Hard Times In the High Country
May 21, 2012
It turned out the man’s name was Hank Rivers and he was a rancher like his sister and her husband. He had inherited the family place decades ago, while her sister, Carrie, had moved in with her husband.
The powdered snow was already nearly a foot deep when they reached the dirt road that led to Carrie’s ranch. Jack jumped out to open the cattle gate and even a man of his strength had difficulty pushing open the gate through the accumulating snow. As he jogged back through the blinding white, he wondered, if we can barely get through this gate, what’s the ranch itself going to be like?
Hank might have been thinking the same thing for they drove the rest of the way in silence. When they finally came up to the remote ranch, Jack was impressed. A large two story house looked to be carved out of the very forest that surrounded it. Outside of the grove of trees, that lined a small stream, rolling hills and prairies spread out as far as he could see through the storm. A barn loomed so large that it dwarfed the house and outside of this, fences and other ranching equipment could be seen.
“Nice place.” Jack said.
“Her husband John is a decent man. Like me, he inherited this place. But where his father had a whole herd of men helping, John can only afford to hire three cowboys these days.” He sighed. “I’m not sure how or way it happened, but if those three boys have run off, like my sis says, this poor family might be in for a world of hurt. But again, I haven’t heard the whole story yet.”
A woman, that he guessed had to be Carrie, stood on the covered front porch with a baby in her arms. “I have a feeling we are about to.”
Once parked, Carrie led them inside with few words and besides a brief hug, even fewer signs of affection. Carrie kept her blonde hair shorter than Jack’s wild mane. Despite being a mother of three, she hadn’t lost her figure and if she didn’t look like she had been up for the last three days without a break, Jack would have guessed that she could still be quite an attractive woman.
After stomping off their boots, the pair followed her into the living room and were hit by a wave of heat generated by the giant wood stove that roared, behind a child safety gate, on the north side of the living room.
Carrie offered them each a seat at the dinner table and Hank handed him a beer, as she went into the kitchen. Besides the baby in her arms, two other children were in the living room and they dropped what they were doing to leap into their uncle’s arms. Of the husband there was no sign.
“These here are little Jenny and her younger brother Chris,” Hank said with a proud smile.
Carrie was more stern. “Your uncle and I have some adult talking to do, so you two brush your teeth and get ready for bed.” With a series of cute complaints, they agreed and headed off. Without setting down her youngest, the woman placed two plates full of fresh chicken in front of the men.
Leaving herself without a plate, she sat. “I won’t have much time, before I need to tend to them and I don’t want them to hear what I’ve gotta say.” Jack watched the siblings. Neither looked well and concerned burned in their eyes.
Both seemed surprised when Jack spoke up. “What happened to the workmen?”
“They left right before the storm hit. They just up and left after John hurt himself. The cowardly rats. Probably thought they wouldn’t be getting paid.”
“Did they take all their stuff and drive off?” Hank was looking at Jack strangely, perhaps wondering what he was getting at.
“I never did check their rooms, but their trucks are all gone.” She looked at Jack and then back at her brother. “But we have more important things to worry about then their sorry asses. This storm is just supposed to get worse and more of our cattle our still out in the middle of it.”
Hank sighed and looked down at his plate while rubbing his temples. When he finally looked up, he met Jack’s eyes and said, “I hope you know how to ride more than your bike.”