"If he doesn't have a conscience, let him hang," wept Mike. "I don't know about Welles, but it was still his
blood money. If he wants to see jealous, I'll show him jealous!"
After everyone left, Mike took another of his restless walks through the neighborhood. He then sat in front
of the wedding photo. He had received a wife for his birthday, and now she was gone because she was guilty.
Of what? Being in love with the wrong man? No, not the wrong man. He had been the right man
for her. It was more than he could take, resounded through his brain again. Brin's ring turned
Crushed with fatigue, he turned in for the night. A vivid dream disrupted his sleep.
was back in Bardstown
standing in the middle of
the street in front of the
Tavern. A small group of
people stood on the sidewalk
opposite. A police officer
rounded the courthouse.
Tavern's on fire!"
scene. Mutual aid was
in from surrounding
was nowhere to
found. Someone else
wearing the white helmet.
all was said and done, the
floor guest rooms had
destroyed. The rest of the
had smoke and water
Bardstown grieved as
if a real person had died.
Johnny nabbed Mike at work the next day.
"I'm flying to Kentucky to talk to a farm about Li'l Lady becoming a broodmare. Want to come with me? The
change of scenery may do you some good."
Mike shrugged. "Okay." He had nothing better to do with the next two days off--other than mope around the
house missing Brin--and attempt to do chores.
Johnny and Mike flew into Bluegrass Field in Lexington the next day. Kentucky must've seen them coming--the weather was
Mike decided he would take a walk down the tree-canopied country lane outside the farm as Johnny
set about his business. The sun was warm on Mike's back as he passed under a red arch at the farm gate. A
gentle breeze blew across his cheek, and he was instantly transported back to the day Brin first arrived in L.A.
His heart cringed as he remembered her eyes, and the beacons they had been to his chaotic soul. FOR HIM AND HIM
ONLY! Her firestorm would never end--never.
He leaned on one of the paddock fences--more for stability than to watch the horses. The tears had blinded
him once again. Several curious Thoroughbreds trotted over to inspect him. They were used to visitors giving
them scratches between the eyes or behind the ears; or a pat on the neck.
After giving each horse a downward stroke on the face, he meandered on down the lane. The horses were
pressing against their fence, acting as if they wanted to follow. A tornado of emotions swirled within him. What
had his expectations been? Would she have retired when the babies started coming? Don't go there.
Not only had he lost his wife, but the mother of his children as well.
More Thoroughbreds trotted or cantered over to the fence of the next paddock where he stopped. One extended its
muzzle toward his chest--where her ring hung. "Sorry, she's not here," he said. Something made him look at the
brass plate on the side of the horse's halter.
Ersatz nickered at him. When Mike started walking away, unable to stifle the sobs, the horse lifted his head and
trumpeted a whinny. Mike stopped and turned around. This was just plain weird; he'd never "spoken"
to a horse before. "I know," he said, "It's not your fault."
Ersatz shook out his mane, as if to be shaking his head. The other horses started nickering at Mike.
He walked back over and gave each a stroke on the face. When he started back down the lane, Ersatz backed away from
the fence and started trotting after him. The other horses followed suit. He was baffled: why had they taken
such an interest in him?
He had no idea as to what images were flying across his mind's eye. The Bluegrass was beautiful, yes, but his memories
were not. Meeting up with Brin's last mount was almost more than he could take. He knew the horse wasn't at fault,
but it didn't help the pain of her loss. As he passed another paddock, mares with their foals galloping next to them
seemed to be following him, too.
When he looked up to his right, he saw a couple of barns standing across a driveway from each other. He nearly
went into shock when he saw a petite woman with riding helmet--and pixie braids--walk out of one barn, leading a horse to
the next one. She wore a dark green polo shirt, jeans, chaps, and short riding boots. A crop was stuck in her
rear jeans pocket. Brin's ring turned cold. Mike, you know it's not me, he heard within.
He stepped into the gulley next to a fence, hung his head, and cried. When he opened his eyes, he looked
straight into the face of . . . a horse. The animal moved forward so that its neck was over his shoulder.
When a horse puts its neck over your shoulder, it wants a hug, he remembered Brin telling him once.
Mike put his arms around the horse's neck. In an odd way, it was almost like hugging Brin.
"Mother! There you are!" said a voice from the paddock.
Mike released what was apparently a broodmare and backed up. On his left was a short, rotund black man with Keeneland
ballcap, dark green Lafayette Farm polo shirt and jeans, and on his right was a tall, thin black man with the same apparel,
without a cap.
The shorter man peered at him. "Don't I know you from somewhere?"
Mike drew out Brin's business card holder and handed a card to each man.
"You're Brin's fella!" the short man exlaimed. "I knew I recognized you from somewhere!" He extended
a hand. "I'm Wally, and this is Pete," he said pointing over the mare to his companion. He then took Mike's hand
in both of his. "We're so sorry about your wife. We thought we missed her when she left Kentucky, but now . .
Mike nodded slightly. "Thanks."
Wally released Mike's hand, then turned to Pete. "Didn't Brin ride for us?" he asked. Pete pointed
downward toward the mare's back.
"Ah, that's right. Old age creepin' up on me," said Wally. He threaded a lead shank's chain through the mare's
halter. "This is June's Lady Senator."
"June's Lady Senator?!" Mike exclaimed. "Brin won the Kentucky Oaks on her years ago!"
"This 'ol girl's throwin' some mighty fine foals now," said Wally, patting the mare on the neck.
