Hanging up the cell, the old man called in, “Dispatch, car six I’m heading up to the truck stop in Monahans to pick up my visitors, be out of the county about an hour ETR is 1500.”
The female dispatcher came back, “Roger Car six, y’all going to come by here? I could use a good man you know.”
Chuckling the old man responded, “Dispatch, we’ll see, but one of them is already taken.”
His cell rang, and he picked it up to see the Sheriff was calling, “Yeah Sheriff?”
Sheriff Rodriguez rustling paper paused, “John, do you want to go off early today? I can push Hart up to cover four for the rest of the day since he’s just driving in circles over in sector six, and DPS has two cars working I-10 over there.”
Cocking his head, the old man thought for a minute, “Nah, it’s been quiet up here all day too, other than that idiot oil tanker driver that I wrote up this morning. I might stop at the house for a few to get them settled and introduce them to Francisco and Juanita, but I’ll stay till the end of shift.”
“Okay, sounds good John. What time do the festivities start tomorrow? I know Betsy is helping with the fixings, but she never told me what time ‘I’ was supposed to show up.”
The old man smiled, “Well you’re welcome anytime, but the food is going to start about three or four. I’ve asked Jose Ramos to make up some cuts to take to the department for both the deputies and the fire rescue folks about five and I think Juanita is planning on feeding them better than she’s feeding us.”
Sighing the Sheriff replied, “Like I need to eat any big meals. But this is one feed I’ve never passed up. Call if you need more time John.”
“Will do Jose,” hanging up the cell, the old man eased down on the accelerator and headed up 18 to Monahans. He wondered what this weekend would bring, and hoped things didn’t blow up, but he would be glad to see Matt, and yeah, Aaron too. But he would give Aaron a ration of crap, just to see what he was made of. Twenty minutes later he pulled into the truck stop at Monahans and spied two dirty SUVs sitting off to the side of the gas pumps with Virginia license plates. Looking closer he saw that both SUVs had Marine Corps stickers on the back glass, so he pulled in right behind them.
Getting out and stretching, he looked around but didn’t see either Matt or Aaron, so he wandered into the coffee shop.
The waitress came over and asked if he’d like a cup of coffee, so the old man agreed and dropped a couple of dollars on the counter. Behind him he hear a quiet, oh damn; turning around he saw Matt and Aaron just coming out of the bathroom.
Matt walked over and started apologizing, “Sorry sir, I didn’t figure you’d get here that quickly, so I was trying to be ready.”
The old man just stuck out his hand and laughed, “No biggie Matt, I know about hitting the bathroom, trust me! “ He reached over and shook Aaron’s hand too, and the waitress handed him his coffee. “Y’all need anything for the road? We’ve got about a 30 minute drive from here.”
A chorus of no sirs came back, so they headed for the door. As they walked toward the vehicles, he noticed Matt heading toward the Chevy SUV; so he turned to Aaron, “Don’t tell me you’re driving a damn FORD! I don’t allow FORDs on my property; you can leave that POS here, and ride with Matt.”
Aaron just looked at the old man with a stunned expression until he realized the old man was smiling and Matt was laughing and he finally responded, “Damn, I heard y’all were pretty parochial about trucks down here, but I didn’t realize it was THAT bad Sir. Although I did notice as we got further South and West the more trucks and fewer cars were in dealerships.”
“Yep, people have been disowned for buying a different brand down here, and that can go for generations. And you can bet every damn one of them has a least a rifle in it, if not a shotty and a pistol or two. Y’all both have VA carry, right?
Matt nodded and Aaron said, “Virginia and Florida both Sir.”
Matt added, “Florida too.”
“Okay, strange as it may seem, concealed is legal with either of those, but open carry is NOT legal any time you’re off the ranch. We normally open carry when we’re on the range, but remember off the property CONCEALED.”
A chorus of yes sirs again, and the old man smiled, “Okay, we’re going to follow 18 South for a while then out into the boonies a bit, bout 30 minutes. If something comes up and I have to haul ass, just continue to Ft. Stockton and call Jesse, and she can come get y’all. Okay, let’s go.”
