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Fading Hoofbeats- The Rough Life of a Cowboy

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					zChapter 1
     The ground thundered beneath the pounding of Flint‟s hooves.
The breakaway calf stretched its long, spindly legs, trying to cover
more ground. Flint matched his stride easily and the thundering got
faster. I started to raise my rope, circling the lariat around and around
my head. The calf seemed to sense its impending capture and still tried
to put on more speed, but a calf could only run so fast, even if he was
large like this one. I made the throw and the lariat circled the calf‟s
head smoothly. I slowly drew Flint in and began to lead the calf back to
the rest of the herd. My dark grey horse tossed his head and pranced in
place, wanting to gallop some more. “Whoa there, boy,” I soothed. As I
got closer to my father, Aaron Black, and Red, the ranch hand, I could
see their smiles.
     “He‟s a quick little critter, isn‟t he?” Dad said, and Red and I
laughed as I released the calf. He went straight to his mother, who gave
him a thorough licking all over his white face and reddish body with
her wide pink tongue. Red caught me watching them and said, “That‟s
nice and everything, but I would not want to switch places with that
calf.” I stuck my tongue out at him but he wheeled his buckskin mare,
Sage, away before I could punch him. I pivoted Flint around to
continue our job: rounding up all of the mother cows and their calves
in our south pasture. Because this was the spring roundup, we were
gathering the calves to be branded. We would gather our Longhorns in
the summer and fall.
        I saw the black cowboy hat of Red riding as a lead and point rider
on the other side of the herd, his short dark hair peeping out from
under the brim. I also caught glances of my black-hatted father, Aaron,
keeping his position as a drag rider in the rear. He was twirling his
lariat to urge the reluctant cattle on. We finally reached a part of the
cattle trail that was open and easy to maneuver and I was able to enjoy
the scenery around me. It was late spring in northern Colorado, and
the snow was melting, showing shoots of the soon-to-be thick blanket
of fresh green grass and the budding leaves of the Aspen trees. A few
birds flitted overhead and every now and then we could spot a deer or
two with their fawns that tried out their new legs on the fast-
disappearing snow. The melting of the snow made it easier and harder
to herd cattle. The clear ground made it easier for moving on land but
all of the melted snow ran down to the rivers and streams we had to
ford.
        Our cattle had to swim soon enough. Our land had a glittering
sliver of the Colorado River running through it that branched off into
many little streams and creeks that could become swollen and angry in
the spring overnight. At first, the cows and calves balked and stalled at
the turbulent river‟s edge, bawling nervously, and some of them even
broke away and had to be chased down and patiently led back again.
One cow made a run for it through some deep brush. My father gave

                                    i2j
chase and disappeared through the tangle of branches boldly, leaving
Red and me to push the cattle on by ourselves. We had finally just
crossed the stream ourselves when Dad finally made it back with the
runaway cow roped in hand. He patiently coaxed it across the
bubbling water and released her with the herd. Red and I looked at
him expectantly, waiting for the story, but one weary glance silenced
our questions. We knew he would tell us about his chase at dinner
around the campfire. Cowboys always shared their stories at
mealtimes, not when there was work to be done.
     We pressed on, this time with me as the drag rider. The back of
the herd was my favorite position because it got the most action with
lagging cows that had to be hurried on and other minor problems that
just made the ride more interesting. Flint rushed forward to keep a
wandering calf next to his mother, without me telling him to. Ranch
horses are trained that way to enhance their built-in cow sense and
they knew how to handle cattle by themselves when their riders were
busy with something else.
     Herding cattle was slow work, but we eventually came to the top
of a hill that overlooked a small valley where we would spend the night
and we could see the chuck wagon stationed, waiting for us with
portable corrals open. Ross had taken them there and driven the chuck
wagon (it‟s really a van) down to our campsite. Ross was an extra hand
in case we needed one and he was also an unbiased onlooker to settle
any disputes we might have with other ranchers around. Exhausted,

                                  i3j
we began to descend into the valley and round the cattle into the pens.
Luckily the cows were tired too, so we did not have much trouble
herding them into the enclosures.
       As we were untacking, feeding, and putting the horses away, a
brown blur started to build on the horizon and soon spilled over. The
blur began to become clear. In a few seconds it looked like about three
hundred head of cattle were going to stampede our camp. Moving fast
at the sign of my Dad I tried to shake off my shock and I grabbed my
lariat and ran for the horses. At first it looked like the cattle might pass
us by, but suddenly they swerved towards us and came pounding our
way.
       Reacting quickly, Dad took Blackjack‟s lead and leapt up lightly
onto the black gelding‟s bare back in one jump and I saw Red and Ross
do the same. As I fumbled with his lead‟s knot with shaking hands that
would not cooperate, I looked up at Flint‟s tall frame and wondered
how on earth I was going to get up there bareback. I would have to
find out soon, because there wasn‟t enough time to saddle him. After a
few fruitless attempts and jumping on like my father did, I was about
to just lead Flint after Dad, hoping I could help in some way, or for
wishing for a lucky stump or boulder to pop up so I could mount,
when I saw more cattle coming from another direction.
       “Hey! Over here!” I yelled, trying to warn Dad or Red or Ross, but
all of their attention was focused on the other end of the valley. As fast
as the brown bodies were hurtling down the hillside, they could easily

                                    i4j
trample our camp! Frantically, I scanned the flat area, looking for
anything that could slow them down. Seeing nothing but open grass
and plain, I turned back to the ever-nearing mass of formidable brown
fur and I noticed something strange. All of the cattle seem to be
running from something in a blind panic and they were mooing
desperately.
     When I saw one of our tarps, I had an idea. I snatched the
flapping blue material and sprinted to face the oncoming cattle with
Flint still loping after me. Finally, I spotted a large rock and I reached
up and took hold of Flint‟s dark mane, attempting to keep up with his
long strides. A few feet from the rock, I jumped, planting one foot on
the rock and then throwing myself onto his back. My horse flicked an
ear back, but at the squeeze of my legs he galloped on. I still had the
tarp in my hand and it floated behind me in our wake, flying like a kite
in the wind. I was grateful, not for the first time, that Flint was not
usually a spooky horse and that the flapping and fluttering tarp didn‟t
bother him. As we drew nearer to the steers, I raised the tarp above my
head and waved it around, trying to scare the already-jittery cows into
slowing down or changing direction. They didn‟t seem to notice and
they kept their heads down and low, horns ready to destruct. These
cows were coming in too fast!
     Waving the tarp even more, I dared a glance back at how the
others were faring against the other group of steers. They had arranged
themselves at an angle to the oncoming cattle and, as I stole another

                                    i5j
glance, all three roped a head and steered/dragged them in the other
direction, away from the camp and the others followed. Then Red was
the first to notice me at the end of our little valley and he yelled
something to Aaron, pointed at me, and then turned Sage around and
started racing towards me.
      But he was going to be too late. He was too far away and though
Sage was quick, the stampede was a couple hundred yards away and
they still had the momentum of out-of-control descent down the hill
behind them. What could have scared those cows so bad? A coyote?
We had a few wolves in this part, but they rarely went for big cows
like these.
      “Hey!” I yelled, “Slow down! Whoa!” and suddenly, one of the
cows in the front looked up from its blind fear and saw me swinging
the tarp. Then it started to try to stop, its hooves skidding on the red
dirt, rock, and grass, which made the others look up and try to stop
also. A few tripped and I worried that they might fall and be trampled
by those behind them, but they caught themselves and remained on all
four hooves. After many tense moments of skidding and faltering steps,
the brown mass finally came to a complete stop and I breathed a huge
sigh of pure relief. The camp, our cattle and the horses were safe. Red
loped up beside me with a serious, unsmiling face.
      “Well, that wasn‟t half bad,” he said bluntly. We looked at each
other for a moment, and then his face broke into a huge grin and we
both busted up. Maybe almost certain death had gotten to us, or it may

                                    i6j
have been something else about stampeding cattle, but we both just
laughed and laughed. When we finally took control of ourselves, the
cattle were milling around in a bunch and I noticed that these cows
weren‟t the same breed of our cattle. These heifers were a muddy
brown and were more thickly set than our red and white cows.
     I started to wonder what exactly we were going to do with these
cows when I saw Red‟s smile go grim. I looked towards the point in the
distance where Red was staring. I saw a silhouette on horseback appear
on the horizon and the faint sound of distant hoof beats told me that
there were more horsemen to come. The stranger‟s horse sidestepped
and I saw the glint of metal in the late afternoon sun. The man was
carrying a gun! The armed stranger started to make his way down the
slope, and others appeared after him in tow and followed him about
twenty yards behind. Who were these people and what were they
doing here? Finally I heard the reassuring footsteps of my father
behind me. Whoever they were, the new intruders were going to have
to deal with my father, and he wasn‟t looking too welcoming. I didn‟t
know whether they had seen us yet, but in the flat open bottom of the
valley, they couldn‟t miss us if they were blindfolded. We were sitting
ducks. With no quick getaway.
     And a strange horseback gunman was getting nearer to us every
second.
      In other words, we were trapped.


                                   i7j
zChapter 2
     I hate feeling helpless. I hate it more than anything in the world.
So, you can imagine how I was feeling when I saw those riders coming
ever closer to where we waited and closer to the camp. What would
they do to the cattle and horses? I wasn‟t sure if the gunman would use
his weapon, but I didn‟t want to find out.
     My father raised a hand in greeting and called out, “Who are
you? Where do you come from?” The man stopped. He was now
twenty feet away and I could almost see his face that was hidden
underneath a yellow bandana and a cowboy hat pulled down low. His
followers were coming up behind him. The man seemed to hesitate,
and then replied, “Donegan.” Dad sighed. I think I even saw Russell
roll his eyes. Donegan… I think I‟ve heard that name before… I read it
on a sign outside of the ranch bordering ours. This man had bought
that land! But apparently neither my dad nor Russell approved of the
man. I shot a questioning glance at Red, who could only shrug in reply
     As the man came closer, I could see why my father passed him off
as no big deal. He was what Dad called a “drugstore cowboy," which
meant that he tried to play the part with his large ranch and outfit, but
he wasn‟t a true hardworking cowboy. His shirt was fancy and beaded
and his hat was overly stiff from unuse, unlike ours which were
careworn and broken-in. He had a set of small bright, crystal set spurs.
I could see scars of where those harsh, tiny spurs had raked the side of


                                   i8j
the horse he rode and a few fresh new cuts could be seen on the
horse‟s sides from the cowboy riding hard. Dad had taught me at an
early age a lot about horses, as soon as I could sit on a horse myself.
One day he had noticed my nervous glances at his big, jangly spurs
and he told me that smaller spurs were harsher than large ones and
that his larger spurs were kinder on his horses. I felt sorry for the poor
horse and angry with Donegan for giving the undeserving horse such
inhumane treatment. Looking him over, my eyes were drawn back to
the gleaming gun at his side.
     “What is the gun for?” Dad asked mildly. Donegan almost
immediately placed his hand on the hilt. However, I somehow doubted
that he was a fast draw.
     “It‟s a flare gun, not that it‟s any of your business,” was his
answer and a great breath of relief whooshed out of me for the second
time that day. I could just see my father resist the urge to rebuke him
and instead he only raised his eyebrows.
     “Are those cows yours?” my father asked, changing the subject.
     “Yes,” I heard Donegan reply, but I wasn‟t looking at him. The
brown cattle were getting restless and were starting to wander. Flint
had his ears pricked in their direction, also, and he sidestepped as if
sensing their tension. Russell was eyeing the bunch, too, and he
watched them as they got closer and closer to our camp. Since
Donegan‟s men didn‟t act like they were going to move anytime soon,


                                    i9j
Russell motioned for me to follow him and we left my dad, Red and
Donegan to go settle the cattle down again.
     We were halfway to the herd, when I saw a figure galloping in
our direction. Looking over my shoulder, I saw it was Mr. Donegan! He
was heading for the cattle at top speed with my dad and Red in hot
pursuit. What was he trying to do? I wondered. His chestnut horse shot
past Russell, who was loping a little bit ahead. His head snapped
around in surprise, just soon enough to let him get out of the way of
Donegan‟s out-of-control gallop. I could tell he (and probably Red and
Dad) was thinking what I was thinking: “What was this crazy man
doing?”
     Too late, Donegan realized his mistake of charging madly at a
loose group of cattle. When the cows saw him coming towards them
like a bullet, they began to moo nervously and back away. A few broke
off from the group and loped a distance away. Donegan tried to rein in
his mount, but he was going too fast and he barreled straight through
the herd, scattering the cows in all directions. I heard my dad emit a
low groan. It would take forever to round up these skittish cattle again.
     And it did, no thanks to Donegan and his men, who sat watching
us round up their cattle. We wouldn‟t have bothered with them and
just let Donegan deal with it himself, but when the troublesome brown
animals started to trot and trample a little too near to our camp and
they were starting to bother our cattle, we were forced to get involved.


                                  i10j
Finally, we got them all in a group again and Red found some spare
portable pens in the back of the van.
     Weary and sore, I finally put Flint in his pen, at last, and numbly
started to gather firewood. Red was carrying a bucket to fill from a
nearby stream and I asked what had happened to Donegan when he
had madly charged at the herd.
     “No doubt he was trying to show off,” Red said, his dark eyes
flickering warily to where Donegan and his men were setting up their
camp about a hundred yards away from ours, “He was probably just
trying to prove that he‟s a real cowboy by „quickly‟ taking care of the
herd, but all he managed to do was make a mess of things. Once your
dad figured out what he was trying to do, Aaron tried to chase after
him and stop his horse.” Red then continued towards the stream.
     I dropped my armload of wood by the campfire where my dad
was cooking our dinner. Squatting down next to him, I took a closer
look at our new neighbors. One of Donegan‟s followers was very short
and was unsuccessfully trying to start a fire. The other man was long
and gangly and had a large moustache that seemed to cover most of his
face. Moustache grabbed the matches from Shorty and then proceeded
to waste a dozen more matches before he shoved them back at Shorty
and stalked away. I almost wanted to laugh at them.
     I then saw my father‟s sharp, deep blue eyes intent on the figure
of Donegan. He was digging around in a van that seemed to have
appeared out of nowhere, casting furtive glances over his shoulder. He

                                  i11j
pulled out some papers, shuffled through them a bit, and then
seemingly satisfied, he stuffed them back into the little glove
compartment of the van. What could be so secret about a bunch of
papers? This Donegan man was not acting normal, and I wanted to
find out why. But I would have to wait. It was already dusk and the
darkness was growing fast. One last glance told me that Donegan and
company were settling down for the night and that I should probably
do the same. I grabbed my plate for dinner and sat down on a log next
to my dad by the warmth of the campfire.




