The Swetky Agency

Submission Synopsis

Backside Blues

by D. J. Herda

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80,000 Words

Cozy Mystery

Other Books in This Series:
Stakeout (In Progress)
(In Progress)

When Nick and Nora Cavender enter the underworld of thoroughbred racing, they parlay an investment in a racehorse into a nightmare of betrayal, trafficking, child prostitution, and murder before relying on their brains—and more than a little luck—to get them out alive.


Nick and Nora Cavender set out to invest in a racehorse destined for the Kentucky Derby.  But when the horse’s jockey turns up dead—and his jockey friend, and the track steward, and the trainer—they know they're onto one helluva story.  Who will be next?  Nora very nearly finds out ... the hard way.  It isn't long before the society couple realize they're in for the crime of their lives.


This is the best racing mystery I’ve ever read.  It’s pure dynamite, a page-turner

from the first to the last.  The relationship between the characters is supercharged.  And why wouldn't it be, with Nora Cavender herself the great granddaughter of the even greater Dashiell Hammett detective, Nick Charles.  Highly recommended!” – Don Bacue, Editor-in-Chief, International Features Syndicate


Main Characters/Background:

Nicky Cavender was born Nicholas Charles Cavender, the son of Frederick Remington Cavender and Sarah Bickford Charles Cavender (Binksie).  Binksie was the only surviving daughter of Nora and Nick Charles, a.k.a. The Thin Man. 


Frederick Cavender was born in Boston and educated at prep before attending Yale as a Business and Finance major.  His wife, Binksie, was educated at Vanderbilt, where she majored in Economics.


When Nicky was of age, he was shipped off at his parents’ insistence to Boston’s prestigious Roxbury Latin School where he remained until, at the age of 16, he ran off and, lying about his age, joined the Merchant Marines.  Three years later, after completing his tour of duty and having come to know a fair bit about the world, he settled in New York, where he befriended Beat poet Diane DiPrima.  Through her, he managed to land a part-time job writing reviews and opinion pieces for the Village Voice.  Over the next ten months, he interviewed a struggling Allen Ginsburg, an up-and-coming novelist named Norman Mailer, and Jack Kerouac, whom Nicky never did learn to understand.


Although not a member of the Lost Generation himself, Nicky knew the major players better than any outsider should, and it wasn’t until the Chicago Daily News offered him a job that he decided to leave a whirlwind social life in The Big Apple and settle down to a more responsible job as an editorial desk writer in the Windy City.  After less than a year in that position, though, he decided he needed more excitement in his life; so he joined the Chicago Police Department, where he worked his way through the ranks to lieutenant.  After six months of special training, he was made detective and moved to Vice, where he worked prostitution, drugs, and rackets for the next four years.  During that time, he met Nora Charles.


Nora had grown up in a suburban Evanston rambling brownstone sandwiched between Lake Shore Drive and the chilly waters that gave the thoroughfare its name.  Born of Harold Harms Charles (the son of lauded detective Nick Charles) and Mildred “Mitzy” Barnes, Nora prepped at the Latin School of Chicago before going to Northwestern University, where she majored in foreign affairs and minored in Romance languages, graduating magna cum laud a.  She moved to New York to pursue an M.A. in Communications before returning to Chicago to work as an intern for WGN-TV, eventually clawing her way up to the position of general-assignment reporter and on-air talent for several locally produced shows, including Lee Phillips’ popular noon-time presentation, Good Day, Chicago.


After leaving WGN, Nora joined the editorial staff of the Daily News as a general-assignment reporter.  Because of her connections—by family and otherwise—to Chicago’s creme de la creme, she was promoted to Society Editor, where she worked until threatening to quit out of sheer boredom after only four months.  She was transferred to Sports, where her experience in horse racing, breeding, showing, and dressage quickly qualified her to fill an opening in handicapping, and she became the paper’s star racing reporter.


As shrewd as she was aggressive, Nora knew instinctively upon being introduced by mutual acquaintances to Nicky Cavender that he was a bum.  But her curiosity—and Nick’s winning aura—got the better of her, and, throwing caution to the wind, she dated him for several months before he proposed marriage.  She promptly declined, after which Cavender used more persuasive charm than she had seen from her father in closing a deal that sent Merryl Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith skyrocketing to the top of the Wall Street slush pile.  Within six months, she agreed to become Mrs. Nicky Cavender. 


With Nora’s support (and more than a handful of her family’s money), Nicky quit the police department and went to work as a freelance writer, cranking out biting exposes, literary critiques, and the occasional odd novel, always maintaining his love for sleuthing, mysteries, and “bagging the bad guys.” 



When Nick and Nora Cavender come across a racehorse owner in need of funds to send his mount to the Kentucky Derby, they jump at the chance to invest.  Nora, a sportswriter and racing handicapper for the Chicago Daily News, knows horses, and Indigo Blue is the best she’s ever seen.  Moreover, jockey Pedro Alovar was just made to run the horse.


But after Blue’s prep-race win at Woodlawn, the jockey fails to return to the backside.  Security guards show up and tell horse owner George Killingsworth that the police are on their way: Alovar is dead.  When the dismayed couple return home, they find a message from the grave—Alovar had phoned them just after the race to tell them he was worried.  He saw someone at the track who shouldn’t have been there.  He alludes to a “scam” involving a jockey friend of his in Florida, and the next morning, the couple is off to see what they can learn while Killingsworth begins his search for a new boy.


