CAUGHT in a HOT TIN SHED
Have you ever been conned? It’s no fun, is it? Did the person who conned you by any chance go by the name of Harry Offstreet? No? Oh well, that’s probably not his real name anyway. Like any con man worth assaulting, Harry was a chameleon, ever-shifting personas.
Mr. “Offstreet” set me up in a sure-fire business that proudly bore his name: Offstreet Parking. Yes, the same Offstreet Parking you’ll see in the business districts of major cities. Having made his fortune in those markets, he was now giving the smaller communities a chance to share his success.
In retrospect, I was a chump, a dupe, a sap, a sucker, a sitting duck. But in my defense, I was also vulnerable. I fell for Harry’s scam, hook, line, and stinker. It won’t happen again, I can assure you. I blame my youthful exuberance, naïve enthusiasm, and undeveloped prefrontal cortex—all of which I have since lost.
I think Harry, seasoned shyster, justifiably proud of his swindling skills, was disappointed that I was so easily taken. He acted like he had lines he wanted to use but didn’t get to. I guess I was practically taking the bait right out of his mouth. It got to the point where he was trying to talk some sense into my head.
“Start small,” he suggested. “See how it goes; let it pay its own way.”
Did I take his advice? No! I opted for the “deluxe package” with the automatic gate and mechanical ticket dispenser. Then there was the upgrade to two hundred and ten spaces. What was I thinking? The entire population of Mudrock, Missouri was only two hundred and five! It’ll grow, I convinced myself, a family of five will move in any time now. This didn’t happen, although a family with five cars in their yard did acquire five more.
In retrospect, I should have recognized it as irony, hyperbole or just a bald-faced lie when Harry told me I had a natural acumen for business. One thing was for sure: after coughing up the franchise fee, the equipment lease down-payment, lot rental, shipping and handling, taxes, tags, title, insurance and paint to make the stripes, I wouldn’t be hiring employees any time soon. So it fell to me to man the five-foot by five-foot, “lot attendant’s kiosk” morning, noon and night, day in and day out.
Summer was still weeks away but inside that little tin shed it was blazing hot. There was no air conditioning. There was no plumbing. The nearest relief of either kind was across the street at the Farmer’s Co-op grain elevator.
I dreaded going in there. It was a known hang-out of retired farmers and using the restroom meant running a gauntlet of old [incidences of escaping flatulence]. “How many customers ya get today?” they’d taunt, then burst into great phlegm-hacking guffaws.
They never tired of tormenting me about the one customer I did have the third week in business—or maybe it was the thirtieth. One customer and he was lost, drunk or both. I didn’t think that incident was funny. He not only refused to pay, he cost me one hundred sixty-three dollars and three cents for repairs to the gate and a new Do Not Proceed Until Gate Opens sign.
Sometimes, if I waited until midafternoon, I could sneak into the elevator office undetected. I’d tip-toe up to the outside door and listen. If I could count five or more distinctive snores, there was a good chance they were all dozing. Anyone still awake would have either left or forced himself asleep to escape the racket.
I’d stealthily sneak through the sawmill of slumbering seniors and slip (sometimes literally) into the grimy little restroom. But I never made it out undetected. The toilet tipped them off with its post-flush howling. I guess you could say it squealed on me.
To their credit, the old geezers did let me borrow a few issues from their vast library of agricultural periodicals. I whiled away the boring, tedious, monotonous hours in that hot little shed pouring (sweat, that is) over publications with titles like Red Angus Review, Dairyman’s Digest, Field and Furrow, Better Beef, Progressive Pork Producer and its sister publication, Progressive Poultry Producer.
One day as I was perusing Grasslands Gazette, I came across a small ad in the classifieds near the back. It read simply, “Exp. ranch help wanted. Reply: WW, Route 2, Box 169, Annelida WY.”
I fired off a four-page letter detailing my experience with gates, stalls, sheds, etc., not to mention (well, actually I did mention) my vast assimilation of agricultural literature. Reluctantly, I gave the elevator phone number as my contact information.