                                   i12j
zChapter 3
     While we ate our dinner, my father told us of the great and long
chase between him and the cow that had escaped by the river.
“The cow ran and ran through the trees and bushes,” he told us, “but
she came to a halt real quick when she almost ran into a little creek.
She stopped so fast that I almost ran into her,” he added with a smile,
and we all laughed. Tonight was our last night on the cattle drive and I
wanted to enjoy it. I liked it here under the stars, away from any
civilization to ruin the vast sky that was speckled with millions of
golden dots. I liked to hear the strange and beautifully mysterious
sounds of the night animals as they went about their nocturnal lives. I
loved to hear the slow, musical howl of the wolves, the low hoot of the
owls, and the crickets‟ melody. I liked sitting around the campfire,
swapping stories and telling jokes. My father told me that his
grandfather once said that within two weeks on a cattle drive, every
cowboy had told each other everything he knew.
     In the glimmering firelight I could see my dad next to me. His
cropped brown hair is lighter than my own very dark hair and he has
stormy blue eyes, while mine are as dark brown as my hair. He
inherited this ranch from my grandfather who inherited it from my
dad‟s grandfather. I knew that my dad had a determined and strong-
willed personality and that I had gotten my stubborn streak from him. I
also could see Red on my other side. He is sixteen years old, which is


                                   i13j
only one year older than me and he loves to tease me about it. He has
worked on our ranch since I was about ten because his father pushed
him out into the world thinking that at eleven years old he could take
care of himself. My father found him one day by the side of the road
and he has been with us ever since. Red is almost like a brother and
he‟s a best friend to me. I wouldn‟t have it any other way. He, too, has
short, cropped hair, but his is black and his eyes glinted deep brown in
the flicker and embers of the crackling fire. Russell sat across from me
on the other side of the flames and he poked and prodded the fire every
now and then with a sturdy stick. He, himself, has over forty years of
the rough cowboy life behind him and many more to come. He used to
make a living as a bronco rider in rodeos before he became a mediator
for disagreements between ranchers. He has sandy hair and a serious
face, but we knew he could be kind and thoughtful.
     He had gone with us on our cattle drives in the past, so we knew
him pretty well and the conversation flowed easily.
     I heard the sound of heavy steel tipped boots coming our
direction and guessed it to be Donegan, even before he stepped out of
the gloom and into the ring of light made by our fire.
     “Hallo there, Black,” he greeted my father. “And Ash, and Red,
and Russell,” he greeted the rest of us, nodding his head in turn. His
“hallos” were returned with blank stares. He leisurely sat down and
pulled a cigarette out of his shirt pocket and I inwardly groaned. Most
cowboys don‟t talk too much and only say what they need to, but this

                                  i14j
imposter looked like he was going to be here for a while. My father
threw some wood chips into the fire as his only response to Donegan‟s
presence. The big, burly man sucked on his cigarette and cleared his
throat.
       “Well, now, Black, let‟s get to business. I came on over here
tonight to ask you two questions.” He ticked the questions off on his
fingers as he asked them.
       “First, what are you doing here? Second, who is taking care of
your ranch while you‟re gone?” Dad just sat there for a moment,
looking slightly irritated at his sudden interrogation from this nosy,
boastful, overly self-confident man.
       “What does it look like we are doing, Mr. Donegan? We‟re
rounding up our cows and their calves and taking them back to the
ranch to be branded,” he replied in a slow, patient kind of voice that
one would use with a child. Donegan seemed a bit taken aback by my
dad‟s frank answer, then proceeded to produce a few folded papers
from his pocket and handed them to my father with a flourish. Dad
took a glance at them and then looked to Donegan with no interest.
       “Mr. Donegan-” my father began, but the big man interrupted
him.
       “Please, Aaron, call me Vance,” he said with what he must have
thought to be a friendly and bright smile but instead was just
ingratiating.


                                   i15j
     “And you can call me Black,” my father replied without
hesitation, then continued, “I am afraid I don‟t know what these papers
mean.”
     “They mean that I am the rightful owner of this land and that you
are trespassing. I will let you go without filing a lawsuit if you are gone
by dawn tomorrow.”
     My father read over the papers with more care this time and I
wondered whether they were the same ones I had seen Donegan
sneaking inside his van. My father handed them wordlessly back to
Donegan.
Donegan then spoke again, “You never answered my second question.
Who‟s on your ranch while you‟re here?”
     “A friend, not that it‟s any of your business,” my father replied.
Dad had apparently not forgotten Donegan‟s rudeness, and I fought to
keep a smile off my face. The firelight shadows cast sharp relief on the
features of the men that surrounded the campfire. Donegan, finally
seeming to sense that the conservation was over and that my father
wasn‟t going to say anything more, laboriously got up and went back
to his own camp through the darkness.
     All was silent for a few moments. Red and I looked at my father
expectantly but he just stared into the fire, reflecting the flames on his
serious eyes, now stormier than ever.
     “Those papers were fake,” he stated after many long seconds.
“They did not have the signature of the previous owner.” I looked at

                                   i16j
him in amazement because I had no idea that he knew so much about
land ownership, much less what was required on a deed.
     “The previous owner being the county,” he added, “these lands
are public.”
     “He must not want someone around here for him to try and chase
people off with fake papers,” I thought out loud. The question is, what
could he be hiding?

                                     z
     My father woke me before it was light, before the sun had even
come near the edge of the horizon.
     “If those papers were fake, then why are we leaving this early?” I
asked Dad groggily.
     “Because I don‟t want to stay any longer near that man,” was my
reply. The thought of Vance Donegan within fifty feet of us jarred me
awake. I wouldn‟t trust that man to hold my horse. We picked up camp
as quietly as we could, not wanting Donegan to awake from his beauty
sleep and come charging over here again. I dumped water on the
smoldering fire and Red and Dad quickly and efficiently removed the
pens and put the stakes and ropes into a compartment in the van, while
Russell kept the cattle together. Russell had not had reason to use his
persuasive techniques in breaking up a cowboy feud this time, but I
had a feeling that if we met with the nosy Donegan one more time,
then Russell might be inclined to use his skills.


                                   i17j
     Finally Red, Dad, and I saddled up the horses and set off. Russell
started the van and maneuvered his way up the slope after us. He
would reach the ranch before we did and unload the truck. When we
made it to the crest of the horizon, I looked back and I thought I saw
Donegan standing in front of his tent, shielding his eyes against the
rising sun and watching us go.




                                  i18j
zChapter 4
     The cattle ambled along, the calves clinging to their mothers‟
sides. We had to pause and rest every once in a while from our
seemingly endless journey, so that the calves could get nourishing milk
from their mothers. We often stopped by a stream or brook so that the
cows and horses could drink, as well, and we could refill our canteens.
We could only be a few miles from home now and I couldn‟t help but
look forward to it. The cattle drive had only been about a week, but I
missed the other horses that we had left behind on the ranch. We still
had the job of branding the calves when we got back home and that
always took a while in some way or another. It was a different
experience every year.
     The land started to get more and more familiar as we drew closer
to home and soon I could see our ranch house, barn and byre in the
distance like little toys on a flat open playground. Flint seemed to know
we were almost back home, too, because he pricked his ears and
neighed, calling out to our horses in the far pasture. One tiny horse
lifted his head and whinnied a reply that carried softly over the plain to
our ears. Flint arched his neck and trotted faster, and Sage and
Blackjack did the same. Even the cows and calves picked up the pace,
muzzles pointed towards home.
     When Flint began to act like a racehorse at the starting gate, my
dad asked, “Why don‟t you give him a good gallop, Ash? I can handle


                                  i19j
the cattle from here.” He didn‟t have to ask twice and I didn‟t look
back. I gave Flint his head and the big grey horse bounded forward
eagerly, eating the turf with his long, effortless, ground-covering
strides. I heard hoof beats closing in on us fast and when I peeked over
my shoulder, I saw Red urging on an excited, willing Sage with a big
smile on his face. I squeezed my legs gently against Flint‟s sides and he
happily obliged by stretching out even further. An ear flicked back and
I knew that he had heard Sage behind him, too. Red let out a whoop
and I yelled back, “It‟s on, Saxon!” Before I knew it, the buckskin mare
was neck and neck with Flint. Horses are naturally competitive and
Flint and Sage, who loved to race, had taken matters into their own
hands. My horse‟s dark mane whipped against my arms and the wind
tore past us. Hoof beats thundered a rhythm on the earth and they
echoed in my mind.
     There was only one word for this: exhilaration.
     Reluctantly, we had to slow down eventually and I steadied my
hands on the reins. Slowly the horses came to a lope, then a jog, and
finally a walk. Turning around in the saddle, I could just barely see my
father with the cattle, a speck in the vast expanse of the grass-covered
terrain. While Red and I waited for my father to catch up, we had a
friendly argument about who won the race and which horse was faster
and we also cooled off the horses by walking them around. Dad,
eventually, brought the cows near and we accompanied him the rest of
the way to the ranch.

                                   i20j
     “If you went any faster, you would have gone straight through
our barn,” Dad said, smiling. “Which of you two won? I couldn‟t see.”
That made Red and I launch into a new good-natured dispute that
went on and on until my father finally made us be quiet. Our house
came into closer view with its black-shingled roof and porch that ran
across the front of the house. Russell had already been there and
parked the van next to our house.
     Our dogs, Lex and Maggie, came running happily to meet us,
tails wagging. Lex is a big German shepherd and he had an easy,
loping stride like Flint‟s. Lex is our herding dog and he helps us to herd
and cut the cattle that we bring in. Maggie is a golden retriever with a
silky coat, a friendly face, and a doggy smile. We had a pasture gate
open to drive the cattle into, and they went in willingly. I swung shut
the gate and let Flint into his pasture after I took off his saddle and
bridle. A few of the horses in the herd nickered a greeting. He trotted
over and sniffed noses with Skip, one of our geldings. He was a dun
with a dorsal stripe and bars, and he was about the same age as Flint (4
years old). They stood stock still for a moment, nose to nose, then they
exploded in a series of playful bucks and wild kicks. Flint and Skip had
grown up in the same paddock together and they loved to play. They
cavorted and frolicked around the pasture for a few minutes and then
they lowered their heads to graze and nibble at the fresh, springy grass.
     I watched them for a minute, arms on the top fence rail, then


                                    i21j
came down and went across the yard to help my dad fix a broken
board on one of our fence rails.
     It was about four o‟ clock and the sun was sinking low on the
mountainous horizon, descending between the peaks of two snow-
capped mountains. Even though spring had begun, the snow would
crown the peaks until summer. I wrapped the thick strong wire around
and between the board and the fence post to secure it and my father
did the same to the other end. After I finished, I went into the barn to
start mixing and measuring out the feed for the cows and then the
horses and the dogs followed me to keep me company. I could hear Red
on the other side of the wall in the hay room loading wheelbarrows
with hay bales and cutting the baling twine with his pocketknife.
     I carried the buckets from stall to stall dumping the feed into the
horses‟ feed buckets and I then took grain to the nursing mother cows.
Our heifers and bullocks didn‟t need any grain and they only received
hay because that was all they needed. Red and I forked hay over the
rail into the pasture and the cows enthusiastically and almost playfully
tugged mouthfuls of the golden hay. A few of the calves sniffed at the
stalks with mild interest. That was good because when they were
weaned they would be eating it themselves.
     As we finished up our final chores, the red sun edged its last rays
in between the cracks in the summits before the pinks and reds turned
to hues of blue and purple. I went up the steps of our porch and
slammed the screen door behind me, as I came into the house. My

                                   i22j
father and Red got there not long after me and I started to make
dinner. Our wooden door was left open to let in the cool night breeze
through the screen door and it washed and whirled lightly around the
kitchen as Red set the table and Dad stirred something that smelled
delicious in a pan on the stove, while I poured out three cups of iced
lemonade. We all sat at the table and started our meal hungrily. Lex
and Maggie flopped themselves onto our feet and lay there waiting for
crumbs. We had traveled more than half of the day since dawn to
arrive here at the ranch early and to get out of the same area as
Donegan, and it was nice to have a real dinner indoors on a table, even
though I loved the outdoors. We chatted and talked a bit between bites.
     “I was thinking about exercising Gold Dust tomorrow,” my dad
commented. “I haven‟t ridden him in a while and he could use a bit of
conditioning.” Gold Dust is my dad‟s palomino Quarter Horse breeding
stallion and he rarely let anybody but himself ride him. I imagined the
big stallion in my mind. He has mottled dapples on much of his
golden-colored body and a creamy long mane. He was beautiful, good-
natured, and a source of income for the ranch. Stud fees from Gold
Dust helped to pay some of the costs of running the Lazy River Ranch. I
hadn‟t seen the stallion when we got home, because he stays in a
pasture very far from our mares. My father exercised him frequently
when he had the time. I had only ridden Gold Dust three times, and
that was when my father got his foot stepped on by a horse and he


                                  i23j
couldn‟t fit his foot into his boot. Even then, Dad had hobbled out to
the exercise ring to watch me ride with watchful and attentive eyes.
     In simple words, my dad is very protective of Gold Dust.
     “That would be a good idea, Aaron,” Red agreed. “I‟ll help you
tack him up tomorrow after I take some hay and water out to the north
pasture.”
     “Ash?” my father said, turning to me as I cleaned my plate, “Will
you take Lex and Flint with you and bring in about half of the herd we
brought in today? Put them in the paddock beside the barn and we can
brand the calves tomorrow also.” I nodded my head and Lex, hearing
his name, sat up straight and affirmatively barked once. I smiled and
tossed him and Maggie a scrap of bacon, which they munched
appreciatively. I had washing duty tonight and Red dried the plates,
while Dad retreated to his room saying he needed to “file some
papers.”
      There is a wide window above our kitchen sink and I looked out
at our animals moving around in their pastures and barns. Flint and
Skip and a few other geldings galloped and romped around on the sea-
green grass. Maggie had gone outside and now was leaping around,
chasing a few early fireflies in the dimming light.
     Red and I talked about the past day and how Donegan acted
really strange. I glanced up from my washing and saw a hint of a
shadow. Thinking my eyes were playing tricks on me, I ignored it and


                                  i24j
continued cleaning the dishes. When I looked up again, I was sure I
saw something moving in between the trees by our barn.
     I tapped Red‟s arm, “Look! Over there by the barn.” His eyes
followed mine and they widened when he saw what I saw. Maggie,
who had been sitting next to me, was now standing up with her ears
perked in the direction of the moving shadow. The shadow seemed to
be human and it appeared as if it was nervously watching over its
shoulder. He or she or it was heading towards the barn door in the
twilight glow.
     “Da-ad?” I called anxiously to my father in the next room.
     “Aaron, I think you better get in here,” Red yelled. Dad came into
the room and I turned to beckon him over to the window.
     When I turned back, the shadow was gone.




                                 i25j
zChapter 5
     “What is it?” my dad asked behind us, but we could only stare in
disbelief at the place where we had seen the shadow vanish. Turning
quickly I ran to the screen door and propped it open and I whistled for
Lex and Maggie who had returned inside with my father.
     “Get Lex out there!” I said, “If anybody‟s out there, he can smell
him!” I sprinted outside to the stand of trees where I had last seen the
figure and Lex shot after me. He soon caught up with me and bolted
past towards the barn, as if he knew someone had been there and he
was going to investigate. I breathlessly reached the spot where the
shadow vanished and saw nothing. Had I been imagining it? I heard a
leaf crunch and saw an illuminated shadow behind me. I whirled
around. It was only Red with a flashlight, sweeping and searching the
ground with it.
     “Whoever was here must have footprints,” he said thoughtfully,
stepping carefully over the soft dirt, so as not to disturb any hints of
someone being here a few seconds ago. My father came out, also,
intrigued by our actions. He was an expert tracker, so I hoped he
would be able to find something that could prove that someone really
was here and that Red and I weren‟t crazy. Dad sat on his heels,
spanning the ground with his eyes in the dim light of Red‟s flashlight.
     “I can‟t see anything in this light,” Dad muttered, eyebrows
scrunched together like I did when I concentrated. “We‟ll have to


                                   i26j
check this area tomorrow morning.” With that, he turned and walked
back into the house. Red said “Goodnight” and tracked across the yard
to his bunkhouse by ours. Giving the ground one last look before I
followed him, I saw Lex sniffing busily at one spot in the dirt next to a
tree. I went over to him and looked around on the forest flooring and
then up the tree which I was standing next to. The nightly breeze
whistled and weaved in between the leaves of the Aspen trees.
     “Come on, Lex! Come in boy!” I called to him. He gave the dirt
one last snuffle before retreating and gliding smoothly into the house.
Opening the door, I paused and looked back to the aspen trees and
their branches swaying gently in the wind. Then, I crossed the
threshold and shut the door to the house.

                                    b
     Sunbeams slowly appeared through my window and washed over
my face, as I stood watching the sunrise. The last stars disappeared in
the glow of the new day‟s sun. Cobalt blues and deep purples gave way
to the rosy pink, light orange, and later golden yellow rays that rose
over the mountains to an ever-lightening sky. Dew shone and glittered
on the blades of grass and some bent slightly under the weight of the
silver drops. A few horses had awakened already and some were
nibbling the grass. Others shook some glimmering dewdrops off of
their chestnut, bay, gray, and black coats.



