The Adventures of Nigel Goodall
(Thoroughbreds, Short Story)
A Broken Glass, A Broken Promise
The old mantel clock chimed thrice, disrupting Martin's contemplation. Slumped with forearms resting on the desk, he clasped his prized Mont Blanc pen with one hand and cradled a wine glass with the other. Staring at a photograph of his late father posing trackside with one of his winners, Martin lamented aloud, "Dad, I failed to live up to your expectations when you were living, and it appears that I have failed to live up to mine since you've been gone."
From his father, Martin had inherited a small but lucrative Thoroughbred horse breeding farm. His father had once earned a satisfactory living as a farmer, becoming renowned for his prizewinning Shire draught horses. Late in life, Mr. Goodall ventured into breeding Thoroughbred racehorses by happenstance when a friend in dire straits offered him a cheaply priced, aged broodmare that was carrying the foal of a Kingmambo son. Knowing little about breeding racehorses, but drawing from his intuition as an accomplished horseman, the old man quickly became a savvy breeder. From this mare, he raised several foals which went on to win important races on the home front as well as in France and the United States. Perhaps more importantly, he retained two of her daughters for breeding.
Having fled to the big city with lofty aspirations, it humbled Martin to return to the countryside in defeat. His father's unanticipated and triumphant journey into the world of Thoroughbred breeding and racing had always confounded Martin, whose own racehorse acquisitions, London real estate ventures and Bordeaux wine investments failed dismally. Martin's marriage to Lenora Risbey, the stunning daughter of an Ipswich jeweler, had seen its demise as well. Nora, as Martin called her, left him in a dramatic snit following his third investment disaster: a commercial complex in London's West End for which he and a naïve business partner had overpaid and were forced to liquidate at a crippling six-figure loss. At the time of the divorce, their son, Nigel, was twelve.
In the years to come, Martin's calls were unwelcomed and often unreturned, and he rarely saw Nigel after Nora relocated to France, taking the scarred and rebelling adolescent with her. Rumours proved true that she had been wooed by a Genoese-based hotelier while attending the Prix de Diane at Chantilly just outside Paris. Though his filly had failed to win the race, the Italian businessman would later boast, "La vittoria è mia!" Maintaining that he had taken the biggest prize after all, he and Nora were married within a year, and Martin and Nigel saw even less of each other.
Reading his handwritten letter for perhaps the fifth time, Martin began to weep. He desperately wanted to see Nigel once more. Could an apology letter atone for the years of separation? Weren't words on paper, no matter how heartfelt, merely a cowardly attempt to confess to Nigel that he had become a failure or could have fought harder to be a part of his life? Shaking his head, Martin sipped his bitter concoction before being distracted by a whinnying colt. From the window, he scanned the grounds to see what might be upsetting the horses, and discovered that his stable boy was halter training Farley, this year's colt from Chloe. Peering out of the open window, Martin spoke loudly "Gus, why don't you take the rest of the day off?" "But, Mr. Goodall, he's leading so beautifully." "I see that, but let's not wear out the colt. If these lessons are short and pleasant, he will respond more positively, you see? Go ahead and enjoy the rest of the afternoon." "Yes, sir. Cheers!" Martin watched the compliant teenager return the chestnut colt to its distressed mother and latch the paddock gate before mounting his bicycle and riding off into the distance. Martin sat in his favourite chair and nodded off.
Meanwhile in London around 3:15 p.m., Alistair remarked, "Perhaps we should make this last evening especially memorable." "I suppose, but must we leave so soon? This weekend was a riot, don't you think?" "Sure, but you know we have to go." Nigel protested, "I really don't give a toss about going to Gibraltar to hear Mother bitch about the current state of affairs. Or, should I say, Apollo's affairs. Let's stay here a bit longer. We can go to clubs . . . and we never did try that new Thai restaurant my friend from the Telegraph mentioned. And…" "Nigel, you assured your mother you would fly down to be with her by Friday." "Oh, yes, that bloody soirée. I absolutely loathe her dinner parties and her ghastly friends." "But I promised your mother I would have you there by Friday evening, and I would rather remain on her good side."