The reply came before I knew it—by at least a day, maybe more. I was in the restroom when there was a knock on the door.
“Almost done,” I called in response.
“Take your time,” the voice came through the door. “I just want to tell you something before I forget it again.”
I waited to hear what that might be—probably another one of their tasteless jokes—but all I heard was diverse speculations being offered to old Zeb or Sheb or whoever it was, about what he thought he was trying to remember.
Ha, this time the joke’s on them, I thought to myself (hence the italics). Sure enough, a minute later I heard, “Never mind. I forgot it again. Carry on with your business.”
I thought maybe this time I could slip out without being accosted. Ed Dippledorf, affectionately known as, E.D., was telling some off-color joke about a young man phoning for advice on his wedding night. The mention of a telephone seemed to ring a Bell for old Sheb.
“Now I remember!” he shouted triumphantly, just as E.D. was about to deliver the punchline. “Did you go and apply for some kind of ranch job up in Wyoming?”
Before I could respond in the affirmative, Hank hollered, “We told ‘em you couldn’t take the job—too much business at your parking lot!”
This was met with raucous laughter which E.D. mistook for a response to his punch line. So he repeated it four more times.
A quasi-nauseous feeling swept over me. Had these nincompoops squandered my one chance for freedom? “Did you get a number so I can call them back?” I asked queasily.
They took turns giving each other dumb looks until each old coot had exchanged a dumb look with each other old coot.
“No. Was we s’posed to?” Sheb shirked.
“Well, uh...” I started, knowing an appeal to reason would only result in ridicule.
“Ya should’a told us you was expecting a call,” Jed said.
“Then we could’a yelled out the winder fer ya to come and answer it.” Bud, the retired accountant, added.
“Then we could’a unplugged the phone,” Jake, the retired plumber cracked.
Bud and Jake tried to high-five but missed.
“I don’t know why you picked up that phone in the first place, Sheb,” Clyde chided.
“I picked it up to get the goldarned thing to stop that infernal ringing.” Sheb shrugged. “Then I was stuck talkin’ to some stranger just to be polite.”
“Should’a told him he had the wrong number,” Gus groused.
“I started to,” Sheb shrugged. “But then I realized even a wrong number is better conversation than you old gasbags.” There was a chorus of boos. “An’ after talking to the fellow I got curious whether he could tell us anything about young Phlegm here, that we didn’t already know.”
“It’s Flynn, not Phlegm,” I corrected, trying to choke back my irritation.
“Flim, Flam, whatever...” Sheb said indifferently. “Anyway, I got the impression if you want to head on up there you got the job. Least I think that’s what he said. There was a lot of static on the line.”
And that is all the information I was able to get out of the old far[mer]s, despite quizzing them individually and collectively. But if the caller had indeed offered me an opportunity to spend the summer in the cool climes of a sprawling ranch in the scenic foothills of the Tetons, the rugged Wind River Range or maybe the Bighorn Mountains I wasn’t about to hesitate.
Noticing a business card pinned to the wall, I commandeered the telephone and arranged for a visit from Mr. Pete Heap of Heap’s Scrap and Recycle. Next morning, bright and early, there was Heap—my first and last paying customer. Not that I remembered to collect the parking fee. But he did pay current scrap metal prices for the tin shed, the gate, and the sign. That was good enough for me.
And it was just enough for a one-way bus ticket to Annelida, Wyoming.
BREAKFAST in WYOMING
Annelida, Wyoming was in a deep and possibly dreamless sleep as the bus rumbled through dark residential streets and into a business district lit only by a half-dozen streetlights, the occasional neon “closed” sign and the steady flashing of the lone amber traffic light.
There was no official bus station. I was unceremoniously deposited in front of a dingy building on the outskirts of town. It was four-forty-seven in the morning. The building offered no light save an eerie bluish glow that pulsed inside a grimy window and two flickering letters of a neon sign: D and I. It was obviously a disco.
After nineteen and three-quarter hours on a bus, I was in no mood for dancing. What I really needed was a hefty and hearty Wyoming Ranch Country Breakfast. Thus fortified, I would begin asking around where this WW Ranch might be. But that would have to wait until the slumbering town came back to life.
