Claws in the Contract

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic

For Virginia



What you are about to read is a bunch of “BULLSHIT” – no pun intended. Please do not take it seriously, for to do so will spoil your fun. It is as full of holes as an episode of “THE WILD, WILD WEST” So take it with a grain of salt- or a grain of fertilizer. Many of the places and things will bear their real names, while others will be either altered or totally fictitious. The town of Walsenburg, for example, will be referred to as Walsenville.





Claws in the Contract,



… It could have been a peaceful spring and summer in the San Isabel forest of southwestern Colorado, but the cat wasn’t going to let it happen. This freakishly large predator would descend from the lofty summit of Greenhorn Mountain to take what he wanted. But ranchers Russ Ransome and Dan Rawlins were ready to protect what was theirs and challenge the cat every step of the way.

BEULAH, COLORADO, 1967

 

Russ Ransome stared at what was left of his bacon and egg breakfast, wondering whether or not he should finish it. Finally, deciding against it, he transported it to the kitchen dumping it into the waste disposal half of the sink. He turned it on and listened to it do its work. As he did so he wondered how horrible it would be to be a three-inch-tall human being dropped into a food waste disposal unit. “If I’m having thoughts like that, this is going to be one of those days.”

Thirty minutes later he was climbing into his new 4-wheel drive Dodge pickup truck. He buckled his seatbelt and turned on the radio, marveling at the sound quality as the Beatles did “We Can Work It Out” from Pueblo, Colorado’s only rock station. As he reached the end of his quarter-mile long driveway, he turned onto the SR 78 spur that led to the base of nearby Greenhorn Mountain. For here in the flatlands were three thousand head of his Hereford cattle. As he pulled up to the gate, he noticed that most of the livestock were gathered at the north end of the range, something he had never seen. He got out and opened the gate, drove in and re-secured it, then went to the passenger side of the Dodge and pulled his 20X50 Tasco binoculars from the glove compartment, knowing- and dreading- what he had just seen on the south end. Two head of the cattle lay dead in the morning sun of this classic spring day. He quickly jumped back in his truck and threw the binoculars on the seat with such force that they bounced onto the floor. He then jammed the gearshift into first and floored it, spewing dirt all over the gate. He soon arrived at the site of the carcasses, about a half a mile from the gate. He got out and approached the first dead animal. It had been gutted clean from neck to groin. Russ knew he wouldn’t have to look far to find the cougar tracks. He was right. They were a full five inches wide and sickeningly deep. “GOD DAMN IT!” Russ shouted as he walked to the second carcass, which was about seventy-five yards from the first. This one had a huge chunk taken out of its neck but was otherwise intact. “Fuckin’ bastard” he mumbled in disgust. He returned to his truck, and as he drove home, he wondered what he would have to go through and how much it was going to cost to get rid of the marauding feline.

The first thing he did upon arriving home was call Dan Rawlins, a neighboring rancher, twenty miles to his north. Rawlins had been in the business fourteen years and had learned the ropes the hard way. He had lost numerous head of cattle to disease as well as having them pestered by packs of wild dogs. Quickly learning their habits, Dan spent a few long days and nights camping on his range and methodically picked off the canines one by one with his 6mm Remington. He did not know Russ well having met him only once twice in five years, the first time being to welcome him to the cattle business. As Dan and his wife, Faye were having a snack in front of the TV, the phone rang.

“Mr. Rawlins, this is Russ Ransome. Remember me?”

“Yeah, Russ, I haven’t seen you in quite a spell. What’s new?”

“Well, nothing good, exactly.”

“Talk to me.” Dan said, concerned.

“I was checking my stock this morning and found two dead ones in the pasture out near the foot of Greenhorn.”

“Wud it look like?” Dan asked.  There was a pause, then Dan said, “Russ, you still…?”

“Mountain lion.” Russ said, sharply.

“Oh, Jesus.” Dan replied, as Faye gave him a concerned glance.

“And a damned good sized one if the width of the paw prints is any indicator.”

“Oh, it’s an indicator.” Dan said with a disgusted sigh. “Wutter you gonna do?”
“My first thought was to go after it, but I’m not sure I’m up to it.”

“I wouldn’t try it, Russ. I had a little trouble with some wild dogs a couple years back that got some of my beefs and I managed to polish them off with my Remington, but a puma’s a whole different ballgame. There’s no telling when or even if he’ll hit again, or where. And besides, Greenhorn is so damned infested with forest and caves you wouldn’t even know where to start. You better leave this one to the pros.”

“You mean Chase Incorporated?” Russ asked.

“Yeah, out of Denver. So you know ‘em?”
“Well, I know OF them. I heard they were assholes, keeping your money even if they don’t get the job done. And it’s a pay up- front outfit.”

“Better assholes than mountain lions.” Dan said.

“Yeah.” Russ said, trying to laugh.

“… And anyway, this might not be a regular thing. Maybe some cat just found himself too close to the base of the mountain, saw the herd, and tried his luck. We shouldn’t jump too quickly on this. Let’s give it a few weeks and see what happens. Meanwhile, we’ll watch the herds closely, even if it means spending a few lonely nights on the range. Because if we DO have rouge cat out there, he may just consider my spread as much in his territory as yours. Get my drift?”

“Got it.” Russ said after hesitating, knowing this wasn’t going to be a passing thing.

“Why don’t you drive over for chow tomorrow evening and we can discuss face to face what we’re going to do should the worst-case scenario present itself. How ‘bout it?” Dan offered.

“Thanks, Dan. I’m looking forward to seeing you. It’s been over a year.”

“Great, I’ll tell Faye to throw another potato in the pot.”

“Fine. Seven sound okay?”
“Just right. Later, buddy.” Dan said as he hung up.

 

 

(2)

 

 

“I’ll always remember this fine meal.” Russ told Faye Rawlins as he drank what was left of his decaf.

“Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed it.” She said.

“Wanna join me on the porch for a smoke?” Dan asked Russ.

“Sure thing. I just happened to bring along a Swisher Sweet.”

“How can you smoke those nasty things?” Dan asked.

“The same way you smoke THOSE nasty things, I guess.” Russ said, pointing at Dan’s pack of Winstons.

Russ took a seat in a rocking chair next to the front door and lit his cigar. Dan laid back in his lounger and did the same to his first Winston.

“So, a cougar, huh?” Dan said as he threw the spent match into the hedge alongside the porch. “If that don’t take the friggin cake.”

“In spades.” Russ replied, looking over at Dan. “And having to pay Chase half what my spread’s worth, to go after it. It’s enough to make me upchuck that good dinner just thinking about it.”

“Yeah, but it may be the only way we’ll get him- or her.”

“Oh, it’s a HIM. You can take my word for that.” Russ assured him.

“It doesn’t figure that a cat like that would come down off the mountain just to kill a couple of beefs then go back up. The food supply on Greenhorn can’t be all that scarce.” Dan suggested.

“I don’t know, I’m far from being an expert on the habits of pumas, but I can tell you this, now that he knows how easy it is to knock off livestock, we could have a problem on our hands.”

After considering what Russ had just said, Dan replied.

“Okay, let’s say for the moment, that we’ve got an animal here that may just figure he’s staked himself out some new territory. That being your ranch, not to mention mine and maybe Jim Cochoran’s as well. But trying to hunt this thing down by ourselves would be like sending Laurel and Hardy after John Dillinger. But if the bastard does come back, our only option might be to have Chase Inc. come down and assess the situation. What do you say?”

Russ stood up and walked to the edge of the porch, still puffing on his Swisher Sweet, then turned and looked at Dan. His eyes said “No” but his mouth said, “Okay.”

 

 

(3)

 

The Rawlins ranch was on a high plateau near the town of Greenwood. As Russ drove home through the rugged mountain pass on county road 13, he began to think about the day he became a widower. That being May 27, 1964, the third anniversary of which was nearly upon him.

Russ and Sheila had known each other since early high school and had been serious since their senior year at Rockridge High in Denver. Their icebreaking conversation was when, one afternoon in their junior year, on a bus bench in front of the school, Sheila sat, looking at her yearbook. Russ then approached and sat beside her. As she turned to the page her picture was on, Russ said, “Hey, you’re right next to me.” Sheila responded with, “Lucky me.” And they laughed. Not long after their 1949 graduation, Sheila Randolph became Sheila Ransome. He had proposed to her in a somewhat unpoetic way, by telling her that if they could be next to each other in a yearbook, they might as well be next to each other the rest of their lives.

After they graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder, Russ became a CPA and Sheila began teaching elementary school. Two years later, they bought a house in the west Denver suburb Lakewood, where they lived until 1962. Then they sold their home and put everything they had into the 2500-acre ranch fifty miles southwest of Pueblo.

 

Sheila had just left for the grocery store. As she reached the state road at the end of their long driveway, she attempted to turn right onto the highway. It was Saturday morning and she wanted to beat the crowd to the busy Safeway food store. It was always difficult to clear yourself before making this turn as there was a steep incline and sharp curve to the left. She was in a little bit more of a hurry than she should have been on this particular morning and didn’t see the Conoco tanker that came down the hill and around the curve as she pulled out onto the highway. The tanker driver, who was going twenty miles an hour over the speed limit of fifty couldn’t possibly avoid broadsiding Sheila’s Pontiac Lemans. The impact knocked the Pontiac more than one hundred yards down the highway as it slid into a ravine and burst into flames.

Russ heard the collision from the house. The concussion made waves in his coffee. He knew his wife was dead. He rushed to the scene in his Ford Bronco and saw the truck driver running down toward the burning vehicle. The driver had already called the police on his radio. Neither he or Russ could get close enough to Sheila’s car to do anything. When the fire truck arrived and extinguished the flames, there was not enough of the woman left to be recognized.

Long after the accident scene was cleared up and Russ had answered all questions asked by the Pueblo County police regarding his wife, he sat on the edge of the highway and stared at the charred spot in the grass where his life had just gone up in flames. It was three hours before he got up and drove back to the house. He stayed in for five days not going outside for any reason except to attend services. After making funeral arrangements for Sheila, he sat in his living room rocker and stared at the walls, sometimes dozing off, often waking up crying. He spent the nights on the living room sofa, refusing to sleep in the bed he shared with her. He ate very little and lost nine pounds over the next two weeks. A closed casket service was held in Pueblo two days after the accident with all available family members and friends present. All during the eulogy done by Sheila’s mother, Russ kept thinking how it never would have happened if he hadn’t stopped her for a second goodbye kiss as she headed out the driveway that day.

The police later confirmed that the tanker was speeding when it hit the Pontiac. The driver, whose name was Frank Harrington, from Walsenville was not charged with the accident as Sheila failed to yield the right of way. But because he was speeding and the police smelled beer on his breath, he lost his job and was relieved of his driver’s license for six months. Harrington was so torn apart emotionally by the event that he became a heavy drinker. After a time, his wife divorced him and moved to Michigan, taking their two children with her. He held several menial jobs over the next two years but was always terminated because of his drinking. One night in May of 1966, Frank got off work at his dishwashing job in a Walsenville greasy spoon and walked the three blocks to his dirty efficiency apartment where he immediately opened a new can of Draino and consumed the entire contents. His cries of agony during the few minutes the poison took to kill him were heard blocks away. He was thirty-five.

 

 

(4)

 

The day after Russ had dinner with Dan and Faye Rawlins, Wolfpaw sat on the porch of his cabin situated in the forest near Lake Isabel. He was about to get up and go in when he saw the red Dodge pickup truck slowly making its way up the rocky road. He reached inside the doorway and grabbed his 30-30 rifle and stood watching as the truck drew closer. He then walked to the front of the porch and down the steps which creaked with his weight. The pickup’s horn sounded twice as the driver waved. Seeing only one occupant in the vehicle he relaxed. As the truck pulled up and parked near the front of the cabin, he thought he recognized the man in it.

Wolfpaw was a sixty-three-year old Ute Indian and had been born and raised in and around San Isabel forest. He was the youngest of six children and was an accidental pregnancy. His name was chosen by his mother, Shining Fawn against the wishes of his father Grey Wolf’s desire to name the child “Broken Rubber.” But Wolfpaw knew the forest and the entire Greenhorn Mountain area like the back of his hand and Russ knew it. They had met only once three years earlier when Russ and a friend from Colorado Springs were hunting in the Greenhorn Foothills. Wolfpaw had several traps set in the area and was kind enough to give Russ and his friend the locations.

In 1954 Wolfpaw had helped the Huerfano County Sheriff track down a serial killer who had escaped from the Colorado State Penitentiary at Canon City. The killer had managed to avoid police by holding up in one of the more remote parts of San Isabel for nearly six weeks. His luck finally ran out when Wolfpaw and several deputies, aided by a helicopter manned by the Sheriff himself and a veteran pilot trapped the convict with his back to a five-hundred-foot cliff. The killer, whose name was Charles Bateman, shouted to police that he would not be taken alive, and that he would jump if they advanced any closer. Sheriff Raymond Radcliff tried to talk Bateman out of it, using a megaphone from the chopper. But Charles jumped anyway, saving the state the trouble of financing his triple life sentence with no hope of parole.

It seems that Mr. Bateman once had the nasty habit of abducting, raping and killing young girls, mostly of high school age. He had tallied up eleven victims from Florida to Colorado. The last three murders took place in central Colorado. Sometimes Charles had raped his victims before killing them, and sometimes afterwards. According to police records, Bateman had been quoted as saying, “If I can’t fuck ‘em alive, I’ll fuck ‘em dead.” And Charles was never without his Craftsman titanium cement bit. This was used only on the two girls that didn’t scream and beg for their lives, and this severely irritated Charles. Immediately after raping these two particular victims, he would start the Craftsman at low speed and insert it into her vagina ever so slowly. As the girl’s screams grew louder, the RPM’s and rate of penetration increased until the screaming stopped. He would then turn the drill in a circular, gouging motion before pulling it out and licking the bit as if it were a Popsicle. Bateman was fortunate in a way, that being that he was caught and convicted in a state that did not have the death penalty. But after he was splattered all over the bottom of Black Rock Gorge, this was a moot point.

 

“Wolfpaw!” Russ shouted from his truck. “It’s Russ Ransom from Beulah. Do you remember me?”

After staring at Russ a little longer, the Indian walked slowly toward his truck. “It not hunting season yet. You have more problems?”

“You bet I do.” Russ said, as he got out of his truck. He offered his hand to the Ute who, after a few seconds, raised his. He shook Russ’ hand softly and briefly. Wolfpaw didn’t like visitors.

“Can we talk?” Russ asked him, pointing at the cabin.

Without saying anything, Wolfpaw turned and walked back to his porch. Russ followed. After leaning his rifle against the cabin, the Indian sat down in his rocker, not offering Russ a seat, for there was no other on the porch, so he stood, leaning against the doorjamb.

“So, what happen? I know you not come just to see Wolfpaw.”

“A cougar got a couple of my beefs.”

“That happen to other ranchers in the past.” The Indian said, not alarmed.

“Well, it’s a first for me.” Russ replied, looking at him with a worried stare.

“What you want from me?” the Ute said, seeing the deep concern on Russ’ face.

“I need you to come down with me and take a look at the carcasses and see if you can tell me anything about this cat. Anything at all, how big he is, whether or not it looks like he’s gonna make a habit of it, what I can do to prepare, or any other information you can give me. And I’ll pay you for your time, including a meal on me.”

“Wolfpaw not like white man’s food, have little use for money.” He said as he stared back down the rocky path, impassable by anything but four-wheel drive vehicles or pack animals.

Russ looked down at the porch for a moment in disappointment, then looked up and said, “I could use your help.”

The Indian pondered this for a moment, then said, “When we go?”
“I can be here tomorrow at 7:00 AM.

Wolfpaw got up from his rocker and nodded as he walked back to the door, picked up his rifle, and went inside.

 

 

(5)

 

When Russ got home about 3:00 PM he was about to fix a sandwich and settle down in front of the boob tube when the phone rang.

“Hello, Ransome here.” He said, a little impatiently.

“Yeah, Rawlins here.”

“Oh, hey, Dan. What’s up?”

“Sounds like you’re having a poor day.”

“I’ve had worse.”

“I know.” Dan said, thinking not only of the cougar, but also of Russ’ late wife. “Well, I’m hoping this call will improve it. Faye and I were thinking about driving into Pueblo tomorrow evening for dinner and drinks and maybe a few laughs. How would you like to join us?”

“I don’t know, I haven’t done much of that sort of thing since Sheila died.” Russ said after a short pause.

“Yeah, I figured as much. But listen, buddy, it might do you some good. I know where there’s a good steakhouse and lounge sitting right next to each other. And you haven’t heard the best part yet. I’m buying.”

“You can sure tempt a fellow.”

“Does that remotely resemble a “Yes?”

“Well, I’ve got some business in the morning, but I should have it wrapped up by noon. What time you going?”

 

Wolfpaw was standing in front of his cabin at 6:55 AM as Russ pulled up.

“Good morning.” Russ said as he got out of his truck.

“What good about it?” the Indian replied as he walked toward the truck, rifle in hand.

“Well, it aint rainin’” Russ said, giving Wolfpaw a “I can’t wait to get this shit over with” stare.

Wolfpaw nodded slowly as he went to the passenger side of the Dodge and climbed in. They had a conversation free ride to the main gate of Russ’ cattle range. Russ could see, even without his binoculars, that several buzzards were gorging themselves on one of the carcasses.

“Vultures waste little time.” The Indian said.

“Yeah.” Russ said, as he got out and opened the gate.

As they got within about forty yards of the first dead animal, the buzzards retreated. Russ parked his truck centrally between the two carcasses.

“The tracks I saw are right over there.” Russ said, pointing in the direction of the mountain. “Just beyond the second carcass.”

“I look at cattle first.” Wolfpaw said, getting out.

“Sure thing.” Russ mumbled as he also got out.

The Indian kneeled down next to the nearest animal. He was studying the part the buzzards had not yet gotten to.

“What’s it look like?” Russ asked, looking over the Indian’s shoulder.

“Cat bite here first.” Wolfpaw said as he pointed to a spot near the steer’s neck. The distance between the puma’s fangs had to be four inches. “This painter very large. I now look at paw prints.”

“Sure, right this way.” Russ said, readily.

As they walked to the spot where the most pronounced prints were, Wolfpaw stared at Greenhorn Mountain with a worried look on his face. Russ noticed this and was concerned, but in a way, he was also glad.

“Here,” Russ said, pointing at the tracks.

Again, the Indian kneeled down, inspecting first the width, then the depth of the prints. He then stood up, shaking his head.

“First animal killed for food. Second one not.”

“Groovy.” Russ said.

“Prints very wide and go deep, into earth.”

“Yeah.” Russ said as he ran his right hand through his thick, black hair, then looked up at the mountain.

“This cat not weigh 200 plus 25 pounds, I kiss all white man’s ass in Pueblo County.” Wolfpaw said.

“Sounds like you’re sure.” Russ replied, still looking at the mountain.

“Let’s go.”

They drove the twenty miles back to Wolfpaw’s cabin, and as they arrived, Russ shut down the Dodge pickup’s big V-8. As he turned the key, the 440 Magnum engine went silent.

“Let’s talk.” He said to the Ute.

“That depend on what you want talk about.”

“I think you know.”

Wolfpaw took his 30-30 rifle and started to get out.

“I need your help.” Russ said to him, trying not to sound as if he were begging.

“You want me to track painter down and kill him.”

“Well,” Russ said, rubbing his chin and looking out the driver side window then back at the Indian. “I’d like you to help me do it.”

It was nearly against Wolfpaw’s religion to laugh, but he almost did. “I could easier help child fly 747.”

“Pretty tough, huh?”

“It tough.”

“But you know every inch of this mountain and San Isabel Forest and I know you can find that cat. He’ll be back, and you know it, so let’s get rid of him now and you can name your price.”

“PRICE! Is that all white man thing about is money?! It easy for you to ask Wolfpaw for help. Where was white man when my people ask you for help when they were starving and you turn your back?!”

“I didn’t do anything you, man!” Russ shouted back, now a little irritated himself.

Wolfpaw saw the look of earnest on Russ’ face. “No, you do nothing.” He said, now getting out.

“Here’s for your trouble today and I want you to take it.” Russ said, handing him a fifty-dollar bill. The Ute stared at the money briefly then looked at Russ.

“May come in handy next time go into town.” The Indian said, reluctantly taking the bill.

 

It was still early when Russ left Wolfpaw’s cabin and he thought he would drive into Beaulah for some breakfast before going home. Beulah wasn’t much of a town, but it did have a coffee shop. He ordered toast and Decaf and after an hour and a half as he wrapped up his seventh cup, he headed home. 

 

(6)

 

He was tired when he got home at 11:15 and decided to take a nap before tonight’s outing with Dan and Faye. He fell asleep three minutes after he hit the couch. At 4:15 the phone rang. As he reached for it, in his drowsiness, he knocked in off the coffee table onto the hardwood floor. “Dammit!” he mumbled and after finally getting it to his ear, he said “Yeah,” yawning.

“Man, you talk about your late sleepers.” Dan Rawlins said.

“Hey, Dan. I was just gettin’ a nap before tonight.”

“Good man, because we’ll be there around six-thirty.”

“Okay, I’ll be ready.”

“What did you do this morning?” Dan asked.

“I’ll tell you tonight.”

“Cool. See you later.”

“Right.” Russ said, as he returned the phone to its cradle which was still on the floor.

 

Long before Dan and Faye moved to Colorado, Dan was a manager and half owner of Buckeye Trucking in Columbus, Ohio. They were, in fact, the Midwest’ major shippers of medical equipment and supplies, appliances and electronic equipment. The rub, if you will, was that Phil Hanson, Faye’s father, owned the other half of Buckeye. And he might have been an all right guy if he’d been pulling his load and not embezzling from the company.

Thus, in 1953, at age 34, Dan sold his share of Buckeye to a Columbus legal firm. Three months later Faye gave birth to a stillborn son and it was then that she and Dan decided they’d had enough of Ohio. They purchased their three thousand acre spread in Custer County Colorado and Dan began to build his cattle ranch. It started with thirty head of prime Hereford given him by the neighboring rancher Jim Cochoran. It was Jim’s way of welcoming Dan to the business. Dan, in return, did the same for Russ when he arrived nine years later.

And on the few occasions Dan thought he regretted getting into the cattle business, he thought about the fat checks he received after every trip to the Pueblo slaughterhouse.

 

When they arrived, Russ was at his front door, and as they climbed the porch steps, Russ opened it. Then, his bull mastiff came charging toward the house full tilt. As he got within forty yards of the porch, “Plowboy!” Russ yelled. “Good dog!” The 160-pound canine stopped in his tracks and began to wag his stubby tail. “Bye-Bye, Plowboy!” Russ yelled again and the dog retreated to the front of the property near the highway.

