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First pages

Boyd shared some trim little stories with me that fall, and a few big chunky woolly ones, and some odd bits and pieces of others, but he didn't necessarily start at the beginning, or finish at the end, and sometimes he'd give me a middle right off the bat, or fill in the middle after he'd spilled the beans and given me the first and last words from the get go. And sometimes he'd start something riveting and then digress, going on and on about scatterings from other times in his life, other chapters, then come back to the story at hand halfway through a meandering sentence...or three days later. In other words, he was an organic storyteller, a top-of-his-head yarn spinner, and as his audience, I was always filling in stuff I'd heard, speculating, piecing back together, meshing the parts in my mind.

And there was one long story, about the time his herd got rustled. When I think back about all the little pieces, the drips and drabs that more-or-less add up to this whole story, I figure it really starts back on a summer day, early evening really, maybe 35, 40 years ago, when Boyd looked down on a little valley after a long afternoon of working his herd up the dirtpath switchbacks to the high pass.

The Herd

From the crest of the pass the long meadow looked good for making camp. The rough trail—mainly an elk or deer path, from the looks of it—snaked down steeply ahead, eased a bit to skirt around a red shale outcropping, disappeared into a heavy stand of pines, and finally emerged again to visibility far below, among spinneys of aspen and cottonwood where the ground leveled out into a good stretch of lighter forest, then became open meadow. The meadow was narrow, about a mile long, flat and mostly treeless. A shallow creek meandered through its center, flanked by a half-mile band of heavy grass dotted with oblong patches of gravel washed out by the spring thaw. Granite boulders up to the size of small cabins—starkly gray in the afternoon sun—stood scattered across the valley like the play marbles of a giant’s children, and a few stunted pinion and aspen trees and clumps of buckbrush and sagebush sprouted out of the tufted, sometimes matted turf.

Boyd Fedder's eyes settled on a spot halfway down the open meadow, where the sketchy animal trail angled over to meet the creek. There, alongside a small copse of water-loving cottonwoods.

“Best spot for the herd,” he said.

The sun was setting when he reached it.

Boyd took down his pack saddle, watered and bedded down the herd, gathered wood, started his fire and threw some dried lentils and some streamwater in his cookpot with the morning's leftover oatmeal. After his dinner had bubbled for twenty minutes, he lit his lantern, turned the wick down as low as it went, and ate. Boyd rolled a Bugler, smoked, and unrolled his bed by the embers of the fire, and blew out the lantern. He got up once in the night, banked the fire for breakfast in the morning, went back to sleep. He awoke three hours later, still in complete darkness.

Oatmeal's about gone, so's the beans, the lamp oil, Boyd lay thinking as he remained in his warm bedroll waiting for the first hints of daylight. Dozie'd like a few whole oats, too. Must be getting tired of just grazing.

***

The southeast ridgetop emerged from the darkness, its ragged edge of rocks and pines set off by a thin wash of purple that dimmed the stars behind. As dawn crept up on the meadowed valley, Boyd listened. The creek burbled a background beneath the distant squawks of magpies, the scree of a falcon out early to hunt nocturnal stragglers scurrying to their daytime burrows. He heard a small stirring over to his right near the creek; a rustling of brush. Quietly he reached behind his head into his pack saddle and withdrew his slingshot; fingering the dirt beside him he selected a pebble. Boyd lay still. A vague rhythm ran through his head; remnant of dreamsounds. The moment he could discern individual leaves on the branches of the tree overhead, Boyd sat up, smoothly but quickly, and timing his motions to the rhythm that jittered in the background of his mind, he drew the leather back to the side of his chin, turning to scan the area where he'd heard the animal stir. Boyd spotted the jackrabbit's eye—open, alert, frozen—then steadied and released. The elastic snapped, the rabbit leaped, the pebble shot through its rear legs and thunked a dead branch a dozen feet beyond. Boyd scrabbled in the dirt for a reload but his quarry was gone.

“Fish for breakfast,” he said to himself as he crawled out of his bedroll and stretched. His bones creaked.