With my duffle bag for a pillow, I tried to sleep. But driven by hunger, my mind played tricks on me. It insisted the dark letters of the sign, S, C, and O, where actually N, E, and R.
“Why, that would be DINER,” my stomach chimed in. Soon, I was back at the Blue D I, my hand on the door handle. I pulled and it swung open. The “strobe” was nothing more than a flickering fluorescent light reflecting off a swirling blue fog.
Or was it smog? It was too thick, rich, full-bodied, and carbon-based to be fog. Its origins undeniably lay in heat-induced chemical reactions. More specifically, it reeked of all things toasted, fried, percolated, overcooked, smoked, and burnt.
I slumped into a corner booth and tried to block out the olfactory overload by replaying for the hundredth time, a recently made and much-cherished memory: I am looking out the window of the bus. The sun is setting on endless rolling plains. Horses come into view—then a horse with a rider. She is the most beautiful cowgirl I have ever seen in or out of a dream. She is riding alongside the bus. She blows me a kiss. I wave back.
Just as the bus pulls ahead of her, a handsomely rugged cowboy rides up alongside her. She playfully knocks off his hat.
That cowboy could be me! I think. That cowboy will be me! I will soon be a handsomely rugged cowboy being shown around my new place of employment by a gorgeous rancher’s daughter. And I don’t even care if the rancher is gorgeous—just so his daughter is.
My reverie was broken by a new smell. A big, burly cook, beefy and bearing much body hair, had emerged from the kitchen and was propping open the back door. Soon a gentle breeze dispelled some of the smoke and replaced it with the smell of horses.
I could now see one other booth was occupied. At least a small percentage of the booth was occupied. There were two exceedingly skinny wrangler types—ranch-hands, I assumed. They were wolfing down food like they were remaking its acquaintance after a long separation. As the air became less opaque and thinned enough to no longer muffle sounds, I began making out what they were saying.
One was talking between mouthfuls. For the other, there was no between mouthfuls. That didn’t stop him from talking concurrently with mouthfuls. Although much of the conversation was unintelligible (possibly unintelligent as well) it seemed to concern itself with the hiring practices of their employer. It was clear they were less than impressed with his decision-making skills.
“Everyone he ever hires is a loser!” said employee number one.
“Yuv, oosers or fur,” agreed employee number two.
“Where does he find them anyway?”
“Ar ant omahgin.”
“They’d have to be wacko to want to work on the Wigglin’ W!”
[unintelligible] “acko” [unintelligible] “iggin uvahoo.”
At the sound of “iggin uvahoo” my ears perked up. It was kind of an odd name for a ranch but then I’d seen all kinds of names in those cattle-industry magazines. There was a Flying W, Rocking W, Circle W, Broken W, Backwards W, Up-side-down W, et cetra, et cetra. “Wigglin’ W” did not sound too far-fetched. What’s more, Wigglin’ W would almost certainly be spelled with two W’s—just like in the ad!
I straightened my hat, adjusted my bandanna, made sure all the snaps were snapped on my western shirt. First impressions count! I wished I could have wiped the egg, bacon, sausage, biscuits, gravy, pancakes and maple syrup off my face (I was powerful hungry) but I had yet to see a waitress.
“You about done there, Fat Boy?”
I could not believe my ears. Who was Employee Number One calling “Fat Boy”? They were both skinny as a rope. Both—not each. This despite having just put away three fried eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits and gravy, two slices of toast with at least fourteen of those little butter and jelly packets, a big bowl of steaming hot grits, two or three bowls of corn flakes, at least a pot of coffee and whatever they were eating before the smoke cleared.
Near as I could tell, the Fat Boy moniker was a matter of relativity, possibly bestowed upon the lad in recognition of his being ever-so-slightly heftier than the older ranch-hand whom I soon learned was called Slim.
“Ah et so much I’s gonna hafta let mah belt out a notch,” boasted Fat Boy as he rose from the table.
