Copyright© 2018 by UtIdArWa
It’s always a treat to meet with and renew old friendships. My first stop was the Bar T to see Pete and Agnes. I had been down a lot of trails with both of them and I was missing them badly. We spent a couple of days shooting the breeze and relaxing in the spring weather. I didn’t say anything but Pete seemed to be preoccupied with something. And it wasn’t anything to do with the ranch. As far as I could see, everything there was running smooth as glass. I asked Agnes about it. She said that she had also noticed some changes but Pete was as closed mouth with her as with me. Sometimes you just have to let a friend work things out on their own. Be available and listen if they open up. But don’t pry, Smile and pour them another cup of coffee.
My next stop was in Boise. I needed to do some government business about the mountain. Taxes and so forth. I also found out that the state was thinking of auctioning off some of the bordering properties. I collected the paperwork and made a sealed bid. It was a tax auction and what was owed wasn’t very much. So, I figured that if I didn’t get it, big deal. But if I did, I would just about double my acreage. Once I finished with the government, I was able to get down to the fun stuff.
I had eight months, minus the tax payments, of my disability and military retirement pay. So, I was flush, as far as cash went. I knew there was no way I could carry all the stuff I wanted to get back home. So, I made sure that everything was being shipped to Elk city, care of Mabel’s Diner. Going to the Cal Ranch store was an all-day adventure. Cabela’s was the same. I made sure that I left enough to cover my Dutch auction bid for the land, But the rest of the bank account was fair game.
I also took advantage of some of the local food. I had always been interested in Basque culture and cooking. So, I kind of splurged on the ethnic restaurants in the area. I met a lot of friendly people who were more than happy to educate this broken-down saddle tramp in the art of cooking mutton. I found that while I didn’t think I’d ever be a big fan of lamb. Maybe it was the way it was cooked, but it wasn’t too bad. I’d rather eat beef or pork, but I wouldn’t turn down a good mutton stew either.
Eventually I started getting bored. After Cal Ranch and Cabela’s, Walmart was a poor second. And I didn’t even bother with K Mart. I made sure that my new Basque friends knew how to reach me and I started out for home.
I don’t know if it was a measure of how anxious I was to get home, But I drove straight through to Elk City. When I got there, it was just dawning and Mabel was opening up.
“Matt, You’re back? That was a quick trip.” Mabel exclaimed as I took my usual seat.
“Well, I don’t know about that Mabel. 10 days doesn’t seem that much.”
“Oh, come on Matt, 10 days isn’t nothing if you’re on vacation.”
“It wasn’t really a vacation Mabel. Pretty much year-round is my vacation. I do what I want, when I want and how I want. It’s when I have to come down and deal with all these flatlanders in places like Boise or Butte that life seems to get complicated and becomes a job. Other people telling me where to go and how to do it. That’s work to me.”
“Matt, You’re nothing but an incurable romantic. A hundred years ago you would have been a prairie poet, traveling with Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Circus.”
“No, I don’t think so Mabel. More likely I’d be one of a thousand trail tramps working one drive to next for $30 and found. Buried in an unmarked hole in the middle of nowhere, remembered by no one.”
“That’s it Matt. If you are going to come back up here with that attitude, I damn sure ain’t letting you off this mountain ever again.”
“Mabel, Look at it this way. You, this town and this mountain are the tonic that keeps me going. You guys are better than any snake oil or narcotic ever sold. I may leave for a while, But I’ll ALWAYS come back.”
“Well you’d better Matt. Or I’ll find that unmarked hole, dig you up and bring you home myself. ON that note, you want waffles or pancakes?”
“Pancakes, please. eggs, hash browns and, if you’ve got it, That thick cut hickory smoked bacon. Plus, coffee and OJ. Today is going to be a busy one.”