Boyd revived his campfire, set up the coffee pot on a three-rock trivet, assembled his rod and fished, all the while lightly humming snatches of the old tune that had been running through his head since he woke up. The song wouldn't quite come whole, its words teasing him but straying out of memory's reach, although Boyd knew it had been there, complete, in the dream. But the dream itself was sketchy. The song, and the dream, had come from such a far-off distance in his past that they sank back there quickly after he'd awakened. Still, the musical lilt lingered in Boyd's mind, bits of it escaping now and then as a fragment hummed or raspily whistled. “What was that?” he whispered to himself. It was a good one, too, he thought. But Boyd didn't want to sing too loud in jarring his memory for fear of scaring off the fish.

He had two smaller cutthroats and a twelve-inch native brown sizzling over the coals, and had forgotten all about the song, when he spotted the stranger approaching up the valley on horseback, still nearly a mile off. He considered briefly, then flipped the fish and raised the griddle with a couple more rocks, threw another cup of water into the coffee pot and took his rod back down to the creek. He'd caught one more and was casting for another when the horseman arrived.

The stranger dismounted and remained quiet until Boyd had reeled in his empty line and turned back toward his camp.

“Good morning,” said the stranger.

“That it is,” agreed Boyd as he laid down his rod, went to the fire and squatted there to clean the fresh, still-flopping trout. “Care for some breakfast?”

“No thanks.”

“Coffee? Have a cup, have a seat. Maybe the smell, or the sizzle, will change your mind. I've caught plenty.”

“Alright. Coffee.” The stranger deftly hobbled his dappled white with a short strap and stepped a few feet into Boyd's camp. He looked things over; the fishing gear, the fire, the pack saddle, Dozie grazing in the shade of a cottonwood. Boyd took up a fork, flipped the frying trout, shook some cornmeal on the fresh one and laid it in the griddle alongside the others. He took the coffee off the coals and set the pot on one of the warm rocks ringing the pit.

“Is that light tackle you've got there?” the warden asked.

“Bamboo. Made it myself. Breaks down to five short sections to carry easy. It's handy.”

“I guess so. Can I see your license?”

After rummaging through his gear for a second tin cup, Boyd had picked up the coffee pot and was about to pour. He stopped in mid motion, stood still for a long moment. Slowly, he turned to the stranger, looked him up and down. A husky blond in his early twenties, trim bearded, he wore uniform khakis with an embroidered gold and green shield on the breast pocket. His Australian bush hat, with the right brim tacked up flat against the leopard-banded crown, declared his individuality. A shoulder patch, in the shape of an aspen leaf, had Ripkin County lettered in red against the bright gold background. A heavy chrome Smith and Wesson revolver, in a tooled black-leather holster, was belted round his hips.

As he took in the stranger, a change came over Boyd; a change of resignation, of an acceptance he'd been resisting. Boyd sighed, looked slowly around him at the wildness of the little valley—the creek, the trees, the clear blue sky behind steep ridges—and finally shook his head, evenly, wistfully. The warden took an impatient breath, repeated his question.

“Can I see your license?”

“I guess it was too good to last,” Boyd said quietly, as if to himself. “It always is, and it never does.”

“What's that?” said the warden, with the beginning of a squint narrowing his eyes.

“I was talking to myself,” Boyd said. He poured two tin cups of coffee and sat down on a rock. He blew into his own and gestured to the other cup and another rock seat, then took a cautious sip. “Careful, it's hot,” he said.

The game warden took the coffee but remained standing. “Well, now you can talk to me, if you're done conversing with you. Will you answer the question, please?”

“What kind of license?” Boyd asked. The warden looked at him, then at the fish on the skillet. He sighed. He said; “Fishing.” He stood stiffly, poised.

“I don't need no sti—” Boyd caught himself, shook the phrase off and quickly replaced it… “I don’t need one,” he said, and took another sip.

The game warden stepped back. “Put down the coffee, please,” he said. Boyd looked up from his coffee as he paused between sips.

“Take it easy,” he said. “Been watching too many Bill Boyd movies or something? I can't afford to waste my java with a move like that.” Faintly shaking his head, Boyd slowly put down his cup by the fire and squatted forward, taking a fried trout from the iron skillet, its tail pincered between thumb and forefinger. He sat back on his rock and began to eat it like a cob of corn. “Sure you don't want one? You probably don't fish much yourself.”

