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Authors: Alyssa Brugman

Hot Potato

BOOK: Hot Potato
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Hot
Potato

ALYSSA
BRUGMAN

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted by any person or entity, including internet search engines or retailers, in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including printing, photocopying (except under the statutory exceptions provisions of the
Australian Copyright Act 1968
), recording, scanning or by any information storage and retrieval system without the prior written permission of Random House Australia. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

 

Hot Potato
ePub ISBN 9781864715545
Kindle ISBN 9781864717198

Random House Australia Pty Ltd
20 Alfred Street, Milsons Point NSW 2061
http://www.randomhouse.com.au

Sydney New York Toronto
London Auckland Johannesburg

First published by Random House Australia 2006

Copyright © Alyssa Brugman 2006

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced,
stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means,
electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without
the prior written permission of the publisher.

National Library of Australia
Cataloguing-in-Publication Entry

Brugman, Alyssa, 1974–.
Hot Potato.

For children aged 8–12 years.
ISBN 1 74166 035 1.

1. Horses – Juvenile fiction. I. Title.

A823.4

Cover photograph copyright © Trudy Nicholson Equine Photography,
www.nicholsonphotography.co.nz

Cover and internal design by Sandra Nobes
Typeset in Sabon 11/15.5 pt by Midland Typesetters, Australia
Printed and bound by Griffin Press, Netley, South Australia

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

I saw a horse for sale in a magazine once. I liked
the look of her, so I sent a cheque and told
the seller to put her on a truck. When she
turned up she had a 'big personality'.
She's too small and she needs constant work,
or she bucks like a bronco. Nobody likes her
except me, and I love her to pieces. Her name
is Greenbrook Elizabeth. I call her ILU
(Independent Little Unit). This book is for her.

Many thanks to a real 'Miss Anita',
Nicole Chipperfield, who rides her horses
like she stole them.

1 A Bargain

'Do I hear two three?' asked the auctioneer from his
perch high on the metal bridge spanning the horse
yards.

'There's Clint,' whispered Lindsey, standing very
still with her hands in her pockets. 'Down the front,
near the fence.'

Shelby leaned forward scanning the crowd. There
were so many leather-skinned men in jeans, boots and
Akubras that she found it hard to pick out Clint
amongst them.

They were even sucking their teeth and chewing
paspalum. Shelby hadn't believed anyone really did
that outside of ads for Woolworths fresh produce or
Holden utes.

Clint was standing with his arms crossed at the
yard of the horse being sold. It wasn't until he turned
his face towards the girls that she recognised him.
He's
checking up on us
, she thought.

The farrier had been at the stables every day the
previous week to trim the riding school ponies. Shelby
and Erin had their horses' hooves done too. Clint told
them that he was going to the horse auctions and the
girls had begged to come along. He had been trepidacious
about bringing them, but finally he had relented.

'Oh yeah, I see him now.' Erin held her hand up
next to her chin and waggled her fingers.

Shelby gasped. Clint had instructed them not to
move. His exact words were, 'Don't move, don't sneeze,
don't lean forward, and don't scratch. Especially you,
Erin.'

'Two three it is,' said the auctioneer. 'Do I hear
two four?'

'I think you just bid on a horse,' murmured
Lindsey through scarcely parted lips.

'Really? For how much?' asked Erin.

'Two thousand three hundred dollars,' Lindsey
replied.

'Omigod!' Erin slapped her hands across her
mouth.

'Two four to the young lady,' called the auctioneer,
pointing to her. 'She thinks the horse is so great she's
bidding against herself.'

Muffled laughter rippled through the crowd.
Shelby saw Clint close his eyes and shake his head.

'I didn't mean to!' Erin cried in a shrill voice.
Shelby blushed.

'Very good. Do I hear a
real
two three? Yes,
madam in the green shirt.' The auctioneer turned his
attention to an older woman standing at the edge of
the yard.

'Phew, that was close!' Erin put her hand on her
chest.

'Erin! Stop moving!' Lindsey hissed through the
side of her mouth.

'Oops!' Erin giggled.

'You're so hopeless,' Shelby sighed.

The horse on which Erin had bid was sold and
then the whole crowd shuffled sidewards to the next
yard and the next horse being sold.

Shelby looked along the line of yards with their
metal fences and cement floors. She thought it was
clever how the gates to each of the yards were the
same width as the aisles, so that when the gate was
open, it blocked off the aisle perfectly.