“I was a little worried there for a second.” Faye said, placing her right hand across her breasts.

“I’m sorry.” Said Russ. “I thought he was around back. Come on in.”

As they entered the house, Dan and Russ greeted each other.

“Russ, this is beautiful.” Faye said, looking around.

“Thanks, Faye. Sheila had it fixed up pretty well.” Faye said nothing more.

“I hope you’re hungry, ‘ cause you ain’t gonna believe the size of the steak you’ll be lookin’ at in about an hour.” Dan said as Russ grabbed his sport jacket.

“Good. Nothing like supporting our own cause.” Faye laughed as Russ killed the lights.

As they drove to Pueblo, Russ heard all about the Upfront steakhouse and lounge.

“… and the band is absolutely excellent.” Dan continued.

“This place sounds better all the time.” Russ said from the back seat of Dan’s Ford LTD wagon. “Say, you remember asking me what I did this morning?”

“Yeah.”

“Well I drove up the mountain a ways to visit Wolfpaw, the old Ute and…”

“Oh, yeah, I’ve heard tell about him. One of the things I heard was that he’s not real crazy about white boys.”

“No he’s just crazy.” Russ replied. “But he’s real savvy about Greenhorn and vicinity.

“Where do you know him from?” Dan asked, interested.

“He helped me and a buddy of mine out a few years back when we were hunting up in the forest. He had some traps set in the woods and he told us how to work our way around them. Just ran into him by pure chance.”

“At least you’re here to talk about it.” Dan said.

“No, I think he used to talk a lot meaner than he is.”

“I’ll bet tour little visit this morning had something to do with mountain lions.”

“I’d much rather you use that term in the singular.” Said Russ.

“Okay.” Dan said, chuckling.

“Anyway, I talked him into taking a look at my two dead beefs and…”

“You mean the buzzards left something to look at?”

“Not a lot, but enough. He checked out the bite marks and footprints.”

“And?”

“Two twenty-five, minimum.”

“Damn!” Dan shouted.

“Danny!” Faye exclaimed. Why don’t you scare the hell out of me?!”

“Sorry, hon.” Dan apologized. I didn’t know they got that size.”

“They normally don’t. I was talking to a couple of boys from the Centennial Star ranch at the coffee shop in in Beulah after I left Wolfpaw’s and they’d never heard of one of those cats weighing over 180, fact, fiction or knocked up.”

 

The Upfront Steakhouse on Pueblo’s west side was renowned statewide for its food and entertainment. As Dan pulled the LTD under the front canopy, a valet approached. “Park ya car, sir?” he said robustly.

“Uh-oh, big bucks.” Russ mumbled.

“Not to worry.’ Dan said. “Sure thing.” He then told the valet, whose name tag said “Percy” and handed him the key.

“Oh, boy, Percy.” Russ thought. “Kid must have grown up tough.”

As they were entering the restaurant, a Pueblo police unit pulled up into the same spot Dan’s car had been seconds before. Two officers got out and rushed inside.

“Say, maybe tonight won’t be a total loss after all.” Russ kidded Dan elbowing him gently in the ribs.

“That’s just what I was thinking.” Dan replied.

“Oh, you guys.” Faye said.

Just after the hostess greeted them, the cops were escorting, (horse collaring would be more accurate) two disorderly drunks off to free room and board on the city for the night. As it turned out, one of them was underage, and his buddy called the barmaid a “cunt” at the top of his lungs for not serving them.

After being seated, the three of them began looking over their menus. Shortly thereafter a waitress approached the table. “ Hi, my name’s Molly. I’ll be your server this evening. Anyone like a drink before dining?” she asked.

Russ didn’t look up as he was still examining the menu.

“Why are you working in a restaurant when you can read minds?” Dan said to Molly, smiling.”

“Danny, for God’s sake.” Faye said, nudging him.

“What’ll it be?” Molly said, laughing.

Russ then looked up and a stunned look appeared on his face. Faye noticed this and asked him what was wrong.

“Excuse me, please.” Russ said and quickly got up and headed for the men’s room. Dan followed him and as he entered the restroom, he saw Russ at the end lavatory splashing water in his face.

“Whatsa matter, buddy?” Dan asked approaching Russ and putting his hand on his shoulder. Russ kept his hands over his face for another moment then looked at Dan.

“You and Faye never met Sheila.”

“No, and I’m sorry we never got to meet h…” Dan started to say as Russ pulled her picture out of his wallet and gave it to him.

“Holy Moses.” Dan said with an astonished look on his face. She looks just like her.” Referring to Molly.

“Sounds a little like her, too.” Russ said, taking the picture back.

No pictures of Sheila were displayed in Russ’ home.

“Hey, listen. You wanna go somewhere else?” Dan offered.

“No, it just took me by surprise. I’ll be alright.”

Then, to add insult to injury the band in the lounge began to do Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling In Love.” This song had been one of Russ and Sheila’s favorites. But Russ did his best to ignore it as he and Dan walked back to their table where Faye was having coffee.

“I couldn’t wait for you guys forever.” She said.

“That’s cool.” Dan said. “Where’s Molly?”
“She’ll be back.”

A few seconds after Dan and Russ took their seats, Molly returned to take their orders.

“Go ahead, my dear.” Dan told Faye.

“I’ll have your chef’s salad.”

“Yes ma’am. And to drink?”

“Just some water and some more of this good coffee.”

“Fine.” Molly said as she scratched down the order with a smile.

Dan ordered a Porterhouse steak and beer, then it was Russ’ turn. He did not look up from the menu as he said, “I guess I… well, gimme the… um.”

“Yes, sir?” Molly said, smiling curiously. She thought he was good looking.

“He used to be able to talk.” Dan intervened.

“Dan!” Fate whispered sharply, tapping his foot with hers.

“Give him the finest sirloin you’ve got.”

“Okay.” Molly said, looking at Russ, awaiting his approval.

“Yeah, medium.” He said, then handed her the menu.

“Thank you.” She said, laughing as she walked away.

“Well, I certainly turned THAT into a problem, didn’t I?” Russ said.

“No problem, my friend.” Actually, we shouldn’t be eating steaks. I don’t believe in killing animals for food.” Dan said.

“Oh, SPARE me.” Faye looked directly at him and said.

Russ chuckled as he glanced toward the kitchen looking for Molly. Dan noticed this and said, “Do roses turn green in the springtime, Russ?”

“Uh-huh.” He said still looking toward the kitchen.

“Oh, boy. Is this guy a goner or what?” Dan said to Faye.

“She’s very pretty, Russ.” Faye said.

“Huh?” Russ said, about to snap out of his trance.

“Oh, I’m sorry, Faye. What did you say?”

“She said the Red Sox are moving to Salt Lake City.” Dan said.

“Would you SHUT UP?!” Faye snapped. I said Molly is very pretty, don’t you think?”

“Yes… she is.” Russ said, still in deep thought.

“I knew you thought so.” Said Dan. Faye gave him a penetrating stare.

About 9:30 as they were finishing their meals, Molly walked by and asked if anyone would like dessert.

“No, thanks. I’m stuffed.” Faye said.

“Me too. What about it, Russ?” Dan asked.

“Got any chocolate cake?” Russ asked.

“Comin’ right up.” Molly said, giving a tantalizing smile.

As she walked away, Dan said,” I bet it’s not chocolate cake you want for dessert.”

“I’m going to kick your ass when we get home.” Faye told him.

“He’s probably half right.” Russ told Faye.

“I’m all the way right.” Dan said.

“Will you give it a rest?” said Faye.

“Okay. What do you say we report to the lounge and let Russ have his dessert in peace? All right, honey?”

“Good idea.” She said.

“Come and join us when you’re done. Okay, Russ?” Faye said.

“You got it.”

“She always has.” Said Dan.

“Shall I drag you in there by the ear?” she said.

“No, thanks. Let’s go.”

Russ sat quietly and drank the rest of his water.

“Want some more water?” Molly said as he placed his cake before him.

“No… no thank you.” He said as he gazed at her.

“Something wrong?” she asked him with a curious smile.

“No, nothing’s wrong. I didn’t mean to stare.”

“Oh, that’s okay. The time to worry is when the guys stop staring.”

“Well, in your case, I think that’s gonna be a long time.”

“Thanks.” She said, smiling brightly.

“What time does this place close?” he asked.

“Well, the restaurant closes at ten and the lounge at one.”

“I see.”

“I’ll let you eat your cake now.” She said and walked away.

The chocolate cake was good but Russ didn’t pay much attention.

 

"... and she’s a dead ringer for his wife. He showed me her picture in the restroom.” Dan explained to Faye over two screwdrivers.

“Oh, my. So that’s why he turned pale and left the table.”

“Yeah, and you also know why I suggested we make ourselves scarce. I got a feelin’ he’s gonna try and make a move on her. So let’s wait and see what develops.”

“Yes, he’s been alone for so long.” Faye said, sadly.

“Yeah.” Dan said as he returned to the restaurant to settle the dinner check, and noticed Molly and Russ were talking.

“My friends and I will be in the lounge for a while. Why don’t you join us when you get off?” he asked her.

“Well, I…”

“We can’t stay late, I’ve got to be up with the chickens.” Russ quickly said with a smile.

“Well… okay, but I won’t make it in there till around ten thirty. Is that all right?”

“Sure.”

Molly Henderson had been working at the Upfront Steakhouse since May 1966 when her divorce from Hank Henderson became final. They had lived in Albuquerque where Hank was a local TV anchor and Molly was a truck stop waitress and part-time model. But Hank, it seems, was taking more than a passing interest in one of her co-workers at Twin Peaks modeling agency. Hank’s friends were finding it hard to believe that he was cheating on Molly who was a tall, shapely knockout blonde. After his first infidelity, he confessed and they reconciled. But it continued and they separated in the summer of 1965. Molly finally filed for divorce after the situation became hopeless.

“That stuff’s no good for you.” A voice said directly behind Dan’s barstool.

“Hey, buddy boy!” Dan said loud enough to be heard throughout the lounge. He was on his third double Vodka. He turned and looked at Russ.

“I think you could use another one of these.” Russ said. “Wanna get a table?”

“Fine, buddy boy!” Dan bellowed.

They took a corner table where drinks and small talk ensued for the next half hour. Then Molly entered.

“Hi, come join us!” Faye said, delighted to see her.

They talked for the next hour and Molly told them as much about herself as she wanted them to know.

“I think it’s time for me to drive this poor wasted soul home.” Faye said, stroking Dan’s short, blond hair.

“Oh hell, baby, it’s early yet.” He argued.

“Let me apologize for my husband.” Faye said to Molly.

“Oh, not at all. I’m glad he enjoyed himself.”

“Okay, hotshot, let’s hit the road.” Faye said, trying to pull Dan up from his chair.

“I guess that means me, too.” Russ told Molly. “That’s my ride.”

“I need to go too.” She told him.

As the four of them walked out, Dan fumbled for his keys to give the valet. As he did, Russ handed Molly a napkin he had brought from the lounge.

“What’s that for?” she asked.

“Well,” Russ began then hesitated. “Could you write your phone number on it?” “Gee, that sounded dumb.” He thought.

As she took the napkin, she began to laugh.

“Was that funny?”

“No, it’s just that I’ve never been asked for my phone number quite that way before. Can I borrow your back?”
“Sure thing.” Russ said, turning around. She wrote her number down and said, “Here, don’t lose that.” “Not a chance.”

 

 

(7)

 

The next two weeks passed in relatively uneventful fashion, with nothing much happening other than a few thunderstorms. But San Isabel forest couldn’t have been greener.

 

Greenhorn Mountain wasn’t exactly Mt. Everest, nor was it the highest mountain in the United States, or even in Colorado. But it was no mole hill either. It’s sloping descent toward the northwest gave it an ominous look, especially when observed from the newly completed Interstate 25 near Pueblo. At 12,349 feet, it was comparable in altitude to Japan’s Mt. Fujima. Not only Greenhorn, but surrounding San Isabel Forest had something of a storied, if not shady past over the last few decades beginning with the Ute Indian burial ground. Then there were the claims, documented or not, of the disappearances of hunters, hikers, picnickers and teenage lovers among others. In 1961, three skeletons of what was later confirmed as young females were found dangling from low hanging tree branches in the forest of Greenhorn’s south face. It was then discovered by the Huerfano County Sheriff’s department, via dental records, that the skeletal remains were indeed those of victims of Charles Bateman, the interstate serial murderer of the 1950’s.

Then, just last year, the avalanche on Greenhorn’s eastern slopes that had buried five skiers captured national attention. Only four of the skiers have been recovered. The missing body, as it turned out was the niece of the Lt. Governor. This in turn, resulted in some embarrassing press for the Pueblo and Huerfano County Sheriffs.

 

As Russ sat in his living room easy chair, he began to think about Sheila and the way Molly’s looks and voice resembled her. He had thought of calling Molly many times in the past two weeks, but felt guilty every time he did. “What should I do, baby?” he thought, thinking of Sheila, as if asking her for guidance. “She’d want me to be happy, wouldn’t she?” he thought again. Then, after pondering for another thirty minutes, he popped up from his chair and headed for the phone. It was 3:00 PM. He thought Molly must be home as she had told him she was off on Sunday. As he was about to pick up the phone, it rang. “A reprieve.”

“Hello!” he said, robustly.

“Russ? Dan.”

“Hey, man. What’s…?”

“Jim Cochoran up at Centennial Star just lost a bull.”

“When?”

“Last night.”

“What happened?” Russ asked. But he knew.

“Take a wild guess.”

“Cat?”

“You got it.” Dan said, “And he wants to see us.”

“I’ll be there in a half hour.” Russ said, hanging up.

“I’ll be here.” Dan said to a dead line.

As they approached the gate of the Centennial Star, Cochoran and three of his men, including his foreman were waiting for them. Dan and Russ got out of the LTD and greeted them. Introductions and hand shaking ensued.

“How’ve you been, Dan?” Cochoran asked.

“Well, I’ve been okay, unlike you and Russ here.”

“Yeah.” Jim said, managing to scare up a smile. “Nice to see you again, kid.” He said to Russ.

“You too, sir.” Russ replied. “I lost a couple of head not long ago, I’m sure you heard.”

“I heard.”

“Can I have a look at the dead animal?” Russ asked him.

“That’s why you’re here. Let’s go.”

 

At about the time the wheel was being invented, Jim Cochoran started cattle ranching in Colorado. At seventy- three years old, he was in better shape than many men twenty years younger. As a younger man, Jim had done some prize fighting. And it was easy to tell with one look at his six-foot two inches, still muscular 200-pound body. He had experienced everything imaginable in the cattle business- and then some. Including dealing with Chase Incorporated. After some unsatisfactory “service” by Chase some years ago concerning some missing livestock, Cochoran would never again use the firm, nor would he recommend them to anyone else.

…And it was only six months ago when his foreman, Buck Branson and the Centennial Star crew were enjoying a Friday night of partying at a Colorado Springs nightclub that a few members of the Chase staff, who you will meet in later chapters, showed up and incited a brawl, resulting in physical injuries and major property damage. But Cochoran’s men came out on top in the confrontation, and this was something Chase never forgot.

 

Russ and Dan followed Jim and his men to the “Scene of the crime” Cochoran drove a white Chevy pickup. His men pulled up the rear in a Jeep. Cochoran’s spread was located about fifteen miles from Dan’s in the flats near the northern extremities of Greenhorn.

“Motherfucker probably thinks he owns the whole damned area.” Jim said, speaking of the cougar. He said this as the men stood over the mauled fourteen hundred pound Hereford Bull. A sizeable chunk was removed from its neck, and beneath it, an even bigger pool of dried blood.

“Son of a bitch kills a ton of beef then eats twenty pounds.” Dan said in disgust.

“Yeah, it looks familiar.” Russ said, looking at the dead animal. “Any tracks?”

“You betcha. Step over here, son.”

Russ and Dan followed Cochoran to a dirt embankment that led up into the forest. They stared in awe as the string of massive paw prints disappeared into the woods.

“Five inches wide and a mile deep.” Russ said as he kneeled and put his finger into one of the prints.

“If I didn’t know better, I’d swear we had a God damn Bengal tiger on our hands.” Cochoran said.

“You might not be too far wrong.” Russ told him. “The Indian said this cat might weigh 225 or better.”

“What Indian, Wolfpaw?”
“Yes, sir.”

“Well, he ought to know. He’s lived around here since God was in diapers.”

“What do you plan to do, Mr. Cochoran?” Russ asked as he stood up.

“Well, I’m gonna station a half dozen of my boys on the range all night, every night for the next three weeks. That son a bitch should be hungry again by then. So maybe we’ll get lucky and pop him.”

“That would be nice.”

“Thanks for coming out.” Cochoran said, extending his hand.

“Certainly, sir. And please stay in touch.” Russ said as they shook hands.

“You do the same, kid. Later, Dan.” Jim said.

“Right.” Dan said, smiling.

As Cochoran and his men left, Dan and Russ stayed on for a while and discussed the situation. By dusk the next day, four experienced ranch hands were patrolling the foot of Greenhorn adjacent to their property. Dan had no steady help on his range, except during branding season. Neither did Russ, as their spreads were a mere fraction the size of Jim Cochoran’s.

 

 

(8)

 

As Russ got up from his midday nap to fix himself a cup of hot chocolate, he was thinking about Molly again. He began to feel a little uneasy as he couldn’t remember where he put the napkin with her phone number on it. “Don’t lose that.” She had told him. After locating it, he sat down on the sofa and stared at it. It was 2:00 PM Thursday. “What the hell.” He thought as he picked up the phone and dialed. After the ninth ring, he was about to hang up when she picked up.

“Hello.” It was a simple enough word, “Hello.”

“Hello.” Molly said again. “Who’s there?”

“Molly?” Russ said, feeling like a ten-year old kid who was calling a girl for the first time in his life.
“Yes.”

“It’s Russ Ransome. We met at the…”

“Oh, hi, Russ. What a surprise.”

He was pleased she was glad to hear from him and the (forgive the pun) cat had his tongue.

“Russ, you still there?”

“Yes… I thought about you today and wanted to call.”

“Well, I’m certainly glad you did. It’s been a while since I saw you.”

“Yeah, I know. I’m sorry but I’ve been having some trouble on my ranch.”

“Oh, you have a ranch? Wow, that’s great. Where?”
“It’s out near Beulah, at the foot of Greenhorn Mountain.”
“Sounds nice. Do you have horses?”
“No, just cattle.”
“Oh. What kind of problems are you having?” she asked.

“Well… perhaps I could tell you over dinner.”

“Dinner, huh?”

“Yeah, I’m sorry for jumping the gun but I was going to ask you anyway.”

“Oh, that’s okay. Where are we going?”

“Name it.”

They talked for another half an hour and after he hung up, his hand did not let go of the receiver before he picked it up again and dialed Dan Rawlins’ number.

“Yo, Dan.”

“Hey, Russ. What goes?”

“I thought I’d call and check in. It’s been a few weeks.”

“It’s been pretty quiet, and I gather it’s the same down your way.”

“Yeah, and I don’t know how much longer I can afford those two boys patrolling my land, especially with nothing going on.”

“Yeah, that do get expensive.” Dan said. “But hell, nothing going on ain’t bad news. Right?”

“Yeah,… I suppose.”

“Say, why don’t you slide on over for dinner, and try to make it before dark. I’ll show you a little more of my place. Okay?”

 

“Why not, I gotta eat somewhere.” Russ said, looking at the clock.

“I’ll tell Faye you said that.”

“Don’t you dare.”

“Just shittin’ ya, man. Lighten up.”

“Yeah, I need to. I’ll see you around five-thirty. Okay?”

“Right.” Dan said and hung up.

As he drove to Dan’s place, he thought, mainly about Sheila, then about Molly, and last but not least, the cat.

“Maybe it’s over.” Although he didn’t really believe it, even though it had been over three uneventful weeks. As he neared Dan’s property he could see the house and adjacent barn. When he parked and got out, Dan was there to meet him, this time with his two pit-bull dogs, named Kaleb and Lawsuit. The dogs ran toward Russ as if they meant business but Dan called them off.

“Go ahead and pet ‘em.” Dan said.

“You sure?” Russ said as he approached the two dogs who looked curiously at him. Kaleb was black and white and Lawsuit a brendel.

“Good boys! Good boys!” Dan told them. “Friend! Friend!”

“Okay, Russ.” He said.

Kaleb and Lawsuit were born of the same litter. Their father, “Rocky” was pitted against other dogs in several illegal fights. He had been victorious in all five of his “bouts” defeating three other Pits one Rottweiler, and one Doberman Pinscher. But the day after the fight with the Doberman, Rocky died of his wounds.

As Russ began to stoke Lawsuit’s head, Kaleb joined in, as not to be left out. Their combined weight of 170 pounds made a formidable team.

“Come on, Russ, I’ll show you the barn. Chow won’t be ready for thirty minutes yet.”

“Yeah… sure.” Said Russ, still looking cautiously at the dogs who eagerly followed.

The barn was occupied by but one magnificent black stallion. The horse shuffled nervously about in his stall as the men approached.

“Meet Solomon.” Dan said, proudly.

“Damn, he’s a nice one!” Russ said, impressed.

“Thanks, he was born right where he stands four years ago today.”

“No shit? Happy Birthday, boy.” Russ said as he reached over to stroke the animal’s head, who accommodated him by standing still. Kaleb and Lawsuit mingled around the stall but this was not a problem to Solomon as the three animals had grown up together. The more Russ pet him, the more comfortable the horse became.

“He’s really something, Dan.” Russ said as he looked at Solomon. He thought this stallion was comparable to the famous war-horses ridden by, perhaps, Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe, The Lone Ranger, or even Zorro.

After dinner, they sat on Dan’s front porch again and smoked.

“Here, got sump’m for ya.” Dan said, handing Russ a King Edward Cigar.

“Oh, hell. Dan. What did I ever do to you?”

“That bad, huh?”

“No, on the contrary, for a cigar made of 100% newspaper and no tobacco, they’ve got a really excellent bouquet. I think I’ll save it and give it to some guy whose wife has a Mongoloid.”

“OOOHH, you sick puppy!” Dan told him, actually thinking it was funny.

“Yeah, that was pretty bad.” Russ confessed.

Later on, as they walked out to Russ’ truck,

“Say, did I tell you I’ve got a date with Molly?” Russ said.

“With… oh, the waitress from the Upfront? No kidding. Well, good for you. When you going?”
“Maybe Saturday.”

“Well, have a good time. And listen, I hope she does something for you.”

“Yeah, I’m just pretty damned tired of being alone, that’s all.”

“I bet you are.” Dan said as Russ climbed in his truck.

“Thanks, Dan. And thank Faye for another great dinner.”

“Will do.”

