not quite bay but not quite a black either. Its flanks varied between the two colours as skies sometimes grade from cloud to blue with no distinct edge.

“Whose horse is that?” he could imagine people asking, and when they heard it was owned by the barrister, Herbert K. Jones, the one they all knew a Beaker Jones, they would see in that distinction of appearance a clear fit. The light rippled on the horse’s neck; the expert assured him of its breeding; it nuzzled him; he bought it. To the astonishment of the broker, he bought it entirely on his own unencumbered by any partnership, as an independent lawyer should.

Now, as he sat turning his jet black pen in his hand, he wondered what to call it.

What he did not know was that on the trainer’s farm where he had lodged the animal, it was already known as Beaker. It was not a name Mr Jones liked or answered to.  On the contrary he still resented the hurtfulness of school classes which cast him to one side and branded him with the name of Beaker. Hours spent in front of a mirror had convinced him that his nose was not in fact larger than normal. At least not outside the variation in the range of normal. He had measured it and checked it against such statistics as he could find – and his tormentors found that hilarious.

Right there in the shadowed corners of the school playground the ambition grew. With words, with logic and with the law he would beat his opposition into the dust. Very early in life  he found words, were stronger than fists and words he chose as his weapon. It was, as it turned out, a very satisfactory choice.

But despite his proof, the name of Beaky had persisted and morphed into Beaker which fitted more smoothly with Jones. It dogged him. Even the women he knew unthinkingly called him that and it hurt. As he became the most distinguished barrister in the land, a man sought out by the elite of every endeavour in the country, he was known as Bertie Jones to his face and as Beaker Jones behind his back. He knew it; could feel it.

In the stables, strappers liked the look of the colt and thought he might have a few victories by a long nose.

At his desk, the barrister pondered. What to call the horse? Something with stature. Something classical like Aeolus, god of the winds. That had a nice speedy touch to it. He opened his laptop and searched classical Greek names but tired of it. All the good ones had been used and others which had the qualities he liked could not be trusted in the mouths or ignorant race callers who knew a lot more about race colours than they did about Greek pronunciation.

Geography? Kingston Town was a good one. How about Potts Point?No, it lacked a certain quality and he did not, he most certainly did not want to emphasise anything which had a point attached. There’d be trouble if he called it Ayer’s Rock and trouble if he called it Uluru, besides it was a beautiful live animal not a fixed rock.

Food? Black Caviar was good enough. He thought of the foods that had meant so much to him in his busy life and came up with Open Sandwich. Perhaps not. Spear of Spice? Spice Spear? Better. Who said he lacked imagination? Lance of Logic? Mind of Steel? …No… not quite.

He wondered what Madison Maverly would call it. She was a very sane woman with a sharp mind and a great personalty. He’d be interested to know her suggestion and he might ask her – next time they happened to share a case.

Perhaps something personal, something carrying a joint message about horse and owner, something with force, though subtle… Bertie Bam Bam! Subtle? All right so passion always had to be carefully controlled. It was a dangerous thing unbridled, but oh the punch in that explosive name. Let the miserable wretches who had teased him at school put their crumpled, grubby five dollar notes each way on that and know whom they were relying on. Yes, he liked it.

For a few moments he sat there, gripping the pen, breathing deeply, imagining the field as they rounded the last bend and spread across the track, jockeys driving bundles of animated silk, the horses thundering, the crowd going mad as the field flashed across the line and the announcer’s voice finished trailing away with, “… then finally comes Mighty Lion and two lengths back of the field, Bertie Bam Bam struggles to the line.”

His stomach seized. No. That would be awful. No, no, whatever gave him the idea that his horse could come last? He’d checked the breeding himself in his thorough way and if was as the geneticist had said, an impeccable line of heritage. Every gene for speed that could be identified was in his horse, it was just that they hadn’t yet identified a gene for winning. How could such a moment of doubt flash unbidden, unwelcome, into his mind? But that’s how it was with people, time and again, faced with clear logic, their minds would step off the illuminated path and take a stroll in the bushes of improbability. Some people seemed to love doing that, unable to help themselves. Well that’s why he was there; to keep the world on a sane and foreseeable path.