“Oh, I get plenty from poachers like you.” The warden sat on the rock and put down his coffee, pulling his citation pad from his breast pocket. Boyd's gaze stayed on the pocket, reading the name on the black plastic pin-on nametag; L. Willis.

“Now wait a minute,” Boyd said. The warden put his hand lightly on the handle of his pistol. “See, I've got foraging rights.” Boyd held up the fish, took another bite, then broadly waved his left hand. “This is public land. I'm on a drive. The federal war powers procurement act, back in 1898, established that folks transporting livestock to market had automatic license to capture and consume fish and game, and gather edible flora, along the route.”

The warden frowned. “What do you mean, you're on a drive?” He looked around. His eye settled on Dozie grazing alongside the creek about half a mile upstream. He looked back at Boyd.

“Yep,” Boyd said. “That's my herd.”

“That's not a herd. That's a cow.”

“Is it livestock?”

“Well, I guess—”

“So I have livestock, and I'm driving it to market. Gives me the right to hunt and fish for food, and to graze my herd on public land.”

“So you're a wiseguy, a loopholer. Really, a man your age ought to know better.” The warden tapped his pen on his tablet. Boyd finished off his first trout, threw the carcass into the fire, chewed, sorted out a fine bone, picked it from between his lips, gulped some coffee. The warden looked at Boyd's pack saddle, raised his eyebrows. “And where's your pony, or your mule?” he asked.

Boyd picked up another fish. “Don't need one.” He nodded toward the grazing cow. “Dozie carries my gear, too.” The warden watched as Boyd munched into the second trout. He shook his head.

“You can't drive cattle without a horse.”

“Why not? It's just one cow. What do most cowboys herd with these days?”

“Oh, jeeps and dirtbikes, I guess. And horses.” The warden stopped to think. “Alright, then, you're driving your, er, herd to market. Where to?”

“Think I'll try City Market in Glenwood Springs.”

“Glenwood's eighty miles from here. Besides, that's a supermarket, a food store. They don't buy cattle. Nearest meat operation's in Valley Fork. They don't have a slaughterhouse in Glenwood.”

“No? Well, I'll give 'em a try. They probably won't want to meet my price. I'm kind of fond of ol' Dozie, anyway. I'm in no hurry to sell her, and I've been wanting to see Glenwood. Nice hot springs, I hear. And that's where Doc Holiday lives, heard that too.”

“Not where he lives, where he died.”

For a moment, Boyd's blank stare hung in the silence. Then he seemed to remember where he was, and the conversation he was in the middle of. He blinked, shaking off the daydream. “Oh yeah. Well, everybody has to die somewhere. A man can't wait 'til he's nowhere, then die.”

“You can't walk your cow into Glenwood Springs.”

“It's a sad thing.”

"A sad thing??"

"For a town to be famous just for some tubercular gambling dentist philosopher that died there a hundred year ago. And went there just so he'd not have to die nowhere."

“What does that have to do with your cow?."

"Nothin'. I wasn't done yet. Hadn't moved on the cow subject, myself, as I was still chewing over the Glenwood Springs—Doc Holliday combo platter."

"Well, let's get back to the menu at hand, then. About your cow... you and your cow out here."

“It's an unusual thing, isn't it?”

"That's what I'm saying, and I want an explanation."

"Can't help you there. To go to a town, just to die. That's unusual. How does a fellow pick a town, little town he's never been to, to go there just to expire? Play a little poker. Try out the hot springs. Then leave boots first."

"You can't have that cow out here, pard."

"Sure I can. If I were grazing him here day in, day out, that'd be a different story maybe. But we're just passin' through this here public land."

"So if you didn't have that cow, I could bust you for fishing without a license..." As he spoke, he shook his ticket pad, gesturing with it at the cow, at the fish, at the stream, as if, thought Boyd, somehow showing a book of tickets to a cow, a fish, and a stream would make them line up and behave themselves.

"And if I were just fattening my herd up here, you could nail me for grazing without a federal lease. But she can graze, and I can fish, because we're on a drive. See?"