In Florida, Nick and Nora find Roberto missing from the track and drive out to his home.  Suspecting trouble, they break in to find the jockey dead—shot with a .32 caliber Colt Pocket Automatic.  After a quick search, Nicky finds a letter that the jockey was getting ready to send to Alovar.  It details a track steward who owns a horse named Bred for Speed, which he plans to run in the Derby.  The only problem: stewards are forbidden by racing commission by-laws to own racehorses.  Did the guy learn that Roberto and Alovar were on to him?  Did he kill the two jockeys?  Nick and Nora are determined to find out.


After phoning Killingsworth with the news about the steward, the two catch a plane back to Chicago, where they’re met by two bullet-wielding henchmen.  They manage to escape to the safety of their apartment, when the steward shows up at their door ... dead.


With the suspect pool growing smaller, Nick and Nora review the case before turning in.  The next morning, they go to the track to find Blue down—the victim of a drug dose?  Nora surmises that the steward had injected the horse on the orders of someone higher up and was then shot himself to eliminate any link to the killer.  Nicky points out that the steward couldn’t have drugged blue.  He had been dead before Blue went down.  He reminds Nora of a small puncture wound in the steward’s neck.  The steward had been killed, dragged to their apartment, and propped up against the couple’s front door for them to find when they answered the bell.  Then who drugged Blue, Nora asks ... and why kill the steward?  Nicky replies that only one person knows the answer to that, and he’s standing behind them with a gun.


Killingsworth, impressed, tells Nicky to continue, which the one-time sleuth does, unwinding a twisted, sordid tale of betrayal, Guatemalan child trafficking, prostitution, and murder.  When they’re interrupted by voices outside the stall, Killingsworth tells them not to worry, it’s just a couple of his boys come to wrap up loose ends, to which Nicky replies that, more likely, it’s the cops.  He’d had the good sense to call and have them meet at the track before he and Nora had left the house that morning.  When two men walk in, Killingsworth whirls around as Nicky pounces on him.  But the three quickly overpower him and grab the gun just as the cops break in and cuff them.


Later that night, curled up in bed over a pair of icy martinis, Nora expresses her disappointment.  The track vet was able to save Blue, but the horse would be in no shape to run in the Derby—the couple’s one and only chance of recouping their investment.  Resigned to the loss, Nicky tells her not to worry and reaches for the light.


“Still, it would have been nice,” she says.  A dream come true.”


He lifts himself up and turns toward her.


“What would have been a dream come true?”


“Running in the Derby, silly.”


He sighs.  “Well, there’s not much chance of that anymore.  The Derby is for three-year-olds, and a horse is three years old only once.  So, that’s that.  Now, what do you say we forget about it and go to sleep.”  He kisses her on the cheek, turns toward the nightstand, and turns off the light. 


He is nearly dozing when she nudges him.  “Nicky?”


“Huh?  What is it?  What’s wrong?”


“It is a shame, though, isn’t it?”


He rolls his back toward her.  “Yes, dear.  It’s a shame.  Now can we get some sleep?”


She hesitates.  “I mean, you just have to feel the same, don’t you?”


Nicky sits up, reaches over, and turns on the light.  “Nora, it’s late.  We’ve been all over this.  Yes, it’s a shame we didn’t have a chance to run Blue in the Derby.  It’s too bad we’ll never know how he would have done.  But rules are rules, and circumstances are circumstances, and there’s just no getting around it.  So, can we please go to bed?”


“No, no, no.  I mean, you feel the same way about missing the opportunity that I do, don’t you?  I mean, it bothers you, too, doesn’t it?  Deep down inside.”


He turns toward her.  “Yes.  Yes.  It bothers me immensely.  It bothers me more than I can ever say.  It bothers me more than I could ever imagine.  Now can we get some sleep?”


He reaches over and turns out the light, then settles down against his pillow.




He frowns.  “What?”


“I’m so glad to hear you say that.  I mean, that it bothers you, too.”


“Of course it bothers me.  My God, I can’t tell you how it bothers me.  So let’s both be bothered together and roll over and get some ...”


“Because I did something today.”  He stops short.  “And for a moment, I thought you might not approve.  But now I know better.  Oh, Nicky.”


“Approve?  Of what?  And what do you mean, now you know better?”


“Did you know that Indigo Blue has a dam that’s in foal?  And that the dam is up for sale?  Just think of it.  A foal from Blue’s own mother.  Why, I’ll bet that colt would have a swell chance of winning the Derby.  And maybe the Preakness.  And the Belmont Stakes, too.  Why, we could be talking the first Triple Crown Winner in three decades.  Think of it, Nicky!  Three decades!”


Nicky reaches out for the light, thinks better of it, and rolls back into his pillow.“Good night, darling.”


“Oh, Nicky.  I love you.”


D. J. Herda is an award-winning, full-time professional writer/journalist with more than 40 years of writing and editing experience.  He is author of more than 80 published books and several hundred thousand short pieces, in addition to several screen plays, stage plays, and audio and video scripts.  He currently serves as president of the American Society of Authors and Writers, is a member of The Author's Guild, and is a former member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the Washington Press Club.

Former ghost writer for Ronnie Schell, Lawrence Welk, Art Linkletter, etc.  Former ghost writer/photographer for Sammy Davis Jr.  Scriptwriter for educational and consumer cable television, in-flight airline, etc. 

This story was written visually, with strong character and scene elements and naturally occurring dramatic breaks.  Its dialogue is hip, pointed, quirky, and humorous, and the scenes contain good descriptive passages for visualization purposes.  Several producers have expressed interest in seeing this book when complete.

"Herda is one of the best fiction writers working today." - Don Bacue, Int'l. Features Syndicate


NOTE: All material is copyright protected.  No portion of this material may be copied or reproduced, either electronically,  mechanically, or by any other means, for resale or distribution without the written consent of the author.  All copy has been dated and registered with the American Society of Authors and Writers.  Copyright 2009 by The Swetky Agency