(This is part seven of a story about an ultra-marathon runner who bets his legs he can beat a horse in a 100-mile race. Jonas is behind the horse.)
Hermes rolled down his window and poked his head from the car like a dog. “Wow, this is steep.”
“My car can take it.” Kevin’s car grumbled in disagreement, but still slogged up the slope. Kevin pat the dashboard appreciatively.
“I’m not worried about your car,” said Hermes. “Remember, Jonas has to climb every step of this mountain.”
“He always called himself ‘King of the Mountain’ in high school,” said Kevin. “Pretentious prick. He said cross-country skiing made him better than me at running uphill.”
“Well?” Hermes pulled his head back into the car. “Was he right?”
Kevin shrugged. “He could run hills all day, but he ran them slowest on the team.”
“Endurance might be all Jonas needs right now,” said Hermes.
“It didn’t help him win The Great Race.” Kevin ashed his cigarette out the window. “Jonas had to skip two miles to beat Whitney.”
Hermes sighed. “I was never sure Jonas did that intentionally. He’s not that kinda guy.”
“Oh, come off it.” Kevin gave Hermes another cigarette to light. “I’ve run a marathon, and every mile after 14 punched me in the gut. If I’d accidentally skipped two miles at the end, I’d have noticed—I’d have been ecstatic to avoid gut-punches. But I wouldn’t pretend I’d finished legit, let alone won. Jonas pretended. Jonas broke the tape.”
“Ninety-plus miles will do stuff to you, man. Maybe Jonas was delirious.” Hermes lit the cigarette. “Half the folks I’ve ever met at ultras have hallucinated.”
“Because they were running for days, like lunatics, or because they were 60’s kids, like you?” Hermes didn’t answer. He held up the cigarette and Kevin took it in his teeth. Kevin puffed smoke and shook his head. “Jonas felt guilty, and he felt guilty because he was guilty.”
“I don’t think so, Kev.”
“I know him better than you do. Did you know Jonas lived with me for a while after The Great Race?” Kevin took a hairpin turn on the service-road up the mountain. “Whitney kicked him out of her apartment, so Jonas slept on my couch for a few months. All I ever saw him do was drink.”
“Geez. Now I feel even more sorry for him.”
“Don’t. What he didn’t spend on booze, he gambled.”
“Jonas gambled? Really? What’d he gamble?”
“Anything he could get his hands on.”
“I mean, what’d he play? Internet poker? Gambling’s not legal around here, and Vegas is a little far.”
“He didn’t gamble legal, Hermes, he—” Kevin wiped his eyes. “Jonas went to the Bronson place. You know the Bronson place?” Hermes shook his head. “Alphonse runs a little underground casino. I think it’s literally underground. I’ve never been there, just heard about it. I hear it’s invite-only.”
“How did Jonas get invited?”
“Beats me,” said Kevin. “I just know whenever Jonas got a paycheck waiting tables, he drank half of it and gambled the rest hoping to double-or-nothing his drinking. He always lost, and then he’d always ask to borrow money from me. I lent him fifty bucks before I realized what he was doing with it; I figured he was buying running shoes, or something. He still owes me.”
Hermes stroked his beard. “Gambling at the Bronson place must’ve inspired Jonas to race the horse.”
“He talked about the horse-race sometimes, but I didn’t think he was serious. I bet he’s doing this to be cheesy and romantic for Whitney. Pretentious prick. If he wins a million bucks, he’d better pay back the booze-money he owes me.” Kevin blinked. “Wait. If Jonas has the funds to make a million-dollar bet, he never needed to borrow money at all! What an ass-hat!”
“Maybe Jonas didn’t have to ante anything,” said Hermes. “Maybe Alphonse just wanted to race a human on horseback, like his daddy did with Georgie Masawa. Alphonse said he’s interested in athlete nutrition, right?”
“Yeah, and then he kicked our pizza.”
“But only after learning about it! Maybe a million bucks isn’t much to a guy like Alphonse, and he’s set up the gamble to sort of buy the experience of racing Jonas.”
“You saw that jockey streak past. Alphonse isn’t even on the horse.”
Hermes shrugged. “Whatever. Maybe Alphonse thinks the sport is its own reward, man.”
“Yeah, whatever, man,” dripped Kevin. “Alphonse is fucked up. I never thought I’d meet a more pretentious prick than Jonas, but baby-Bronson’s got him beat. Alphonse better bring that pizza to mile 70.”
