They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (11 page)

BOOK: They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
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‘What thing?’

‘Life,’ she said.

‘Why don’t you try to help yourself?’ I said. ‘You got the wrong attitude about everything.’

‘Don’t lecture to me,’ she said.

‘I’m not lecturing,’ I said, ‘but you ought to change your attitude. On the level. It affects everybody you come in contact with. Take me, for example. Before I met you I didn’t see how I could miss succeeding. I never even thought of failing. And now—’

‘Who taught you that speech?’ she asked. ‘You never thought that up by yourself.’

‘Yes, I did,’ I said.

She looked down the ocean towards Malibu. ‘Oh, what’s the use in me kidding myself—’ she said in a moment. ‘I know where I stand …’

I did not say anything, looking at the ocean and thinking about Hollywood, wondering if I’d ever been there or was I going to wake up in a minute back in Arkansas and have to hurry down and get my newspapers before it got daylight.

‘—Sonofabitch,’ Gloria was saying to herself. ‘You needn’t look at me that way,’ she said, ‘I know I’m no good—’

‘She’s right,’ I said to myself; ‘she’s exactly right. She’s no good—’

‘I wish I’d died that time in Dallas,’ she said. ‘I always will think that doctor saved my life for just one reason—’

I did not say anything to that, still looking at the ocean and thinking how exactly right she was about being no good and that it was too bad she didn’t die that time in Dallas. She certainly would have been better off dead.

‘I’m just a misfit. I haven’t got anything to give anybody,’ she was saying. ‘Stop looking at me that way,’ she said.

‘I’m not looking at you any way,’ I said. ‘You can’t see my face—’

‘Yes, I can,’ she said.

She was lying. She couldn’t see my face. It was too dark.

‘Don’t you think we ought to go inside?’ I said. ‘Rocky wanted to see you—’

‘That—,’ she said. ‘I know what he wants, but he’ll never get it again. Nobody else will, either.’

‘What?’ I said.

‘Don’t you know?’

‘Don’t I know what.’ I said.

‘What Rocky wants.’

‘Oh—’ I said. ‘Sure. It just dawned on me.’

‘That’s all any man wants,’ she said, ‘but that’s all right. Oh, I didn’t mind giving it to Rocky; he was doing me as much of a favour as I did him—but suppose I get caught?’

‘You’re not just thinking of that, are you?’ I asked.

‘Yes, I am. Always before this time I was able to take care of myself. Suppose I do have a kid?’ she said. ‘You know what it’ll grow up to be, don’t you. Just like us.’

‘I don’t want that,’ she said. ‘Anyway, I’m finished. I think it’s a lousy world and I’m finished. I’d be better off dead and so would everybody else. I ruin everything I get around. You said so yourself.’

‘When did I say anything like that?’

‘A few minutes ago. You said before you met me you never even thought of failing …Well, it isn’t my fault. I can’t help it. I tried to kill myself once, but I didn’t and I’ve never had the nerve to try again …You want to do the world a favour? …’ she asked.

I did not say anything, listening to the ocean slosh against the pilings, feeling the pier rise and fall, and thinking that she was right about everything she had said.

Gloria was fumbling in her purse. When her hand came out it was holding a small pistol. I had never seen the pistol before, but I was not surprised. I was not in the least surprised.

‘Here—’ she said, offering it to me.

‘I don’t want it. Put it away,’ I said. ‘Come on, let’s go back inside. I’m cold—’

‘Take it and pinch-hit for God,’ she said, pressing it into my hand. ‘Shoot me. It’s the only way to get me out of my misery.’

‘She’s right,’ I said to myself. ‘It’s the only way to get her out of her misery.’
When I was a little kid I used to spend the summers on my grandfather’s farm in Arkansas. One day I was standing by the smokehouse watching my grandmother making lye soap in a big iron kettle when my grandfather came across the yard
very excited.

Nellie broke her leg
my grandfather said. My grandmother and I went over the stile into the garden where my grandfather had been ploughing. Old Nellie was on the ground whimpering
still hitched to the plough. We stood there looking at her
just looking at her. My grandfather came back with the gun he had carried at Chickamauga Ridge.