"I'll tell you what, Alistair," Nigel declared with a look of mischievous conceit as he headed out the door of their hotel suite in defiance. "You're not still pining for Aria, are you? Where are you going?" "You'll see!" The light-hearted argument continued down the corridor. When the doors of the lift closed and Nigel descended out of sight, Alistair realised his impetuous friend was serious about avoiding their flight the following morning. Once Alistair caught up with Nigel in the lobby, his scolding went unnoticed as the irked twenty-four-year-old searched through his mobile apps and faced Alistair with his own warning. "Let's get something straight. I'm not still pining for Aria. Okay, maybe a little, but that's not the point. We will make it to Gibraltar as promised." Tapping the call button, he sternly insisted, "But I have one more place for us to visit before we leave the…"
Halting mid-sentence and turning his attention to the woman answering his call, Nigel's tone instantly mellowed as he kindly replied, "Hello? Yes, this is Nigel Goodall. Is this Spencer Chauffeur Service? Good. Would Mr. Donovan, by chance, be available to pick me up at The Athenaeum? He isn't? Oh, that's quite alright. Yes, I'm sure that chap will do." A half hour later, a shiny black Mercedes S-class sedan arrived. The amiable chauffeur got out of the car and approached Nigel and Alistair who, having just checked out, were standing a few meters away, obliviously quibbling beside the hotel's renowned living wall. "Bloody hell! How did the new driver know who we are?" Alistair whispered. With a laugh, Nigel answered, "I left instructions for him to watch for a dashing lad with an ugly, old brute."
As the pair's luggage was loaded into the boot of the car by a bellman eager for Nigel's generous tips, Nigel and Alistair got into the backseat. "Where exactly are we going, Nigel?" Alistair demanded. Ignoring him, Nigel asked, "Driver, how would you like to travel to the countryside this afternoon?" "Sir, I'll take you on a grand tour of Merry Olde England, if you wish." "Excellent. We wish to visit East Anglia," "East Anglia, it is." "Just what the hell is in East Anglia?" Alistair barked. "My father, for one," Nigel snapped. "I'm determined to find out for myself why Mother was so compelled to keep me from him all these years. And she's not here to interfere. For the last time, we will make it to Gibraltar on Friday! I just want to see my father, okay?" "But we could have taken the train," Alistair insisted. "Look, you know I prefer to go by car. We can either allow this nice chap… What's your name again?" "Trantham. Peter Trantham." answered the driver. Nigel continued, "We can either allow Trantham to drive us. Or rent a car - one of those sexy Mini Coopers, perhaps - and I can drive us." For a moment, there was silence, and then Alistair submitted. "So, Trantham, do you know much about East Anglia?" "That's more like it," Nigel mumbled with a smile, as the chauffeur related that he had spent many summers as a boy with an aunt in Downham West.
With the congested metropolis behind them, Alistair probed, "Where does one dine out here? I'm famished." "Alistair, I would hardly say we are in the middle of nowhere. We are barely out of the city, and we are not far from Cambridge." "Let's find some fish and chips in one of these little villages. I don't think I can wait until we reach Cambridge," Alistair pleaded. "Trantham, my devoted companion will surely starve soon. Will you keep your eyes open for a pub?" "Sure. But might I make a recommendation?" "Certainly." "We are approaching Saffron Walden. Me wife and I discovered a delightful Turkish restaurant there in July while on holiday. The food is splendid." "Then Turkish it is," Nigel confirmed.
Upon arrival at the restaurant, Nigel and Alistair insisted that Trantham join them at their table. The three had just finished their falafel, tarama and kalamar izgara appetisers when the waiter arrived with the main dishes. "This has to be the next best thing to dining along the Bosporus," Nigel asserted. Alistair, with his mouth full, nodded in wholehearted agreement. Turning to Nigel - whose dark features, tall frame, muscular build, impeccable dress and confident air rendered him attractively masculine but well-refined and decidedly metrosexual - the driver finally summoned the courage to satisfy his curiosity. "I don't mean to be impertinent, but may I ask a personal question?" "Sure." "What did you mean earlier about him being your devoted companion? Are you two…?" "Oh, no! Alistair is only a friend." "Only a friend? More like a bodyguard," Alistair joked. "A bodyguard?" the chauffeur asked with a look of surprise. "Relax, I'm not a gangster," Nigel replied with a feigned Sicilian accent and a sinister grin. "Ever since some men attempted to abduct me last year in Madrid, my overprotective mother has insisted that I stop travelling alone. I indulge her by taking Alistair with me." "Are we in danger right now?" "Not at all. Those blokes in Spain were arrested."