“He won’t,” said Hermes, “and if he does, maybe no one should eat it. Do we really trust Alphonse with race-catering?”
“Yeah, you’re right. He’d probably poison it.” Kevin gripped the steering wheel. “Hey. Wait.” He pulled out his phone. “I bet we can fly another pizza in here.”
“By drone? Alphonse would shoot it down again. I can’t imagine your friend would send another drone just to be destroyed.”
“Don’t doubt my connections. You don’t know Craig.” Kevin scrolled through his contacts.
BEEP. Mile 61: 12:13 / 8:12:07.
The mountain was steeper than I’d given it credit for. Whitney stayed ten paces ahead to scan the trail for debris. She kicked rocks aside so I wouldn’t trip on them. Then she slowed to run beside me. “Drink.” I drank from Whitney’s water-backpack. She donned a headlamp and handed another to me. “Put this on. It’ll be dark soon.”
“Oh, no.” I refused the headlamp. “I hate wearing headlamps as much as I hate—”
“—wearing hats and sunglasses, I know,” said Whitney. “Just put it on, Jonas.” I pulled the elastic band around my forehead. The headlamp bounced on my face with my stride. I suppose the annoyance was worth it; up ahead, groves of trees would be thick with shadows come sunset. “Put this on, too.” She gave me a neon-yellow visibility vest.
“What, really? Why? There’s no traffic out here. I’m not gonna be hit by a car.”
Whitney glared, and I knew she wouldn’t let this go. I put on the vest. “Visibility isn’t just for alerting traffic,” she said. “If you fall off this mountain-trail, we’ll need that reflective vest to spot your corpse by satellite.”
“Gallows humor gives me nausea,” I said, “and so does this neon-yellow vest. It’s worse than Alphonse’s dumb military jacket.”
Whitney rolled her eyes. “You know why he wears that, right?”
BEEP. Mile 62: 11:58 / 8:24:05.
“No clue. I’d never wear it.”
“The jacket belonged to Grandpa-Bronson.” Whitney puffed. The incline winded even her, even after she’d run only twelve miles. “He was a Major-General back in the old country.”
“What country is that?”
“I don’t think it exists anymore.”
“Grandpa-Bronson happened. He stole the nation’s treasury, and then whatever he did next, he did it so thoroughly there’s not much evidence to go off. I’ve read everything there is about Grandpa-Bronson, and it’s not much.”
“What was the country called before it disintegrated?”
“I wish I could tell you. Evidence of his war-crimes was buried with the bodies.” Whitney noticed my souring expression. “That’s the rumor, anyway. With his fortune he started a glue factory in the states. His motto was Use Every Part of the Horse.”
“Change the topic, squire.”
BEEP. Mile 63: 12:02 / 8:36:07.
“How’s your knee?”
“Not clicking yet.” For a few paces I bent my left leg more than usual, to test it. “But it’ll start soon.”
“Is the compression sleeve helping?”
“Got a headache?”
“You’ve got hyponatremia. You need more salt.” Whitney fished in her backpack for salt-tablets.
“I’m fine. I’m just bonking.” I suddenly realized that was a lie. I wasn’t just bonking—the shadows cast by our headlamps made the earth shimmer with shadows, and for a moment I worried I was lost at sea. “Wait, no. I’m not fine. I’m hallucinating.”
“That’s hyponatremia. Take the salt.” I swallowed the tablets. “Salt-loss can kill you. Hallucinations can’t.”
“Hell yeah they can.” I slowed to a walk. “I’ve already slipped and fallen on this run. If I can’t see straight, I’ll fall again, and I might not get back up.”
“Okay.” Whitney walked beside me. “Drink.”
BEEP. Mile 64: 13:41 / 8:49:48.
I drank from her water-backpack. “What did Georgie Masawa eat for hyponatremia? You read all about him racing Alphonse’s dad, right?”
Whitney laughed. “Not a lot to read, and certainly no diet tips. Georgie was a recluse. All those ultra-running South-American native-tribes are tight-lipped.”
“Was Georgie one of those famous Indians who run hundreds of miles before breakfast? A Tarahumara?”
“Nah, nah, Tarahumara are talkative compared to whatever Georgie was.” When Whitney shook her head, her ponytail whipped at me enticingly. “We don’t even know how many there were, or where they lived, or what they called themselves. We just call them the Masawas, after Georgie.”
