Separate names with a comma.
Discussion in 'Reading & Writing' started by Faye Fox, Dec 19, 2022.
Actual book? If so, do you have a link to where it can be purchased?
A gentle breeze blew across the timber lagging decked back porch as Della sipped her coffee, gazing out over the grassy range that ended as the juniper timbered hills rose into the pine and fir forest beyond. She noticed a cloud of dust rising out of the corner of her left eye.
“That’s unusual,” she thought since that was a rarely used forest service road. The hills sheltered the speeding vehicle from her sight. No one lived up there so that ruled out the speeding vehicle as being a UPS truck with the driver feeling the urgency of a timely delivery.
“Well, I guess I best go investigate,” she said out loud. Then realizing she didn’t have her laptop open and that was the only scenario that made talking to yourself, legal, she made a mental note to work on stopping such behavior. Although she lived alone on the ranch, she didn’t want to develop habits that might make her appear to be eccentric or losing contact with reality when she was around other humans. Her cattle, horse, or dog, didn’t seem to have any problem with such conversations.
“Come on girl,” she said coaxing her old Komondor out to the front porch. Mary sat there obediently as Della dropped the tailgate to her Dodge pickup and backed up to the porch. The old dog walked into the back and Della fastened the tailgate and took off toward the intersection where the forest service road met the county road.
The vehicle had disappeared down the county road, leaving only a faint cloud of dust as it entered the old state highway that connected to the freeway.
“Probably a new UPS driver that got lost,” She mused as she turned up the forest service road to check on the cattle that she and a couple of neighbors had brought down from the leased allotment. Horror overcame her as the valley where the cattle had been just yesterday, was void of any bovine presence.
“We have been rustled,” she announced and Mary barked in agreement.
Mary was a retired sheep dog and was only put up for adoption, because despite her failing hips and back, wouldn’t stand idle while the younger dogs watched the sheep. She didn’t feel the same obligation toward cattle. Della was helping shear on the two band sheep ranch, when Mary moseyed over and after a couple of exchanged glances, they became inseparable.
“Liza,” she said with her cell close to shut out the noise from the increasing wind, “It appears the cows that we brought down from the allotment have been rustled.”
“What,” you must be joking," Liza replied. “I will call Jazz. He is at the sale with old Zebb. Are you sure?”
“Yep, positive,” Della said, “The fence by the road was cut and it is easy to see where temporary corral panels were set up. Call the sheriff and then come on up. Bring your two seventy just in case, although I doubt anyone will return since all one hundred twenty head are gone. Also, bring your Canon camera so we can get photos of the footprints and other evidence.”
“Will do,” Liza said choking back tears. It was times like this that Liza dealt with the shock of misfortune by first getting all teary-eyed before she connected with her inner warrior and became a force to reckon with. Jake would be thankful that Della would be the first to deal with Liza’s phoenix rising.
Sheriff Ronnie Johnson knelt down to examine a rather large footprint. Her college education in forensics had served her well during the years she worked as an investigator for the State Patrol. She loved her job with the State but living in the Willamette Valley had weighed on her mind for enough years that finally she moved back to Eastern Oregon. She was elected sheriff by a landslide vote since the former sheriff had questionable dealing with Satan's Sheep, a cult that had bought several small acreages around Rattlesnake Reservoir.
"Check this out," Ronnie remarked as she pointed to the heel of the footprint. "The heel is worn on the outside indicating that this man walked heavily on the back outer edges of his boots. While it isn't uncommon to see Vibram soles on work boots, both factory, and custom, it is unusual to see a man size fourteen double E."
"He must have been six foot six inches," Liza interjected.
"Yes, that would be my guess and also I would put him at around two hundred seventy pounds," Ronnie continued with no question in her voice.
Liza now rising a bit higher above her initial shock and worry of what this theft might mean to their ranch survival, was busy snapping photos while Della held a tape measure near the foot and tire prints.
The dust being kicked up on the county road concealed the second vehicle, but Della guessed it was Jazz's pickup as Zebb had taken his cattle truck to the sale and had no doubt left the auction first since Jazz was working relief for the regular auctioneer. The regular relief auctioneer had come down with a sore throat and was self-medicating with ivermectin until he tested negative for COVID, but positive for the good old fashion flu. The numerous visits to the john should have given him a clue, but he fell victim to all the returning pandemic propaganda. While he felt better on auction morning due to a cocktail of orange juice and Terramycin crumbles dissolved in the juice, his throat was still washboard rough.
