Within Your Crowd
Chapter 3

Copyright© 2010 by Jake Rivers

I woke up feeling like shit. I was dizzy and had a hard time reading the clock on the dashboard. The numbers finally swam into focus: 9:07. I'd been out for a couple of hours. I felt nauseous and opened the door, falling out as I did. I was able to get on my hands and knees splatter my dinner and several beers all over what felt like asphalt. Finally, I was able to grab hold of the truck and pull myself up.

Looking around I could see I was in the parking lot of an office complex. I was under a light pole and could see myself reflected in the window of the truck. There was no way to make light of it—I looked like shit! My shirt was seriously torn, and I had a couple of rips in my almost new black jeans. I always traveled with a large bottle of water and used most of it to drink and clean up as best I could. I hurt all over, with scraped skin over one side of my face, one ear was much larger than normal, some ribs that were giving me much more pain than I liked and places hurt that I knew were going to produce a kaleidoscope of colors on my body.

I was still feeling dopey, and pulled out of the parking lot over to FM 620 Road South towards Bee Cave. I knew there was a hospital on Highway 71, and I had thoughts about stopping there to get checked out. I drove for a couple of minutes getting more and more pissed. I saw an open tavern by the side of the road, so I pulled in, thinking a beer might perk me up.

It was a slow night; the place was almost empty. I sat on a stool at the dark end of the bar and held a finger up to ask for a beer. I took a long pull from the mug, thinking about what had happened. Yeah, I was really attracted to Madison, but I didn't need this kind of grief. Hell, the reality was that I hardly knew her. I was highly pissed at her dad and the jerk-off that was probably engaged to her by this time. I had another beer then went back out to the truck. I sat there, not really thinking, then took off driving back to the ranchette.

I parked a ways off from the entrance; I was sure they would be watching for me. I cut straight across the grass to the pool area, which was in back of the temporary stage that had been set up. I wound up at the back of the stage which was about three feet off the ground. The equipment and drum set was blocking the way, but I could see dip shit on his knee saying something with a glass of what must be champagne in his hand. Madison was standing there looking embarrassed and her parents were standing next to them.

I jumped up on the stage and walked over to them. Madison gasped, "Billy!" and Thomas Martin looked scared. I took the glass from his hand and toasted the presumably soon to be affianced, "Maddie, I hope you have a long and happy future with this piss ant. I thought there was something between us, I guess I was wrong. I'm not big on the social graces, so I'll leave. You're not for me. I'll have a few beers, and I'll be okay."

I took a sip of the sparkling wine. Not bad! I threw the rest in dip shit's face and turned to walk away. Her dad grabbed my arm and yelled something, but I was past giving a shit, way past. I grabbed his offending arm and caught him on the point of his chin with a short uppercut that had my weight behind it. I jumped off the stage leaving ... I didn't know what carnage behind me. I walked directly towards my truck expecting someone to come after me, but no one did.

I was wired now. I'd figured on stopping at the Lakeway Regional Medical Center, but I didn't feel like I had anything seriously wrong. My ribs were hurting but they couldn't be broken, or I'd never have been able to get that punch off. I drove straight home and found that mom and dad had already gone to bed.

I had a hunch that Mr. Townsend might sic the police on me so it would most likely be best for me to skip out of town for a while. It didn't seem like things were going to be fun for a long time anyway. I grabbed a couple of suit cases and packed whatever. I went to bed, lying awake for a long time. I tried to figure out what had happened, but I didn't seem to be able to put it together. Everything was fuzzy and the shot of Jack I'd taken for the pain hadn't helped.

I knew immediately what I was going to do. I had always liked performing at the rodeos, but I began to feel guilty, that I should be helping dad. Life on the road had starting paling, even if I liked the rodeo itself. Sometimes crappy motels and eateries were all there was. I wasn't the best but I was pretty good. I wouldn't make a lot of money, but I was sure I'd get by. I finally dozed off but woke early when I heard mom downstairs.

I took a quick shower, got dressed and carried the suitcases down the stairs. Mom heard the noise from the kitchen and came into the living room, just as I was setting the suitcases down. She gasped when she saw the marks on my face, walked over, and gave me a tight hug but didn't say anything. I finally pulled back and could see she was crying. I took her hand and led her to the kitchen and asked if she could fix me some breakfast.

I told her what had happened, at least the highlights. "I don't think anything will come of it, but I feel like taking off for a while. I'm going to be on the rodeo circuit in the northwest and Canada. I need to find a partner for the team roping. I know a couple of guys, one that's a good friend that might be able to work with me. So I'll drive up to Sheridan first and talk to him. If nothing else he can work with me while I get my form back.

Dad came in from taking care of the horses, and I gave him a short version of what had happened. I told him what he was going to do. He shook his head, and said, "I'll miss you boy! I learned a long time ago that a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. Do you need anything, money?"

"No, I'm okay. I'll call you every week or so. I'll find a couple of horses up there, but I would like to take the small horse trailer, the blue four stall one, okay?"

"Sure son." He shook my hand then hugged me. Mom didn't want to let go, so finally I picked her up and set her back a step.

I took the suitcases out to my own truck. It was a Ford 250 with a diesel engine and a club cab. I grabbed a couple of saddles, tack, horse blankets, and all the other stuff I would need, and threw it under the lid in the back of the truck. I jumped in the truck heading over to I-10. I figured I'd take that to I-25 and north to I-90 and on up to Sheridan. I was on the road by seven.

During the day, I was able to keep my mind off Madison—I wasn't thinking of her as Maddie anymore. At night, in the dark loneliness of some anonymous motel room, she was with me almost as a physical presence. I couldn't explain an interest in her that was almost obsessive. The reality was that I'd known her only a very few hours. There was something about her that struck a chord in me. I gave up worrying about her and let my mind slip into nighttime fantasies that left me with vague longings when I woke up each day.

I took my time; stopping frequently and stretching my legs. I felt a little better each day and the bruises and swelling gradually went down. Part of my not being in a hurry was I wanted to look more respectable, not like some down and out cowboy brawler. I arrived in Buffalo on the first of June and went straight to my friend's ranch. The ranch was about halfway between Buffalo and Sheridan and a few miles west at the end of the road. He, along with his folks and a younger brother had a nice horse ranch on 285 acres.

Rick, Rick Klein, was glad to see me—we chatted with his parents for a while—then we went to the Lodore Saloon in Story, a couple of miles west of the interstate. It's a great place with a lot of character. It was the better part of a hundred years old. From the thirties to through the fifties they had all the great bands in: Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Lawrence Welk, and many others.

We had a couple of beers in the bar, and I told Rick what my plans were. "Anyway, Rick, do you think you could break free and hit the circuit this summer?"

"Billy, I'd sure like to. But I'm getting married in a little over a month. I'm sure Debra wouldn't want to spend her honeymoon at the Calgary Stampede."

"Damn, that's good news, Rick. Is she from around here?"

"Yeah, her dad owns the ranch just south of us. It's quite a bit larger, and they mostly work cattle. They are real nice folks and Debra is a Western girl all the way. You'll probably meet her tomorrow. She got a mare she's had since she was a kid and wants to put her out to pasture. I've got a couple of mares she wants to ride. It's gonna cost me some money though; I don't think she'd be too happy if I made her pay. How 'bout you? You'll need a couple of horses too. I've got some I've been training, but they need work.

"I'll make you a deal, you help me train horses when you have time, and you can use what you want for the summer. Hell, you train roping horses better than I do anyway."

"Well, if you're sure. That would work well for me. I've got some money but I'll need to win some by the end of the summer."

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