I bit my tongue. “So why did Georgie come all the way to the Bronson estate? Did the Bronsons invite him?”
“Beats me,” said Whitney. “Georgie never said. He was basically mute. And then he died, probably somewhere around here.”
My knees knocked, and not just with fatigue. “Seriously?”
“Yeah. All we know is Georgie died between sixty and seventy miles. If Father Bronson raced him on the same trails we’re running now, he’s not far from us. No one ever found his body, so we’ll never know for sure.” She tugged the corner of my visibility vest. “So don’t complain about the neon-yellow. It might be your only ticket to a proper burial.”
BEEP. Mile 65: 18:21 / 9:08:09.
My stomach churned. “I’m no Georgie Masawa.”
“Good. You need to be better than Georgie Masawa.”
I puked off the side of the trail. Retch after retch, it just kept coming.
Whitney pat my back. “Let it out, soldier. You’ve got a pizza coming in a few miles.”
I dry-heaved a few times. Vomit trickled down the mountain. “I can’t do this,” I said. “I can’t keep moving.”
Whitney walked anyway and pulled me along behind her. “You bet your legs, Jonas. You can’t stop moving.”
“Stopping is for the best.” My steps were trembling. “I bet if I stop now, I can convince Alphonse to settle for one whole leg and the other leg below the knee.”
“Or both legs up to mid-thigh.”
“Jonas! You’ve run a hundred miles tens of times. You know this pessimism doesn’t last forever. If you give up now, you’ll kick yourself later. Well, you couldn’t kick yourself, but you know what I mean.”
“Prosthetics are pretty good nowadays.”
“Okay, come on.” Whitney checked her GPS watch. “If you stop right here, you’ll sit on your hands until you die. You can’t really quit until we reach the service-road at mile 70. If you can honestly tell me you want to stop every mile until we smell your pizza at 69, then you can quit. I won’t badger you.”
BEEP. Mile 66: 21:04 / 9:29:13.
“I want to stop.”
Hermes waited with his arms crossed by the 70-mile flag. After the fork, Jonas would either start downhill or have two more uphill miles to go.
“A-ha!” Kevin waved his arms at an approaching pizza-drone. “I knew Craig would come through!” He used his phone to photograph the delivery.
“How’d you convince your friend to send another drone after Alphonse shot down the first?”
“Every start-up wants one thing: for their story to get out.” Kevin took a picture of the pizza-box next to the drone. He gave a thumbs-up to the drone’s camera. “Craig was delighted Alphonse shot down his bot. I told him about Jonas racing the horse, and he said he’d sacrifice ten drones to put his pizzas in this narrative. Whether Jonas wins or not, if this race goes viral, investments will sky-rocket.”
The drone took off and circled about 500 meters above the 70-mile flag. “What’s it hanging around for?” asked Hermes.
“Craig’s waiting for Alphonse to shoot this one, too.” No sooner had Kevin said this than Alphonse’s helicopter crested the mountain. Kevin grinned while he filmed the drone with his phone. “Here it comes!”
“I don’t know if recording is a good idea,” said Hermes. “Alphonse takes that sort of thing pretty seriously.”
“Shove it. This is social-media gold.”
Hermes covered his ears just in time. The helicopter fired seven blaring shots. The drone crashed into the brush and burst into bits. Kevin’s phone recorded the helicopter descending over them. Alphonse’s voice boomed from megaphones: “I brought you your pizza. No need for impatience.”
“Yeah, feed the camera, scumbag.” Kevin stopped recording as soon as the helicopter touched down and Alphonse stepped out. Hermes stowed Jonas’ pizza in the car to protect it. Keven stepped defensively between the car and Alphonse. “Hey, A.B.”
“A.B.?” Alphonse Bronson parsed the nickname for a moment. “Oh. A.B. Quite.” He gave Kevin a pizza-box. It was tiny, the type of pizza a pretentious prick would order at a hoity-toity restaurant. “Kevin, isn’t it?”
“Uh-huh.” Kevin pretended to continue recording Alphonse while he tapped his phone’s screen to save the video to the cloud. “Care to comment? You just shot down another drone.”
“You knew that I would. Would you please stop filming?”
“I’m not filming.” Kevin showed Alphonse his phone’s screen: he’d switched to Tetris.
“If you have been filming,” said Alphonse, “please delete the videos, and any photographs you may have taken. Coverage of the estate is highly regulated. If you want to buy a license to film here, please contact my brand manager.”
