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VIOLENCE OF THE MOUNTAIN MAN
By William Johnstone J. A. Johnstone
Copyright © 2008
William W. Johnstone
All right reserved.
Chapter One Sugarloaf Ranch
"Oh, that smells so good," Lucy Goodnature said as she watched Sally Jensen pull apple pies from the oven. "You'll have to tell me all your secrets."
"Lucy, one thing you must learn is that a woman never tells," Sally said.
"Oh, of course, I didn't mean all your secrets," Lucy said. "I just meant-"
Sally cut her off with a laugh. "I know what you meant," she said. "I was just teasing you."
Lucy laughed with her. "Well, I do want to learn how to make apple pie the way you do. I know Pearlie really likes your apple pies."
"Honey, here's one thing that isn't a secret," Sally said. "When it comes to eating, there is very little that Pearlie doesn't like."
From outside there was a loud whoop, followed by laughter. Lucy walked over to look through the window. "All of the cowboys seem to be having such a good time," she said. "It is very nice of Mr. Jensen to give them all a going-away party like this. And it was very nice of you to invite me. Thank you."
"Oh, you are welcome, Lucy. You have been a big help to me today. I know that Pearlie was glad to see you. And any friend of Pearlie's is always welcome at Sugarloaf."
Lucy was the nineteen-year-old daughter of Ian Goodnature, the owner of a ranch that was adjacent to Smoke Jensen's Sugarloaf Ranch. Tall and willowy, with long black hair and green eyes, she had attracted Pearlie's attention as no other woman ever had.
"I would like to think-" Lucy began. Then, after a pause in mid-sentence, she began again. "What I mean to say is, I would like to think that I am more than just a friend to Pearlie."
"I wouldn't be surprised if you weren't more than just a friend," Sally said. "But take it from someone who is older, if not wiser. You don't rush these things. Men always like to believe they are in charge, so you are going to have to let Pearlie take the lead."
"Yes, ma'am," Lucy said. "I know."
"Yes, ma'am?" Sally replied. She laughed. "Lucy, I said I was older, but I'm not ancient. Ma'am is something you say to old people."
"Yes, ma'am, I'm sorry," Lucy said. Then she covered her lips with her hand. "Oh, I said it again." Both women laughed.
On the large and well-kept lawn outside the house, Smoke Jensen walked over to a wood fire to check on the meat. He stood there for a moment watching as Juan Mendoza turned the spit slowly and Carlos Rodriguez applied barbeque sauce to the already glistening carcass of half a steer.
The employer of the cowboys, and the owner of the ranch, was Kirby "Smoke" Jensen. Smoke stood just over six feet tall and had shoulders as wide as an ax handle and biceps as thick as most men's thighs.
"How does the beef look, Señor Smoke?" Carlos asked, a broad smile spreading across his face.
"Amigos, I do believe that is the prettiest thing I have ever seen," Smoke replied.
"Oh, Señor, I think maybe you should not let Señora Sally hear you say such a thing," Juan said. "I think she would not want to hear that you think a side of beef could be prettier than she is."
Smoke laughed and pointed a finger at Juan. "You're right, Juan," he said. "And don't either of you dare tell her I said that, because if you do, I will be in hot water for sure."
The two men laughed appreciatively, then turned their attention back to the task at hand.
The aroma of the cooking meat filled the grounds between the group of small houses where Juan, Carlos, and the other permanent hands lived, and the house where Smoke and Sally Jensen, owners of Sugarloaf Ranch, lived. The American cowboys called the ranch house the "Big House." The Mexicans called it Casa Grande.
The cowboys, separate from the permanent hands, lived in the bunkhouse. The bunkhouse, which was between the Big House and the barn, was a long, low building that had ten bunks-five on each side of the building, as well as private rooms at each end of the bunkhouse. The private rooms provided quarters for Pearlie and Cal, the only two cowboys who were permanent employees.
The rest of the cowboys who rode for Sugarloaf were, as most cowboys, men who worked the ranches as temporary hands hired in the spring for the roundup and branding, then let go during the winter months. This was typical of all the ranches, and the cowboys not only accepted it, but many of them had chosen this particular line of work for the very reason that it was seasonal and temporary.
The time of employment for the extra hands was now coming to an end and, as they did every year, Smoke and his wife, Sally, were hosting a barbeque and party for the cowboys. Juan and Carlos had started cooking the beef the evening before, taking turns watching it through the night. Their long efforts had been rewarded and now the meat was nearly done. In the meantime, many of the Mexican women had prepared their own dishes to bring to the meal, and Sally had baked pies.
Some of the Mexicans were pretty good musicians and they had been providing music off and on during the day, but the cowboys were providing their own entertainment by way of bronco riding, steer wrestling, and target shooting.
One of the American cowboys, Lucas Keno, was pretty good with a pistol, and in head-to-head shooting with the others, he had bested them all. Keno was a singularly unattractive man, with an oversized, hawklike nose, thin lips, bad teeth, and a weak chin.
"Ha!" Keno said. "There ain't a cowboy on this ranch can beat me," he bragged. "Hell, there ain't a cowboy in the whole county can beat me, and none in the state either, I'm bettin'."