Uncle Zebb had barely gotten out of his truck when Mary barked twice, a common greeting when she saw Zebb. Zebb was Jazz's great uncle and he and Mary were about the same age if one compares dog years to human. Zebb loved Mary and she spent a lot of time at his place, the old bunkhouse converted into comfortable and cozy living quarters on the ranch he had willed to Liza and Jazz. They had taken over the main ranch house after Jazz's great-aunt Zelde died.
"Drop the tailgate will you, girl," Zebb requested of Della. "I gotta give my best girl a hug and sit my old butt down. Staying on my feet these days is a challenge. My dad-gummed hip is acting up from all this dryness. Surviving that bomb blast in Korea didn't do me any favors. Sometimes I think I would be better off dead."
Della silently mused, "Never heard of the dryness causing hip or bone aches, old Zebb must be getting confused."
"Stop it, Uncle, stop it right now. I don't want to hear any more of that kind of talk. Without you, this entire area would have been subdivided, and there would be a hunting lodge and cabins instead of this beautiful relatively unspoiled ranch land," Liza scolded.
"Well don't go giving me all the credit there girl. Remember that Della's great uncle and especially her great aunt were probably more important than me in saving this land. Her aunt playing her native heritage card really trumped the developer's denial that over yonder on that hill next to the Confederated Tribes reservation was an Indian burial site." A calm overcame Zebb as he held old Mary close.
Della's great aunt Bird or Morning Bird had rallied both her husband John Q, his middle name was just the letter Q, and Zebb in her efforts to stop the impending intrusion on ranch country. Della wondered if her auntie Bird was watching from above and would guide her in the trying days and years to come. She could hear her aunt's voice saying, " You got work to do girl, faith without works is useless. This is no time to sit on your patoot and expect results. God or the Great Spirit's resume doesn't include helping slackers."
Ronnie was busy making plaster casts. "It looks like four trucks by the tire prints. They must have been thirty haulers since you had one hundred twenty head. Let me double-check. Sixty head had the Rockin Double D brand, and sixty had the slant bar connected Double Z brand."
"Yes, that is correct," both Della and Zebb said in unison.
Under deputy, Billy Groat had just arrived and was once again reviewing all the information with special attention paid to Della, who in haste had left hurriedly. While she pulled on her old USA-made bareback riding jeans, she overlooked that she was still wearing her lower-cut exercise crop top. She could have passed for a modern-day barrel racer in full costume. Not that she had anything to show and at age forty still remembered the high school comments by other blossoming girls that she should call AAA and have her flat tires changed.
Billy's eyes were lower than Della appreciated as he inquired, "So now the DD brand is your's Della?"
"Well, it sure as hell isn't my bra size, now is it genius?"
Della and Liza chose a couple of photos of the rustled cattle that Liza had taken after they were pushed from the leased range to the valley where they would stay until being pushed into the pasture by the county road where the corrals stood defiantly and had for a hundred years with minimal repairs. All the cattle that had been shipped through those corrals numbered in the thousands. Both families shared the same corrals as roundup was always a neighborhood event.
The girls printed up some copies of their brands to circulate at auction, online, and hang on community bulletin boards. Liza handed a few to Uncle Zebb to hang at the feed store when he went to town and played dominos in the back room of the feed store. The bulletin board at the feed store usually had female-related social announcements that didn't interest him so he called it the bullshititan board. Zelde, God rest her soul, would have come unglued hearing such talk about the social groups she hosted to keep the ladies of the community close-knit. The bulletin boards around town were still used, always full and being expanded, despite all the online social media.
"Hold your horses," Liza yelled since her hands were busy kneading the sourdough soon-to-be dutch oven Shepherds' bread. The sourdough had been in her family for a couple of hundred years. It was brought over from the southwest of France that bordered northwest Spain, when her great-great-grandfather moved to Idaho to tend sheep up in the high elevation of Stanley, Idaho.
She was startled as she opened the front door to find Ronnie standing there ready to hit the old heavy wood door once again. "Why didn't you ring the triangle bell," she inquired. "What brings you back so soon? Good news I hope."