                                   i27j
     I turned around when I heard my bedroom door click open
behind me. My dad poked his head through the door.
     “Just making sure you were awake,” he said. “Time to feed the
animals.” I pulled on my jeans as quickly as I could and pulled on my
favorite sweatshirt. It was chocolate brown with the image of running
horses across the front. When I passed through the kitchen, I wrapped
some biscuits in tinfoil to keep them warm for my breakfast.
     Stepping off the edge of the porch, I pulled my sweatshirt more
tightly around me in the nippy morning. It would warm up more
towards the afternoon, but for now it was frosty. I shut myself in the
warm feed room that was filled with the rich smells of wheat, oats, and
barley that wrapped around me like a comfortable blanket. The horses
heard the wooden door bang shut and they started to nicker and
whinny in joyful expectancy. I breathed in the wonderful aromas of
the barn and the horses.
     I grabbed one of the scoops and began shoveling and measuring
grain into many-colored buckets. Each horse had a different colored
bucket, so that we knew that each horse was receiving the food and
nourishment that he or she needed. There were shelves above the huge
wooden containers of feed that held many assorted herbal and natural
remedies for healing and treating our horses. They treated physical
wounds, as well as mental, for there were many oils and extracts from
plants and flowers that helped to calm and relax as well as many other


                                  i28j
great things. Red walked in a few minutes later, letting a fresh chilly
breeze through the door.
     “Hey,” he said in a slightly groggy greeting and we got down to
work. I filled the buckets with measurements of grain and he counted
out amounts of certain supplements and medicines that the horses
needed in their food. We occasionally referred to a board on the wall
on which was written exactly what each horse needed. In some we
mixed water and left it to soak and in others we added new mixtures
for changing needs. As we were doing this the nickering and noise in
the barn increased. Outside, I heard my father rev up the engine on a
four-wheeler that would take hay to cows and cattle in a far pasture.
The dogs barked in excitement as they prepared to race the four-
wheeler. A few cows mooed in anticipation of their breakfast.
     Mornings can be noisy on a ranch. No matter how peaceful they
seem.
     I take a few buckets and dump feed into the feed holders in the
horses‟ stalls with Red not far behind doing the same. Seeing Red get
the last buckets, I head over to the hay storage to start sectioning out
flakes and bales for separate pastures and loading them into our many
wheelbarrows and carts.
     After a flurry of activity, our morning chores were finished and
all of the animals were fed. My stomach grumbled as I headed back
towards the house, for I hadn‟t eaten breakfast yet. I could taste those
biscuits I had saved and my mouth was watering by the time I came

                                   i29j
into the kitchen. I saw Red and Dad munching on biscuits and some
bacon and sipping milk and coffee. But no other biscuits were lying out
on the counter. I swept the room with my eyes, searching for the
source of what was causing my belly to growl like Lex when he sees an
intruder. I was so busy searching for the biscuits that I didn‟t see the
guilty smiles that my father and Red were trying in vain to keep
hidden.
      “What are you two hiding?” I asked them cautiously. They only
exchanged furtive looks in response. Finally, I realized what was so
secretive. They had hidden my biscuits. They knew how I got grumpy
when I didn‟t have my breakfast and they wanted to mess with me this
morning. I searched in a frustrated whirl about the room and the more
I looked, the more exasperated I got. I finally came to a halt in front of
the now laughing Red and Dad. I glared at them and confronted them
head on.
      “Where are my biscuits?” I demanded. I took my breakfast
seriously (“a little too seriously,” my father would say). They stared me
down for a couple of moments, chewing as if in deep thought. Then
Red broke down and sheepishly handed over some still-steaming
biscuits.
      “It‟s about time,” I said curtly, and with one last glance at them, I
finished my breakfast in silence at the other end of the kitchen and
downed it with a glass of milk. Then, I cleaned my plate wordlessly and
walked out to continue with the day. I could tell Red was already

                                   i30j
feeling a tiny bit bad about making me angry at him but my father still
couldn‟t wipe that infuriating grin off of his face. Oh well. My father
was just as stubborn as me, but we would be all right at the end if the
day, because he knew that I wasn‟t really mad at him.
     The day had already warmed up and I pulled off my sweatshirt
and laid it on our porch rail to pick up later in the evening when it
would get cool again. I pulled on my favorite soft brown work gloves
and headed towards the barn. Today we had to brand the calves, but
before that Dad would ride Gold Dust and I had to get him from his
paddock.




                                  i31j
zChapter 6
     I hiked out to the palomino stallion‟s pasture, halter swinging in
my hand. It was fresh day where everything seemed green and new.
Animals were just coming out of hibernation and others were showing
their babies their world. Every now and then you could see a bird wing
its way through the trees with smaller replicas following unsteadily
behind. Soon we would have foals romping and frolicking around in
the pastures. The father of most of them would be Gold Dust.
     I had just come in sight of the pasture when I saw a fence board
was broken and lying in two halves on the ground. I started to walk
faster and then broke into a run, fearing the worst. The big stallion
could have easily knocked down a loose board and escaped to who
knows where. Scanning the area wildly, I finally saw a hint of yellow
moving down somewhere out of my vision. I ran closer, relieved that
the valuable stallion was not lost and hopefully unhurt. I could see him
now walking along the fence line, head held high, thankfully still in his
pasture. I let myself into the paddock, walked towards him and called
to him softly.
     “Here, boy, easy,” I murmured when he tossed his head and eyed
me warily. “Easy boy, you know me.” This was strange behavior. He
had never acted like this towards me before. Eventually he allowed me
to slip the leather halter over his head and he followed me when I



                                  i32j
tugged gently on the lead rope. As I turned to leave the pasture, I made
a mental note to remind my father about the broken board.
     “Good boy!” I praised him, patting his neck. “You didn‟t escape
when that board broke.” He only walked on. We approached the barn
and I saw Red carrying my father‟s saddle from the tack room. As soon
as he saw Gold Dust and me, he stopped still and stared.
     “What is it?” I asked him as soon as I got in earshot. “What is
wrong?”
     “He almost looked like a different horse for a second,” he replied.
“He was looking around the place like he had never seen it before. If I
didn‟t know any better…” he trailed off.
     “If you didn‟t know any better what?” I wanted to know.
     “Nothing, it‟s impossible,” he replied vaguely. I decided not to
push him further and I went to get Flint‟s tack ready for riding after
my father rode, for he had to help us brand the calves (I wasn‟t sure
that he trusted me and Red with fire). I wandered out to the riding
arena where my father was just mounting up. The palomino always
acted calmly and secure around my dad and they had a strong bond
between them that was beautiful to see. I casually leaned against the
railing and settled down to watch. Red had come to see the stallion,
also. Dad eased himself lightly into the saddle and all at once
everything exploded. Gold Dust erupted in a series of out-of-control
bucks and cowhops that spun around, trying with all his might to loose
Dad from the saddle. The stallion‟s abrupt movements scattered the

                                  i33j
horses that had been near the pasture fence bordering part of the arena
and the few other animals that were around.
     “Hold on, Dad!” I yelled, then without thinking started to climb
in between the rails into the arena, desperate to help my father. Red
grabbed my arm to stop me.
     “What are you thinking? That bronco will kill you in a second the
way he‟s acting! Just wait, we‟ll figure something out soon,” he said. I
knew he was trying to reassure me, but I saw concern and worry in his
eyes. Meanwhile, my dad was getting tossed around like a rag doll and
becoming closer to falling every second. Finally, I saw him slip his feet
out of the stirrups and he bailed, landing with two feet on the ground
and shaking ever so slightly. Then I wrenched my arm out of Red‟s
grasp and Ran to Dad. Gold Dust had come to a halt, sides heaving
from his rodeo stunt.
     “Are you hurt?” I asked when I reached him. He shook his head
but he wouldn‟t take his eyes off the palomino, now standing at the
opposite end of the arena.
     “Nothing spooked him…it must have been…” he said aloud,
almost to himself as he picked himself up off the ground. “He must just
be having an off day. I will let him out and try again tomorrow,” he
said dismissively.
     “No Aaron,” I heard Red say behind me. Dad turned
questioningly to him. “That horse is different. He‟s never acted like this
before with you. He‟s had off days before and they haven‟t been like

                                   i34j
this. Get the vet. Get anyone. Just don‟t ride that horse again until we
know what‟s wrong.” Red‟s eyes were hard and intense. I had never
heard Red talk to anyone like that and I peeked at my dad to see how
he would respond. To my surprise, he just nodded and watched the
stallion stand rigid and frightened across the arena. My father walked
slowly up to the horse. Gold Dust‟s nostrils flared and he regarded him
with a careful and wary eye. My father continued to walk towards
him, eyes and shoulders lowered.
     Slowly he raised his palm, all the while not looking the palomino
in the eye. Gradually, Gold Dust brought his nose down to snuffle his
outstretched hand. My father reached his other hand up and placed it
on the stallion‟s shoulder and began to stroke his sweating coat in
small repetitive circles. Each circle moved to a new patch of skin, until
little by little the muscle relaxed and my father would work on towards
another muscle. Dad worked his way steadily up the neck until he was
working circles around the horse‟s ears, then eyes, and finally down
his nose. The final result was total relaxation of the previously wild
stallion. His head hung down past his shoulders and his eyes fluttered
from almost sleeping. Dad took the reins that were dragging the
ground and the horse allowed himself to be led out of the arena.
     He handed the reins to me and said, “Give him some lavender oil
before you tack up Flint.” I nodded and hurried off to the barn. After
removing his saddle and bridle, I locked him in an empty stall and
went to our medicine cabinet. I ran my fingers along the edges,

                                   i35j
searching for a purple tinted glass bottle with the label naming it
lavender oil.
     I found it amid black sampson and echinacea roots and uncorked
the top. I rummaged around some more in another cabinet containing
wraps and bandages to find cotton balls. Finding a bag, I dabbed a few
drops onto the cotton and went to Gold Dust‟s stall. He was calmly and
placidly eating some mouthfuls of hay and he turned towards me
curiously when I let myself into his stall. It‟s funny, I thought, how a
horse can go from bronco to lesson pony in a minute. I held out the
cotton ball for him to sniff, and he inhaled the appealing aroma.
Lavender oil helps to calm horses down and hopefully it would work
on Gold Dust, but everything affects each horse differently. The stallion
finished and returned to his hay. I exited the stall and looked to where
Flint had his dark head out of his stall door looking at me. It was time
to go to work.




                                   i36j
zChapter 7
     I led Flint out to the pens where the calves were kept with their
mothers and mounted up. Dad opened the gate for me and closed the
gate behind me before he went to tack up Red‟s and his horses. Red was
heating up the brand over an open fire not far from the pen for the
calves. A chute was set up from the calves‟ pen so that it ran into
another pen, making the two connected. The chute was closed by a
gate that could be opened from outside the chute by pulling a rope. My
father and I would run a calf into the chute, where Red would open the
gate and shut the calf into the second pen where the calf would be
branded. The fire was in the pen, but the calves never went near the
flames, so it was extremely rare when they got burned. Once in the
second pen, Red and I would rope the calf and hold it while my father
put the brand to his hindquarters. Even though it seemed harsh, it was
really not traumatizing for the calf at all and he could get up and run
back to his mother as soon as it was over.
     I loped around the herd, looking for a calf to cut out of the herd. I
picked one and signaled to Flint to move right. He obeyed readily,
eager to get working. We pivoted and turned and soon had a calf
separated. We headed towards the chute. The calf tried to swerve back
to its dam, but Flint saw it happening before it happened and he cut off
his path. I then directed the calf back again towards the chute, but the
calf did NOT want to go in! He veered to the right and this time he


                                  i37j
succeeded to returning to the herd. I loosened my rope from the saddle
horn and Flint shot like an arrow from a bow after him. I checked Flint,
not wanting to look like Donegan barreling into his cattle and then I
made ready to lasso the calf. The loop sailed through the air and landed
neatly over his little horns. The calf was then forced to follow us
though the chute. The gate clanged shut behind us with a metallic
bang.
     The fuzzy little calf looked around wonderingly at his new
environment, then he started to try to run around the pen, but Red‟s
rope appeared around his fetlocks and soon halted his efforts. We then
easily but carefully flipped the calf on his side and Dad walked over
holding the brand at a safe distance. I held the calf‟s head while Red
held the legs and Dad placed the brand to the calf‟s hindquarter. He
removed the smoking metal after a millisecond, leaving behind a
clean-cut white mark of two side-by-side wavy lines.
     We worked through the herd and each crash of the gate would
result in a slightly dazed calf frisking back to his mother. One by one,
the furry, long-limbed bodies of the reddish-brown herd became
dotted with streaks that would remain on the calves for life. The marks
helped us to identify our calves from others that belonged to different
ranches. After about two and a half hours, we were finished.
     As we were about to go about our other chores, I remembered the
broken board in Gold Dust‟s pasture and I told my dad about it. He
nodded as if he was deep in thought and his eyebrows scrunched

                                   i38j
together over his sharp blue eyes, as they always did when my father
was thinking hard.
     “Thank you, Ash. I‟ll fix it when I‟m out there checking the fence
lines.” Checking the fence lines was a chore that had to be done almost
daily to make sure that none of the fence boards were broken and the
animals wouldn‟t get out. I couldn‟t help wondering what my father
was pondering so pensively.
     “What wrong, Dad? Is it something to do with Gold Dust?” I
asked him.
     “Actually, yes,” he admitted. “I was just thinking that maybe if
the board was broken, then he could have eaten some ragweed or red
maple and that would‟ve affected the way he behaved today. I‟ll check
him over tonight before feeding.”
     “Maybe,” I said, but I wasn‟t convinced. I thought that if the
stallion had eaten some poisonous plant like that, he would have acted
sicker and less wild. I turned back to tell this to Dad, but he was
already gone.

                                    8
     Leaves crunched under the thudding hooves of Molly and Skip
and the early sunshine dappled through the trees. Red and I were on a
trail ride on one of the many riding paths on our land. We had finished
our chores speedily today and we saddled up Molly, a little bay roan
mare and Skip, a lively dun gelding with bars. The afternoon was


                                    i39j
peaceful and a small creek trickled by, rolling past us and every now
and then bearing a fallen golden leaf that whirled and spun with the
ebbs and flows. We pushed the horses into a trot, enjoying the silence
and serenity of the forest.
     We went on for a while, until we came to a small clearing in a
stand of Aspen and Beech trees with a cascade of clear, translucent
water splashing down from a stony ledge to a still pool. This was one of
my favorite places to ride and sometimes in the summer I brought my
lunch here. This was nice and cool in the summer and we dangled our
bare feet in the refreshing pool. The horses nibbled at sprouts of grass
and moss. I slipped off my boots, rolled up the edge of my jeans, and
sat myself on a smooth outcropping of rock to dip my feet into the cool,
clean pool. Red did the same and we sat in a peaceful silence, each lost
in our own thoughts. My feet sent ripples playing across the water,
undulating the surface. Suddenly a thought occurred to me.
     “He could have eaten some locoweed,” I muttered out loud to
nobody in particular. Red seemed to know what I was thinking.
     “The stallion? Well, that‟s possible,” he agreed. I hoped beyond
hope that it wasn‟t locoweed. If the stallion ate enough, his brain could
be permanently damaged.
     “But there‟s just one thing.” Red leaned back on his elbows as he
watched the spray of the waterfall. “There hasn‟t been a sprig of
locoweed around here for years. It was killed off.”
     “Oh yeah… well, we can still check,” I replied and Red agreed.

                                  i40j
     “We can track by there on our way back home.” He gave Skip,
who had ambled over, a pat on his forehead. I tossed a pebble into the
pool and followed the ripples with my eyes. I saw them ricochet off the
opposite end of the pool. A rustle directly above where the waves
touched the bank made me look up. The leaves of a few dense ferns
didn‟t move again but they swayed a little from the previous
movement.
     I shrugged it off as a squirrel or bird, but then I saw the gleam of
two eyes and the dark denim fabric a jacket behind a leafy bush. It
seemed to catch sight of me watching it and moved a little to better
conceal itself. I leaned a little sideways and I could just barely glimpse
it in a crouch amid wide glossy leaves. This thing was no animal. It was
human.
     Not taking my eyes off the figure, I reached my arm over as
quietly and discreetly as I could and nudged Red. Absorbed in
watching Molly and Skip groom each other, he turned around and
distractedly said, “Hmmm?” in a too-loud voice. I saw the silhouette
retreat further back into the brush. I put a finger to my lips to silence
him. He noticed my unease, immediately went into guard mode and
scanned the area warily. I pointed in the direction of the form and
when he found it his eyes narrowed. Our property was usually
considered private property-this person would be trespassing. Slowly
and silently he raised himself up and crept over to the horses. I


                                   i41j
followed him, but kept an eye on the shadow with my peripheral
vision.
     Red drew up his reins and asked casually, “Are you ready to head
back home?” I caught on to his plan and answered back, “Yeah, sure.”
We were trying to make it look like we didn‟t know that the thing was
there. I could feel the figure‟s eyes glaring at us as I swung up easily
onto Molly‟s back, but Red stayed on the ground and pretended to
check Skip‟s hooves. He caught my eye and made a barely perceptible
nod of his head, telling me to go on.
     “I‟ll go on ahead and check that trail that we wanted to try,” I
called as I rode away from the clearing. Red replied, “I‟ll catch up with
you in a minute.” Out of the corner of my eye I could catch sight of the
profile looking between Red and I, as if trying to decide what to do.
Thankfully, it chose to remain to watch Red. I rode on through the
woods and turned left onto a narrow track that we almost never went
on. It had various stones and ruts that made surefooted Molly step
carefully and with caution. I hoped Red would keep that stranger there
long enough. I was going to swing around the edge of the clearing and
come in from behind. Hopefully, I would be able to corner and catch
our intruder. If our plan worked.