 

 

(9)

 

Our cat was perched atop a granite boulder half way up the northeastern face of Greenhorn, surveying his territory. Greenhorn was the highest peak in the immediate area and offered many such vantage points for predators. Many scents passes his nose, including those of people. There was something about the sight of humans that was most disagreeable… But there was something about their aroma that was quite pleasing. There was not much he couldn’t see form his spot in the high ground. He had killed one white-tailed buck since taking out Jim Cochoran’s hereford bull. But this was some time ago and he was now, again, anticipating his next meal. It was nearly dark as he gazed toward Walsenville and Interstate 25. He curiously observed the headlights of the cars as they proceeded down the highway. He wondered what they were. He wondered if they could harm him. He wondered if they could be eaten. 

 

(10)

 

The cat’s appetite was now fully primed, and he began his descent from Greenhorn- toward Dan Rawlins’ ranch.

 

When the doorbell rang in Molly’s apartment about seven that Saturday, she rushed to answer it. As she opened the door, Russ was standing there, smiling.

“Hi, come one in. I’m almost ready.”

Russ was impressed as he watched her walk back toward the kitchen. She was a slim but solidly built 5-foot 9-inch blonde, and had a pair of green eyes that would tame any man. Russ had normally had a “thing” for short girls, “Five feet’s too tall” he always said. But in Molly’s case, he would make an exception.

She then returned from the kitchen, purse in hand. “Ready?”

“Sure” he said, still awe stricken by her appearance. She was a looker but didn’t dress as if she knew it, wearing a modest pair of dark slacks and a blouse to match.

“Where we going?” she asked.

“You’re callin’ the shots.’ Russ responded. We’ll do or go wherever you want. And one word you won’t be hearing from me tonight is “No.”

“I can tell right now you’re gonna be a pushover.” She said, laughing.
“We aim to please.”

As their eyes met, there was a moment of “Heat.”

“Hey, Russ.” Is there any chance you’d like to just hang around here tonight?” she asked. “I could cook dinner. It’ll save you a couple of bucks and we could watch some TV. Wudda ya think?”

“As I said before, “No” is not in my vocabulary this evening.”

“Cool. I’ll make chili. Give me a few minutes to get it on the stove. Have a seat. I think there’s a baseball game on if that’s your taste.” She said as she opened the refrigerator.

“NO!” he said, and they both laughed as he turned on the television.

“Of course baseball’s your taste. You’re a man, aren’t you?”

“Last time I looked.” He said, and as he was sitting down on the sofa, Johnny Bench smacked a two-run homer that gave the Reds a 4-3 lead over Pittsburgh.

Molly began to chop celery on the cutting board. About thirty minutes later the chili was on the stove and began to simmer. She then walked into the living room and stood before him.

“Who’s winning?”

“Cincinnati.” He informed her.

She said nothing as he continued to watch the game. After a few seconds, he looked up at her. She smiled as she removed her left earring. “I’ve got to go change before I get chili sauce all over these clothes. Don’t go ‘way.”

“Not a chance.” He said. She laughed again as she walked away.

When she came back, she was barefooted. She had on a white tank top and red shorts. As Russ stared, he didn’t think it was possible for a pair of legs to look that good.

“I’ve got the chili on.” She said as she sat down on the sofa a couple of feet to his left. “It’ll take at least a couple of hours to simmer.” As he looked at her, she was smiling again.

“Give me five.” Russ said as he extended his hand. For the next few minutes they sat hand in hand watching the game. Then Molly, now growing tired of baseball, said, “We could watch something else if you’re not too interested in this.”

“Go for it. I’m a pushover. Remember?”

“You’re not going to let me live that one down, are you?” she said as she got up to change the channel. The dial landed on NBC just in time to see Steve McQueen’s stuntman jumping the barbed wire fence on his motorcycle in “The Great Escape.”

“Hey, neat. Leave it there.”

“Oh, I can see right now you dig romantic movies.” She said.

“It’ll be over soon.”

“Well, okay.” She said, accommodating him. They watched the rest of “The Great Escape” and half of the next feature and by then, their chili was ready.

 

Kaleb and Lawsuit slept soundly in their pen as Solomon dwelled quietly in his stall. Dan and Faye had been asleep for about an hour, and things were peaceful at the Rawlins ranch as the cat approached from the south, the wind at his back. As he got within a hundred yards of the barn, he crouched and watched for signs of movement within.

 

“I think I’m about to pop.” Russ said as he took his last bite of chili.

“How was it?” Molly said as she got up and began to clear the table.

“The best. The absolute best.”

“Thanks.”

After she placed the dishes in the sink, she turned and was about to say something… the liplock lasted about thirty seconds and as they parted, she said, “Well… I was about to ask you if you wanted dessert, but…”

“I don’t now.”

“You nut! Why don’t you go back in the living room. I’ll be right out.”

“I’ll hold you to that.” He said as he returned to the sofa and turned on the TV. A minute later she came out of the kitchen.

“Have a seat, dear.” He said as he looked up at her.

As Molly sat down she snuggled close to him putting her head on his right shoulder. Russ put his arm around her as they watched the 11:00 news.

 

Solomon began to grow restless in his stall as he had picked up the scent of the predator. If there was one thing this cat didn’t believe in it was wasting time. He leaped the stall gate and landed on the horse’s back with lightning speed. Solomon reared up on his hind legs and screamed as the puma’s needle-sharp claws gouged into his back. As he came down on all fours he turned in rapid circles, trying to throw his attacker off, but the cat hung tough.

By this time, the two pits were chewing a hole in the tough chain-link fencing that lined their cage. When the hole was big enough to get through, the two dogs sprinted toward the barn with record speed. As they reached the stall, Solomon had just taken out the rear stall railing with his powerful hooves as he tried to buck the mountain lion off his back. The cat then sunk his teeth into the stallion’s neck. Kaleb then squeezed his way into the stall and tried to leap onto the horse in an attempt to remove the cat from his friend’s back, but fell short. Lawsuit had now joined him and tried the same thing but also failed. Solomon now knew he would have to do it himself. The twelve-hundred-pound stallion refused to die this way, and with one final violent twist, the enraged horse threw the cougar from his back. The cat shattered the stall gate as he landed and regained his posture. Horsemeat would come high tonight. He now faced the two Pit-bulls, who barked and snarled insanely. This special breed of Staffordshire Terrier would fight to the death, no rules no penalties, no exceptions. They had been known to continue fighting with their intestines dragging on the ground. It was never over until it was over, and maybe not even then. Solomon ran to the south pasture, bleeding profusely as Kaleb and Lawsuit squared off with the most formidable adversary of their lives.

 

“No... honestly… about the dessert.” Molly said as she got up from the sofa. “I’ve got apple pie and carrot cake.”

“I’ll take whatever you bring me.” Russ said as he looked up, half interested. The news was over and the late show, “Merrill’s Marauders” was now coming on.

“Oh groovy, another romantic movie.” She said, slightly annoyed.

“Yeah, it must be their day for war flicks. But listen, we don’t have to watch it.” Russ said as he got up and turned off the television.

“Why don’t we just share a dessert then shoot the breeze for a while? What say?” he suggested, kissing her forehead.

“Okay.” She said as she gently stroked his cheek. “Be right back.”

 

The cat’s back was at the corner of the barn near Solomon’s stall, limiting his avenues of retreat. And the two terriers held him at bay, snarling fiercely. Then Lawsuit made the first move. He lunged at the cougar clamping his powerful jaws just above his left shoulder. The cat screamed in pain as he swung 180 degrees slamming the dog into the stall railing with enough force to separate the dog, along with a piece of his shoulder. The cougar’s scream had awakened Faye and she immediately woke Dan.

“Honey, there’s something going on out there.”

“Huh.” Dan said, sleepily. Then he came to his senses and hopped up from the bed. As he opened the window, he could hear the insanity from within the barn.

Kaleb saw his chance at the puma, now facing away from him. He charged in and seized the cat by the meaty part of his right rear thigh. At this moment Lawsuit lunged at the cat, but this time the cougar was ready, and seized the Pit-bull by the neck, shaking violently. He dropped the dead canine, blood gushing from his windpipe. But Kaleb persisted.

Dan charged out the back door with his 30-06 automatic in one hand and his flashlight in the other. He shined the light into the barn just in time to see the cat leap to the edge of the stall with Kaleb clinging to his badly injured leg. The cougar then brought his powerful front paw squarely down on the dog’s head, knocking his loose. Kaleb was out cold on the floor of the barn. Dan shouldered his rifle and fired as the cat disappeared into the darkness.

“GOD DAMN BASTARD!! YOU GOD DAMN MOTHERFUCKING BASTARD!!!” Dan screamed as he fired into the darkness.

 

“Not a bad apple pie.” Russ said as he scraped the remaining crumbs from his plate.

“Yes, it was pretty good, wasn’t it?” Molly agreed. “Not to brag.”

“Nothing wrong with bragging if you can back it up.” He said as he placed the pie plate on the lamp table.

“I’m gonna hafta split, there, lady.” He said, getting up from the couch. He then extended his hand and helped her up. As she stood up they embraced. Thanks for the most relaxing evening.” He told her. “I needed one.”

“What’s your hurry?”

“I’ve got a ranch to run. Remember? Gotta be up with the chickens.”

“Oh, you’ve got chickens?”

“No, just cattle. Thanks again hon, it was great.”

“We aim to please.” She said as they kissed.

“Where have I heard that before?” he said and they laughed.

They parted at her front door with another kiss.

“Be careful, okay, dear. And call me.” She said.

“Okay… dear.” This was followed by another kiss. She watched him as he drove away.

 

As Dan entered the barn he saw his two dogs sprawled across the concrete floor. Lawsuit lay in a massive pool of blood as Dan walked over to him and kneeled down.

“Oh, God, Laws! Jesus Christ, what did he do to you?!! What did that son of a bitch do to you?!!” he said to the dead dog. He was now crying. He then looked over at Kaleb, who lay motionlessly ten feet away.

“No, Kaleb, baby, not you too!” Dan moaned as he moved to the dog’s side, placing his hand on his head, stroking it. A few seconds later, Kaleb’s eyes popped open and he immediately hopped up and began barking as he turned in every direction, still in a daze, perhaps thinking the cougar was still there.

“Kaleb, you okay, boy?!” Dan elated. “Come ‘ere, boy, come ‘ere!”

The Pit-bull began to lick Dan’s hands as he pet him. The dog then tracked through the giant pool of blood, where his dead brother lay. He sniffed Lawsuit’s remains then gently tugged at what was left of his blood soaked spiked collar. But of course, he did not move.

Faye quickly got dressed and flew out the back door, running toward the barn. As soon as she saw Lawsuit, she turned and put her hand on the barn door and began to cry. Then Dan walked over and put his hands on her shoulders then turned her around and hugged her.

“That son of a bitch tried for Solomon and it looks like he got a piece of him too, GOD DAMN IT!!!” Dan shouted as he looked at the blood-splattered stall.

“I’ve got to go find him.” He told Faye as Kaleb stood at his feet.

“In the dark?”

“Well, he could be bleeding to death, if the poor fellow isn’t dead already.”

“But what about the cougar?” she said, continuing to cry.

“I’ll have a 30-06 and a Pit-bull for company.”

“But…” Faye said, looking over at Lawsuits bloody carcass “Oh, never mind, just be careful.”

“Don’t worry, Punkin, I’m gonna call Russ and have him meet me in the south pasture.. If Sol’s still alive, that’s where he’ll be. “Come on, baby, let’s go in.”

Faye went into the bedroom as Dan picked up the phone. Russ was sitting on his sofa removing his boots when the phone rang. He then looked over at the wall clock- one thirty- “Who in the hell could that be?” he mumbled.

“Yeah.” He said as he answered it.

“Russ… Dan.”

“Dan. What the…?

“That fuckin’ cat just hit my barn. He killed one of my Pits and Solomon’s off somewhere bleeding to death!”

“Oh, Jeeeesus!” Russ said as he put his hand in his face.

“I need you to meet me down at gate three. It’s the one just east of Masterson Butte. Do you…?”

“Yeah… Yeah, I’ll get there. Gimme a half hour, okay?”

“You got it. Thanks, buddy.”

Dan left fifteen minutes later in his Ford pickup with a horse trailer hitched to the back. Kaleb rode in the back of the truck sniffing the breeze as if trying to pick up the scent of the demon that killed his brother. As Dan neared the gate three he could see headlights in the distance down the dirt road that lined the south edge of his property. “Russ” he thought. Three minutes later, Russ shut down the Dodge’s big block engine and got out. Then Kaleb, recognizing him, jumped from the back of Dan’s truck and ran to Russ.

“Good boy! Fine boy!” he said as he took the dog’s head in his hands.

“I’m sorry, man.” Russ then said, offering his hand to Dan.

“What I saw jump out of that stall makes me want to pack the fuck up and move to Rhode Island.” Dan said with a blank look on his face.

“I need you here. Let’s go find the horse.” Russ said compassionately.

“You brought your spotlight, I trust.”

“Got it.” Dan said as he opened the gate. “Just follow me. You shine left and I’ll shine right.”

“Gotcha.”

After nearly two hours, Russ finally spotted Solomon hunched down in a gully just off the roadside. He laid on his horn and quickly got out of his truck. Dan followed suit and rushed to the injured horse’s side. “Easy boy, easy.” Dan said, kneeling beside the stallion. They managed to get him up and into the trailer. When they got back, Dan called Dr. Norman Carlson.

 

“… But Kaleb and Laws got their licks in, by God.” Dan said sipping his coffee as Faye fixed their breakfast.

“And I saw a couple of chunks of tawny fur on the floor of the barn.”

“How’s it look for Solomon?” Russ asked.

“I’m not sure. I’ve got axle grease all over his wounds. I’m hoping that’ll shore up the bleeding ‘till the doc gets here.”

“How long?”

“Well, he’s gotta come clear from Pueblo, so I figure about the time we finish chow.” Dan said, sipping his coffee again and squeezing his cup nearly tight enough to break it. “The motherfucker really slashed him a couple of good ones God damn it!” he shouted as he slammed his cup down, this time breaking it and spilling coffee all over the table.

“Dan, please stop!” Faye said.

“Take it easy, buddy, it’s only a horse. At least it’s not your wife.” Russ said quietly, making sure Faye didn’t hear him.

“Yeah.” Dan said, settling down, looking at Russ.

 

“That’s 650 stitches.” A bloody Dr. Carlson said as he stood up. “And I ought to charge you double for wiping off all that damned axle grease.”

“Sorry, Norm, it was all I could think of to do.” Dan said.

“Yeah, well, it did slow up the bleeding a little, I guess… anyway I’m gonna shoot him up with some pretty heavy antibiotics, so he’ll be under the weather for a while.” Norm told him.

“Yeah, I understand. I’ll take good care of him.”

“Well, do you want me to tell you what this cost now or shall I bill you?”

“Do the latter if you don’t mind. I’m already pissed off enough. Okay?”

“Will do. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna head home and see if I can salvage what’s left of my Sunday.”

“You wanna shower up while you’re here? It’s not a problem.”

“No, thanks, Dan. I’ll be all right.”

“Thanks for coming out, doc. I’m glad you’re around.”
“Okay, but you’re not gonna like what I send you in the mail.”

“Yeah, I know. Why don’t you go home, Norm?”

After settling Solomon in his new stall, Dan and Russ returned to the house and sat down with two fresh cups of coffee.

“Are you ready to make the call?” Russ asked.

“Chase?” Dan said. Russ nodded. “I’ll do it first thing tomorrow,” Dan said, looking at Russ. “That’s all I need, more mega bucks. First the vet and now Chase Incorporated. And all because of some damned overgrown tomcat.”

“That’s not what it is, Dan. Don’t forget that.”

?

 

 

PART TWO

 

(1)

 

The cat lay licking his wounds in the corner of the very cave he was born in not three years earlier. The den was situated at about the eight-thousand-foot level of Greenhorn. He had been the smallest and most feeble of three kittens and suffered constant torment by his two siblings. It seemed his only purpose in life was to be something for them to chew on. But someday HE would do the chewing, he thought.

He tended to his shoulder injury first and it had already begun to heal. But his badly injured rear leg was a different story as he had made it back to the cave on the other three. However, this would also return to normal. But in the interim he would be forced to endure the terrible ache of hunger.

 

A five-hundred-page novel could be written about the town of Walsenville, Colorado, but I’ll spare you the agony. Let’s just say that this town about 5000 had sheltered more scandal and sleazy events in the last twenty years than your average town four times its size.

Raymond Radcliff had been the Huerfano County Sheriff since 1950 and when election time rolled around in 1955, Radcliff was a shoe in. This was mainly because he was the man responsible for the final elimination from society of Charles Bateman, the infamous roving serial murderer. But since then he had done little else but live on his reputation for that one event. But then, even though Walsenville did have its moments, it wasn’t exactly the murder capital of the country.

…And didn’t every self-respecting small town in America have a Western Auto? In the case of Walsenville, the owner of this franchise was one Elmer Stigwell. Elmer had been the proprietor here from 1947 to 1959, a full twelve years of selling hammers wretches and nuts and bolts in his beloved community. Then, in 1957 Elmer married a Walsenville girl of 32, seventeen years his junior. But they were what most of the people in town thought to be an “Ideal couple.” And ideal they might have been had Elmer not been engaging in anal penetration with his two step daughters, ages eight and eleven. When the eleven-year-old finally confessed this to her mother, she didn’t call the sheriff or anything else so outrageous. She simply waited for Elmer to fall asleep on the sofa one spring night in ’59, then proceeded to open his throat with a box cutter. After all the facts were considered at her trial, she was given a five-year sentence in a medium security institution for women near Colorado Springs. She was released after serving a year and a half.

Many of Walseville’s church goers attended the St. Katherine’s convent which was situated on a hillside just west of town. The mother superior of this Christian institution was the good Sister Rebecca, formerly of Pueblo’s Church of the Calvary Cross. The sister had three subordinates to help handle daily affairs at St. Katherine’s. And one of these was the most recent addition of the staff, Sister Melanie of Walsenville. But her newness was relative as she had been at St. Katherine’s for four years, since age 23.

Russ and Sheila Ransome had attended services at the convent since their arrival in Colorado in 1962. They almost never missed a Sunday until Sheila’s death two years later. And during this time, she and Sister Melanie had become fairly close friends, at least, as close as one could be to a nun. Because it wasn’t possible for Sheila and the sister to get together and do the things regular friends do – partying, barhopping etc. But as I’ve pointed out, Melanie was not an ordained nun until twenty-three years of age. It wasn’t until nearly all of her immediate family had virtually dropped dead around her either from natural causes or freak accidents in less than a two-year period by the time she was nineteen years old that she made the decision to dedicate her life to God. And now, her mother, the only surviving family member, was terminally ill.

And one could say that beneath her St. Katherine’s Convent garb, lay the ninth wonder of the world. But more about that later. 

 

 

(2)

 

“Hello, Chase.” Damon Youngblood barked as he picked up the phone.

“And a good morning to you too, sir.” Dan replied. “My name is Dan Rawlins, I’ve got a spread down here in Custer County.”

“Yes, Mr. Rawlins. What can I do for you?”
“We’ve been having some trouble with a mountain lion. He’s been killing cattle… among other things.”

“Well, that’s happened before. It’s part of the ball game for you guys.”

“Yeah, well, the sooner the ball game’s over, the better.”

“You said “among other things”- for example.” Youngblood asked.

“The son of a bitch hit my barn the other night and mangled my horse and killed one of my dogs. And I haven’t gotten the bill from the vet yet. I hope I don’t have to sell my place to pay for him. And my two neighbors have lost three head of beef to the sucker.”

“Sounds like a bad boy. Have you tried posting men on your ranges at night?”

“Yes, with predictable results. And that can get expensive too.”

“Right.” Youngblood said, then thought for a moment. “Well, Mr. Rawlins I’ve seen it before where these cats will take a few head in a certain area for a while then disappear. Why don’t you…?”

“Sorry, not good enough. I called you people because I heard you had a pretty good track record for getting these animals. And I don’t know squat about going after predators. I’m just John Q. Rancher. So, what I want to know is – Will you help me?”

“Yes, I can but it’ll be two weeks before I can put anybody on it. All my help’s tied up right now on other matters. And bear one thing in mind, Mr. Rawlins. I’m not cheap either.”

“Yeah, I heard.” Dan said, expecting to hear this.

“What you need to do is come up here and sit down with me so I can tell you everything that’s involved and we can work up a contract.”

“How ‘bout after lunch Wednesday. You know where I am?”

“Yeah.” Dan said. “See you in a couple of days.”

“Right.” Youngblood said. They hung up.

When Damon Youngblood took over Chase Incorporated from his father ten years ago, it was a far more respectable organization. If Harlan Youngblood knew of the unsavory tactics now being used by the company, he would turn triple back flips in his coffin. These tactics applied not only to Damon’s M.O. but his sometimes, questionable ways of collecting for his work. His “crew” could more accurately be called “muscle.” He didn’t screen any one before hiring them, and as a result, half of his men were ex-cons. But it didn’t matter, as long as they could ride and shoot. His foreman, Billy Konklin, was a prize example. Billy had done twelve years at Canon City for second degree murder. He had killed a man in a traffic dispute by pulling him out of his car at a stoplight and landing one fatal blow to his jaw. He was spared a first-degree murder charge because, according to witnesses, the man in the car called Billy a “motherfucker” at a high volume. But Damon liked Billy’s talent for getting the job done. And at six feet-six inches tall and 285 pounds, few people, Chase employees or anybody else, gave Konklin a hard time.

Russ had just come in from a long day of fence mending and was about to sit down with a large glass of tea when, of course, the phone rang.

“Yeah.” He said forcefully as he sat down in his easy chair, stroking his hair.

“Hello, Russell.” Dan said.

“Russell, I like that. How’s our favorite black stallion doing?”

“Still groggy. He’ll probably be that way a while. Thanks for asking.”

“No problem.”

“I called Chase.” Dan continued after a moment of silence.

“Oh, wud you find out?”

“We’ve got an appointment up there Wednesday.”

“What time?”

“About one. I’ll pick you up around nine. Maybe we can get breakfast on the way up. What say?”

“I’ll be waiting out front.”

“Okay, nine Wednesday, then.” Dan confirmed.

“You got it. Tell Faye ”Gomer says hey.”

“Right. Later.”

 

 

(3)

 

“Dan Rawlins and Russ Ransome to see Mr. Youngblood.” Dan told the secretary as they stood before her. They had just made it on time for their appointment. The Chase main office was located in downtown Denver and it had taken them a while to park.

“Yes, sir. Please have a seat,” Shelby the secretary said as she flipped through her appointment book.

“Let ‘em through.” Youngblood said in a businesslike tone.