"I didn't ring the bell because I could smell your chili and knew you weren't out back. I am back with a question that has been bothering me. I couldn't piece it together until today." Ronnie said in an unnerving tone. "Did you announce when you were going to bring the cows down from the leased range on any social media?"
Liza's slightly olive-colored face turned pale. "Yes, on Facebook, Instagram, and also on a ranch discussion forum. How is that a problem?"
"It is a problem because thieves follow folks on social media to see when they are on vacation or in your case when the cows would be in the valley where they were out of sight to any of you. Up in the range, they are scattered and while rustling occurs, it is more difficult. You see, you had one hundred twenty head in a forty-acre pasture, waiting to be moved in a week and go to the front field for shipping. Taking advantage of the dry grass in the valley to put on a few pounds certainly cannot be faulted, but announcing it online was your mistake."
"Yeah, I even posted photos. I love photography and ranch scenes and never thought posting such would be a problem." Liza looked down trying to hide her tears. "How could I have been so stupid?"
"It might not have been a problem if you had announced it after the facts when the cows were in a pasture where rustling would have been difficult. Thieves look for easy prey, just like wolves."
"Well, there is some good news," Ronnie said with a semi-smile on her face. I put the word out to the Rez police and they asked all tribal members if they had any information that might help. Chief Joe entered my office this morning smiling and took a stance that almost made me see war paint on his weathered cheeks. In his hand, he held a video taken by Humming Eagle, using his drone, on that full moonlit night. We see three people one big giant of a guy and then two women riding electric four-wheelers. That fits with the footprints and tire tracks."
"Why didn't he report this to us?" Liza pleaded.
"He told the chief that he thought it was you guys out loading cattle early since it was auction day. Also, he being old school Indian, even at his young age, knows that sometimes getting involved in non-Indian affairs doesn't play out well for the native folks. The chief thanked him, then scolded him for not reporting it immediately. He reminded him that Della's great-grandma was an honorary tribal member and one of the reasons there weren't subdivisions full of recreational horse and ATV folks bordering reservation land. Humming Eagle has volunteered to host free drone classes for all of you. Having a drone can come in handy in more ways than one these days."
"Is there any good ID on the trucks?" Liza inquired.
"I have my friends at the state level working on making positive ID's on the tractors and trailers. Also, who has purchased electric ATVs since they came available on the market. The brand inspector, others in the state police, and all the Eastern Oregon sheriffs agree that they didn't take the cattle far. They are somewhere on a remote leased ranch as we speak, probably within hundred miles waiting for shipment out of state. They know the back roads and how to avoid the department of transportation scales and ports of entry." Ronnie had finished her coffee and took a rain check on a bowl of chili and Basque dutch oven bread.
She had several more calls to make since one of the rural bars got torn up over an argument about what constituted a ringer in horseshoes by some city slicker that was playing cowboy. She knew the local patrons of the rural bars in her jurisdiction, never turned the other cheek when first punched by a city slicker, not even the regular tavern minister who was known as John the Baptist. She had to apply the law fairly, even though she felt those smart-mouthed drugstore cowboys deserved a good beating. Once again she might have to cuff old John. He didn't seem to mind county jail as long as he had a Bible and could preach to the other inmates. "Maybe this is God's plan," Ronnie mused.
Liza was falling into a self-blame game when Della came over. Ronnie had visited her also and she knew Liza would take on more blame than necessary. The social media connection was only an educated guess and it was also possible that the thieves had drones they operated from forest service land to locate cattle and easy rustling prospects.
"Blaming yourself won't accomplish anything. Take this as a learning experience about the dangers of sharing too much information on social media," Della said calmly. "What the heck are you doing?" Della inquired watching Liza kick her own butt with high backward leg lifts and alternating heels. "You into some new yoga or Tai Chi moves?"
"I am kicking my own ass! Do you mind!"
Della stood up from polishing her latest throwing knife which also doubled as a handy general ranch knife when sheathed and carried on her belt. Knife throwing was a relaxing pastime for her. She learned the art of blacksmithing and annealing knives from her great uncle, John Q. Her skills in throwing were perfected under the watchful eye of her great aunt, Bird.
Her unlocked backdoor suddenly opened and a giant of a man stood sharing with a glassy look in his eyes."Time to die bitch," he snarled. His right hand reached for her cast iron skillet resting on her wood cookstove and grabbed the handle throwing it at her head. Della ducked and the skillet grazed her left shoulder, shattering her treasured great aunt's collection of antique pottery.
