The Flywheel Winter Feast and Yakfest–by which our one-day celebration at the ranch came to be known–produced unintended consequences. When the boys returned to school on Monday, they found themselves the center of attention. It seemed every kid who’d not been able to attend the festivities was burning up with the need to know.
“Is your yard as big as they say? They’re lying, aren’t they?”
Ten year old Quentin Pritchard fielded that one. We kind of got the impression he might have exaggerated a mite when he answered, his Daddy being merely one of the ranch hands and not an owner of the property, but none of us held it against him. The boy hadn’t had much to brag about since his Mom ran away with a snake oil salesman, leaving him and his old man in the lurch.
Besides, both his Dad (Solomon Pritchard) and his uncle (Billy “Scar” Blakely) would be moving onto their own land next fall, once they had time to put up a cabin. 160 acres between ’em; that oughta be enough yard.
Henry and Reggie Tamson caught different questions altogether.
Grandpa Tam’s tall tale had been a huge hit despite the tale teller himself figuring it was not up to his usual standards. Some of the kids wanted to know if he had more stories to tell (!).
Others asked about the boys’ father: Was their Dad really the two-gun shootist Cougar Tamson they’d heard about, faster’n greased lightning and meaner’n a rattlesnake with a stepped-on tail?
The older boys who had attended…mostly wanted to know if Mrs. Trask might possibly have a younger sister.
Nobody made snide remarks about all them redskins out at the ranch. They thought it, some of ’em did, but the word was out in Walsenburg: Don’t even think about messing with Flywheel; it’ll ruin your whole day.
All that was all well and good.
The feed situation by the first of February was another story entirely.
“I’ve crunched the numbers,” Tam told us. “If we keep on feeding as much hay per day as we are right this moment, we’re gonna run flat out by mid-March.”
Early in calving season, that would be. Not a good time to suddenly starve the herd.
“So basically,” Cougar noted, “we need to cut the hay rations in half right now.”
Not a good situation. We’d not been hit with another major blizzard, but the one had done enough damage. The snow ran as much as three feet deep on the flats, unusual for this part of the country, but there it was.
The horses were mostly pawing down through all that to find grass. but the cows weren’t faring so well. They tried, but mostly they weren’t finding what they needed. Or when they did, they were working too hard to git it, burning up more fuel than they were taking in.
Well, we’d all been thinking about this fer weeks. “I got an idea,” I told ’em.
In lighter snow, a two horse team was enough to pull the Brazel snowplow. We hooked up six, and when that turned out to be a little on the short side in some of the drifts, went to an eight horse team. That turned out to be the magic number, pulling the plow that moved the snow that exposed the grass that saved the herds from starvation.
Believe me, no rancher wants underfed cows.
Unforeseen benefit: The cattle also seemed to like the protection from the wind that was created by the great ridges of snow thrown up by the plow on one side of the track.
What? No, we didn’t jist go out there and try to snowplow a whole meadow. That would be stupid. Impossible, even. No, what we did was run the thing in a sort of spiral–counter clockwise around a field, as it happened.
Ended up uncovering grass on, let’s say, maybe a third of the area.
Turned out we then had to have crews of men with shovels cutting through the piles, making openings so’s the dumbassed cows could go in and outa the spiral without traveling the whole length of the thing, but hey. I mean, hay. The snowplow team worked dawn till dusk fer two straight weeks, but we got ‘er done. The Law of Unintended Consequences popped up on this maneuver, too. We wouldn’t realize it till sometime in the late spring, but them snow windrows the plow piled up? They acted almost like mountain snowpack, melting down slow and easy when the warmer weather came along.
Gave us a real jumpstart on irrigation, produced one of the best hay crops we ever had.
Elly Franzen had her baby–her second, though the first was long since dead–with little fuss. Her shoulders might be a mite on the narrow side, but my concubine lover had hips made fer breeding. The newborn was Doug’s, of course. He’d knocked up his wife before–jist before–blowing himself up. He’d be a paraplegic cripple fer the rest of his natural born days, but he’d also be a father.
The Franzens named the little girl Juliet. After Romeo and Juliet, I thought, but didn’t ask.