The rest of the day was spent unpacking and repacking the stuff that had been delivered. along about dinnertime, UPS showed up with another load. Which caused another round of repacking. Of course, I took breaks for lunch and dinner. I also stopped long enough to talk to Paul, the sheriff. He told me that they hadn’t had any luck tracking down the escapees. It was right after Inspector Richards had to make the decision to send 2 of his men back to town for poison ivy, That He decided to discontinue the posse and follow my advice. Of course, it wasn’t My advice, it was his brilliant law enforcement expertise. They hadn’t found any trails, but a couple of the summer homes had been broken into. Nothing was certain, and Inspector Richards was of the opinion that kids and not convicts were responsible.
I chuckled at that. “That always seems to be the go-to answer when the ‘experts’ are stumped and don’t want to admit it.”
Paul got a wry grin and replied “Matt, are you sure you aren’t a cop? I’ve used that excuse myself.” He turned serious and continued, “But I want you to be careful Matt. There isn’t any proof that those 3 mutts are up there. But there’s no proof they aren’t. Those 3 are dangerous, so please, be careful.”
“Don’t worry Paul, I’ll keep my eyes open. If I see anything, I’ll hightail it back here and let you know.” I winked at him and added, “It’d be a real feather in your cap, if you could bring in the bad guys that all the fed alphabet soup experts missed.”
Paul grinned and said, “Yeah, the county council would have a hard time denying me my budget if that happened. Plus being a shoe in for the next election.”
I leaned back in my chair, “Well, there you go Paul. It’s a deal, I track em down and you bring em in.”
The next morning, I got up early and started getting rigged up for the trail. Jughead wasn’t too happy about accepting the pack rig. After all, He’d been swinging free and easy for a long time. Now he knew that he was going to start earning his keep. The thing is, He seemed happiest when he was carrying a load. It’s just the load up that he didn’t like. I knew what his limit was and I always took 5 % of the weight off. It was better to make 2 trips than have Jughead get hurt.
Margarite wasn’t any problem at all. I saved her for last and she seemed more than anxious to get on the trail. Margarite carried the lightest pack load. She did carry some, but between me and what I normally loaded her down with, I didn’t add very much.
Shadow however seemed to want something over at the back door of the diner. Just as I was getting ready to mount up, Chet showed up at the door. “Mr. Reynolds, “He called out, “Here’s your lunch.” He handed me a couple of heavily loaded grocery bags.
“What’s this, I didn’t order anything Chet?”
“I know Matt, Ms. Mabel told me to set you up this morning. She knew you’d be on the trail too early for opening, and probably wouldn’t have figured on lunch. So, here ya go. No charge and before you say ya can’t, I put something in there for Shadow too.”
“Thanks Chet, I’ll have to buy you a beer when I get back.”
“I’ll hold ya to that Matt. You have a good ride.”
With that, I got started. After 15 minutes, I stopped and double checked Jughead’s pack rig. Sure enough he had tried the old wind bloat trick on me. “Sneaky old fart, aren’t Ya?” I told him. Then I gave him a good knee in the gut and as he blew out, I cinched him up tight, and we continued on.
I was having a good day. The sun was shining, birds singing, Bee’s buzzing in the wild flowers. It was Just about lunch time, and I was trying to decide whether to eat in the saddle or stop and dismount. When I thought I heard a woman’s scream. I was close to the river and I wasn’t too sure. But I stopped anyway and listened. After a minute, I heard another scream. Somewhere towards the river. I knew there was a campsite over there. Thinking that someone might need help, I reined Margarite over and dismounted. I started to slowly move toward the screams. Shadow was close on my left and slightly ahead.
As I got close, but still in the trees, I found the problem. I could see 3 men and 2 women. The women were the same ones I had saw in Mabel’s diner 2 weeks earlier. The 3 men were unknown to me. One was a short, skinny dude who was kind of hanging back from the others. Next in line was a big bruiser body builder type. The kind of guy that cuts his shirt sleeves off to show off his overdeveloped biceps. Number 3 was what, at best, could be classified as a slob. He was fat, not body builder big like his partner, beer gut Fat at least 75 pounds over obese. He was the one closest to the women.