At the end of each of the lanes there were loading
ramps. Earlier in the day she had watched the trucks
pull up to unload. The handlers coordinated the gates
so that each of the horses would run down the loading
ramps and then, by having some gates open and some
closed, move straight into their individual yards.

Most of the horses looked so thin and frightened
that she wanted to take them home and give them a
good feed. Many of them had bites, bumps and
scratches all over from the rough trip to the sale
yards. The younger ones in particular had such fragile,
twig-like legs they looked as though they could snap
in a strong breeze. She had overheard two of the older
stockmen saying that most of the horses came from
studs out west that couldn't afford to feed them in the
drought.

Shelby was amazed how cheaply they were selling.
The one on which Erin had bid was the most expensive
so far. Some of them had been sold for less than a
hundred dollars. Shelby wished she had ten thousand
dollars in her pocket. She would buy them all.

Clint wended his way through the crowd until he
reached them.

'The next ones are the Dog Man's horses. I'm
going to get a coffee from the canteen. I won't be
long. Are you happy to stay here?'

The girls nodded. 'We'll be OK here,' said Lindsey.
'Thanks, Clint.'

'Don't bid on any horses while I'm away, Erin.'

Erin giggled. 'I won't.'

After he had gone Shelby turned to Lindsey. 'What
does he mean the "Dog Man"?'

'The Dog Man buys horses by the kilo,' she
explained.

Erin put her hand over her mouth. 'That's awful!'

Lindsey shrugged. 'If a horse has a broken leg, or
an incurable illness, then he will take it away. We
dogged a horse last year. Do you remember Swift?
He went blind. He kept hurting himself and he was
frightened all the time.' She shook her head. 'That's
not a good life. We could have paid the vet to put him
down, but then you need to hire a backhoe to bury
him. You have to bury them deep otherwise it's unhygienic.
The Dog Man will pay you and take it away.
I know it sounds mean, but it works out for everyone.'

Lindsey was a farm girl, used to the practicalities
of death.

'So why are they here?' Shelby asked.

'Sometimes when the Dog Man gets the horse back
to his yards he'll find that its illness isn't incurable
after all, or that, with a bit of retraining, a mad horse
is useful again. For whatever reason, if he thinks he
can get more money for it alive than he can as meat
then he will bring it here.'

'Why isn't Clint interested?' asked Erin.

'Maybe he thinks it's too risky?' Lindsey suggested.
'Someone thought that these horses were too crazy or
too sick to bother with.'

'Not everyone knows what they're doing, though,'
Shelby observed.

'Yes, and that's why all these other people are
bidding on them,' Lindsey added.

At the end of the row there was a chestnut pony
with four white stockings and a blaze. Despite the
mud that matted its coat, it was the prettiest pony in
the whole place. Shelby tugged at her friends' sleeves
and they followed her to the edge of the yard.

'This can't be one of the Dog Man's horses. It must
be the beginning of the next lot.'

'Cute!' squealed Erin. The pony turned its head at
the sound of her voice. She reached out a hand and
the pony sniffed it cautiously.

'Tiny,' observed Lindsey. 'It's not even thirteen
hands. And look at all those white hooves! You never
buy a horse with four socks.'

'I think it's beautiful. If it is a Dog Man's horse
then whoever sold it to him was an idiot,' said Shelby.

She wondered if the owner had thought the pony
was sick when it just needed worming. Maybe it had
been bought for a beginner who didn't know how to
handle it, or lost interest?

Shelby could picture it in a show ring with its
mane in rosettes, doing what the magazines called 'an
extravagant extension', which meant it flicked its toes
out when it trotted.

She imagined that she was riding it, wearing a dark
grey, pinstriped hacking jacket and top-boots. She
would be so proud and confident, and not even a little
bit nervous, because they would have practised
together. They would win Supreme Champion. The
judge wouldn't even look at the other horses. He
would wave them away before they got into the ring.

Adults at the shows would offer her ten thousand
dollars for the horse, and she would shake her head,
smiling to herself, knowing that, not so long ago,
everyone thought the horse was worthless. It happened
to Phar Lap and Seabiscuit. It probably happened all
the time.

The pony's forelock was so long that it had to peek
out at Shelby from under the weight of it. It had
long eyelashes and large brown eyes. It nibbled at her
fingers, and Shelby knew she couldn't go home
without it.

