Bethany was on the downhill glide to Temeraire. As the gibbous moon rose over the lake many miles in the distance, she marveled at the subtle beauty of her home. Her home. There was a concept. She and Ben had found this place, paid too much for it at the height of the real estate cycle, and then—like the street punk she had secretly always known him to be--he walked. He got the studio in the mountains, the client list, most of the copyrights, and all of the pussy he could scrape together on tour both here and abroad. She got this piece-of-shit Toyota, the animals, and the ranch with its adjustable-rate mortgage that could, theoretically, destroy her.
In a manner of speaking.
--Sorry, truck, she said. You are not a piece of shit. You are a good truck. You take me where I need to go and I love you.
She patted the leather armrest and swung a left, after waiting for a casino drunk coming the other way to pass. There was more leather in this thing than a professional dominatrix's closet. Than her tack room, when she used to have a tack room. There wasn't a showroom option that Benny the Bum hadn't saddled her with, God bless his ragged ass, and right now it pissed her off.
The Toyota bumped along the dirt road, too fast, as if it could smell the garage a mere mile away. A pair of big gray jack rabbits bounded out in front. They were part of a huge clan in these parts. Bethany fed them table scraps and had seen as many as twelve at her front door, last Thanksgiving. She was running a soup kitchen for Easter Bunnies, but it was home, to be sure.
An aggressive right, tires sliding a bit on the loose gravel, and she was heading up her driveway. Blanche DuBois stood like a ghost in the moonlight, there at the west gate, twenty yards from the others down the hill, who didn’t like to hang in that particular spot at night.
She threw the Toyota into park and switched off the ignition. Led Zeppelin died like they’d been shot through the brain by an assassin under contract to Mother Nature herself. Bethany was enveloped in the silence-that-is-nothing-like-a-silence that had come to define home for a woman whose entire existence depended, once-upon-a-time she thought, on rock n roll.
She stood in the driveway, head thrown back to the night, feeling that good stretch along her neck and across her chest as she let her shoulders fall away. She breathed into the small of her back and gradually, luxuriously, released her pelvis. A deep exhale, a roll of her head, and then Martin and Rags were at the gate, all excited, wigglywaggly, desirous of treats.
--Hey guys! said Bethany, grabbing her bags from the back seat. Hey!
Rags leapt repeatedly at the gate while Martin just stood there, dopy as ever, tongue lolling wet and happy.
Judith had left the back door open when she left--good for dogs, not so good for kitties, which is why Bethany didn't have one at the moment, which is fine--nature red in tooth and claw. She preferred her cats to keep one eye on the sky.
Bethany was happy she didn't have to play host to Judith's often charming insecurities—and her endless questions!--tonight. She was looking at a glass of Rodney Strong and, maybe, a chapter of the assigned Hillman before bed.
The dogs beat her to the treats. She fished out a super-sized milkbone for each of them. Rags split for the guestroom with hers and Martin plopped right down there next to the washer.
The house smelled good; there was soup on the stove, and apparently Judith had been burning incense. Bethany opened the double-wide Sub-Zero—another luxury courtesy of a marriage that was supposed to go on forever—and removed two handfuls of carrots. With years of practice apparent, she chopped them into horse-appropriate pieces. She slipped off her three hundred dollar pumps, walked back to the wetroom in her stocking feet, and slipped into an old pair of waders more appropriate for muddy winter weather than the dog days of summer. Thus attired, and armed with a big flashlight that Benvolio must’ve forgotten he had, she went to bid the horses goodnight.
Martin and Rags left their half-chewed milkbones to come along, considering Bethany/horse face time to be a big part of their job description.
--Ok, girls and boys, said Bethany. Somebody get the gate.