Shelby was a shapely twenty-five-year-old brunette and was eight months pregnant. She smiled at Russ giving him the “once over” as they walked through. Some months ago, she had had an affair, if you want to call it that, with Eddie Mitchell, a Chase employee and Billy Konklin subordinate. Once, after completing a job with Billy, Eddie showed up at the Chase office to pick up his paycheck. Youngblood was gone for the day and Shelby was about to lock up and leave and asked Eddie to come back the following day. He said he would as he pushed her back toward her desk, then onto her back. He pulled her panties down just enough to expose her. She put her hands over herself, but it was too little, too late. She called him a few weeks later in tears and told him the news. “It’s your baby.” Was all Eddie said.

As they entered Youngblood’s office, Dan introduced Russ and the men shook hands and sat down.

“So you’re a victim of this rouge cat too I gather. Aye, Russ?” Damon asked.

“Yes, sir.” Russ replied, staring at Youngblood, trying to size him up. Damon stared back as if he knew what Russ was doing.

“All right, gentleman, I’d like to ask you one question before we proceed any further.”

“I’m intrigued. What is it?” Russ said, still staring. Youngblood could tell by now that as he and Russ met it wasn’t exactly love at first sight.

“Have you contacted anyone else on this matter before calling us?” Russ and Dan looked at each other cautiously. They weren’t sure why Youngblood wanted to know this nor were they sure they should answer. “Well… we.” Dan started to say.

“The Indian.” Russ then said, somehow sensing what Youngblood was fishing for.

“Uh-huh. Wolfpaw, right? And what did he tell you?”

“That this cat weighs in at two twenty-five or better, and that he wasn’t gonna quit.”

“There is no 225-pound cougar.” Damon countered.

“If you say so.” Russ said back, still staring.

“All right gentlemen.” Damon said as he leaned forward over his desk.

“I’ll tell you a little something about Wolfpaw. He exaggerates like hell just to make himself look like a big man. Everybody knows this.”

“Everybody? That’s a lot of folks.” Russ said.

“Well, everybody in this business is what I meant to say, Mr. Ransome.” Youngblood said, now certain that Russ didn’t like him.

“Well, nevermind Wolfpaw for a moment if we could.” Dan interrupted.

“Why don’t you tell us a little bit about how you plan to go about this thing, how much it’s gonna cost, when you can get started and so on.”
“Brass tacks, I gotcha.” Damon said. “Okay, let me open by saying one thing. We’re not known for our sentimentality.”

“Meaning?” said Russ.

“Meaning, Mr. Ransome, now dispensing with the first name basis with Russ, “that we’ll use traps, dogs, guns and even poison or anything else it takes to get the motherfucker. Plain enough?”

“Poison. Sounds cruel.” Russ said.

“Well, what this cat has done so far sounds a little on the cruel side.” Damon said.

“And we’ll even pop him out of a tree if it comes to that.”

“Sounds like a pitiful end to a rough road, doesn’t it?” Dan said.

“Well, it’s like the fella said, Dan, it’s not how you play the game, it’s whether or not you win or lose. Get my drift?”

“Yeah, I guess.” Dan replied, reluctantly.

“And I won’t feel any worse about killing the bastard than I would stepping on a rat.” Youngblood added.

After pondering what Youngblood said for a moment, Russ looked at Dan then back at Damon.

“And what if you get the wrong animal?”

“We’ll get the right one.” Youngblood replied immediately.

“But if you don’t?” Russ insisted.

“Then the one we get’ll have to do.”

“And you’re gonna charge us mega-bucks for that shit?” Russ said as he stood up and looked out the window at the Denver skyline.

“I wouldn’t worry about it Mr. Ransome. Nine times out of ten there’s only one of these things going astray in any one general area.”

“Nine times out of ten.” Dan said with an uncertain look on his face.

“Yes, sir.” Damon said. “I’m afraid that’s it. You can take it or leave it. So, shall I work up something for you to sign so we can get started? And I hope you brought your checkbooks.”

Thirty minutes later Russ and Dan signed the dotted line.

 

“Ten thousand goddam dollars and half of it up front. Can ya beat that with a friggin stick?” Russ said as they drove south on I-25 toward home.

“We could ask Jim Cochoran to pitch in.” Dan suggested.

“We should have asked him before we came up here.”

“Would it have made any difference if he refused?”

“No, I guess not.” Russ conceded.

“And look, buddy. Once these guys do their job, it’s over and we can all relax. Howzat sound?” Dan said, nudging Russ’ shoulder.

“Yeah. “he said, his voice lacking enthusiasm.

“Say, I meant to ask you about your date the other night, but I had other things to think about at the time.” Dan said.

“You sure did.” Said Russ, shaking his head. “But it was okay, Molly’s a good kid. I like her. And she feels good.”

“It must have been better than I thought.” Dan said, smiling.

“Well, no, I didn’t get laid or anything but we watched TV and rolled around on the couch a little, you know.”

“Yeah, sounds good, man. Say, why don’t you give her a call sometime this week and see if she wants to get together with Faye and me and we could all go eat somewhere. How ‘bout it?”

“Yeah, I supposed I could.” Russ shrugged his shoulders and said.

“It’s gonna be two weeks before Youngblood gets off his ass anyway.” Dan continued.

When Dan dropped him off, it was after seven and starting to get dark. Russ flopped down on his sofa and instantly fell asleep. He didn’t wake up until 5:00 AM.

Things were peaceful for the next three days in the San Isabel valley- no storms- no earthquakes- no nuclear attacks- no mountain lions. Then, as Russ was fixing dinner Thursday evening, Dan called.

“Hey, Russ, buddy. What’s up?” he said, robustly.

“Oh, just trying to catch up on some work, mainly fence mending.”

“Oh, yeah, ain’t that a blast?”

“If it’s such a blast, I’ll let you handle it from now on.”

“Perhaps I used the wrong word.”

“Not if “blast” means “pain in the ass.”

“Well, it sort of does.” Dan said, and they laughed.

“But getting to the reason I called. Faye and I were considering going into town tomorrow night for some eats and drinks and whatever else we can scare up.”

“What town?”

“We’ll find one.” Dan said, “And I also figured you could call your gal from the Upfront and see if she wants to go.”

“What else did you figure?” Russ asked.

“That we could try and forget some of the bad shit going on in our lives.”

“Yeah, I could dig that. I’ll call Molly and see what she says. I’ll get back to you before bed time. Okay?”

“Right, I’ll wait for your call.”

 

 

“Hey, It’s me.” Russ said as Molly answered.

“Russ, hi! I thought I’d hear from you before now.”

“Yeah, I’m sorry but there’ve been a few problems around here.”

“Oh, yeah. You were gonna tell me about that.” She said.

“We’ve been having trouble with a mountain lion for the past few weeks and he hit my friend Dan’s barn last week about the time we were having that nice chili dinner.”

“My God. What happened?!”

“Well, as it turned out, the cat tore up Dan’s horse pretty badly and killed one of his Pit-bulls.”

“Oh no. That’s horrible.” Molly sympathized. “Dan, is that the guy who was with you when…?”

“Yeah, he and his wife Faye were with me at the Upfront the night I met you. In fact, I was just talking to him and he wanted us to join them for dinner tomorrow night.”

‘Oh, really. Where?”

“Somewhere in Pueblo, I think. I’m not even sure HE knows yet. But we can swing by and get you if you’re game.”

“I’m game.” She said. “I don’t have to work again till Sunday.”

“Cool, I’ll call you tomorrow afternoon and set a time.”

“Okay.” She said, softly and they talked for the next two hours. Then he called Dan.

?

(4)

 

“Hello, Billy.” Damon Youngblood said, talking to Billy Konklin.

“Yeah, boss.”

“I’ve got another job for you when you finish that Gunnison deal.”

“10-4, boss. I’m comin’ down off Kebler Pass, headin’ for home.”

“Roger. How’d it go?”

“Well, we got rid of what was left of that pack of coyotes this morning. I don’t think they’ll see ‘em again anywhere near the McRory place.” Billy informed Damon.

“Good work. See you in a few hours.”

“10-4, boss, out.”

 

 

(5)

 

The atmosphere in Enrique’s was reminiscent of that of the Upfront Steakhouse as the four of them were seated in the main dining room by the headwaiter and his assistant.

“Will this be satisfactory, sir?” Stanley, the headwaiter asked Dan.

“You bet.”

“I’ll return momentarily for your beverage orders.”

“Yeah, do that. We need a few minutes.” Dan told Stanley.

“Fine, sir.” Stanley said as he retreated.

“Return momentarily” dig that.” Dan said to Russ, mocking Stanley.

“Danny, you’re not gonna be a turd tonight, are you?” Faye asked him.

“No, but I’m gonna manufacture one.”

Faye shook her head as Molly and Russ laughed.

“Only the best tonight, Buddy.” Dan told Russ.

“Yeah, not a bad looking establishment.” Russ commented.

“Establishment” Is that one too heavy for you?” Faye asked Dan.

“Okay, I get the picture.” He said.

“Say, Russ boy, why don’t you accompany me over to the salad bar. It’ll give the girls a chance to talk about us.”

“Lead the way.” Russ said as he got up.

“Accompany?” Dan said to Faye and winked. The girls laughed.

“Those are some nice salad components over there.” Dan told them as he and Russ returned to the table. “Go for it.” They did. 

They were half way through their salads when Ashton, Stanley’s subordinate came for their drink orders and gave them their menus.

“And you, sir?” Ashton said to Dan, taking his order last.

“Yes, quite, I’ll have a 151 Rum with just a splash of lemon garnish.”

“Dan!” Faye snapped.

“Sorry.” Dan said, looking at Ashton.

“Not at all, sir.” He went for their drinks.

“Can you imagine the things Stanley and Ashton must say about us when they’re in the kitchen?”

“Could you BLAME them?” Faye asked him.

As it turned out, Dan polished off two 151’s before they ordered dinner. And as they conversed, some soft music began to come over the speakers.

“Sounds like a church song.” Russ said.

“So?” Molly asked.

“Oh, I wasn’t complaining, I just…”

“Oh yeah, that’s one of my old Quaker favorites.” Dan said. “I got her with her bonnet on.” He said and laughed heartily. So did Russ.

“We could probably scare up a couple of better dates than what we have here. What say?” Faye asked Molly.

“Okay, sorry. I’ll shut up now. That’s a guaranteed promise.”

“It’d better be.” Faye told him. “And remember, I’ve got the keys.”

“Yes ‘um.”

Stanley then returned to take their dinner orders as Ashton placed their waters.

“Yes, ma’am.” Stanley asked Faye as she appeared to him to be the eldest of the two ladies. Stanley also took Dan’s order last. “Sir.”

“Watch it.” Faye said in a low voice, poking him in the ribs. Startled, Dan straightened up in his chair.

“Oh yeah, uh, gimme the broiled salmon with mashed potatoes and some of those nice veggies.”

“Yes, sir. It shant be long.” Stanley said, then collected their menus and headed for the kitchen.

“Shant?” Molly said, then giggled. She was now on her second bourbon. The rest of them followed with laughter, delighted that she had finally participated in the folly.

The topics of conversation during dinner ranged from Molly’s job to Chase Incorporated.

“So, how long would it take to lose ten thousand dollars worth of cattle?” Molly asked after being told what Chase was charging for their services.

“I mean, regarding this animal that’s molesting your stock, you could just chalk it up to show biz.”

Faye then looked at Dan as if Molly had a point.

“Oh, we’re gonna show that cat “show biz” trust me.” Russ then said looking a little frustrated.

“You got it!” Dan said sharply.

“I’m sorry, Russ, I didn’t mean to upset you.” Molly said.

“Yeah, I know hon. It’s okay.” He said, stroking her cheek.

“It’s just that you never know what the bastard’s gonna do next. He could go after somebody’s kid.” Dan said.

“Oh…. Yeah.” Molly then said.

“It’s all about reality, aye Russ?” Dan said.

“Yeah, I guess.”

“Well how did you arrive at that, Einstein?” Faye contributed. “And exactly how would YOU define “reality” besides Bacardi 151?”

“It’s where the crosshairs meet.” Dan said, giving her a piercing stare.

“Not bad.” Russ said, holding up his glass in a toast.

The foursome parted in the parking lot of Enrique’s as they had decided to come in separate vehicles.

“I thought it was funny the way Dan was poking at the waiters.” Molly said to Russ as they pulled out onto U.S. 50 West. She was seated snuggly next to him on the Dodge pickup’s bench seat. “But I thought it would have been tacky if I’d laughed.” She added.

“Well, yeah, just because they had English accents.” He said.

It was a beautiful late summer night with stars to burn as Russ drove toward Molly’s place.

“Say, you wanna come out to my place for a while. It’s only nine. And I’ve got some cold beers.” He suggested.

“Oh, Russ, that’d be great.” She said. “How far is it?”

“’Bout a half hour.”

As they arrived at the gate, Plowboy ran aggressively up to meet them. His short tail wagged as he jumped and placed his forepaws atop the gate.

“My God, he’s huge!” Moly marveled.

“Yeah, 160 pounds worth.”

After they pulled in, Russ got out and shut the gate, patting Plowboy on the head. Then, they drove to the house, the dog following eagerly. As they walked up to the door, they kissed, then embraced for the next three minutes.

“C’mon in, dear.” He said.

“Thanks, dear.” She replied. They laughed.

“I prob’ly could’ve cleaned up a little bit more.”

“Oh, It’s no problem. It looks a lot better than the average single guy’s pad.” She said, then Russ looked quickly at her.

“Oh, I’m sorry, Russ.” She said, putting her hands to her mouth. “Faye told me about your wife.”

“What else did she tell you?”

“Only that she’d passed away. She didn’t say much else about it.”

“So, now you think I’m just some lonely widower trying to get laid, right?”

“You know that’s not true.” She said, walking away from him.

“Yes, I do, and I’m sorry for saying it.” He said as he followed her, then turned her around and hugged her.

“It’s okay, but I just feel bad about it.”

“Thanks, baby.” He consoled. “Come on, let’s see what’s on the tube.”

He turned on the television and they settled on the couch. The program in progress was an episode of “The Fugitive” which was in its final season. In this particular story, Dr. Kimble was, yet again, in the process of escaping the Keystone Cops, with the help, of course, of a beautiful girl who knew he was no more than a murderer than the man in the moon.

“Want some coffee?” Russ asked.

“Hey, sounds good. I think we’ve had enough alcohol for one evening.”

“Sit tight, I’ll make some. Right after I use the facility.”

“Okay” she said, laughing. While you’re doing that, I’ll make it. I can see the kitchen from here.”

“Okay, do you…?”

“I’ll find it.”

As Dr. Kimble was running through the woods to freedom, Molly got up and went to the kitchen. The coffee pot and Maxwellhouse were in plain sight. After putting it on, she began to explore the cabinets for cups. Locating them, she brought two down and placed them on the counter. Then, out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a half open drawer. As she walked over to it and was about to close it, she noticed something in it that looked like a picture frame. Before opening it she looked to see if Russ was coming. She then opened the drawer and pulled out the picture. It was Sheila. Stunned, she thought she was looking in a mirror. “My God” she thought. “I wonder if that’s why he…” Then, she heard the restroom door shut, and quickly put the picture back.

“Find everything?” Russ said as he returned.

“Yes.” She said, as she walked from the kitchen, crying.

“What the…?” Russ said, puzzled. He then followed her out and confronted her at the front door. “What’s going on?”

“I saw that picture in the kitchen drawer, so why don’t you just take me home?” Molly said as she continued to cry.

“I was going to tell you about that, but…”

“Yeah, sure you were.” She moaned. “Just take me ho…!” she said again as he spun her around then pulled her in and kissed her. She tried to turn her head but he was too quick for her as she pushed away and moaned for a few seconds and making a futile attempt to remove his arm from around her waist. And as she began to enjoy it, she became still and gently placed her hands on his shoulders. Sixty seconds later, he let up. She shook her head, then smiled.

“You sure know how to make a girl stop crying, don’t you?”

“We still aim to please.”

“Oh, you.” She said as she put her arms around his neck.
“Coffee done?” he asked.

“Another three minutes.”

They returned to the living room and snuggled on the couch.

“What happened to Doc Kimble?” he asked her.

“You’ll never believe it but I think he got away.”

“No shit?” he said and they laughed.

Later as they had coffee he began to think about explaining about Sheila and at the same time he was kicking himself in the ass for not simply shutting a drawer. The Sheila issue was something he didn’t wasn’t to discuss with Molly until much farther down the road. But in a way he was glad because at least now he could get it over with.

“Mind if I turn off the tube?” he asked her as the 11:00 news was wrapping up.

“Sure, I was going to suggest that myself.” She said as Russ put down his cup and got up.

“There we are, all gone.” Referring to the Tv, then came back to the sofa and embraced her.

“Thanks.” She said, hugging him back.

“That’s my wife Sheila in the drawer, I guess you’ve already put two and two together, huh?”

“Well, I just wondered if it has anything to do with us. I mean, I think we look a little bit alike. Don’t we?”

“It’d be a liar if said your resemblance didn’t have a little bit to do with things at first. But I don’t think it does now.”

“Well, I’m certainly glad to hear that.” Molly said, again starting to cry.

“Okay, Okay.” He said, pulling her close. “Say, you know what I was thinking?”

“God knows.” She said. They laughed again.

“That it’s a long haul back to your place.”

“And?”

“Well, it’s late.”

“Please go on.” She said, trying not to laugh.

“And you don’t work tomorrow. Right?”

“Uh-huh, keep truckin’.” She said and now they were both laughing.

A few seconds later the laughter subsided, then he said, “I don’t want you to go home tonight, Okay? So there you have it, plain English.”

“I didn’t want to go home anyway.”

The late show was in progress, another McQueen flick, “The Cincinnati Kid.” At this point, the kid was about to hop in the sack with Ann-Margret.

“She’s so pretty.” Molly said.

“Yeah, but then, so are you.” He told her.

“Thanks.” She said as she lay her head in his lap. “You like McQueen movies, don’t you?”

“He’s the man.” Russ said.

“I know, but you’re not bad yourself.”

“That’s what they tell me.”

“Who’s they?” she asked.

“I don’t know, just they.”

“Okay, I won’t push that issue any further.”

“You’re a peach.” He told her.

“That’s what they tell me.”

“Aw, shut up.” Russ said. She laughed.

Molly ended up falling asleep before the movie was over, but Russ watched the rest of it, then woke her.

“Hey, wake up, kid.” He said, as he gently shook her.

“Oh no. Did I…?”

“Yeah.” He said. You wanna retire?”

“I’m too young.” She said, yawning and stretching.

“Nevermind.” He said, as he lifted her to her feet.

As he led her to the guestroom, his main thought was that he didn’t want them to sleep in the same bed he and Sheila shared, even if it meant they had to sleep separately. The guest room was small and modest, but tidy.

“How do you like it?”

“Hey, it’s cute, just like you.”

When he returned ten minutes later, he was in his night clothes and she was beneath the covers. “C’mon in” she told him. He could see that she had thrown her red dress and under garments onto the bedroom chair. Her matching high heels lay on the floor beneath them. He sat on the edge of the bed and kissed her.

“I’ll be in the room at the end of the hall if you need me.”

“Okay, but you’re in this room now.” She said, almost regretting it.

He pulled back the covers and crawled in with her, seeing that she was nude. “Russ, I…” she said as his fingers entered her. She gasped as she grabbed his shoulders. In what seemed like no time he was between her world class legs.

“Oh my God, Ru… oh!” she again gasped as he achieved initial penetration. “Oh please, not too fast!” she pleaded, breathing heavily. But he continued. She let out a short, sharp scream as he became fully parked. Molly had three orgasms before Russ ejaculated, and as he did, she giggled and kicked wildly. Then one final orgasm wreaked her body as she moaned and gouged his back with her sharp nails.

“Oh, Jeeez, I never thought it could be that good again.” He said as he tried to recover.

“I never thought it could be that good at all.” She said.

As she began to fall asleep, he got up and walked through the house turning off lights and securing doors. Before he locked the front door, he walked out for a breath of air. He might have been standing there ten seconds before he heard the distant scream of the cat through the dense mountain fog. 

?

?

(6)

 

“… And Billy, listen, these guys don’t know shit from shine-ola about a damned puma. They were trying to sell me 225 pounds. Like hell. So just go bag us a big tom and let’s call it a day. Got it?”

“Okay, boss.” Konklin agreed. “I’ve got a few last minute details to take care of first, then I’m on it.”

Youngblood then called Dan Rawlins. “Hello, Mr. Rawlins, Damon Youngblood here.”

“Damon. How goes it?”

“Very well, thanks. And you?”

“Well, that depends on what you have to say.”

“Yes, sir, I know your meaning, and I have some good news. We’ve started the wheels turning on getting your situation resolved. My associate, a Mr. William Konklin and some of his men will be handling it, and they should be moving on it within three days. I hope things have been quiet down there lately.”

“Yeah… lately.” Dan said. “And Damon, while I’ve got you on the line, perhaps you can explain to me the attitude of the game commission on this kind of thing. I understand the ranchers have approached them with this problem and they get turned away with cold indifference.”

“That one’s easily explained, Dan.” Youngblood said. (Since Dan was calling him by his first name). “They figure that when a cat takes a head of beef, it’s a natural thing, an act of nature, if you understand me.”

“Where have I heard that before?” Dan thought, remembering Molly’s comment that night at Enrique’s.

“Okay, enough said. Then I guess a natural act of nature for me to put a stop to it.”

“I never thought about it that way. But perhaps.” Damon said.

“Then what good are they.” Dan asked, referring to the game wardens.

“Is pestering hunters all they’re good for?”

“You got me!” Damon replied, laughing. Not receiving any in return, he cleared his throat. But at any rate, I’ll be calling you back in about three days and I’ll keep you informed on our activities.”

“All right, Mr. Youngblood, and thank you for calling. I’ll fill Russ Ransome in on what you’ve told me.”

“Fine. And I hope this thing turns out to your liking.”

“Well, there’s only one way that can happen.”

“Got it. I’ll get back with you soon. Goodbye, sir.”

Dan hung up the bedroom phone and walked into the kitchen where Faye was preparing dinner.

“Who was that, hon?” she asked.

“Damon Youngblood from Chase Incorporated.” He said as he opened the refrigerator, pulling out a pitcher of tea.

“Wud he say?”

“It looks like they’re about to go after Sylvester.” Dan said as he iced a glass and poured his tea.

“You mean… the cougar?”
“Yes.” He said as he kissed her forehead, then sipped his tea. “I love you. Did you know that?”

“Yeah.” She said, and kissed his cold lips. 

 

(7)

 

Our cat poked his nose out of the den entrance. As he walked out slowly to the cliffs edge, he sat there for a few minutes checking out the scene. He had lost weight by now and was hungry as hell. It was also as good a time as any to test the leg. It had been some time now since his encounter with Pit-bull Inc. The time for convalescing was over. He made the climb to a small plateau eight hundred feet above the cave. Reaching it, he tried his first wind sprint. His acceleration was awesome as he reached an impressive forty miles per hour. “’Not bad” he thought, and tried another one. After a while he decided he was well enough to hunt. And it would have to be successful, as he would lose strength if he went too much longer without food.