“Okay, okay.” Kevin put away his phone. “Did you come all this way just to deliver this pizza? Should we tip?”
“Don’t patronize me, I’d be tempted to charge you.” Alphonse smiled and marched to the 70-mile flag. “I’m here for my own sake. My jockey is arriving as I speak.”
Champ’s hoof-beats roared up to the fork. Sandra knocked the flag to the right, then saluted. “Howdy, boss.”
“Sandra, I told you to go right at mile 60. Why did you go left?”
Sandra noticed Kevin and Hermes. She leaned toward Alphonse so only he could hear her. “Champ is fatigued, sir. I didn’t think he could take the more strenuous route.”
Alphonse tutted. “We discussed this. I didn’t want Jonas poking his nose in that direction. You know Champ’s fatigue doesn’t matter anymore.” He procured two syringes from his gaudy military jacket.
“Hey, what’re those?” asked Hermes.
“I don’t pry into your medical history, do I?” Sandra injected the smaller syringe into her thigh. Then she flexed her ankles. “Lay off my jockey-juice.” Her spurs bit Champs belly, while Alphonse injected the horse with the larger syringe.
“I think those spurs are illegal,” said Hermes. “Can’t you see he’s bleeding?”
“Bah. Champ isn’t bothered by such war-wounds.” Alphonse slapped Champ’s flank and Sandra galloped away. Alphonse retreated to his helicopter and the blades spun up. “Remember, delete any footage of the estate!”
“Yeah, yeah! You got it! Edgy twat.” Kevin lit a cigarette as the helicopter lifted off. “What a caveman. That video is already copied to Craig’s PC by now. Hey, wait…” He browsed through his phone. “Where is it?”
“What’s up?” asked Hermes.
“I had a great connection a minute ago, but now the video is just gone. It’s like—” Kevin blinked. Ash fell from his cigarette. “It’s like reception went down as soon as Alphonse arrived. Damn—He must be wearing a signal-jammer. He suspected I’d sneak footage past him.”
“Or maybe he wears it all the time,” said Hermes. “Maybe he’s just that paranoid.”
“But how’d he delete the recording from my phone?” Kevin scratched his head. “This is fucked. All I’ve got left is photos of the pizza-drone. He’s hacking into my shit.”
“Huh.” Hermes pulled a plastic disposable camera from his fanny-pack. “Maybe my caveman tech won’t have that problem. I snapped a couple pics of those spurs.”
Kevin gawped, then guffawed. “You hypocrite! You warned me against filming Alphonse!”
“Yeah, but I have friends in Greenpeace and PETA who’ll wanna see that poor horse.”
“Nah, nah.” Kevin took the camera from Hermes and climbed behind the driver’s seat. “I know exactly what to do with these photos. I’ll be back in an hour to drive you to mile 80. Give Jonas his stupid pizza for me.”
BEEP. Mile 67: 22:13 / 9:51:26.
“I want to stop.”
“Uh huh, uh huh.” Whitney walked behind to make me plod with decent pace. “Tell me, have you really thought through losing your legs?”
“When Alphonse takes my legs, they won’t hurt any more. He’ll cure my bum knee for good.”
“But you won’t be able to run, or walk, or stand.”
“Like I said, prosthetics are pretty nice nowadays. They can 3D print limbs that make paraplegic Olympic-contenders.”
“And how’re you gonna afford those fancy prosthetics?” asked Whitney.
“Book-money.” My foot slipped on a rock. Thank goodness the trail was so steep that the incline broke most of my fall.
Whitney gave me a hand to help me up, but I just flopped onto my back. “You spent all your book-money, Jonas. That’s why you bet your legs.”
“I’ll write a new book.” Both my palms were bloody. I brushed them together to knock off pebbles and dust. “I’ll have a story worth writing about. I raced a Bronson on horseback and got farther than Georgie Masawa before throwing in the towel. That’s a best-seller.”
“You weren’t so good at writing, if I recall. I wrote Live to Run almost cover-to-cover.” Whitney tapped her foot impatiently. I finally started pulling myself upright. “And before you ask, no, I won’t write this book for you, too.”
“You can buy the story-rights from me,” I said. “You’ll write the book and your name will be on the cover.”
Whitney considered it as we continued to walk. “Maybe if you finish the race. Quitting at seventy miles would be anticlimactic. You’ll run a hundred miles or you’ll write about it on your own.”
