This dog turned out to be like many other dogs I had faced over numerous ranch inspections. It made cautious friends with me as I held out pieces of my sandwich that I had brought along for a snack. The sandwich soon ran out. The dog started growling softly prompting me to offer my jerky - a half-pound pack doesn’t last long with a dog that size. I would give him a piece and as he swallowed it down I would make a couple of steps to the cab. Another piece and another couple of steps. As I tried to get into the pickup the big dog jumped into the cab before I had time to jump in myself. Apparently he wanted a pickup ride. I tried grabbing his collar to haul him back out but he sat with his legs braced and refused to budge.
I had enough of complications for the night and did something I was ashamed of. My last food item in the pack was a chocolate cupcake package. I threw all my equipment on the floor and opened the cupcake wrap. The big dog’s attention was mine. I laid one of the cupcakes on the dash and held out the other. As the dog came cross the cab for the treat, I tossed it on the ground. When he jumped to get the cupcake I jumped in and slammed the door.
Chocolate may be bad for dogs, but I figured the amount of chocolate in that cupcake was pretty minor compared to his size. As I prepared to drive off, he looked at me with sorrowful eyes indicating his disappointment at missing a pickup ride. Then he moved to the back of the truck and started sizing up a jump into the box end. That was enough for me. I stepped on the gas ignoring a few skinny saplings in my way and gunned the pickup out to the road. I was not about to give up the second cupcake to dog bribery. My last look in the rear view showed the dog sitting in the middle of the trail looking mournfully in the glow of the taillights.
It was a relief to get away from the Kennedy ranch. I may not have found incriminating evidence to put Art away. But my nerves couldn’t take anymore sleuthing. How did private eyes keep this up day after day or more likely night after night?
I arrived home to a cold empty house – just the way I wanted it. No Broken Glass, no Pinky, no Art and especially no dog. I went in and put together a quick sandwich. I won’t even tell you what it was – the simple ingredients were embarrassing. I poured an extra-large Jack and Coke – short on Coke and long on Jack. The beverage and the sandwich went with me to check on the horses.
Dan and Biscuit had already been fed and I was sure they were okay. They didn’t need to see me but I needed to see them. It was reassuring to sit in my dusty, small, old, decrepit barn and smell the horses and the hay. There was no worry about one of my hay bales having a hollow core and holding illegal drugs. There were no bad asses hanging out in the shadows. My son and his girlfriend weren’t getting friendly around the corner. And Art Kennedy wasn’t taking a piss on my lawn.
“Dan, you don’t know what you are missing. You should see how the other half lives. On second thought maybe you shouldn’t. If you did, you would dessert me and ask to move to Art’s. That was one damn fancy horse barn.” Dan was literally asleep on his feet and for once wasn’t listening. Biscuit on the other hand was hoping for some seconds on chow and was hanging on my every word. “You, Biscuit, are not fooling me. You think if you pretend to listen I will give you an extra ration of oats. Well, tonight you are right.” With that I scooped out a small extra ration and poured it into their manger. “Just for the record, Biscuit, your idea of attacking being the best plan was absolutely bogus. Next time I listen to Dan. He said not to go, but I didn’t listen.
“I almost killed Art Kennedy. I mean I was a hair’s breadth of a pull on the trigger from blowing a hole through his chest.” The thought of what I had almost done still made me shaky. I took an extra-long pull on my beverage, made a face at how strong I had mixed it, and went on. “And I am still not sure that it was a good thing that I was interrupted. I may still have to put him down if he continues to threaten Judy and my family.”
By now Dan had woken up enough to tackle his oats realizing that if he didn’t Biscuit would get it. I drained the last of my beverage and sucked on an ice cube hoping for a little more. “Thanks for listening guys. Now I think I will go to bed. See you two in the morning.” With that I took my empty glass and plate and headed back to the house. My frayed nerves had settled down with the visit to the barn plus the medicinal beverage. I went to bed after texting Judy and laying the forty Smith and Wesson on the night stand. I may be more relaxed, but not to the point of idiocy. I went to sleep plotting how to bring the law on Art and his crew.
Saturday morning came too soon. It was going to be a long day what with a football game and a rodeo. I just didn’t know how long. I woke up in a foul mood. There was no solution to the Kennedy problem popping into my brain. I had phone contact with my friends but it wasn’t the same as face time. The lack of time with Judy and the worry about her was eating me up. I kicked a porch post in frustration and reminded myself about my sore toe. It wasn’t going to heal if I kept doing that.