 

“Hello” Molly said as she put down her hair dryer.

“Hey, it’s me.”

“Russ, hi… what’s?”

“We need to talk. Can I come see you later?”

“You know you can. I won’t be home till about ten thirty. All right?”

“Okay, I’ll see you then.”

“Russ, is…? Nevermind.” She said, uneasily.

“Bye.” He said, and hung up.

He got up from the sofa and was about to walk out the door when, you guessed it, the phone rang.

“Hello.”

“Yeah Russ, Dan.”

“Hey, Danny. What’s the good word?”

“I heard from Chase and they’re about to get moving on our thing.”

“Oh, okay. How long do you think it will be before we can be normal ranchers again?”

“Yeah.” Dan chuckled. “Nice thought, ain’t it?”

“So, when…?”

“Youngblood said he’d be starting operations in about three days.”

“Okay, thanks for calling. I’ve got some shit to tend to before dark.”

“Yeah I’m running behind myself, so I’ll let you go. Later, buddy.”

Russ went out the front door and down the steps to his Dodge pickup, in which his .308 Winchester and Tasco binoculars were now standard equipment. He whistled for Plowboy, who came running robustly across the front lawn. “Get in, boy!” he commanded. The huge dog bounded into the truck’s bed, wagging his short tail and looking simply delighted to see Russ.

He fired up the 440 Magnum and drove toward the base of Greenhorn. He would survey the entire two and a half miles of the mountain bordered his property. As he arrived, he could see that things looked normal on the range, as the cattle grazed peacefully.

 

The eight point buck drank from the cool mountain stream as the cat watched from above. Rather than go for an easy head of beef, he thought he would save the trip down below and try a deer to see what shape his leg was really in as the buck didn’t take a back seat to much of anything in the speed and moves department. As the cat moved down the slope, the deer continued to drink then looked up. The cat stopped and watched. The buck then began to dip his head as if to drink again as the cougar was now within twenty yards. The buck suddenly bolted diagonally up the slope. The cat darted from behind the granite boulder in straight line pursuit and quickly closed the gap. Then the buck quickly cut left toward the woods but the cat hung tough. When he got within ten feet of the deer, he leaped. When it was over, he dragged the carcass into a nearby clearing- and dined.

He ate nearly half of the 140 pounds buck then took a nice, long drink from the stream followed by a world class bowel movement before returning to his den where he would remain for one week.

?

?

(8)

 

Billy Konklin &Co. gathered at the south face of Greenhorn at 6:00 AM. This was the opposite side of the mountain from the ranches. They arrived in two four-wheel drive pickup trucks with as many teams of hunting dogs. The dogs were barking loudly as if looking forward to the coming event as Billy talked to his men.

“All right, we’re gonna divide up into two units, then head up the mountain. The trucks will be okay right here. I’ve arranged to have them brought to us on the other side later. I want everybody to have your radios on, but at low volume. I’ll be unit 1 leader and we’ll be headed northwest and up the mountain and finally down the other side in the direction of Masterson Butte. Bobby, you’ll be unit two leader. I want you to follow the base of the mountain toward the interstate. Whereever you are by dark, set up camp and wait till you hear from me. Eddie Mitchell has another unit on the other side near where Greenhorn borders Mr. Ransome’s property. When the time is right, I’ll signal them to move up the mountain. Then I’ll tell Bobby to do the same from his position. With any luck, one of them will scare something up and run him into the other unit. In the mean time, me and my boys are gonna check out a few caves down the western slopes where we’ve seen some cats holed up in the past. Okay, so any questions?”

“Yeah, boss.” Tommy Slater, a member of Bobby’s group said. “Could you repeat that?”

“Fuck you Tommy.” Konklin said quickly. “Let’s go to work.”

 

He wasn’t a bad looking specimen for a two year old cat, he was a good bit larger than your average puma in the region. And he really didn’t have a home to speak of. He would occupy any of several vacant caves at about the 6500 foot level of the southeastern slopes. And it was on this day that he would demonstrate his superiority over men and dogs. But no creature, large or small, could resist the deadly force of rifle bullets. As he heard the distant barking of Labrador Retrievers he began his climb. When he arrived at the next cave, before entering, he perched himself atop a massive granite boulder near its entrance

The expedition was now in its second day, and Bobby had just notified Eddie Mitchell, whose party was on Russ’ side of the mountain, that they were onto a large predator heading his way.

“The hounds are on his scent pretty good, so I’ll give you a shout when we get a better fix on his position, over.” Bobby transmitted to Eddie.

“Gotcha. We’re gonna start the climb, so keep an ear on that radio.”

“Roger.” Said Bobby.

“The name’s Eddie.”

“Funny guy.”

Billy and his men had left their camp at the northwest edge of Greenhorn and were about to join at the mountain’s northwestern face. The cat then picked up the scent of Bobby’s group. He let out a scream in frustration as he sprinted toward Greenhorn’s summit.

“Did you hear that?” Bobby relayed to Tommy Slater.

“How could I miss it?”

“He’s gonna go for the top. Let’s get on it!”

“Gotcha!” Tommy said.

Bobby radioed Eddie as they began their ascent. Eddie and his group were now climbing full tilt to the top of the mountain. The northwestern face of Greenhorn was particularly rugged and it would be tough going. After an hour of climbing, his group stopped for a breather and Eddie got on the radio.

“Unit three to unit one. Come in, Billy.”

“Go ahead.” Konklin replied.

“Did you get the fix on the cat?”

“Yeah. He’s headed toward the top in front of Bobby, Right?”

“10-4. We’re takin’ a break about two miles up the east side.”

“Okay, and listen, likely as not, the son of a bitch’ll probably think he’s home free as soon as he reaches the top, but I’m gonna take my group back to the trucks and head for the western tip of the mountain and I want you and Bobby to crowd him from the east and flush him down our way. Got it?”

“Yeah, boss, we’ll do our damnedest but it could take some time, this ain’t no mole hill.

“We’ll be waiting. Contact me when you break camp.” Billy ordered.

“10-4.”

As the cougar arrived at the loftiest den atop Greenhorn, he entered, and rested. The night would offer him a temporary reprieve from his pursuers.

 

“… So, you know why Liberace practices so much on the piano?” Bobby asked Tommy as they sat around the campfire with the rest of the group.

“I give up.” Tommy said.

“Cause he sucks on the organ.”

Jesse Freeman, who had just taken a sip of coffee, spewed it out all over his chop steak, laughing uncontrollably.

“Where the hell did you pick up that sick shit?” Tommy asked Bobby.

“From hangin’ around Konklin.”

“That’ll do it.” Jesse said.

“Unit two to unit three… Come in Eddie.” Said Bobby’s voice as the radio barked. As Eddie was sitting comfortably with a hot cup of coffee, he put it down and reached for his radio.

“Yes, Robert. How goes it on your side?”

“Everybody’s falling asleep except me. It’s been a tough day.”

“It was a picnic compared to tomorrow.” Eddie said.

“Don’t remind me. Say, if we’re gonna flush the cat back toward Billy, how far from here do we rendezvous?”

“Over at the cliffs. Then we’ll work our way toward the caves and flush him out, if he’s there.”

“If, brother, IF.” Bobby said with uncertainty.

“Yeah.” Eddie replied. “But hey, cat or no cat we get paid the same. Can you dig it?”

“Yeah, and I could dig it even more if I could collect my paycheck the way you did once last year.”

“Oh, you mean…?”

“Yeah, remember… the bosses secretary?”

“Go to sleep, Bobby.”

When dawn broke, the three parties were in full radio contact.

“Okay, get up there.” Billy Konklin barked.

As Bobby and Eddie’s teams broke camp, they headed for the top of Greenhorn, and when this day ended they would have something to tell their grandchildren.

 

By noon, both parties had reached the cliffs and they were at a location near the top of Greenhorn at about the 9500 foot level. At this point, Bobby radioed Billy.

“We’re close to the top, boss, and we’re gonna start movin’ down.”

“Okay, and remember, if you flush that cat, put your dogs on him full bore and don’t let up. I wanna see him down here before dark. And we’ll be workin’ our way up toward you. Got it?”

“Got it, boss.”

“Okay, let’s go get him.”

Around 2:00 PM units two and three stopped and rested.

“Beautiful up here, ain’t it?” Jesse Freeman said. “And what a view. Sorta makes you wish you could fly.”

“Yeah.” Raif Porter, one of Eddie’s men said. “How’d you like to be Superman for twenty-four hours?”

“Be great. I could sure set some shit a-right if I could be that motherfucker for a day.” Jesse said.

“Just make sure you’re not flyin’ at ten thousand feet when your time’s up.” Bobby said.

Twenty minutes later the two parties headed west, down the massive slopes of Greenhorn, toward “the cave.”

“Unit two to unit one. Come in boss.” Bobby transmitted.

“Go ahead.” Billy answered.

“Me and Eddie are headed your way.”

“Okay, we’ll start workin’ our way up.”

“10-4, out.”

As units two and three drew within a half mile of the cave, the Labs began to bellow.

“Okay, let’s look alive!” Bobby shouted. I think they picked ‘im up Eddie. Spread your boys out a little.”

“Yo!” Eddie complied.

Before they got within two hundred yards of the den, the cat was watching their every move. He exited the cave and climbed an adjacent boulder. He would retreat down the mountain in lieu of being cornered in a cave. At this point, his enemies were now only one hundred yards away. He bolted from the top of the granite boulder, and as he did, the dogs spotted him and barked insanely.

“There he is. Let’s go!” Bobby shouted. “Unit two to unit one. Come in, Billy!”

“Yeah. Whatcha got?!”

“We just flushed a good size cat and he’s headed down!”

“Okay, must be the one. Turn your dogs loose.”

Bobby released the hounds, and as he did, they sprinted toward the cave. The cougar was now on a collision course with Billy Konklin’s unit one and a classic confrontation. Bobby and Eddie kept up as well as they could, and the dogs widened the gap. Ten minutes later the puma scaled another boulder. At this point he could see Billy’s group in the distance. He then bolted down the north face of the mountain toward Russ’ ranch, but he was about to be flanked by unit two. Bobby knew from past experiences with these animals that, in this type situation, they usually head for lower ground. His dogs were now within two minutes of confronting the mountain lion. Eddie’s unit would soon follow. This particular part of Greenhorn was relatively devoid of large trees, should the cat have chosen that option to escape the hounds.

….. And as he turned, he now faced six of Bobby’s bellowing canines. He crouched down, his ears pinned back, and screamed loud enough to awaken the dead as the dogs barked loudly.

“You hear that, Eddie?” Bobby yelled over his radio.

“Yeah! On my way! Be careful!”

“Just get down here!”

“I’m on it!”

It was at this point that one of Bobby’s Labs got a little too brave and rushed the cougar and this was his last official act on earth as the cat seized him by the throat, tearing half of it away. The dog dropped like a rock.

“Aw shit, Hotshot!” Bobby yelled as he saw this as he and his men got within a hundred yards of the scene. Hotshot was the first of three canines that would die today.

As Hotshot hit the ground, one of the other Labrador Retrievers attacked the cat from the right, chomping down on his ear. The puma screamed in pain, then clamped down on the dog’s snout with his powerful jaws, crushing it. The Lab suffocated. A rifle bullet then ricocheted off a rock two feet to his left as Bobby’s party advanced. Jesse Freeman was now within fifty feet of the mountain lion with his 243 Winchester, but as he closed in on the cat, he tripped in a chuckhole and fell on his face, sending his rifle skipping across the ground. Like lightening, the puma was on Jesse’s back, sinking his teeth into his right shoulder and gouging his back with his sharp claws. Jesse screamed as Bobby’s 25-06 thundered. This time, the projectile clipped the cat’s left shoulder. The stunned animal charged down the mountainside, avoiding Eddie’s party and, like magic, disappeared into the rocks.

“Get after that motherfucker!” Bobby screamed at Eddie. “How the fuck could you let him get by you?!”

“I don’t know, Bobby, he just…!”

“Aw fuck it! Just get movin’! Unit 2 to unit 1, come in Billy!”

“Yeah! What goes?!” Billy shouted back.

“We had a damned good sized tom up here but he killed two of my dogs and took a healthy chunk out of Jesse’s back. And I managed to pop him a good one in the shoulder blade but he escaped down the mountain.

“Damn!!” Konklin said. “So the son of a bitch is injured and headed my way. Is that what you’re trying to say?!”

“Fraid so.” Bobby said.

“We’ll be ready. How bad’s Jesse?”

“Well.” Bobby said as he leaned over Jesse. “I think we’ve got the bleeding shored up pretty good, but…”

“We better get that goddamn cat or we’re gonna be in some deep shit with Youngblood. Get my drift?”

“Got it, boss.” Said Bobby.

Billy Konklin made contact with the Huerfano County Sheriff who sent a helicopter to Greenhorn and Jesse Freeman was transported to County Hospital in Pueblo where he would recover.

The cat was now crouched amidst a cluster of yucca plants about a mile from the confrontation nursing his bullet wound. And as he did this, Billy Konklin and Co. moved up the mountain. Eddie and unit three advanced down from the other direction. Then, as the cougar heard Eddie’s group growing closer, he continued down the grade.

…. And as he faced Billy’s dogs, he somehow knew that his life was about to end. He wouldn’t wait for the lead dog to jump him. He charged in with demonic speed and clamped his powerful jaws fully around the hounds head, crushing it with a nauseating crack. And after the loud report of Billy Konklin’s 7mm Remington magnum, the cat was dead. Billy approached and looked down. Before him lay 171 pounds of magnificently muscled Colorado mountain lion. Billy Konklin was not known for his sentimentality as he kneeled by the cat, stroking his head.

“My God, he’s beautiful.” He said, almost tenderly.

“And look at the size of him.” Bobby added.

 

…. And 1500 feet above them, beyond Greenhorn’s treeline, another feline carnivore watched the action…

?

?

(9)

 

“So, it only took two days to make ten thousand. Is that the deal?” Dan Rawlins asked Damon Youngblood.

“Yes, sir, but we’ve got your cat. And you shouldn’t have any more trouble.”

“All right.” Dan said in a doubtful tone. “But I’ll need confirmation on that and I’ll notify Russ Ransome.

“Fine, sir, and we’ll be happy to deliver the carcass to you personally.”

“Sounds good. Let me talk to Russ and I’ll get back to you.”

As Dan hung up, he immediately dialed Russ. The phone rang five times.

“Yeah.” Said Russ.

“They got us a cat.” Dan told him.

“No shit. That didn’t take long, did it?”

“Yeah, I know, it surprised me too. And I’ve got my doubts. Remember our little chat with Youngblood?”

“…. Yeah.”

“And he said he’s gonna deliver the carcass right to my doorstep.”

“Not bad. I wonder why he called you and not me?”

“Because he doesn’t like you, Russ.”

“Picked up on that, did you?”

“I picked up on it.”

“Well, the feeling’s mutual.”

“I picked up on that too.” Dan said. They laughed. When the laughter subsided, there was a lull in the conversation.

“Say…. Dan?”

“Yeah, man.”

“Just in case they got the wrong animal, I’m gonna try to get Wolfpaw over to your place when they make the delivery.”

“You think you can swing it?”

“I’m gonna try. I’d hate to think we blew ten grand on anything but the real McCoy.

“Gotcha. And I’ll call you after I get back to Youngblood.”

“Good. Then I’ll drive up and talk to the Indian.”

The next day, Youngblood called Dan and notified him of his time of arrival. Dan called Russ.

“I just talked to Chase Inc. and Youngblood says he and his foreman have got the cat on ice and they’re bringing him over here day after tomorrow.”

“Okay. I’ll drive up to see the Ute.”

“Well, good luck. And listen, if you get back early enough, I’ve got an idea along the lines of something we can do tomorrow night.”

“Meaning?”

“Well, let’s just say… a little adult entertainment.”

“You’re shittin’ me.”

“Not a bit.”

“Well, okay. I’ll bark at you when I get back from the Indian’s.”

“Cool. And once again, good luck.”

“Thanks.”

 

Sister Melanie took the overland bus to her other job at the Sin-agogue Burlesque house in Pueblo. “Burlesque house” was a somewhat fancier name for the place than it deserved and it was Pueblo’s one and only strip joint. It was hard to believe that a town of Pueblo’s size could possess such an establishment but it did. But perhaps no harder to believe than a Catholic nun becoming a nude dancer. And it was here that the good sister was known as “Big Mel,” the biggest nude attraction south of Denver. She did a total of four shows every Friday and Saturday nights. She had been doing this for the past two years and often wondered how she had gotten away with it for so long without at least one person recognizing her. And even though her garb at Saint Katherine’s Convent differed somewhat than what she sported at the Sinagogue, her luck was about to run out.

About the time the Sister boarded the bus for Pueblo, Russ was pulling up to Wolfpaw’s cabin. Before he got out of his truck, he could see the Indian on his porch. He got out and walked toward him.

“What problem now?” said the Ute.”

“I thought you’d never ask.” Russ said. “That Chase outfit from Denver bagged us a big lion.”

“They get the right one?” Wolfpaw asked with a doubtful look.

“That’s why I’m here. They’re bringing the carcass to Dan Rawlins ranch in a couple of days and I’d like you to be there to take a look.”

The Ute then turned and began to walk back inside.

“Hey, listen, I could use your help on this. It’s important to the welfare of a lot of ranchers.”

“And what about Wolfpaw welfare? You give me fifty more dollars, white man?” he said, sarcastically.

“All right. What do I have to do to get you to come?” The Indian looked at Russ for a moment.

“Wolfpaw think he come for curiosity. Bet they got wrong painter.”

“Then I’ll be here early day after tomorrow morning.”

“Wolfpaw be on pins and needles waiting for you.”

 

“Wud Wolfpaw say?” was the first thing Dan said to Russ as he climbed into Dan’s LTD.

“And a good evening to you, too, Daniel.” Russ countered.

“Oh, sorry, old boy.” Dan said. “I was just eager to know.”

“I’ll have him at your place Sunday morning, and those Chase bastards better show up because that Indian won’t go for this shit twice in a row.”

“I think they’ll make it. If they want the rest of their money.”

“Well, we’ll se. Where’s this place we’re goin’ anyway?”

“It’s a strip joint, man. Complete with nude dancers and the whole deal.”

“A strip joint? How in the hell did you clear that with Faye?”

“Didn’t have to. I just told her we were going for drinks, which is true.”

“That’s splitting hairs a little, isn’t it?”

“Maybe. But what would you tell Molly?”

“Nothing. I don’t have to. We’re not married. Remember?”

“Yeah.”

As they approached the western outskirts of Pueblo, about seven, the traffic began to increase and Russ could see that this was the “skid row” section of the city. As they proceeded eastward, they passed the first of Pueblo’s brothels. This one, called “Head-quarters” was the oldest.

“Hey, great part of town. I can see this is gonna be a fun night.” Russ said as he reached over and gave Dan a pat on the shoulder.

“Hang in, pal. We ain’t there yet.”

“Thank God.”

The sinogogue was at midtown and Dan could see that parking was going to be a problem. They finally located a spot about a block and a half away.

“Well, maybe it’ll be here when we get back and maybe it won’t.” Dan said, referring to his station wagon.

“Yeah, I’d like to hear it if you had to call Faye to come get us.”

The one aspect of the Sinagogue of which Dan and Russ were unaware, was its charming capacity for an inordinate number of brawls. Those confrontations usually began between two or more inebriated gentlemen over their favorite stripper.

Upon entering, an act was in progress. She was a short, Indian girl with the expected physical attributes. As they took a seat near the circular stage, Dan noticed something printed on her panties, “99 cents.”

“Say, dig what it says on the squaw’s panty. Wudda ya figure that means?”

“She’s always under a buck. What else?” Russ surmised.

“You sick turd.” Dan said as he laughed loud enough for customers at surrounding tables to hear.

When 99 Cents finished her act, she drew loud applause as she hopped off the stage and disappeared. It would be twenty minutes before the next show and at this point, a cocktail waitress stood before them. Her name was Heidi.

“Hi, gents. What’ll it be?”

“Age before beauty.” Russ told Dan. Heidi chuckled.

“Very funny.” Dan countered. “A Jim Beam and Coke.”

“Fine, and you, sir?”

“Make it a Vodka and cranberry.”

“Gotcha, be right back.” She said, and walked away with a sexy strut.

Three minutes later their drinks were delivered and not sixty seconds later, the first incident occurred. And this one was not initiated over a stripper, but because two shitfaced customers had made some off-color comments about a man’s wife. The man in question had just gotten up and flattened one of the fatmouths and was about to do the same to the other when he was restrained by bouncers.

“Here we go.” Dan said as he and Russ observed the confrontation with interest. The bouncers escorted the two perpetrators outside.

They sat and sipped their drinks and talked, mostly about the situation at their ranches. It was now 9:00 and the second show was about to start as the lights began to illuminate the stage. And when the music began, Sister Melanie mounted the stage and started her routine. The opening number was “Fire” by “The Ohio Players.” Big Mel immediately dropped her tiny nonexistent bra and her super grade breasts began to twirl.

“Holy shit, would you look at that?!” Dan said.

“Yeah.” Russ said as he watched Big Mel, concentrating more on her face than her other physical attributes.

“God ought to be arrested for giving any woman a body like THAT.” Dan then said. Russ continued to study Melanie’s face, not replying to Dan’s comment.”

“You hear me, Russ?”

“Huh… oh… yeah.”

“What’s wrong, man? You okay?”

“Yeah, fine.”

The good Sister was completely nude, with the exception of the tassels attached to her nipples, as she pranced around the edge of the circular stage. Then, as “Fire” concluded, “Brick House” first recorded by The Commodores began to come over the magnificent sound system. The tassels flung provocatively as she did her routine. The table situated nearest the stage was occupied by a group of young men, and they howled enthusiastically. Then, as “Brick House” wound to a close and Melanie was about to exit the stage, Heidi again appeared before Dan and Russ.

“Ready for another one?” she asked them.

“Sure. How ‘bout you, Russell?”

“Why not.” Russ said after a two second hesitation. He was still looking at Melanie. “And listen, sweetheart,” he said to Heidi, “Why don’t you have Big Mel there come have a drink with me?”

“Yes SIR.” She said, delighted, and walked away briskly.

“What the hell are you up to?!” Dan asked him.

“It’s not what you think.” Russ told him.

“What do I think?”

“Yeah.” Russ said, snickering.

They watched as Heidi talked to Melanie. This conversation was somewhat longer than expected.

“Maybe she’s not thirsty.” Dan surmised.

“Then I’ll go back stage if I have to.” Russ said, firmly.

“What the hell’s goin’ on, man?!”