Getting back in the car, the old man led Matt and Aaron back down 18 then back to the ranch. As they pulled into the yard, the Ramos brothers were finishing stripping out the hide of the old brindle steer hanging over the corral gate to the right of the driveway and the smell of BBQ was wafting over the yard.
Matt and Aaron got out and looked around in amazement; they were standing in front of the big house, with a porch that looked like it went all the way around the house. Off to the right was a smaller house that looked like it was really made out of logs, and further to the right were barns and sheds all with tin roofs and most looking like they had been there a while. Off to the left, the West as they automatically oriented themselves, there were a row of cedar trees and a few oaks that seemed to lean to the East and more trees could be seen behind another log building and behind that a newer small house with more trees. Other than the driveway, everything was fenced and Matt remembered they’d crossed a cattle guard coming into the driveway.
The old man was walking up to the house and an older Hispanic couple was coming from the house along with a damn big German Shepherd that bounded down the steps to the old man, then growled at Matt and Aaron.
Grabbing the dog’s collar the old man said, “Friends Rex, friends, you guys stick your hands out palms down and let him sniff em. And this is Francisco, my ranch foreman, and Juanita his wife who takes care of all of us!”
Laughter and handshakes went around, and the old man bowed out to go back to work. Juanita took one look at the Marines and invited them into the house, putting glasses of iced tea in front of them, “You are Matthew,” pointing at Aaron; “And you are Aaron. I have seen pictures of you. For you Matthew, you will be sleeping in the back bedroom here. Aaron, you will be in the guest house out back, and Francisco will show you where to put your bags. I have placed clean sheets on the beds and you have fresh towels and soap and shampoo on your beds. Supper will be at seven pm, breakfast at five thirty am, and NO eating the desserts! Those are for tomorrow. Any questions?”
Matt looked at her with a smile, “Yes ma’am, were you ever in the Marines, cause you sure sound like a drill instructor!”
Juanita playfully slapped Matt on the arm, “Maybe I should be, twenty years of taking care of lazy men around here and trying to keep this place clean. Maybe I need some Marines here to show these lazy bums how to clean up after themselves.”
Francisco just rolled his eyes, earning a glare from Juanita, “Just ignore her, she’s all bark and no bite just like Rex. Come, I will show you where to put your bags.”
As they walked through the house, both Matt and Aaron looked around at the old but comfortable furniture, obvious antiques, and when Matt was shown the bedroom he would be sleeping in commented on the Winchester hanging in the deer antler rack by the bed, “Is that thing loaded?”
Francisco told him, “Of course it’s loaded, and it’s an 1886 in 45-70 and there are spare rounds in the night stand, top drawer. All the guns you see in this house and the others are always loaded for safety in case they are needed.”
Aaron chimed in, “Always loaded for safety in case they are needed? What does that mean sir?”
Francisco shrugged, “This is a ranch senor, in West Texas, and one never knows when you will need a gun to hand.”
Leading them out the back hallway to the old house he told them, “According to John, this is the original house built here in the 1870s and it is on part of the original ranch section of land his five times great grandfather settled after the Civil War. At one point, they had almost twenty thousand acres of ranch and farm land in this area.” Gesturing at the old house he said, “Yes those are bullet holes in the door, and around the windows, the house was attacked a few times over the years by Indians and rustlers. But they have continued to upgrade the house over the generations, and Senor John’s dad was the last family member born in this house. He built the new house in the 1940s. It does have air conditioners in the windows, and it does have running water, although that is in the addition on the back of the house. The kitchen no longer works, but the bathroom does, including the shower, and the sink in the kitchen does have running water.”
Opening the door Matt and Aaron both stopped cold, it was like walking into a museum except it was real and Aaron at least would be staying here. Francisco opened the middle door on the right, and pointed out the light switches, and said, “Before you ask, yes that is also loaded, and it is a .44-40, but that one is an 1873 Winchester and spare rounds are in the nightstand. Feel free to look around, I must go back to work now; John and Jesse should be here in about an hour.”