BEEP. Mile 68: 21:48 / 10:13:14.
“That’s not happening. I want to stop.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Whitney tore open a silver packet of running-glop. “Eat this.”
“Eeugh.” I shuddered. “No way. You wanna see me puke again?”
“It’s peanut-butter.” Whitney pressed it into my hands. “You love peanut-butter.”
“My stomach doesn’t. Not right now.”
“What does your stomach want right now? Chocolate?”
I shook my head. “Pizza.”
Whitney slurped the peanut-butter glop herself. “You gotta keep moving for pizza.”
“How much farther to the flag? About a mile?”
Whitney checked her GPS watch. “More like a mile and three quarters.”
I stopped in my tracks. “Whitney.”
“Wait. Whitney. Do you hear that?” I cupped my hands around my ears. “Hoof-beats.”
Whitney looked around. The narrow trail hugged a cliff-side on our right, and a steep, scraggy grove of trees on our left. The sun had set on the other side of the mountain, so it was dark as night. Our headlamps cast eerie illumination. “I don’t hear hooves, Jonas.”
But I did. I heard a hearty gallop.
A horse rounded the cliff-side, charging right toward us. It wasn’t Champ. This horse was fiery-red and puffed steam from its nostrils like an engine.
Its jockey was a skeleton. I didn’t realize I was hallucinating until I’d already leaped left off the trail. “Jonas!”
I rolled and rolled downhill. My body broke dry branches. I caught an old tree-trunk with my ribs, and held it for dear life.
“Jonas, grab on!” Whitney leaned off the trail ten feet above me. She lowered her water-backpack by one strap, dangling the other strap almost within my reach. I reached.
I slid deep into the dirt. The tree’s rotting roots straggled into a dark, narrow ditch down which I tumbled until I was face-to-face with a skull.
I breathlessly watched the skull, waiting for it to fade like any other hallucination.
It didn’t. It stayed. The skull connected to old, broken bones.
Nausea gripped me again, but I couldn’t puke it out. The sick felt tethered to my spine. “Georgie,” I whispered.
“Jonas!” shouted Whitney. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah!” With renewed adrenaline, I scrambled from the ditch. At the surface I shed my neon-yellow visibility vest and tied it around the roots of the rotting tree. “Help me up!”
“Hold this!” Whitney dangled her water-backpack. I grabbed the hanging strap and she pulled me back onto the trail. “Don’t jump off again, nimrod,” she said.
“You don’t have to tell me twice.” We kept walking.
“Where’s your vest?” she asked. I shrugged. “You’re lucky I could spot you. You almost Masawa’d yourself.”
BEEP. Mile 69: 24:19 / 10:37:33.
“I want to stop.” I looked at Whitney expectantly. “I’ve said it five miles in a row. You have to let me stop.”
“Say it again at the end of 69, when you smell pizza,” she said. I groaned. “If you want your pizza sooner, then jog with me. Come on.” We jogged slowly. The worst of the incline was behind us. “Once you’re over this mountain the rest of the race is downhill or flat.”
“I still want to stop. The pizza won’t change my mind.”
Whitney sighed. “You really want to give up your legs?”
“Just seven-tenths of them.”
“Why does Alphonse even want your legs?”
“I wish I knew. He just said ‘medical purposes.’ Alphonse says my legs are worth a million bucks to his laboratories, or whatever.”
“And apparently you agree,” said Whitney, “since you took the bet.”
“No, no.” I covered my face. “Initially I lied I had a million bucks to ante. When Alphonse found out I don’t have the money, then he said he wanted my legs.”
Whitney’s lips popped. “How did he find that out?”
“I don’t know. He said something about his accountant running numbers.”
“But… wouldn’t he…” Whitney trailed off. “Wouldn’t he check before the race?”
Her realization dawned on me with agonizing crawl. “Oh God,” I whimpered. “Alphonse always knew I didn’t have the money. He was after my legs this whole time. This was his plan from the start.”
“Keep your head, Jonas.”
“At this rate? My head’s all I could possibly keep, because it’s empty and useless.”
Tears streamed down my cheeks. Whitney gave me the hose to her water-backpack. I drank deep. “I can’t stop here, Whitney.”
“Don’t let me stop. I have to win the race.”
BEEP. Mile 70: 14:52 / 10:52:25.
The jockey had tossed the 70-mile flag to the right, toward more uphill. I looked around; where was Kevin’s car?
