A Day Late and a Dollar Short


Jake Short (no relation to gunfighter Luke Short) had been called Dollar from the time he could sit a stool to milk his Daddy’s herd of Holstein dairy cows. Most local folk blamed the father for young Jake’s less than flattering appellation.

“That kid’s always running a day late and a dollar short,” he’d tell anyone who cared to listen, though the one-eyed bartender at Swede’s was about the only one who did. “He didn’t finish the milking this morning till danged near breakfast time!”

Few residents of Drummond, Montana, had any sympathy for Clem Short’s complaints about his son, mostly due to the fact that the younger man’s hard work was all that kept his old man in rye in the first place. People respected young Dollar near as much as they scorned old Clem. Hell, the whole town knew the young buck would much rather be punching cattle than pinching their teats, but he still did the job without complaint.

That counted for a lot in Drummond.

Besides his willingness to work, the locals knew two other important facts about the young dairy farmer: You didn’t ever want him fixing you a cup of coffee, and he was sweet on the prettiest girl for miles around–who also happened to be the eldest daughter of Granite County’s biggest rancher, Doland Drummond, after whom the town was named.

Here name was Daye, Daye Drummond, apple of her Daddy’s eye…and Daddy didn’t much cotton to the idea of her marrying a stinking dairy farmer. Dairy farmers weren’t but one step up from sheepherders, and not no big step at that.

Why not the coffee?

Well now, you know how it is; most real men, especially in cowboy country, take their coffee black. But see, while Dollar Short did indeed drink plenty of coffee every single working day of his adult life, he also ruined the nectar of the Gods by pouring an unbelievable amount of fresh cream in every cup. I sat at table with him, just the one time, and I seen it. That fella took a little coffee with his cream, not the other way around.

It was plumb sickening.

Now, Doland Drummond, according to word in town, surely didn’t cotton to the idea of having a son in law known as Dollar Short. See, Drummond was the richest cattleman in not just Granite County but in the entire Three Counties Area, at least according to common belief, and–no. There’d been a day he’d been a day late and a dollar short his own self, but never again.

Still, he knew better than to out-and-out forbid his daughter to marry young Jake. She didn’t much take to being bossed around, being her Daddy’s daughter and all. So Doland came up with an idea.

He’d sell her, sneaky-persuade the girl to see sense.

“Honey,” he confessed in his most sincere horse trading voice, “Jake Short is a fine man. I’d be all for you two getting hitched, dairy farmer or no dairy farmer, ‘cept he’s got the town drunk for a father. And it’s not just that he drinks too much or even that he talks mean about his own son. The man still lives on the farm, anyway when he’s not down at Swede’s drinking himself insensible, but that’s not even the worst of it.

“I’ve heard tell he cain’t be trusted around young girls. They say before he showed up at Drummond with a couple of cows and a powerful thirst, he was in prison back in Kansas for putting his hands on a wheat farmer’s daughter who weren’t but fourteen at the time.”

Then he’d stared at Daye, using them big reverse puppy dog eyes, concerned Daddy and all. Poor thing, she bought it, too. Promised to think about it, at least.

Problem was, the rancher had made that prison story up out of whole cloth. Clem Short was a surefire drunk who devoutly believed his personal salvation lay in the bottom of either the bottle in his hand or maybe the next one, but he weren’t no pervert. Matter of fact, he hadn’t even been a drunk till Jake’s mama died. The man was simply grieving, that’s all, and Doland Drummond knew it full well.

What he didn’t know was, he’d done trapped himself in his own words. Not three months after Doland told that tall tale to Daye, it backfired on ‘im. One rainy night, three sheets to the wind as usual, Clem Short stumbled out of Swede’s Saloon, climbed into that rattletrap old buggy of his, and headed for the farm. It was pitch dark, but his horse knew the way home. Best they kin figger it, the horse stopped at that big dry wash, wouldn’t take another step.

Even the buggy whip didn’t help, so Clem climbed down, more likely fell down, stumbled up there in front of the critter to give it a good talking to…and fell into the water. He weren’t at the dry wash at all, had gotten off on the wrong trail, ended up at Dead Man’s Bend in the Clark Fork River. No more Clem, except what was left of ‘im that washed up on a gravel bar a mile downstream, down by Baker’s place.