                                    i42j
zChapter 8
      Molly stepped through the sagebrush confidently and
unhesitatingly. Twigs cracked and snapped from our passing and I
silently willed in vain for them to be quiet. If the thing heard us
coming, it might run off. The person (at least I thought it was a person)
most likely wouldn‟t know the area, giving us the advantage. I didn‟t
know if Red had mounted Skip yet, but if so it would be easier for us to
give chase if it tried to run.
      Straining to see through the trees, I urged on the mare. Her
naturally fluid strides reached smoothly ahead, her pace increasing. I
could now see the adjoining trail I was looking for through the broad
trees. Suddenly, Molly slowed, lowered her head and snuffled the
ground uneasily. She cautiously pawed at the ground with her hoof.
Abruptly, her head bolted up straight in the air. Her nostrils flared, her
ears quivered and her whole body was as tense as a well-tuned guitar
string. The silence of the forest engulfed us, as if all of the animals had
been scared away. Without warning, a dark, thickset figure came
lumbering and crashing through the trees.
Unfortunately, it was heading straight towards us.

                                    h
      The great hulking form seemed to be in a great hurry and it
stumbled clumsily many times over stones and heavy branches across
its path. Molly, who has almost never spooked in her short life, snorted

                                   i43j
in fright and flung her head up. That was when the figure finally
seemed to notice us standing there and watching its flight. Its eyes
widened and it appeared to be as dumbstruck as we were. He wore a
ratty baseball cap, black clothes, and a bandana over much of his face.
This was the person that I had seen back in the clearing!
     The man took off at a sprint with renewed energy. I nudged my
heels against Molly‟s sides and pursued after him as fast as we could go
without plowing headlong into a tree. Out of nowhere I heard
pounding behind me. I risked a glance over my shoulder to see Red on
Skip galloping along the wider and flatter path that I had seen before I
ran into the trespasser. Skip was quickly gaining speed, his swift high-
stepping legs carrying him further and faster with each step. His black
tail streamed out behind him and he carried his head high. Seeing him
streak past gave me a brief vision of the high-spirited Arabian racing
across some Middle-Eastern desert plain. That image was soon erased
when I saw the man reach back and pull something out of his pocket.
     Something that looked a little too much like a weapon.
     And I‟m talking steel-and-bullet type weapon.
     The man must have considered Red the bigger threat and directed
his first shot at him. Red still kept on coming. I saw him take aim, his
finger pulling the trigger…
     “No!” I yelled out desperately. I was too far away to do anything.
I looked on helplessly as I saw the bullet streak out of the barrel with a
resounding crack that echoed through the forest. Milliseconds out of

                                   i44j
the barrel of the gun, the bullet exploded in green sparks but still
continued on its path towards Red. His left shoulder was jerked back
from the impact the bullet made and he fell to the ground on the right
side of very alarmed Skip.
     “Red!” I cried and steered Molly in his direction.
     “I‟m alright, Ash!” he called back weakly. “Just don‟t let him get
a-” he cut off. Remembering that the man was still loose, I wheeled
around. But it was too late. He had disappeared without a trace.
I ground-tied Molly and ran over to Red. He was lying on the ground,
holding his shoulder with his hand. As I came over he propped himself
on his other elbow. He winced at the movement and took a quick,
furtive glance under his hand that covered his hurt shoulder. He
quickly placed it back before I could get near. I could now see that
dark red was appearing beneath his hand on his now-torn plaid shirt
and it was quickly spreading.
     “Oh, my gosh, this is bad,” I muttered and I could feel my eyes
widen.
     “No, it‟s not. It doesn‟t even hurt that much,” Red countered.
     “Oh, stop being so tough. Of course being shot hurts.”
     “Oh, really? And how would you know?”
     This little argument went on as I retrieved bandages and gauze
from my saddlebag and made ready to wrap up Red‟s shoulder to last
until we got home and it could be treated properly. When I finally
convinced Red to release his shoulder and pull back his shirt so I could

                                   i45j
see the wound, I involuntarily made a face. This was serious. The bullet
had not hit him directly (thankfully) but it had grazed him and left a
deep cut in its wake. There were also a few tiny marks where sparks
had hit him also, but his shirt protected him from most of the burns.
      “That had to be a flare gun,” Red decided. “Only a flare gun can
shoot bullets that explode. You‟re supposed to shoot up in the air, so
you can signal people and things like that. But at close range, they can
act somewhat like real bullets. It all depends on the type of bullet you
have.” I nodded in agreement. All the while he had been giving me his
talk on the purpose and use of flare guns, I had been disinfecting the
cut, layering it with gauze, and wrapping clean white strips of athletic
tape around his shoulder as gently as I could. Every now and then he
flinched ever so slightly, if I touched a sensitive spot, but he never
complained. When I finished, I sat back on my heels to admire my
work. I had to admit, it did look good. The tape was stretched evenly
with no knots or bumps (which was rare for me, but I was getting
better).
      Red sat up, shrugged his shoulder a little bit to test the bandage,
and when it held, he looked up and smiled a half-smile.
“I think I‟ll make it okay,” he said, and we turned to the horses. Skip
had calmed down a bit and Molly was standing sedately where I had
left her with her hind hoof cocked in relaxation. I helped Red up and
we made our way over to the horses.


                                   i46j
     “Will you be able to ride back?” I asked him, wondering how he
would manage with one arm. In Western riding, you hold the reins in
one hand, but Red held his in his left, so he would have to ride with his
right hand.
     “I think so,” he said confidently. He tried to lift himself up into
the saddle, but had some trouble. With greater effort than usual, he
mounted on his second try. He gave nothing away on his face, but I
knew his shoulder had to be killing him. I swung up onto Molly and
we headed off. We kept the pace quick and soon we arrived back at the
ranch.
     I took Skip from Red, telling him that I would untack him and
that he should go properly clean that wound. He agreed with much
grumbling and he wandered off in the vague direction of our house. I
took off their saddles and rubbed the horses down well with a rag.
They loved it and closed their eyes as if in bliss. I gave them each a slice
of apple, which they chewed on happily. After each of them was
released into their separate paddocks to rest, I went to find my father
and Red. It was about time something was done or at least thought
about the weird things happening around the ranch.

                                    2
     I faced my father across the table. His face, tanned from a lifetime
in the sun, was stern after hearing the news of the shooting and after



                                   i47j
reviewing all of the earlier incidents. Already, he had told Red that he
wasn‟t to ride, or do really hard work, until his shoulder was better.
     “Could it possibly be the same person you two claim to have seen
the other night?” he asked thoughtfully.
     “I know I saw it! It was real!” I said with conviction.
     “I believe you, Ash,” my father said calmly, “but we need to see
all of the practical solutions.” He looked at each of us in turn, fixing us
with his clear blue gaze. I nodded and Red knitted his eyebrows
together as if in concentration. He stared at the kitchen wall in deep
thought.
     Suddenly he said, “Have you gotten Gold Dust looked at by a vet
yet, Aaron?”
     “Yeah, he came by just as you two left on that trail. Why?”
     “I was just thinking about if there was a connection between all
of this. What if this person, or these two persons, did something to the
stallion? What if they switched him with a ringer?” I heard Dad suck
in a breath quickly. A ringer was a horse that looked identical to
another horse. They were often used in double dealings in the horse-
selling business. Gold Dust was easily worth a couple hundred
thousand dollars, most likely more. He was that valuable. Dad now
looked alarmed (which was hard for him to be, because he rarely got
worked up).
     “But how could have that happened?” my father asked Red.
     “I don‟t know. It was just an idea.”

                                   i48j
     “Well, I‟m afraid I‟ll have to think about this later, because I‟ve
got to go mail some things down at the post office and get more wire
and twine from the hardware store. Ash, will you give some of the
horses a rinse with the hose? It‟s getting hot,” he called as he strode out
the door.
     “Okay,” I yelled back. I stood up, my chair scraping across the
floor. “He must have a lot more than usual on his mind,” I commented.
     “He‟s not acting normal.” I was getting kind of worried now. First
my father, one of the best riders I know, almost gets thrown by the
horse he knows through and through, or so we thought. Then, Red is
shot. I remembered that Donegan had also thrown us off of “his”
property with fake papers.
     “I know,” Red interrupted my thoughts. “Do you think that I
could be right? About the stallion? I don‟t know what made me say it-I
just said it, I didn‟t mean it. Though we would have a pretty big-sized
problem on our hands if that‟s true.”
     “I hope for our sake that you‟re wrong for once,” I said as we
walked towards the barn. Red nodded in complete agreement.
     We busied ourselves with cooling the horses off under the
beating sun with the two hoses on the outside to the left of the barn.
The crisp clear water splashed on their backs and ran down their sides.
We worked our way through most of the herd and I chose to wash the
stallion. He was sweating a bit more heavily than the others, so I
sprayed him with water vigorously. His sleek coat became quickly

                                   i49j
saturated and he seemed to be enjoying his bath immensely. He almost
seemed back to his old self now. I smiled and scratched his withers.
When I drew my hand away, yellow stuff came away almost as if
painted to my hand.
     I looked more closely at the horse‟s withers. There were some
white streak marks on it. I picked up a nearby rag and rubbed the spot
hard. Finally I pulled away with a soggy, wet, golden-yellow piece of
cloth. What was left on Gold Dust‟s withers was a few thick white lines
drawn together to form a couple of letters and numbers. Letters and
numbers that made up one thing: a freeze brand. A freeze brand that
identified this horse.
     “Red! Can you come here real quick?” I called a little dazedly. My
stomach was sinking straight through my body. Was it just me or was
the ground farther away than usual?
     He came over, wiping himself dry on a towel. “What‟s wrong?”
he asked me. I could only stare in disbelief at that point on the
palomino‟s body. Red reached out and touched the mark, as if not
actually believing it to be there. We both realized the same thing.
Red was right. This horse was a ringer.




                                   i50j
zChapter 9
     My dad ran his hands over the horse (we still hadn‟t figured out
whose horse he was yet) and had a look in his eyes that made me want
to check twice that I was on his good side that day. His blue eyes
burned with anger, but that was the only part of him that showed how
furious he was. Somebody had stolen his horse. That would make
anybody mad.
     That night as I lay in my bed, trying to sleep but failing, I thought
about who could have possibly stolen and replaced the stallion. The
first person who came to my mind was Donegan. I wouldn‟t trust that
man on my life. He seemed like the perfect suspect. The more I thought
about it, the more it seemed possible and yet impossible. I had decided
that the stallions would have to have been switched while we were
gone on the roundup. That would have given Donegan plenty of time
to sneak in while our neighbor wasn‟t at the ranch. But Donegan was
also on a roundup-we learned that by stopping his stampede. I finally
gave up thinking about it. The day had worn me out. The swishing of
the trees and whispers of the night wind carried me into a deep sleep.
     The next morning, I hastily threw on my clothes when I woke up
and ran down to the morning feeding. The heated sun had disappeared
from yesterday and had traded places with low-lying clouds that made
the air darker than necessary and it also somehow made the world
quiet, as if the sounds of the earth were muffled. Red was already there


                                  i51j
and was swinging hay bales out to the cattle in their pastures. His
shoulder had been healing quickly, but I could still see him favoring it.
He waved when he saw me coming towards the barn and then went
back to the cows and their hay.
     I made my way to the hay room, where I filled a wheelbarrow
with flakes for the horses, all the while my head reeling with the
thoughts from last night. No matter which way I angled the facts, I still
couldn‟t make them fit together. It was like I was filled with puzzle
pieces, and even if they were arranged in a way that they might fit
together, there would be one piece left out that couldn‟t work in, or
something would feel like it was missing. If I could work out this great
jigsaw puzzle of a problem, then our problems would be solved. But,
until then, I wasn‟t just going to sit around thinking about it. I was
going to at least get out there and do something.
     My father was out the next morning helping a neighbor with a
cow having a bit of trouble dropping her calf. She was a couple of
months late in dropping her calf and the rancher was worried about
her. While he was busy a few ranches over (which was also over five
hundred acres away), I confronted Red with my plan. He was more
cautious than I was.
     As I was telling Red all of the steps for it, I began to wonder if this
was going to take longer to work than I had hoped.
     The first step of my plan was that we would go on all of the trails
leading away from our property to look for signs that the stallion may

                                   i52j
have left behind when he was taken away. Then, we would take Molly
on any of the promising trails and go farther away from the ranch.
Whoever took him might have hidden Gold Dust somewhere off of the
trail they took as a getaway. Molly was the stallion‟s favorite mare and
he always started neighing and whinnying loudly whenever she came
near, or when he could smell her close by.
     The next step was to ask nearby ranches if they had heard
anything of the stallion. (Dad was probably going to do that anyway,
but I wanted to go ask the ranchers myself and also have my own look
around at the surrounding area.) Finally, I wanted to discreetly snoop
around Donegan‟s land. I was still suspicious of that man.
     “We‟ll get in some major trouble,” Red said, then he broke into a
huge smile. “Let‟s do it. At least it‟s a start.” Quickly we saddled up
Flint and Sage and headed out to explore. Flint‟s head was held high
and he looked around curiously, but calmly as we made our way down
a path at the edge of the Lazy River Ranch. (I guess you could have
called it a path-it was more like a slight space between protruding
branches.) We finally came to a tiny clearing between the dense bushes
and trees where the trail forked two different ways. Here, we
dismounted, trying to tread lightly, so as no to disturb any evidence.
     We knew that few people had ever come down this far and we
were hoping to find tracks that we hadn‟t been able to see before on
the rocky trail we had just taken. My father had taught both Red and I


                                   i53j
how to track, but Red, being more interested in it, had learned more
than me. Now I wished I had listened more.
     Though Red was the better tracker, we both bent down and
searched the dirt. We didn‟t have to look long. While most of the trails
were packed hard from being ridden over many times, this earth was
soft and mostly undisturbed, except for two sets of tracks. There was a
set of large horse hoof prints and a set of big wide boot prints. Red
knelt down and traced a few indentations lightly with his finger.
     “These are two weeks old, at most,” he muttered, then looked up.
“That was about how long ago the stallion must have been stolen.
These horseshoe prints are exactly like the kind of shoes Gold Dust
wears.” I stood on a nearby boulder to get a better view of the area.
     “The horse tracks seem to back up and turn around a couple of
times near the middle,” I told Red, “ as if Gold Dust balked here or
spooked. He probably didn‟t like whoever was taking him away.” After
looking around some more, I added, “Then the person and the horse
struggled together some more over there by the right path before
continuing on to the right.” I looked down at Red for his thought. After
he stared at the ground for a few seconds, he pointed out another
thing. The hoof prints were from a horse that had horseshoes. Barely
susceptible were two bars imprinted into the dirt. Those ridges had
been put on the stallion‟s shoes for traction and according to our
farrier, he was the only horse in the county who wore that kind of
shoe. We mounted again and kept going.

                                   i54j
     The trail twisted with many hairpin turns in an effort to avoid
large obstacles. Sometimes, we would begin to worry that we had lost
the tracks, when they would reappear ahead. At one point when they
did this, they turned off the trail so abruptly that we completely missed
it the first time and had to double back to find the tracks again.
     Superficially, it seemed as if the horse and person, who we now
took to be a man for no woman could wear that size of a boot, had
vanished into thin air. With a closer look, however, you could see
broken stems and branches that gave their trail away.
     “Don‟t jump to any conclusions, Ash,” Red said softly, “but that
leads straight to Donegan‟s land.”

