“Whaddya think?” Cougar asked, “Should we host a Second Annual Flywheel Tale Telling Competition and Free Buffalo Feed? It’s getting to be that time of winter, if we’re gonna do it.”
There was plenty of discussion, which in the end all boiled down to, why not?
Of course, we had to decide one major thing: Did we want to go on with a nice rigid little program, jist copying what we’d done in ’78, or did we want to up the ante a bit, give the folks something new to experience? Improving the show this year might not be that difficult to pull off, but it would set a precedent: Every year from now on, the community would expect us to top our previous best.
So naturally that’s the option we went with.
The fire pits blazing merrily were the same. The endless supply of buffalo meat was the same. Even the stories were mostly the same, except fer Tam opting to tell the true story of–as Cougar had dubbed her–Clarisse the Beast, the one woman wrecking crew who’d nearly wiped us out with nothing but a teapot. He’d cleared that with Elly in advance, of course. And he used the opportunity to paint his lover as the tragic heroine she truly was, which put to rest at least some of those vicious rumors circulating around Walsenburg.
You know, the rumors that Elly was a chip off the old block, that her husband was crippled because of poison she’d given him. Stuff like that.
When Tam was done, even the nose-in-the-air church ladies showed a little sympathy fer the girl. Which of course they wouldn’t have done, had Penny talked about her discovery of Mrs. Franzen’s dalliance with the tale teller.
This year, there were–finally–a few folks who began wondering where Flywheel got all the fresh buffalo meat, since bison in general were getting hard to find. Take Kansas, fer example. Henry had recently learned in school that in 1871, jist one Kansas herd had numbered more than four million individuals…and they expected to see the last Kansas buff killed off sometime this year, making the critter extinct in that state.
They weren’t quite that dead-and-gone everywhere jist yet, but it wouldn’t be long now.
We’d been ready fer the questions, though. All queries were politiely directed to Tam himself, who spun yarns about Flywheel buff hunters fanning out through the Universe, hunting to the stars and beyond, in order to feast the good people of Huerfano County. Nobody could git a straight answer out of him, but he left ’em laughing and shaking their heads, agreeing he was known as the tall tale teller fer a reason.
The tiny seed herd we kept hidden in the box canyon as a hedge against the future? That was looking wiser by the day. We’d become ever more deeply convinced our little bunch might end up being literally the only thing destined to keep the species from going extinct entirely.
And young Reggie Tamson, as hard-headed a seven year old as I ever seen, seemed to have appointed himself protector of every wild creature threatened by man.
What? No, he didn’t talk about it. Not yet; the boy seemed keenly aware of the need fer silence till he was ready. But I’d finally started noticing what he was about. I don’t really think Reg and I ever liked each other that much–certainly there was no bond like with me and Henry–but the lad was worth studying.
The thing is, he was studying. Learning, saying little but reading every book his teachers or his Mom could round up for him…if it pertained to wild animals.
How’d we upgrade the festivities? Simple enough, at least this time: Stupid pet tricks. That is, L’Amour, my new palomino stud colt–a short yearling at this point–got to show off his willingness to be led around with tiny children (such as David Tamson Trask, age two) on his back. That was followed by Sadie, now four, riding solo–no lead, jist showing off her ability to git L’Amour to start, stop, walk, trot, and lope with nothing whatsoever attached to the young horse but Sadie herself.
Yeah, I know. I’d lost me a colt. You don’t think it was me that named the critter The Love (in French), did you?
Eight year old Henry followed Sadie’s tour de force with a bronc riding exhibition on a bridled and saddled pinto that’d buck with considerable enthusiasm, then go on as a saddle horse fer the rest of the day. Young Tamson had figured out how to “cue” Hopper to pitch on command. It was pretty impressive. Tam’s natural seat on a bronc’s hurricane deck had passed on down to his grandson; that much was obvious.
But of course, none of this would have been more than merely “cute” if not fer Smokey and the tale teller showing ’em all how it was really done. Them two were fun to watch fer those of us who knew ’em and a sight to behold fer the rest of the crowd. They come charging from the point where I’d once positioned myself to provide support in an all-out firefight, bursting outa the timber like the Hounds of Hell were at their heels.
Believe I’ve mentioned the grulla can scat. He weren’t getting any younger, but he weren’t getting any slower, neither.
Slim Morgan, five feet eight inches tall and nearly that wide, had been recruited to play the victim. The heavy fellow jist “happened” to be wandering outside the ranch yard, square in the path of the charging horse, “oblivious” to his danger.
Tam had his lariat ready…threw…the loop settled neatly over the big man’s head and shoulders, snugged up as the tale teller pitched his slack. Smokey’s butt was jist about dragging on the snow as he slid to a screeching halt, then backed up jist enough to keep Morgan from un-catching himself.
That was jist fer starters, of course. They had the attention of the audience now.
The rope was dallied, not tied hard and fast, so it was the work of no more’n a second to release the thing, let it fall.