She'd never been to the sales before – she'd never
even thought about it until Clint mentioned it that
week. This horse was obviously of a higher quality
than any other pony here. What were the chances of
them being at the same place at the same time? It
couldn't be a coincidence.

The auctioneer had reached the yard and the little
pony snorted suspiciously as the crowd closed around
them.

'It's OK, little one,' Shelby crooned to it.

'What do we know about this one, Phil?' the auctioneer
asked one of the fellows in the crowd.

The man shrugged. 'I dunno, mate. I only picked
her up yes'dee.'

'It's a mare, isn't it?' He waited for a nod of confirmation
from the man in the crowd. 'We'll start the
bids at two hundred dollars. Anyone? One eighty
dollars. She's a steal at one eighty.'

The auctioneer looked at the spectators with his
eyebrows raised. 'One hundred and eighty dollars.
She's a pretty little filly.'

People scuffed their feet and looked at the ground,
or chatted amongst themselves.

'Why isn't anyone bidding?' Shelby asked her
friend.

'Haven't you been watching?' replied Lindsey.
'This is a toy horse. All these blokes are looking for
stock horses or quarter horses – working horses.'

'One seventy-five,' said the auctioneer. 'A nice
pony, gents. Buy it for your granddaughters.'

'We should buy it,' whispered Erin. Her eyes were
bright. 'Shelby, you got fifty dollars for your birthday
and I've been saving.'

Shelby had received a lovely crisp fifty-dollar note
from her Aunt Jenny for her birthday, but she had
spent it already. She was sure she could get some more
money, though. She would do extra chores, offer to
mow the neighbours' lawns, or wash their cars. Fifty
dollars was a cinch.

'How much do you have, Lindsey?' Shelby asked.

She had an idea that Lindsey would have money
squirrelled away. Lindsey was sensible and frugal,
with no interest in make-up, clothes, ring-tones and
magazines, which was where most of Erin's money
went.

'I'm not buying a horse! Why would I want
another one?'

Lindsey's mother owned the stables where Erin and
Shelby kept their horses. When Lindsey felt like riding
she had all the riding school ponies to choose from.

'Look at it, Lin, it's gorgeous,' said Shelby. 'Even if
we had to pay five hundred, we could sell it tomorrow
for twice that much.'

'Five hundred! We don't have five hundred. Where
are you going to keep it, anyway?' Lindsey whispered.

'One fifty?' said the auctioneer overhead. 'She has
to be sold.'

Shelby looked around. Still nobody was bidding.
She raised her hand, catching the auctioneer's eye. It
was impulsive, but she couldn't help it. It didn't feel
real, but at the same time it was exhilarating. Her skin
pricked all over with goose flesh.

'We have one fifty. One sixty? Anyone?'

'Shel!' Lindsey tugged on her sleeve. 'How are we
going to get it home?'

'Clint will put her on his truck,' Erin said. 'This is
so exciting!' She wriggled. 'I hope someone else bids!'

'One fifty-five?' The auctioneer searched the crowd.

'You're a fruit-loop, Erin, you know that?' Lindsey
said, shaking her head.

'One hundred and fifty it is. Last chance, folks,'
said the auctioneer.

Erin grabbed Shelby's hand.

'I can't believe you bid on a horse, Shelby. Your
parents are going to go bananas!' Lindsey said.

Shelby couldn't believe it either. Her heart was
beating fast, but she shrugged. 'I'll tell them it's your
horse.'

'And what do I tell
my
mum?' said Lindsey.

'Tell her it's my horse,' suggested Erin.

Lindsey said, 'And you're going to tell your mum
that it's Shelby's, just like a hot potato.'

'No more bids,' said the auctioneer.

Erin grinned. 'My mum won't believe that Shelby's
parents let her have another horse. I'm going to tell
them it's yours too.'

'Fantastic,' groaned Lindsey.

'Sold to the young girl in the orange shirt!' The
auctioneer clapped his hands together, indicating that
the deal was done.

Lindsey shook her head. 'I can't believe it. I don't
have any money on me. Do you? And we haven't
asked Clint if he will truck it. We don't know anything
about it. I suppose you want to keep it at my place
too. My mum is going to go nuts. I can't believe you
just bought a horse!'

'No, Lin,' corrected Erin, her eyes shining. '
We
bought a horse.'

Shelby still felt the flutter of butterflies in her
stomach. The little mare stretched out her neck and
softly lipped Shelby's fingers. 'We bought a horse,' she
repeated.

BOOK: Hot Potato
7.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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