“Now don't you push it." Now he shook his book at Boyd, letting the pages fan and flip threateningly, with powerful, authoritative emphasis. " I can write you up, you know. I can ticket anybody. If they choose to go to court, that's their business. Might win, might lose.”

“I'm within my rights, and minding my own. Anyway, this is wild country, open wilderness. Not sure I understand why a man can't..." Boyd saw, looking at the warden fanning his ticket book from hand to hand, that he probably shouldn't get too anarchic with this petty bureaucrat. "Uh, I'm not pushing anything, sir. I might talk to myself, but at least when I do, I’m listening. You should listen to yourself. You'd get the inkle that you're the one’s pushing. Like pushing a slack lariat though—it don’t push nearly like it pulls. I'm not abusing this water, this trail, this land.”

Listen to myself? Now you listen...” The warden put the ticketer away in his pocket and rose from his rock seat, shook his head, started over. “I'm going to keep my eye on you, you just remember that.” He paced to his horse, unhobbled it and mounted up.

"I wouldn't go there."

"What ?" said the warden.

"To Glenwood. Wouldn't go there just to leave dead. Y'know, you've helped me out. I want to thank you for that, sir. I think I'll herd her down this little notch and then up the big valley there. See Glenwood another time. Gotta be a decent little market town up the valley toward the pass, there, eh? Good-sized town along there?” Boyd pointed down the notch.

“Why, that's Ute City. Biggest resort on the western slope. Pretty fancy for the likes of you, though.”

“Oh, it'll do.”

The warden hissed a puff of disgust between his clenched teeth and ankled his horse to a walk, continuing on his way up the valley. After a few strides, though, he reined in, stopped, and turned back toward Boyd, as if to have a final say.

Boyd drank some more coffee, reached into the skillet and picked up another fried fish. He liked to cook them gutted, but with the heads still on. The light cornmeal coating the trout's sides was fried to a crisp, golden yellow. Yellow. The old song that had been nagging Boyd earlier came back suddenly. His eyes narrowed to a concentrated squint, he hummed, mumbled, then abruptly stood, slapped his thigh with his free hand, and smiled. Boyd held the fish up in his fist, looked it in the eye, and sang out, loudly;

“And her hair was streaming down her yeller neck!”

The warden's horse spooked a little, but Boyd didn't even notice. Or, if he did, it didn't show. As he nodded and mumbled, trying to coax a coherent phrase out of the jumbled lyric playing in his brain, the warden stood in his stirrups to calm the horse, then shook a finger at Boyd as if to have his say; Boyd stood there in the bright sunlight singing to a fried fish. “Oh, the hell with it,” the warden said, and rode off in disgust.

Boyd looked hard at the fish, frowned, shook his head. He glanced after the warden briefly, chuckled, then closed his eyes, nodding along to his own inner rhythm.

 

Across these years of wandering, Boyd had explained, he'd deflected a variety of federal, state, and local authorities with his cattledrive spiel. A county sheriff in southern Wyoming had come closest to spoiling Boyd's chimera when he'd gotten suspicious and sent the USDA to investigate. But regional officials of Washington bureaucracies like the United States Department of Agriculture don't generally have much endurance or tolerance for wilderness tracking, and he'd managed to shake that particular meat & poultry inspector simply by detouring his drive completely off the treadway north of Laramie and heading for Tugwater the long way round. And over time various state police, EPA, even mining officials and animal control officers had set their sights on Boyd, but usually a funny thing happened when they got acquainted with his lonely cattleman quest; a grudging admiration. Some of these guys weren't that different, inside, than Boyd himself. He'd spent a night or two in jail, even, but in those circumstances, this wasn't so much a detainment as it was an offer of administrative hospitality, and he'd accepted it as such. He'd sat in a few county offices adjacent to county facilities sipping a cold 12-ounces of Hamm's and swapping yarns with some of these sympathizers, before finding a welcome cot in an open cell come the wee hours, and slipping out the door at dawn to find Dozie tethered to a meter pole in the parking lot.

So Boyd really didn't think too much about this warden, this time.

 

The golden-crisp eight-inch cutthroat was simultaneously serving as Boyd’s microphone, his breakfast, and his audience, as Warden Willis rode away down the little valley.