By the time everybody clattered down the short hill to the north gate, Galantyne was already standing there looking only slightly put-upon. The fact was, the girls had taken to ganging up on him. There was no getting around the fact that Sabaa, by virtue of inclination and primary residence, was boss hoss, but there was no way the jockey-come-lately intruder Blanche—that pleasure horse—should stand second in the ranch hierarchy. Galantyne had taken advantage of Blanche’s dreamy tendency to stand at the top of the hill and wait for, basically, her savior Bethany to come home--he was first in line for carrots. He snorted with a kind of supercilious glee. As Bethany negotiated the gate and 800 pounds of horse, she could see Sa, off in the shadows.
--Yes Gal, my good boy said Bethany. Yummies.
There is little in life more pleasant than the touch of a beloved horse's lips on the palm of your hand. Galantyn'’s lips always reminded his mistress of George Cukor’s, that famous gay American director of Katharine Hepburn classics. The comparison may seem obscure, but be forewarned—it is apt. Both horse and man had big rubbery slobbery lips. Cukor lisped, and Gal had an overbite that made you think of a child just learning to mouth his food.
Sabaa could stand this intimacy no more. She fine-stepped up to Bethany, demanding her carrot.
Sa would be interesting to any horsewoman because she actually did move, at times, with the incredibly smooth gait of the Spanish Paso Fino. It was an extraordinary thing to experience, a horse absorbing all up and down movement at all four corners in her joints, with her back and head completely still. There were times when you swore Sabaa was floating across the ground. Whether this came naturally to her or was something Gabilan had taught her, Bethany did not know. It was an unusual quality in an Arabian, to be sure.
Finally, as though she were an insecure debutante at her first grownup party, Blanche shyly appeared, and she too got her ration of fresh and lovingly-sliced carrots.
--Hey Sa, hey Blanche DuBois. Yeah girls. Mom’s home.
Like satellites around the sun, the three horses and two dogs moved closer, then farther away, and then back again to Bethany as she scudded down the hill to the barn.
The routine was: everybody gets a little hay as a treat and the girls are locked in their stalls for the night while Gal, the big strong boy, gets to keep his gate open. Gal was curious, omnivorous, and filled with wanderlust. He was happiest exploring the perimeter of Temeraire, enjoying a late-night snack, and finding a cozy corner to curl up in. Sometimes he'd even sleep in, Bethany was amused to discover--a horse with all the qualities of a hormonal teenager.
She'd given Gal a smooch on his silly rubber movie director lips and had switched off her flashlight, the better to enjoy the sky, when she heard them: like always, it started with a kind of shudder in the night, like something bad was soon to flood the desert, a bloody tide of woe. The ominous low frequency rumble then took on a rhythmic quality. It reminded Bethany, in a way, of an old Leslie speaker set-up, where the sound will reciprocate, wop wop wop wop wop as the mechanical horn revolves. This, now, was the very sound of revolution, she had come to learn. She turned to the northeast, from whence they always came, and the wop wop wops modulated to a kind of malignant clatter, and then she saw them—four, five, six obsidian helicopters, very low, swooping in and out of the desert landscape like evil single-minded birds of prey. They filled Bethany with an inexplicable dread every single time.
Rags went ballistic as the choppers scuttled overhead. For all her native intelligence, thunder and hard ugly sounds like this terrified the poor animal. She ran and hid under the three-horse trailer. Galantyne reared, smashing his foreleg on the second bar of his stall.
--Easy Gal! Easy! Bethany soothed. Shhh shhh shhh.
Sabaa's eyes were wide and her ears horizontal, her nostrils flared, but she stood her ground. Blanche was swaying back and forth in the darkness, obviously agitated but more or less in control. Martin sat there with his tongue out and his head cocked in that doggy way, watching the absolutely dead black machines swoop past at fearsome speed. Bethany could see the dim red nightlight of the cockpits as each bird passed, and she thought she could see men in black sitting in the open doorways, but aside from that, these things had no running lights, no distinguishing marks whatsoever. They were not meant to be seen by people who didn’t need to see them, that was certain.
--Blade vortex interaction said Rafe derisively as the black birds proffered their bellies to Honcho’s Hoboes like a half dozen sacrificial chickens.