I spent the morning calling Judy and John and checking on Frank. Judy was busy with Laurie getting the horses tuned up for the night’s rodeo events. We discussed whether she should come to the football game with me. She told me, “I would love to see you and see the game. But honestly I think I will stay with Laurie. She heard some scuttlebutt about Frank and some gal at the funeral and it has set her off. She needs to vent and calm down to do any good at the roping.” Damn it! Frank was still having an effect on my love life and he wasn’t even around.
Thinking about that made me wonder where Frank actually was. I sent him a text about going to the football game with me and using Judy’s ticket. He sent back, “Up to my eyes in shit. Catch you some other time.” Now what the hell was Frank up to? The last I saw of him he was out of work with nothing going on.
John was at his son’s soccer game. He listened while watching. Several times he broke the conversation with cheering and comments on the refs. Sports Dad has a tendency to come out in all of us. He sounded like me at TT’s football games.
Since all my friends seemed to be busy I decided to spend some time with my best friend, Dan. I could tell he was healed up from the run in with the buffalo. He humped his back and did a couple of short crow hops when I first got on to show he was no old, broken down, cow horse. The day was set to be a rapturous fall day. The football game and the rodeo would have sunshine and lots of it. I took a ride making sure to steer clear of the roping arena where Laurie would be sure to be practicing.
It was a marvelous feeling to sit on Dan’s back feeling his muscles bunch under me, directing his every move. Dan thought it was a great day too as he pranced sideways and shook his head with our slow pace. On this southwest corner of Spearfish I could see Lookout Mountain, Spearfish Mountain and Crow Peak. If I squinted real hard I thought I could see the road leading into Crow Peak Acres and my building site. That site really did command a view of the whole valley. One thing about riding and cutting through lots and back roads, I was pretty sure I could spot any tail following me. Spinning Dan several times to watch my backside, I knew no one was there.
I finally settled in and enjoyed the outing. I do my best thinking sitting on horseback. It must be a carryover from my ranch upbringing. But my fine position on the back of Dan wasn’t giving me any life question answers today. It would take a longer ride than I had time for to solve my current problems. There was already a stream of cars heading to the stadium. The tailgaters were already setting up and starting to cook. It was time to head back to the barn and wipe Dan down, give him some oats and get ready for the game. I wondered how much energy TT would have for the football game after his activities of last night.
The tailgating kept me in vittles and some liquid refreshments. I was surprised at the bank tailgating site when Susie Wilks was not present. She had argued her way onto the tailgating duty and was a natural visiting with the fans. For her to skip, she must be sick. I asked Mary Beth where Susie was and she said, “She came to me earlier this week and asked to be excused. She said she had something important to do and couldn’t help today.” She nodded at Charlie who was flipping hamburgers and added, “Charlie talked to her in his office about it and then volunteered to take her shift. Susie must have had something important to do for Charlie to take over on grill duties. You know how he hates the smoke from the grill.”
Mary Beth served a couple of more burgers and added, “Did you hear about the car wreck last night?” I shook my head to indicate no. My attention was not really on the conversation with Mary Beth until she added, “Apparently the Culbertson hired hand missed a curve and went down a ravine. He didn’t survive.”
Now Mary Beth had my full attention. “You said the Culbertson hired hand?” Mary Beth nodded her head and gave me a strange look. She could tell by my tight tone of voice something was up. “Did they say what he was driving?”
“I think I heard it was the ranch pickup, but I may be wrong. Whatever outfit it was, was hauled into the body shop on South Main. Why? What difference does it make? The guy is dead.” The hair on my neck stood straight out. Was I right in thinking it was the Culbertson pickup in the Kennedy ranch yard last night? I made up my mind to drive past the body shop and take a look at the vehicle. Was it possible that Broken Glass had driven the pickup out and set it up to look like an accident? Was this really another murder to lay at the feet of the Kennedy group? Or was it really an accident? Was it even the same pickup? It was time for the game to start so I tried to put the accident out of my mind and enjoy the game.
Charlie’s effort for the team on the tailgating grill was a lot more than TT’s effort for the team. It was a lackluster game with poor energy from the home team including TT. The Yellow Jackets pulled out a win with a pick six in the trailing minutes of the fourth quarter. The defense carried the day which was a good thing because my son sure didn’t. Coach Fredricks caught my eye as he was heading off the field and shook his head. The previous year he had related to me how coaching my son was similar to working with me, too hard headed to learn. He was probably thinking the same thing again today.
