If you had asked Tyrone’s father why he kept horses, why he rode them with his three boys down Carnaby Street to South End and back, and why he never seemed to use a car, he would remove his Red Sox ballcap, run his hand over his coarse dreadlocks and proceeded to lecture you on the relative cost of equine upkeep versus the rising cost of gas per gallon. The crux of his argument was that expense is in the eye of the beholder, and a proper investment is worth a million shortcuts. Tyrone’s father was an economics professor; he lived for such questions.
Now that he was gone, Tyrone often wondered if his father knew something more than just relative costs and exact change. If those years of prospective financial reports had given him some sort of insight into the future. If he knew the Still would come. If he knew his boys would thread through the rusting hulks of abandoned cars and trucks, just as they had when there had been traffic.
“Is it ever gonna stop snowing?” Jamal, the youngest, asked.
“It’ll stop when you shut up for five minutes!” Curtis said, his horse and his body slouching behind.
Tyrone turned back to look at his younger brothers, unsure of what to tell them. He was enough of an adult to understand he should be grateful that the nuclear missile, detonating where it did, only spread the Still and the snow, and the worry of fallout had evaporated so quickly. That the electrics would work again one day, and the snow would stop. He was enough of an adult that he knew that.
But the parts of him that were still a child felt that three years was far too long a winter already, and Tyrone was afraid that he would live the rest of his life under snow and ice.
They were hauling this weeks supplies back from the Save-A-Lot down in South End. The store was shut down, but its immense parking lot had evolved into a type of barter market since the Still. Tyrone and his brothers were the only ones from Carnaby Street who could make it all the way down to South End, so they often loaded up their mounts with neighbors’ pots and knives and clocks with gears, to trade for canned vegetables and freshly caught pigeons.
“Catch up now, you morons,” Tyrone called back to his brothers. “Let’s not be out longer than we have to. Not good for the horses.” Not good for us, either, Tyrone thought. The weather was harsh that day and had forced them to take the Martin Luther King Highway. The MLK’s lack of surrounding buildings made them sitting ducks for any gang that wanted to pick them clean. The stunted trees that lined the MLK would not be enough cover for Tyrone’s brothers and horses–much less the haul–but an abandoned SUV could hide damn near a dozen highwaymen before they chose to strike.
“You spooked of the highwaymen, Ty?” Curtis called out, far too loud for caution. “You scared of the boogeyman, too?” He and Jamal laughed, an echoing bray that bounced off the icy metal and glass.
“P’raps hes gotta r’son to be skeered,” came a voice from behind a car. Tyrone cursed his luck and his brothers’ laughter, as a mess of ragged men and women slithered out from around the rusting vehicles. All carried the crude, haphazardly fashioned knives indicative of the highway-folk. Tyrone had heard that of some of the gangs uptown carried guns, but he doubted they used them much. Bullets were far too expensive to replace.
Keeping that notion in mind, Tyrone pulled out his own pistol and aimed it at the closest would-be robber. He tried very hard to keep it from shaking.
“Do you like my hat?” Tyrone asked the highwayman, staring down the barrel. “No? Not a Red Sox fan? I’m not much of one either, though my father was. Despite their losing streak. He was always so sure they would win the World Series one more time. Went to all their games, Dad did. As an investment, he called it. Though my mother always claimed it was more effort than they were worth.”
Tyrone had the entire gang’s attention now, if drawing the gun didn’t get it before. He cocked back the hammer with his thumb, surprised at how easy it was. “Some would argue that placing a bullet in your brainpan would be more effort than you’re worth. But I’m willing to look at it as an investment.”
“Y’gonna get’sall, horseman?,” the highwayman said through rotting teeth. His posture was strong, but his eyes weren’t. They worried back and forth.
“Curtis, how many are there?” Tyrone called out, not moving his eyes one bit.
“7…no, 2 more behind that truck.”
“Looks like I am,” Tyrone said. “Might even shoot you again when it’s all over. Unless you and yours decide to leave us alone, and then I get to save this clip for another day.”
“Can’t letcha guh. Not for free.”
“Fair enough,” Tyrone said, and shot the man right between the eyes.
Tyrone said his brothers’ names and reined his horse up, and the ragged gang scattered from beneath the powerful brown steed’s hooves. The three horsemen galloped back to Carnaby Street, full load in tow, aware that their “investment” would only last so long.
Tyrone’s father had always said that expense is in the eye of the beholder. When Tyrone caught the way his brothers now looked at him, he felt he understood. The adult in him figured that the expense was not too high, that their coldness would past, and the fear in Jamal’s eyes would one day leave. But he was still enough of a child to know it would be far too long before it did.
Tyrone wondered if it was enough to be able to walk down a path, even if the snow made it impossible to know where you were going.