"Are you one of those famous pop singers the teenage girls scream about on the telly?" "More like infamous," Alistair quipped, "…and he just lip syncs. I'm really the voice you hear on his CDs!" "Really?" the thoroughly duped driver asked. Laughing uproariously, Nigel confessed, "Unfortunately, I am not a pop star, but I have made a few girls scream, if you know what I mean." "Only in your fantasies!" Alistair objected. "So, if you're not a celebrity, why do people wish to kidnap you?" "My stepfather is a very successful businessman," Nigel divulged. "And his ruthless enemies will try most anything to get their hands on his wealth. Even kidnapping and ransom. I doubt that he particularly cares for me, but he would kill to keep my mother happy." "Well, since you two are not…you know, perhaps you might fancy a house specialty…" "Baklava?" Alistair asked. "I was going to suggest a belly dancer," Trantham laughed, "but baklava sounds good, too."
As dusk crept, Martin was awakened by heavy raps on the front door. Somewhat stupefied from an afternoon of wine drinking and frequent napping, he slowly reached the foyer. Opening the door, he observed three figures and a Mercedes, and called out as the men, having given up on getting someone to the door, were about to get into the car. Nigel turned and said, "Dad! It's me, Nigel." "Nigel? Is it . . . really you?" "Yes, Dad, it's me." "I…I…can't believe you're here," Martin stuttered. "I wanted to visit you while I'm in the country for a few days." "I'm so glad you have." As the two awkwardly hugged and entered the house, Alistair retrieved the suitcases and tipped the departing driver. Lighting a cigarette, Alistair lingered near an arbour laden with clematis, savouring a sweet fragrance he had not smelled since childhood, growing up near Eastbourne.
"So how is…?" "Mother, you mean?" Nigel asked, completing his father's painfully slow line of questioning. "She's great. Mother has been in Gibraltar since the fifth." "And is she still with…..Aristotle Onassis?" Martin inquired with a laugh. "Dad, his name is Apollo di Napoli. Don't be so facetious." "Oh, that's right. He's not a shipping tycoon. He's the next Conrad Hilton." "He just owns three hotels: one in Florence, one in Tangiers and another in Ankara. He is negotiating to acquire a boutique hotel in the French Quarter in New Orleans, but he will own that one with some American businessmen." "I see. Desiring a presence on every continent, eh?" "Probably," Nigel answered with matching sarcasm. "I'm sure you feel intimidated by his success..." "To the contrary," Martin countered, looking toward the window, feeling the urge to investigate the silhouette of an imposing figure beneath the old lamp post outside.
"Who is the big, muscular chap, smoking in my rose garden? Is he your…?" "He's my best mate, Alistair. I was almost kidnapped in Spain last year. Now I pacify Mother by taking Alistair with me when I travel, and I suppose he does appear a bit menacing. Besides, he is definitely capable of engaging would-be kidnappers. I understand he broke a chap's arm when he was on the inside." "I am appalled," Martin exclaimed. "Why was I never told about Spain? And why the hell do you associate with someone who has been in prison?" Nigel replied, "Dad, you have been absent from my life during the past decade. What was the point in telling you about Madrid? As for Alistair, I trust him with my life, and I did not come here to debate his character."
"Nigel, I don't expect you to believe me, but I have wanted to be a part of your life all these years. Your mother's…" "Indifference?" Nigel interjected. "Yes, and my own circumstances got in the way. But I would have flown to Spain at a moment's notice. I'm just relieved you are okay…and I'm so glad you've come," Martin said, becoming teary-eyed. "Well, I've been in London, and I kept encountering things that reminded me of you and of the times we spent together before you and Mother…" Martin interrupted, "You remember our trips to London?" "Of course. How could I forget? You taught me everything I know about history, art and architecture and…" "Let's not exaggerate. Didn't those scholars at Oxford teach you something?" For an intimate moment, the two shared a laugh and exchanged looks that expressed more than their pride would allow them to easily verbalise.