I went to pick up Frank after the game so we could ride together to the rodeo. When I pulled in, Frank was standing by Billy Parson’s trailer house visiting with Billy and Letty. I did my howdy from a distance. As I walked up to Frank I noticed a very strong odor emanating from Frank and Billy. “What the hell have you been up to, Frank. You smell like a rendering plant mixed with a chicken coop. Oh Lord, I think I may be ill if I don’t move up wind.” With that I moved to the off side. My eyes were literally streaming. I had smelled some nasty things over the years but this was the worst.
Letty laughed through a hanky held over her nose and mouth. “Dad says he smells like money. If that is what money smells like, I want to be poor all my life.”
Frank added, “We finished packing the bat shit out of Junior Dunbar’s attic today. Even with the crap hauled out, the place reeks. We talked Junior into letting the place air out for a few days before we go back in there to replace the sheet rock. You notice that strong odor mixed in with the bat shit?”
I asked, “How can you notice anything but that guano smell?”
Frank sneered at me and said, “If you had any sensitivity to that schnoz of yours, you would smell about ten gallons of Clorox. It was the only thing that would cut that bat shit smell. We sprayed that whole place down with a Clorox mix and scrubbed some more when we were done. The whole room is stripped down to the bare studs and rafters. And to tell you the truth I don’t know if when we get done, that bat shit odor will be gone. After it airs out and dries down we’ll have a better idea if we made a dent in it.”
Letty was still laughing when she added, “I told Dad he had to take his clothes off out here and rinse them in the rain barrel before he could come inside.”
Billy Parsons finally said in a soft, praising voice, “Letty is sounding more like her mother every day.” He gave her head a soft hand brushing. “It sure feels good to be doing something productive and earning some money.” How could you be thankful about cleaning bat shit out of a house for half the money anyone else in town would charge? I guess a person had to admire his desire to work.
Frank scratched his head and added, “I wonder what is getting into Junior. He was almost human today when we were ready to leave. He came and inspected the work and told us to stick around while he went somewhere else in the house and came back. He had five one hundred dollar bills for each of us. He said it was a down payment on the job. That isn’t the same Junior I know.”
Letty’s eyes had grown to the size of saucers. She was so amazed by the cash Billy took from his pocket and waived in her face that she forgot about the odor and dropped her hanky. She was almost choking when she said, “Maybe I can get use to the smell of money.” We all had a laugh with her. “But you still take a rinse outside before you come in the house, Dad.” With that she grabbed the money out of his hand and dodged inside the door out of Billy’s reach. Billy headed off to the rain barrel.
I turned to Frank and said, “You’re not riding with me like that. You literally smell like shit. Get cleaned up before you get in my pickup.”
Frank hesitated before answering, “Billy and I thought we might drive over together. You know celebrate a little. Take that little kid to watch the rodeo.”
“What about meeting up with that hot filly? Are you blowing that off?”
Frank shrugged his shoulders. “To tell you the truth, the thought of going out with someone is a little scary. I kind of thought if I had the kid along it might cool things a little. You know, just until I get more used to the idea.”
That was a twist for me. Usually Frank was ready to go along anywhere as long as there was beer involved, especially if I was buying. The new sober Frank was throwing me off. But given his strong odor, it was a blessing.
Before heading out of town, I swung by the body shop. The damaged vehicles were all parked behind a tall fence to discourage parts thieves. The newest entry was parked in the center aisle still hooked to the wrecker. It was a blue crew cab pickup. The Ford emblem was across the tailgate which was about the only body panel not damaged. I tried to see the driver’s side to look for the gash down the box. With the fresh damage, old creases were hard to distinguish. No matter how I squeezed my eyes to focus my vision, I couldn’t really tell if the gash I had seen last night at Kennedy’s was there. Whether I was certain or not, I was going to tell Sheriff Rawlins about my suspicions even if it meant revealing my late night activities. I could leave out the parts about TT and Brenda and the close call in wanting to pull the trigger on Art Kennedy. Matter of fact I should leave out any mention of carrying a pistol.
Driving to St. Onge in the old pickup I did some memory wandering about some of the dents that gave the pickup character. Those memories helped the pickup feel comfortable. The new rig was sure nice but it didn’t have the memories or the broken in (maybe broken down) ambience of the old rig. The spring pushing through under my seat may be uncomfortable but the dip for my rear was just right. The steering wandered a bit but in an easily correctable, friendly way. And this pickup was gas, so no diesel smell. Which was a good thing since the exhaust leaked a little into the cab at times. Also I didn’t have to worry about scratching the body. Between the faded paint, the hail damage and the collection of small dents, another scratch wouldn’t be noticed. And best of all, I didn’t get the ‘rich banker’ comments.