--Dumb fucks are too close together said Cristobal, who knew helicopters, from skids to Jesus nuts.
Honcho had his old school Star Light Scope trained on the lead chopper.
--Extra main rotor blade he said. Extra fuel tanks, engine exhaust muffler. Definitely not your everyday whirlybird from back on the block.
--The fuck you know with that AN/PVS-5 Star Light bullshit anyway? said Rafe, referring to Honcho's Vietnam-era scope the size of a magnum of Champagne. These bastards got state of the art FLIR cameras and heads up displays and you sit there with that 18 millimeter MCP image-intensifying piece a shit?
--Yeah, 'Cho, said Cristobal. We need us some Generation III amplification. Gallium Arsenide photocathode beyond 800 nanometers, signal-to-noise up the wazoo.
--'s' I'm sayin', said Rafe. 50K X amplification, like they got in EyeRack now. See a camel take a piss with nothin' but the light of your momma's ass crack.
--Shut the fuck up, both a you, said Honcho. I'm countin’ six-eight men in the back of each of those fuckers.
--Shee-it, said Rafe, listen to the rotor slap off those rocks, will ya!
--I’m gettin' a hard-on offa this shit said Cristobal. Whaddaya think they're doin' anyway?
--It's SEALs, from the Navy up the road, said Gabilan. Either that or CIA. They're training to keep America free, you know? Practicing night insertions over here so they can do it over there with their eyes closed. Maybe you guys should re-up.
--Shit said Rafe. Day I re-up's the day the world ends.
--'Day they take your sorry ass the day the UNIVERSE ends! said Honcho, switching off his Star Light Scope, capping and casing it. I do need me some new infrared though, I’ll give ya that.
--'Can buy that stuff in a Big Five now, 'Cho, you know that? said Cristobal. 's amazing.
--Yeah but it's not mil spec, said Honcho. I need me some mil spec gear or I don't play.
--Whelp, said Gabilan, I'll be leavin’ you boys to the finer points of guerilla warfare. I just came down to let you know that I really appreciate the work you been doing with the Pinot Noir. The winery tells me the first vintage is “complex and elusive with raspberry, plum, rose, and spice overtones.”
--I told you! Cristobal said to Rafe, hitting him hard, square in the bicep.
Gabilan went on:
--The fact that none of us will ever taste the fruit of our labors in its liquid state is—
--Good said Honcho.
--Ninety-six days said Cristobal.
--It came to pass, said Rafe, it didn’t come to stay. Motherfucker.
--Tha's my boys, said Gabilan.
--Wooguf! went Oso, as he and his master headed back up the hill. When they were out of earshot, Honcho turned back to the others:
--There walks a prince among men, he said.
--And a hell of a dog too, said Rafe.
--Hey, said Cristobal suddenly, where's Bro' Bones?
Next: Probiotics and the Muse
Intruso, an extremely postmodern love story
a long commute
Andy X Kirby True
a tale of two Woodstocks
Buy a Gun
Dawn at The Wall
Feat of Clay
I was a free man once, in Saigon
The Joint Chiefs of Staff
the shit we ate
Combat Infantryman Badge
Firebase Mary Ann
the 1st Cav
The Highest Traditions
Those Who Forget
Under the Southern Cross
Whither the Phoenix?
A Bright Shining Lie
Apocalypse Now Redux
Hearts and Minds
We Were Soldiers
- Her voice was shiny
- Timed Writing
- On Location
- In the Beginning was Rock n Roll
- Cell Phone Interruptus
- The Hooch
- Blackbirds at One O'Clock
- Probiotics and the Muse
- Email by Rodney Strong
- Dope and Flax Seed
- Free to a God Home
- Lemonade and Consequences
- I was a prisoner in a Mexican Whorehouse
- A long time gone
- How to brush your teeth in a combat zone
- Libber and I go to war
- Fate takes a piss
- Thanks For the Memory
- Back in the Shit
- LZ Waterloo
- Saturday Night, Numbah Ten