                                     8
     “I knew it,” I muttered.
     “A few tracks are not nearly enough to prove it, though,” Red
said. “And it also could have just been another person who decided to
take the horse towards Donegan‟s land. Either way, we‟ve got to get
home soon. It‟s getting dark.”
     “Dad will be getting home soon, too. Somehow I don‟t think it‟s a
good idea to tell him about what we‟re doing. He might not let us go
through with the plan we have, however small it may be.” Red agreed
and we headed back towards the ranch.
     We emerged from the barn just before my dad‟s Ford pick-up
truck pulled onto the long, winding driveway. He opened the car door


                                   i55j
and stepped out looking a little more tired and definitely grubbier than
when he had left, about two hours earlier.
        “How was the cow?” I asked.
        “The calf came through,” he replied and then added,
“eventually.” Sensing that he had had a long day, I had to practically
push him inside, telling him to go relax and that Red and I would
handle the night feeding. Dad reluctantly shut the screen door behind
him and left us to it.
        I have to say it went well, despite the fact that it was just us two.
Tonight was the night that we had planned on bringing in our two
Angus bulls from their winter pasture, which was quite a task even
though it seemed small. The bulls were frisky and fresh from their
months out to pasture. They had even grown slightly and were now
almost as big as the horses that we were using to herding them. The
larger one, who I had named Blue for the slight blue roan tinge in his
black coat, nearly trampled me when I was closing the gate to his
enclosure, but Red dodged in at the last second and helped me shove it
shut.
        After that bit of excitement, we finished the nightly feeding just as
twilight closed in and our stomachs were grumbling and growling. We
followed a mouth-watering aroma emanating from the ranch house
and found ourselves in the kitchen, where my father had prepared
grilled cheese sandwiches for everyone. We wolfed ours down. I had


                                      i56j
begun to nod off as I was washing the dishes, so I fell asleep as soon as
my head hit the pillow.




                                   i57j
zChapter 10
     The next day was…interesting. It was flea-dip day, the day that
we gave flea baths to our cattle to rid them of fleas and other parasites
that they might have. We gave these from every couple of months to
every other week depending on the situation. I always found
something entertaining on these days, because something funny almost
always happened.
     The basin was just barely deeper than the cows were tall, so the
cattle came up an opposite ramp completely soaked in the grey-ish
liquid after they had gone down an opposite ramp heading
downwards. The solution didn‟t smell too good, but it worked well and
the cattle were now somewhat used to it. I drew open the chute with a
clang and the first of the cattle trotted amiably into the chute. Once
they saw where they were headed, they stalled reluctantly, but then
dived in with some whoops and arm waving from Dad and Red. They
emerged covered in the stuff and dripping it on the red dirt as they
made their way out of the chute. The rails directed them to a holding
pen where they would dry off in the warm sunshine before returning
to their pasture. We didn‟t want the flea dip on the grass for the cows
and calves to eat.
     The cows in the part of the herd that were yet to take a bath were
diminishing and dwindling when a shiny bright red truck bumped
down our driveway. It got momentarily stuck in a rut that we knew by


                                   i58j
now to avoid and then parked by our house. A figure that I knew all
too well stepped out heavily and looked around as if giving our place a
once-over. When his head had swiveled towards our direction, his eyes
widened to about the size of a barn owl‟s. It was as if he weren‟t
expecting us to be here.
      Donegan sauntered over and greeted us. “Well, hallo there,
Aaron. I thought you would have been over at the Carter‟s,” he
drawled in his thick Southern accent. I could visibly see my father steel
up.
      “Well, I‟m not. He called over here about a sick mare of his but I
told him how to treat it over the phone. I‟m a little busy over here
myself,” my father looked Donegan right in the eye, which seemed to
make him uncomfortable and he shifted from one foot to the other.
      “And one other thing,” my father added after a thought, “How
would you know that Carter had called me? And why would you come
here if you knew I would be at Carter‟s?” Donegan‟s face grew
flustered and he stammered, “I-I don‟t…”
      “One last thing,” my dad threw in before he returned to our
work, “Just call me Black.” Donegan looked dumbfounded. I was
surprised too- my father rarely ever said that much all at once. He only
liked to say things that needed to be said and he usually thought a lot
about what he was going to say when he spoke. Donegan must really
have gotten on his nerves coming out here unannounced. It annoyed
me and I think the feeling was mutual for Red.

                                   i59j
     Both of us had been glaring at Donegan the whole time my father
was talking and we turned back to work when he did. Donegan‟s
reaction was amusing; he stood there awkwardly, opening his mouth
as if to say something and then closing it. The way this went on for a
while made him look like a beached fish gasping for air. A few more
cows ambled into the chute and sloshed through the flea dip. Donegan
looked on in disgust and somehow still looked like he was trying to say
something.
     “What, you‟ve never seen cows going through a flea dip before?”
I asked him as I leaned over to adjust a bar in the fence that had been
knocked loose. He said something that was drowned out by the bang of
the gate opening and closing again. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw
Red frown then go over to the gate to fix the latch. Donegan said
something again, but was once more interrupted by the metal ringing
on metal. This continued a couple more times with Donegan trying to
speak, but every time being muffled by some noise near the gate to the
chute. I glanced over at Red, who threw me a wink. He was just trying
to mess with Donegan.
     Donegan was getting irritated and finally spat out in between
clangs, “We”-clang-“don‟t”-bang-“practice”-whack-“it”-clang-“at”-
crash-“my”-wham-“ranch”-clang!” Now that he had spoken,
Donegan seemed inclined to keep going.
     “I remembered what I came over here to tell you Aar- er, Black,”
Donegan said. Taking my dad‟s grunt as a reply, he continued, “I saw

                                  i60j
that you were looking for your stallion. It seems to have been stolen, is
that right?”
     No answer.
     “It was a palomino, correct?”
     No answer.
     “And a beautiful one, too. I think I saw a palomino in Anderson‟s
pasture, when I was over there giving some papers to „im. Yours had a
blaze, right? And two white socks?” This remark made my father
straighten up. Dad eyed the big man warily.
     “What do you mean?” he asked cautiously.
     “I mean that I saw a horse that looked like yours in Anderson‟s
pasture.”
     I knew Anderson from somebody mentioning the name. I
remembered it from somewhere… He was Russell‟s brother. He owned
the ranch land that was catty corner to ours. He raised sheep instead of
the usual cattle. We bred a few of his mares with Gold Dust last year.
From what I recalled he was a nice guy. What would he want with our
stallion?
     He acted as if he was leaving when my father didn‟t say anything
more. The last cow charged through the chute with a loud bellow, for
she was separated from her calf. The noise took Donegan by surprise
and he jumped just as he was turning to go. He must have hit the
ground wrong from jumping about two feet in the air, because he lost
his footing and fell on his ample stomach close to the railing of the

                                   i61j
chute. There was no space between the fence and the edge of the bath
in order to make sure the cow didn‟t just go around the basin. This
caused something unfortunate on Donegan‟s part. Disoriented, he
rolled under the bottom rail of the fence into the chute.
     He landed in the flea bath right when the cow was splashing
through herself.
     He fell on top of the startled cow, who shot out from underneath
him in alarm. He sank a little before he flailed his way back to the
surface. We made no move to help him, as he was in no real danger of
drowning in about four feet of flea dip. At first, I thought he might be
like an elephant seal and float, and I whispered this to Red. Donegan
couldn‟t float, much less swim. Finally, he thrashed and flapped his
way to the ramp and came staggering out spluttering. Red and I did the
best we could to stifle our laughter and I saw Dad chuckling silently to
himself. Donegan squeezed his way out of the chute and tried to collect
his last shreds of dignity, as he walked coolly to his pickup. A grey
colored film clung to the fabric of his clothes and the dip dripped off
the tips of his mustache. He reeked of the stuff.
     As he roared off in his truck, my dad still had a huge grin on his
face like he had just thought of something funny.
     “What is it?” I asked him.
     “Well,” he said slowly, “I reckon that flea dip isn‟t as good as we
thought it was for getting rid of parasites.”
     “Why not?” Red asked.

                                   i62j
“‟Cause Donegan didn‟t crumple up the moment he touched it.”




                          i63j
zChapter 11
     The next morning was considerably less exciting. Things went
routinely and my father was glad for a noontime break on the porch.
The cowboy life is not all fun and games and it‟s hard work running a
ranch, especially with only the three of us. We made it work out,
though, and it just made the quiet and peaceful times we had all the
more special.
     My father sat on the porch swing, while Red and I sat on the edge
of the porch with our feet dangling over the side. Lex had taken his
rightful place by his master and Maggie was lying against my side. I
stroked her silky ears as I sipped my icy lemonade. It was the heat of
the day, which still isn‟t that warm in Colorado. Red was chewing
thoughtfully and pensively on a straw of hay and my father was
watching our horses and cattle graze with a kind benevolence. My
father, like me, had a love for all animals and he never sought to hurt
one. Red felt the exact same way (otherwise I had a feeling he wouldn‟t
be here). Everything was peaceful. Everything was perfect.
     Slowly and deliberately my dad stood up. “I think it‟s time I went
over to have a talk with Mr. Anderson. I‟ll see you guys in about half
an hour,” he told us, then he strode to the Ford, eased himself in, and
drove off. Lex looked a little forlorn at his master‟s sudden departure
and I scratched him under the chin. To pass the time, Red and I walked
the borders of the fences and the dogs ran along with us. Usually this


                                  i64j
was done on horseback but we just patrolled the edges of the pasture
near to us, so we didn‟t need to saddle up a horse. Before we turned
back towards home I stopped and put my arms on the top of the fence,
looking out to the pasture. Red threw a stick to Lex and Maggie before
he joined me.
      A fresh breeze blew, bending the tall new blades of a rippling sea
of green. Gradually, one by one, little slow-moving specks appeared at
the top of a grassy knoll that rose above us a little ways off. The specks
grew into miniature horses grazing serenely.
      “Who do you think did it?” Red broke the silence. His question
startled me out of my reverie. That was exactly what I had been
thinking.
      “I have no idea,” I said truthfully and somewhat dejectedly.
      “I think we can narrow it down to a couple of people,” he said
confidently. “Number one-Vance Donegan.” I smiled gratefully at him,
glad that at least someone else shared my suspicions about that man.
      “Number two-Jeff Anderson.”
      “What? Him? But he‟s Russell‟s brother! He wouldn‟t do
anything-would he?” I protested, but I felt my own assurance turning
to doubt. This situation had gotten to the point where I felt like I
couldn‟t trust anybody besides my father and Red. And of course, my
horse, Flint.
      “We have to keep our eyes open. Look at all the options, you
know?” Red replied. “Now, all we have to figure out is who did it.”

                                   i65j
      “Well, there was that trail leading to Donegan‟s land,” I said.
      “But Donegan was out at the roundup when we were. And he
also acted like he wanted us to leave and go home-would he do that if
he or any of his men had stolen our stallion? Would he send us home
to find out Gold Dust had been switched if he did it?” Red remarked.
      “You always have an answer for everything don‟t you?” I teased.
Red put his hands up in surrender.
      “Hey, I‟m just stating the facts.”
      “Donegan could have snuck in here a few days before he met us
out there and he could have easily changed the horses then. He could
have just been acting like he wanted us to come back here to make it
look like he didn‟t do it,” I said.
      “That‟s possible. Now about this Anderson guy. I don‟t remember
him or anything he could have to do with Gold Dust. We already know
that Donegan is a conniving sleaze trying to take over this whole area
of ranches with false papers and stolen stallions. What could Anderson
have to do with anything, even if he‟s the one who did it and not
Donegan?” Red said, introducing a new little thought for my brain to
wrestle with.
“I don‟t know,” I said slowly, “It‟s annoying me how Donegan just
threw his name out there. I don‟t know what Anderson could have to
do with anything but we should find out.”

                                       s
                                      i66j
     The next morning saw us at the gate to Anderson‟s ranch. Dad
had sent us off to the town saying that we could use a break. Since Red
was sixteen and could drive, my father had let us go alone. Going by
the school, I saw a mass of kids and teenagers outside on the
playground. The only reason I wasn‟t there now was that kids from
ranches and farms were let out at the busiest times, such as the calving
season, so that they could help their families work on the ranch. Most
of them dropped out of high school when they were sixteen, just as Red
had done, so that they could work more. We ranch kids were just
going to work and run the ranches and farms when we grew up
anyway. With a shock I realized that I would have to go back to school
in about two weeks. We had to find the stallion by then.
     Instead of going into town like my dad had thought we were
doing, we had gone to Anderson‟s place.
     We had driven back and forth by the ranch a few times already
and finally Red had decided to park the car up the road so it could not
be seen from the ranch. We crept through the trees, taking care not to
step on any twigs. Sneaking around the fence line, we were able to see
the main yard. We also had a view of a lean, wiry man pacing back
and forth in front of his house, talking on his cell phone. He seemed
agitated and kept running his hands through his straw-colored hair,
which was just like Russell‟s. That confirmed my impression that this
guy was Russell‟s brother-Jeff Anderson.


                                  i67j
     He was talking rapidly and was becoming increasingly distressed.
Starting to yell into the phone, he finally hung up on whomever he was
talking to. He emitted a groan and sat with a thump on his front steps. I
felt kind of sorry for the guy, whatever his problems were.
     As Anderson wallowed in his thoughts, I took time to look around
the place from the spot where I was sitting. The whole place looked like
someone had forgotten to do all of the morning chores, but worse.
Unwashed buckets were piled next to the water hose and the aisle in
the barn was cluttered and dusty.
     A few horses stood in two paddocks and about ten scrawny cows
grazed in a small pasture. This ranch was nothing like the rolling hills
and wooded trails I was used to. In fact, it looked nothing like any of
the ranches in this area-this was the worst one I had seen. I had only
seen one farm that looked like this before. It had been when we went to
help animal control officers collect a herd of horses from an animal
neglect case on a farm near the town. The owner of the horses had
gotten arrested.
     These horses didn‟t appear to be quarter horses, the most
common breed of horse around here. Their well-built conformation
made me think of mustangs, but they couldn‟t be the some of the wild
horses that roamed around here. Capture of the mustangs in our area
without a permit was illegal. Maybe they were related to the feral
horses like Flint was. I heard a faint ringing and Anderson answered


                                    i68j
his phone again. Silently I motioned to Red and we both slipped in
closer to hear what he was saying.
     “Yeah I‟ve got „em… Yes, real mustangs, not cheap half-
breeds…Tomorrow? When?... But I won‟t have a trailer by then…
Fine, I‟ll see what I can do.” He snapped the phone shut and then
stomped into the house.
     “Let‟s get out of here before he comes back,” Red whispered, and
we stole back to the truck. Once safely inside, he started the engine and
we rolled in silence back to the main road, in shock of what we just
had witnessed.
     That man was illegally capturing and selling wild mustangs from
his own backyard.




                                  i69j
zChapter 12
     “For all we know, he could‟ve been holding those horses for
someone who had to transport them,” Red said, but he sounded like he
was trying to convince himself.
     “For all we know, he‟s been selling wild mustangs and stolen
horses for months! Even years! And if he was keeping them for
someone‟s transportation, then why would he say „Yes, real mustangs,
not cheap half-breeds‟ if he wasn‟t selling them off?” I replied.
     “I don‟t have an answer to that, but I do say that we can‟t go
jumping to conclusions. Just yesterday you were completely assured
that Donegan was the man who stole Gold Dust. And now you think
it‟s Anderson,” he said, and he turned the car onto a dirt road complete
with ruts and potholes.
     As we bumped and rumbled along, I said (almost to myself),
“Well, it had to be somebody and I‟m sure that one of them did it.” Red
looked at me and said, “No kidding,” with a wry smile. Suddenly we hit
an extra-deep furrow that made something in the hood of the truck
crash. The Ford rolled to a halt and slowly, forebodingly a trickle of
steam leaked out of the hood. We jumped out and pushed it up, fearful
of what we might find. We were met with a face full of black smoke
mixed with grey steam that made us cough and gag.




