What are you doing, brother?
These words clung to the gnarled oak of Silas's consciousness, climbing, nesting, making themselves at home. He set his bones in the driver's seat of his truck and shut the door. Fifty yards away his brother, Frank, lay dead in the dirt, a bullet buried in his chest. Clean heart shot. Silas always had been a hell of a marksman. But now his hands shook and his shoulders petrified and his legs went numb. He looked through the passenger window in the direction of Frank's body but saw only the density of the forest and the
darkness of the predawn light.
What are you doing, brother?
After all these years, Frank was gone, put down, but for all the twisted relief—even joy—Silas had expected based on the hundreds of fantasies he'd indulged in regarding this very occasion, he felt no lighter. It wasn't sadness or grief he felt, not regret either, but a deep and frightening nothingness. He kneaded his empty legs, tried to massage some life back into them. On the seat next to him were Frank's Marlboros. Silas picked up the pack, opened the lid, and inhaled the scent of tobacco. Nausea descended upon his gut. He
flung open the door and vomited onto the ground, detonating a plume of dry dust.
He went to the trailer hitched to the back of his truck. The horse inside whinnied at the sight of her rider out the window. She wanted to get out, and Silas was ready to oblige her. The back gate creaked open and Silas set a hand on the horse's rump. "All right, girl," he managed. His stomach threatened to erupt again, but he held it off, taking deep breaths of the air in the trailer. This was the scent of his life: horsehair and manure and leather. He led the horse—a fine bay Hanoverian called Disco—out of the trailer, tacked her, and hoisted himself atop. He had bigger horses than this one, but Disco was bright and loyal. She'd never thrown him in the three years he'd been riding her, never once acted out on the lead or tied in the barn aisle. She didn't spook easily and seemed to enjoy a bit of adventure. She'd become his go-to for the annual hunts he put on, and she went up hills and over hedges with zeal. And this was just what he needed.
Leaving the gate down, the driver's side door ajar, and his brother dead in a small clearing, he pressed his legs into his horse's flanks, and the rhythmic drumming of the horse's hooves on the ground made Silas feel something, a familiar jostling of his body, at least. He would take it.
A half hour later he emerged from the woods at the south edge of his own property and took the horse down a dry creek bed, avoiding the town proper just in case any of his few neighbors were up at that odd hour. It wasn't unthinkable. Though residents in the area numbered only a couple hundred, they were an ambitious bunch. Cyclists. Runners. Folks heading up to Point Reyes for the day or down into San Rafael or Sausalito or the city. He edged the south border of the reservoir and took the Indian Hill Road loop northward. At the uppermost finger of the reservoir he dismounted and let his horse drink her fill. Silas unscrewed the lid of his
thermos and drank two cups of coffee, black and still steaming in the moist morning. Silas took a moment to meditate on the beauty of the place. The persistent aroma of eucalyptus hung thickly in his nostrils. A wild peacock called from a nearby field. The grass on the hills all around him waved and reflected the sunrise light and shone persimmon orange.
For the past three decades Silas Van Loy had thought of little aside from horses, women, wine, and killing his brother, Frank. In his hazy imaginings of this last occupation's aftermath, there was always more time for the first three. He would kill Frank in whatever way his mind conceived in that particular moment and then
continue on with his business, training the yearlings and greenhorns that ambled into his barn, giving lessons, taking students to shows, and then, in the nighttime, visiting local taverns and wine bars and working his cowboy charm on the women, perhaps getting a taker on an invitation back to his trailer. But now that Frank was gone he realized his naiveté. Other than the horse he rode he would have little to do with the gorgeous beasts for the foreseeable future. As for women, riding away from his spread in Nicasio in the wee hours of the morning, the sun making its initial announcements over Mount Tamalpais to the east, he found his desire for them depressed in a way it hadn't been since before his inaugural hard-on at the age of ten, when Alice Carpenter, a homely, squinch-faced girl, lifted her skirt to reveal dust-colored panties bagged around her little buttocks. He was leaving his life behind, his past and his present. The horses, his thirst, and his desires would all have to wait.