“On the house.” Martin Cross grinned, his generosity an inside secret. The B.S. brothers (Billy Blakely and Solomon Pritchard) had no clue, but Tam and I got it right enough. Cross was no longer simply bartending at the Singlejack; the former owner had sold out to him. We were looking at the new 51% owner. The silent partner that had made his purchase of the place possible jist happened to be Flywheel Enterprises.
When he said “on the house,” he was doing it with our money.
“Here’s to the end a haying season.” Billy hoisted his glass. We done likewise. “Down the hatch.”
My turn. “It’s a boy,” I announced proudly, passing out the cigars.
The former actor turned bar owner chuckled even as he admired the stogie. I’d sprung fer the best. “We kinda sorta knew that, Dawson. If I remember correctly, young David Tamson Trask popped his buns outa Marie’s oven a good two months back.”
“He did. But we was way too busy with haying to spend much time celebrating. Matter of fact, my son hit the air the very same week Crazy Rifle here was chasing down to Willow Springs after rivets and getting shot at fer his troubles.”
Sol and Billy both looked puzzled at that one. We had to explain to ’em, let ’em know the jug-eared, tale telling, left handed gunfighter seated on the barstool to their left–known to them as their boss, Tam Tamson–was also known by the Piegan as Crazy Rifle, the great white Blackfoot warrior from up where the glaciers are at home and the Blackfeet roam.
The little rental house in Sheriff Olsen’s yard was getting a full load of occupants this year. Right this Monday morning, my wife was cleaning the place with little David parked in the cradle and three–not one but three–Flywheel boys in school: Sol’s son Quentin, Henry Tamson, and proud new first grader Reggie Tamson. Escorting that mob to town had seemed a good excuse fer us four men to go see Martin and toss back a couple.
Not that haying season was completely over. Bodeen and Chet Barnes were still swinging pitchforks today, bringing in the last couple a loads from the field.
Why weren’t the B.S. brothers out there with the second wagon to give ’em a hand? Hey, these guys earned the time off. In jist a bit under four months of hay hauling, they’d moved thirteen more loads than Bodeen and Barnes would tally after today’s work.
Told you they was insanely hard workers.
I’d been woolgathering. The conversation had somehow shifted around to women and their confusing ways. Not that there was any confusion between me and my Blue Eyed Angel of Death, but Solomon Pritchard was going on some about his Melissa. Quentin’s mother had bailed on her hardworking husband some years back, running off with a nasty, stink-eyed snake oil salesman with nary a prospect in the world.
“I gotta admit, I still don’t understand it.” He shook his head. “I woulda give that woman anything. Still would, should she happen to walk through that door and holler, Honey, I’m home!”
“Solomon,” I pointed out, “From what you’ve told us, if Melissa Pritchard walked through that door into this here saloon, she would be home!” The man had it bad, but clearly the woman had issues.
“Yeah, well. You know what I mean. And I never raised a hand to her, neither. But still she run off with the worst excuse fer a human being I seen in a coon’s age.”
“Biased much?” Martin swiped a wet spot with his bar rag, then pulled up a stool he kept handy behind the bar. Most bartenders figure it’s simple wisdom to jist shut up and listen when a customer’s crying in his beer, but our newest business partner did always tend to swim a bit against the current. As he would say, only dead fish go with the flow.
“You think I’m not seeing straight?”
“Well…let’s put it this way. I ain’t one to talk when it comes to women. At least, you’ll notice I don’t have one of my own on the premises. But I do have a friend in another state who knows a great deal about the female condition, having worked in a woman-intensive business for decades in a management position as she has.”
“She runs a whorehouse, Sol. Name is Trixie.”
“Oh. Guess that would qualify her to know how women think, wouldn’t it? Whores, anyway.”
“Women are women,” I put in. “How they make their living don’t change that.”
“Well said, Dawson. Well said. As I was saying, Miss Trixe understands ’em, and she shared some of her insights with me. She had a list of things…let’s see if I can recall…yes. She had it all prioritized in terms of importance. Tam, you mind writing these down?”
“Why not?” The tale teller shrugged. “It ain’t like I got something better to do right this minute. Like drinking instead a getting put to work by a windy bartender.”
“Me windy? You of all people dare to identify my style of verbal communication as being exessively verbose?”
“Probably. Iffen I had some idea what you jist said.”
“Well, all righty then. Ready to write?”
“As I’ll ever be.”
By the time Tam got done writing down Trixie’s List of Female Imponderables, I was impressed…and I think, so were the rest of us, including Solomon.
Trixie’s List of Female Imponderables
1. Every woman wants to be wanted. If you take her for granted and another guy goes after her with all he’s got, he’s gonna git her.
2. Every woman wants to be taken care of. The more she claims to be ruggedly independent, to need no man’s help, the more she’s a dang liar.
3. Women respect strength and resent weakness in men. Let one turn you into a doormat and she’ll wipe her boots all over you, then take off with a stink-eyed snake oil salesman. Or if she does stick by you, she’ll make sure you’re utterly miserable for the rest of your life.
“Are you saying,” Solomon studied the list, “that if my Melissa left me, it was because of one or more of these three things being outa whack?”
“I ain’t saying it, but yeah, Trixie did. So, number one, did your wife know fer an absolute fact every minute of the night and day that she was wanted?”
“Whaddya mean? Course she did.”
“Really? You jump her bones, keep her wore out trying to keep up with you?”
