Getting down to the end of the next western. 56K words as of tonight.
Usual caveats, plus a question. Too much detail in this one?
Comments and recommendations appreciated, as always.
Pronto brought the coffeepot with him when the three old mountain men walked into the dining room. “Anybody want coffee?”
Ed pushed his cup over. “Please.” Pronto filled his cup, looked around, and sat down between Monte and Bear. Ed looked at Rio and asked, “What is your plan, Rio?”
Startled, Rio looked back at him for a second, then sat up straight. “Well, I think letting Pa and his hands cut the herd would be the easiest way to do it. As soon as they cut a bunch, our hands will push them off to the side, keeping that bunch apart. Once the bunch is big enough, push it through the gap, run them up the valley a bit, and peel back to pick up the next bunch.” He looked over at Billy and asked, “Think six to seven hands will be able to handle a bunch, say, a hundred or two hundred head?”
Billy hunched his shoulders a bit. “Should be. Them cows been trailin’ for a few months, mebbe five hand.” He shrugged. “Jus’ have to see.”
Rio looked up at the ceiling. We’ve got eighteen hands between here and the north ranch. Everybody except Fat Jack, Arapaho Joe, and Isom will be down here, so maybe three bunches at a time? “Let’s go with six hands to handle each group. Juan and Alice should be here soon, along with the rest of the hands from up north, right, Monte?”
Monte nodded. “Soon as I got back, I tole Billy and he sent Maxwell up to tell ‘em y’all were here.” He sipped his coffee and eyed Pronto. “Me and Pronto be too old to mix it up, but we can count fer ya.”
Ed nodded slightly and Rio saw it. “That would work.” He smiled. “I actually hadn’t counted y’all in the hands.” He looked at Bear. “Bear has been partnered with Jeb for a while now, so I did count him.”
Bear preened a bit as he said, “I can get it done.”
Pronto sniped, “Well, that be good, since ya can’t count for…never mind.”
Another half hour of discussion followed, and finally broke up when Juan, Alice, and the hands from the north ranch rode in. Anna, Alice, and Emily disappeared, leaving the men sitting around the table. One by one, everyone else left, and just Rio and Ed sat there, cold coffee cups in front of them. Ed rolled his shoulders and said, “Rio, I’m proud of what you’ve done here. I know you weren’t expecting this,” waving his hand, “But you’ve stepped up and made things work. I don’t know if I’ll come next year, might send Eli, depending on how he works out this year. Frankly, I’m gettin’ too old to be pushing cows over the trail.”
Rio bowed his head. “Thanks, Pa. I’m not sure I’m doing things right all the time, but I kinda lean on Pronto and Anna. She is one smart woman!” He looked down at his coffee cup and added, “I do worry about the older hands being willing to work for somebody as young as I am.”
“Well, according to Pronto, you’ve earned their respect because you pitch in to get the work done. Just like you did on the drive last year.” Ed got up slowly. “As long as you set a good example, people will take orders and follow you.” He pulled out his pocket watch. “And sunrise is going to come early. I’m for bed.”
Rio got up and walked around the table. “Thank you, Pa.” He hugged Ed for a moment, and continued, “See you in the morning.” They walked out, and Rio blew the lamp out before he closed the door. Once he got upstairs, he stripped quietly, trying not to wake Anna.
She said, “Oh stop it. I’m not asleep. Quit creeping around like a…I don’t know what. I forgot Juan and Alice were going to be here, so Eli got to go to the bunkhouse, anyway.”
Rio snorted as he slipped into bed. “It would have been funnier if he’d had to sleep in the baby’s room.”
Anna elbowed him in the ribs. “Men! Go to sleep. This is going to be a short enough night, anyway.” But she allowed Rio to cuddle with her, throwing his hand over her hip and cradling her growing belly as they dozed off.
By a little after noon, they had moved almost seven hundred head through the gap and into the valley. The skies had started to darken, and there were occasional puffs of wind, bringing the scent of fresh pines to override the smell of cattle, horses, and men all being worked hard. Rio, Jeb, Bear, Al and Burt headed back to the gap after running another bunch up north. Rio poured some water and wiped his face with his bandanna. He spit off to the side after taking a quick sip and glanced over at Jeb. “Where’d Maxwell go?”
“He went to get another hoss. That grulla he was ridin’ was wore out.”
Rio leaned back in the saddle and sighed. “Well, as quiet as the cows are, maybe we can move this next bunch without him.”
Bear rode up on the other side. “I will take drag this time. You had it last.”
Rio smiled through the dirt still on his face. “Thanks, Bear. The more cows, the more dirt gets kicked up.” He looked back at Al and Burt. “Y’all okay?”
Burt was wiping his face as Al said, “Tired.”