Cal laughed. "Keno, you might want to think about that some. No matter how good you are, there's always someone who is better."
"Yeah? Well, if there's somebody better, I'd like to know who it could be," Keno said. "I've done beat ever'body on Sugarloaf, and that's a fact."
"You haven't beat everybody," Cal said. "I've seen you shoot, and I've seen Pearlie shoot. And I think Pearlie is better."
"Do you now?" Keno asked. He laughed. "Is that right, Pearlie? Are you better'n me?"
"I don't know," Pearlie said.
"Tell you what. I just got paid out my thirty dollars. Why don't me and you bet that thirty dollars on which one of us is the best? I could use an extra thirty."
"I don't want to bet you," Pearlie said.
"Ha! I reckon you don't. What you mean is, you don't want to lose the money."
"No, I don't want to lose the money," Pearlie said.
"Don't know why you'd be so worried about losin' thirty dollars," Keno said. "Hell, bein' as you and Cal are Jensen's pets, you don't get fired like the rest of us. You'll get yourself another thirty come next month."
"We ain't bein' fired, Keno," one of the other cowboys said. "We know'd comin' in that this was a temporary job. All roundups are temporary jobs. Hell, that's what cowboyin' is all about."
"Yeah, so you say. But from the way I'm lookin' at it, it is the same as bein' fired," Keno said. Then, turning his attention back to Pearlie, he continued his pitch. "All right, you don't want to bet. At least shoot against me so I can prove I'm better."
Aiming at one of the empty cans that had been set up for a target, Keno pulled the trigger. He hit the can, knocking it into the air. Then he shot again, hitting the can a second time and knocking it farther back.
"Can you do that?" Keno asked Pearlie.
"Probably not," Pearlie answered.
"Ha! Then admit it, I'm better than you."
"We aren't going to find out," Pearlie said.
"Yeah, well, I don't blame you none," Keno said as he blew the smoke away from the barrel of his now empty pistol, then began punching the empty shell casings out to replace them with fresh cartridges. "I mean, let's face it. As long as you don't shoot against me, you'll have your puppy, Cal, convinced that you can beat me."
"It's not something we'll ever want to find out," Pearlie said.
"Oh? And why not?"
"Because if we do find out-one of us will be dead," Pearlie said flatly.
Before Keno could respond, the ringing of an iron triangle called everyone back up to the lawn of the big house. There, two long tables had been set up under the arching aspen trees and were now loaded with dishes, eating utensils, and several large bowls of such things as beans, rice, corn, steaming tortillas, and cornbread. Juan and Carlos stood proudly by the glazed beef, carving off generous portions to serve the men.
Pearlie filled his plate with beef.
"Tell you what, Pearlie, why don't you pass your plate around for the rest of to divide up, and you just eat the rest of the cow your own self ?" one of the cowboys shouted. "Hell, we'd wind up gettin' more meat that way."
The rest of the cowboys laughed at the tease.
"Folks say you show a cook how much you enjoy their cookin' by how much of their food you eat. I just don't want Juan or Carlos thinkin' I don't appreciate them," Pearlie said, and again, there was more good-natured laughter from the men.
"Hey, Slim, what say you'n me head for California?" one cowboy asked another.
"What for do you want to go to California?" Slim replied.
"There's gold out there. I read about it in a book. You can just go out there and pick it up off the ground, gold nuggets as big as pecans."
"I never heard of such a thing," Slim said.
"Tell 'im, Miz Sally," the gold hunter said. "Tell 'im there's gold out there. I know about it 'cause I read about it in a book. It's called forty-niner."
Sally chuckled. "You're partially right, Mickey, " she said. "Gold was discovered there in 1849-that's where the term 'forty-niner' comes from. And there may still be some gold out there, but I doubt it is lying around on the ground like pecans."
"Yeah, well, I want to go anyway," Mickey said. "What about it, Slim? You want to go with me?"
"Sure, why not?" Slim replied. "There's an ocean out there, ain't there? I ain't never seen me no ocean. I think I'd like to see one. They say it's so big you can't see the other side."
"Really?" Mickey said. "Well, now, I think I'd like to see that my own self."
As all the cowboys and the permanent hands continued to enjoy their meal, Smoke stood up and tapped his spoon against the glass in an attempt to get everyone's attention.
When it appeared that he wasn't succeeding, Cal put his fingers to his lips and let out an ear-piercing whistle.
Around the tables, all conversation and laughter stopped as everyone looked toward Smoke.
Smoke laughed. "Thank you, Cal, for that whistle."
The others laughed.
"I want to thank all of you, cowboys and ranch hands, for helping to make Sugarloaf one of the most successful ranches in the entire state."
"State? In the entire West!" Cal shouted, and the others mouthed their own agreement with the statement.
"Now that the seasonal employment is over, many of you will be going on to other things, and I wish you all the best and hope that you can all come back to ride for us again next spring. And now, I think Sally has something to say."
"I hope so," one of the cowboys shouted good-naturedly. "She's a lot easier on the eyes than you are." Again, the others laughed.
