The hill

They were just standing there; just standing. Three of them, three horses, just standing. Mist came out of their mouths as they breathed, just standing and watching the land beneath them. They were standing on a hill, at the top of the hill, beside a tree, bare of foliage and in the winter chill of early morning, skeletal.

All about the hill is pasture and woods and a single snake of road without a single car, nobody passing through to an appointment or to work or to college. It is just a road, lonely and empty in the moments before dawn. It is landscape.

The sun is crawling into the sky.

The three horses stand, watching, now backlit by the rising light, not silhouettes, not yet, the light is too feeble to cast anything into such sharp relief. One horse shakes its head from side to side, its mane flying, and then it is still again.

A shot. Two of the horses whiny, scream, and run, the black following the bay.

One horse, the smaller chestnut, lies with its eyes fixed on the horizon or on nothing. They are not seeing.

One man, tall, with a beard and a light, winter coat, stands at the bottom of the hill. He takes a small, brown, dog-eared, notebook from his jacket pocket along with a sharpened, yellow pencil, half-used. He opens the notebook to a page. He runs his finger down until he finds a line with the word chestnut on it, ticks alongside the word, and stashes the notebook and pencil back in his pocket.

The man takes one last look at the horse lying at the top of the hill, a backlit heap, unmoving save for a wisp of steam rising from its cooling body, turns and walks back into the trees from which he had come.

He begins whistling a tune, cheerful and light.


The product and a hard deal

It was always going to be a mess. You can’t expect to deal with those kinds of folks and just walk on down the street for a latte.

Down there with Fitzroy and his people it’s real hard to get at the lay of the land. Down there is like a barrel of snakes all writhing and spitting and dangerous as hell. So I got the deal done and got out the door and away. A bunch of cash and not much blood, at least not much of his own.

Fitzroy, yeah that’s his name, swear to God. Fitzroy had the product all ready, nice and neat in a half dozen little boxes. Well, earlier we agreed on a hundred for the lot but Fitzroy, oh man that Fitzroy, he goes and says it’s a hundred and twenty-five now.

You can imagine. I’ve only got a hundred and I can’t go back to my people and tell them it’s more before we can get the product. So me and Fitzroy, well, we had some words. He started picking up the boxes and I guess I just lost it. I shouted at him and he shouted at me. I took one of the boxes out of his hand and he put his arm up and hit me fair on the chin.

My fist flew out, missing him and colliding with the door, then a loud crack. Fitz got me one in the ribs but I got him a good one across the chops. Down he goes.

We’re there, two old men, cursing and panting and trying real hard to catch our breaths. Then he says OK. I say “What was that, Fitzroy?”

“Yes, dammit, yes, you can have them for a hundred!”, Fitzroy says.

“Good, see man, that wasn’t so hard, was it?”, I tell him.

So I throw two fifties in his lap where he’s sat on the floor, back against the kitchen cupboards, and picked up the boxes.

“You gonna have a batch ready again next week, Fitz?”, I ask.

“Yeah, sure.”

“A hundred, right?”

“Yeah, a hundred you son of a bitch.” Fitzroy replies.

The hot summer air hits me in the face as I struggle out the door with the boxes. All that for just twenty pieces.

I tell you, I wouldn’t even bother if old Fitzroy didn’t make the best egg tarts in Hong Kong, I’ll tell you that for free.