Placing a hand on Nigel's shoulder, Martin smiled. "It's so good to see you. I have thought of you often, especially lately. Now that my boy is all grown up, what are you doing with yourself? Have you embarked on a career?" "Well, Dad, it's complicated." "Oh?" "Yes. I don't have a job as of yet, but I have some business interests." "At your age, you're an entrepreneur?" "I suppose I am, and I'm doing fairly well." "What sort of business interests?" "Well, I'm not a drug dealer or pimp, if that's what you're wondering. For one thing, I am an investor in an internet company that one of my Oxford friends started, following graduation. We finally turned a profit during the second quarter this year, and my one-third interest has grown in value by four hundred percent."
Martin curiously inquired, "What else do you own? You said 'business interests.'" "Right. My stepfather is leasing me a building in Genoa with nineteen flats. In turn, I am renting them out. This is my primary source of income." "I don't understand. He's a profiteer. Why would he lease a moneymaker to you?" Nigel responded, "It's quite simple, really. The flats are located in a neglected district. Apollo is quite content to let me deal with what he calls commoners, and I actually enjoy being a landlord. I know my tenants by name, and even receive invitations to their kids' birthday parties. Ultimately, Apollo's objective is to acquire and renovate the neighbouring properties and make the entire street more alluring to an upper crust clientele by the time my lease expires in six more years. By then, there will be restaurants, shops and galleries, and he wants to convert the flats into luxury hotel suites. Then he expects to make some serious money. The hotel will be the focal point of the entire district."
"Sounds like an ambitious scheme! I had a similar one in London," Martin pointed out. "And it failed. I hope Aristotle fares better." "Well, unlike your real estate investments, Apollo's usually make money," Nigel countered. "It's just too bad that he is inept when it comes to Thoroughbreds." "What do you mean?" Martin asked. Before Nigel could divulge Apollo's failures with horses, someone knocked on the front door.
Moments later, Martin came face to face with Alistair whose formidable physique contrasted sharply with his gentle, boyish facial expression. "Hello, you must be Nigel's father." Offering an outstretched hand, Martin replied, "You must be Alistair. Come in." "Thank you. Autumn is definitely in the air. It's gotten a bit chilly." "Come with me. The fireplace is lit in the library, and Nigel has gone into the kitchen to put the kettle on." Martin and Alistair sat opposite each other, hitting it off as they made small talk about first editions. Minutes later, Nigel emerged from the kitchen with a tea tray. "Do you still take sugar and just a little bit of milk, Dad?" "You remember!" Martin said with astonishment as Nigel poured him a cup. "I still remember. And I trust you have become acquainted with Alistair?" "Yes, we were just talking. Coincidentally, we both collect first editions." "Yes, but my five or six books pale in comparison to all of these!" Alistair laughed, pointing to a case filled with coveted titles by Woolf, Orwell and Fleming.
Martin resumed discussing di Napoli's racehorses to which Nigel replied, "There isn't much to tell. It's not like he's an Arab sheik or something. His stable is racing a four-year-old gelding in France, and he has two colts and a filly in training. The filly looks fabulous." "But what did you mean about his misfortunes?" "Well, Apollo's racing stable is solid enough these days. His trainer has an eye for diamonds in the rough. But there's not much to be said about his breeding programme even though he consults with a supposed professional - a Mr. Sloan, I think." Immediately, Martin arched an eyebrow. "Sloan? Are you referring to Alec Sloan, the Kentucky bloodstock agent?" "Yes, that's him." Martin remarked, "Mr. di Napoli's interests would be better served by meeting some of the old-timers around Newmarket."
"Do you still have Grandfather's mares?" Nigel asked. "Yes, two of them. Bella is fourteen. Chloe is twelve." "Whose foals are they carrying this year?" "Sadly, they're both open." "What? Have they gone barren?" "No, I just couldn't afford to breed them this spring." "I don't understand. Yearlings from those mares should fetch good prices." "Son, they have sold well, but I've had to restructure my finances during the past few years. Your education at Oxford wasn't cheap. And I have struggled to contend with some personal debts." "I'm sorry. I had no idea." "You know how expensive stud fees are, and it makes no sense to breed mares of their caliber to anything less than the finest." "Yes, I suppose you're right."
"Would anyone like a glass of wine?" Martin sighed, taking up the tea service. "No, thanks," Nigel replied, noting that his father had already consumed a glass or two since his arrival. "Alistair?" "None for me, Mr. Goodall." As Martin departed for the kitchen, Nigel casually walked around the library, a room filled with evocative nuances and unfamiliar objets d'art. Then he spotted the letter on the writing desk. As he read his father's handwritten words, words written just to him, he deduced from the presumably untouched glass of wine anchoring the letter that his visit might have very well thwarted his father's final act. Overcome with guilt and a sense of fear as he read the sincere conveyances of a desperate and contrite man, Nigel wiped his tears and hastily placed the letter back in its place.