Sally stood up then, still smiling at the cowboy's comment.
"As I'm sure you know, I run a school here on the ranch for the children of our permanent hands. Maria Rodriguez is one of my students. She is only nine years old, but already she is exceptionally talented as a flamenco dancer, and I thought you might enjoy watching her. Pearlie?"
Pearlie and Cal had brought another table up, and now Pearlie helped the young girl onto it. Maria was wearing a low-crowned black hat, and her dark hair hung in curls down her back. Her costume consisted of a white ruffled shirt, a black beaded vest, and a long flared red skirt. She was holding castanets, and she held her hands up, jutted out her hip, then looked over at the guitarist and nodded.
The guitarist started playing, a weaving, single-string melody that worked up and down the scale, all the while providing a strong rhythmic beat from the lower register. To the accompaniment of the guitar, Maria danced, whirling and dipping so that her wide skirt spun out and her hair tossed from side to side. Her booted feet beat a loud staccato on the table and the castanets clicked in counterpoint. Everyone watched her, transfixed by the talent and beauty of the young girl. Then, with a crescendo, the music ended and Maria curtsied.
Maria was cheered and applauded by all, but none so loud as the cowboys, who added loud whistles to their applause. Maria looked over toward Sally, then smiled in appreciation at Sally's reaction to her performance. Finally, with the dinner ended and the ladies of the ranch cleaning up, the cowboys who were leaving mounted their horses, then gathered near the porch, where Smoke stood to bid them all good-bye.
"Boys," he said. "I want you to know this. If the going gets too hard for you come winter, you are more than welcome to come back here. I won't have any work for you to do, but if all you need is food for your bellies, a place to keep warm, and a pillow to lay your head, you've got it at Sugarloaf."
"Thanks, Boss," one of the cowboys said. "I'll see you next spring."
With a shout, the cowboy spurred his horse and galloped away, followed by all the other temporary hands. Smoke and Sally waved to them from the porch, and those ranch hands who were permanent employees had come out of their cabins to wave good-bye as well.
"We had a good bunch of hands this year," Sally said.
"Except for one," Smoke said. "I've already told him privately not to come back next year."
"You have to be talking about Lucas Keno," Sally said.
Smoke nodded. "Yes, I'm talking about Lucas Keno. He was all complaint and little work. I should have fired him weeks ago."
Pearlie and Cal were standing over in front of the bunkhouse and like the others, they had waved and shouted their good-byes to the cowboys as they rode out.
"How many of them you think will be back come spring?" Cal asked.
"Most of 'em, I reckon," Pearlie said. "You're too young to know any better 'cause this is about the only place you've ever worked. But I've worked at other ranches and I tell you true, there is no better place on God's green earth for a cowboy to work than to work for Smoke and Sally here on Sugarloaf Ranch."
"I know this is the only place I've ever worked," Cal said. "But I had already figured that out myself."
"Come on, Cal, what do you say we give Carlos and Juan a hand getting things cleaned up?" Pearlie suggested.
"All right," Cal said, and the two of them started across the yard toward the older men.
"Oh, Pearlie, wait a minute," Sally called from the porch of the Big House.
Stopping, Pearlie looked back toward Sally. "Yes, ma'am?"
"When Mr. Goodnature dropped Lucy off, I promised we would get her back home. Would you mind doing it? You can use the surrey."
"Why, I'd be glad to," Pearlie said, smiling broadly. "Miss Lucy, you just wait right here. I'll hitch up the team and be back for you before you can say Jack Robinson."
"Thank you, Pearlie," Lucy said. "That's very kind of you."
"Want me to come along with you, Pearlie?" Cal asked.
"I-uh," Pearlie began.
"Cal, if you don't mind, why don't you stay here and help me with something?" Sally suggested.
"Oh, sure, I don't mind," Cal said, walking over toward the porch.
True to his promise, Pearlie was back in very little time. Hopping down from the surrey, he helped Lucy in, then drove off, with the two of them engaged in conversation.
"What do you have for me to do?" Cal asked as they watched the surrey pass under the entry arch.
"What?" Sally asked.
"You said you wanted me to help you with something," Cal said. "What is it?"
"Oh. Uh, nothing, I guess."
"But you said-" Cal began, then chuckled. "Oh, I know now," he said. "You just said that because you wanted to give Pearlie a chance to be alone with Miss Lucy, didn't you?"
"Something like that, yes," Sally replied.
"Well, I hope it works," Cal said. "Pearlie sure is crazy about that girl, but I don't think she even knows he is alive."
Sally smiled. "She knows."
"You mean she's sweet on him?"
"Let us just say that nature is gradually beginning to work its course," Sally said.
Cal laughed. "I like that. Nature working its course. Well, if you really don't have anything for me, I think I'll give Carlos and Juan a hand," Cal said, starting toward the lawn where Carlos, Juan, and several others were beginning to clean up from the barbeque. (Continues...)
Excerpted from VIOLENCE OF THE MOUNTAIN MAN by William Johnstone J. A. Johnstone Copyright © 2008 by William W. Johnstone. Excerpted by permission.
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