Della threw her newly polished knife burying it deep in the custom-made solid Larch door barely hitting the side of his neck and pinning his neck to the door. He seemed stunned as the large front door was thrown open and Ronnie came blasting inside with her revolver drawn and a shotgun-wielding Cheif Joe behind. The large man pulled the knife from his neck and the door and charged Ronnie, falling immediately from one gunshot wound in the area of his heart.
"Ronnie," Della choke out breathlessly, "How did you know he was coming here?" Before Ronnie could regain her wits and reply, the Chief chimed in.
"Simple tracking my dear, well simple that is if you have a drone and know how to use it."
Humming Eagle stood beaming. His stance was that of a proud warrior after a battle.
"It was the least I could do for my neighbors after my failure to not question the moonlight roundup. This entire thing might have been stopped before they loaded the cattle had I not been so wrapped up in my drone operation and paid attention to what I was videoing."
Della gave Humming Eagle a hug since the young man's manner and confession was one of humility.
Billy Groat arrived and took one look at the fallen dead bleeding man on the floor and fell down in a faint.
"It doesn't look like he will be of much use for now," Ronnie said dragging his limp body over to the side while the Chief and Humming rolled an old canvas tarp under the giant's cooling dead body. "Della you and I will take the head end of the tarp while the Chief and his tracker back out of the house with this scumbags feet end."
Out at Ronnies pickup, Della tied a rope through the large eyelets of the tarp while the Chief laced up the tarp around the devil's disciple, as indicated by his satanic symbol cut into his forehead. With a come-a-long attached to the roped end and ATV loading ramps in place, the giant was pulled up into Ronnie's pickup.
"Well, off to the coroners with this cattle rustler that sells stolen cattle for money to support his cult and sheep thief to appease his bloodthirsty sacrificial rituals. Once Billy wakes up give him a scrub brush and some turpentine. Have him get the blood out of the old wood floor before it sets in," Ronnie ordered as she opened her pickup door and readied to ride.
"How will we find the cattle now that he is dead," asked Della.
"I have the approval to send a search chopper up and between that and the Confederated Tribes drone experts, we will find the cattle in the next day or so. The two women and possibly others will be near the cattle and once they find out their guru is dead and headed to hell, they may sing like canaries, or maybe not. Also since Satan lovers, love worshipping the devil, we will bring the wrath of hell down on them until someone talks. A good starting place will be the former disgraced sheriff." Ronnie got in her pickup and left.
"Sounds like some serious tail shaking out at Rattlesnake reservoir. I suspect they have poached sheep off the Rez and I will accompany Ronnie out there. Nothing is as fun as shearing sheep, even Satan's Sheep." Chief Joe helped Billy up and lined him out on his duty.
"Brush on, rub off Billy, then repeat," Chief Joe said with a chuckle. "Law enforcement isn't for the faint of heart."
The trip out to Rattlesnake Reservoir seemed longer than usual. Della had been out that way several times but not in recent years. Ronnie seemed quiet and withdrawn. Della guessed she was still dealing with the emotion of having to take a human life. Ronnie had never fired her handgun at anyone before, not even in a warning. Her years of training paid off as her shooting the giant was without thought. It was all reaction.
Billy followed and Chief Joe and his drone specialist, Humming, rode with Deputy Billy. Ronnie had got all the necessary search warrants, but she sensed some hesitance from an assistant deputy in the district attorney's office. There was something about that young lady that rubbed her wrong. One of the judge's clerks also seemed strange when the warrants on Satan's Sheep were being processed.
Sheriff Ronnie pulled in at the nearest small acreage ranchette before entering the small community known as the Satin worshippers. The wooden sign hanging over the entry gate announced Rancho de Vaqueros. Ronnie, Della, and Liza all got out as planned guessing the contract cowboy's wife would be home and the female presence wouldn't be as frightening as males with both Billy and Joe wearing a badge.
Chief Joe was also the Tribal Police Chief and was deputized by Ronnie so he could legally be the law off of the Rez. While it was unusual for the tribal to have one official serving as leader of the council and also the highest law administrator, the tribe had voted unanimously for Joe to serve in both capacities. Both Joe and his father were decorated veterans of the US Marines. The ties between the ranchers and the reservation were strong.
