Stream of consciousness again… sigh
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Two weeks passed, and everyone finally agreed that spring had finally come. The hands did a tally of the cattle on the ranch over the next few days and reported their counts to Billy. Once he’d collected all the numbers, he asked for a meeting with Rio and Anna. As he sat at the dining room table with Rio, Pronto, Anna, and Emily. Pulling out his tally book, he flipped to the page he wanted, cleared his throat, and said, “Boss, according to the tally, we got five hunnert twenty-two cows and seventeen calves on the ranch.” Wetting his thumb, he flipped back a few pages and continued, “This means we lost twenty-five cows between last fall and this spring. I know we had to put down nine that broke legs on the ice, so them other sixteen just…they gone.”
Rio glanced at Pronto. “You’ve still got what, three and a half still hanging?”
Pronto nodded. “Yep. Figger that’ll feed us another coupla weeks, mebbe a month.”
“So we lost about five percent. I guess that’s not real bad considering the weather. Main thing is we didn’t lose any cowboys.”
Anna made a face. “True, but twenty-five cows is seven hundred fifty dollars we won’t see. And we need supplies, right, Emily?”
Emily bit her lip. “I would like to have more, especially flour, sugar, and salt. We’ve used most of what was left in the root cellar, and we’re going to be down to beef and beans pretty quick. I think we’ve got ten pounds of Arbuckle’s left. I think.”
Pronto grumbled, “That ain’t enough. Me and Bear’ll head to town tomorrow. We’ll compare lists after supper tonight.”
Anna cocked her head. “And see if you can get a couple of pigs and another milk cow.” She patted her enlarged belly. “Between Alice and I, I believe we are going to need one.”
Rio glanced at Billy. “Maybe send Jeb up to the Nevell spread and get their numbers?” Billy nodded, and he continued, “I’m going to go register the new brand tomorrow. We need to get that done and start branding the cattle while we can and before the calves start disappearing.”
Billy replied, “Denver? I think that’s where you’ll have to go. I ‘member Pete did that to register the Kidds’ brand.”
“Denver it is. Anything else?”
Pronto got up. “Naw, other than you want beef and beans or beans and beef for supper?”
Anna laughed, and Emily smiled as they got up. Emily said, “Well, there is enough flour for biscuits if you’re careful. And we’ve got milk, at least for now.”
Early the next morning, Rio bent and kissed Anna as he picked up the blanket roll and coat from the bed. “I’m going to ride over to Evans and take the train down to Denver. I should be back in three or four days, depending on how long it takes to get the brand registered.”
Anna smiled up at him from her comfortable place in bed. “I’ll be fine. Between Emily and Pronto, maybe I should be going with you,” she said with a laugh.
He snorted. “Oh no. You get to stay here and run the ranch.” He patted the saddlebags by the door and added, “I’m also going to take this damn broke pistol and see if I can find somebody to fix it.” Picking them up, he slung them over his other shoulder, winked at her, and walked quietly down the stairs.
Anna got up and went to the window, pulled the shade back, and watched him tie the saddlebags and blanket roll on the back of Red’s saddle as he talked to Jeb. Moments later, he swung up in Red’s saddle, glanced up at the window, and gave her a little wave as he and Jeb trotted out of the ranch yard in opposite directions.
He rode cross country, roughly paralleling the Cache la Poudre River. Red was feeling frisky, so Rio alternated him between walking and trotting, knowing he had roughly twenty-five miles to get to the railroad at Evans. He rode up to the train depot a little after three in the afternoon. Dismounting, he groaned and stretched his back as well as he could while he shook each leg out. I ain’t been riding enough. I’m gonna hurt tomorrow. He looked Red over, running his hands down each leg and picking up his hooves. At least you’re not stove up, Red. Maybe a little tired, because you haven’t been getting any exercise either.