“Bet ah et more’n you did.” Slim belched as he slid out of the booth. Indeed, both were sporting slight bulges in the abdominal region. I wasn’t sure if it was from the weight of the food or the shock to their systems, but the two seemed a little off-balance.
“Ah jus’ hate that we blew a whole week’s pay in here. If I tip LuAnn I won’t have enough money left to buy an after-dinner mint.” Fat Boy moaned.
As if responding to her name, an odd-looking waitress appeared, meal check in hand. “How was the food today? Everything just the way you like it?”
“It was (groan) wonderful, LuAnn, just like it (urp) always is.”
“Well, I’m so glad to hear that,” LuAnn replied in a waitressly sing-song voice. “You boys hafta come in here more often! Let me help put a little meat on them bones!”
“I’d be in here every day if I got paid every day,” Slim said.
“Ah et so much ahm gonna hafta...” Fat Boy struggled with his belt buckle. The trouble (as you may know) with loosening a belt after a heavy meal is that releasing it from its current notch requires momentarily pulling it tighter. As Fat Boy did so, his eyes bulged alarmingly.
“Well, looky there!” LuAnn giggled, “You’ve lost a notch already! See? You-all keep eating in here and pretty soon mothers won’t be grabbing their children and running the other direction when they see you coming.”
Slim grimaced, as if he knew exactly what she was talking about.
Had LuAnn known when to quit, I’m pretty sure she would have quit then and there and gotten over to the cash register. The men’s thin faces were red and neither appeared to be amused. But LuAnn did not know when to quit. She insisted on counting the surplus holes at the unused ends of the men’s belts. (Fat Boy: eleven, Slim: fifteen.)
Then the cook came out of the kitchen, eager to contribute a wise-crack he had just thought of. The moment I heard it I knew it was inappropriate. I’d only been around these people for a few minutes but I could tell a line had been crossed.
“Heh, heh, ya boys do realize now don’t ya that if ya was to jus’ beef up yer physique a little bit, heh, heh, ya jus’ might be able to make them young women squeal for all the right reasons rather than out of shock and horror at yer appearance! Heh, heh. Nothin’ personal now. Y’all can take a joke, right?”
Slim’s eyes followed the brawny chef back to the kitchen with a look that seemed to say, “If you weren’t a recently retired U.S. Marine, body-building, jiu-jitsu champion who runs twenty-five miles every day and outweighs me four-to-one, I’d, why, I’d, I’d do something to you!”
Fat Boy just continued to fumble with his belt, but Slim, as I learned that very moment, had a surly side. Suddenly he was in my face. “What are you doing here?” he bellowed.
“I’m here in response to this ad,” I said meekly, handing him the tattered clipping.
He snatched it from my hand and carried it to where the light was better.
“This better not be another prank from the Inverse Diamond Bar S Rocking Exclamation Point Ranch,” he growled.
“Here, let me read it,” Fat Boy offered. Slim’s hand was shaking so hard the words were a blur. He surrendered the paper to Fat Boy while giving me an evil scowl.
“Says here, ‘...ranch help wanted. WW, Route 2, Box 169...’” Fat Boy read, leaving out the big words. “Is that us?”
“Well, we are the Wigglin’ W—that would account for the two W’s.” Slim retorted.
“I know that but is this our box number? I kinda recollect seeing it somewhere else.” Fat Boy was pressing his luck with the agitated Slim.
“How the [nasty hot place] should I know? Some [unpleasant part of the anatomy] blasted the living [poo-poo] out of the numbers on the [eternally condemned] mailbox with a [divinity-displeasing] shotgun years ago.”
For a moment, I thought the smog had returned but it was just the air turning blue from Slim’s language. Apparently, that barb from the cook had stuck in Slim’s craw.
Then LuAnn was back with more of her endearing humor. “Say, if this young man hires on at the Wigglin’ W you’ll have somebody you can hang onto on windy days!”
She was looking my way with what might have been flirtatious intent. It was hard to tell whether she was winking or just had a severe facial tic. After looking me up and down she added, “I wouldn’t mind hanging onto him myself—there’s a fellow with what I call, physique!”
