The Present
Chapter 1

Copyright© 2018 by UtIdArWa

Suzy and I had been up on the mountain for a year. Well at least the winter. It was when we started planning our resupply run when a problem raised its head. Suzy needed a horse.

We had spent the winter with her on Margarite and me riding Jughead. Which had been satisfactory with the small amount of riding we did during snow season. But now we were going to need Jughead in his primary job as the pack mule.

I had checked around Elk city and the pickings were mighty slim. So, before we went any further, we decided It was time for a shopping trip. We could combine our resupply chores with a horse hunt.

The first stop was Boise. I wanted to see Pete and make sure he was doing alright. Other than an added 10 pounds, he seemed to be happy. I know the 3 porch monkeys crawling all over him were happier than puppies in a ball pit.

Pete didn’t know of any ‘suitable’ horses in the area, but he suggested we head up to the Bar T and talk to the new boss. I thought it over for a bit and decided that would be our next stop.

As We drove up the valley road, I was impressed. The front fence line had been replaced and new wire put in. What stock I could see looked fat, dumb and happy. Just like I wanted cattle to be. When I got up the ranch house, I was again impressed. It looked totally new. A young kid, 15 or 16, came running up.

He was all smiles, “Can I help you folks?”

“Well, I’m looking for Agnes, the camp cook. She’ll know who I am.”

“Oh, I think I recognize you. You’re Matt Reynolds, Both Agnes and Pete have talked about you. Hang on while I let Agnes know you’re here.” Before I could say anything, the kid took off running towards the mess hall.

This kid was obviously high speed and low drag.

By the time I had handed Suzy out of the truck, I heard a scream, “Matt, Suzy. It’s about dam time you got here.” Agnes ran up, hugs and kisses shared all the way around.

“Carl, “ Agnes turned to the kid, “Go get your Mom and Dad. I know they’ll want to meet our quests.”

“On the way, Agnes. Dad’s up on the north range. Can I use the quad to go get him?” I could see that this kid had been waiting for any excuse to use ‘The Quad’. And I had no idea what it was.

“Ask your Momma Carl, you remember what happened the last time?”

“I’ll ask, but I know she’ll say yes. That wreck was Donny’s fault. He’s still on restriction.”

“Well, you be sure to ask. I don’t want to find out you had lied to me.”

“You got it Agnes.” This was as the kid took off in another burst of energy that I hadn’t had in 30 years.

Halfway back to the house, He was intercepted by a blond woman that looked to be in her mid to late 30’s. Slim and easy on the eyes. They talked for a minute and the kid continued on an altered course towards the barn.

As the woman walked up, she introduced herself. “Hi, I’m Marsha Taggart. and you are the infamous Matt Reynolds.”

Because she had a smile on her face, I felt somewhat safe. I reached out my hand to shake and had my hand firmly gripped. “Ms. Taggart, A pleasure to meet you. This is Suzy Williams.” I indicated Suzy, who for some reason had been hanging back.

“Suzy, A pleasure to meet you.” She held her arms out and in a typical female fashion they started hugging. Almost immediately Agnes joined in and a female bonding moment happened. From what I understand 3 women, unknown to each other can break speed records becoming friends. I didn’t have a timer, but it was obvious that these 3 were now fast and permanent friends.

We were interrupted by Carl tearing out of the barn on, what I assume, was a Quad. I’m sure that you know what a quad is, But I was fairly clueless. I had seen pretty much every form of mechanical propulsion, including some really oddball stuff when I was in the desert with Uncle Sam. This thing sort of looked like the dune buggies that I had seen the special forces people using. But without the machine guns, grenade launchers and radio antennas.

Carl came tearing out of that barn like the hounds of hell were after him. That is until he saw that universal stop sign all males are well aware of. Mom, standing there with her fists on her hips. Carl immediately slowed down and proceeded on his mission at a mom approved speed.

“I don’t know which is worse, the boys or the girls. It seems like all of them are out to turn my hair grey.”