“I’ll tell you later, but do me a favor, huh. I need to speak to her in private. Okay?”

“Man, this is getting better all the time!” Dan said, with interest.

“Here she comes. Take a walk, okay?” Russ urged.

“Yeah, I’ll go outside for a smoke.”

“Hi,” Melanie said as she approached the table.

“Hello, Sister.” Russ replied. Her eyes widened as she put her hands over her mouth. “Would you like a drink?” he asked her.

“Oh, thanks for asking, but no. Do… you know me?”

“Yes, I do. From St. Katherine’s in Walsenville.”

“Oh, dear God.” She said.

 

 

“Brick House” Copyright – 1977

*”Fire” Copyright 1975

 

 

“Have a seat.”

“Okay, but I’ve got another show soon.” She told him. She was now wearing a T-shirt.”

“I’m Russ Ransome. My wife Sheila and I used to attend services at St. Katherine’s.”

“Oh yes, I remember now.”

“How long have you been doing this?” he asked her.

“Quite a while, now.” She said, sounding ashamed. “I should have known I couldn’t get away with it forever.” She was crying.

“And what I’d really like to know is, WHY are you doing it?”

“Because my mother is dying of cancer and she can’t pay her hospital bills, and I can’t help her much on that pittance I get at the church.” She said, sobbing.

“Take it easy, Sister. I’m on your side.” He consoled.

“I’m sorry.” She said, trying to calm herself.

“I’d like to give you a ride back but I’ve got a friend with me.” Russ offered.

“Oh, thanks. I’ll get the bus. And please, Mr. Ransome, please don’t…”

“Your secret’s safe with me.” He assured her.

“Oh, thank you!” Melanie said as they both got up and she hugged him.

Her shapely breasts pressed against his chest. “I was so sad when your wife was killed. A traffic accident, wasn’t it? It must have been about three years ago.”

“Three years and four months.”

“Oh, I’m sorry if I brought back bad memories.”

“Don’t worry about it, sweetheart.” He said as he stroked her face.

Dan then walked back in, and as he reached the table, he greeted Melanie. “That was quite a show, we enjoyed it.” He told her.

“Oh, thank you, sir. I’m so glad. Are you Mr. Ransome’s friend?”

“Yes, I’m Dan Rawlins.”

“Hi, I’m Melanie.”

“Yes, I know.” He said as they shook hands.

“Well, I’ve got to get ready for my next show.” She said. Russ could tell she still felt ashamed. “Bye.” Melanie said and walked away. They watched.

 

“So, you wanna tell me about it, my man?” Dan asked Russ as they drove west on the state road.

“She was a friend of Sheila’s and that’s all I can tell you.” Russ said quickly.

“Oh, okay… sorry.” Dan said, sympathetically. Then, after a short pause, “Hey, listen I finally got the bill from Dr. Norm, the vet.”

“Oh, you did? What’s the good word?”

“The “Good word” as you put it is seventeen hundred smackers.”

“Damn.” Russ said. “Well, that was a passel of stitches, not to defend the good doctor.”

“I suppose I probably shouldn’t complain. It could just as easily have been three or four thousand bucka.”

“Yeah, and Solomon’s still with us, and he’s recovering, that’s the bottom line.”

“And he’s gaining some weight back.” Dan added.

“Hittin’ the grain pretty heavy, huh?”

“Yeah!” Dan said, laughing.

When they pulled up to Russ’ gate about eleven, Plowboy was barking nicely.

“Just drop me here, I’ll walk up to the house.” Russ told Dan.

“You sure, buddy?”

“Yeah, I could use it. And I’ll see you at your place bright and early Sunday… and I WILL have Wolfpaw with me.”

“Gotcha.” Dan said. Youngblood said he and his boys would be there around seven.”

As Russ walked down the long driveway toward his two- story house, Plowboy followed eagerly. After going in, he shut the screen door and left the main one open. He sat down on the sofa and after reflecting on the evening he and Dan had, he called Molly.

“Hey, did I wake you?”

“Oh, hi. No, I was just watching the tube.” she said.

“Anything interesting?”

“Yeah, the news.”

“Oh, well, gotta keep up on the issues.” He said.

It’s such a mess in Vietnam. We need to get out of there.”

“It might be a while.” He told her.

“I know.”

“So, you don’t have company?” he asked, half kidding.

“Like who?”

“I think I was jesting.”

“You better be.” She said, and they laughed. “So, where’ve you been? I haven’t seen you since your visit the other night. I thought you’d disowned me.”

“Not a chance, baby.” He told her. “I’ve just had a shitload on my mind.”

“Does that make you a shithead?”

“Not exactly.” He said. They laughed again.

“So, what did you do tonight?” she then asked.

“Here we go.” Russ thought, then said, Dan Rawlins and I ran into Pueblo for a few cold ones.”

“Wouldn’t it have been easier to drive?”

“My, aren’t we the comedian tonight?” – more laughter.

“Where did you go?”

He knew this was coming, and even if he did tell Dan he didn’t have to “answer: to Molly, he would feel bad about lying to her.

“Barry’s, it’s on 50 just before…”

“Oh yeah, I know a girl who works there.”

“Aw shit.” He thought.

“Who waited on you?”

“Well, I can’t remember her n… Hey, listen I need to tell you something.”

“Uh-oh.” She said.

“We didn’t really go to Barry’s, okay? We went to some strip joint called The Sinagogue. But it was Dan’s idea, I swear it.”

“Oh really. Was Heidi working?” Molly asked, as if she were delighted, and Russ was having trouble believing his ears.

“Uh…. Well…. Yeah. As a matter of fact, she waited on us.”

“Oh, neat. She is so cool. We used to work together at the Upfront.”

“So, you mean you’re not disappointed I lied?”

“No, honey. It’s not my place to direct your activities.” Molly said, but she actually was disappointed.

“Thanks, baby. I thought if I told you we went there, you might not like it.”

“You mean you were considering my feelings?”

“Precisely.”

“Thanks. If you were here, I’d kiss you.”

“Well, that can be arranged.” He said. “I could drop in tomorrow night.”

“Ya could, huh? Well try not to land too hard.”

“Would you shut up?!” he snapped, and they laughed wildly.

He knocked on her door the next night at seven, and over a lasagna dinner, he filled her in on his situation.

“We’ve been told by Chase that they bagged a large predator on the north face of the mountain and we’re still not sure it’s the one we’re looking for. But they’re bringing the carcass to Dan’s early tomorrow morning and I’m going to have Wolfpaw, the Ute Indian there to make sure it’s the right cat.”

“Wolfpaw?”

“Yeah, he’s lived on the mountain all his life and he knows every inch of it. And not only that but he’s inspected my dead cattle and the cougar tracks.”

“My God, it sounds scary.” Molly said.

“That’s a good word to describe it, and I can’t stay late tonight. I’ve got to pick up Wolfpaw at his cabin at dawn.”

“Well, I’ll be glad when you get this behind you.” She said.

“You’re not the only one. Thanks, honey.” He said as he stood up, then leaned over and kissed her.

After making love on her sofa, they both dozed off and at just after eleven, Russ got up and walked into the kitchen and called Dan.

It rang once.

“Rawlins here.” He didn’t sound sleepy.

“Didn’t wake you, did I?”

“No, actually not. In fact, I’m glad you called.”

“Yeah, I thought we’d better touch base before tomorrow.”

“I talked to Youngblood last night and he said he and his boys will be here as advertised.”

“Great, so I’ll go get the Indian about six.”

“I guess he’ll be thrilled about that.” Dan said, chuckling.

“Yes, in fact he told me that very thing.”

“Okay buddy, I’m gonna hit the hay and I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“You got it.” Russ said and hung up, then drove home, leaving Molly asleep on the couch.

As he pulled up to Wolfpaw’s cabin, the Indian was waiting. He climbed into the Dodge pickup with the usual enthusiasm. Russ was considering saying “Good morning” then decided against it because, of course, what was good about it? And there might have been twenty words spoken all the way to Dan’s ranch.

 

When they arrived at 6:45, Youngblood and Co. had not yet gotten there. Russ shut down the 440 magnum and they got out and walked toward Dan’s front porch. As they reached the steps, Dan came out the front door.

“Mornin’ gents.” He said, greeting them. Wolfpaw looked at Dan as if he were a Martian.

“That’s one thing you never say to this guy.” Russ told Dan.

“Oh… okay, well, I won’t ask any questions about that. Come on up and have a seat, I’ll get us some coffee.” Dan said and went inside to fix their coffee. Faye was still sleeping as any normal person would be at this hour on a Sunday morning. Russ took a seat on the porch as Wolfpaw remained standing. Three minutes later, Dan appeared with two cups of instant Maxwell House.

“Here we are, folks.” He said, handing his two guests their coffee. Russ took his.

“Wolfpaw no like coffee.” The Ute said.

“I knew he was gonna say that.” Russ said, smiling at Dan.

“Okay, sorry, Chief. I’ve prob’ly got some hot tea in there. Want me to check?” Dan said after staring at Russ briefly, then looking back at Wolfpaw.

“He no like tea either.” Russ said, continuing to smile.

“Oh… okay, well here’s lookin’ at ya.” Dan said as he sipped the Indian’s coffee. Russ raised his cup in a “toast.”

“So, how’s things up on Greenhorn, Chief?” Dan asked.

“It fine till he come.” The Indian said, glancing at Russ.

“Okay.” Russ said, a little impatiently. “We just want you to take a look at this cat, then I’ll take you back. Is that all right?”

Wolfpaw slowly nodded.

“You think Youngblood is really gonna show?” Russ asked Dan.

“Well, I left the gate open for ‘em, so unless he wants to forgo five grand.” Dan said. Russ again raised his cup. And as he did this, there was the rumble of approaching trucks. As they grew closer, they could see that there were two of them, a red, late model Chevy and an older faded blue Ford. The Ford arrived first, of course, and as the dust settles, Billy Konklin got out of the Chevy. Then, his passenger Damon Youngblood followed suit. The occupants of the Ford, Eddie Mitchell and Bobby got out and walked toward the back of the truck, opening the tailgate.

As Youngblood and Billy approached the porch, Billy recognized Wolfpaw.

“Mr. Rawlins, Mr. Ransome. How’ve you been?” Youngblood said as he shook hands with Dan and Russ.

“Surviving.” Dan said, but Russ just smiled and nodded.

“That’s the bottom line.” Billy then said.

“Oh, this is my foreman, Billy Konklin.” Damon said and he did introductions as Bobby and Eddie had now joined them. The men all shook hands and Billy stared at Wolfpaw who remained on the porch.

“Do you know Wolfpaw?” Dan asked Damon, pointing at the Indian.

“No, we’ve never met in person.”

“Well come on up and say hello.” Dan said as the men stepped up on the porch.

“This ought to be interesting.” Russ thought.

“Wolfpaw, this is Mr. Youngblood from Chase Incorporated in Denver.”

“Wolfpaw.” Youngblood said without extending his hand. “I’ve heard about you. Meet my associate, Mr. Konklin.”

“Hau.” Billy said, raising his right hand. The Ute did not respond.

“May I ask what he’s doing here?” Youngblood asked Dan, referring to Wolfpaw.

“Wolfpaw want to know same thing.” The Indian said.

“I brought him down here to make sure you guys got the right cat. Plain enough?” Russ then said. At this point, Billy shifted his attention to Russ.

“How the fuck would he know?” he asked Russ, abruptly.

“Because, big man, he checked out my dead beefs and the cat tracks too.” Russ told him. Youngblood and Konklin looked at each other uneasily. “So, shall we get down to cases?” Russ then said.

“Don’t believe in beating around the bush, do you Mr. Ransome?” Damon said.

“What’s the point, Mr. Youngblood?” cold staring Damon.

“Okay, come take a look.” Damon said as he ordered Eddie and Bobby to uncover the carcass. After a short hesitation, Eddie and Bobby walked down the steps.

“Let’s go.” Russ told Wolfpaw, signaling him. The Indian cautiously proceeded down the steps, and as the men arrived at the back of the Ford, Eddie immediately pulled the tarpaulin off the carcass.

“What about it?” Russ asked Wolfpaw, who then stepped forward and stroked the dead animal’s shoulder. He then crawled up into the bed of the pickup and inspected the cat’s teeth and forepaws. Then he climbed down and faced Russ.

“This painter not kill your cattle.” He said.

“Aw, what the fuck are you talkin’ about you crazy goddam Indian?!” Billy shouted as he stormed in front of Russ, facing Wolfpaw, who backed up slightly, frightened by Billy’s advance.

“Wolfpaw sorry cause trouble.”

“Then why don’t you take another look at that fuckin’ cat?!” he yelled, this time pushing the Indian.

“Hey!” Russ said, confronting Billy, shoving him.

“You heard his apology.” He said, pointing at Wolfpaw. And even though Russ was no small man at six-two and 190 pounds, he would be no match for the colossal Billy Konklin.

“I think you better watch who you’re shovin’ there, little fella.” Billy told Russ. “But I’ll overlook it this time.” Almost admiring Russ for his gumption.

“That’s kind of you, but you don’t have to rough up an old man.”

“Please gentlemen, I think we can resolve this situation without violence.” Youngblood said as he intervened. “Mr. Rawlins, may I have a private word with you and Mr. Ransome?” The three men walked a few feet away and talked.

“I think you should leave the Indian out of this and be thankful for what we’ve brought you.” Damon told Dan.

 

As this conversation was getting underway, our cat was surveying Walsenville from upper Greenhorn. It had been a while since his last meal. He had experienced just about everything on the menu, rabbit, whitetail deer, cattle, you name it. He now had a craving for something different. And it was with this thought that he began his descent from the mountain.

 

“So, what guarantee do we have that you’ve got the predator that’s responsible for our problem?” Dan asked Youngblood.

“I’ve always had a problem with the word “guarantee, Mr Rawlins, if you understand me. But there are simply God awful few mountain lions that raid cattle ranches, at least on a regular basis. And the animal that Billy and his men killed is absolutely the type that could and would be causing problems of this nature.” Damon explained.

“So, what you’re saying is that it’s a done deal.”

“Well, let’s just say that the odds are highly in your favor, regardless of what the Indian said. Okay? And may I remind you that you are under contract to fulfill your obligation.

“Or?” Russ then asked.

“Or we will be forced to collect by any means possible. I think you and Mr. Rawlins here understood this from the beginning.”

“Yeah, okay, well, I just hope your boys didn’t fuck up.”

“I think your problems are over.” Youngblood said, reassuringly.

At this point, Billy, Bobby and Eddie had joined them.

“Everything okay, boss?” Billy asked Damon.

“Yeah, I think we’re all on the same page now.”

“What page is that, Youngblood?” Russ said quickly.

“Mr. Ransome.” Damon said, as much as he wanted to address Russ simply as “Ransome” but didn’t as there was already enough tension among the group. “I think I’ve been as reasonable as possible, everything considered.”

“Reasonable?” Russ said. “I could have figured you guys were gonna be more of a problem than the problem.”

“What the hell’s wrong with you? That fuckin’ cat killed three of our dogs and damn near killed one of my men! Why don’t you just…?!” Billy said, approaching Russ. But Russ stood his ground.

“Hey! You went after him in his own territory with guns and dogs! What did you expect him to do, give you a big sloppy kiss?!”

“Forget it, Billy.” Youngblood said. “Mr. Ransome is frustrated, and for good reason. I think it’s time for us to depart.” Damon then said.

“You’ll be receiving my mail. And I hope you do the right thing.”

And Chase Inc. was pulling away from Dan’s house, Billy Konklin was giving Wolfpaw the same intimidating stare he had been giving him for the past hour. The foundation of the tensions between the two men began some years ago when Billy and friends were hunting on the lower slopes of Greenhorn when Wolfpaw took a couple of potshots at them with his Winchester. Wolfpaw had become very attached to “his” land, as Ute Indians will. It was Billy’s intention to kill the Indian right then and there. And now, he wished he had.

As Damon Youngblood and Co. cleared Dan’s property. They dumped the dead cougar on the roadside.

 

“So, are we really gonna pay those fucksticks another five grand on that flimsy horseshit?” Russ asked Dan, as Faye prepared breakfast.

“Well, Russ boy, we just might have to, but I’ll tell you something else, too. I think we’re gonna make them wait for it. Good idea?”

“It’s not a bad one.” Russ replied. And it’ll give us a chance to see if anything else happens.”

“Yeah, and wouldn’t you like to see the look on Youngblood’s face if it does?” Dan said with a smile.

“Delightful.” Said Russ. And over the next two months, they received two invoices from Chase Incorporated- which they ignored.

 

(7)

 

Our cat poked his nose out of the den entrance. As he walked out slowly to the cliffs edge, he sat there for a few minutes checking out the scene. He had lost weight by now and was hungry as hell. It was also as good a time as any to test the leg. It had been some time now since his encounter with Pit-bull Inc. The time for convalescing was over. He made the climb to a small plateau eight hundred feet above the cave. Reaching it, he tried his first wind sprint. His acceleration was awesome as he reached an impressive forty miles per hour. “’Not bad” he thought, and tried another one. After a while he decided he was well enough to hunt. And it would have to be successful, as he would lose strength if he went too much longer without food.

 

“Hello” Molly said as she put down her hair dryer.

“Hey, it’s me.”

“Russ, hi… what’s?”

“We need to talk. Can I come see you later?”

“You know you can. I won’t be home till about ten thirty. All right?”

“Okay, I’ll see you then.”

“Russ, is…? Nevermind.” She said, uneasily.

“Bye.” He said, and hung up.

He got up from the sofa and was about to walk out the door when, you guessed it, the phone rang.

“Hello.”

“Yeah Russ, Dan.”

“Hey, Danny. What’s the good word?”

“I heard from Chase and they’re about to get moving on our thing.”

“Oh, okay. How long do you think it will be before we can be normal ranchers again?”

“Yeah.” Dan chuckled. “Nice thought, ain’t it?”

“So, when…?”

“Youngblood said he’d be starting operations in about three days.”

“Okay, thanks for calling. I’ve got some shit to tend to before dark.”

“Yeah I’m running behind myself, so I’ll let you go. Later, buddy.”

Russ went out the front door and down the steps to his Dodge pickup, in which his .308 Winchester and Tasco binoculars were now standard equipment. He whistled for Plowboy, who came running robustly across the front lawn. “Get in, boy!” he commanded. The huge dog bounded into the truck’s bed, wagging his short tail and looking simply delighted to see Russ.

He fired up the 440 Magnum and drove toward the base of Greenhorn. He would survey the entire two and a half miles of the mountain bordered his property. As he arrived, he could see that things looked normal on the range, as the cattle grazed peacefully.

 

The eight point buck drank from the cool mountain stream as the cat watched from above. Rather than go for an easy head of beef, he thought he would save the trip down below and try a deer to see what shape his leg was really in as the buck didn’t take a back seat to much of anything in the speed and moves department. As the cat moved down the slope, the deer continued to drink then looked up. The cat stopped and watched. The buck then began to dip his head as if to drink again as the cougar was now within twenty yards. The buck suddenly bolted diagonally up the slope. The cat darted from behind the granite boulder in straight line pursuit and quickly closed the gap. Then the buck quickly cut left toward the woods but the cat hung tough. When he got within ten feet of the deer, he leaped. When it was over, he dragged the carcass into a nearby clearing- and dined.

He ate nearly half of the 140 pounds buck then took a nice, long drink from the stream followed by a world class bowel movement before returning to his den where he would remain for one week.

?

?

(8)

 

Billy Konklin &Co. gathered at the south face of Greenhorn at 6:00 AM. This was the opposite side of the mountain from the ranches. They arrived in two four-wheel drive pickup trucks with as many teams of hunting dogs. The dogs were barking loudly as if looking forward to the coming event as Billy talked to his men.

“All right, we’re gonna divide up into two units, then head up the mountain. The trucks will be okay right here. I’ve arranged to have them brought to us on the other side later. I want everybody to have your radios on, but at low volume. I’ll be unit 1 leader and we’ll be headed northwest and up the mountain and finally down the other side in the direction of Masterson Butte. Bobby, you’ll be unit two leader. I want you to follow the base of the mountain toward the interstate. Whereever you are by dark, set up camp and wait till you hear from me. Eddie Mitchell has another unit on the other side near where Greenhorn borders Mr. Ransome’s property. When the time is right, I’ll signal them to move up the mountain. Then I’ll tell Bobby to do the same from his position. With any luck, one of them will scare something up and run him into the other unit. In the mean time, me and my boys are gonna check out a few caves down the western slopes where we’ve seen some cats holed up in the past. Okay, so any questions?”

“Yeah, boss.” Tommy Slater, a member of Bobby’s group said. “Could you repeat that?”

“Fuck you Tommy.” Konklin said quickly. “Let’s go to work.”

 

He wasn’t a bad looking specimen for a two year old cat, he was a good bit larger than your average puma in the region. And he really didn’t have a home to speak of. He would occupy any of several vacant caves at about the 6500 foot level of the southeastern slopes. And it was on this day that he would demonstrate his superiority over men and dogs. But no creature, large or small, could resist the deadly force of rifle bullets. As he heard the distant barking of Labrador Retrievers he began his climb. When he arrived at the next cave, before entering, he perched himself atop a massive granite boulder near its entrance

The expedition was now in its second day, and Bobby had just notified Eddie Mitchell, whose party was on Russ’ side of the mountain, that they were onto a large predator heading his way.

“The hounds are on his scent pretty good, so I’ll give you a shout when we get a better fix on his position, over.” Bobby transmitted to Eddie.

“Gotcha. We’re gonna start the climb, so keep an ear on that radio.”

“Roger.” Said Bobby.

“The name’s Eddie.”

“Funny guy.”

Billy and his men had left their camp at the northwest edge of Greenhorn and were about to join at the mountain’s northwestern face. The cat then picked up the scent of Bobby’s group. He let out a scream in frustration as he sprinted toward Greenhorn’s summit.

“Did you hear that?” Bobby relayed to Tommy Slater.

“How could I miss it?”

“He’s gonna go for the top. Let’s get on it!”

“Gotcha!” Tommy said.

Bobby radioed Eddie as they began their ascent. Eddie and his group were now climbing full tilt to the top of the mountain. The northwestern face of Greenhorn was particularly rugged and it would be tough going. After an hour of climbing, his group stopped for a breather and Eddie got on the radio.

“Unit three to unit one. Come in, Billy.”

“Go ahead.” Konklin replied.

“Did you get the fix on the cat?”

“Yeah. He’s headed toward the top in front of Bobby, Right?”

“10-4. We’re takin’ a break about two miles up the east side.”

“Okay, and listen, likely as not, the son of a bitch’ll probably think he’s home free as soon as he reaches the top, but I’m gonna take my group back to the trucks and head for the western tip of the mountain and I want you and Bobby to crowd him from the east and flush him down our way. Got it?”