“No, that's not quite right,” Boyd said to himself. Yeller neck? No. He took a bite cob-of-corn style, then waved the remainder like a baton. He waved it at Dozie, and the violins and cellos swelled in his imagined arrangement; he waved it at the dwindling warden, and a section of Wurlitzer accordions bleated their tremoloing chords. “Varmint,” Boyd muttered under his breath, then he grinned and put the lawman out of mind. Turning to face the morning light, he raised his baton and cued the sun, which just then blasted an introductory crash of cymbal sunlight over the eastern ridge. With a deep breath, he trilled heartily, bellowing to reach the hillsides; “Her yellow hair was ribbbboned down her back—” his ringing voice descending to a preoccupied mutter “...no, still not quite. But closer.”

Boyd continued to mumble and hum but couldn't shake loose any further words to the old song.

So he finished breakfast, then fetched his harmonica out of his saddlebags. He faced upvalley toward Dozie, put the instrument to his lips, pressed the key shift on the side, and blew a high, dissonant chord. Dozie lifted her head from her grazing, then turned his way and came trotting into camp as Boyd tried to pick out the old melody on the harmonica. He finally shrugged, pocketed the instrument, saddled Dozie up, packed his gear, dowsed his fire, and he and Dozie headed down the valley toward Ute City.

“Git along now, Dozie,” Boyd said. “The old songs can wait. We need supplies.” The sun was well up and bright, the day was warming. No clouds.

Boyd Fedder and his herd of one ambled at an easy pace down the path through the center of the meadow.

The Big Town

Where the open meadow ended they crossed the shallow creek, then followed it downstream until the slope sharpened. As the aspen trees thickened into forest, Boyd and Dozie picked their way slowly downhill until they reached a narrow trail that negotiated the steepening slope at a comfortable angle.

After zigzagging down three long switchbacks they struck a wider avenue, probably an access trail cut years before for logging or mining. Another mile down this route the trail cut the stream again. The ford ran along the shallow creek bed for fifty yards before emerging from the water to switch back down the hill again. Halfway down the length of this watery lane stood a pale-green jeep, the crystal water rilling under and around it. The bottom eight inches of its tires were submerged. The vehicle appeared abandoned. Dozie stepped into the water to drink while Boyd pulled off his boots and socks.

“Look at that, Dozie,” he said as he gandered at the jeep. “The helots are getting closer. They're parking their infernal dust-churners underwater now. Next thing we know they'll be up on the glaciers.”

He waded in and started downstream. “C'mon, Dozie, let's get over, the water's cold. But don't get too close to it.” Dozie raised her head from the stream and followed. As they drew closer to the jeep, Boyd heard a voice. “Hey there!”

Boyd and Dozie stopped and looked around. A man emerged from the shadows and stepped up on a dry rock at the edge of the water. He wore tennis shoes, white socks with blue trim, yellow shorts, monogrammed maroon polo shirt, white terry cloth wristband and headband; short dark hair, trimmed mustache. About thirty, about six feet tall, about to play a tennis match from his looks and attire.

“This yours?” asked Boyd, pointing at the car.

The man, smiling with chagrin, shook his head. “Yes, that's my girl.”

“Funny place to park.”

“Very funny. My girl already went for help. Thing just croaked in midstream.”

“I thought this was your girl.”

“Right. They're all bitches, aren't they? Sheila was all bent out of shape about getting stuck out here, but what could I do? She didn't want to stay here with the car, she wouldn't let me leave it here so we could both go. It's always some kind of catch 22, Murphy's Law, whatever. Now I'm going to be late for work, I'll have to pay for this repair—and it won't be cheap, them coming way out here—my payments are late, busted a gut on my racket this morning, I won't be able to afford a ski pass this winter, the country's in a hell of a mess with this Noriegagate thing, and now Sheila's all bent up. 'The last straw,' she said, but she's said that before.

“Sheila's the car?”

“No. The girl.”

“You said she's bent up.”

“You know, ticked off, bent out of shape.”

“Sounds bad.”