“How many kids do you have?” Suzy asked

“4, 2 boys and 2 girls. They’re on summer break right now, School starts in 3 weeks, Thank God. Of course, the baby isn’t all that much trouble. And her big sister, Amber, has taken on a lot of those chores. The boy’s, Well, Carl’s the older boy and his younger brother Donny adores him. But let’s get out of this heat. Agnes, could you bring us some lemonade to the main house. I’m sure that we could all use something cool. Don’t forget Bruce either. He’ll be especially thirsty.”

As we walked up to the main house, I could see that it had been freshly painted and someone, Marsha obviously, had added some welcome flowers and plants. Before, When I was a resident, Agnes was the only female on the property. And all that male atmosphere was reflected in the landscaping. Or lack of I should say. I could rightly say that the place was greatly improved with the help of Ms. Taggart’s hand.

Stepping up on the porch, I noticed that this had also seen improvement. The one thing that I had always felt was an architectural requirement for a ranch house, was a wraparound porch. Something that could seat a boy and girl sparking in the glider, up to the family gathering for summer get togethers. This one fit my bill, and then some. It obviously went around all 3 sides of the house. And maybe the back, which I couldn’t see. 10 feet wide, with a waist high railing. Substantial enough for a 300-pound cowboy to park his butt and enjoy those gentle country breezes.

Ms. Taggart directed us to a wicker patio set. As we were seated, Agnes joined us with 2 large frosted pitchers and a half dozen glasses. She sat the platter on the table and while she seated herself, Ms. Taggart started serving.

As she handed me my glass she said, “Let’s get this straight right now Matt. I can see in your eyes, you keep thinking of me as Ms. Taggart.” Before I could say anything, she continued. “To you, and Suzy, I am Marsha. And my husband is Bruce. We already consider you as family and I won’t accept anything less. If you are willing, both my husband and I would be honored to have you include us in your family.”

I had to take a moment. Glancing over to Suzy, she was smiling at me and I assumed this was what she wanted. “Marsha, I would be honored by you and your husband’s friendship. I don’t quite know what else to say, other than thank you.”

At that moment, A rider came charging up on a big Dunn Stud. He pulled up just short of the porch and came to a sliding stop. As the dust settled, he sat there he had a large grin on his face. “The brat was right, you do look like Pete described you.” Turning to his wife, “How bout it sweetie pie. Should we sell the kids to them? I’ll bet we could get twice what their worth and splurge at Dairy Queen. How about it, 2 Oreo blizzards and a night in Cody?”

“Bruce, behave yourself. Get down off of that nag and say hello.”

“NAG? Why I’ll have you know that if it wasn’t for an unfortunate family line, kind of like my own. This beast would have 3 triple crowns and the national stud record.” As he was speaking, He swung off the horse and loose wrapped the reins over the rail. Stepping up on the porch, I was definatly impressed. 6’3 250 pounds and, although I couldn’t see, I’d be willing to bet a 0 BMI.

He reached out and shook my hand. Now most big guys will, consciously or not, try to put the squeeze on you. His grip was firm, but not aggressive. “Matt, it’s a pleasure to meet you. If half of what Pete told us about you is true, you are twice over welcome to my home.”

He then turned to Suzy, and gently took her hand in both of his. “Ms. Williams, I also want to welcome you to our home. I hope that you will consider it a refuge in times of trouble and danger. WOMAN,” Turning to Marsha, “What in the hell is this lemonade bilge. The moment calls for BOOZE, the stronger the better.”

Before anything else could be said, A young lady, 16 or 17, and obviously Marsha’s daughter, Came out of the house. She had a platter with 2 bottles and a mason jar on it. “Daddy, quit yelling, you’re scaring the chickens again. It’ll be a week before they’re back on schedule.”

“Daughter Amber, you both honor and shame me. You bring the best hooch, and then complain about the cholesterol bombs that your momma won’t let me have anyway. Matt, you see in front of you, 2 commercial distillery products and a little something I cook up Myself. The mason jar has Apple Pie in it.”