Not that I was paying all that much attention; I was flat-out busy with all the bovine calves hitting the ground all of a sudden. You never know from year to year. Sometimes it’s a slow start, jist a few baby beeves popping out at first, building up to something as time passes. In March of 1878, the first four weeks had turned out to be real ball buster.
2,972 pregnant cows. 1,732 new calves on their own four feet by April Fool’s Day. More’n half done and no signs whatsoever of letting up the least little bit.
As I’ve said before, most ranchers running a thousand head or more tend to purty much let the chips–and the calves–fall where they may. But we do things a bit different. Over on the Flywheel/Morgan side of the mountains, the women were left alone much of the time despite Hattie getting close to having her first baby. Jack Prosser and Daniel Morgan had even drafted Daniel’s son, Slim, into cow check duty. Which Slim hated, but he done it.
His wife, Clarisse, the former black widow poisoner, trembled with anxiety all day every day until her man walked back through their front door. His homecomings were about as pleasant as a man could ever want.
On our side of the mountains, we now had nine men–including the twelve year old Ute, Lance Point, who did a man’s work and pulled a man’s pay. But nine men watching over the birthing process fer nearly three thousand cows is still more’n 300 cows per man. Enough to be going on with; that’s a fact.
Now, I done said all that to say all this: You’d think that would be enough. You know, calving season fer two human women and several thousand beeves. But it weren’t. I’m not sure to this day which idjit among us brought up the topic of ghosts at the supper table, but I am sure he–or she–shouldn’t a done it. Our second grandson, six year old Reggie Tamson, soaked it all in with them big jug ears that run in our family. Soaked it in, took it to heart, took it to bed, and promptly started having nightmares about evil men chasing him with big, bloody knives. It seemed odd at first, that Reggie would be the one so affected. The little guy was tougher’n nails, stubborn as an old he-goat, and most of the time ruggedly independent.
After all, he was the one who’d once taken off in the middle of the night, hiked clear up behind the spring–an awesome journey fer them little toddler legs he had back then–found Medicine Coyote’s den, and crawled right on in with the coyote family. He’d had himself a good night’s sleep snugged up against the devil dog he called Little Wolf.
You don’t expect a kid like that to start having nightmares because somebody discussed ghosts at the supper table. It jist didn’t fit.
Which meant something real was happening here. One of our own was under attack. Flywheel went to a war footing.
The three of us shared a look. We were agreed. “I’ll go get her,” I said, rising from my chair. “Dawson, you’ll bring Marie?”
“Then this meeting is on hold. Take five, Coug; we’ll be right back.”
Our Summit Meeting–the three men who’d originally founded Flywheel Ranch and nobody else–was about to be expanded by two. Marie Trask had taken little Sadie and David T. over to hang with Penny and her mob so’s we could have the privacy in the Trask house, but she could leave the kids with the redhead fer a bit.
Cougar got up from the table as well. “Take your time. I’ll put on a fresh pot of coffee.”
Now we were five. “Honey,” I told my Cheyenne wife, “we have something to tell you. Only Marie, Dawson, Coug, and I, plus Scrap Hannigan, have known of this until now. Remember when Scrap told Dawson one day that he wanted to show him something in Sapphire Cave?”
Laughing Brook thought fer a moment, then shook her head. “No, I do not remember that. But then, Dawson goes to the cave often. I could have heard it but simply paid no attention.”
“Ah. Well. See, here’s the thing. Scrap found something in there, way underground….”
From there I let Trask explain how our mine manager had found the lost gold of the Incas, then later located the entrance coming in from Goss land, which led to the blasting of an inner passageway to seal that route fer all time–killing three JG hands in the process. He turned it back to me to explain why we’d voted to tell Marie Trask and not Laughing Brook Tamson, of course.
My beloved cut me off in mid-explanation. “You don’t need to look so worried, Crazy Rifle,” she assured me. “We all know Dawson and Marie couldn’t keep a secret from each other if they tried.” Which left me wondering what sort of secrets my Cheyenne beauty hadn’t told me about.
She zeroed in on the key point of this little exercise, though. “Why,” she asked quietly, “are you telling me now?”
I breathed a sigh of relief as Dawson took back over. “Brook, Henry come to me right after supper. Reggie tells his brother stuff the rest of us don’t always hear about. We all know that.”
“Right,” she nodded. “The world of grownups is not the world of children.”