“Yeah. Now I guess I'll have to spring for flowers, too. If it has wheels or tits, it'll cause you trouble. Know what I mean?”

Boyd thought it over. “I've had my hands full with one or the other from time to time, but anymore, I don't have much to do with either one. But now you mention it, I guess I used to feel something like that.”

“You must have figured something out the rest of us haven't.” The young man paused, took a thoughtful look at Boyd, a longer look at Dozie, and a brief, disgusted look at his jeep. “Got any suggestions?” he asked, turning back to Boyd.

“Get a cow.”

“She's got a good handful on her, too, doesn't she?” The man nodded toward Dozie. “But I meant for getting this clunker out of the arroyo here. Know much about these things?”

“Don't like 'em.” Boyd walked over to the streambank where the man stood and stepped onto a flat rock. Dozie tried to chew some moss off an exposed stepping stone in midstream.

“Cars?”

“Jeeps.”

“Oh. Uh, what's the cow for, anyway?”

“She's not much for expressing her opinions. We're on a drive,” Boyd said. Dozie raised her head, looked around, moved on downstream.

“Just you and the cow, then, huh? So you're a sort of a cowpoke, eh? Heh heh.”

“Whoa, Dozie,” Boyd commanded. Dozie had suddenly stopped, looked back, and now stared unblinking at Boyd and the stranger, streams and drips of water trailing off her unmoving lips down into the stream.

“Sorry,” said the man quickly. “I didn't mean anything. Just innuendo, you know.”

“Dozie dislikes innuendo.”

“Okay, okay. Uh, how does she do up here in the altitude, anyway? I was reading an article the other day, in the dentist's office. It was about deviated septums.” The man rubbed his nose. He nervously regarded Dozie, who hadn't moved, hadn't resumed her normally incessant chewing, since the fellow had innuendoed. He continued; “Article said that down in the Andes, South America, the mule drivers cut a slit between the animal's nostrils to let them breathe the thin air easier.” Dozie maneuvered the rest of the way around to face upstream. She kept her head turned, holding a single eye on the stranger, who stepped back, almost stumbled over a sod clump on the streambank, regained his footing.

“Dozie has no trouble breathing easy. Cattle are just like that, I guess. I don't know much about mules, or deviated septums.”

The man rubbed his nose again. “Me either,” he said. “By the way, my name's Dirk.” He breathed deeply, and Boyd heard a raspy whistle emit from the man's nostrils. Dirk put out his hand. Boyd shook it.

“I'm Boyd,” he said. “Dozie's my herd.”

“She's a beaut. Longhorn, is she?” Dozie, a midsized brown-and-white whose short horns curved out then tightly forward, snorted lightly, then turned her head back downstream while her flanks shuddered for half a second. Then a low-pitched rumbling noise emitted from deep inside her. She brought up some cud. She chewed.

“Hybrid cross. Durham-Brahmin,” said Boyd. “We could tow you out.”

“Oh, I'm sure Sheila will be coming to the rescue soon.”

“Well, if you're sure. When did she leave?”

“Seems like hours. Well, okay, if you can get me out of the creek, I guess I can at least coast down to the trailhead.”

Boyd quick-rigged a rope harness on Dozie and attached a pair of tow ropes to the rear bumper of the jeep. Dirk got behind the wheel. Boyd stood in front of the car to help push. “By the way, what's her name?” Boyd asked.

“Who?” asked Dirk.

“Her,” Boyd nodded at the jeep.

Dirk looked back at Boyd and squinted.

“Huh?”

Boyd shrugged. “Okay, Huh, let's play you out of the mud,” he said. He popped his harmonica into his mouth and as he pushed, managed to play, no-handed, and very loud and very rough, that well-known walkin’ tune that small teams of middle-aged dwarves, competing for the affection of their nubile young housekeepers, hum, sing and whistle to pace their morning commutes to the mines.

Dozie's ears twitched. She strained and surged, the lines tightened, Boyd pushed and rocked the jeep to free the sunken wheels from the stream gravel, wheezing his reedy let’s-go-to-work melody in time with the pushing and rocking. Once it got to rolling Dozie pulled it easily along and out of the stream. Dirk pulled the handbrake and hopped out.