She must have been referring to my rugged good looks. I cut a dashing figure. I was nineteen years old, five foot, eleven and three-quarter inches, one hundred and sixty-five pounds with broad shoulders, a muscular chest, and powerful arms.
My piercing green eyes set off a chiseled face that commanded respect. “Too handsome for his own good,” folks said. Certainly more man than any woman could tame. Many a woman had found herself unable to resist trying. Many a man had tried and lived to regret it.
At least that was my speculation as to what her comment about physique may have implied. I suspect Slim had sized me up somewhat differently. “So you applied to this here ad and heard back that you was hired?” he snarled.
“Yes, sir,” I answered meekly, the happy anticipation towards my new job evaporating like rain on a hot parade.
“[Block the flow of that water!] Nobody ever tells me anything. Well then grab your [belongings] and let’s get out of here.”
“But Slim,” LuAnn pleaded, “he’s just come in from a long bus ride and hasn’t had a bite to eat.”
“Tough [belongings]!” Slim shot back. “Cookie can rustle him up some grub.”
Fat Boy made a snorting sort of sound.
“You’re better off not eating anything Cookie serves you,” LuAnn whispered my direction, “even if it means starving.”
“Ah, [male bovine droppings]!” Slim excreted, “he looks like he needs to lose some weight.”
Fat Boy smirked, but a look of concern, or perhaps pity, crossed LuAnn’s face, followed by a slight involuntary shudder.
“I wish somebody had told me we were picking up a new-hire,” Slim grumbled as I walked and the other two waddled around to the back of the diner. “[I’ll be dipped]” he cursed, “Where’s our horses?”
“They’s too smart for us, Slim,” Fat Boy observed. “Maybe we can go to the library and learn some new knots.”
“We ain’t going to no library,” Slim groused. “Come on, it’ll do us good to walk off some of that food.”
Speak for yourself, I thought.
Just then, we heard the foot-clops of two horses. Slim and Fat Boy jumped behind some bushes, so I did too. “Pretty wily horses, eh—only way to catch ‘em is with an ambush?” I whispered.
Slim ignored me. The clopping was just a cowgirl riding one horse and leading another. As soon as they’d passed, Slim whispered nervously, “Let’s get out of here—sun’s coming up.”
She was a fine looking cowgirl.
We arrived at the Wigglin’ W Ranch just in time to watch a glorious sunrise illuminate the valley. Despite being bone-tired, I could not escape the feeling of awe.This here’s about as purdy as it gets, I thought to myself in my best western drawl.
I watched a flock of eagles circle lazily overhead. In the distance, a coyote howled. The early morning rays of the sun shimmered off aspen trees. A rugged ranch hand rounded up a half-dozen strays, rescued a worker from a collapsing oil derrick then pulled a stuck logging truck out of the mud all from the cab of his Chevy Silverado.
“[Dagnabbit], Rusty, turn that TV off, it’s time for lights out,” Slim ordered.
“Like a rock! Ooooooh, like a rock!” Rusty sang along.
“[Dagdoublenabbit], Rusty, I’ll make you feel like a rock...”
I was chuckling at their playful banter when a muddy boot sailed across the room and smacked me upside the head.
“Sorry, Greenhorn. That was intended for Rusty.”
Say, these boys play kinda rough, was my last thought. Then I guess they turned out the lights.
When FLYNN MET SPECKLES
I was awakened by Slim barking orders. “Fat Boy, you and I is going after strays. Curley Joe, I want you to fetch hay and oats for the horses. Rusty, take Greenhorn here out to the yards and show him everything else we do around here.”
“Uh, I don’t know, Slim, I haven’t done some of them chores for a while now,” Rusty sputtered.
“It’ll all come back to you,” Slim retorted in a tone that suggested he didn’t want to hear that excuse again.
“Okay, I’ll do my best, I hope that’s good enough,” Rusty sputtered.
“Dagnabbit, Rusty, if you have to sputter like that, face the other way!”
“Sorry boss,” Rusty sputtered. “Let me get you a towel.”