The man finally got enough to drink, anyway.

Well, Miss Daye went to the funeral, consoled Jake both at the funeral and at a few other places later on. Then a couple of weeks later, she cornered her father where he was hiding out in the tack room.

“Daddy,” she said, all sweetness and light, “You know I’m grieving for Jake’s loss, but at least it’s nice to know you approve of our marriage now. We do both thank you greatly for that.” Then she batted them long lashes up his way, innocent like, and added, “We’d like to have the wedding here at the ranch. I told him you wouldn’t mind.”

What was the man going to do? Tell his girl he’d lied to her?

Let’s see, you likely know the rest of the story, how the newlyweds made their fortune by setting up a fancy cafe down to West Yellowstone, all that. Some say they made the most money by culling that dairy herd, slaughtering the stringiest old canner cows and telling tourists the rawhide-tough steaks on their plates were from the finest Angus beef. Others declare they made more money on that over-creamed coffee, and by staying open late, when the rest of the town had pretty much rolled up the street.

What did Jake himself have to say about it? Funny you should ask. I stopped in at that place of theirs in West Yellowstone one time. Knew better than to order any stringy Holstein, not even the hamburger, but I did opt to try just one more cup of that weird concoction. Cost me a dollar, can you believe it?

The apple pie was fine, though. That bride of his could cook, rich rancher’s daughter or not.

When I finally got around to asking him how life was shaping up, now that he didn’t have to be milking cranky heifers while it was still dark out–and had him the prettiest young wife in the county, to boot–it was past midnight. Nobody else in the place, just me and the happy couple.

“Not bad at all,” he grinned, putting an arm around the Missus and lifting a mug of that high priced tourist-gouger drink with the other hand. “Daye Short and a dollar latte!”

8 thoughts on “A Day Late and a Dollar Short

  1. Sha, where do you think I got the idea for the story? The West Yellowstone café part is even true, more or less, lifted from a family that once lived in Drummond and went broke trying to run a grocery store when people weren’t paying their tabs. Their steak was exactly as described above–and I’m waiting for the day when someone from my old home town (Drummond) stumbles on this story and leaves a comment.:)

  2. You do, indeed! And I’m betting that sooner or later, it will happen, too.

    Note: Tonight’s post (about to be written) will feature (drumroll!) an INVASION of BIG HEADED ANTS…not fiction, either….

  3. good story and like me; I write from factual basis and add salt and pepper to suit. I met HAROLD ROBINS while on a diving project in NYC once and he liked coming to our crew boat and actually hanging out with us. I told him I had a writer bug and how I should go about it. Pretty much as I asked you. Well; his advice was write about what you know and don’t TELL A lie. People will see it and turn you off. BUT; he said, use salt and pepper and spices in your story or people won’t bother to read it at all. So; I could tell this was from an event and real people or; hoped it was. I enjoyed reading it. IF YOU DON’T MIND; it’s the way IVAN DOIG writes and the reason he’s on my favorites list. You should hook up with ROBERT GUNN as your illustrator if you get famous and all. I talked to him once on the phone. It was a funny call because I didn’t know who he was. I thought he was a guy trying to get into the business. lol So; I was going to give him a job if he could do a good job. lol. I got his number from the Yellow pages add. Soliciting commercial art. I needed ideas for a logo for my new Corporation. I was a little embarrassed after I found out who Robert Gunn was. oH WELL! LIVE AND LEARN. He was nice though and offered a suggestion which I used; after all…

  4. Interesting. Harold Robbins was one of my “early favorite” authors, back when. Ivan Doig grew up farther east in Montana than I did, and got an earlier start in life by four years. I’ve long known his name (of course) but am not sure–after reviewing his list of novels just now–if I’ve actually read any of his work. Didn’t know a thing about Robert Gunn until you got me to Google the guy; he definitely knows what he’s doing! (Love his “Getting an Education” painting.) We’ve got a local gal who claims she can produce pretty much any illustration I want; we’ll see how that works out. 😉

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