Boyd re-pocketed his mouth harp. Dozie slacked back on the ropes so Boyd could unharness her.

“Good girl,” Boyd said.

“She sure is. I do appreciate this, Boyd. What do I owe you?”

“You don't owe me anything. Glad to do anything I could. Besides, she did most of the work.” Dozie stood by, watching the men with one eye, her jaw muscle occasionally flexing out when she gave her cud a slow grind.

“Okay. Thanks again. See you around.” Dirk hopped back into the driver's seat, Boyd gave him a push, and the jeep coasted silently away, backwards, down the hill. Dirk swung sharply into an uphill turnout fifty yards down and re-emerged coasting very slowly frontways. He waved to Boyd and Dozie through the gently drifting dust.

***

They lunched in the shade beside the creek. Dozie cropped off the tender tops of the moist clumps of grass that grew on the banks. When he had finished the rest of the morning's trout, Boyd rolled a cigarette, lit it with his magnifying glass to save matches. “Well, Dozie,” he said, “we've covered some ground, worked a bit today already. We'll siesta awhile before moving on.” He took down his pack saddle and reclined with his back and shoulders against its side, pulled his hat down over his eyes. Dozie grazed her fill and then lay down in the shallow water, keeping her head up, relaxing but not sleeping.

***

On a level stretch fifty yards down the trail from the bottom of the last switchback stood the green jeep. Dirk was pacing. Three hours had passed since Boyd and Dozie had hauled the jeep out of the creek. It was now mid-afternoon. Dirk stopped his pacing to watch their unhurried approach.

“Well,” he said as they drew up alongside. His hands were thrust into the pockets of his shorts, his arms straight, elbows locked. He crossed his ankles and leaned back against the left front fender.

“No Sheila?” Boyd said.

“No nothing,” Dirk said. “Not even a jogger or a mountain bike. Weekday.”

“How far to town?”

“About three miles. I probably could have got there and brought back a tow truck by now, but I thought Sheila...”

“We'll help you. Dozie's still rigged for it.”

“Well, you could pull me to Micklefat Road—it's about two miles-and then I can stop in at a house or a ranch to use a phone.”

Their progress was steady if slow. The dirt trail was mostly flat, tending only slightly uphill overall. Ute City sprawled at the head of a long, gentle, flat-bottomed valley that varied between two and four miles across. The mountains, the attractions that brought millions of skiers every winter, towered over the town on three sides, the tallest of them reaching nearly 12,000 feet elevation. But this was summer. Earlier in the afternoon, winding down the switchbacks with Dozie, Boyd had marveled at the grassy slopes; cleared ribbons of broad, green-carpeted meadow twisting down the steep hillsides, like swaths cleared recklessly by vast forest fires.

Boyd could see, even from this distance, how the booming ski industry had fleshed out Ute City's Victorian mining-town skeleton with clusters of modern condominiums, hotels tiered and terraced into the feet of the mountains, outlying golf-courses and golfclub-shaped cul-de-sacs dotted with opulent, modern-style vacation homes for the rich and famous. As they approached Micklefat Road Boyd observed the passing traffic. It was shortly after five o'clock.

 Sleek, clean new-model cars—Land Rovers, Mercedes, BMWs and upscale Japanese all-wheel-drive sedans—were cruising upvalley into town, to the outdoor cafes and jazzband happy hours, while smudged old Camaros, Beetles and Rabbits, a few campers and vans, and battered pickups with stake-socket brooms, and dogs and gravel in their beds were hell-for-leathering downvalley to the pool-table watering holes and country-and-western lounges, or to the trailerparks that rimmed the downscale old towns out of reach of the resort boom.

About a mile and a half along, Dirk spoke up; “Uh, do you have to play the same song the whole time, man?” he asked.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

A Pennsylvanian, Town Andrews has lived and worked in several western states and the Philippines. He speaks multiple languages, including fluent Spanish and Visayan. Working, reading, parenting, linguistics, history, music and travel have all influenced his storytelling. His career has involved the building trades, agriculture, marine sciences, developmental distilling, theater musicianship, and marketing functional fluids to manufacturers. “I love my work. But for fun, I write these stories.”


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