Matt and Aaron unloaded their bags into their respective rooms and wandered around a bit, realizing they were literally seeing a family history in the furniture, the pictures on the walls, and the furnishings. Just looking at the houses, the set up and watching the Ramos brothers starting to cook both the steer and the half hog in a huge smoker they had pulled in behind their truck made them wonder what they’d walked into. Aaron was looking around like a pole axed steer, mumbling that Jesse had never said anything about any of this, just lived on a little old farm…
After they looked around a bit inside, the smell of BBQ convinced them go outside and over to where Jose and his crew were working and Jose explained they don’t use all hickory or mesquite, but put both apple and cherry woods into the mix also, and they would be cooking until the next afternoon before all the food was ready. They’d set up chairs, a picnic table, and had a little portable TV running on the table as they dusted the steer parts and hog with rubs. He also explained they wouldn’t actually put any sauce onto either set of meats until the last half hour, and he and Matt got in a long discussion over types of BBQ. Aaron wandered over to the steer hide and poked at it, trying to imagine what it would be used for.
Half an hour later, they were sitting in the kitchen enjoying another glass of iced tea when they heard two cars pull into the driveway and shut off, two doors slammed and then the screen door. Matt looked at Aaron and noticed that Aaron had suddenly gotten very tense, and chuckled to himself.
He looked back and Jesse was standing in the door, suddenly as shy as Aaron seemed to be, until she got a push in the back from the old man, “If you’re gonna kiss him, go kiss him; don’t stand there like a love sick calf, girl.”
Juanita laughed and that broke the spell, Jesse walked over to Aaron put a hand on his shoulder and kissed him on the cheek saying, “Hi, I’m glad you made it okay. Hi Matt welcome.”
Aaron reached up and put his hand over Jesse’s and just looked at her.
The old man laughed, “Okay, y’all can go somewhere private a catch up, meantime I’m going to get a cup of coffee and talk with Matt.”
Blushing Jesse grabbed Aaron’s hand and drug him out the back door. The all laughed as the noticed the back of Aaron’s neck was red too.
Juanita yelled after them, “Catfish in an hour, don’t be late!”
The old man grabbed a cup of coffee and led Matt into the library slash office. As he eased himself into his favorite rocker, he looked up at Matt; waved around the room and said, “I’m sure you have a few questions don’t ya Matt?”
Matt walked over to the book lined cases and looked at one shelf that had a few pictures and trinkets sitting on it, “Well sir, it does seem you’re not just an old country boy sheriff’s deputy. And judging by the number of oil wells I’ve seen, and the size of this place, I think y’all are doing pretty well and have been here a LONG time!”
The old man sighed, “Well Matt, short story is our family settled here in the 1870’s, managed to get a pretty good piece of land out here bout 20,000 acres; lost some of it to keep the family fed, and we’re down to about 3300 acres give or take. Luckily nobody ever sold off the mineral rights, since this is actually the quote Permian basin unquote, which is one of the largest oil fields in the US. But more specifically we’re sitting on what’s called the Delaware basin and Sheffield channel which connects to the Midland and Val Verde basins. The first field in Pecos County was the Yates field down in the Southeast corner of the county, round about 1926, and grandpa told me he hit oil a couple of times in the 30s trying to get water, which is actually more precious out here than oil by the way. But that was the depression and he couldn’t get anybody to come get it since he never sold or leased any mineral rights to anybody. It wasn’t till WWII that they came looking up in this part of the county for oil and grandpa finally got some wells drilled down about eight thousand feet. We’ve done pretty well since, and manage to keep the place up, money in the bank, and we run a few head of Longhorns up on the North section.”
Matt asked, “Is that what you referred to as the North 40?”
“Yep, but it’s actually a full section, so it’s really 640 acres.”
Meanwhile, Jesse and Aaron walked down the path behind the house. Once they were out of sight of the houses and Jose and his crew, Aaron stopped and pulled Jesse into his arms and they kissed for a long time; Jesse laid her head on Aaron’s chest and Aaron said, “I’ve missed you Jesse, and there seems to be a few things you didn’t tell me,” sweeping the property with one arm, “This is a helluva lot more than a little farm isn’t it?”
Jesse leaned back in his arms, then glared over toward the trees, “TOBY, you come out of there right now!”
Abashed, Toby came out of the brush, walked over and said, “Miss Jesse, just making sure he okay. No want bad guys here.”
“Toby, Aaron is NOT a bad guy, he’s my boyfriend. Aaron, this is Toby, he’s the ranch hand that works for Papa and Francisco. Now the two of you shake hands, and Toby, you disappear, got it?”
