This particular horse—Gertrude—was the only that hated Jake. Not that any farrier is really loved by a horse he’d rasped, but usually horses seemed to understand what’s necessity and what’s not. That’s why the outright needle hate for him in the old mare’s eyes was practically a legend across Montana.
Jake parked his pickup outside the barn to wait for Hicok. He wasn’t about to shoe the horse before the old man handed him the money. Jake took off his cap to scratch his almost-bald spot, then turned on the satellite radio.
Just static. He tried another station.
More static. They were all that way.
Jake started to turn off the radio when he noticed a business card in the passenger’s seat. It hadn’t been there a second ago. He unfolded it. The static chugged on. It was blank.
He stuck it in his pocket. Hicok wasn’t walking down the hill yet. The sun was starting to rise.
He turned. Static filled the cab. It’d sounded like Hicok was at the passenger’s window.
It wasn’t coming from the station. Some fucking teenager—Hicok’s grandson Barney, that little shit—must’ve had a computer thing messing with the signal.
“Yes, she’s for you, Jake.”
He jerked himself out of the car, his boot catching the seatbelt as he garbled down onto the dirt. The tire had been slashed.
“Jake, she knows who you are. You’re Jake.”
He ran up the hill toward Hicok’s place, the static now like a pincer closing around his lungs. He knew it was for him to breathe. The usual ax was in the chopping block outside the backdoor.
“Hey, hey! Mr. Hicok! You gotta get out here! I don’t know—”
The door was locked. Jake looked at the ax—no. It was too much, too early for it all. It couldn’t happen yet.
“Jake? That you?” The door opened and Hicok walked out in his green long johns. “Boy, it’s only just now 5:45. I was asleep! I said you could wait on Gertie till you’d done the others on your list today.”
Jake stuck his hands in his pockets. “I got to all the others yesterday.”
Hicok had seen the fresh cut on Jake’s hand. “Well, I suppose you can go ahead—but, well, you know how ornery she can be,” he said, forcing a chuckle. "Let me come down with you. Hold on.”
Jake paced until Hicok had jeans on. As they walked to the barn, Jake asked if he’d listened to the radio yet.
“Nope, but—oh, what the hell! Gertie’s loose!”
Jake saw her and she saw them both and charged. Jake split off from Hicok to try and jump into his truckbed.
“No! Gertie, stop—!”
Jake jumped in just as Hicok screamed. The static escaped from the still open truck door as the horse silently stood on the mangled body.
Then: “Jake. Read it again.”
He opened the card. “She’s yours.”