Red jerked at the reins and Rio said, “Fine, you want water. Let’s go find some water.” He led Red over the railroad tracks and around to the front side of the station. Across from it was a bar and café, with a water trough at the end of the building. Leading Red over, he grumped, “Ain’t like you didn’t get water when we crossed the river twice, Red.” Red’s answer was to drop some ‘road apples’ as he buried his nose in the water trough.
Rio led him back across the dusty street and tied him to the hitching rail. Stepping up onto the platform, he walked down to the office and saw an older man sitting there, a green eyeshade on his bald head and sleeve garters holding his shirt sleeves up. Opening the door, he heard the clatter of a telegraph key and smelled pipe smoke. The man looked up. “Be right with ya,” and went back to copying the traffic. The clatter stopped and the man rapidly answered whatever the message was, and got up slowly. Tapping his pipe out in the ashtray, he walked to the window. “What can I do for ya, young feller?”
“I need a ticket to Denver for me and my horse.”
“Ain’t no more trains today. Be a train through here ‘bout eight in the mornin’. Ticket’s a dollar fifty for the two of you.”
Rio fished out two silver dollars and dropped them on the counter. “What time to trains run from Denver this way?”
The old man stamped a ticket with a couple of stamps, shoved it and a fifty-cent piece across the counter. “Should be three, ‘round nine, one, and four o’clock. You want a ticket back, too?”
Rio slipped the ticket in his vest and shook his head. “Not sure when I will be coming back.”
“Best you get your ticket down in Denver, then.”
Rio started to turn away, stopped, and turned back. “Any recommendations on a place to sleep?”
The old man shrugged. “You can camp or sleep on the bench out there. Ain’t no hotels over here, less’n you want to ride up to Greeley? Café cross the street ain’t bad.”
“Thanks. Guess I’ll move off a bit and camp down by the river after I get something to eat.”
Late the next morning, Rio smiled as he led Red out of the boxcar. “Sure beats the hell out of two days of riding.”
The conductor laughed. “I’m hearing that a lot. Seems like a bunch of cowboys did that last fall from Cheyenne and passed the word. Personally, I think we need to charge more, but I ain’t in charge of the railroad.”
Rio smiled at him. “Well, I’m not going to complain. And I’m sure Red wouldn’t complain either if he could talk.” The conductor laughed and headed for the caboose as Rio tightened the cinch strap. He looked up and saw a burly man with graying beard walking toward him. It took him a few seconds and when the sun glanced off the star on his vest, Rio said, “Sheriff Walters, I didn’t realize you met trains.”
Walters cocked his head, then smiled. “Bell. Rio Bell. Y’all had that set to with Smith and his cronies last year out on the flats.” He stuck out a hand. “What brings you back to Denver this time of year?”
“I need to find out where to register a brand.”
Walters smoothed his moustache. “New brand? That would go in the Brand Book. That’s maintained up in the Territorial Offices up on Larimer Street.”
Rio shook the saddle and asked, “Where’s that? I…don’t remember seeing a street by that name.”
“I got my horse tied out front. Meet me out there, and I’ll take you up there. You got any paperwork on the ranch that’s registering the brand?”
Rio patted his vest. “Got it all right here, Sheriff.”
Walters snorted. “You know damn well they’ll want somethin’ you don’t have. Mebbe I better go with you and vouch for you.”
Rio smiled as they came around the end of the station. “That would be greatly appreciated, Sheriff.”
Minutes later, as they rode up the street from the station, Walters asked casually, “Where are you ranching?”
“We bought out the Kidds, up on the Cache la Poudre southwest of Fort Collins.”
Walters spat off to the side. “Larimer County then. Good riddance to that bunch, their damned gunnies, and the hangars on. Talbot, the deputy up there, left back in December and tried to get a job with me. I sent his ass on down the trail.” He spat off to the side again.
Rio nodded. “Yeah, Parks is still the sheriff up there, but he doesn’t seem to ever leave town unless it’s coming down here or go to Cheyenne, according to the townspeople. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen him.”