Picking up the mason jar, He held it up to the light, it had a light amber color to it. “Now Matt, I won’t require you or your lovely lady friend to imbibe. But I am honor bound to limit you each to one shot only. This medicine is powerful juju. any more than a shot has been known to cause socially inappropriate behavior and unexpected increases in the human population.” He unscrewed the lid and poured a shot. Holding it out to me, I took it and cautiously smelled it and it did indeed smell just like an apple pie.

Suzy also took a shot, sniffing just as carefully.

I have run into some pretty potent homebrews in my life. In particular when I was in Korea. In the Korea countryside, you needed to be very careful about what you ate and drank. The sanitary standards found in the United States were not observed in the off the beaten track areas of Korea. This included bottled drinks, and forget water that wasn’t in sealed bottles. Even the ice was suspect.

You would think that a sealed bottle of vodka or gin would be safe. Except what could and did happen was that the unscrupulous bar owner would drill a hole in the bottom of the bottle and drain out the alcohol. Replacing it with a locally made substitute. That substitute usually was not something you should be drinking.

And then there was the local brews. Some of those pop skulls were enhanced with toxic chemicals. One popular drink required you pour off the first inch of the bottle. To remove the formaldehyde used in the distilling process.

I didn’t really have the same worries with Bruce’s apple pie. I smelled it anyway. And it did smell of apple pie. I glanced over to Suzy. She was watching me with a questioning eye. I took the shot by the reins and swallowed her down. It was smmooooth and tasted just like a slice of apple pie without the crust. Suzy could see my enjoyment and followed suit.

“Oh my gosh. “ she exclaimed, “that is good.”

Before either of us could ask for another Bruce finished his and spoke up. “OK boys and girls, that’s it, No more booze for us. Amber, please remove temptation from our sight. If everybody behaves themselves,” He looked meaningly at Marsha, “I mean YOU wife, we will continue the alcoholic binge later, after Dinner.”

Turning to Agnes, “Agnes my dear, do you have any special plans for the chuck wagon tonight? I was kind of hoping for a family BBQ out back by the fire pit?”

Agnes grinned at her boss. “I think we can handle a special tonight. We’ve got plenty of time to set up a whoop de doo.”

“OUTSTANDING, now if you gentle folks will excuse me, I need to get cleaned up and into my good duds before we tuck into Agnes, and My dear Wife’s,” He bent down and placed a very gentle kiss on Marsha’s forehead. “Culinary tour de force.”

As he stepped into the house, He yelled out “DONNY BOY, one of your many labors awaits you at the hitch rail. I want the brute rubbed, scrubbed, curried and fed. After you’re done, we’ll discuss your driver’s education schedule.” The screen door slammed shut.

Shortly thereafter a young boy, 10 or 11 years old came out of the house. He had one of the worst cases of hang dawg I’d ever seen.

“Donny”, Marsha softly spoke. The boy looked up, “Yes momma?”

“Say hello to our quests, son”. The introductions and greetings were made. I kind of felt sorry for the kid. But sometimes it takes pain to learn a lesson. And pain can come in many forms.

Marsha spoke up after the introductions, “OK Donny. Your Dad gave you your marching orders. Best get to them.”

The kid stepped off the porch and untied the Dunn. As he was leading the horse towards the barn, He was joined by his brother. Together they continued on to the barn. Where they were joined by their sister Amber. All three joined in a group hug and then went into the barn.

None of this was missed by Marsha, and as the group disappeared, she whispered, “You there honey?” The screen door opened slightly. “Yes, dear. Kinda makes ya think we did a good job raising those hellions doesn’t it?”

“Get cleaned up husband. We’ve got quests and YOU are doing the cooking tonight, Right Agnes?”

“Well, at least the meat. Ribs for the adults. Burgers and dogs for the kids. I’ve already got the veggies and salads done.”

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