“Yeah, boss, we’ll do our damnedest but it could take some time, this ain’t no mole hill.

“We’ll be waiting. Contact me when you break camp.” Billy ordered.

“10-4.”

As the cougar arrived at the loftiest den atop Greenhorn, he entered, and rested. The night would offer him a temporary reprieve from his pursuers.

 

“… So, you know why Liberace practices so much on the piano?” Bobby asked Tommy as they sat around the campfire with the rest of the group.

“I give up.” Tommy said.

“Cause he sucks on the organ.”

Jesse Freeman, who had just taken a sip of coffee, spewed it out all over his chop steak, laughing uncontrollably.

“Where the hell did you pick up that sick shit?” Tommy asked Bobby.

“From hangin’ around Konklin.”

“That’ll do it.” Jesse said.

“Unit two to unit three… Come in Eddie.” Said Bobby’s voice as the radio barked. As Eddie was sitting comfortably with a hot cup of coffee, he put it down and reached for his radio.

“Yes, Robert. How goes it on your side?”

“Everybody’s falling asleep except me. It’s been a tough day.”

“It was a picnic compared to tomorrow.” Eddie said.

“Don’t remind me. Say, if we’re gonna flush the cat back toward Billy, how far from here do we rendezvous?”

“Over at the cliffs. Then we’ll work our way toward the caves and flush him out, if he’s there.”

“If, brother, IF.” Bobby said with uncertainty.

“Yeah.” Eddie replied. “But hey, cat or no cat we get paid the same. Can you dig it?”

“Yeah, and I could dig it even more if I could collect my paycheck the way you did once last year.”

“Oh, you mean…?”

“Yeah, remember… the bosses secretary?”

“Go to sleep, Bobby.”

When dawn broke, the three parties were in full radio contact.

“Okay, get up there.” Billy Konklin barked.

As Bobby and Eddie’s teams broke camp, they headed for the top of Greenhorn, and when this day ended they would have something to tell their grandchildren.

 

By noon, both parties had reached the cliffs and they were at a location near the top of Greenhorn at about the 9500 foot level. At this point, Bobby radioed Billy.

“We’re close to the top, boss, and we’re gonna start movin’ down.”

“Okay, and remember, if you flush that cat, put your dogs on him full bore and don’t let up. I wanna see him down here before dark. And we’ll be workin’ our way up toward you. Got it?”

“Got it, boss.”

“Okay, let’s go get him.”

Around 2:00 PM units two and three stopped and rested.

“Beautiful up here, ain’t it?” Jesse Freeman said. “And what a view. Sorta makes you wish you could fly.”

“Yeah.” Raif Porter, one of Eddie’s men said. “How’d you like to be Superman for twenty-four hours?”

“Be great. I could sure set some shit a-right if I could be that motherfucker for a day.” Jesse said.

“Just make sure you’re not flyin’ at ten thousand feet when your time’s up.” Bobby said.

Twenty minutes later the two parties headed west, down the massive slopes of Greenhorn, toward “the cave.”

“Unit two to unit one. Come in boss.” Bobby transmitted.

“Go ahead.” Billy answered.

“Me and Eddie are headed your way.”

“Okay, we’ll start workin’ our way up.”

“10-4, out.”

As units two and three drew within a half mile of the cave, the Labs began to bellow.

“Okay, let’s look alive!” Bobby shouted. I think they picked ‘im up Eddie. Spread your boys out a little.”

“Yo!” Eddie complied.

Before they got within two hundred yards of the den, the cat was watching their every move. He exited the cave and climbed an adjacent boulder. He would retreat down the mountain in lieu of being cornered in a cave. At this point, his enemies were now only one hundred yards away. He bolted from the top of the granite boulder, and as he did, the dogs spotted him and barked insanely.

“There he is. Let’s go!” Bobby shouted. “Unit two to unit one. Come in, Billy!”

“Yeah. Whatcha got?!”

“We just flushed a good size cat and he’s headed down!”

“Okay, must be the one. Turn your dogs loose.”

Bobby released the hounds, and as he did, they sprinted toward the cave. The cougar was now on a collision course with Billy Konklin’s unit one and a classic confrontation. Bobby and Eddie kept up as well as they could, and the dogs widened the gap. Ten minutes later the puma scaled another boulder. At this point he could see Billy’s group in the distance. He then bolted down the north face of the mountain toward Russ’ ranch, but he was about to be flanked by unit two. Bobby knew from past experiences with these animals that, in this type situation, they usually head for lower ground. His dogs were now within two minutes of confronting the mountain lion. Eddie’s unit would soon follow. This particular part of Greenhorn was relatively devoid of large trees, should the cat have chosen that option to escape the hounds.

….. And as he turned, he now faced six of Bobby’s bellowing canines. He crouched down, his ears pinned back, and screamed loud enough to awaken the dead as the dogs barked loudly.

“You hear that, Eddie?” Bobby yelled over his radio.

“Yeah! On my way! Be careful!”

“Just get down here!”

“I’m on it!”

It was at this point that one of Bobby’s Labs got a little too brave and rushed the cougar and this was his last official act on earth as the cat seized him by the throat, tearing half of it away. The dog dropped like a rock.

“Aw shit, Hotshot!” Bobby yelled as he saw this as he and his men got within a hundred yards of the scene. Hotshot was the first of three canines that would die today.

As Hotshot hit the ground, one of the other Labrador Retrievers attacked the cat from the right, chomping down on his ear. The puma screamed in pain, then clamped down on the dog’s snout with his powerful jaws, crushing it. The Lab suffocated. A rifle bullet then ricocheted off a rock two feet to his left as Bobby’s party advanced. Jesse Freeman was now within fifty feet of the mountain lion with his 243 Winchester, but as he closed in on the cat, he tripped in a chuckhole and fell on his face, sending his rifle skipping across the ground. Like lightening, the puma was on Jesse’s back, sinking his teeth into his right shoulder and gouging his back with his sharp claws. Jesse screamed as Bobby’s 25-06 thundered. This time, the projectile clipped the cat’s left shoulder. The stunned animal charged down the mountainside, avoiding Eddie’s party and, like magic, disappeared into the rocks.

“Get after that motherfucker!” Bobby screamed at Eddie. “How the fuck could you let him get by you?!”

“I don’t know, Bobby, he just…!”

“Aw fuck it! Just get movin’! Unit 2 to unit 1, come in Billy!”

“Yeah! What goes?!” Billy shouted back.

“We had a damned good sized tom up here but he killed two of my dogs and took a healthy chunk out of Jesse’s back. And I managed to pop him a good one in the shoulder blade but he escaped down the mountain.

“Damn!!” Konklin said. “So the son of a bitch is injured and headed my way. Is that what you’re trying to say?!”

“Fraid so.” Bobby said.

“We’ll be ready. How bad’s Jesse?”

“Well.” Bobby said as he leaned over Jesse. “I think we’ve got the bleeding shored up pretty good, but…”

“We better get that goddamn cat or we’re gonna be in some deep shit with Youngblood. Get my drift?”

“Got it, boss.” Said Bobby.

Billy Konklin made contact with the Huerfano County Sheriff who sent a helicopter to Greenhorn and Jesse Freeman was transported to County Hospital in Pueblo where he would recover.

The cat was now crouched amidst a cluster of yucca plants about a mile from the confrontation nursing his bullet wound. And as he did this, Billy Konklin and Co. moved up the mountain. Eddie and unit three advanced down from the other direction. Then, as the cougar heard Eddie’s group growing closer, he continued down the grade.

…. And as he faced Billy’s dogs, he somehow knew that his life was about to end. He wouldn’t wait for the lead dog to jump him. He charged in with demonic speed and clamped his powerful jaws fully around the hounds head, crushing it with a nauseating crack. And after the loud report of Billy Konklin’s 7mm Remington magnum, the cat was dead. Billy approached and looked down. Before him lay 171 pounds of magnificently muscled Colorado mountain lion. Billy Konklin was not known for his sentimentality as he kneeled by the cat, stroking his head.

“My God, he’s beautiful.” He said, almost tenderly.

“And look at the size of him.” Bobby added.

 

…. And 1500 feet above them, beyond Greenhorn’s treeline, another feline carnivore watched the action…

?

?

(9)

 

“So, it only took two days to make ten thousand. Is that the deal?” Dan Rawlins asked Damon Youngblood.

“Yes, sir, but we’ve got your cat. And you shouldn’t have any more trouble.”

“All right.” Dan said in a doubtful tone. “But I’ll need confirmation on that and I’ll notify Russ Ransome.

“Fine, sir, and we’ll be happy to deliver the carcass to you personally.”

“Sounds good. Let me talk to Russ and I’ll get back to you.”

As Dan hung up, he immediately dialed Russ. The phone rang five times.

“Yeah.” Said Russ.

“They got us a cat.” Dan told him.

“No shit. That didn’t take long, did it?”

“Yeah, I know, it surprised me too. And I’ve got my doubts. Remember our little chat with Youngblood?”

“…. Yeah.”

“And he said he’s gonna deliver the carcass right to my doorstep.”

“Not bad. I wonder why he called you and not me?”

“Because he doesn’t like you, Russ.”

“Picked up on that, did you?”

“I picked up on it.”

“Well, the feeling’s mutual.”

“I picked up on that too.” Dan said. They laughed. When the laughter subsided, there was a lull in the conversation.

“Say…. Dan?”

“Yeah, man.”

“Just in case they got the wrong animal, I’m gonna try to get Wolfpaw over to your place when they make the delivery.”

“You think you can swing it?”

“I’m gonna try. I’d hate to think we blew ten grand on anything but the real McCoy.

“Gotcha. And I’ll call you after I get back to Youngblood.”

“Good. Then I’ll drive up and talk to the Indian.”

The next day, Youngblood called Dan and notified him of his time of arrival. Dan called Russ.

“I just talked to Chase Inc. and Youngblood says he and his foreman have got the cat on ice and they’re bringing him over here day after tomorrow.”

“Okay. I’ll drive up to see the Ute.”

“Well, good luck. And listen, if you get back early enough, I’ve got an idea along the lines of something we can do tomorrow night.”

“Meaning?”

“Well, let’s just say… a little adult entertainment.”

“You’re shittin’ me.”

“Not a bit.”

“Well, okay. I’ll bark at you when I get back from the Indian’s.”

“Cool. And once again, good luck.”

“Thanks.”

 

Sister Melanie took the overland bus to her other job at the Sin-agogue Burlesque house in Pueblo. “Burlesque house” was a somewhat fancier name for the place than it deserved and it was Pueblo’s one and only strip joint. It was hard to believe that a town of Pueblo’s size could possess such an establishment but it did. But perhaps no harder to believe than a Catholic nun becoming a nude dancer. And it was here that the good sister was known as “Big Mel,” the biggest nude attraction south of Denver. She did a total of four shows every Friday and Saturday nights. She had been doing this for the past two years and often wondered how she had gotten away with it for so long without at least one person recognizing her. And even though her garb at Saint Katherine’s Convent differed somewhat than what she sported at the Sinagogue, her luck was about to run out.

About the time the Sister boarded the bus for Pueblo, Russ was pulling up to Wolfpaw’s cabin. Before he got out of his truck, he could see the Indian on his porch. He got out and walked toward him.

“What problem now?” said the Ute.”

“I thought you’d never ask.” Russ said. “That Chase outfit from Denver bagged us a big lion.”

“They get the right one?” Wolfpaw asked with a doubtful look.

“That’s why I’m here. They’re bringing the carcass to Dan Rawlins ranch in a couple of days and I’d like you to be there to take a look.”

The Ute then turned and began to walk back inside.

“Hey, listen, I could use your help on this. It’s important to the welfare of a lot of ranchers.”

“And what about Wolfpaw welfare? You give me fifty more dollars, white man?” he said, sarcastically.

“All right. What do I have to do to get you to come?” The Indian looked at Russ for a moment.

“Wolfpaw think he come for curiosity. Bet they got wrong painter.”

“Then I’ll be here early day after tomorrow morning.”

“Wolfpaw be on pins and needles waiting for you.”

 

“Wud Wolfpaw say?” was the first thing Dan said to Russ as he climbed into Dan’s LTD.

“And a good evening to you, too, Daniel.” Russ countered.

“Oh, sorry, old boy.” Dan said. “I was just eager to know.”

“I’ll have him at your place Sunday morning, and those Chase bastards better show up because that Indian won’t go for this shit twice in a row.”

“I think they’ll make it. If they want the rest of their money.”

“Well, we’ll se. Where’s this place we’re goin’ anyway?”

“It’s a strip joint, man. Complete with nude dancers and the whole deal.”

“A strip joint? How in the hell did you clear that with Faye?”

“Didn’t have to. I just told her we were going for drinks, which is true.”

“That’s splitting hairs a little, isn’t it?”

“Maybe. But what would you tell Molly?”

“Nothing. I don’t have to. We’re not married. Remember?”

“Yeah.”

As they approached the western outskirts of Pueblo, about seven, the traffic began to increase and Russ could see that this was the “skid row” section of the city. As they proceeded eastward, they passed the first of Pueblo’s brothels. This one, called “Head-quarters” was the oldest.

“Hey, great part of town. I can see this is gonna be a fun night.” Russ said as he reached over and gave Dan a pat on the shoulder.

“Hang in, pal. We ain’t there yet.”

“Thank God.”

The sinogogue was at midtown and Dan could see that parking was going to be a problem. They finally located a spot about a block and a half away.

“Well, maybe it’ll be here when we get back and maybe it won’t.” Dan said, referring to his station wagon.

“Yeah, I’d like to hear it if you had to call Faye to come get us.”

The one aspect of the Sinagogue of which Dan and Russ were unaware, was its charming capacity for an inordinate number of brawls. Those confrontations usually began between two or more inebriated gentlemen over their favorite stripper.

Upon entering, an act was in progress. She was a short, Indian girl with the expected physical attributes. As they took a seat near the circular stage, Dan noticed something printed on her panties, “99 cents.”

“Say, dig what it says on the squaw’s panty. Wudda ya figure that means?”

“She’s always under a buck. What else?” Russ surmised.

“You sick turd.” Dan said as he laughed loud enough for customers at surrounding tables to hear.

When 99 Cents finished her act, she drew loud applause as she hopped off the stage and disappeared. It would be twenty minutes before the next show and at this point, a cocktail waitress stood before them. Her name was Heidi.

“Hi, gents. What’ll it be?”

“Age before beauty.” Russ told Dan. Heidi chuckled.

“Very funny.” Dan countered. “A Jim Beam and Coke.”

“Fine, and you, sir?”

“Make it a Vodka and cranberry.”

“Gotcha, be right back.” She said, and walked away with a sexy strut.

Three minutes later their drinks were delivered and not sixty seconds later, the first incident occurred. And this one was not initiated over a stripper, but because two shitfaced customers had made some off-color comments about a man’s wife. The man in question had just gotten up and flattened one of the fatmouths and was about to do the same to the other when he was restrained by bouncers.

“Here we go.” Dan said as he and Russ observed the confrontation with interest. The bouncers escorted the two perpetrators outside.

They sat and sipped their drinks and talked, mostly about the situation at their ranches. It was now 9:00 and the second show was about to start as the lights began to illuminate the stage. And when the music began, Sister Melanie mounted the stage and started her routine. The opening number was “Fire” by “The Ohio Players.” Big Mel immediately dropped her tiny nonexistent bra and her super grade breasts began to twirl.

“Holy shit, would you look at that?!” Dan said.

“Yeah.” Russ said as he watched Big Mel, concentrating more on her face than her other physical attributes.

“God ought to be arrested for giving any woman a body like THAT.” Dan then said. Russ continued to study Melanie’s face, not replying to Dan’s comment.”

“You hear me, Russ?”

“Huh… oh… yeah.”

“What’s wrong, man? You okay?”

“Yeah, fine.”

The good Sister was completely nude, with the exception of the tassels attached to her nipples, as she pranced around the edge of the circular stage. Then, as “Fire” concluded, “Brick House” first recorded by The Commodores began to come over the magnificent sound system. The tassels flung provocatively as she did her routine. The table situated nearest the stage was occupied by a group of young men, and they howled enthusiastically. Then, as “Brick House” wound to a close and Melanie was about to exit the stage, Heidi again appeared before Dan and Russ.

“Ready for another one?” she asked them.

“Sure. How ‘bout you, Russell?”

“Why not.” Russ said after a two second hesitation. He was still looking at Melanie. “And listen, sweetheart,” he said to Heidi, “Why don’t you have Big Mel there come have a drink with me?”

“Yes SIR.” She said, delighted, and walked away briskly.

“What the hell are you up to?!” Dan asked him.

“It’s not what you think.” Russ told him.

“What do I think?”

“Yeah.” Russ said, snickering.

They watched as Heidi talked to Melanie. This conversation was somewhat longer than expected.

“Maybe she’s not thirsty.” Dan surmised.

“Then I’ll go back stage if I have to.” Russ said, firmly.

“What the hell’s goin’ on, man?!”

“I’ll tell you later, but do me a favor, huh. I need to speak to her in private. Okay?”

“Man, this is getting better all the time!” Dan said, with interest.

“Here she comes. Take a walk, okay?” Russ urged.

“Yeah, I’ll go outside for a smoke.”

“Hi,” Melanie said as she approached the table.

“Hello, Sister.” Russ replied. Her eyes widened as she put her hands over her mouth. “Would you like a drink?” he asked her.

“Oh, thanks for asking, but no. Do… you know me?”

“Yes, I do. From St. Katherine’s in Walsenville.”

“Oh, dear God.” She said.

 

 

“Brick House” Copyright – 1977

*”Fire” Copyright 1975

 

 

“Have a seat.”

“Okay, but I’ve got another show soon.” She told him. She was now wearing a T-shirt.”

“I’m Russ Ransome. My wife Sheila and I used to attend services at St. Katherine’s.”

“Oh yes, I remember now.”

“How long have you been doing this?” he asked her.

“Quite a while, now.” She said, sounding ashamed. “I should have known I couldn’t get away with it forever.” She was crying.

“And what I’d really like to know is, WHY are you doing it?”

“Because my mother is dying of cancer and she can’t pay her hospital bills, and I can’t help her much on that pittance I get at the church.” She said, sobbing.

“Take it easy, Sister. I’m on your side.” He consoled.

“I’m sorry.” She said, trying to calm herself.

“I’d like to give you a ride back but I’ve got a friend with me.” Russ offered.

“Oh, thanks. I’ll get the bus. And please, Mr. Ransome, please don’t…”

“Your secret’s safe with me.” He assured her.

“Oh, thank you!” Melanie said as they both got up and she hugged him.

Her shapely breasts pressed against his chest. “I was so sad when your wife was killed. A traffic accident, wasn’t it? It must have been about three years ago.”

“Three years and four months.”

“Oh, I’m sorry if I brought back bad memories.”

“Don’t worry about it, sweetheart.” He said as he stroked her face.

Dan then walked back in, and as he reached the table, he greeted Melanie. “That was quite a show, we enjoyed it.” He told her.

“Oh, thank you, sir. I’m so glad. Are you Mr. Ransome’s friend?”

“Yes, I’m Dan Rawlins.”

“Hi, I’m Melanie.”

“Yes, I know.” He said as they shook hands.

“Well, I’ve got to get ready for my next show.” She said. Russ could tell she still felt ashamed. “Bye.” Melanie said and walked away. They watched.

 

“So, you wanna tell me about it, my man?” Dan asked Russ as they drove west on the state road.

“She was a friend of Sheila’s and that’s all I can tell you.” Russ said quickly.

“Oh, okay… sorry.” Dan said, sympathetically. Then, after a short pause, “Hey, listen I finally got the bill from Dr. Norm, the vet.”

“Oh, you did? What’s the good word?”

“The “Good word” as you put it is seventeen hundred smackers.”

“Damn.” Russ said. “Well, that was a passel of stitches, not to defend the good doctor.”

“I suppose I probably shouldn’t complain. It could just as easily have been three or four thousand bucka.”

“Yeah, and Solomon’s still with us, and he’s recovering, that’s the bottom line.”

“And he’s gaining some weight back.” Dan added.

“Hittin’ the grain pretty heavy, huh?”

“Yeah!” Dan said, laughing.

When they pulled up to Russ’ gate about eleven, Plowboy was barking nicely.

“Just drop me here, I’ll walk up to the house.” Russ told Dan.

“You sure, buddy?”

“Yeah, I could use it. And I’ll see you at your place bright and early Sunday… and I WILL have Wolfpaw with me.”

“Gotcha.” Dan said. Youngblood said he and his boys would be there around seven.”

As Russ walked down the long driveway toward his two- story house, Plowboy followed eagerly. After going in, he shut the screen door and left the main one open. He sat down on the sofa and after reflecting on the evening he and Dan had, he called Molly.

“Hey, did I wake you?”

“Oh, hi. No, I was just watching the tube.” she said.

“Anything interesting?”

“Yeah, the news.”

“Oh, well, gotta keep up on the issues.” He said.

It’s such a mess in Vietnam. We need to get out of there.”

“It might be a while.” He told her.

“I know.”

“So, you don’t have company?” he asked, half kidding.

“Like who?”

“I think I was jesting.”

“You better be.” She said, and they laughed. “So, where’ve you been? I haven’t seen you since your visit the other night. I thought you’d disowned me.”

“Not a chance, baby.” He told her. “I’ve just had a shitload on my mind.”

“Does that make you a shithead?”

“Not exactly.” He said. They laughed again.

“So, what did you do tonight?” she then asked.

“Here we go.” Russ thought, then said, Dan Rawlins and I ran into Pueblo for a few cold ones.”

“Wouldn’t it have been easier to drive?”

“My, aren’t we the comedian tonight?” – more laughter.

“Where did you go?”

He knew this was coming, and even if he did tell Dan he didn’t have to “answer: to Molly, he would feel bad about lying to her.

“Barry’s, it’s on 50 just before…”

“Oh yeah, I know a girl who works there.”

“Aw shit.” He thought.

“Who waited on you?”

“Well, I can’t remember her n… Hey, listen I need to tell you something.”

“Uh-oh.” She said.

“We didn’t really go to Barry’s, okay? We went to some strip joint called The Sinagogue. But it was Dan’s idea, I swear it.”

“Oh really. Was Heidi working?” Molly asked, as if she were delighted, and Russ was having trouble believing his ears.

“Uh…. Well…. Yeah. As a matter of fact, she waited on us.”

“Oh, neat. She is so cool. We used to work together at the Upfront.”

“So, you mean you’re not disappointed I lied?”

“No, honey. It’s not my place to direct your activities.” Molly said, but she actually was disappointed.

“Thanks, baby. I thought if I told you we went there, you might not like it.”

“You mean you were considering my feelings?”

“Precisely.”

“Thanks. If you were here, I’d kiss you.”