“All that sumbitch ever does is come down here and badger the territorial governor for money, sayin’ he can’t do nothin’ up there without more money to pay deputies…if he even has any now. I know he’s a cheapskate. Always comes into my office around lunch and wants me to buy.” Walters spat again. “I did that once, never again.” He turned his horse to the hitching rail. “Here we are. Territorial Offices. Brand office is up on the second floor.” He dismounted, and Rio did the same. They tied their horses to the rail, and Rio followed him up the stairs to an office midway down the hall.
Walters opened the door and motioned Rio in. There were three desks and a bookcase full of books off to one side. A small blonde middle-aged lady sat at one of the desks and she glanced up. “What do you want Len?”
Walters grinned. “Just bringin’ you some bidness, Dusty.”
“You just like making me work, don’t you?” She asked with a smile.
“Well, it does give me an excuse to come by and see you.”
She laughed at Rio’s puzzled expression. “That big lug is my husband. What can I do for you, young man?”
Rio took his hat off. “Rio Bell, ma’am. I need to register a brand for our new ranch.”
Dusty smiled. “I can help you do that. First, where is the ranch located?”
A half hour later, she took the five silver dollars and handed Rio a stamped, countersigned, and registered paper granting the Nevell Bell ranch the use of the NB connected as the ranch brand. Rio folded it in with the ranch paperwork and shoved it back in his vest. “Thank you very much, ma’am. I really appreciate your help.” He glanced over at the sheriff. “And yours too, Sheriff Walters. Now I have one more question.”
Walters glanced up. “Yes?”
“Do you know of a good gunsmith? I’ve got a Remington that needs repairing.”
Grunting as he heaved himself up out of a chair, Walters nodded. “Couple of doors down from my office.” He walked over to his wife’s desk, said something in her ear, and got playfully slapped for it. Smiling, he said, “I’ll take you down there and introduce you to them. Then I’ll let you buy me lunch.”
Rio laughed. “Guess that’s the least I can do, Sheriff.”
Fifteen minutes later, Rio opened the door of a small shop on Lattimer Street and a bell over the door tinkled. A small middle-aged lady with a smile and curly black hair came through the curtain separating the showroom from the back. “Can I help you, young man?” The sheriff stepped in behind him and she added, “Hello, Len.”
“Morning, Mizz Ritchie, I figured I better come with him, since he didn’t know where y’all were,” Walters said.
Rio reached in his saddle bag, pulled out the broken pistol, and set it on the counter. “I need somebody to look at this pistol and see if it can be fixed, ma’am.”
Kristi turned and said loudly, “Danny, you have a customer.” She reached under the counter and pulled out a sheet of paper and a pencil. “Can I get your name, young man?”
“Rio Bell, ma’am. I’m a cowboy up on the NB connected in Larimer County, just south of Fort Collins.”
A tall, thin man with a shock of gray hair came through the curtain, and a funny-looking pair of glasses shoved up on top of his head. He nodded to the sheriff, “Morning, Sheriff.” He walked over to his wife. “What do we have, Kristi?”
She pointed to the pistol on the counter as she read off, “Mr. Bell has a broken Remington. And Len brought him here to get it looked at.”
Danny nodded at Rio as he picked up the Remington. He pulled the funny-looking glasses down and Rio realized here were two sets of lenses on them. Danny pointed the pistol away from everybody and said, “Kristi, note this. Remington New Model. Forty-Six rimfire, looks like a factory job, and shortened barrel to…” He laid the heel of his hand on the back of the barrel, “Six and something, probably six and a half inches.” Flipping the pistol over, he started to ease the hammer back, only to have it flop loosely. “And it has at least a broken mainspring.”
Rio sighed. “Can you fix it?”
“If nothing else is broken, I can, Mr. Bell.” Danny quickly tapped the wedge out and removed the loaded cylinder. “Let me take this in the back and see what I can do. I do have some parts here.”