Smiling and bobbing his head, Toby shook Aaron’s hand and replied, “Yes Miss Jesse, I go work with horses now. You ride Buttercup tomorrow?”
“Maybe Toby,” shooing him away.
Puzzled, Aaron looked after Toby, “What kind of Indian is he? Or is he? That didn’t sound like…”
Putting her arms back around Aaron, Jesse answered, “He’s a Montangard, Papa’s friend’s son who is here to try to make a life for himself outside his culture since they have way too many males. He’s three years younger than me, but he knows horses and animals like nobody I’ve ever seen. And before you go there, yes I DO have a horse named Buttercup. DO NOT go there, understand?”
Laughing Aaron kissed the top of Jesse’s head, “Yes dear.”
“Now you’re learning,” grabbing Aaron’s hand they walked down to the corral and Jesse introduced Aaron to Buttercup and the other horses, joking that if he wanted to hang around, he’d have to learn to ride and be able to keep up with her.
Back in the house, Matt asked, pointing to a picture sitting in the back of the shelf, “Is that you sir, when you were in the Army?”
The old man got up and walked over to the shelf, taking out the picture and the piece of bracelet lying there, he bowed his head for a minute, the looked at Matt, “Yeah, that’s me as a Staff Sergeant, and that’s a picture of the Degar village I lived in and worked out of for almost a year West of Pleiku. Of the people in that picture, I think maybe six are still alive.”
“Yards, Montagnards or hill people as they were known. Actually that ville was part of the Jarai tribe or family if you will. I was there until early ’68 before I got rotated out. We were sitting on the South end of the trail, and our job was to provide a tripwire for major movements and interdict if there were small movements. Those people were fantastic fighters, and they got fucked so bad by not only their own government, but by us that it still pisses me off. They were left behind to die when the US pulled out. Actually a few have been relocated to North Carolina, maybe three thousand total; but they’ve got problems adapting here too. Actually my ‘hand’ Toby, well, he’s a Degar.” Pointing to a young girl in the picture he continued, “His mother, I found out she and a couple of others made it out; I helped them out a little bit quite a few years ago, and actually brought them out here for a while. Toby, that’s what we call him because we can’t pronounce his real name; he fell in love with the horses and animals, but his momma couldn’t handle the environment out here, and she went back. About two years ago, I got a call from her, wondering if I’d take Toby and put him to work. Since he’s part white, he’s pretty much an outcast to the tribe, and he still loves horses. Hell, he’s doing all the breaking of the horses for us and a couple of other folks.”
Shaking his head, he put the picture back on the shelf. Bouncing the piece of bracelet he commented, “This is the last bracelet they made for me, and I wore it for about three years until I was directed to take it off. It’s Elephant hair, so it’ll never wear out for all practical purposes. That was kinda a clue to folks where you were or had been too.”
“I went back the last time in 71-72 as an advisor, hell there wasn’t much to advise… Most of the ARVN were on the run or just going home, and we got the shit shot out of us a few times. I came home from that and did a couple of other short detachments various places and got out in ’75 after my dad died.”
Matt pointed to the plaques shoved in the back of the shelf, “Those are quite a collection, are they from the dets?”
The old man sat back down, grabbed his coffee and drained it, “Nah, I joined the Sheriff’s Department here in 1976, since we’d sold off the cows and there wasn’t much to do here. I did a two year second to the DEA and in 83 the department sent me to the FBI National Academy, that’s the one with the NA on it. The rest are from some things I’ve gotten for being loaned out here and there. I kinda know a little bit about smuggling.”
Matt and the old man compared notes on the differences between the Army and Marines and combat in Vietnam versus Afghanistan and Iraq. By the time dinner was called, they’d established a mutual respect that crossed both the age and service boundaries.
After dinner, Matt pleading a full stomach and being tired from the drive, headed for a shower and bed. The old man and Francisco helped Juanita clean up the kitchen and wash the dishes that didn’t fit in the dishwasher; and Francisco and Juanita headed over to their house. Jesse and Aaron had disappeared, and the old man just smiled. He ruffled Rex’s head and walked back into the office and worked a few emails before going to bed.
To be continued…