"I brought a bottle and some glasses in case you two change your mind about a nightcap," Martin announced upon entering the room. Stunned, Nigel turned away and placed another log in the fireplace. Unsure of the contents of the letter but aware of its impact on Nigel, Alistair pretended to be immersed in a Sotheby's auction catalogue. Sensing something amiss, Martin instinctively glanced at his desk, immediately realising that his pen was out of place.
"You read it, didn't you?" Nigel said nothing. "Son, I have been in a miserable frame of mind. Life has not seemed worth living, but your visit has changed all of that!" "Do you still plan to kill yourself?" "Of course not, Nigel. Like I said, you coming here has changed all of that." Reassuring his distraught son, Martin pulled him close. "Dad, we have been separated for years. Don't make it forever," Nigel pleaded between sobs. "I promise I won't," Martin declared. "I promise." Minutes later, the two had composed themselves, and embraced once more. Alistair poured three glasses of wine, and stood before the reconciled father and son. "Perhaps we should have these after all."
Taking their glasses, Martin and Nigel sat in the chairs nearest the fireplace. "I might have a solution." "Nigel, I cannot accept a loan." "I am not offering a loan. I have a proposal. Have you heard of Arcos?" "Arcos?" "Yes, Arcos. He is an exciting young sire in Sussex." "The name rings a bell, but I know nothing about him." "Well, let me explain. Apollo bought Arcos six years ago at an auction in France. Arcos had previously placed in two major races there, but was injured during a morning workout. His owners were too impatient to wait for his full recovery, and they sold him to Apollo, who foolishly stabled him next to a mare in heat. The randy devil managed to get into her paddock. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Sloan advised Apollo to sell Arcos and a couple of old mares. Meanwhile, the colt from that accidental mating has been taking the New York tracks by storm. As a result, Arcos' sale yearlings averaged nine times the stud fee last year."
"Nigel, I'm perplexed. What does Arcos have to do with anything?" "I left out an essential detail. You see, I bought two shares in Arcos when his new owner syndicated him. If I transfer both shares to you, you can breed the mares to him without paying stud fees." "No, I cannot let you do that, but perhaps we could own the broodmares and syndicate shares together." "Be business partners, you mean?" Nigel asked. "Yes, business partners." "I like the sound of that. Maybe we can get another great winner or two out of Grandfather's mares yet." "Yes, that would make him proud, wouldn't it?"
Yawning, Alistair asked, "Should I sleep on the sofa?" "Of course not. This house has six bedrooms!" Martin chuckled, instructing Alistair to take the second one on the right down the hall. With that, Alistair said goodnight and exited the library in search of his room. Nigel turned to address his father, who nearly lost his balance before sitting at his desk. "Dad, are you okay?" "Absolutely. I just lost my footing. That's all." "I think you're a bit intoxicated. How much had you drunk before I arrived? You've been increasingly clumsy this evening, and your speech isn't quite right. Are you off to bed soon?" "Yes, I can sleep . . . peacefully . . . for a change." "I'm so glad I came when I did. Otherwise, you would have…" "I'm so sorry, Nigel…" "I love you, Dad." "I love you, too."Goodnight." "Goodnight."
A bed he had not occupied since the summers he'd spent with his grandparents welcomed Nigel as Alistair snored softly in an adjacent bedroom. Meanwhile, an impaired and groggy Martin rediscovered the unfinished drink on his desk, downed the contents and dozed in his chair with the goblet still resting in his lap. As the three men slept, two were awakened by the announcement of a broken promise, an inadvertent tragedy marked by a thud and shattering glass.
Author: Greg Freeman. Published September 25, 2021.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Martin Goodall is a fictional character, whose foolish choices lead him to an inadvertent, devastating and avoidable end. This story, a reflection of a broken man, is not intended to inspire or portray suicide as an appropriate response to one's sense of desperation.
If you are having suicidal thoughts or battling addiction with alcohol, illegal substances or prescription drugs, please seek help. Your life truly matters, and help is available. Do not delay.