                                   i70j
     What appeared to be an absolute mess of wire, valves, and pipes
seemed to make sense to Red as he went about checking and running
his hands over everything with an experienced air.
     “When did you learn about cars?” I asked him.
     “Your father and one of my friends taught me.”
     I guessed it was just a guy thing. While Red searched the abyss of
car parts, I looked around and realized with a groan that we were on a
road bordering Donegan‟s land. This place was not exactly where I
wanted to be right now. Red reached his arm down further into the
depths of the machinery and twisted and turned his arm. Seeming to
locate the source of the trouble, he muttered “aha” under his breath
and told me to get a bucket of water if we wanted this thing to go
again. I obliged without contradiction, grabbed a spare plastic bucket
out of the back and went in hunt of water.
     I didn‟t have to look far. A tiny creek ran through a ravine on the
side of the road. I eased my way down to it and dipped the bucket into
the water. I was about to turn and go back up the slope when I heard a
whisper coming from the trees. I paused, the dripping bucket held in
midair. I heard the mutterings and murmurs again, this time louder. I
listened for any other noises, but I could only hear the crackling and
snapping of twigs and leaves as someone got steadily closer. I realized
that the person must have been talking on his cell phone, as there were
long periods of silence in between the voices speaking. He seemed to be
walking around aimlessly as some people do when they‟re talking.

                                  i71j
     I tried to motion to Red to see if it wasn‟t just my imagination that
someone was in the trees just a few yards away. Red, being out of view
up by the road, was oblivious to my vain efforts to get his attention. I
didn‟t want to hike up and get him in case the man went away. (I could
tell it was a man because of the sound of his voice.) Finally, with a
sudden idea, I chucked the bucket of water up the side of the hill and it
made a big splash at the top. Down by the creek, the noise mixed with
the babbling and laughing of the brook but I hoped that Red would
hear it and take notice.
     I was right. Before long, his head poked over the edge. Quickly I
waved my hand for him to come down and he scrambled down the
ravine hastily. I violently motioned for him to be quiet and he settled
down beside me. I pointed towards the woods and he nodded as he
caught the words. He had arrived just as the conversation was ending.
     “All right, all right Anderson, keep your shirt on… Yeah,
Saturday, sure. Whatever you say…. What? That Black was over there?
When?... Oh, well when I told him that, I didn‟t really think he would
go over there…Well then, it‟s no big deal, right? If he didn‟t see
anything, he didn‟t see anything…. Fine, fine, fine. Saturday, I told you.
I‟ll have the trailer and we‟ll haul that stallion out. Be done with it and,
hey, we‟ll be a couple hundred dollars richer for a stallion like him…
Great coloring don‟t you think?” It sounded right now like he was just
trying to calm Anderson down. But what stallion were they talking
about? Could it be Gold Dust?

                                    i72j
     “The palominos are what‟s selling right now, Jeff… All, right, let‟s
meet there at about two o‟ clock, okay? Good. See you then.” At this I
heard the beep of his phone turning off and a few crashes as he
lumbered away. We didn‟t dare move until he had gone.
When finally the forest was quiet once more, Red spoke.
     “That was Vance Donegan. I‟d know that voice anywhere by
now.”
     “So, are they working together?” I said disbelievingly. “And all
this time I thought it was either one or the other.”
     “We thought that. It wasn‟t just you,” Red replied. “Do you think
he was talking about Gold Dust?” he whispered, as if scared to say it
out loud.
     “I think so,” I said, staring straight ahead to where Donegan had
been only a few moments earlier. “Either way, something‟s going down
at two tomorrow.”




                                   i73j
zChapter 13
     My head was muddled with a thousand thoughts twirling around
my head in a whirlwind. I found it hard to keep focused on the
animals, and my horse, as I herded them closer to the barn for feeding
and some routine inspection. I had never found it hard to concentrate
on my job in the past and it bothered me that I should lose my mind
over this. I was sure that we would figure something out and get Gold
Dust back. Right?
     I shook my head, trying to clear my thoughts. I surveyed the small
group of cattle from the back of Flint. The big grey horse moved easily
and fluidly through the herd. Though he was young and
inexperienced, he was learning the ropes quickly and doing well for
him being a colt. True to his quarter horse lineage, Flint possessed a
natural cow sense, meaning that he had what seemed to be an innate
ability to anticipate cattle‟s reactions and how to handle them well
without too much training. We still trained and taught our horses the
best we could so that we got well-behaved horses that trust and respect
us and vice versa. That was the way that some cowboys worked their
string of horses around here, but others had different methods.
     I had heard-and sometimes seen-other cowboys ride them rough
and hard in order to break them. Their main idea was to force the
horse into submission. The result usually ended up in a horse that was
spooked easily (sometimes by the owner) and was unpredictable. This


                                  i74j
harsh way was used in the old cowboy days, but it had evolved into a
more elaborate form after training had gotten to be too hasty and the
horses‟ behavior had started turning bad. There were many who still
used the old method, but some were beginning to see the benefits of
trusting relationships. Real cowboys often had trouble moving from a
method or tradition and liked to stay firm with their ideas. I guess that
was where the stubbornness in my family came from. Some thought
more relationship- and bonding-based training was fancy and
completely unnecessary.
        Well, I thought, we‟ll just let them have their opinion, won‟t we,
Flint? The dust rose up from under the hard hooves of the cows and it
made me pull my scarf up over my nose and mouth to be able to
breathe. The red dirt coated my bare forearms, as I had rolled up the
sleeves of my shirt in the heat of the day. Herding cattle from place to
place was only one of the many routine and daily tasks of a working
ranch. There was also keeping the barn (not to mention the house) in
working order, keeping the livestock healthy and content, maintaining
the fences, watering every pasture and paddock, checking the grass in
the pastures and rotating which animals grazed on what land, so that
some area was allowed to grow, as well as many other chores that
came and went with the seasons. But, I wasn‟t complaining. I loved this
life.
        We neared closer to the barn and the cattle got excited when they
heard the ringing of the feed buckets and swish of grain being scooped

                                     i75j
and dumped into feed buckets. Their casual amble quickly turned into
a brisk trot as they scurried to the closest fence to the barn, their furry
ears directed straight at the noises and sounds of their dinner. Their
long legged calves galloped closely behind. They jostled together at the
railing, wide, wet noses set quivering over the board. Red emerged to a
chorus of grunts, moos, snorts and other cow noises.
       “Hey, hey, take it easy!” he said, and Dad came out of the feed
room with more feed for their hungry bellies. They lifted their arms up
high away from reaching muzzles as they carefully waded into the red
and white mess. The cattle for most part made a respectful parting
around them. I stayed mounted and helped the stragglers get their food
without others stealing it. The little calves either decided to stay by
their mothers‟ side or romp around with each other, which most of
them chose to do. They ran around in circles, playfully nipping each
other and occasionally giving an exuberant buck. The cows finished
quickly and some began to lick their calves clean all over in a motherly
way.
       My father clicked the gate open that would take them back to
their pasture for the night. Moseying their way through, the last few
left and once again the yard was empty and quiet, apart from the usual
noises of the few mares and geldings nearby. I realized that I hadn‟t
seen the dogs in a while and I whistled for them. They came running,
tongues lolling out and tails wagging and whipping around furiously.
Lex trotted up to his place at the heels of my father. I could see his

                                    i76j
muscular body rippling under his shiny coat with each step. He was a
dutiful and talented herder and we were lucky to have him on our
ranch. Maggie was more of a pet than a working dog, but she made up
for it by being extremely sweet, well tempered and she could also do
small jobs. I taught her to pull on a lead rope to lead a horse around
and fetch and carry buckets, brushes and other things. She could even
open a few gates, but she had been strictly taught to only do it when
asked. She was very proud of her abilities and would strut joyfully as
she went about her tasks.
     I groomed Flint‟s new sleek summer coat after I untacked him
and headed for the house, for we had already finished the night
feeding. The twilight was darkening fast and stars peeped their way
into the midnight blue sky. I clattered the pans onto the stove and
began to make dinner. Dad trudged in, his boots clomping on the
wooden floor, and Red walked in after him. After taking off his hat and
hanging it up next to mine on the hooks by the door, he came in the
kitchen, reached into the refrigerator and pulled out a Coke. He took a
swig and leaned against the stove, watching me almost manage to burn
the chicken. I imitated him on the cabinet to the other side of the stove,
mirroring him.
     “Are you just gonna sit there or do something and help?” I asked
him teasingly. He smiled and tossed out some charred bits in the
trashcan and an undercooked sliver to the dogs, then took over the pan
from me, who surrendered it gratefully. Cooking was not my thing. I,

                                   i77j
for my part, got out the plates and poured out tall glasses of water for
everyone. We finally all sat down at the table. I could tell that all of us
were relieved-it had been a long day. We ate and talked quietly while
the crickets, nightingales, and other night creatures emerged from
their slumber. We could hear their songs coming through the open
window. The conversation was small and short for we were all tired
and needing sleep.
     Red excused himself early and left for the bunkhouse. Dad and I
cleaned the dishes alone. I wandered out to the porch and my dad
followed me. I sat down, letting my legs swing freely over the side. Dad
eased himself down next to me and we sat there for a while, gazing up
at the stars. He pointed out a few constellations, the ones that the olden
day cowboys made up as they trekked across the plains. He had taught
me some of them when I was little and I liked to find them on cloudless
nights. They had a familiarity that made them comforting when I got
scared of the dark as a young child.
     “You look so much like your mother,” my father said suddenly. I
looked at him, slightly startled out of my thoughts. We never really
talked about my mother. She had died of cancer when I was five, but I
still remembered her in short scraps of memories. “You have her hair,”
he continued, looking into the distance as if seeing some picture of her,
“and her eyes.” He turned to me. The stars were reflected on his eyes.
“She was beautiful. She had a way with horses, you know. Just like


                                    i78j
you.” He ruffled my hair affectionately. That was about the most he
had ever said at one time about my mother.
     “Maybe I know about horses from you, too, Dad,” I replied after a
while. “After all, didn‟t I get some characteristics from you?” I said
with a smile.
     “What, you mean the stubbornness? Hardheadedness?”
     “Yep.”
     We were silent for a while, then he spoke again.
     “I forgot to show you this earlier,” he said with a small smile and
handed me a black rectangular shape. It was a cell phone. I looked at
him and raised my eyebrows. “It‟s Donegan‟s,” he explained, hardly
suppressing his laughter. “I found it when I was draining the tub from
our flea dip. It must have fallen out when he fell in.”
     “No way! Does it still work?” I asked, now laughing too.
     “Not at the moment, but if you get Red to fiddle with it, you never
know what kind of fun you could have with it.” He wiggled his
eyebrows.
     “If you‟re thinking about prank calls, count me in,” I replied. My
dad may be all upright and honest, but he wasn‟t above a bit of fun.
After all, I had seen today that he had gotten a new cell phone.
     He chuckled and put his arm around me, hugging me close. I
leaned my head onto his shoulder and looked to the stars. Their distant
lights twinkled down on us, winking their golden selves down onto us.
Father and daughter watched a shooting star streak across the sky.

                                   i79j
zChapter 16
     With a groan, I flung my arm over to slap the snooze button on
my alarm clock. Then I remembered what today was, and I sat bolt
upright in my bed. I had to find the stallion by two o‟ clock, or he
might be gone forever.
     I rolled out of bed and took my time getting dressed into my work
clothes, thinking how I could possibly have a chance in actually
finding Gold Dust. The chances looked pretty slim. I had absolutely no
idea where to start looking. Then my eyes wandered to Donegan‟s cell
phone that Dad had given me last night. I slipped it into my back
pocket.
     I came running out of the house, eager in gripping this chance,
this possibility of finding the stallion and maybe saving the farm. I had
realized last night, after my father and I had returned back into the
house and Dad bent tiredly over a stack of papers and bills, how much
the stallion meant to our ranch. Not many ranches had breeding
stallions, but when they did, it really helped a lot. Without income
from Gold Dust, it would be much harder to pay the bills and we could
possibly lose the ranch. We would never have enough money to buy
another stallion like Gold Dust.
     The morning chores went by in a whirl of feeding, hauling, and
exercising horses. I rode a string of horses that were frisky from a few
days out to pasture. We had about twenty horses, each with their own


                                   i80j
personalities and strengths, but most of them contained at least a few
characteristics essential to a good cow horse-intelligence, agility,
strong hindquarters, speed, calm temperaments, and most important of
all, cow sense. Of course, a few were slower than others, or more
spirited, but overall they were successful roping and working horses.
The string I worked today were young and for the most part
inexperienced and spooky, but they had progressed greatly and I was
proud of them.
     Red and my father were riding “broncs,” as they put it, but they
really were just training our youngest horses to be ridden and to take
to a saddle. They liked to call them broncs because the colts and fillies
tended to buck a lot until they got used to a human‟s weight, therefore
acting like the broncos at the rodeo. I could hear their whoops and
yells as one of them got jolted around on the back of a stubborn colt,
while the other stood just outside the pen to watch and help if needed.
     I glanced up at the high sun, wondering if we would have time
today to even begin to think about searching for the stolen stallion. We
had barely enough time this week to scour the trails as little as we did.
Often there was not enough time in the day on a working ranch to do
much recreation. With a sigh, I led the horse I had been exercising,
Chevy, to the barn, took off her saddle and let her loose in the pasture.
She was the last horse that I had to work. I absentmindedly brushed
some of Molly‟s hairs off of my shirt. I had exercised her as well that
morning. I wondered if the other two were finished and wandered

                                   i81j
over to the round pen. Red had ridden the colt long and I could tell he
was worn out as Red steered him over to where I was standing by Dad.
     “I think he is almost ready to really start training, Aaron,” he said
to Dad. “He‟s just willful, aren‟t you, big guy?” he leaned down and
patted the large paint horse, whose name was Dallas. Even though he
was only about three years old, he was already huge. “I agree,” my
father replied. “And I believe we are done. I didn‟t think we would
finish early today with so many horses to work.” He let himself into the
pen, walked over to Red and Dallas and stroked the paint‟s neck. Dad
took the reins from him and began to walk the horse slowly around the
pen to cool him down. When I motioned Red over, he came and leaned
his shoulder against the railing while taking off his gloves.
     “What‟s that?” he pointed to Donegan‟s cell phone in my hand. I
held it out to him and explained what had happened. He cautiously
picked it up, as if it might explode in his palm, and turned it over and
over, examining it. When I got to the part about what we could use it
for, his face lightened and he flipped the phone over on its front and
popped the cover off the back, exposing the battery and many senseless
miniscule chips and metal parts.
      He tinkered around with the various chips for a second and then
said, “Aha!” in a satisfactory way. He flipped a switch in the
complicated little thing and punched in a tiny microchip that must
have come out of place. He turned the cell phone back over and it‟s


                                   i82j
black screen lit up. Not wasting any time, he opened it and clicked his
way through a series of screens until he got to Donegan‟s contacts.
     “What are you guys acting so secretive about over here?” my
father asked right behind us. We jumped and Red snapped the phone
shut guiltily. My dad raised an eyebrow but I could see the hint of an
amused smile playing across his face. Red and I stole a glance at each
other and we knew we should probably let Dad in on what we had
been doing.
     After taking a deep breath, I blurted out everything that had
happened and everything that we had done. I knew he was listening
because he nodded his head, frowned at some parts and laughed at
others. Red interjected at times some details that I had forgotten. When
I had finished, my father was silent for a moment looking thoughtful. I
bit my lip and watched him for his reaction, fearing that he would
ground us immediately and then we couldn‟t ever dream of finding the
stallion again. Then Dad said the unexpected.
     “Well, I have to admit that you two have been trying harder than
me to find Gold Dust.” Red and I both looked at him in bewilderment.
     “What do you mean?” I asked cautiously.
     “What I mean is that I‟ve only asked around. I‟ve called the vet,
the sheriff and a few neighbors to see if anyone has seen him. I guess
I‟ve just been too busy to do much,” he said, staring at his boot.
     “Well, now you are going to do something,” I told him
confidently. “I think I‟ve got a plan.”