“Never mind, Rusty,” Slim turned his scowling face toward me. “What’s your name, Greenhorn?”
“Flynn, Sir—Flynn McGuin.”
“You’ve got three nights to learn the ropes, then we expect you to carry your own weight.”
Three nights? I glanced out the window. The sun was going down.
“Come on, let’s get some breakfast,” Rusty sputtered.
I followed Rusty through the twilight. Twilight Zone is what I was thinking. What kind of ranch commences work at sundown? We entered the dining hall just as I voiced my curiosity to Rusty.
What I thought was a reasonable query drew derisive laughter from Fat Boy. Another fellow with thick glasses, curly hair, and a goofy grin looked at Fat Boy and commenced laughing himself.
Then Slim blustered through the door. “What’s all the ruckus?” he demanded.
“McDork here doesn’t know what kind of a ranch this is!” Fat Boy sneered.
“McGuin,” I corrected.
“McGoofish,” Fat Boy shot back. I was beginning to sense that making me feel welcome was not one of his priorities.
Goofy-grin-guy slowly repeated, “McGoofish” several times. It appeared to bring him much pleasure.
Everybody was laughing but me. I looked around at my antagonists. “Am I missing something here?” I inquired naïvely, “You know, if we’re going to be working together, maybe...”
“Maybe we should be nice to the greenhorn?” Fat Boy interrupted.
“You don’t even know me yet,” I protested. “Isn’t somebody going to say, ‘Yeah, boys, ya know, he’s right, we oughta at least give him a chance’? I mean, being friendly to a stranger—at least till you get to know him—isn’t that a part of the Cowboy Code?”
The room grew deathly silent. The only thing more disconcerting than Slim’s scowl was the way his face was twitching. Actually, there was something more disconcerting: the way his right hand was twitching.
“C-c-c-owboy Code!” Slim spat. “The only ‘C-c-c-owboy Code’ we have around here is to stay away from c-c-cowboys! Rusty, get Finnegan or Finklestein or whoever this is a mount and see if he knows anything about riding. C- c-c-owboy Code!” he sputtered. “[Dagnabbit], Rusty now you got me sputtering!”
With that, he stomped out of the room muttering something about how his role as leader of this crew was something he wouldn’t wish on his worst enemy’s worst enemy.
Once Slim and the others were out of earshot, Rusty offered some advice. “Try not to use the C-word around here if you can avoid it. It’s about the only word I can think of that riles folks up without even needing other words on either side of it.”
So I noticed.
I tried to appear nonchalant as I followed Rusty to the serving window but I have to admit, I was unnerved. When I saw what the old cook was serving, I lost what little appetite I had. Actually, when I saw the old cook I lost what little appetite I had.
“Flynn, this is Cookie, Cookie—Flynn,” Rusty sputtered.
“[Dagnabbit], Rusty! Get away from the food when you talk! Quinn, nice to meet you—don’t ever ask Rusty to say grace.”
Rusty and I took our trays and headed for the table. I was hoping he would sit close enough that I could ask him a few things. Unfortunately, he sat directly across from me so conversation was out of the question.
I left the dining hall feeling somewhat less than fortified for a day’s er, night’s work. Whoever heard of spaghetti for breakfast? And if that wasn’t bad enough—I’m sure it was just a lingering effect of being hit by that boot—but it sure looked like some of that spaghetti was moving.
“I wish I could let you pick out a horse,” Rusty sputtered, “but there’s only one left. She, ah, might be a little smaller than what you’re used to.”
Smaller? Used to? What I was used to was not having a horse at all. When I was six years old, all I could think of was how much I wanted a pony. Now, after all this time, I was about to get one!
We walked from the moonlight into the darkness of the barn. I heard the soft swishing of tails and the deep-throated whinnies of maybe a dozen horses. On second thought, they weren’t that deep-throated.
“Here she is,” Rusty said. “Her name is Speckles.”
I couldn’t see a thing in the darkness.
“Isn’t there some kind of light you can turn on?” I asked.
“Oh no! Boss wouldn’t like that!” Rusty replied.