“Bring her roses?”
“Roses! There weren’t no danged roses where we lived!”
“Couldn’t keep your hands off her?”
“This is getting kinda personal, bar man.” Pritchard didn’t look angry when he said that, though. He looked…stricken.
“You bet it’s personal. There’s nothing more personal than losing a woman you love, especially a woman you shouldn’t have lost in the first place. That’s Test Number One, Sol. This is the first day of school, I’m the teacher, and I say you failed that one. With a big fat red F fer not effing her enough.
“Number two. Did you take care of her?”
“That much I’m sure of, Martin. She couldn’t a had no complaints on that score.”
“No? She never asked fer something you couldn’t afford?”
“Told you about a fellow who insulted her or got fresh or whatever, and you didn’t kill him? Or at least stomp him half to death?”
“Big red F on Number Two. Sol, I ain’t saying you didn’t do your best. Just that she likely didn’t see you as the great and deadly defender of her honor in the same way as, say, Penny Tamson likely sees Cougar. The way I hear it, Penny was still a young girl when she met Coug, and the first thing that young shootist did was–”
“Yeah, I git it. We can’t all be greased lightning with a smokepole, though. Surely you can’t be suggesting that.”
“I suppose not. But I am willing to bet a dollar to a doughnut hole that Mrs. Cougar Tamson sees her man as the Great Wall of China holding back the barbarians. Her Great Protector. Do you figure, honestly now, that Melissa saw you in a simlar light?”
“Glad you wasn’t my schoolteacher when I was a kid. I’da never made it past third grade.”
“Brother,” scarfaced Billy reminded him, “you didn’t make it past third grade.”
“Well, yeah. Jist saying. This guy’s got no mercy.”
“According to the esteemed Madam Trixie, neither do most women. Ready fer number three?”
“Nope. But I can see there’s no stopping you once you git started.”
“An astutue observation, my good man. An astute observation. Number three. Could she ever have seen you as weak?”
“How so? I don’t back water from nobody.”
“No? Not even her?” Martin Cross looked closely at his not-so-star pupil…and suddenly decided he’d had all he could take fer the moment. “Ah, take it easy, Sol. Maybe it was partly your fault she took up with a stink-eye rounder who’d promise her the moon when he couldn’t deliver a pile of road apples, but maybe it wasn’t. There’s one final thing to add to that list.”
“Oh? And what might that be?”
“She always told me, if you can’t figure out a female by applying rules number one through three, go to Rule Number Four:
“Some women are just bitches.”
Our hired hand thought that over fer a good three seconds before he leaned over the bar toward his tormentor. I honestly thought he was gonna throw a fist at the man who’d jist called his runaway woman a bitch, but he didn’t. Jist stuck out his hand fer the bartender to shake.
“Martin Cross,” he said solemnly, “I thank you fer slapping me upside the head and opening my eyes. I shoulda thought a that myself.”
Finally we were getting around to firing up the Gonellaz’s ditching machine. It had probably taken Hyacinthe Gonellaz of Louisiana less time to invent the danged thing than it had taken us to put it to use after we got it.
Hey, we’d been busy.
The first 80 yards coming down the steep grade from the spring? Oh, we still had to dig that stretch by hand. We highfaluting owners were getting the hang of letting the hands do the dirty work while we tackled the fun stuff, though.
Bodeen, Chet, Wolf Eyes, and the B.S. Brothers all got to it, ripping out the shallow flume we’d installed in ’74 fer the purpose of channeling buckets of water down to the more level ground and into the 200 gallon tank we’d built atop an old wagon bed. That’d keep ’em busy fer a while, especially since it was shovel-bar-and-pick work to replace that with a six foot deep trench in which we’d be laying the iron pipe.
Don’t even ask how long we’d left the pipe sitting around with nothing to do but rust in the open air. You don’t wanna know.
From the base of the grade to the ranch yard was right at a quarter mile. That, we got to dig with the fancy machine, and of course playing with the new toy fell to Dawson, Cougar, and me. Which turned out to be necessary, having three of us on the job. True, it only took one man to handle the team attached to the rope that simultaneously towed the ditcher and turned the digging blades and scooping pans and made the discharge chute do its thing.
But it took two men to admire the spectacle of all that dirt flying off on one side of the ditch bank, not to mention the beauty of the ditch itself.
We rotated on the reins, of course, so’s all three of us got our chance to observe and admire the wonders of technology in action. Four years we’d been on this land, the women hauling water down from that spring, first by hand and later with the use of a team and wagon. Seeing the machine in action, we had to wonder why we’d waited so long to tackle this job.
It took us a week to ditch the full quarter mile–and still we finished a day ahead of them first 80 yards that had five men digging by hand. The bunch of us laid ever foot of pipe in a single day. Laughing Brook and I got the first tap. When my Cheyenne wife turned on that faucet and seen all that clear, cool water jist a-running into the sink–and under considerable gravity feed pressure to boot–she cried openly.
Forty years old today and the first time in her life she’d had a home with running water.
Wolf Eyes, the thirteen year old Ute warrior, didn’t cry…but he did stare some.
Cougar Tamson, our number one son, like both Dawson and me a stone cold killer when he had to be, spoke quietly to the pair of us. “Gentlemen, I think we done good.”
Neither Trask nor I responded to that. Neither one of us could respond to that, each man fighting a lump in his throat big enough to choke a horse.