- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Du Pré and Madelaine stood at the back of the crowd. The auctioneer rattled the bid and the carved walnut sideboard went for fourteen hundred dollars. The buyer was a cold-eyed woman in designer expedition gear. Her Mercedes-Benz SUV had Bozeman license plates. The sideboard would go to her store and grow greatly in price.
A couple college kids backed a rental truck around and they put the sideboard in the back.
It was a raw March day with snow promised in the wind's scent.
The auctioneer offered three more pieces of furniture, and they all went to the woman from Bozeman, too. The college boys loaded the pieces and they slid down the door and locked it and got in and drove off. The woman was counting out hundred-dollar bills to the lawyer who was taking the cash and checks.
"It is very sad," said Madelaine, "I don't know the Messmers but they are here a long time and this place is gone, too."
One more old family ranch ended, five or six generations of people who had made a living here, working in the wind.
The Messmer place was west of Toussaint forty miles. The Wolf Mountains shoved storms right at it. The weather was rough but the weather brought water.
The Messmers had bought a motor home, to go south for the cold months. They went. Down on the border the motor home blew a front tire and the top-heavy vehicle went over. Mr. and Mrs. Messmer both died.
"They have a daughter, eh?" said Madelaine. "She is killed but they neverfind out who?"
Du Pré nodded.
She is found along the highway, behind a gravel pile put there by the Highway Department, one bullet in her head. Bullet blows up in her head, Du Pré remembered, little pieces, can't even tell what it was. Nothing. Nobody caught.
Long time gone, 1980, '82, something like that.
"They have son, too," said Du Pré "Bad kid. He is in some trouble, he is sent away, he don't come back here. I don't know what happen, him. I think he is sent to that Boy's Town or something."
Beat a horse to death, that was it, rope the horse up it can't move and beat its head in, a sledgehammer. Mean little shit, Catfoot tell me about it.
Du Pré looked over at the farm machinery ranked in rows. All you needed to raise wheat. Big tractors, plows, drills, sprayers, even a combine. Pretty good ranch afford its own combine. Most people they contract it out.
Nothing for that hay, though, they are not selling the cutters and rakes and balers.
Du Pré looked off toward the old white ranch house. The house was shabby, paint peeling, shingles mangy. On a ranch the animals and equipment usually had better buildings than the people who owned them.
A man came out of the house. He was about forty, dark, six feet tall. He wore a three-piece suit and irrigation boots. No hat. Dark glasses.
"That is him?" said Madelaine.
Du Pré couldn't remember what the mean little shit looked like, or if he had ever seen him.
Catfoot and Mama they are killed 1983, Catfoot is drunk, the train hit them.
Son of a bitch, life, just like that.
Du Pré shrugged.
"We get somethin' to eat," said Madelaine, "They auction the china and stuff after the guns and the tools. That take an hour maybe."
Du Pré nodded. They walked back to his old cruiser and got in and Madelaine took some sandwiches out of a cooler in the back seat and a plastic tub of the good crabapple sauce she made. They ate. Maddaine had some pink wine and Du Pré sipped whiskey and they smoked, the big handrolled cigarettes for after eating. Handrolling meant you could build the smoke the size you wanted.
"This guy he maybe come back and run this ranch?" said Madelaine.
Du Pré shrugged.
"I hate it when them places go," said Madelaine, "All the stories are gone, too."
My Madelaine, Du Pré thought, she got this cheap old oak table maybe cost three dollars, Sears & Roebuck, hundred years ago, she love that table. Got burns on it, some drunk carve his initials in it, she love that table.
Think, Du Pré she say, all the things got said around this table.
Old piece of shit, I spend about two weeks fining it, so it don't fall to splinters.
"My oak table is not a piece of shit, Du Pré," said Madelaine.
Du Pré looked at her.
"You thinking pret' loud there," said Madelaine. "We go now, maybe buy that china."
Madelaine had her heart set on some gold-rimmed flowered china that she said was old and very valuable.
I pay for it, I eat off of it, I don't care, Du Pré thought.
When the china set finally came up for bids Du Pré got the whole set, minus a few broken over the decades, for eighty dollars. He paid the lawyer the money and then he picked up two boxes and Madelaine the third and they walked back to the old cruiser and slid them into the back seat.
"Anything else you want?" said Du Pré.
Madelaine shook her head.
Du Pré got in the car.
"Where you know, this china?" he said.
"Susan Klein hear about it think I maybe like it," said Madelaine.
Women, Du Pré thought, know about everything.
He started the car. He turned around and he headed down the long drive toward the bench road.
A couple of hands were hazing some cows toward the barn. The cows were huge in the belly and ready to calve.
"Bet you are glad you don't do that no more," said Madelaine.
"Yah," said Du Pré. Pulling calves was hard work, and it usually went on day and night for weeks. He'd been kicked once so hard his left femur snapped and he heard it break, like a stick on a knee.
They got close to the gate and the cattle guard. Du Pré looked over. There was a cow there already calving, and the calf's rear legs were out. It was stuck. The cow bawled in pain.
Du Pré backed up until he could turn around and he drove up to the ranch buildings. The hands were moving the cows very slowly. Du Pré went through the fence and trotted toward the riders.
A cow lay dead in a little hollow.
Blood seeped from a hole in her skull. She had a live calf partway out, too.
Du Pré stopped and waited. He waved at the riders.
They didn't move any faster and it was ten minutes before the lead rider got to him.
The man was an ordinary hand, middle-aged, weathered, bent. His face was dark with sun and his clothes filthy.
"You got a cow in trouble, the gate," said Du Pré.
The hand nodded.
"Thanks," he said, "I knew that."
Du Pré looked at him. That cow was a lot of money and her calf would die soon without help.
The hand looked at him.
"The boss said do the easy ones and shoot the others."
Du Pré looked at him.
"He's gettin' out of the cow business," said the hand. "It don't make any sense to me either."
"Who is your boss?" asked Du Pré.
"That son of a bitch Larry Messmer," said the hand. "I worked here ten years for his folks. Soon as the calves are in, we get paid off. Got to be gone by the end of the month."
Du Pré shook his head.
"Say, mister," said the hand, "you know anybody lookin' for good hands?"
Du Pré shook his head.
There were very' few jobs anymore in the cattle country.
The hand looked past Du Pré. He put heels to his horse and trotted after the cows and his partner.
Du Pré turned.
Larry Messmer was standing at the fence, feet apart, looking out at Du Pré.
Du Pré waved.
Messmer didn't take his hands out of his pockets.
Messmer was looking at something far away.
Du Pré walked back to the fence and stepped through and he went to his car and got in.
"It is him," said Du Pré, "that Larry Messmer."
"What is with his cows?" said Madelaine.
Du Pré shook his head and started the engine.