Despite the mist, she spent an hour working Chica, and working herself, and she smelled of it, mare-sweat and woman-sweat, with a tingle of Chanel No. 5. They’d turned down the trail from the south forty, easing along, and she could feel the mare’s heart beating through her knees and thighs.
The mist hadn’t felt cold while they were jumping, but now they were cooling off, and her cheeks and forehead were pink, and her knuckles were raw. A shower, she thought, would be nice, along with a hot sandwich and a cup of soup.
They’d just crossed the fence. She turned in the saddle to watch the gate relatch behind them, and saw the face in the tree line. There was no question that it was a face—and in a blink, it was gone, dissolving in the trees.
She turned away from it, casually, tried to capture an afterimage in her mind. A pale oval, truncated at top and bottom, with a dark trapezoid beneath the oval. The face of a man who’d been watching her through binoculars, she realized. The dark shape, the trapezoid, had been arms, joined at the binoculars, in a camouflage jacket.
A thrill of fear ran up her spine. They might be coming for her.
She suppressed the urge to run the mare, but not the urge to push her into a trot. They came down the fence line and she took the remote from her pocket, pointed it at the inside gate, and it swung open in front of them. They went through, and she turned and closed the gate, her eyes searching the tree line as she turned. Nothing. They went on to the barn, Chica in a hurry now, anticipating the feed bag.
When she came off the horse she was feeling loose and athletic and was beginning to question what she’d seen. Was she losing it? Was the pressure pushing her over the edge? There’d been nothing but a flash of white.
Lon, the barn man, came over as she led the horse inside to the smell of horseshit and hay and feed, the odors of a comfortable life. She brushed a fly away from Chica’s eye as she handed the reins over. “I worked her hard, Lon. She’s pretty warm.”
Then over the groom’s shoulder, in the lighted square of the open barn door, she saw the housekeeper jogging across the barnyard, a folded newspaper over her hair to deflect the rain. Lon, an older, hook-nosed man whose skin was grooved like the bark on an oak tree, turned to look and said, “She’s in a hurry.”
She met Sandi, the housekeeper, at the barn door. “Sandi?”
“Two men are here.”
“Watchmen,” Sandi said.
She looked up at the house: “Did you let them in?”
“Um, it’s raining . . .” Sandi was suddenly afraid that she’d done wrong. “I left them in the front hall.”
“That’s okay. That’s fine.” She nodded. “Tell them that I’ll be a moment.”
Sandi fled back across the barnyard into the house. She and Lon talked about the horse for another thirty seconds, then, as she turned toward the house, Lon said, “Be careful, Maddy.”
She took her time, cleaning her boots on the boot-brush outside the door, and on the mat inside, peeling off her rain suit and helmet, shaking out her hair, hanging the gear on the wall-pegs in the mud room. Still wearing the knee-high boots, she clumped across the kitchen and up the back stairs to the bedroom. From the closet, she got the bedroom gun, a blue-steel .380. She jacked a shell into the chamber and disengaged the safety, stuffed it in her jacket pocket.
She was afraid of the Watchmen, but more than that: she was also interested in what they’d say and excited by the prospect of conflict. She wasn’t exactly a thrill-seeker, but she enjoyed a test, and the more severe, the better. She’d been a rock climber, she drove fast cars. And always the horses: the horses might someday kill her, she thought. Riding was as dangerous as a knife fight.
She took the back stairs down to the kitchen, walked out through the living room to the front entry. Two men waited there, both in leather bomber jackets, blue shirts, and khaki slacks. They’d put on their uniforms for the visit.
She knew one of them: Bob Sheenan, who worked behind the parts counter at Canelo’s Farm & Garden. He was about fourth or fifth in the local Watchmen ranks. She knew the other man’s face, but not his name.
“Been out riding?” Sheenan asked when she walked into the entry.
She didn’t answer. No pleasantries for the Watchmen: “What do you want, Bob?”
“Well, now . . .” Sheenan was a big man, with a
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