By Kit Sloane


"I didn't say we should murder the creep." Judy's voice was raised slightly. "I just said that someone ought to teach him a lesson. You know, something involving pain and humiliation. That sort of thing." She looked around the table and took a sip from her wine glass.

There were unmistakable sounds of enthusiastic agreement from my friends. I sighed. It was a heavy conversation for a lovely spring afternoon. The five of us had been enjoying a tranquil lunch together after a horseback ride through the hills when this particular topic had risen its rather ugly head.

Of course, it was my fault. Charlotte and James are my neighbors. Charlotte is also one of our dearest friends; her husband, James, is not. I had just mentioned that Charlotte and James seemed to be having another bout of severe marital difficulties. I mean, I live fifty yards away. I can hear every raised voice, every unpleasant word, whether I want to or not.

"That awful man," Melissa said. "He's so officious."

"Not just officious," said Kate. "He's completely selfish."

"Well," said Lynda slowly, "heıs all those things but I canıt stand his total self-absorption and, of course, that incredible ego, but, more to the point" Here Lynda paused, most dramatically. "I saw him pawing Sophie Winchester. "Yes," she said, nodding sadly, "I did. In fact," she said, leaning forward and practically hissing out the words, "they were right outside the video store in broad daylight, making out on the front seat of that over-priced car of his. Tongues and everything. His hands were everywhere." She sat back, looking flushed.

"There. So who of us likes the terrible way he treats our Charlotte?" There was a collective groan, a general shaking of heads. This was absolutely the last straw. We knew he was rotten, but to take up with Sophie Winchester? Sophie Winchester? Good heavens. Poor Charlotte. And thatıs when Judy made her suggestion.

Melissa sat forward, her brie-piled slice of baguette hovering over her plate. "When you say some pain and humiliation, Judy, were you thinking of physical or mental pain?"

Judy pondered her answer, her eyes lifted skyward. "Actually I'd prefer something lingering. Something that he wouldnıt get over too quickly. Of course," she added hastily, "I wouldnıt want to impair his earning powers."

There was a general nodding of heads over this. James might be a terrible jerk, but he was a highly successful one. No one, particularly us, her best friends, wanted Charlotte to suffer economically because of our concerns.

You see, the most aggravating part about James, aside from his terrible personality and atrocious behavior, was that all his good fortune and the attendant fame rested on the publication of his slim, one-volume work titled, Living With A Woman: Let Her Love It Or Leave. As Kate noted after its sixth printing all quickly snapped up, we were convinced, by a certain type of man. James' tome made Total Womanhood read like a radical feminist tract. We were frankly appalled by what he'd written.

"It might be fun to kidnap him," Judy said.

I joined in the ensuing chorus of groans. We sat silently for a moment, all thinking.

"Of course, we can't actually kidnap him," Lynda finally said. "I think Judy means that if we could somehow extricate James from that cozy, secure environment that he enjoys so immensely, it might prove extremely unsettling for him."

I shook my head. "Ladies," I said, "we should be more discreet. Anyone overhearing us might think we really meant to harm James."

Dead silence greeted my imminently rational statement. In fact, the silence was so complete that even I was taken by surprise. I looked around the table at the familiar faces of my dearest friends and shivered. If ever there was an intimidating group, it was us. The five of us have known each other practically forever. Married, unmarried, divorced, kids, childless, professionals or striving artists, all of us have two enduring traits in common: we like each other and we like to go horseback riding. Of course, we weren't able to ride and lunch every Saturday, but when we did manage to get together, we became a force to be reckoned with. Like today. And as fate would have it, it was this particular dynamic of ours that set James off in the first place. Charlotte and I have lived next door to each other for ten years. We have each gone through several failed love affairs and I was truly thrilled when it seemed that Charlotte had finally made the perfect match. And when she invited us over to introduce her new love, there we were, all of us together, studying him carefully in the small living room of her adorable house. It was simply too much for the man. Poor James. He never recovered his equilibrium after that initial encounter.

We've talked about it amongst ourselves and determined that it's not what we actually do or say when we're together that can produce such devastating results, it's what we are, collectively, thinking. You see, the problem arises because we're generally all thinking the same thing. James, total boor that he is, recognized that phenomenon immediately. And, unfortunately for him that day, we were all thinking that he was quite, quite dreadful and what was our Charlotte doing wanting to marry someone like that? We were absolutely shocked at her choice. It must have shown on our faces.

But James was nothing if not resourceful. He went quickly back to his apartment and began writing his aforementioned masterpiece of chauvinist logic. And, I suppose because of the force of our personalities, each of us became an actual, best selling, chapter heading. We were all in the damned book and we knew it. Now it's one thing to be the role model for the heroine of a great novel, but we found ourselves described under chapters titled, The Nag: How To Make Her Bite Her Tongue or, and, Iım afraid this was my chapter, Reducing Her IQ: What To Do When She Thinks Sheıs Smarter Than You. Needless to say, James had become a definite thorn in our collective side. And I, the neighbor next door, was right in the thick of things.

"I know," Lynda said, smiling brightly. "We can take him out horseback riding."

"No," Melissa snorted. "Get real. I don't want him to go riding with us. He'd never come, anyway."

"Of course, he wouldn't," Lynda replied mildly. "not with all of us. But what if he received a personal invitation from our Ellen?"

Everyone turned and looked at me. "No way," I said.

"But, Ellen, we all know he likes you in his unpleasantly wolfish way," Lynda said. "He spends half his time leering at you over the fence. He probably lurks outside your bedroom window at night, too. You could easily tempt him out on the trail."

I shook my head. "No. I'm not going to lure that awful person anywhere."

Lynda smiled again, tapping one delicately rounded fingernail on her wine glass. "Not even if he's riding Honey Bun?"

