solus

An excerpt from the book, to be published in 2018 by Open Road Media.

It was just a carcinoma,” said Du Pré, “not much.”

Madelaine laughed.

“You always get that look, you find a doctor who is too young,” she said. “You want them old, like Benetsee, have a white lab coat, be about one hundred twenty, you are getting old, Du Pré.”

“He looks about fifteen,” said Du Pré.

“Oh, Du Pré is so much better,” said Madelaine, “Last time he is saying,

bitching, that doctor is twelve, I should demand ID, that is Du Pré.”

“This one was maybe fifteen,” said Du Pré.

“And you go to court, pay the speeding ticket a month ago?” said Madelaine.

Du Pré laughed.

“You come back, say you go early, see what the offer is, there is this pretty blonde child should be out selling Girl Scout cookies but she is an assistant

District Attorney...” said Madelaine.

“Old goat, you should go up in the mountains, live in a cave.”

“Non,” said Du Pré, “they are damp.” He had another pull at the whiskey. An ambulance went past in the other lanes, heading toward Billings. A few miles farther on, there was a clutch of emergency vehicles and a fire truck, and two Highway Patrol cars, lights flashing.

A big sedan was upside down on top of a fence, a pickup truck was a blackened hulk, smoking a little.

Madelaine crossed herself and her lips moved. Du Pré rolled another smoke. They got to the road north and they turned off. Now it was two lanes

all the way home.

The sun was still high, there would be daylight.

A low mountain range came into view to the west, a smoky lavender and

dark gray on the horizon. Du Pré got up to speed.

One-ten, a Montanan's answer to a hell of a lot of not much. Du Pré slowed when he came to the tops of hills. You never knew when a rancher with a tractor and a big load of hay would be moving at twenty miles an hour just out of sight.

Or some dumb cow would have got through a fence and be standing ready to crush the radiator and, at the speeds Du Pré drove, intimately commingle

all its flesh with the car.

Du Pré looked out the window, saw a big yellow-gray coyote trot to a hilltop,

pause, look back.

The coyote would drop out of sight if the car slowed down.

Du Pré slowed more as the crest came up to flat and the coyote vanished.

“Pallas is bad,” said Madelaine, “where is that old bastard Benetsee? We need him now. He pisses me off, he always shows up when we need him but he has not done that. He is dead maybe.”

“Non,” said Du Pré, “he will be back.”

“Before she kills herself maybe,” said Madelaine.

Du Pré patted Madelaine on the leg.

“She is strong,” said Du Pré, “She rides and rides until she can sleep.”

“So smart,” said Madelaine, “and now this.”

Du Pré nodded.

Pallas had come back from school, her eyes deep in her head, her skin pale, listless, hardly able to eat. She was proud and would not complain, but she was in great pain.

“Bart wants her to go to a hospital,” said Du Pré.

“They are not worth a shit,” said Madelaine, “Benetsee is though.”

Du Pré sighed, nodded, had some more whiskey.

Madelaine fished a bottle of the pink fizzy wine she liked from the soft cooler in the back seat, and she poured a travel mug full. The sweet smell filled the car.

Du Pré had a good fifteen miles of clear road ahead. He got up to speed.

They shot past a parked Highway Patrol car that was hidden in a cleft in the

land, behind some flat rocks.

Du Pré honked.

The patrol car flashed its lights.

“That is McPhie,” said Du Pré.

“I know it is McPhie,” said Madelaine, “they send other cops to do McPhie’s job and they stop all the people driving fast and they piss off people so then somebody gets the drop on them, locks them in their trunk and calls the

Highway Patrol, says, get this asshole out of here before we shoot him, and

then we have McPhie back.”

Du Pré laughed.

“Nobody is going to shoot a cop,” said Du Pré.

“Maybe,” said Madelaine, “But it helps when they think somebody might.”

Du Pré grinned. McPhie was a huge man, had played pro football for a while, until injuries slowed him down. He was from here, the plains, and he knew the people. Proud, not fond of guvverment, and extremely pugnacious.

Very good soldiers came from here.

“We got to do something for Pallas,” said Madelaine.

“Yes,” said Du Pré.

“You hear me, Du Pré?” said Madelaine.

“Yes,” said Du Pré.

“OK,” said Madelaine.

Du Pré sat on his buckskin mountain horse, Walkin' John, looking out over the plains below. He was on a pocket meadow in the flank of the mountain the trail ran up.

He had followed Pallas' mount's tracks, which had gone back down another trail.

Then he saw her ride out of the trees below and the horse began to canter

and then to gallop.

Du Pré shook his head.

He turned Walkin’ John and they headed down the trail that Pallas had taken fifteen or so minutes before.

“I won't make you run that hard,” said Du Pré to Walkin' John.

Walkin’ John said whuffie.

By the time Du Pré came out of the trees below Pallas had vanished, He rode to a ridge that reached out from the mountain, got down, dropped the reins on the ground, and walked to a spur of rock with a hundred-foot drop below it.

Pallas was a couple of miles away, cantering up a switchback trail. She would get to the top and probably go east, Du Pré thought.

He rode Walkin' John down a ridge trail that dropped to a hill, went along the crest, and then he crossed the arroyo on a bench of yellow-gray rock that would be a waterfall if there was more water.