An old Latino lady answered the door and Ronnie inquired if Jose was home. It was obvious that she only understood Jose and that was it. She had a frightened look on her face, so Liza spoke up in Spanish making it clear they were there for Jose's help, not to check for legal immigration documentation.
After the old woman invited them to go around back and sat them down at the patio table and served coffee, she rang the triangle like she was trying to beat goatheads out of a rug. Then without warning, she let out a blood-curdling trill that might be heard in Mariachi music. It was only blood curdling because it was unexpected.
Dust rose in the dry morning air. "Mucho dry senoritas, no?" the old lady commented.
Any small talk was silenced before it started as a horse and rider came from around the barn. It was a small horse, a Criollo that stood 14 hands which was on the higher side for this breed of Argentinan cow pony. Jose reined up in front of the newly formed coffee club, then reined back and his horse backstepped three times at a forty-five-degree angle. That is the way some of the Vaqueros in Argentina pen in cattle.
"Ole," Liza shouted and stood up and clapped. " Jose dismounted and took a bow. After some fast Spanish chatter, Jose handed the reins to Liza and she mounted and displayed some of the rodeo skills she acquired as a child.
"Here we go again," Della grumbled, "We came here on a mission, not for a rodeo." The guys getting impatient waiting had come around back to see what was taking so long, even though Ronnie had made it clear they were to stay in their vehicle.
"Well, isn't this just peachy," Billy moaned, "Y'all are back here partying while we wait and are readied for action."
"Zip it, Deputy. You know I bet I can find more blood-stained hardwood floors for you to scrub before the day is out." Then Ronnie laughed, announcing for the first time in days, that the corners of her mouth could still be upturned.
"Don't be so hard on Billy the Kid, " the Cheif said smiling pleased with his new name for the young deputy.
Joe engaged in a serious conversation with Jose and wrote down several pages of notes in his shirt pocket notebook. "We will be needing your and your horse's services in finding the cattle, so we will be in touch again, maybe this afternoon depending on what we find out at Rattlesnake Reservoir."
"Be careful, they are a very bad bunch. They wear full fleece sheepskin chaps for midnight sacrifices of stolen sheep." Jose mumbled as his face drained of any merriment. "It is a strange bunch with one giant man and six women in one house and the others are just decoys posing as couples. The old sheriff was one of them but he disappeared and was never seen again after he lost the election. Neither was his fake wife. My mother once saw a chupacabra lurking around up there."
The official county vehicles had no more than started down the gravel road toward Rattlesnake reservoir and the community known as the devil worshippers to many in the county when large columns of dark smoke were rising in the dry morning air. Pulling over in an opening before the timber, all exited their vehicles to observe.
"Looks like the village is on fire and the dark color indicates diesel is involved. Humming, launch your drone, and let's get a closer look. Call it in Billy, both to the local fire district and the Forest Service." Ronnie commanded. "The wind is predicted to increase by noon and with the breeze blowing toward the Rez......."
"On it," Chief Joe responded, "I will get tribal alerted and our other drone team will video and watch that side. I think it won't spread past the shale slide area that marks the reservation boundary on that side. Years ago I saw a burning, lightning struck, giant tamarack snag fall into the shale area and the shale exploded under the heat and it was like being back in Viet Nam."
"Interesting history, Professor, but get connected to Buzzing drone. I don't see any vehicles or humans moving and all the houses are on fire. Most certainly arson." Ronnie moved her finger around on the Ipad that she was using to monitor the drone's video feed. "It is amazing all the angles these robotic birds can see."
"I find it interesting that no pets are seen moving," Billy muttered.
The rural fire district arrived and after reviewing some drone footage, decided to stay back and establish a fire camp in the clearing. The wild horses from the rescue mission had eaten the meadow down to the dirt before they were moved to another pasture. It was an ideal command post since the wind was blowing away from it which was common for that area, however knowing fires can change the wind direction, was also a consideration taken in choosing the bare pasture which was void of significant fuel.
"I might as well get Billy to run you, ladies, back home and the Chief back to the Rez." Ronnie realized that statement would have been better left unsaid as it left her lips.