“True that. Anyway, Henry told me he recognized the knives Reggie’s being chased with. Guess Reggie described ’em, and Henry’d actually seen one in a book at school. Says they’re a variety of the tumi. Pretty fancy, too. Bronze, faced with silver here and there on the handle.”
“What is a…tumi?”
“According to Henry, the Incas used tumi knives. And according to Scrap Hannigan plus my own two lying eyes, there’s three of ’em lying right in there with them three Inca skeletons in Sapphire Cave.”
The conclusion was inescapable: The evil men pursuing Reggie Tamson in his nightmares were Incas. It was good having Brook there; I gotta say that. Her quick mind got to the point faster’n any of the rest of us coulda done.
“Why do you think dead Incas would be after Reggie?”
“Dunno. That’s part of what we need to find out, maybe. In order to stop ’em.”
“Do you think it’s these same Incas from the cave?”
“Again, I dunno. But I can say this, again from Henry’s schoolwork. The Incas, like a lot of other folks, did sacrifice some of their kids. Not sure they used knives, but it could be connected. Maybe. And we all agree, there’s one man we know–and only one man we know–who can find out and put a stop to Reggie’s suffering. A man whose knowledge of the supernatural and ability to deal with it outstrips anybody local.”
Cougar took over from there, looking his Mom right in the eye as he said, “My Heyókȟa twin brother, Laughing Wolf.”
She stared at him fer a long moment, then nodded. “You are right, son. I presume you have seen this also, in your dreams?”
“I have. As tired as we all are, checking cows and pulling calves and whatnot, a couple of dreams have come through. They have to be powerful important to even be remembered when I’m running this worn out.”
“Mom, it ain’t only Reggie. It’s also Wolf. He’s with Dull Knife’s band on the Rez in Indian Territory. In Oklahoma. It’s bad there, very bad, but if I don’t go git my brother soon, he will die from something else. Something will happen. I have seen it.”
“Penny won’t like it.”
“Me being gone, or us bringing in my batsh*t crazy brother to try his redskin voodoo on her son?”
Coug nodded. “Which is why she’s not to be told. She don’t believe in evil spirits except Satan’s minions, as described in her Bible. If we told her Reggie’s nightmares are coming from some nasty dead Incas…no. She can’t be told.”
Ever one of us were shaking our heads. We were all agreed on that. At least the snow had begun melting enough to make additional hay feeding unnecessary, which meant Bodeen could ramrod the place well enough in our absence.
The following morning at the crack of ugly, Flywheel’s three deadliest men headed out.
We straddled our favorite mounts–Cougar on Charger, me on Smokey, Dawson on Joker–but also trailed three pack horses laden with all sorts of useful provisions, including horseshoeing supplies right down to a small anvil. One of the pack animals was a sleeper, a big jugheaded bay that was a sight more’n he looked. If Laughing Wolf needed a ride outa there and didn’t happen to have a horse of his own handy, we jist happened to have one ready for him.
There were spare weapons, too. In fact we were truly loaded down with ordnance. Coug alone was a sight to behold, his two .45 Colts tied down as always, the ever-present Winchester in the saddle boot, his skinning knife riding behind the left-hand pistol…and of course the stuff that didn’t show, hiding in his boots. Dawson wore his .44 Russian on his right hip, skinning knife behind that, and the great BlackSteel fighting knife–practically a short sword–on the other side. Plus, of course, the .44-40 Winchester in the boot. Next to them two weapons-heavy warriors, I looked next thing to naked. Jist one little ol’ .45 Colt on the left side and a skinning knife on the right. Plus the Winchester, naturally. Never leave home without it.
The packs had more. Coug’s big .45-70 Government, Dawson’s .50 Sharps, and the .44-77 Remington Rolling Block #4 I’d acquired from the drygulcher who’d shot at me and mostly missed on Raton Pass. The Remington was one helluva shooter; the idjit shoulda got me.
Jist fer good measure, in case we needed a man to look innocent and unarmed fer any reason–like maybe giving up his visible guns before visiting with an Indian Agent or something–Dawson’s right hand saddle bag also held his groin rig and the two pepperbox Garza Surprises.
If anybody asked, we were jist out fer a little Sunday ride. To anybody with the eyes to see, the truth was crystal clear.
Flywheel was riding to war.