Pulling into the rodeo grounds it was hard not to notice the large livestock trailer parked alongside the road with the Kennedy Rodeo Stock sign. That damn Art was an annoyance everywhere I went. About the same time I had that thought it got chased out by another. Was there some doctored hollowed out hay bales in that rig?
It was still daylight as I pulled in to park the pickup. On purpose I parked close to the Kennedy trailer but not right next to it. I knew the owners of many of the pickups parked close by. So it would be a little obvious if I parked right next to the trailer.
You would never think the population of the area was spread out over thousands of acres of ranch land with the number of people showing up. This was the last outside rodeo of the season with a beautiful fall night. People were pulling in from all points of the compass. You will never see this high a percentage of pickups to cars anywhere else in the country. The crew cab pickup has become the family sedan of the west. Diesel motors were growling on every front. The St. Onge rodeo grounds were built with this in mind. The rodeo arena was in the middle of a quarter section of land, one hundred and sixty acres. People pulled in on the grass anywhere they wanted. Many of the spectators were pulled up close to the arena but the participants with horses were spread out all over. They wanted room for their horses without worrying about running into the neighbor.
Brightly colored cowboy shirts and ten gallon hats were every place you looked. Families picnicked near their outfits all around. Small kids were racing around on ponies the family brought along with the rodeo horses so the kids could be part of the action too. This was not just a rodeo, it was the fall event for ranch country.
As I cruised through the maze of pickups, horses, people and trailers my attention was captured by a cute redhead. I was still trying to keep my distance from Judy and my friends, but that didn’t stop us from sending a few text messages. Laurie had her horse warmed up and tied to the trailer. She was brushing it down while Judy kept her company between texts to me.
Not seeing Judy was wearing on me. Well I saw her but it was always at a distance. I had gotten way to use to her being with me a lot. Judy is easy to have around and the fringe benefits were a lot better than Frank’s company. But not spending time with her was eating at me. I found myself texting her frequently and wishing she was near. I will be really glad when this situation with Kennedy is over.
Thinking of that, I started looking for Sherriff Rawlins. I strolled around looking for the big guy but didn’t spot him anywhere. Rawlins needed to hear my suspicions about the Culbertson accident. Maybe I could catch him somewhere out of sight where it was safe to talk to him. I climbed up the bleachers to get more of view of the parking lot. I didn’t even see his outfit or any County Mounties outfits. That was strange, as any of the deputies on duty like to come to a rodeo. They can watch the action and visit with friends while they wait for a call out. And there is always a call out at a rodeo, either a fight, or an accident or an escort for the ambulance after someone wrecks riding a bull.
I tried to spot TT. He was still determined to ride a bull the last I talked to him. I was not a very good scout. It took me several minutes to spot TT and when I did I was not happy. He was with a group of cowboys all with their gear. The gear was the reason it took me so long to spot him. For as much as I like horses and the ranch, TT never did. To see him all decked out in chaps, boots, cowboy hat with a bull rope coiled around his shoulder was like seeing him in disguise. The boots were snake skin and he had tucked his jeans inside the tall tops. The chaps were a splash of brown and white cow hide. The hat was a tall open crown rig that looked strange on his thick body. His shirt was a contrast of wild colors. He had even resorted to a silk scarf at his neck. Brenda must have raided the closet at the ranch to put him into this full out cowboy rig. It sure didn’t come from his own closet. I was glad to see that he at least was wearing a protective vest.
I wonder what Coach Fredricks would say if he could see his first string running back preparing to ride a bull. The string of foul language Coach would use would make a sourdough camp cook blush. Now I had Judy and TT located, it was time to see where Art Kennedy was hanging his hat.
I was hoping he was helping with the rodeo stock. That way I could maybe get a sneak at his trailers when he was busy. No such luck tonight. When I looked back to Judy, Art was standing right there. Apparently it was okay for him to visit with Laurie in front of God and everyone. Damned if he didn’t try to get in some lip time while he was there. Apparently he doesn’t know Laurie like I do. When she has her mind on a competition, it is best to leave her alone. Art got the message as his puckered lips sailed on in open air while Laurie ducked behind her horse.
Art got the message and drifted back to his own personal trailer where Brenda was getting her horse ready. The new saddle and bridle were already in place. Even though they were on a Kennedy horse, I swelled with pride at having some of my leather work on public display. It was a strange feeling, way different than bank work. This was personal. My own effort, not the bank team. But both Brenda and Bunny were checking over the horse. I wonder what was going on there.
