Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Killer's Co-op - Excerpt

Bob stood in the middle of a small circle of dust. Bluebonnet trotted around him counter-clockwise on a long-line. He turned round and round to follow her, keeping his shoulders and eyes square to her croup. The morning sun was just starting to show through the trees. He had an hour set aside three or four days a week to train or ride their horses. He roped steers one or two Sundays a month and sometimes team-penned with Mary for fun. He felt the horses grounded him, to become intentionally distracted from his job and experience nature, return to a more base level of life and living.
He loved it. He’d worked for two years as a mounted cop in Boston, riding details by Fenway Park and the Red Sox games, Quincy Market, Faneuil Hall, and Boston Commons. He spent many cold nights patrolling near the Boston Gardens, the old name for the ever-name-changing home of the Boston Bruins and Celtics.
That was before the soulless number-crunchers disbanded the country’s oldest Mounted Police unit. He’d moved to homicide after that, and then moved to Duxbury and their own private little horse farm.
He had named Bluebonnet after one of his favorite actors in one of his favorite movies; a western about the open range. An easygoing man who should not be mistaken for a wilting flower, much like the horse in front of him. Blue was tough and stubborn, but he knew there was a kind and willing horse somewhere inside her. It would take time.
 He raised the lunge-whip in his right hand whenever she threatened to falter and drop down to a walk. He lowered the whip or bumped on the line with his left hand if she picked up her feet and appeared on the edge of cantering. Like working the gas on a car, he pushed her to the speed he wanted, keeping her moving, keeping her mind occupied with her job. And she had to work. All horses did better with daily exercise. Make them earn their keep, he told Mary. Give them a job. A job they are suited for, and they will thrive... and they did.
Mary suggested that he had been neglecting the horse’s training for the last week; that Blue was still green and would be so for many more months. She thought that if he worked the horses he would be able to clear his mind and regain some perspective on the murder cases. Bob thought Mary correct. She also reminded him not to risk getting bucked off again, for a while.
He let Blue slow with a soft verbal, “Easy,” and a slight shift of his shoulders and turn of his head to the right, taking pressure off her and letting her slow down a gait. She walked around in three circles.
Bob put his eyes in front of her, turned his entire frame to adjust and said, “Whoa.”
Blue immediately stopped. Instinctively she recognized humans as predators. Through training, Bob made her see that he was not to be feared, but was to be respected.
He said, “Reverse,” in a sharp and clear voice. He switched the whip from right hand to left. The nylon long-line switched to his right hand.
Blue knew the command. She turned to Bob and around to face his right and she started walking again.
“Trot,” he ordered and the horse complied.
“Whoa!” someone yelled and Bob was caught by surprise. Blue spun around at the sudden new voice. Bob wondered why she had not sensed the person sooner, as most horses will.
“Whoa!” the command came again as four young men jumped over the fence into the arena. They spread out around him, encircling him.
Bob dropped the long-line and let his right hand move to his waist. He realized that he never carried his firearm when working horses. That would have to change.
The men laughed as Blue ran free, dragging twenty feet of line behind her. Bob looked from one man to the next. They wore black t-shirts, one with the sleeves cut-off. Various logo’s stated their interest in martial arts and street fighting. One man, the biggest and thick-necked, wore a tight t-shirt stating ‘Ultimate Boxing’. Tattoos emblazoned his black skin. Bob guessed that he sported over 220 pounds of muscle and sinew. The man’s arms hung as if muscle bound.
All but one wore fighting gloves, meant to hurt the target and protect the weapon. The smallest man had his knuckles taped-up. He was skinnier than the others, almost scrawny, and maybe Asian or Pacific Islander. He bore close resemblance to a rat; a rat with Bruce Lee muscles.
Bob knew that his regular work-outs and his horse training kept him fit and strong, but he knew he was no match for these four thugs.
The big one said, “Back off.”
“Glad too,” Bob replied with a cocky grin. He backed away from the men but they continued to encircle him. They punched the air, warming up for the main bout.
“Got a sense of humor.”
“I think so.” Bob pondered a break for the fence and watched for a spot to open. He wondered if he could clear the fence and get to the house before they caught him. He thought about going for the barn, which was closer. A metal hay-fork would give him a lethal defense.
“Back off.”
“I understand that part.” Bob raised the whip and cracked it in the air.
“Look guys. He’s got a fly swatter.”
Bob knew the horse whip stung as he’d accidentally hit himself once or twice, but the whip was only a mild threat and these thugs seemed to have experienced worse in the ring. Bluebonnet ran a full circle of the arena, distracting the men for fear of getting run over.
“I’m telling you to let off,” the big man said as he watched the horse run by.
Bob knew they were not talking about horse training. He wondered what interest this guy had in police work... besides being on the wrong side.
“Who hired you?” Bob asked.
The scrawny guy ran in behind Bob and punched him in the kidneys. Bob’s back arched as he twisted sideways.
He saw one of the middleweight fighters coming in for an attack and he struck his fist upwards and under the man’s chin. The jaw slammed closed and knocked his whole head backwards, as a gloved fist connected with Bob’s left eye.
The big one stood aside and watched his men do the dirty work. He was probably saving his own strength for when Bob was beaten down, and he would deliver the coup-de-grace. Bob felt blow after blow land on his sides, back, gut and face. He blocked one or two attacks and he landed a lucky punch. An attacker struck a crippling kick to Bob’s inner thigh. He went down. Blood filled his eyes. Anger wracked his mind. Pain flooded his body as kicks and punches viciously met their targets.
He heard a gunshot and realized he was still alive. Mary, he thought. He heard the slide of a shotgun rack another round into the chamber.
“Gun!” one of the thugs yelled.
“Get out!” Mary ordered. “Now.”
Bob looked up to see the thugs running for the far fence. As one of them topped the fence Mary let loose another blast. Bird shot peppered his backside. The man fell forward off the top of the fence, landed on his face, and was helped up and away by his friends.
Mary ran to Bob’s side as he slowly got up.
“What did they want?” Mary asked.
“I don’t know,” Bob said as he reached for the shotgun. Mary handed it to him. He pumped another round into the chamber and watched the woods at the back of their pasture. The men were gone. Probably parked on the next street over and soon they would be miles away.
“I’ll call 911,” Mary said.
“No. Too late. Thank you for the rescue.” Bob let Mary slide an arm under his as she helped him walk to the house. His right leg cramped as they went.     
“They were going to kill you.”
“No. I think they were sending a message.” He felt around his mouth with his tongue at a loose tooth. He spit blood into the grass. They went into the house.
“You know,” Mary said impishly as he settled into a kitchen chair and she wet a dish towel. “Every time you train that horse you end up in the dirt.”
“Not the horse’s fault.”
“Not this time.”
“Not the other times either.”
“She’s stubborn," Mary said.
"She’ll eventually understand her job,” Bob replied.
“If you live long enough.”
“That’s another matter...”
“I wish you’d hire a trainer. Get someone to buck her out for you. At least that.” Mary started to wipe the dirt from Bob's face.
“I’ll consider it.” He tooked the towel from Mary.
“No, you won’t.” Mary laughed.

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