Rio nodded sympathetically. “We all are. But we’re over half done. We should get a bit of a break when we get back through the gap.”
Burt added, “I’ll need another hoss after this one.” He patted the horse on the withers and slumped in his saddle as they walked the horses slowly back to the gap.
Skirting the bluff to stay out of the way of the next bunch of cows, it took them about fifteen minutes to get back to the gap. Rio pulled up next to Monte and asked, “What’s the count?”
Monte looked at his tally book and replied, “Eight hundred thirty-eight with that bunch that just went through.”
He saw Ed riding up and walked his horse over to him. “Eight thirty-eight, Pa?”
Ed hawked and spit, pulled up his canteen and took a quick drink, spit again, and took a longer drink. “Sounds right. I think we can get the rest in this bunch and be done with it. I don’t like the looks of the weather.”
Rio took his hat off and looked at the sky. “Ouch. Yeah, looks like we’re going to get some rain. Storms out here are weird, not like Texas. Most of them blow over and we get nothing. From what Monte says, all the rain is on the other side of the mountains.”
Ed nodded. “Looks like they got most of the beeves cut out. You ready to take ‘em?”
Rio blew out a breath. “Yeah. Let’s get this done and head back to the ranch.” He waved to the others and started down toward the herd with Ed.
Twenty minutes later, Rio decided to cut across the front of the bunched cows to push them straight into the ranch, rather than moving them toward the north. He was about halfway across when a tremendous clap of thunder and a bolt of lightning hit the slope below the eastern side of the gap. The roan he was riding buck jumped and Rio lurched in the saddle, trying to grab the saddle horn. He put the rowels to the roan as he heard the steers start bawling and running toward him. He tried to turn the roan, but it went down, pitching Rio off. Landing on his left shoulder, he heard a pop and gasped as the agony hit him. Tears sprung from his eyes, even as he scrambled to his feet. Looking up toward the gap, he saw the steers running straight at him as the roan rolled toward him, its leg obviously broken even as it flailed and tried to get up. Somehow, he got the thong off his pistol and quickly shot the horse before it kicked him. Kneeling, he looked, but his carbine was under the horse, and he bit his lip through the pain. Picking out a steer than was running straight at him, he shot it through the eye, and it piled up against the horse, pushing Rio down. Blood and lightning? Are those going to be the last things I ever smell? I wonder what Hoyt’s last thoughts were?
He tried to jump up, but only managed to get to his knees behind the horse. Another steer was less than thirty feet from him, running full out and he shot it. It didn’t go down, and he aimed carefully, shot again, and was rewarded with it piling into the steer and horse already down. Just as he drew a bead on the third steer, the rain came down, effectively blinding him and he didn’t know where that shot went. Well, at least Anna will have a baby to remember me by. I love you, Anna. Know that I loved you. He turned, sagged down against the dead horse and let the pistol dangle from his fingers as the thunder of the bunched cattle pounded by seemingly close enough to touch. He tried to move his left arm, but the pain was too much, and he leaned back, looking up at the rain until he passed out.
I hurt. God, I hurt. And I’m wet. What happened… He came to lying on the ground with voices around him, but he couldn’t quite make out what they were saying. Opening his eyes, he tried to move and screamed from the pain in his left shoulder. Suddenly, Pronto was kneeling over him. “Stay still, ya idjit.”
Rio tried to talk, but his mouth was so dry all that came out was a croak. “Mu sholer. Somthin wrog. Fell offa hoss.”
“Yeah, we saw. And ya kilt three damn steers I’ma gonna hav’ta bring the wagon up to get.” Pronto trickled a little water in Rio’s mouth and he managed to swallow, then coughed.
That brought tears to his eyes again, but he managed to ask, “Is everybody alright?”
“Everbody ‘ceptin’ you.” Pronto felt around and looked up. “Ed, I thin’ it’s just outta joint. I’ma need yore help to put it back in.”
Rio looked up as Ed knelt in the mud next to him. “Pa? All your hands, okay?”
Ed wiped his eyes. “Yes, Rio. They’re off chasing the herd. It took off north, so Raoul was going to try to catch them sometime tonight. No telling how long they’re going to run.” He looked across Rio at Pronto. “How do you want to do this?”
Pronto gently touched Rio’s shoulder, causing the tears to flow again. “It be out an down.” He spat off to the side. “Gonna hurt like a bitch if’n we can get it back in. Yore gonna need to hold him down an not let ‘im move. I be yankin’ it back in.”
Ed rolled up a glove and held it out. “Rio, bite down on this.” He blew out a breath, bit down on it, and nodded. Ed put his knee on Rio’s chest, one hand on his right shoulder and one on his head, then said, “Go ahead, Pronto!”