\He wound down to a small creek, along its banks, up a hill.

Pallas came out of a stand of aspens.

She saw Du Pré, rode up to him.

Her face was flushed from the wind and sun.

“Hello Granpère,” she said.

“How is the horse?” said Du Pré.

“Stewball is a good horse,” she said, “too old to race him now. You remember

that?”

Du Pré nodded.

Right-wing nuts, bush races, a lot of money, a lot of death.

But Pallas and Lourdes had each gotten a very good horse out of it.

“You are riding after me,” said Pallas, “Madelaine is worried. I am getting through the day and then I have the night, Granpère.”

Du Pré nodded.

“I am doing what I can,” said Pallas, “Bart is ver' sweet, he wants to send me

to a hospital. I tell him will they give me a new heart? I think my heart is dead, Granpère.”

“Bart tries to help,” said Du Pré.

A squirrel chirred, scolding an intruder off in the lodgepole forest that covered the flanks of the mountain.

Then another.

Du Pré and Pallas turned.

“Bear, maybe?” said Pallas.

Du Pré shrugged.

“Maybe,” he said.

They waited.

Then one of the golden eagles that lived on the sheer cliff to the west flew down. The huge bird circled once and then rose up, wings pumping slowly.

Benetsee trotted out of the timber.

He was black with dirt, his running shoes were torn, he wore a headband that might have once been red.

The old man looked at Du Pré and Pallas, waved once, and he then vanished

into a little watercourse that ran away from them.

“I am going to shoot him,”said Du Pré.

“You been going, shoot him, since I am old enough to hear,” said Pallas,”

But so far? You don't shoot him.”

“I miss a few times,” said Du Pré.

A coyote trotted out of the ground, it was there one moment where there

had been nothing before. The coyote disappeared into yellow grass.

Then Benetsee came trotting up the trail.

Du Pré looked at the big rock the old man had been behind.

Benetsee stopped, grinned.

“Old man,” said Du Pré, “Madelaine see you, you get boiled.”

“She is a kind woman,” said Benetsee, “ver’ kind.”

Du Pré fished a flask out of the saddlebag, he took off the top, handed it

to the old man.

Benetsee emptied it.

...water, wine, whiskey, beer, old bastard drinks them all same way, right on down, like that...Du Pré thought.

“Ah,” said Benetsee, “now I am numb, maybe go see Madelaine, take a

bath.”

He slid up behind Du Pré.

“You got bugs?” said Du Pré .

“Big ones,” said Benetsee,” tired of old me, they are piling on you now. Lots of them, too. They will have a good time...”

They rode down the hill.

“I think I ride some more,” said Pallas.

“Non,” said Benetsee sharply, “horse, you come on.” He said something in

an old language. Stewball pricked up his ears and followed, ignoring Pallas and her jerks on the reins.

“I don't want to trouble anyone,” said Pallas.

“And you stay on the damn horse,” said Benetsee.

Pallas stuck her right boot back in the stirrup.

She slumped in the saddle.

“I'm sorry,” she said.

Benetsee turned to look back at her.

“You got nothing to be sorry for,” he said, “you need good tea, a sweat, water from Skull Spring.”

“It tastes terrible,” said Pallas.

Benetsee laughed.

“You do as I say,” he said, “I got lots, worry about, don't got to worry about

you too. I help you, Madelaine don't kick my ass...”

Pallas laughed, though tears were streaming down her cheeks.

“It is not just your life, here,” said Benetsee, “mine too.”

“Madelaine is not going to kill you,” said Pallas.

“No,” said Benetsee, “but she make me suffer so much I do it.”

Du Pré laughed.

They came into the huge pasture above Bart's house. Du Pré had opened

the gate, and Pallas rode Stewball through it.

“Where is Moondog?” said Du Pré.

“Split hoof,” said Pallas, “Lourdes, she take him to Sam, get the hoof taken care of.”

“You give him cottonseed cake?" said Benetsee.

“No, we give him that stuff Bart buys,” said Pallas, “supposed to be good for hooves, hair, teeth.”

“Bart don't know horses,” said Benetsee.

“Booger Tom does,” said Pallas.

“Yah,” said Benetsee.

“Booger Tom has been hollering for cottonseed cake,” said Pallas.

“Bart don't think nothing is good unless it is expensive,” said Benetsee.

They passed Bart's house, went to the county road, then through another

gate into another huge pasture.

The little town of Toussaint was nine miles away.

They cantered most of the distance, rode to the small pasture that sat behind

Madelaine's house.

Du Pré looked at the sky, clear, no rain coming.

“I should take Stewball to the barn,” said Pallas.

She tried to turn the big horse but he wouldn't budge.

A huge dog came out of the willows.

The animal just appeared. It was white with caramel-brown patches on its

body and one caramel ear. Its tail had been docked.

The huge dog trotted up to Pallas, who was stripping the saddle and

blanket and reins and bit from Stewball.

She looked down at the dog.

“Hello,” said Pallas to the dog.

The huge dog sat, its head cocked.

Pallas patted the big head.

“You know this dog?” said Du Pré.

“No,” said Pallas, “he is a good big dog though. Wonder what kind of

dog.”

“Some kind of dog,” said Du Pré

The big dog stood up, looked at Pallas again, and then he trotted to the line of willows by the little creek and he was gone.