Darkness in White
June 18, 2012
Even with the dangers and pressures that the small ranch faced, no one would have dared suggest that they attempt to ride into the storm in search for the missing cattle at night. As he hoped, Carrie asked Jack to spend the night in the bunkhouse that used to house the workman.
Instead of sleeping, he snooped around. It took him less time to discover what he needed to know than even he would have imagined. No real valuables had been left behind, but other things were. “What grown man would leave his socks and underwear someplace they never thought they’d return too?”
He found other things like jeans and even a pair of work boots. “No working man that was in the process of making himself unemployed would leave this stuff behind. This doesn’t make sense.” Things like wallets and watches were strangely missing though. It’s almost like everything was left behind that no one would have a chance to sell.
Jack half expected some maniac to burst into his room in the middle of the night, but for once, he had a sound sleep and the rich smell of pancakes greeted him in the morning.
Talk around the breakfast table remained sparse. Carrie appeared to be in a hurry to get them out into the fields looking for the missing cattle, despite the fact that outside the windows the snow looked like a solid wall of white.
Without complaint, the two men geared up as best they could and Jack had no problem accepting a heavy jacket that belonged to the husband that he still had yet to meet.
After heading out into the two feet of snow, Hank asked, “So have you ridden horses much?”
“Not enough to help prepare me for riding through this crap.”
“Just follow me. The trick will be finding them and getting them back. We won’t have much need for herding.”
Jack hopped onto a Gelding that might have seen better days. “So were there any horses missing?”
“Doesn’t seem to be.” Jack just shook his head and focused on trying to stay on the horse’s back as it labored through the deep drifts.
The snow continued to hammer them as they slowly moved into the heart of the ranch. More small streams cut through the white with thin lines of black. Trees dotted the landscape in irregular clusters. If everyone wasn’t on edge and it wasn’t snowing quite so hard, Jack would have found the area quite beautiful.
Then Hank held up. “I think we might have found our first casualty.” At first Jack couldn’t see anything and wasn’t certain what the rancher meant. Then he saw the man dismount near an odd undulation in the snow. “Probably just a yearling.” Jack stayed were he was, uncertain he could regain his saddle easily within all the snow. But then Hank started to scream his name.
With an awkward dismount, which almost sent him sprawling into the snow, Jack managed to make it to the cowboy’s side. He didn’t like what the man had found. At least two twisted a frozen human bodies lay half covered by the snow.
Hank had moved a few steps back while his hand went up to cover his mouth. Jack quickly asked, “Are these the men working for your sister?”
“Yes, I recognize Pete there. I went to school with his mom. I think the other guy is Natty. Oh man, how could this have happened?”
Jack was already digging into the snow around the bodies. “That’s what I intend to find out.” He felt the gore rise when he saw that the men had been savaged by something huge.
“Are there grizzlies around here?”
“Yes, but they should be hibernating now.”
“Well, something big tore these two into pieces. And there only seems to be two of them. Wasn’t there three?”
“Yeah, it looks like Ed Burger is still missing, but considering what happened to these guys…” His voice trailed off, but then he said, “Look Jack, whether this is a griz or not, we need to get back. The police should to be called and we need to get some serious firepower on board.”
“I have no problem with that.” He looked up into the waves of descending snow. “I just wonder where the third man is.”