Rio bit down as Pronto pulled on his arm, then moved it upward toward his head. Panting, he moaned through the glove as Pronto cussed under his breath, alternating between pulling and moving the arm up and down. He felt a pop, then nothing. When he came to, he was swaying and slowly realized he was on the back of a horse. Shivering, he raised his head to see Pronto leading a horse.
Rio looked down and realized he was tied into the saddle. Hoarsely, he asked, “What happened to my shirt and union suit?”
Pronto looked back. “Hadta cut it off, made sure twern’t nothin’ stickin’ out.”
“Why’m I tied to the saddle? Piggin’ strings?” He looked down at his belt. “Where’d my gun go?”
Pronto sighed. “All we had. I got yore gun. Yore carbine is fine. Now shaddap. Weuns ain’t far from the ranch.”
Rio lapsed in and out of consciousness, every bump shooting pain down his shoulder and into his arm and hand. When they finally got to the ranch house, Anna, Alice, and Emily met them on the steps. “Oh my God, what happened?” Rio looked up at her and her hands went to her face. “Oh, your face!”
He mumbled, “Cows stampeded. Horse went down, pitched me. Screwed up my shoulder. Pronto put it back in. I don’t feel so good.” Pronto was in the process of untying him and Bear stepped up and lifted Rio down as if he weighed nothing.
Anna said, “Bring him to the bathhouse. I can clean—”
Pronto said, “We’ll do that. Go git somethin’ for him to wear. And somethin’ fer a bandage.”
Bear carried him to the bathhouse as Alice and Juan trailed behind. Juan asked, “What else happened, Señor Pronto?”
Pronto and Bear both started to talk, and Bear said, “Tell ‘em, Pronto.”
Pronto looked up at the leaden sky for a second. “Rio was cuttin’ cross in front o’ the cows. Thunder’n lightnin’ went off, and them cows run. His hoss went down in front of ‘em. He shot three sumhow. Piled ‘em up in front of the hoss. Quick, almighty quick it was.” He shook his head in wonder and mumbled, “Ain’t never seed anythin’ like it.” He held the door to the bathhouse. “Twern’t Rio, they be dead.”
Rio roused again. “Outhouse. I gotta go.”
Bear sighed. “Better now than later.” He changed directions and took Rio to the outhouse, asking, “Can you do it yourself?”
“I think so.” Rio fumbled his pants down and sagged back on the seat.
An hour later, bathed and with his arm in a sling, Anna helped him gently into bed and pulled the covers up to his waist. “Pronto said he’ll bring the laudanum and you need to take a little of it.” Rio nodded, and she sat next to him, reached over, and kissed him lightly on the uninjured side of his face. “I’m just glad you’re alive,” she said softly. There was a knock on the door and Anna said, “Come in.”
Pronto eased the door open and stepped in with a glass half full of something. “Need Rio to drink this. Willowbark and spoon o’ laudanum. I’ll make up more tomorrow. Gonna send somebody to fetch Doc down here.”
Anna nodded and helped Rio sit up a little. He choked the mixture down and slumped back onto the bed. “Gah. Pronto, that stuff tastes like the south end of a northbound mule.”
“T’ain’t sposed to taste good.” He winked at Anna and slipped back out the door, leaving the two of them alone.
Rio looked up at her. “So sorry. Didn’t mean for this to happen, hated to shoot the horse. Wasn’t her fault. I don’t feel so good.”
Anna hiccupped a laugh and sob, turning her face away so he didn’t see the tears in her eyes. She replied, “You’re alive. We can replace a horse.” Turning back to him, she swiped at the tears and put her hands on his good shoulder. “I’ll take you over a horse any day, Rio Bell! And don’t you forget it!”
The mixture was taking hold, and he slurred, “S’okay. I won’t. Go to sleep now.”
“Yes, go to sleep, dear. I’ll be back to check on you in a bit.” She was answered by a soft snore, and she smiled as she got up and strolled out of the bedroom. Downstairs, she went into the dining room and was surprised to see another Mexican sitting at the table with Juan and Alice. “Are you from the Bell drive?”
“Sí Señora, I am Jesus Rodriguez. I am Juan’s primo. Señor Bell sent me to let the young señor know that he will be back as soon as he delivers the herd to Señor Story. The herd, it finally stopped at the North Platte and Señor Bell decided it would be easier to keep going. I am to assist where I can, until he returns, and allows me to see my primo for the first time in a year.”
Juan smiled. “Jesus and I are from the same family in Mexico. Our padres are brothers.” He shrugged as he said, “We are both second sons. So, we cannot inherit. We were supposed to go in the military, or become a priest, or leave.” He flipped his hand at Jesus. “We decided to leave. Our padres did not have enough connections to get us high positions in the military, and…neither of us is, how you say, church material.”