Well, you could have heard the proverbial pin drop. I couldn't think of a thing to say. I looked around the table. Everyone was smiling broadly at me.

I swallowed and nodded. "Wow, that would do it, wouldn't it?"

"Yes," Lynda said, looking slightly smug. "Honey Bun is our answer."

Lynda should know. Honey Bun is her beautiful nine-year old palomino mare, a horse that Lynda saved from certain death two years ago. The poor animal was halfway into the butcher's truck when she intervened. A great deal of money traded hands and the horse found herself a lovely new home on Lynda's ranch.

So we began discussing our strategy. And by the time we'd finished deciding exactly what we were going to do, we agreed that we had created a foolproof plan. First of all, old James wouldn't tell a soul, particularly his dear wife, about being invited for what he mistakenly believed would be an erotic trail ride. We knew that much from reading his book; James was a firm believer in infidelity laced with total discretion. Honestly, the man was a mass of moral discrepancies. And I finally said I'd go along with the scheme because all I had to do was make my invitation sound slightly suggestive and then just take him out on the trail. I was the bait.

"And don't make gagging noises when you're talking with him," Kate said.

I sighed, but promised to try. Oh, but I haven't explained about Honey Bun, have I? After all, she was crucial to our scheme. You see, horses, somewhat like elephants, have this uncanny knack of remembering only the unpleasant side of life. Think of only remembering the sad things, the painful moments, the hurtful physical and verbal abuses? Well, that's essentially what itıs like for the horse psyche.

Poor Honey Bun. At the tender age of three, just as she was being broken to the saddle, a swarm of bees had flown out of the bushes. Not that these bees ever actually touched the young mare. For whatever reason, they settled on her rider and this rider went absolutely berserk. He began thrashing about in the saddle and lashing out with his riding crop. Instead of scaring off the bees, he ended up smacking the stuffing out of the young, bewildered horse, all the while shrieking at the top of his lungs, "Bees! Bees!"

Suffice it to say that Honey Bun developed a knee jerk reaction to that particular word. The day her owner decided to have her put down, Honey Bun had catapulted yet another rider into a fence after the person innocently uttered the fatal word. I suppose that sounds odd but, let's face it, there are bees all over the place and we tend to shout out the word when they buzz around us. Irrational fear is a terrible thing. But, as I've mentioned, Lynda has made the best of a problematic situation. She only rides the mare herself. She can trust herself to never say the fatal word, but she can't trust anyone else. She can't even ride old Honey B. on our weekly rides. See! I just said it there and I know better, too.

So our foolproof plan consisted of my taking James out for what he thinks will be tryst-city. Our ace in the hole, of course, is that he's aboard Honey Bun. All we want is for James to be propelled skyward after which Honey Bun will automatically head back to her nice, warm stall at Lynda's place and I will ride innocently back to the stable. Not another word is said. James will be encouraged to leave his wallet behind since it's uncomfortable to bounce up and down on a pile of leather. This, Judy's contribution to the plan, will assure him a nice long walk back to his expensive car. Think of it! No credit card, no cash, no way to ease his way along the ten miles over rugged terrain back to civilization. He might not learn anything from the ordeal, but then again, he might. Fresh air is a great brain refresher. And heıll never tell Charlotte what happened, so I donıt have to worry about her having hurt feelings. After all, the three of us are neighbors. Neighbors, even neighbors like James, have to try to get along with each other no matter how much they hate the other. Ah, it was perfect.

Of course, it didn't quite work out exactly according to plan. But after the initial shock, we decided that it turned out even better. It was nearly six months later that the five of us gathered together for one of our lunches. Aside from the long telephone conversations, we'd decided it would be wisest to keep what is known as a "low profile".

"Ellen, tell us, again, what Honey Bun did," said Judy, turning to me.

I nodded and proceeded to describe the scene for the twentieth or thirtieth time. "It worked like a charm," I said. "I kept us at a trot for most of the ride. This kept James's hands firmly on his reins and off me, and then, right at Inspiration Point, just as we decided, I screamed "Bees!" at the top of my lungs. James looked at me like I was crazy and Honey Bun put on the brakes. She twitched all over and James went head over heels, over the edge. It almost seemed to happen in slow motion." I shook my head in amazed reminiscence. "It was wild."

My friends gathered around the table nodded their heads. Everyone knew the story by heart. We'd been talking about nothing else for months. It had become the proverbial legend in its own time.

"And then," Lynda said. Lynda always likes to finish a story. "it was about two hours later, right on schedule, when Honey Bun came walking into the yard. I gave her a good brushing and she was just fine, certainly none the worse for her little adventure. I apologized for Ellen having said the 'B' word to her and gave her an extra carrot."

Kate sighed happily. "And Charlotte certainly took it well. She looked so great when I saw her last week."

"Love will do it every time," Melissa said. "What's the name of that great looking guy she's dating now?"

"Thomas something. He's over there all the time. He was James's agent. Actually," I said, "I guess that he still is, posthumously or something." I shook my head. "Of course, the book is selling famously again."

"Oh, the death of an author always has a reviving effect on sagging sales," Kate said.

"The presumed death," Melissa said. "We don't know, absolutely, that James is actually dead."

We all smiled at her.

Anyway, it worked out splendidly. None of us seems to have any lasting ethical hangups over the episode. I mean you canıt be held responsible for every single thing that happens, can you? Personally, I feel fine about it. Heck, I've seen plenty of people fall off horses and they get up without a scratch. Of course, Inspiration Point is at the top of a 2000 foot cliff, but we knew that when we made our plan.

So, as I said, we're all fine. I just avoid examining the underbrush too carefully when I'm out riding these days. And, of course, we're delighted about Charlotte. She told me over the fence yesterday that she's never been happier.

Copyright İ 2000 Kit Sloane