"I shan't," Della sassed. "Liza call Jazz and have him get my emergency wilderness survival pack. It is hanging in the mudroom and you know my secret key hiding place. Have him bring your camping pack also."
"You honestly want me to ask my husband to reach into your privy hole and find the key toward the front under the toilet seat deck and remove it off the hook?" Liza retorted. "What if he drops it?"
"Well, if he does then I guess I am poo out of luck."
The sound of helicopters making runs from Rattlesnake Reservoir with their 700-gallon water buckets, filled the air. By early afternoon the flames had been subdued and a mop-up crew was covering the area, all but the area where the buildings once stood, Ronnie had officially declared it to be a crime scene.
Della jumped back as she noticed a hairless dog-like creature caught in a steel trap at the edge of the burn area. Ronnie responded to Della's call and beat cheeks over to the macabre scene.
The Chief took a special interest in this scene and the fact that there were many steel traps set around the smoldering village. He went around and sprung all of them as a safety measure for the mop-up crews. "Listen all of you, let's keep this chupacabra thing to ourselves. Go get some trash bags and let's get this dog out of sight. The last thing we need is Fish and Wildlife getting involved."
"My mother was right," Jose said. He had arrived on the scene and come up behind the Sherriff unnoticed. "Her claims of seeing a chupacabra are now proven. These traps are set to catch domestic dogs and cats. These devils believe they are ordained to rid the west of domestic animals. They believe only wildlife should live."
The Chief stood in disbelief as he moved a piece of fallen metal roofing and found a charred bison skull. He knew immediately that it was the skull of the beheaded tribal sacred bison, a mystery that was never solved. The old dominant bull bison was tranquilized and then its head was removed with surgical precision.
Later that day Della uncovered a metal case and inside were precision stainless steel surgical knives and tools.
Charred bodies accounted for all the main Satan's Sheep and also for the decoy residents, including the former sheriff.
"So now with all the known members of this cult accounted for or at least will be once the forensics are complete, where are the cattle? Also, does anyone remember that mystery killing of cattle out at North Powder where cattle had missing hearts that were removed with surgical precision back in the 1980s?" Della looked around at the tired, dirty, and overwhelmed crew.
"Yes, and it looks like once we get all this analyzed, we may clear up many mysteries that have baffled the ranchers and Indian tribes of Eastern Oregon for years. However, before we get too comfortable we have bodies to load and get to the morgue as soon as we get body bags. The State Patrol is on its way with several bags and also their crackerjack detective. All we need is more delays. I think we have this one solved." Standing with the others back at the camp, Ronnie kicked at a gopher mound. Powdered dust rose in the breeze.
Ronnie had finished all the paperwork to close the Satan's Sheep cult case as it pertained to her county. All evidence that pertained to the cult's involvement in other counties was sent to those counties in hopes they could close their long-standing unsolved cases of livestock mutilation.
"Hello Ronnie here," She said.
"Hello, this is Captain James with the State Patrol. One of our officers spotted four empty cattle trucks trying to cross into Nevada south of Lakeview. They matched up to the four trucks we caught on one of our highway cams. They were loaded when the cams recorded them. They say they were hauling cattle to a ranch off of 207, north of Mitchell, which they picked up at a ranch in Umatilla County owned by a Tsano Gerbraz. They describe him as a giant of a man and had two cowgirls helping him."
"Did they see any marks on this threesome's foreheads?" Ronnie asked.
"No, they say they all had their hats pulled down over their foreheads and were wearing bandanas. They said it was dusty and wished they had bandanas also."
"Did they say what time of day they picked up the cattle?"
"Yes, they say it was very early morning and dark except for the moonlight. The cattle were already rounded up and penned in steel panels and a portable chute."
"It sounds fishy to me that they didn't question any of this and also why they were crossing into Nevada empty. Is there any record of who they work for?"
"Any bill of sale?"
"Yes and signed by Tsano Gerbraz. They say they paid him with cash."
"Do they have any bill of sale from the ranch where they dropped them off?"
"No, it was deserted they said and they called ahead to the boss that had given them the cash and he said no problem, leave the cattle and head down to their Nevada office to get their pay and next haul. It sounds like an organized rustling outfit to me."
"We have arrested all four because they won't give us the name of their boss or his number. The trucks are in lock up and I have notified the FBI."