Anna and Alice both hid grins as Anna looked at Alice and replied, “Well, we are glad you made the decisions you did.” She chuckled. “Or at least Alice is.”
Alice blushed and laughed at the same time. “I am glad. I’m not glad you got shot, or that I got shot either.” She reached for his hand and smiled. “But all is well that ends well, isn’t it?”
Juan bent over and kissed her hand. “Sí, mi encantadora esposa.”
Jesus chuckled. “Juan has always had the way with the women. But I believe he has met his match with Señora Alice.”
Anna laughed as both Juan and Alice blushed at that, and said, “I need to go check on Rio, and I need some sleep myself. Jesus, I think there is a bunk for you in the bunkhouse.”
“Sí Señora. Pronto showed me where I will lay my head. It will be good to sleep in a bunk after months on the trail!”
Two days later, Doc Farrell rode into the ranch yard with his little black bag tied behind the saddle. Emily met him at the door and ushered him into the parlor where Rio was sitting at the table, wearing pants but no shirt with his arm bandaged to his chest and a sling holding his forearm, going over the books with Anna and Billy. “Would you like some coffee, Doc?” She asked.
Doc nodded. “Please Emily. This day started way too early.” Turning to Rio and the others, he continued, “I’m sorry I couldn’t get here yesterday, but Mrs. Williams decided to have her baby yesterday morning. Which continued until yesterday evening before she finally delivered.”
Anna bit her lip and asked, “How…are they doing?”
Doc smiled. “Both of them are doing well. Gretchen is watching over them for me today.” He set his bag on the table and looked critically at Rio. “Well, that is one hell of a set of bruises.” Emily handed him a cup of coffee and he nodded. “Thank you!” He took a sip, grimaced, and mumbled, “This could float a horseshoe!”
Everyone laughed, and Anna said, “Pronto still thinks he’s on the trail. Says if it won’t, it’s nothing but dark water.”
Doc Farrell raised his eyebrows. “This strong, it will make your heart race. You need to cut back on the coffee then, or drink tea that you make.” He took another sip and set the cup down on the table. Walking around behind Rio, he looked at his back and said, “Dislocated from the rear. Pitched from a horse, correct?”
Rio nodded and winced. “Went over her head when she went down. Barely had a chance to get my boots out of the stirrups.”
Doc reached out, and Rio flinched. “I’m not trying to hurt you, but I need to feel around and make sure everything is back in place.” He lifted the sling over Rio’s head, then untied the bandage holding his bicep to his chest. He gently felt around on the shoulder, then under Rio’s arm, before moving to the side and gently lifting the arm. Sweat broke out on Rio’s face as Doc manipulated it, but Doc ignored it. Holding the arm out at a forty-five-degree angle, he said, “Don’t let me press your arm down.” He pressed down on the arm and Rio grunted, but kept the arm in one place. “Now, don’t let me lift your arm.” He picked up on the arm and Rio turned pale, but managed to keep the arm still.
Walking back around the table, he sat down and sipped on his cup of coffee as he watched Rio’s face. “Hurts like hell, doesn’t it?”
Rio grimaced. “Well, I’ve felt better.” He held the arm as still as he could, with it close to his chest. “What did you find, Doc?”
“Well, it’s not overly hot, so I don’t think it’s infected, and it feels like it is back in the socket. Who put it back in?”
“Pronto and my pa.”
Doc nodded in appreciation. “Well, Pronto or Monte, or any of those mountain men would know how to do that. Leave the bandage off for a few minutes, and I’ll put it back on before I leave.” He dug into his bag, pulled out a little brown bottle, and set it in front of Anna. “Ten drops of laudanum in a full glass of water at night for three more nights. Keep the arm bandaged for three more days, in a sling for a week. You need to work your arm at least some every day, to get it moving correctly, but it will probably be a month or so before it is fully healed and you get your strength back.”
Rio sighed. “Months? This is worse than being shot!”
Doc Farrell snorted. “Bullets, unless they hit bone, don’t do as much damage to muscles as dislocating a shoulder does. The problem with bullets is they leave infection behind.” He looked over at Anna. “Since I’m here, I might as well check on you, too. Can you break from this for a few minutes and call Emily, please?”
Anna smiled. “Of course.” She got up and went out the door, returning momentarily with Emily in tow. “Upstairs in our bedroom?”
Doc took another sip of coffee and stood up. “That would be fine.” He motioned toward the door. “Ladies?” Turning to Rio and Billy, he added, “Shouldn’t be long. Maybe fifteen or twenty minutes.”
Fifteen minutes later, the three of them came back into the parlor. Doc smiled. “Anna is doing fine. And yes, I will stay for lunch.” He quickly rebandaged Rio and slipped the sling back over his head. “Take the sling off at night. Involuntary movement is good for you.”
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