“Why on earth not?” I inquired.
“Spooks the livestock.”
I gazed out the barn door expecting to see dozens, maybe hundreds of pairs of eyes gleaming back at me. Moonlight danced and shimmered across the grounds, but not a single eye gleamed.The livestock must be bedded down for the night, I thought.
“Anyway, let’s get her saddled up and get to work,” Rusty sputtered. “We’ve got a long night ahead of us and a lot of it I’m not sure I remember off hand how to do.”
I had to wonder about Rusty’s lack of confidence. Did he have serious recognizance deficit issues? Or was he just... Rusty?
“Here’s her saddle,” he sputtered, approaching me in the darkness. Throw this on her back while I get the rest of the tack.”
I hadn’t found “her”yet. I took the saddle and began searching for Speckles.This must be some kind of new, hi-tech saddle,I remember thinking. It can’t weigh more than two pounds.
“Here Speckles!” I softly called. “Here...” Something bumped my legs from behind and buckled my knees.
“Who let a goat in here?” I sputtered. “Dagnabbit, now I’m doing it!”
Of course, I thought. I’m the new hand. They’re going to play tricks on the newbe. Don’t let it get under your skin or there’ll be no end to it.
I heard a soft whinny behind and below me. I felt that nudging from behind again, only this time it nudged its head right on through and stood there between my legs.
“Is this what I’m supposed to put the saddle on?” I shouted, incredulously.
Whatever was under me reared up and shot across the barn with me on it.
“Wish I could shout incredulously,” I heard Rusty sputter as the four-legged phantom and I whizzed past.
A moment later, I lay upside down in a mound of hay. A soft face playfully nuzzled mine. Moonlight spilled through a barn window and illuminated the prettiest little filly I had ever seen. She was also the littlest pretty filly I had ever seen. I was never able to accurately measure her, but riding her was about like riding a bicycle with a properly adjusted seat: if I started to tip either way I had only to extend the toes of that foot to touch ground.
“So this is Speckles,” I spoke, appreciatively.
“Wish I could speak appreciatively,” my coworker sputtered.
“Knock it off, Rusty!” I admonished. “We all have to use the gifts we’re given. There’s things you can do that I’d never dream of doing.”
“If I can just recall how,” he sputtered bitterly.
“Never mind that, would you. Just look at this little beauty! I didn’t know this was a miniature horse farm!” I continued delightedly.
“Wish I could continue delightedly,” Rusty ventured, “but anyway, this ain’t no miniature horse farm. Hey! Did I just venture?”
Soon, Speckles and I were inseparable, especially when I hadn’t washed my jeans for a while. I took to riding her without a saddle because, as Rusty sputtered—oh, you’re tired of that by now—as Rusty observed, “nothing looks goofier than stirrups dragging on the ground.”
As Rusty showed me everything he could remember, I grew to appreciate his down-home humor, his homespun wit and his, well, general all around homeliness. I am happy to report also, that he did not always sputter. As we worked together on his language skills, he learned to comment, remark, reflect, exclaim, extol rather dryly (he was especially proud of that one) and even ponder, puzzle and probe. Once, he even pontificated. He made me promise I would never tell the other hands about that.
Rusty taught me a lot about ranch life. But he also helped me as a storyteller. It is from him that I learned about character development. Rusty went from drooling slob to articulate elocutionist, eventually becoming a highly sought after luminary on the Toastmasters® circuit—all because I took the time to help him develop as a character.
We remained friends long after meeting on the Wigglin’ W. When I told him I was thinking about writing this book, he was excited.
“Will I be in it?” he inquired.
“Most certainly,” I affirmed.
“You’re not going to call me ‘Rusty’, are you?” he queried, somewhat apprehensively.
“Why not?” I questioned. “It certainly fits your personality.”
“Because my name is ‘Bill’,” he articulated concisely. “And another thing— you aren’t going to make fun of the way I used to talk, are you?”
“Absolutely not!” I gently reassured him. “That is one thing I would never do to a character, real or fictitious.”
“Thank you! Thank you from the bottom of my heart!” he blubbered.