Brutalist Stories #78 — A Judge of Horseflesh

He meets the other horseman along the road at night. It’s cold, his breath only visible by the pale moonlight that creeps from beyond the dull mist in the slate black sky. The horses chitter and push great plumes of hot horse breath out of their noses, he tightens the reins, pulls the horse into him and leans and pats it and whispers to it.

He looks up at the other horseman, sat steady, eyes glaring from underneath a black straight brimmed hat, he looks down to his side and sees his black boots with polished silver spurs. “I guess I always wanted to meet a bad man,” he says to the rider.

The rider leans and spits and wipes his lips with the back of his cuff. “Ain’t no bad man here, from what I can tell. Not yet at least anyway, just two men quietly heading on their way.”

“Fair’s fair,” he says and pushes the brim of his hat up and looks to the mist-laden sky and at the crescent moon and back down at the man and his horse glistening in the cold night.

“Where you headed?” he says.

“Heard there’s a town not too far from here, lookin’ to find a room for a few nights, some food, maybe a woman.”

“You a whiskey drinker?”

“I’ve drunk whiskey.”

“They got barrels of the stuff down yonder.”

“That’s good,” he says and catches sight of the rider tightening his fist around his reigns, the other hand loose and resting on his thigh moving slow enough to barely notice. “How far, you reckon, to the town?”

“Some thirty, forty miles,” the rider’s hand slipped back, but it was all over before he could even reach for his pistol.

The night lit with the flame of his gun, two gigantic explosions that flared out the end of its barrel, a blinding yellow and the deafening sound and the horses jumped and roared, and the rider slumped and fell sideways onto to the ground.

He got off his horse and walked over to the man, steam rising from his wounds, and he grabbed the horse by the reins and looked down at him. Face twisted in death, slack-jawed, wide eyes looking up at him in the weak moonlight. He stood over him for a long time, just looking at him, the moon sliding its way across the dark sky then he shook his head and walked the horse back to his own and saddled it and moved on.

He reached the town a few hours later, a long grey street with thick concrete walled buildings either side. He walked the horses up to a concrete pillar and tied them and pulled a trough of water over to them and left them to drink.

He found the bodega along the way, pale yellow light peering out of small round windows, smoke rising out of the room as he opened the door. “I heard you have whiskey,” he said to the little man behind the bar.

The man looked up at him, ran his stubby fingers through a thick bristled moustache. “And where you hear that?”

“A bad man along the way.”

“I see,” he pulled a bottle from underneath the counter and set it down. “Not much one for talkin’ that bad man.”

“Not no more, not no more.”

Building inspiration: 1991 Kuwait Oil Fires

Musical inspiration: Johann Johannsen — Flight from the City