“Jonas! Whitney!” Hermes approached with a pizza-box. “Kevin drove out to develop some photos.”
“Seriously? He’s gotta post pictures to social media now?” Whitney rolled her eyes. “What a pretentious prick.” I didn’t mind. I was already scarfing down my second slice of pizza. The oil soaked my mouth and throat. Whitney traded her empty water-backpack for a full one from Hermes. “Jonas has got some cuts and bruises. How’d the horse look?”
“Not great, honestly.” Hermes treated and bandaged my injuries while I ate, then pointed to his own ribs. “The jockey was really giving him the spurs. Alphonse injected the horse and jockey with something, too. I figure that means they’re in bad shape.”
“How long ago did she pass by?”
“About an hour ago.”
I shoved the rest of the pizza in my mouth. Whitney smeared sauce off my cheek. “An hour ago, we were barely three miles away,” she said. “We can make up three miles over thirty.”
“Just let me know if there’s anything I can do,” said Hermes.
“Mm!” I swallowed the last of the crust. “There is.”
“I lost my neon-yellow visibility vest.”
“I’ve got another you can wear.” Hermes opened his fanny-pack.
“No!” I walked down the trail. “I lost my vest around mile 68. Promise me you’ll find it.”
“You should know something, Masawa. My horse can run a bit faster than this.”
Father Bronson pat his horse’s mane. Behind him on the saddle, eight-year-old Alphonse Bronson clutched a plush horse’s head on a wooden pole. He and the toy horse were wearing little cowboy hats.
“We’ve raced almost seventy miles—”
“Sixty-three.” Georgie spoke without eye-contact to Father Bronson.
Father Bronson twirled his mustache. “I rounded up. In any case, you must understand you have no hope here.”
“I’ve been humoring you so far. My horse could have finished a hundred miles hours ago.” At this, Georgie smirked. Father Bronson gripped the reins. “What’s that look for?”
“I just wonder,” said Georgie, “who’s humoring who.” He accelerated for a few steps, in jest, just until Father Bronson flinched and sped his horse in chase. It was hard to tell whose gait was more naturally perfect, the horse’s or Masawa’s. Georgie laughed and returned to his ordinary pace.
“I mean it!” said Father Bronson. “I agreed to this race suspecting you had no chance of winning, but I hoped you would prove me wrong! I wanted to analyze your form to enhance my race-horses. You would have been a whetstone to sharpen my blade. But I’m afraid you’ve got nothing to teach me. If you were a horse, I’d make glue.”
Georgie’s smirk became incredulous. “Mister Bronson, sir, do you race for fun, or profit?”
“I race for food.” Georgie subtly sped up. “I’ve raced horses to death, far faster than this, from Columbia to Patagonia.”
“I told you, I’m humoring you!” Father Bronson made his horse match pace with Georgie. Alphonse bobbed his toy horse up and down with the gallop.
“Mister Bronson.” Georgie kept speeding up; he bounded majestically like a deer. “You killed my family. You threatened my people.”
“Well, actually, technically,” said Father Bronson—
“—and you demand I win a race to save our homeland.”
“You’re making a mountain out of a molehill,” said Father Bronson. “Besides, you leapt at the opportunity to race me today.”
“Because this isn’t really a race.” Georgie stopped laughing and locked eyes with him. “Mister Bronson, I’m chasing you to death. Not your horse—you.”
Father Bronson shivered. He wanted to say the peculiar native was japing, but he realized he’d never seen a human run as fast as Georgie was right now. Masawa had just run a half-mile in a minute, and he didn’t even look particularly winded. “Stop looking at me like that!” Father Bronson whipped the reins and his horse galloped at a pace no human could hope to match, until Georgie was a speck miles behind them. Finally Father Bronson stopped on the side of the trail. “Off, boy.”
Alphonse was glad to dismount; he and his father had ridden for hours today, and his thighs had chafed since mile three.
“Stay right here, son.” Father Bronson turned his horse around. “Mount your pony.”
“But my legs hurt.” Alphonse withered under his father’s glare. He mounted his toy horse.
“Stay put until I come back. I’m going hunting.” Father Bronson pulled a silver pistol from his gaudy military jacket. “I saw a deer back there. They’re rare in the estate.”
“Are you gonna mount it over the mantle, papa?”
“No, no, no, son.” Father Bronson made sure the pistol was loaded. “This one’s a loser.”