Horse Sense: An Andrew Ursler Installment

Here is the second to last installment in the Andrew Ursler series by Mario Piumetti! Final installment will be next Friday! Refresh your readings of the series thus far!

Horse Sense
By: Mario Piumetti

Andrew rolled over in bed. It was about ten in the morning, which was early for him to be awake. The alarm hadn’t gone off. His body told him that he had enough sleep. Andrew didn’t want to get out of bed. The sheets were too soft and warm. The window he left cracked open in the night allowed a tide of icy air to creep in. It was cold enough that he thought he could see his breath cloud above him. His phone vibrated on his desk, and he answered it just before the call went to voicemail. It was Charlotte.

“Hi,” she said. “Are you still in bed?”

“Maybe.”

“Really?” said Charlotte. “I was just thinking about running into your room, jumping up and down on your bed, and shouting, ‘Wake up! Wake up! Wake up!’”

Andrew chuckled. “I’d probably freak out and think there was an earthquake going on. So are you saying you want to come over?”

“No,” she said. “I mean, I wouldn’t really do that to you. But I am glad you’re up. Are you busy today?”

“Um, no, not really.”

“So you haven’t eaten? Because I’m having lunch with my parents at The Brick Oven in Shadow Hills, and I was wondering if you’d like to eat with us.”

Tired as Andrew was, he was wide-awake in the next second. He was happy enough to get lunch with her, but hadn’t counted on her wanting him to meet her folks. Not yet, at least. He was already drawing out a friend outfit from his closet: jeans, boots, and an AC/DC t-shirt, all black and cool like Cash. Andrew said, “Sure, that sounds like fun. I just need to shower up. I can be there in, like, an hour?”

“Hmmm, I don’t know if my parents are going to stick around that long. They have things to do at our stables.”

“Stables?”

“Yeah, my family runs a stable in the area.”

Andrew got directions from her. He wasted no time getting the hot water running in his shower, and he was ready to leave half an hour later. He grabbed his leather jacket on the way out. Shadow Hills was a twenty-minute drive from Pasadena. The weekend road was empty, and Andrew got to The Brick Oven Bakery a little sooner that he estimated. Charlotte’s parents were gone already. She stayed behind to hang out with him as he ate breakfast, which was a quesadilla with avocado and green onions. Charlotte got herself a small Danish for dessert. He had no expectations of the day, just lunch with her and then they’d go about their business. She gave him a sweet kitty cat smile as they left.

“So do you think you could give me a lift?” she asked.

He laughed. “Oh, I get it. You just wanted to use me for my truck, huh?”

“No. Well, kind of, but it was a last minute request. Besides, if you take me to the stables, you get a chance to meet my horse!”

Meeting a girl’s parents was a big deal, but Andrew didn’t know what the protocol was for meeting a horse. In any case, he didn’t mind giving Charlotte a ride to the stables. After all, what else would he have said? “No, walk it,” lacked a certain amount of tact.

They got lost for a bit on the drive towards the stables, making a wrong turn after crossing under the freeway. Charlotte had Andrew pull over for a bit so she could look up the location on her phone. She’d never driven to the place herself, and so never had to develop the memory of its direction.

The stables were located up a winding road that branched off of Sunland Boulevard. The driveway was dusty and unpaved, its compaction the work of many trucks that went over it over the years. A few oak trees out in front provided shade for those who parked. Andrew pulled up beneath one of them. They got out and Charlotte led the way to a line of trailers farther down the path. A more permanent stable and a large fenced paddock were near them. Everyone he saw wore earthen tones, faded blues, dusty browns, and solid greens. Andrew looked more like a rocker strung out on meth. His fatigue that he had yet to shake off his mind bore down on him and didn’t help improve his appearance. The sun seemed harsher at the stables, and he donned his sunglasses to keep out the light. He looked about as comfortable at the stables as a fart smells in a perfume shop.

A tall man stood by the paddock supervising others working with the horses. He didn’t wear a cowboy hat like Andrew imagined as part of the horseman’s uniform. Still, he looked like he belonged with his surroundings. He turned when he heard them coming up from behind, and Andrew saw a familiarity in him. Charlotte went up to the man and gave him a warm hug.

“Hi, honey,” said the man.

Charlotte said hello and looked behind her. “Daddy, this is Andrew.”

Andrew shook his hands with Charlotte’s father. As was his way, he ignored the man’s first name when it was given to him and took to calling him Mr. Rose. He’d already taken Charlotte’s mother home. She introduced him to a few of the people on hand and led him to the paddock to admire the horses running up and down the dirt. There was a black one with a white diamond on its forehead like a bindi.

“That’ one’s Joe,” she said. “You can tell he’s new because he’s all over the place.”

All that Andrew knew about horses was that glue was once made from their hooves. That gave him no insight into their behavior. There was another horse away from the paddock tied to a hitching post.

“What’s up with that one?” he asked. “What is it alone?”

“Oh, that’s Hank,” said Charlotte. “He’s my horse.”

Andre cocked his head. “You keep your horse separated from all the others?”

“Just for now. And it’s really for safety reasons. He’s not dangerous or anything, but he and Hoe are the only male horses we have right now, so we need to let them get used to each other from a distance before they can get up close to each other.”

Charlotte explained how keeping Hank out by the paddock meant that his scent could linger in the air, a scent that Joe could get used to. It was like having dogs, but without sniffing each other’s ass. He looked down the perimeter towards where her father worked. Their eyes met every now and then, and Andrew wondered if that same distance logic applied to human men as well. Charlotte led him to the hitching post.

“Just a word of advice: give a horse plenty of room when you’re coming up behind them. Each side of their brain can’t tell what’s happening on the other side, so if you go around from behind, they’ll get startled and they could kick you really hard unless you have a hand on them. Then they’ll feel someone nearby and won’t get spooked.”

“Got it,” said Andrew. “Keep a hand on them.”

There had to be a joke in their somewhere, but he was too worried that Hank would kick him dead to think much about it. When Andrew got around the horse, Hank didn’t seem as jittery as he thought he might. A horse alone on a post triggered thoughts of mad stallions kicking and neighing like a swarm of locusts had worked its way into the brain. Hank looked at Andrew with caramel eyes. They seemed to have an inch of glass over them before the light reached the iris, and that made them shine like polished gems. Hank stared at Andrew in a calm and almost studious manner, and then pressed his nose up to the leather jacket to take in his scent. A little spot dribbled out and stained the leather.

Charlotte noticed. “Huh, I guess he’s got a runny nose. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” said Andrew. He looked at the spot. “It’s not bad.”

Hank gave Andrew what he suspected to be a sad and apologetic eye. Andrew accepted it because, hell, it’s not like the horse wasn’t trying to be friendly. It wasn’t his fault if he had the sniffles. Andrew was all ears as Charlotte talked about how she first got into horseback riding.

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