She stepped in a hole
he said, patting Nellie’s head. My grandmother turned me around
facing the other way. I started crying. I heard a shot. I still hear that shot. I ran over and fell down on the ground
hugging her neck. I loved that horse. I hated my grandfather. I got up and went to him
beating his legs with my fists …Later that day he explained that he loved Nellie too
but that he had to shoot her.

It was the kindest thing to do
he said.

She was no more good. It was the only way to get her out of her misery

I had the pistol in my hand.

‘All right,’ I said to Gloria. ‘Say when.’

‘I’m ready.’


‘Right here. In the side of my head.’

The pier jumped as a big wave broke.



I shot her.

The pier moved again, and the water made a sucking noise as it slipped back into the ocean. I threw the pistol over the railing.

One policeman sat in the rear with me while the other one drove. We were travelling very fast and the siren was blowing. It was the same kind of a siren they had used at the marathon dance when they wanted to wake us up.

‘Why did you kill her?’ the policeman in the rear seat asked.

‘She asked me to,’ I said.

‘You hear that, Ben?’

‘Ain’t he an obliging bastard?’ Ben said, over his shoulder.

‘Is that the only reason you got?’ the policeman in the rear seat asked.

‘They shoot horses, don’t they?’ I said.

… may God

have mercy

on your

soul …

A Biography of Horace McCoy

Horace Stanley McCoy (1897–1955) was an American author whose hardboiled novels documented Americans’ hardships during the Depression and post-war periods. His most famous work,
They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
, was made into a film starring Jane Fonda and directed by Sidney Pollack.

McCoy was born on April 14, 1897, in Pegram, Tennessee, and grew up in Nashville. His father was a traveling salesman, and the family didn’t have much money. Although he was an avid reader, McCoy never finished high school. After a move to Dallas, Texas, he joined his father in sales at age sixteen.

McCoy worked as a traveling salesman through his teens, then joined the United States Army Air Corps. During World War I, he flew missions in France as a navigator and aerial photographer. He earned the Croix de Guerre from the French government after piloting a plane safely home despite suffering two bullet wounds. After the war, McCoy returned to Dallas and took up journalism. As a reporter, he exaggerated and invented details to make his stories more interesting, leading to frequent dismissals from Dallas papers. During this time he also met and married his first wife, Loline Sherer, with whom he had one son. He would later divorce and marry twice more, and had two children with his third wife, Helen Vinmont.

By the mid-1920s, McCoy’s interest in storytelling led him to publish his first fiction. Through the 1930s, he published more than a dozen crime and detective stories in
Black Mask
, a popular monthly pulp fiction magazine that was also printing the work of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett at the time.

In 1931, McCoy moved to Hollywood to try his hand at acting. Though he failed to gain much notice as a leading man, the author did have some success writing script scenarios for the big studios. One such project described characters participating in a dance marathon; that scenario became the basis of his first novel,
They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
(1935). The novel distills many hallmarks of McCoy’s writing, including a tough style, wry observations of class disparity in the 1930s, and a hard look at the dehumanizing effects of poverty.
They Shoot Horses
fared better with European audiences than with American readers, a trend that McCoy would see throughout his writing career.

After the publication of
They Shoot Horses
, McCoy returned to screenwriting, churning out scripts for successful westerns such as
The Trail of the Lonesome Pine
and brooding noirs such as
Persons in Hiding
. He also continued writing novels, most notably
Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye
(1948), considered one of his best. That same year, McCoy suffered a mild heart attack. Though he resumed working, his health declined and in 1955, he died of a third heart attack while at home in Beverly Hills.

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this ebook onscreen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of the publisher.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

copyright © 1935 by Horace McCoy

cover design by Andrea C. Uva


This edition published in 2012 by Open Road Integrated Media

180 Varick Street

New York, NY 10014



Available wherever ebooks are sold


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BOOK: They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
9.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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