"Who's the young lady with the pixie braids?" Mike ventured, barely pointing toward the barns.
"Oh, that's Vanessa. She's from Bourbon County. She's one of our exercise girls--and a huge fan of your wife,"
"I think she wants to be a jockey, too," said Pete.
A car horn honked behind Mike to the right. He turned around--Johnny.
"Well, there's my ride. Great meeting you," said Mike.
"Same here!" both farmhands said.
When Mike got in the car, he could see Johnny had been weeping.
"I can't do it, Mike, I just can't do it."
"I can't bring Li'l Lady here. We'll lose another part of the team if I do. She and I have become
so close, she'd never forgive me for 'abandoning' her."
"Makes sense." At least something was making sense these days. He also found himself wishing someone
would pass a law against pixie braids.
Mike guided Johnny to the Bluegrass Parkway, which they took to the first Bardstown exit. When they passed My Old
Kentucky Home State Shrine on the left, he knew they were close to downtown.
"Turn right here," he advised at the bottom of the hill past the Home. He didn't feel like going to Court Square.
"Turn left at the pool."
At the top of the hill above the pool--at Second Street and Broadway--they had to make a decision. Either
go straight and go to the Stanley residence, or turn right, and go to the cemetary.
What time was it? Nearly noon. If they weren't all on duty, the Stanleys would be having lunch. "Want
some lunch?" he asked.
"Yeah, I could use some grub."
"Go straight, then."
When they stopped at the light at Third Street and Broadway, Mike remembered his father-in-law stating that, over a hundred
years ago, Bardstown's first fire station had been located in that very intersection.
Upon arrival at the Stanleys, they saw all the family cars. The civilian cars were parked on Broadway in front
of the two-and-a-half story house with partial wrap-around porch. The red chief's car and Bobby's silver-grey patrol
car were parked on the Fourth Street side.
"They know we're coming, don't they?" Johnny asked.
"Yeah, but I'm not sure they knew we'd be here at this particular time. They just knew we were coming today."
He found himself wishing he had some kind of mobile phone.
The Stanleys were all at home, around the dining room table. Chief wore his light blue on dark blue uniform complete
with patches and brass. Elizabeth wore the same, but with only an American flag on her sleeve. She sat closest
to the kitchen; her husband sat at the opposite end of the table, not far from the radio. Barbara and Bobby were both
in civvies, and sat opposite of Mike and Johnny. The fare was baked chicken, broccoli, and rolls.
"I'm so glad you two could stop by for lunch," Elizabeth said.
"Thanks for having us," said Johnny.
"So, are you going to bring Nellie to Kentucky?" asked Chief.
"No, sir," said Johnny. "We're going to keep her in California."
BEEEEP BOP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP came from the radio.
Mike and Johnny looked in the radio's direction. Chief pointed toward Elizabeth and said, "Volunteer department
next county over."
". . .barn fire on Sedgewick Lane. . ." said the radio.
"Sedgewick Lane," said Chief. "Bobby, where's that?"
"Somewhere this side of Springfield in Washington County."
"If it's close enough, we could see the smoke trace," said Barbara.
"It's not that close," said Bobby.
"Some poor farmer losing his livelihood, if I had to make a guess," said Chief.
"Did you patrol Washington County?" Mike asked Bobby.
He nodded. "Many years ago," he replied, "When I graduated from the academy, I was assigned to Post 15 out of Columbia,
and patrolled Washington County. After a few years, I was permitted to put in for a transfer to Post 4 in
Elizabethtown, and get assigned to Nelson County."
"So, you have to work a certain number of years before you can have your home county?" asked Johnny.
Bobby nodded as he reached for a napkin from the middle of the table.
Mike turned to his mother-in-law. "When do you report for work?"
"I've got the evening shift, and that starts at four," she said.
"Can you believe they called her in to work the night shift after Brin's funeral?" said Chief.
"What?" said Mike and Johnny.
"I offered to work for her, but she insisted on going in," said Barbara.
"You've never worked my console," said Elizabeth.
"You've worked mine," said Barbara.
"Mine's more intimidating than yours," said Elizabeth. "Besides, it was looking like a quiet night, and I could
use the solitude. Either that or I'd be so busy I couldn't think about it."
"A Saturday night a quiet one?" asked Johnny.
"They do happen on occasion. I think everyone was worn out from being in mourning," she said, then bowed her head
and put her napkin to her mouth. "My only consolation is that she left us on the Feast of the Guardian Angels."
"Oh, Mom," Mike said, going onto his knees next to his mother-in-law and taking her into his arms. "Brin is an
angel, and has proven it a number of times."
Mike could feel eyes upon him. As he got back into his seat, he saw the "please tell us" look on her family's faces--and
Johnny's. Mike related Brin's visit to him. When he mentioned his suicidal temptations, they gasped and started
crying. Johnny looked almost betrayed. "You call me any time of the day or night if you get to feeling like that
again," he said.
Bobby had put his head down on his arms which were crossed in front of him on the table. He raised up and
said to Mike, "You're the brother I never had. CALL ME if you need me. I'll fly out in a heartbeat!"
"Same goes for me," said Chief. "You're the other son I never had."
"Same goes for us," said Barbara and Elizabeth.
Brin's ring started burning Mike. "I'm overwhelmed," he said. "Thanks."
"Not to change the subject, but my curiosity has gotten the best of me. If all of you are involved in civil service,
how did Brin end up a jockey?" asked Johnny.
"We're still trying to figure that one out," they said.