                                   i83j
                                    d
     Actually, all there was to my genius plan was that we split up on
horseback and scoured the last of the trails that we hadn‟t searched
near Donegan‟s property. Red had taken Donegan‟s phone. I‟m not
very good at planning. Act now, think later, that‟s my motto.
     Anyway, Flint was picking his way through a particularly rocky
part of the trail when I heard an unfamiliar noise. It wasn‟t a forest
noise-I‟d been hearing those for about an hour now. It was something
different. The grey horse heard it too and stopped. I had not heard
from which direction the noise had come from, so I looked to Flint‟s‟
ears. A horse‟s ears can tell you a lot about him, my father once said,
like if they‟re happy or sad, angry or nervous. His ear tips pointed
towards a small deer path that struck out from the main trail.
     At that moment, I was clutching at any lead I got on the stallion,
and I allowed Flint to take his own way. The deer path was short and it
widened out to a clearer path that led to a small pond that must have
served the animals as a watering hole. I could just see across the pond
that there was a new trail, about a week old from the look of it. Flint
lowered his head to the ground, blowing great breaths on the earth,
which was packed with multiple prints of many animals, mostly deer.
     Steering Flint around towards the little trail, I stood up in my
stirrups to try and make sense of the myriad of prints beneath me. If
the stallion had come by here, then his track must have been covered


                                   i84j
up by now, but here and there I saw the odd pointy cowboy boot. I sat
back down as we reached the broken path. I dismounted to inspect the
trail more closely. I hoped beyond all hope that this path wasn‟t just
some random deer trail.
     I tread carefully, trying not to disturb any possible sign. There
were a few sage bushes whose leaves had been torn, their light piney
smell still lingering in the air. The ground was churned with tracks
that didn‟t look like deer or any other wild animal. Branches lay
broken and smashed into the soft ground. The way some stray vines of
ivy and creepers were slashed looked like they had been cut savagely
with a knife.
     There were the trampled remains of horseshoe prints. Prints
identical to Gold Dust‟s. I smiled- I had found my trail.




                                   i85j
zChapter 18
     My anxiety increased as we went farther down the path. What
would be at the end? What if we were too late? I had no inkling
whatsoever of what time it was. To add to all of my troubles, the trail
was getting increasingly steeper and rockier by the minute.
     After a while of being lost in my thoughts, I realized that the path
was almost at its end. The trees ahead were thinning out and I thought
I saw a ramshackle sort of shed leaning between two trees. I was too
busy looking at what was ahead to notice a large rut in the middle of
the trail. Flint had been occupied by an interesting plant and didn‟t
notice the ditch either until it was too late. Flint stepped just on the side
of the rut and lost his balance when he put his weight on it. His left
front hoof tipped sideways and shot down into the hole. His whole
body tilted violently and I was thrown the other way to keep from
toppling off the saddle. The accident ended with Flint falling to his
right knee and when the dust finally cleared, I realized that my saddle
had tilted sideways. It was a wonder that I hadn‟t fallen off.
     I sat there in a daze, cursing myself for not being more aware and
desperately trying to find a way to get us out. Flint half-stood-half-
knelt, snorting out loud breaths and blowing the dirt in front of his
nose outwards. I eased my way out of the saddle and stepped to the
ground. I did the only thing I could think of. Taking off the saddle, I set
it down a few yards away, so that it would be easier for my horse to lift


                                    i86j
himself out. I took hold of the reins and gently gave a little tug. The big
grey horse raised his head and struggled to find a foothold for his hoof.
He seemed to find one and slowly he rose to his haunches. It looked
like he couldn‟t use the leg that fell in the hole. I sucked in a fast
breath. This could be bad. Once he got the idea that he had to get
moving, I supported him the best I could to help a thousand pound
horse get up.
     With one final surge of energy, Flint lifted himself up and stood
upright, his left hoof resting tenderly in the soft dirt. The poor thing
was quivering slightly from the effort. I ran my hand down his leg and
found a few superficial scrapes. Suddenly I reached a point just above
his fetlock. There was a drop of something wet and slightly sticky. I
froze. I lifted my fingers and ran them as lightly as I could down the
rest of his leg. There seemed to be a jagged cut and I rotated myself so
that I could see the cut better. I held back a gasp. The cut was deeper
than I thought. Without taking my eyes off his leg. I stood up and
fumbled with the straps on my saddle bag. I just knew I put my first
aid kit in there yesterday. I grasped the plastic box and yanked it open.
I was low on gauze from wrapping Red‟s shoulder and I had forgotten
to resupply, but I would have to make it work.
     I knelt again and unwound the white gauze. Flint lowered his
head and looked at me with his big brown eye. I scratched his
forehead.
     “Don‟t worry, big guy,” I reassured him. “You‟ll be ok.”

                                    i87j
     I swabbed the wound with disinfectant and cleaned up the blood
the best I could. I would wash it properly when I got home. He flinched
when the stinging solution touched his leg but he didn‟t move a
muscle. I patted him again as he watched the whole procedure. I
pressed a large cotton square against the cut and wrapped gauze
around the whole thing. I re-wrapped it with the little tape I had and
stood up stiffly. I must have been down there a while. Flint looked at
the bandage curiously and tested it by striking his hoof against the dirt
a few times. It looked like it would hold.
     I peered into the hole to see what cut my horse. I found what I
was looking for. A shiny piece of glass glinted up at me. It wasn‟t
buried deep in the dirt-maybe half an inch or so. Flint must have
scraped against it just as he went in. It looked like it had been covered
by loose dirt stirred up by our fall, which meant that it must have been
on top of the ground when we came through. It also meant another
thing. Someone had been here before us, maybe a day ago.

                                    u
     I decided to walk Flint from the ground now that we were
hopefully close to where something was and I was worried about
Flint‟s leg. He could walk along fine with a little limp, but I was afraid
of what would happen with my weight on his back. There was a small
stand of trees to our right that were blocking our view of the other
side, though I could see that it was clear and open over there.


                                   i88j
     I ground tied Flint at the bend of the trail and continued deeper
into the area by myself, scared that he would hurt himself again on any
of the pieces of rubbish strewn around the place. The area was a mess -
there were food wrappers, empty beer bottles (one of which must have
broken and cut Flint‟s leg), rusty old parts of machinery and other
trash.
     I picked my way through the disarray, trying to keep quiet in case
there was somebody else here whom I wouldn‟t want to meet. A small
snort broke the eerie silence. My head whipped back towards Flint. He
was watching my every move, and now we looked at each other
intently. The noise came again. It was a horse-like noise, but not from
Flint. I had been watching him, and he didn‟t move a muscle until he
heard the noise again. Then he raised his head and peered somewhere
behind me.
     Then he did something I didn‟t expect in my weirdest dreams. He
nickered, a low, soft sound, a sound of knowing. Flint recognized
whatever was back there. The noise was sent back to us, except a little
higher-pitched, like it was excited and pleased to see my horse. A soft
wind blew, but it was down wind of us, so Flint couldn‟t smell who it
was. The grey horse was still on alert mode with his nostrils flared, eyes
wide and ears pointed in the direction of the sound, sometimes flicking
back towards other noises in the forest. A few moments after the breeze
began blowing a section of the area almost directly in front of us


                                  i89j
exploded in a series of thuds and enthusiastic whinnies. The trees
shivered when a thump sounded somewhere near them.
     I looked closer at what I had missed earlier. I had been focusing
on who might have been here, not what was actually here right now.
The shudders of some foliage brought my attention to an area near the
edge of the clearing. I reminded Flint to stay put with a quiet word and
made my way cautiously towards a few trees and high bushes. As I
came nearer, the whinnies got more frequent and the crashings louder.
I looked closely at something that I should have noticed a while ago.
About forty years or so ago, there had been a cattle trail running
through these parts that was so frequently used that a few cowboys
had set up permanent holding pens at popular campsites. Now, the
cattle trail was mostly overgrown and the campsites abandoned, but
the heavy-duty pens remained.
     I could now see that a few plants had been deliberately dragged
around something, as if to hide it. A few slashes of my pocketknife
made the branches and vines fall away, uncovering a rusty chain
securing the iron bars of a huge round pen. It had a shiny new lock,
the kind I recognized that they sold in the general store in town. Also
the kind I knew was the easiest to pick.

                                   7
     A strong splinter from an ash tree did the trick. The lock clicked
open and I threw it aside. I was now sure that there was a horse inside


                                  i90j
the pen and I could see it was a palomino. I knew by sight those
dapples.
     I had found Gold Dust!
     Somebody had somehow drilled wooden boards into the metal
pipes of the pen to reinforce it. I could see why it needed to be stronger
when an almost ground shaking kick rocked the pen on its
foundations.
     I tried to speak soothingly to the stallion, but it seemed more like
he was excited rather than angry. I was only able to push and shove
the gate open about a foot, but I was just able to slide in after checking
over my shoulder at Flint once more. He was relaxed and seemed
willing to wait. As soon as I entered the spacious pen, Gold Dust was in
my face. He snorted and snuffled my shirt. Suddenly it was clear-he
must have smelled Molly‟s scent. Finally satisfied, he stood back, looked
at me and tilted his head as if he was asking, “Well am I getting outta
here or not?”
     I bit my lip, thinking hard, knowing that we would have to get
out of here fast. The sun was beginning to dip down and it would have
to be getting close to their appointed time to pick up the stallion. The
palomino was starting to get restless and was shifting about from foot
to foot. I wondered what he was like in here the first few days. At least
he‟d had water and food. There was a pile of hay and a bucket of water
put to one side. His coat hadn‟t been groomed and he had more than a
few scratches (probably from fighting Donegan and Anderson), but he

                                   i91j
seemed in pretty good shape. It was a good thing that he knew me,
because otherwise I wasn‟t sure what he would do. He appeared calm
with me, but he also was looking around edgily as if ready to run or
fight at any moment. Since there was nowhere to run in this pen, it
would most likely be fight.
        Flint still waited where I had left him, but he looked like he didn‟t
like it. He changed his weight from one hind leg to the other and I
noticed that my bandage was still holding, thank goodness. I turned
back to my task. Picking up a small broken off piece of log, I stuck it in
between the fence and the gate and tried to pry the thing open. The log
broke in half. Of course, that was the strongest piece of wood I could
find.
        I tried heaving the thing open myself, but it only budged a few
inches. Gold Dust stayed waiting inside the pen while I pondered what
to do. Flint came over and nudged my palm. I was too preoccupied to
scold him for disobeying me. I scratched his crest absentmindedly and
then reentered the pen. I didn‟t know that Flint had followed me, until I
turned around and his shoulders were stuck between the gate and the
side of the pen. Flint has a narrow chest, so he was just able to fit inside
the gap that I had squeezed through. Now he couldn‟t back out, or go
forward.
        He was more likely to hurt himself backing out, so I decided to try
and coax him into the pen with us. I could see no other option, even
though two horses would be trapped in here instead of one.

                                     i92j
Thankfully, his saddle was already off. Without it, Flint was just barely
able to slide in the pen unhurt.




                                   i93j
zChapter 19
        Remembering my radio, I grabbed it out of my bag and pressed
the call button. It crackled and fuzzed for what seemed like forever,
but it finally made the connection.
        “Dad? Red? I‟ve found him. Come and help us as soon as you can.
If you go down the trail I took, then turn onto the deer path, go past
the pond on that smaller trail. Follow it and you will find us.” I clicked
off. “Watch out for the holes,” I added after a thought.
        The creeper vines that grew over the fence gave me an idea.
Reaching into my saddlebag, I drew out my extra rope and unwound
my lariat from the saddle horn. The ropes were very long and strong,
woven in strands of cowhide and perfect for ranch work. I looped one
of them into a sort of harness and did the same to the other one. I
gently slipped it over Flint‟s head and he obliged. It went across his
chest and around his neck and I tightened the loops to make it fit.
Repeating the same actions with Gold Dust, I then took both of the
other ends of the ropes and tied them to the gate. These two were
definitely much stronger than me, so they could possibly pull the gate
open.
        I knew that they could potentially hurt themselves, but we had to
take the risk, otherwise we would never get out of here and Donegan
and Anderson would find us here. Then what would they do with us?
They wanted Gold Dust, but Flint and I were worth nothing to them.


                                    i94j
With a shudder I remembered the gun. Now we were racing against
the clock.
     I came up in between the two horses, who were standing side by
side with their rumps to the gate. Flint seemed to know what was going
on and arched his neck. He clearly had some energy left in him and he
had a determined air about him. Gold Dust appeared a little more
unsure. He craned his neck back to look at the rope connected to the
gate, then at me, then back at the rope. He tested it slightly by putting a
little of his weight into the makeshift harness, all the while looking at
me. The stallion wasn‟t used to having me in front of him-I wasn‟t my
father. I wasn‟t sure if this was going to work either, but it was our
only chance.
     I took a step backwards, and naturally Flint followed me,
straining at the rope. Gold Dust stood still, watching me cautiously.
     “Come on, boy,” I whispered, “you can do it. You have to, if you
want to get out of here.” Tentatively, he took a step forward, then
another. Soon the pair were pulling hard at the ropes and the gate was
giving way.
     “Just a little bit more now,” I murmured, “Almost there…”with a
final creak, the gate came free. Flint and Gold Dust stood there,
blowing slightly. I untied the ropes as quickly as I could. Flint seemed
fine, but I was still cautious of mounting him again. It would be a long
walk home. I trusted that the stallion would follow me now.


                                   i95j
     We set out, Gold Dust stepping carefully and looking around at
the outside of the pen that he hadn‟t seen for days. Suddenly when we
were almost at the watering hole, both of them stood stock still and
turned around, looking in the distance. Then, I heard it too. The
rumbling came up slowly, as if rising straight out of the ground. It got
softer and louder at points. With a sudden and nasty realization, I
knew what it was. I recognized the purr of Donegan‟s truck- they were
coming to get the stallion!
     I started running. Gold Dust and Flint seemed to get the message
and trotted behind me. I hoped neither Donegan nor Anderson were
good trackers, but that had been soft dirt back there. It would be easy
enough to follow our trail. The only thing that was on our side was that
they couldn‟t drive that truck further than the pen because the forest
was too dense. Maybe… I pushed the thought away. I couldn‟t ride
Flint and riding Gold Dust bareback and bridleless was out of the
question. I had only ridden him just a couple of times, and those were
in the arena with a saddle and bridle. We stopped briefly by the pond
to let them have a drink and then we pressed on.
      I knew it wouldn‟t take them long to find out the stallion was
taken. That gate opened to the inside and no horse, no matter how
smart, had the ability to break that gate open alone. They didn‟t seem
to be following us yet, so we slowed the pace a little. The horses didn‟t
hear or smell anything, though they kept looking around alertly.
Finally, we turned on the trail I had originally been following. It was

                                   i96j
still going to be a long way home. A roar came out of the blue and
frightened all the birds out of their roosts in the trees. A flash of red-
painted metal shone through the trees. They must have found a back
road and went around to catch us. All three of us froze, but it was too
late. They had spotted us.
     I could see Anderson shoving his hand towards the windshield,
pointing a bony finger at us. Donegan was gripping at the wheel,
trying hard not to lose a wheel on one of the many ruts in the road and
not flip over the trailer trundling along behind them. I made a split
second decision. We ran to a stump and I jumped onto Gold Dust‟s
back like I had done to Flint at the roundup. For a second I thought he
might buck, but he seemed too distracted with the impending truck
behind him to care about much. Flint knew the path well and I guess
that the stallion remembered the way home as well. Me, I just sat there
praying for dear life. I had ridden Flint bareback before, and many
times we had gone bridleless. Gold Dust was different. His stride was
shorter and he carried his head lower, though like Flint, he felt
powerful.
     Donegan‟s truck kept on crashing behind us, and I could see that
the strenuous galloping along the trails was taking a toll on the horses‟
energy. They were beginning to break into a sweat. I dared a glance
behind just as something glinted in the car window.
     It was a gun.