The breakaway roping was always early in the rodeo events. They usually put it before the rough stock like bronc and bull riding. Bull riding was the crowd thriller and was always the last event of a rodeo. As much skill as it takes to compete in breakaway or team roping, that doesn’t have near the excitement and wrecks of a one ton bull stomping on a man. That thought made me glance back to TT. I really wish he wouldn’t try his luck against a bull. I like watching bull riding when I am not too acquainted with the rider. With TT, things would be a little too personal.
I was taken by surprise when someone asked me from behind, “Mitch, have you made up your mind on that Crow Peak lot yet?” When I turned around, Reggie was standing right beside me with Emily on his arm. “I’ve got some hot prospects waiting in the wings but I told them that smart Mitch Tobin has it under contract.”
I gave Reggie a smile and said, “You know, Reggie, I have made up my mind on that lot.”
Reggie’s smile went from fake to real as he said, “That’s great, Mitch. Just great! I’m glad you finally decided.”
Emily chipped in with, “Thank goodness. Reggie will finally bring in some commission. He was getting boring with his constant budget speeches.” As usual Emily was in some skin tight clothing. This time it was western wear, but like all of her clothes, it was advertising what was inside. This was a typical exchange with these two. No hellos, no how are yours, just a discussion about money on one side or the other. “Did you see your son? We came to watch TT. Finally he is doing something besides that boring football routine that you wore out ages ago.”
Her last comment hurt. Emily had been a cheer leader when I was on the college football team. I always thought she liked watching the game. Maybe it was just watching all the meat. Once again I was glad to be shed of her. Reggie and Emily deserved each other. As they moved on to accost and ruin other people’s day, Emily sugared her voice to Chris Fergo, “Come along Chris. I’ll show you all the ins and outs of this macho cowboy world.” As an afterthought she added, “I wonder how you look in chaps.” She glanced at Reggie who was working his way ahead and said in a quieter voice, “I mean nothing but chaps.” And then she giggled and tried to blush as she batted her eyes at Chris. It was too much for me. I was glad I was at the edge of the stands so if I needed to vomit I could lean over the railing. Chris trailed along like a happy puppy. Yuck!
Laurie was one of the first up for breakaway roping. She sure looked good lining up Buttercup, her flashy paint mare, as she backed her into the starting chute. Buttercup knew this was the real thing as she pranced and held her head high ready for the calf to break free. Laurie was zoned in and focused on the calf and the barrier. The crowd knew who the better competitors are and recognized Laurie for her long winning history. The buzz from the crowd softened in anticipation of her run.
The calf popped out and Laurie and Buttercup went through the barrier in perfect time as it was released. Right off I could see it was a smaller calf than a roper likes. In two quick jumps, Laurie was right in position. Her rope sailed out and it looked like it would be record book time but after the rope left her hand the calf stuttered. Laurie’s rope sailed ahead to where the calf should have been. A collective sigh escaped the crowd. Before it had a chance to build all the way, Laurie flipped her rope and the line came off the ground and caught the calf anyway. The rope tightened and the calf jerked ahead breaking the string tied to the end of the rope and the saddle horn.
The calf’s stutter step had cost Laurie a few precious tenths of a second. Her fishing maneuver with the rope had saved her run but left her open to a possible challenge from the rest of the competitors. It was too bad. She had been on track to have one of the best times of the season. From my vantage point I could see Judy moving to meet Laurie as she moved out of the competitor alley. Judy appeared to congratulate Laurie on the good time and Laurie shaking her head about the luck of the draw.
As I watched, Laurie took Buttercup toward her trailer. Laurie slowed by the Kennedy trailer and then stopped completely. Soon she was joining Brenda and Bunny in looking over Brenda’s horse. As I watched from my distance, it seemed there was quite a confab going on. The obvious conclusion was Brenda’s horse was not able to compete. The rumor was they spent fifty thousand on that horse so Brenda could win events like this and now the horse was injured. The end result was Laurie handing Buttercup’s reins to Brenda. What the hell was going on?
After some more confab, Brenda mounted Buttercup and headed for the staging area. So Laurie was going to let Brenda use her horse. The sportsmanship involved in letting a competitor use your own horse against you was huge. And for Laurie it was an extra degree above that. She had Buttercup trained to a razor’s edge. Laurie had spent years training that horse. Laurie spent more time with Buttercup then she ever did with Frank. Now she was letting someone use Buttercup with not only the chance to beat her in the roping event but also a chance to injure Buttercup, her baby. Laurie and Judy turned around to come back to the arena and watch the rest of the event.
Since Laurie and Brenda hadn’t changed saddles on Buttercup, my leather work was slated to remain out of the public eye. I could live with that, but could Brenda live with Buttercup? This was going to be interesting.