Did I ever tell you the kind of show Smokey could put on when he wanted to? No? Well, now. He’d stand on his hind legs and rear up, Tam waving his hat to the crowd like he was some sorta celebrity. He’d hop sideways on all four feet, left or right made no never mind. Pick up objects off the ground with his teeth–the rope, or a saddle blanket, anything Tam told him to grab.
He could untie square knots–also with his teeth–and do paces that made him look like he was dancing. He–okay, here’s the best of all, the final thing. I had to announce this one, mostly ’cause Tam and Smokey needed to be seen doing the visual stuff, and I’d been there when Blue Sky’s Kiowa raiders had been fooled into believing both man and horse were lamed.
With me describing it as if through Blue Sky’s eyes, it was amazing to see my partner and his horse, both limping like they couldn’t run if their lives depended on it, which at the time they did.
At the end, with the imaginary Kiowa closing to almost within shooting range, a suddenly “healed” Tam leaped aboard a suddenly “healed” horse…and they thundered off, scat-quick, disappearing into the brushy draw situated some distance south of the yard, escaping the entirely imaginary but extremely hostile (and totally frustrated) Indians.
We had more’n three hundred folks in attendance when he done that bit of performance theater, and ever one of ’em was hooting and hollering, stamping the ground and clapping their hands in appreciation. Flywheel Productions had a hit on its hands.
I turned to find Scrap Hannigan at my elbow. He’d jist ridden in from the east end of our range, having felt a powerful hunch jist yesterday that he needed to go take a looksee at Trickle Creek. “A minute, Dawson?”
Uh-oh. What now? I followed the one-eyed man over to the barn where we could talk without being overheard. What could be going on at Trickle Creek? We weren’t doing anything with that drainage at the moment other than using it to make the State mine inspectors think that was where our sapphires come from.
Which they didn’t, of course, except fer the handfuls of raw stones Scrap scattered in the gravel bars ever now and then.
“We got claim jumpers,” he explained.
“There’s twelve of ’em so far,” Scrap told us, addressing the late-night emergency owners’ meeting, “but the feel of it is, there’s gonna be more and more all the time, until we put a clear stop to it.”
Cougar shook his head. “I don’t git it. We been careful to feed them State people enough manure to raise mushrooms and not much else. All their official reports say we’ve got a few sapphires, all right, but not enough to count as something like a–oh, a gold strike or something. What the Hell?”
Hannigan had clearly been thinking this through during the hours-long ride back to headquarters. “It’s gotta be deliberate. There haven’t been any big news stories about us finding gemstones on Flywheel property. Somebody in the government leaked the information. And since it still ain’t out in the press that we know of, they leaked it in a very specific way. You know, to somebody with power who jist plain don’t like us.”
We kind of all looked at each other, sitting around the table with our hands wrapped around steaming coffee cups…and we all got it at the same instant.
“Goss,” we said, and we knew we were right.
The meeting went on till midnight, by which time we had a plan. We knew it was a plan because Tam had the key points organized into one of his lists, detailing both what we figured we knew and what we knew we had to do.
Or something like that.
Trickle Creek Trap
1. The jumpers are crossing Evans land to reach Trickle Creek. Let him know he’s got trespassers. His riders might shoot a few of ’em and chase others off.
2. Sheriff not an option. A few fines for trespassing won’t stem the flow–might even encourage it, get too much word out of a “strike”.
3. Can’t jist kill ’em. You can bet they’ll have plenty of “witnesses” who saw murder, plus (again) the publicity would work against us.
4. Scare tactics: Wolf Tea?
5. Must move fast. If they keep coming (which they will if not dissuaded), they’ll eventually be too many to dislodge easily.
That was the list. The Wolf Tea would take a couple of days to put together, considering we needed Jack to ride back over to his and Hattie’s place and return before we’d have all the necessary ingredients.
We’d ridden in force to within striking distance of Trickle Creek, but only the Tamsons went on from there. Dawson and Jack had their field glasses covering the situation. If we got in trouble, they could bring half a dozen men with a whole ton of firepower to bear on the situation…but only if we got in trouble. Otherwise, this was to be a Tamson task.
Wolf, my Heyókȟa, half-Cheyenne, 1/16 Comanche son, carried–appropriately–the Wolf Tea in a wineskin that would allow him to administer precise doses.
Cougar, his twin brother, covered him from a position in the rocks above the creek. I did likewise from behind a deadfall jist inside the treeline.
The sun was setting. There were still exactly twelve men down there, panning in the creek as if fer gold, except they were looking for purty little pebbles. Discard gold miners, it looked like, suspenders and long scruffy beards and Lord forbid you ever got downwind of ’em. Three tents, three campfires. They’d all got their fires going, hung coffee pots over the flames to heat, and gone back to panning. Gold fever–‘scuse me, sapphire fever–was forcing these idiots to use ever last ray of light before calling it a day.
Wolf ghosted down outa the rocks. I seen a faint hint of his movement from time to time, but not much–and he weren’t trying to hide his presence from me.
You woulda thought at least one of them men might notice a strange Indian skulking around their campfires, squirting shots of greenish-brown liquid into their coffee pots, but no. Not a chance. Yeah, they were focused on their panning–which likely didn’t work all that well anyway, since gold is a lot heavier than sapphire in the first place–but even when one of ’em would glance up toward the fires, he clearly didn’t see a thing amiss.
