F. S. Symons
Donald, a large, well-built man, had a son who was autistic and he took him to horse therapy sessions. A tall, slim woman was the therapist who rode the horses. One night Donald caught sight of the rider at the local night club. Elbows on the bar, back to the din, the rider fiddled in a desultory way with her drink, working her straw through its ice-clogged depths.
“Hello pale rider,” Donald said.
She looked at him.
“I’m one of the fathers …” he explained.
“I know exactly who you are,” she said, scowling over her shoulder. “What’s with the band? What are those vile noises they’re making?”
“I know them.”
“They sound violent.”
“You like classical music?”
“I do. You know everyone here, right?”
“What about that guy?” she asked, pointing.
“I work for him.”
“I bought some stuff from him once. Which means you’re in deep with the local drug lord. Like the Mafia they trust you until they don’t and they kill you.”
“He trusts me.”
“He’s a shady character. You have a dangerous job.”
“What do you do besides the horses?” he asked, and ordered another round.
“College lecturer in science. What did you do before working for Mr. Shady Character over there?”
“Boxing and mixed martial arts.”
“So just like that, one day you …. just stopped.”
“I lost my spring.”
“That is sad.”
“You’re depressing.” She knuckled her nose. “That’s okay though.”
She didn’t seek to slink away. He leaned in close so that she would hear. “You have to want to hurt people. That’s what the spring is. You have to keep wanting to hurt people. I didn’t want to do that any more. Now I want to help people.”
“It sounds like you decided to be a giver, not a taker”, she said. “Same as me.”
A hand clamped him on his shoulder. Her eyes followed as his boss wheeled him into a corner.
“I don’t trust Armando and Roger,” his boss said, his eyes wobbling in their sockets. “My old man and my brother don’t trust them either. They don’t believe in the police, or jail, or this town. Anyway, we’ll talk. I’m taking off.” He left the premises.
The rider was on the dance floor and she flicked her brows in a way that Donald thought might be a signal of consent. He walked over and leaned in close again. “How about dinner at my place? I like cooking for others. No obligation, just the meal. Any night you want. You name it.”
She said no, but gave him a pitying squeeze on his arm as she left. What a riveting and pretty woman! In her presence he felt like he was riding on a magic carpet to another world, a world far better than his own.
* * *
Weeks later she gave in and accepted his invitation. At dinner she was dumbfounded to discover and read bits of his fascinating books — she even took one home with her. And to listen to the quiet classical music he had inherited from his dead musician mother.
The day after the dinner Donald and his boss drove up to Armando and Roger’s farm to collect a supply of Mary Jane. “Just sit there and say nothing,” his boss said. “Just sit there and be, you know, intimidating.”
Roger led them into the tiny front room. A copper bucket brimming with ashes stood by the fireplace, a metal shovel free-standing in the ash. There were some small rocks on the coffee table in front of him.
“You never brought big Donald in here before,” Roger said. “Never in all the years we’ve done business. He always stayed out in the car.”
“What’s it matter?” his boss asked.
“It’s an observation,” Roger said. “Yes, Sir. And you know Armando’s not here so I’m on my own today.”
“So what. What’s the big deal?”
“I want to know what this development is about.”
“Donald works for me. He’s my loyal sidekick.”
“Loyal sidekick,” Roger sneered. “Loyalty among thieves
, isn’t that how the saying goes?” He picked up one of the smaller rocks.
“Well, say whatever you like, Roger. Consider me him and him me when it comes to business.”
“You never came into this room before with anyone. You always came alone.”
He idly played with the rock in his hand, until his forefinger doubled tight against the stone’s curve, as if to maximize torque and spin before throwing it.
“You’re messing with me.”
“No, I’m not.”
As he said this he threw the rock square between Donald’s eyes.
Half blind, Donald reached out and took a grip on someone’s shoulder. The shoulder recoiled as the boss threw himself down onto the table, which collapsed. His foot snagged the handle of the bucket, launching it into the air. A plume of flurrying ash spewed through the air. On the floor Donald and his boss coughed.
When they got up they faced a double barreled rifle, its wooden butt tight against Roger’s hipbone.
“This is a stupid mix-up, Roger,” the boss said. Donald knew that Roger would not listen, or would listen, but would not back down. He looked outside, and calculated thirty feet to run to the car — too far.
“Oh come on,” his boss said. “This is ridiculous. Let’s stop this game of soldiers.” He walked up to Roger and gripped the rifle’s barrel and nudged the barrel downwards.
The noise was a slap in the air. Oddly, his boss still gripped the rifle after being shot.
Donald lunged so quickly that his right hamstring tore but he kept on going. Got into and started the car. Roger had loped behind the car. Bullets flew. Shards of glass bounced like loose change all over his legs as he accelerated away.
He figured his boss was dead or crippled for life. The father and the brother of his boss would want revenge — against him, his bodyguard. He needed a sanctuary. The woman who owned the horse farm, the rider’s boss, a widow, was wealthy and lived alone. He headed for the farm.
Drenched in a swathe of syrupy, sticky stuff turned dark plum, perforated by a scatter of grim little holes, he hobbled around the farm and found a hammer in a toolbox — then knocked on the front door. He had a feeling of popping, bristling lightheadedness when the woman opened. He held up the hammer and pushed his way in. “Fix me up,” he said.
She rummaged for medical supplies, and he slumped into a chair. “I had a brother, Vinny, who died of stubbornness,” she said. “My father kept horses, and Vinny used to break them in. He was twenty-two, big and strong. One day Vinny came in from the stables as pale as a sheet, straw in his hair and on his clothes. Bewilderment in his eyes. Mom asked him what had happened and he was embarrassed but eventually he admitted that when he was restraining a colt, it had somehow dropped down sideways on top of him. He was grimacing a bit but refused to agree to allow a doctor to examine him. To prove his health he asked for a glass of milk, drank it, and went upstairs to lie down. After a while I checked on him and his lips were white, but he insisted he was fine. He was asleep when the doctor came because Mom did call, but it was too late. He never woke up.”
When she went over to Donald he was asleep, or unconscious. Afraid to touch him, she phoned for an ambulance.
* * *
The rider arrived at the farm the next morning and saw the trail of blood on the ground. She raced to the house and the widow described the blood covered man.
“Oh God,” the rider said. “I knew this would happen!” She drove to the hospital and ran into Emergency, where she claimed she was a relative.
“The doctors operated on him. You can’t see him right now.” the duty nurse said.
Staggering a step away from the desk, she bumped into a sleazy-eyed man who growled at her as if she were an animal, “Watch where you go, idiot woman.”
In a rage she knocked him down onto his back on the floor.
He pulled out a gun.
She kicked it out of his hand and firmly placed her heavy cowboy boot on his chest. “You’re the kind that kills the sensitive man, the good man. My kind of man. Get out of my way and stay out of my way, capito?”