Perhaps Bertie Bam Bam! was not a good choice.He would put it out of his mind, as he could when things disturbed him. Miss Madison Maverly. Now there was a person he was able to dismiss entirely. True, she was a very personable lawyer and quite bright. Since she first joined Fairchild and Williams where she was now a partner, he had worked with her frequently since Fairchild and Williams retained him for important and difficult cases. It was pleasant working with Miss Maverly, he couldn’t deny that. A quick mind was always appreciated and she seemed to think the world spun more easily on humour. Those around her certainly laughed a lot and she was popular with the male lawyers of all ages, he could see that. She wore the trace of an exquisite scent. There were moments he would like to have exchanged banter with her but past experience told him that his own nose and ridicule lay at the end of that track. Best not to risk some things. No, Bertie Bam Bam! for  all its punch, was out. Black Silk now there was a clever link that Madison Maverly would appreciate.

There must be a name both appropriate and substantial. Forty in a few days, a top reputation, this house new and impressive, financially secure for the rest of his life already…

Debenture, that was a word of utmost substance; not as lively and muscular as Compound Interest but Compound Interest didn’t seem to gallop well with a racehorse. How about Debt Collector? No, that would be misunderstood. Lonely. Lonely? Where on earth did that come from? For the first time in his life he wanted to consult. After all it was a delicate matter, naming. The wrong choice and the horse could feel victimised for life. He didn’t want that, it was unfair to man or beast, grossly unfair. A second opinion was a good idea – and he had seen her at the races, a number of times, nodded to her…

But back to his own profession. How about, Judgement? Or Hung Jury? No that sounds slightly sexual, that wouldn’t do, especially for a colt. Verdict? He quite liked that, it was Judgement without the sombre tone. Courthouse? No the horse wasn’t a building. Counsel? Partnership? Partnership, that had a ring to it. There was something good in that. Still playing with the black barrelled pen he lent back in his comfortable chair and looked away through the big windows to infinity. What was her scent called? How could he find out?

Perfume? No. Not a horse’s name, especially not a colt’s name. Too mystical, too airy fairy. Too feminine… Although not all women were too soft. Miss Maverly’s legal work was sound yet humane. Come to think of it she was always considerate and had laughed with him but never at him. But Perfume; it was a name for a still cloud not for a thundering horse with thrust, purpose and victory on it’s mind. He wanted a name that was going somewhere.

Naming a thoroughbred was a far more stressful task than he’d imagined and it should not be taking this time, causing him this worry. Of course he could just adopt a modern phrase. So many did this that hardly a race went by without a runner named something like “Haveago,” or “Shezrite”,  bastardisations of the art of naming and the use of language, surely a burden to the horse. He couldn’t do that.

The afternoon light turned warm and mellow. Slowly, almost unaware of what he was doing he took his telephone from his pocket and lay it on the pure white blotter. It lay there for a full ten minutes until he picked it up, switched it on, punched in a number, and waited…and waited.

“Hello,” said a soft voice and he immediately smelt that scent. Nervous he was, with such an unfamiliar call, but he was neither a stutterer nor a stammerer. In what he meant to be a relaxed voice he explained that he had a small personal milestone to celebrate and wondered if she would have dinner with him at Le Triomphe on Wednesday. It was natural for him to have his arguments ready. He didn’t want to push her but he was prepared to say he wanted her opinion on a matter, though he wouldn’t tell her it was as simple as naming a horse, he would tell her– but she’d said, “Yes.” Said it so agreeably without any sign of needing persuasion, without wanting to consult her diary, said it so simply that he faltered, made a time and said good bye.

That, he thought, is the same sun out there, so why did he feel so differently from when he last looked at it. He wiped his face, took a couple of deep breaths and then it came to him. Like so many of his insights it was clear and strong. He took a fresh sheet of paper from a drawer, uncapped his pen and wrote in the middle of the page in a large hand the one word, Courtship. Yes, that was a name with prize, risk, liveliness and a tang of vocation about it. That was the right name for his true thoroughbred.

For a long time he looked at the name in the middle of his beautiful desk. Courtship – such a good name, where had that sprung from? That was it.

Should he cancel the dinner now?


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  1. Rochelle Brader says:

    A very enjoyable read. Keen to know what happens next! love your style of writing, Des.

    1. Desmond Kelly says:

      Thanks Rochelle. Really pleased you enjoyed it.

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