                                    i97j
zChapter 20
     What was their thing with guns? One of them always seemed to
have one lying around, waiting to shoot at horses and fifteen-year-old
girls. I now recognized Anderson as the person who shot at Red.
     Cold, clear vision caused me to see Donegan pull the trigger. I
ducked lower over Gold Dust‟s neck and waited for the shot and then
the pain. Gunfire cracked through the trees but I felt no fiery stab. He
had missed. Donegan had been concentrating on taking aim, so he had
not noticed a pothole, which caused his truck and the trailer to jolt
sideways. The sudden jar had messed with his aim.
     As he tried to right himself, all the while yelling at Anderson, he
swerved too quickly and the trailer went on one wheel. His eyes went
wide as he saw what was happening in the rearview mirror and he
frantically whirled the steering wheel to the right. This was a mistake,
because it only made the trailer tip to the other side at a dangerous
angle. This guy was not a good driver.
     As soon as they hit another bump, it was all over. The trailer
flipped onto its side and only skidded along a few yards until it stopped
and the truck stopped with it. An indignant Donegan burst out of the
driver‟s seat. He was hopping mad. Anderson was quieter about the
whole thing and he stood to one side.
     Donegan whirled around and, seeing the rider of the stallion was
me, bellowed, “YOU!” I had told the horses to stop and take a breather


                                  i98j
when the trailer flipped. I didn‟t want one of them to spook when it
capsized. Donegan bellowed again, this time a string of cuss words,
and started charging towards us. He didn‟t make much progress and
he kept tripping on roots and stones.
      Anderson was nimbler, and he probably remembered his part of
the deal, whatever it was. Probably money. I had considered
dismounting, but now that Anderson was after us, I decided to ride.
The trail was flatter here and the going was easier. Despite his
lankiness, Anderson was nimble and very quickly passed Donegan on
his way hauling up the slope. On their way towards home, the horses
found a new energy and began cantering lightly along, not in much of
a rush at all.
      As we were about to turn into the next and last bend towards
home, I thought we were pretty safe. Anderson was out of sight,
though Donegan could be heard crashing and cursing and yelling his
way up the hill. Anderson was getting desperate. He was pushing
himself harder and harder in an effort to catch up with us. Maybe the
stallion was going to be more than money to him. We turned the bend,
Anderson charging along as best he could. Finally he stopped, chest
heaving, and stared at us with wild eyes.
      We halted, wondering if he was about to pass out. He fumbled
with his leather jacket, reaching inside. It was too late before I realized
what he was reaching for. I wheeled Gold Dust around, Flint following
the movement, but he had already had us at gunpoint. His thin, pale,

                                   i99j
sweating face was twisted in an unreadable and grotesque expression.
The trail seemed to be closing in on us, choking us. We couldn‟t run
anywhere and get out of the way. His finger closed slowly in on the
trigger, savoring the moment. If he had been unsure about this
operation before, all caution was thrown into the wind now.
     Suddenly pounding hooves echoed through the trees and the
sounds of “Hyaa! Hyaa!” yelled in familiar voices reached us. Red and
Dad were almost here. We slowed as we saw their moving forms
through the trees hurtling down the track. Anderson‟s concentration
wavered for a millisecond, uncertainty reappearing on his face. Dad
and Red whirled into the scene in a cloud of dust. My father had his
Colt pistol in hand. Was this going to turn into a shootout gun duel?
     “You‟re gonna take that gun away from my daughter, and you‟re
gonna do it now.” My father spoke in a calm tone, but his voice was
steely hard. All the while he held Anderson at gunpoint, unwavering.
Blackjack snorted and sidestepped. Red sidled in closer to me, and he
noticed Flint‟s bandage. He motioned to it, then Anderson with a nod,
asking if he had hurt Flint. I shook my head.
     Anderson stayed there longer than I would have liked, but slowly
the wild look came out of his eyes and he lowered his arm. Finally,
Donegan puffed his way up, red-faced, and barked, “What are you
doing? Why aren‟t you shooting?” He fumbled with his gun cartridges
a little, then he raised his head slowly, finally taking note of our
presence. Even though it didn‟t seem possible, his face turned redder.

                                   i100j
He looked as if he might as well faint. What color that was left in
Anderson‟s face slowly drained.
     “If you don‟t mind, I‟d like for you to get off of my property,” my
father said, his voice edged with steel. “Do I have to show any papers
to prove it? At least mine are real.” At this Donegan gave an
involuntary twitch of guilt. “Will you need a ride to the police station?
You could borrow one of my horses.” He stared Anderson down, who
tried to gaze steadily back but he wavered just slightly. “They‟re really
calm, they weren‟t taken straight out of the wild.” Anderson broke his
gaze and instead stared intensely at his boots.
     In the awkward moment, I noticed that Flint‟s bandage was
coming undone and I dismounted to fix it. Red handed me some extra
tape from his saddlebag and I was able to properly secure it. I looked
up to my father sitting tall in the saddle, still watching Donegan and
Anderson. He met my eyes for a moment, then handing Red the gun, he
dismounted to examine Flint. At this moment, all heck broke loose.
Anderson spun around and ran. Donegan raised his revolver again and
took aim. The first bullet whizzed just past Dad, who was crouching in
between Flint and Blackjack. The horses skittered away from the
bullet‟s path. Donegan clicked the trigger again and again, but he had
run out of ammunition. He was hastily replacing the cartridges as I ran
at him. He just saw me coming and threw his arms up to protect
himself.


                                  i101j
     I kicked low and hard, and he doubled over with a groan. I was
about to run past him after Anderson, but he shot an arm out and
grabbed my calf. Painfully, he straightened up and repositioned his
gun, still holding my leg. I flipped over on my back into the dirt.
     “No!” I screamed. Red leapt off his horse and ran at Donegan. I
tried to get up, but I couldn‟t. My flailing caused Donegan‟s aim to
waver and he shot my dad‟s ankle instead of where he had been
aiming. “Dad!” I yelled, then turned on Donegan. With my other leg, I
kicked hard at the backs of Donegan‟s knees. He fell with a heavy
thump. I was about to land another punch, when Red grabbed my arm
from behind me.
     “I‟ll take care of Donegan,” he told me. “Go after Anderson. Take
a horse, he‟s already gotten a head start. Don‟t let him get away.” I
nodded and reached for the closest horse‟s reins. It was Blackjack.
     “Sorry, Dad,” I whispered, as I swung up onto the gelding‟s back.
He was already moving before my leg reached the other side. I gave
him a nudge and we shot through the brush where Anderson had
headed.
     We came out of the brush into a grassy area with hills on one side
and trees and sagebrush on the other. He had actually made it easier
for us going for a flat part near one of our pastures. I urged Blackjack
into a gallop and he stretched out his legs into huge ground-covering
strides, but he wasn‟t like Flint. He carried his head lower, and he
seemed to be more collected. He was a nice ride, but I still missed Flint.

                                  i102j
I stood up in the saddle as tall as I dared, scanning the area for
anything that might give away Anderson‟s whereabouts.
     A small flock of birds flew up in a startled mass away from a
group of trees ahead and to my right, but it could have been anything.
I looked around again, and seeing as everything else was still, I steered
Blackjack towards the trees. A few branches waved from something
passing through not long ago. I slowed Blackjack to a rocking canter
and we dove into the deep bushes once again. I was forced to check the
black horse once again down to a trot because the roots tangled and
weaved their way across the thin trail. Finally, we were rewarded with
a sight of a checked flannel shirt disappearing around the bend. He
was ahead, but I guessed where he was going. My father had been
down this way once when he was after a lost calf. This path curved
back out into the open. I could perhaps beat him there.
     At my signal, Blackjack wheeled around on his hind legs and
raced back the way we came. Anderson was on foot, I was on a horse-
we had the upper hand. I now knew the twists, turns, and extra
surprises of the path and we were able to take it at a faster pace. I
slowed Blackjack to make less noise and we glided through the rest of
the way. We emerged just as Anderson was disappearing into the hills
on the other side. We cantered the short distance across, but in the hills
it got too rocky for hooves to navigate. I ground-tied him and pursued
the man on foot, hoping that he would be tiring soon.


                                   i103j
     I jumped from one wide rock to the other, always looking ahead
to where I could land my next step. My boots slipped now and then on
slippery patches, but I managed to save myself from a twisted ankle if
not from a few scrapes and bumps.
     As I came around a huge slab of slate, he was there, on the
ground.

                                  n




                                 i104j
zChapter 21
     His back was to me, and I wasn‟t sure if he had heard me come.
He was clutching at his ankle. I guessed that he had done what I had
nearly missed. His ankle was possibly broken. I inched closer and a
pebble loosed, its noise ringing in the silence. Anderson twisted around
frantically, cracked his back and retreated back to nursing his ankle
with a painful “Ow!”
     I walked cautiously towards him, though I doubted he still had a
gun. He eyed me cautiously, as if afraid that I might hurt him. I stood
at what I thought was a safe distance. He stared at me, his eyes
containing a wild look once more. Sweat beaded on his brow and his
shirt was soaked with it. His lip was split open and bleeding. He had
long scratches on his arms and a few bruises from crashing desperately
through the woods.
     “What are you going to do now? Further ruin my life?” He glared
at me with hate in his eyes. “I was gonna have it made. I was gonna
have enough money for once. That stallion was going to make us rich.”
He was almost yelling now. “Now you‟ve ruined it! All of you!” His
pale green eyes were darkened with rage, his body quivering. But as he
was brought up right like a cowboy, his anger was contained and his
outside remained calm while his inside broiled.
     I leaned closer to him. “You‟ve only done it to yourself.” At this,
his cool erupted with a snarl of fury. He lunged at me, thin hands


                                  i105j
clawing at air. I darted away, for his movements were clumsy and
predictable. He rose, all hurts forgotten, and stumbled towards in my
direction. I took another step back.
        “What‟s the matter?” he said in a voice that made me shiver.
“Going somewhere?” I had to keep my cool. He was just trying to scare
me, like intimidating a little kid. I pretended to think about his question
for a second. Then I looked him straight in the eye. “Yeah, I am.” Then
I hightailed it out of there like I was running from a tornado. Hastily I
reached Blackjack and leapt into the saddle. Anderson tore out of the
hills just behind me. He tripped, almost turned a somersault, but
caught himself just in time. A normally calm and levelheaded
Blackjack half-reared at Anderson‟s sudden ambush.
        “I thought we could sit and talk about this a while. You know,
calm-like,” he said, his raspy voice dripping with honey. A voice was
meant to be soothing had the opposite effect on me. It just riled me up
and made me feel more edgy. I must have been just giving off tsunami-
size waves of tension, because Blackjack was as jittery as a new-broke
colt.
        “Why don‟t you come with me and we can talk about it at the
police station?” I asked, sweetening my voice just like his. He caught
my mocking tone and he literally growled. “Over my dead body.”
        “Glad to know you feel that way,” I replied cheerily, as if he
hadn‟t just made a noise like a wild animal. He tried scrambling back
to slope, but we were already in motion. I had done calf-roping with

                                    i106j
Red for years, but I wasn‟t sure if it would work on a human. I
loosened Dad‟s rope from the saddle horn and swung it above my
head. I had been sizing him up for a while and I judged that I could do
it. His path was much easier to follow than a calf‟s. I threw the loop,
and at the same time Blackjack slammed on the brakes. Just as he was
trained to do.
     The loop went around Anderson‟s head, barely making it. I was
used to targets that were lower to the ground. He wriggled his body so
that the lariat slid past his arms and down his legs. He was going to get
away. I gave one final, frantic jerk on the rope and it closed on his
ankles. He fell flat on his face. I winced-that had to hurt. I wasted no
time in dismounting and running to the fallen Anderson. I put my boot
on the back of his neck so that he couldn‟t get up. I worked quickly,
just like I was dealing with a calf or cow.
     I released his ankles so that I could use the rope to tie his wrists. It
was sort of weird how roping and tying up a human was a lot like
roping and tying up a cow, but it was also reassuring that I knew what
I was doing. I tied a knot that would have made a sailor proud, though
it was difficult because lariats are stiffer than normal ropes because of
how they are used. Different types of stiffness in ropes are used for
different purposes. All of them are extra long, and I tied the excess
rope to the saddle horn. I gave a tug at the end of the rope tied to
Anderson. He sat up wearily.


                                   i107j
      “How do you feel about coming with me now?” I asked. I got no
reply, so I mounted and we began the walk back. I felt sort of bad
about tying Anderson up like a slave, but I knew as soon as I untied
him he would be well on his way out of the state. A few times he tried
to bite at the rope that bound his hands when he thought I wasn‟t
looking. I snapped the rope in response to this attempt and he didn‟t
try it again.
      We finally made it back to the trail, where I had left Red and Dad.
They were sitting, relaxed and without a care in the world, on a broken
log, while Donegan sat opposite them on another log. Donegan seemed
to be talking a mile a minute. I could see his jowls flapping from a
distance. He seemed to have calmed down a bit, at least. I checked on
Anderson. He was walking behind me, head down. I was slightly
surprised that he hadn‟t tried to attack me from behind us when we
had been walking back. I guessed that he knew he was defeated.
      “Why don‟t you two come sit down here next to us for a minute?
Our friend Donegan here was just telling us the whole story and about
how he was going to sell Gold Dust over the border to Mexico or South
America. For lots of money, of course,” my dad said with a wry smile. I
was pleased to see that he had taken care of his leg. He was covered in
dirt from when he fell, but he was acting like nothing had happened.
      “Apparently they take in many horses down there, no questions
asked,” Red chimed in. He, too, had a good bit of dirt on him, and
streaks of mud were painted like war paint on his face. He must have

                                  i108j
had a good tussle with Vance Donegan. I also noticed, with some
satisfaction, that Donegan had finally gotten down and dirty like a real
cowboy, though he kept on brushing off dirt and mud with distaste as
he talked.
     I had to say, sending Gold Dust to Mexico made sense. The
stallion was getting more and more well known throughout the horse
world. Try to sell him anywhere in the United States, and someone was
bound to recognize him.
     When I sat down, Dad made Donegan stop talking so that he
could explain to me what had happened. He said that Anderson had
snuck onto our ranch while we were on our roundup. Donegan had
found out from our neighbor when we were going to be gone.
Anderson had to take the stallion on foot because he had refused to get
in the horse trailer. Anderson had led Gold Dust to Donegan‟s ranch
(true to the tracks Red and I found) and they kept him there for one
night. The night that Gold Dust was on Donegan‟s land was our last
night on the roundup, when Donegan had approached us about papers
and “his” land. In an effort to make us think that he had nothing to do
with anything, Donegan had made fake papers and tried to rush us
home. That way, it looked like he wanted us to get home and find out
that the stallion was gone. The shadow Red and I had seen that night in
the kitchen was Anderson. He had lost his wallet the day he stole Gold
Dust and had come back for it. He found it, just as we sent the dogs
after him and he was gone before we reached the barn.

                                 i109j
     The man who shot at Red was Anderson. He had been snooping
around on our property, trying to find a place to hide the stallion near
our property. On the day Donegan fell in the flea dip, he had set up
that phone call with Anderson acting as Carter. Donegan had wanted
to get Dad out of our ranch so that he could snoop around. Apparently
the stallion had been going crazy and nothing could calm him and
Donegan had come to the ranch to find something that would placate
the stallion. The rest was history. We drove Donegan and Anderson
down to the police station that same day.




                                 i110j
zEpilogue
     “Back it up, slowly now, keep „er comin‟…” Carter gave
instructions to my dad in the driver‟s seat of our trusty Ford pickup
truck. He was backing a full horse trailer off the road that ran through
the national park onto a great, wide open plain. Many cowboys from
nearby ranches were helping with this, and they stood close by on their
horses. My father parked the truck and he and Carter undid the bolts.
The mustangs shuffled inside, unused to noisy trailer rides, but excited
about smelling a place they used to know.
     Dad and Carter slowly let down the ramp, and all of the other
ranchers, including Red and me, got into formation. We lined
ourselves up on either side of the back of the trailer, forming a
makeshift chute and making sure to give the mustangs enough room.
The ramp was lowered to the ground and Carter and my father slowly
backed away. The mustangs moved to the back of the trailer, but
stopped short of the ramp and stuck their noses out, uncertain of what
to do. It remained like this for a few tense moments, then one of them
broke loose and tore out of the trailer, racing out into the tall grass,
head held high and tail waving like a banner. The others were quick to
follow and they galloped out with enthusiasm, giving joyous bucks and
kicks.
     The cowboys all whooped as they saw the mustangs that were
caught on Anderson‟s ranch dashing about and playing in their true


                                   i111j
home, free at last. They galloped round and round, before heading out
to the open plain. Each and every one of us knew we were witnessing
something amazing. Everyone had broad grins, and as I caught Red‟s
and my father‟s eyes, I knew they, and everyone else, was as thrilled as
I was. Yep, I thought, this is the way it should be.

                                    k




                                   i112j
                         zAbout the Author
Whitney Granberry was born in Houston, Texas, and she now lives in
  Atlanta, Georgia with her family, dog, and pony. She enjoys doing
dressage, jumping, going cross-country and trail riding with her pony
   in her spare time. She also likes to read and spend time outside.

				
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posted:11/19/2011
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