"Tsano Gerbraz is dead and was the cult leader for Satan's Sheep. They must have got word he was dead and being sought for cattle rustling, so they dumped the cattle north of Mitchell by orders of their boss." Ronnie hung up the phone and shoved her office chair backward with a quick push.
"Debbie," she said to her dispatcher, "Get the Wheeler County Sherriff on the phone."
"A rancher just called in and reported cows all over the hills off highway 207 near the old abandoned corrals. I ran the brands with the brand inspector and he says they belong to neighboring ranches, the Rockin DD and the Slant Bar ZZ up in your neck of the woods."
"Those are the ones reported rustled. I will contact the owners and I am sure they will be down there pronto."
"Great I will contact the local ranchers and see if they can help push the cattle back to the old corrals. How many head?"
"One hundred twenty!"
Della, Jazz, and Liza were thankful that Uncle Zebb and Mary had become such close friends. This relationship allowed for all to get away with Della not worrying about Mary being in good hands and Jazz and Liza worrying about Uncle Zebb being alone.
"I guess we best get packed up and the horses loaded," Jazz sighed expressing his weariness over the events of the last few days.
"No horses will be loaded," Uncle Zebb said firmly. "I have called ahead and have you three booked in the Inn at Mitchell for tonight and tomorrow night. All you need is clothes and necessaries for the next two days. I took the liberty of hiring six of the local cowboys to round up the cattle and four haulers to bring them home. You three deserve a vacation and this one is on me."
"Thank you Uncle Zebb," Liza said hugging him. "Normally I wouldn't pass up a chance to ride and work cattle, but you are right, we are all dog-tired."
"Woof woof," Mary barked in agreement.
The relaxed trip down to Mitchell gave Liza the chance to have Jazz either slow down or stop so she could take photos of that enchanting country. The colors in the rocks, the old abandoned ranches, and a side trip over to the Painted Rocks and The John Day Fossil Beds, had Liza snapping photos like she was a highly paid paparazzi.
"Can you believe we are standing in the area where a fossilized vertebra from an ornithopod was found in late June last year? It was estimated to be 103 million years old?" Jazz took off his old cowboy hat and beat it over his knee and after some more bending and twisting struck a pose and said, "Just call me Indiana, Indiana Jones that is."
"More like Oregon Bones." Liza looked at Della for approval. "If you get any thinner, you won't have a shadow."
"What kind of dinosaur is an ornithopod?" Liza asked looking directly at Jazz.
"Beats me," Jazz said chuckling.
"A mostly bipedal herbivorous dinosaur," Della interjected.
"What the heck is bipedal?" Jazz inquired with one eye cocked.
"It means walks mostly on two legs," Della said.
"Yeah, and unlike you Jazz, eats his veggies," Liza said with a tone of judgment in her voice.
A country-style cooked meal at the Mitchell cafe had the three so full they had to pass on dessert. Liza smiled at Della as Jazz wolfed down his bacon fat-cooked green beans and steamed zucchini. Finishing the 12-ounce prime rib and the baked potato was impossible, so they asked for to-go boxes, once called doggie boxes by the rich and famous that were too proud to be seen taking home leftovers, they had every intention of eating. "It is for the dog," they would smile and say.
The next morning after a great cowboy breakfast, the three went up highway 207 to see how the roundup was going. The cowboys had about 80 head already corralled and the rest located. One of the ranchers brought some hay to keep the cattle busy and calm overnight. The small stream running through the corner of the corral provided water. The haulers would be arriving the next morning.
The next morning after another great breakfast, the three already packed, said see you later to several newly made friends. The last hauler was loaded shortly after they arrived. They thanked all the ranchers and cowboys that had worked hard to make this happen in a timely manner.
They followed the trucks, falling back only when they turned into the graveled county road leading to their ranches. They let the wind blow the dust away which was quick with the stiff breeze blowing.
Zebb stood at the front pasture corrals where the unloading would commence and the cattle would be fed and watered for a couple of weeks before going to the sale. Watching the nearing trucks and the rising clouds of dust, Zebb whispered to Mary, "We are old Mary and our time is near. Life is just like dust in the wind. One moment you are here, then the next you are gone to another place, just like dust in the wind."
No, just a novelette shared free of monetary charge. Only the reader's time is required. If it is a problem, delete this entire thread.
A problem? Hell, no. It is the opposite of a problem.