It was like the Heyókȟa really was invisible. I, Crazy Rifle, was some impressed. I’d snuck up on enemies in my day, but….
Not until my son was away from them fires and back up in the rocks with his brother did I discover I’d been holding my breath.
Their voices drifted up to us. “Damn, Fowler, this cofee tastes like you dunked yer dang socks in it! That is, if you was wearing socks in the first place!”
“Quitcher bitchin’, Muff. It ain’t no worse’n yer sowbelly ‘n’ beans.”
“Easy, gentlemen, easy. We’re doing good. Hard to say how many of these freaking rocks in our pokes are really sapphires and how many jist colored gravel–it ain’t like gold, doncha know. But we’re all getting paid enough as it is, eh? Ten bucks a day fer playing sapphire miner beats the hell outa getting strung up fer rustling, doncha think?”
“What I think, Jenks, is you use ten words when one would do. When’s the next wave coming in, anyway?”
“Day after tomorrow, from what we was told.”
“Be glad when they git here, I’m tellin’ ya. That Flywheel bunch don’t sound like nobody to be messin’ with. We need them reinforcements. Safety in numbers and all that.”
The chit-chat went on fer so long, we thought maybe Brook and Hattie had got the Tea recipe wrong.
Shouldn’t have doubted.
Maybe twenty minutes before moonrise, we heard the wolf howl. A real wolf, not Wolf Tamson. Two thoughts run through me when I heard that: Damn wolves are back, and Great timing!
Great timing…because that unearthly sound coincided exactly with the hallucinations.
The claim jumpers–the phony paid-to-be claim jumpers–were all on their feet, ever last one of ’em, and they were going nuts. Seeing things. Scary things, especially fer men who knew in the bottoms of what passed fer their Souls that what they were doing weren’t right.
We’d later git word through the grapevine that ever man seen something different, but none of what they seen was pleasant.
Time to add to the chorus. “SCREE-HUA-HA-HAAA!” I let fly with my old Screeching Sophie Saunders concert, updated some with various sound effects copied from enraged mountain lions and wounded women, whatever I’d absorbed in forty years of battling a tough world to stay alive. “SCREEEE!!!”
I couldn’t tell you to this day what sorts of contributions Coug and Wolf were making, being entirely focused on my own output as I was, but I do know we shut the distant wolf pack up entirely. Maybe even run ’em back outa the county fer a while, fer all I know.
The effect on them twelve rounders down by the creek was absolutely hilarious. Iffen I hadn’t needed to keep the concert going, I’d have been laughing too hard to breathe. It’s a wonder they didn’t shoot each other, or at least stick somebody with a knife, the way they went to pieces. They did everthing else, though. Stumbled into and tripped over each other. Screamed on their own account, some of ’em pointing here and there and everywhere. One fellow did get punched in the face. Broke his nose, but he never even noticed.
Remember back when I was thirteen, I told you about Sophie-screeching them three Army deserters so bad they left their saddles behind and lit out on their horses bareback? Hell, that little situation was an orderly retreat compared to this bunch. It kept getting worse and worse, with them getting more and more agitated–and us Tamsons wondering if our screaming, hooting, and whatever other weird sounds Wolf and Coug were making…well, truth be told, we were wondering if this little fandango was going to come to a resolution before our voices give out, or not!
Turned out all we needed was the light of the moon. The moment them first rays of silver light come splashing across the creek to their campsite, that bunch huddled up like a–I dunno, maybe a gaggle of geese would describe it–and they took off the way they come in, headed out toward Evans property…on foot!
Making some noise of their own along the way.
Journal Entry: February 1, 1879. Martin Cross relayed stories told at the Singlejack. Says he heard men talking about Trickle Creek, how it was haunted by ghosts and werewolves and vampires and Bigfoots and all manner of monsters. Said “somebody” was offering good money for people to sneak onto Flywheel property and pan for–supposedly–sapphires. No takers.
What? Oh, okay; guess I never did really explain that part of it. See, we kinda owed our expertise at brewing up a batch of what we come to call Wolf Tea to the late, unlamented Clarisse the Beast. After Hattie Prosser got somewhat recovered from being poisoned, she come to a decision: She was going to learn all there was to know about plants that could be used to produce unhealthy effects in folks. Not so’s she could poison anybody, but so’s she’d know her enemy. She’d been studying hardcore, ever spare moment and then some, and she’d also acquired quite a store of herbs and such with…interesting properties.
Then there was Laughing Brook’s lifelong expertise with such things, mostly fer healing, but including the dangerous plants as well.
Put them two together, tell ’em what we needed–a brew that could pass in coffee, more or less, and that would produce hallucinations without killing anybody–tell ’em that, and let ’em git to work.
Oh, come on. No, I ain’t about to give you the recipe. Fer one thing, only the girls really know it, anyway.
I do know there was a bit of peyote in there–ain’t sure how much–and I think I heard Hattie say something about mushrooms.