“Well, that can be arranged.” He said. “I could drop in tomorrow night.”

“Ya could, huh? Well try not to land too hard.”

“Would you shut up?!” he snapped, and they laughed wildly.

He knocked on her door the next night at seven, and over a lasagna dinner, he filled her in on his situation.

“We’ve been told by Chase that they bagged a large predator on the north face of the mountain and we’re still not sure it’s the one we’re looking for. But they’re bringing the carcass to Dan’s early tomorrow morning and I’m going to have Wolfpaw, the Ute Indian there to make sure it’s the right cat.”

“Wolfpaw?”

“Yeah, he’s lived on the mountain all his life and he knows every inch of it. And not only that but he’s inspected my dead cattle and the cougar tracks.”

“My God, it sounds scary.” Molly said.

“That’s a good word to describe it, and I can’t stay late tonight. I’ve got to pick up Wolfpaw at his cabin at dawn.”

“Well, I’ll be glad when you get this behind you.” She said.

“You’re not the only one. Thanks, honey.” He said as he stood up, then leaned over and kissed her.

After making love on her sofa, they both dozed off and at just after eleven, Russ got up and walked into the kitchen and called Dan.

It rang once.

“Rawlins here.” He didn’t sound sleepy.

“Didn’t wake you, did I?”

“No, actually not. In fact, I’m glad you called.”

“Yeah, I thought we’d better touch base before tomorrow.”

“I talked to Youngblood last night and he said he and his boys will be here as advertised.”

“Great, so I’ll go get the Indian about six.”

“I guess he’ll be thrilled about that.” Dan said, chuckling.

“Yes, in fact he told me that very thing.”

“Okay buddy, I’m gonna hit the hay and I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“You got it.” Russ said and hung up, then drove home, leaving Molly asleep on the couch.

As he pulled up to Wolfpaw’s cabin, the Indian was waiting. He climbed into the Dodge pickup with the usual enthusiasm. Russ was considering saying “Good morning” then decided against it because, of course, what was good about it? And there might have been twenty words spoken all the way to Dan’s ranch.

 

When they arrived at 6:45, Youngblood and Co. had not yet gotten there. Russ shut down the 440 magnum and they got out and walked toward Dan’s front porch. As they reached the steps, Dan came out the front door.

“Mornin’ gents.” He said, greeting them. Wolfpaw looked at Dan as if he were a Martian.

“That’s one thing you never say to this guy.” Russ told Dan.

“Oh… okay, well, I won’t ask any questions about that. Come on up and have a seat, I’ll get us some coffee.” Dan said and went inside to fix their coffee. Faye was still sleeping as any normal person would be at this hour on a Sunday morning. Russ took a seat on the porch as Wolfpaw remained standing. Three minutes later, Dan appeared with two cups of instant Maxwell House.

“Here we are, folks.” He said, handing his two guests their coffee. Russ took his.

“Wolfpaw no like coffee.” The Ute said.

“I knew he was gonna say that.” Russ said, smiling at Dan.

“Okay, sorry, Chief. I’ve prob’ly got some hot tea in there. Want me to check?” Dan said after staring at Russ briefly, then looking back at Wolfpaw.

“He no like tea either.” Russ said, continuing to smile.

“Oh… okay, well here’s lookin’ at ya.” Dan said as he sipped the Indian’s coffee. Russ raised his cup in a “toast.”

“So, how’s things up on Greenhorn, Chief?” Dan asked.

“It fine till he come.” The Indian said, glancing at Russ.

“Okay.” Russ said, a little impatiently. “We just want you to take a look at this cat, then I’ll take you back. Is that all right?”

Wolfpaw slowly nodded.

“You think Youngblood is really gonna show?” Russ asked Dan.

“Well, I left the gate open for ‘em, so unless he wants to forgo five grand.” Dan said. Russ again raised his cup. And as he did this, there was the rumble of approaching trucks. As they grew closer, they could see that there were two of them, a red, late model Chevy and an older faded blue Ford. The Ford arrived first, of course, and as the dust settles, Billy Konklin got out of the Chevy. Then, his passenger Damon Youngblood followed suit. The occupants of the Ford, Eddie Mitchell and Bobby got out and walked toward the back of the truck, opening the tailgate.

As Youngblood and Billy approached the porch, Billy recognized Wolfpaw.

“Mr. Rawlins, Mr. Ransome. How’ve you been?” Youngblood said as he shook hands with Dan and Russ.

“Surviving.” Dan said, but Russ just smiled and nodded.

“That’s the bottom line.” Billy then said.

“Oh, this is my foreman, Billy Konklin.” Damon said and he did introductions as Bobby and Eddie had now joined them. The men all shook hands and Billy stared at Wolfpaw who remained on the porch.

“Do you know Wolfpaw?” Dan asked Damon, pointing at the Indian.

“No, we’ve never met in person.”

“Well come on up and say hello.” Dan said as the men stepped up on the porch.

“This ought to be interesting.” Russ thought.

“Wolfpaw, this is Mr. Youngblood from Chase Incorporated in Denver.”

“Wolfpaw.” Youngblood said without extending his hand. “I’ve heard about you. Meet my associate, Mr. Konklin.”

“Hau.” Billy said, raising his right hand. The Ute did not respond.

“May I ask what he’s doing here?” Youngblood asked Dan, referring to Wolfpaw.

“Wolfpaw want to know same thing.” The Indian said.

“I brought him down here to make sure you guys got the right cat. Plain enough?” Russ then said. At this point, Billy shifted his attention to Russ.

“How the fuck would he know?” he asked Russ, abruptly.

“Because, big man, he checked out my dead beefs and the cat tracks too.” Russ told him. Youngblood and Konklin looked at each other uneasily. “So, shall we get down to cases?” Russ then said.

“Don’t believe in beating around the bush, do you Mr. Ransome?” Damon said.

“What’s the point, Mr. Youngblood?” cold staring Damon.

“Okay, come take a look.” Damon said as he ordered Eddie and Bobby to uncover the carcass. After a short hesitation, Eddie and Bobby walked down the steps.

“Let’s go.” Russ told Wolfpaw, signaling him. The Indian cautiously proceeded down the steps, and as the men arrived at the back of the Ford, Eddie immediately pulled the tarpaulin off the carcass.

“What about it?” Russ asked Wolfpaw, who then stepped forward and stroked the dead animal’s shoulder. He then crawled up into the bed of the pickup and inspected the cat’s teeth and forepaws. Then he climbed down and faced Russ.

“This painter not kill your cattle.” He said.

“Aw, what the fuck are you talkin’ about you crazy goddam Indian?!” Billy shouted as he stormed in front of Russ, facing Wolfpaw, who backed up slightly, frightened by Billy’s advance.

“Wolfpaw sorry cause trouble.”

“Then why don’t you take another look at that fuckin’ cat?!” he yelled, this time pushing the Indian.

“Hey!” Russ said, confronting Billy, shoving him.

“You heard his apology.” He said, pointing at Wolfpaw. And even though Russ was no small man at six-two and 190 pounds, he would be no match for the colossal Billy Konklin.

“I think you better watch who you’re shovin’ there, little fella.” Billy told Russ. “But I’ll overlook it this time.” Almost admiring Russ for his gumption.

“That’s kind of you, but you don’t have to rough up an old man.”

“Please gentlemen, I think we can resolve this situation without violence.” Youngblood said as he intervened. “Mr. Rawlins, may I have a private word with you and Mr. Ransome?” The three men walked a few feet away and talked.

“I think you should leave the Indian out of this and be thankful for what we’ve brought you.” Damon told Dan.

 

As this conversation was getting underway, our cat was surveying Walsenville from upper Greenhorn. It had been a while since his last meal. He had experienced just about everything on the menu, rabbit, whitetail deer, cattle, you name it. He now had a craving for something different. And it was with this thought that he began his descent from the mountain.

 

“So, what guarantee do we have that you’ve got the predator that’s responsible for our problem?” Dan asked Youngblood.

“I’ve always had a problem with the word “guarantee, Mr Rawlins, if you understand me. But there are simply God awful few mountain lions that raid cattle ranches, at least on a regular basis. And the animal that Billy and his men killed is absolutely the type that could and would be causing problems of this nature.” Damon explained.

“So, what you’re saying is that it’s a done deal.”

“Well, let’s just say that the odds are highly in your favor, regardless of what the Indian said. Okay? And may I remind you that you are under contract to fulfill your obligation.

“Or?” Russ then asked.

“Or we will be forced to collect by any means possible. I think you and Mr. Rawlins here understood this from the beginning.”

“Yeah, okay, well, I just hope your boys didn’t fuck up.”

“I think your problems are over.” Youngblood said, reassuringly.

At this point, Billy, Bobby and Eddie had joined them.

“Everything okay, boss?” Billy asked Damon.

“Yeah, I think we’re all on the same page now.”

“What page is that, Youngblood?” Russ said quickly.

“Mr. Ransome.” Damon said, as much as he wanted to address Russ simply as “Ransome” but didn’t as there was already enough tension among the group. “I think I’ve been as reasonable as possible, everything considered.”

“Reasonable?” Russ said. “I could have figured you guys were gonna be more of a problem than the problem.”

“What the hell’s wrong with you? That fuckin’ cat killed three of our dogs and damn near killed one of my men! Why don’t you just…?!” Billy said, approaching Russ. But Russ stood his ground.

“Hey! You went after him in his own territory with guns and dogs! What did you expect him to do, give you a big sloppy kiss?!”

“Forget it, Billy.” Youngblood said. “Mr. Ransome is frustrated, and for good reason. I think it’s time for us to depart.” Damon then said.

“You’ll be receiving my mail. And I hope you do the right thing.”

And Chase Inc. was pulling away from Dan’s house, Billy Konklin was giving Wolfpaw the same intimidating stare he had been giving him for the past hour. The foundation of the tensions between the two men began some years ago when Billy and friends were hunting on the lower slopes of Greenhorn when Wolfpaw took a couple of potshots at them with his Winchester. Wolfpaw had become very attached to “his” land, as Ute Indians will. It was Billy’s intention to kill the Indian right then and there. And now, he wished he had.

As Damon Youngblood and Co. cleared Dan’s property. They dumped the dead cougar on the roadside.

 

“So, are we really gonna pay those fucksticks another five grand on that flimsy horseshit?” Russ asked Dan, as Faye prepared breakfast.

“Well, Russ boy, we just might have to, but I’ll tell you something else, too. I think we’re gonna make them wait for it. Good idea?”

“It’s not a bad one.” Russ replied. And it’ll give us a chance to see if anything else happens.”

“Yeah, and wouldn’t you like to see the look on Youngblood’s face if it does?” Dan said with a smile.

“Delightful.” Said Russ. And over the next two months, they received two invoices from Chase Incorporated- which they ignored.

PART THREE

 

(1)

 

The thirteen-year old boy was just kicking his football around his parents’ five acre back yard just outside the northern city limits of Walsenville. So how was he to know that death was lurking mere yards away. His mother would be calling him to dinner soon but he would not be responding. And as the cat was crouched in a wooded area at the property’s edge, he would watch his prey until the time was right.

 

(2)

 

Russ and Molly were having hot chocolate as they watched the six o’clock news in his den. It had now been more than two months since their meeting with Chase Inc. at Dan’s ranch and he and Dan were beginning to think it may really be over, and that they should pay the remainder of their “obligation” and be done with it. But Russ could not help but think about Wolfpaw’s analysis of the animal Chase had brought them.

Then, the sports was suddenly interrupted with a special news bulletin.

“We have just received a report that a thirteen-year old Walsenville child has been killed by a large predator that Huerfano County game wardens believe to be a mountain lion. The partial remains of the boy were found by his father in the backyard of their Walsenville home.” The news anchor reported.

“FUCK!!!” Russ shouted as he sprung up from the sofa. “I knew it! I God damned KNEW IT!!”

“Oh, my God, Russ!” Molly said, upset by the news.

“It’s that cat again! It’s that motherfucking CAT! He got a KID! I knew this was gonna happen! I fucking KNEW IT!” He picked up the phone and called Dan. “Hey, did you…?!”

“Yeah, I just saw it.” Dan said.

“Well, what about it?!”

“I’ll tell you what about it, Russ boy. We’re gonna keep our five grand and let the game commission handle this shit.”

“The game commission? So they can write it off as an act of nature?! You gotta be shittin’ me, man!”

“What else can we do?” Dan asked as calmly as he could.

“We can go after the bastard ourselves, that’s what we can do!”

“They’d never allow it.”

“Then we’ll do it anyway!”

“Yeah, it sorta makes sense what you say, and I share your emotions, believe me. But what chance do you think we’d have of coming back with anything except pneumonia?”

“There’s only one way to find out, old buddy.”

“All right, Russ, but do me a couple of favors. Will you?”

“Name it.”

“Just calm down and let me call the game commission and ask them a few questions. Okay? Then I’ll get back to you. Give me till tomorrow night.”

“All right, but make sure you call ‘em.”

“You got it. Later.” Dan said, and they hung up.

 

“Hello, Colorado Fish and Game Commission, this is June speaking. May I help you?”

“Yes ma’am, my name is Dan Rawlins. I’m from Beulah. I’d like to speak to the man in charge, please.”

“Why does it always have to be a man?” June asked.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I just assumed…”

“Well, in this case, it is. One moment please, Mr. Rawlins.” Dan waited as he listened to The Association’s “Along Comes Mary.” About thirty seconds into the song, Elwood Marshall picked up the phone.

“Yes, Mr. Rawlins. Can I help you?”

“You may indeed.” Dan said. “I’m calling regarding the mountain lion incident in Walsenville recently.”

“I have a ranch in the immediate area of Beulah as does my close friend Russ Ransome, and I’ll try to make a very long story short by saying that I have a very good reason to believe that the animal responsible for the boy’s death is the same one that has been killing some of our livestock.”

“Yes, it seems I’ve heard something about that.” Marshall said.

“And my question is very simply this. What action are you going to take on the matter?”

“Well, to be honest with you, Mr. Rawlins, we’re pretty backed up here and it’s not exactly a priority item right now.”

“Someone’s been killed by a predatory animal and it’s not a priority item? I don’t understand.”

“Well.” Elwood began, trying to choose his words properly. “Often when an animal, in this case a puma, does something like this, it’s considered a natural thing, an act of nature, if you will.”

“No I won’t. Will you?” Dan said. He was becoming exasperated. “Did anybody ask that boy’s parents if they’re going to let it go at that?”

“I know how you feel, Mr. Rawlins and I don’t blame you, but we’ll just have to tend to the matter when we can.” Marshall explained.

“And how, exactly, will you do that?”

“We’ll notify wardens in the area and they’ll make arrangements to hunt the animal down.”

“Uh-huh. After how many more people are killed?”

“I’m sorry, sir.”

“Thanks for your time Mr. Marshall. Goodbye.” Dan said and hung up immediately.

 

“Yeah, and he told me that when a cat kills anything, including a human being, they just chalk it up as life in the big city. You were right about that.”

“Okay, so what does that tell you?” Russ asked.

“They’re not gonna do anything.”

“And what does THAT tell you?”

“That it’s up to us.”

(3)

 

Heavy rains saturated central Colorado for the next two weeks before decent weather finally returned. And when it did, Russ received an unexpected visitor. He heard a knock on his front door one day in early November. Russ was in the kitchen watching Plowboy eat out of his giant dish. The dog immediately barked when he heard the knock.

“C’mon boy” Russ said, letting him out the back door.

“Wolfpaw! My God! How… How?” Russ said as he answered the door.

“I hitchhike.” The Indian told him.

“But how did you know where I live?”

“Wolfpaw not stupid.”

“Okay, I’ll take your word for that.”

“I hear about death of child. I try to tell those men they get wrong painter, but no white man ever believe TRUTH!” the Ute shouted.

“How did you hear about the…”

“I told you, Wolfpaw not st…”

“Yeah, not stupid, okay, okay, please, come in.” Wolfpaw looked around as if he’d never seen the inside of a large house before.

“Have a seat.” Russ said, and the Indian sat on the sofa. “Mr. Rawlins spoke to the game commission and…”

“They do nothing.” Wolfpaw said quickly.

“That’s right.” Said Russ. “Somehow I figured you’d know.”

“Wolfpaw know a lot of things.”

Russ stared for a moment, then said, “Such as?”

“You and your friend go after painter.”

“My, you are intuitive.”

“Whatever that mean.”

“I think you know what it means. And now for the punch line. We need a…”

“You need guide.”

“Amazing.” Russ said. “Are you interested?”

“Why you think I come?”

“Thank God. We’ll pay you for your…”

“Wolfpaw not interested in money!”

“Yeah, I think we’ve already discussed that.” Russ said, rubbing his chin.

“I go for own satisfaction. And to spite Billy Konklin!” the Ute said.

“Hot damn, this is gonna be a blast!” Russ thought but didn’t say.

Russ called Dan and told him about his visitor. He then gave Wolfpaw a hot meal and a place to rest. It was now 6:00 P.M. At about eight, Dan showed up and he and Russ sat down in the living room and began to talk over a cold beer.

“Well, if we’re gonna do it we better do it now. Greenhorn’s already starting to get a little snow up top.” Dan said as he chucked his first beer can into the trash next to the sofa. “Where’s Tonto?” he then asked Russ.

“He’s upstairs asleep. I didn’t see any point in him hitchhiking back to his place tonight.”

“You mean he thumbed his way out here?”

“Yeah.”

“Damn!”

“We can head out day after tomorrow morning. And spend the day tomorrow getting ready.” Russ suggested. “And I’ll make you a deal” he continued. “You hop in your truck and check your land and my south pasture and I’ll run into town and get our supplies.”

“Sounds like a plan.” Said Dan. “What about the Indian?”

“I’ll just let him shack-up here till we leave.”

“Might as well.” Dan concurred.

 

“It’s something we have to do.” Dan told Faye as they lay in bed and talked.

“But if the game commission doesn’t care about it then…” she said.

“The game commission didn’t lose any cattle or dogs or KIDS to that fuckin’ cat!”

“I know, baby.” Faye said as she snuggled up and hugged him. It just seems like such an impossible thing to do.”

It’s not impossible.” Dan told her as he rolled over on top of her.

They made love until dawn.

 

There wasn’t a cloud in the sky the next day as Dan surveyed his property and a large portion of Russ’. He noticed one section of fencing near his east gate was torn down. Probably by Solomon the night he was attacked. Everything else seemed to be reasonably in order as their cattle grazed peacefully. When he got home, he checked his mail before going in. Then the phone rang in the living room. He walked in and answered it.

“I picked up a shitload of supplies today in Pueblo. I hope we can tote it all.” Russ told him.

“We’ll tote it up as far as Silver Gorge, then we’re on foot.”

“You mean that’s as far as we can get in the pickup?” Russ asked.

“Fraid so. At least that’s the way I got it from Jim Cochoran.”

“When did you talk to him?”

“Oh it was some time ago before all this shit started. I was about to go deer hunting up there then had to scrub it at the last minute. But I needed a little information on the area.” Dan explained.

“Well, you gonna be ready to head out in the morning?” Russ asked.

“Yeah, I’m about to hit the hay.”

“I should be doing the same, but I’ve got to go see Molly for a while before I turn in.”

“Don’t stay out too late. Look for me around daybreak.” Dan told him.

“We’ll be ready.”

“I could get used to this.” Russ told Molly as they danced to “Never My Love” in her living room, the shag carpet caressing her bare feet.

“I already am.” She told him, laying the side of her face on his chest.

“Well, maybe we’ll have to talk about that when I get back from the mountain.”

“Oh, please be careful!” she said, hugging him tightly.

“I will, baby. But if we don’t go after that monster, nobody else will.”

(4)

 

Wolfpaw was just finishing breakfast as Russ was checking out his .308 Winchester rifle. As he was looking through its scope, he heard Dan’s pickup truck approaching and a dog barking. It wasn’t plowboy but Kaleb, Dan’s surviving Pitbull. But Plowboy was soon to get into the act as he charged out from under the house to meet Dan. Normally, Kaleb and Plowboy would not get along, but they had spent some time together on one of Russ and Dan’s hunting trips and soon recognized each other.

“Yo, Wolfpaw. Mr. Rawlins is here. Let’s load up.”

“I come.” The Ute replied as he entered the living room and retrieved his backpack from behind the sofa. “You have binoculars?” he asked Russ who looked surprised.

“Does a bear shit in the proverbial woods?”

“Bear do many things in woods.”

“Yes, I have binoculars. Go on outside, I’ll get my backpack.”

Russ secured his front door as they met Dan in the driveway. They were joined by Plowboy, who eagerly jumped into the pickup’s bed to greet Kaleb. The two formidable canines sniffed each other as dogs will then began a chorus of robust barking as if they knew exactly what was going on. Wolfpaw helped Russ load supplies into the side compartments of Dan’s truck.

“Let’s get this shit over with!” Dan yelled.

Wolfpaw sat between Dan and Russ on the truck’s bench seat. They drove the length of Russ’ driveway, turned right on SR 78 and headed for the base of Greenhorn. Ten minutes later it began to rain but it was only a cloudburst. And that was good because the roof of Dan’s 1958 Ford pickup leaked severely around the windshield, most profusely around the rearview mirror.

“We be dryer outside.” Wolfpaw said as the rainwater splattered off the dash, into his lap. Dan looked at him astonished. Russ chuckled.

“You think there’s a sense of humor in there somewhere.” Dan asked.

“It’s possible.” Russ replied, shaking his head and smiling.

They drove another twenty minutes free of conversation and when they neared the base of the mountain around 8:00 A.M. Wolfpaw said to Russ, “You think you get near top of mountain in truck, you wrong.”

“Yeah, I keep hearing that.” Russ told him.

“We’ll push it as far as we can then park and unload the basics.” Dan said.

….And as they arrived at the cliffs, it was just as Jim Cochoran had told Dan, who beared down on the trucks horn in disgust.

“Horn blows, how ‘bout the driver?” Russ said.

“Funny guy!” Dan snapped back. Russ could see a faint smile on Wolfpaw’s face.

“It still fifteen miles to summit.” The Indian said.

“Yeah, and it’d be just like that son of a bitch to have his den right at the tip top of this motherfucker.” Dan said.

“Well, times a’waistin. Let’s park this jalopy and unload.” Russ urged, as there was a clearing just to the left. Russ and Dan filled their backpacks with all the rations, ammo, spare clothing and first aid equipment they would hold. Kaleb and Plowboy were already up the first slope, eager to begin the hunt. Plowboy didn’t know what they were chasing, but Kaleb, in his own canine instinct, did.

“I sure thought we’d be able to get more than half way up before we had to hike.” Dan said as he pulled his Remington from the pickup’s gun rack, looking back down the rocky road. “How far back was the cutoff to Wolfpaw’s?” Dan asked.

“Maybe two miles.” Russ told him.

Wolfpaw ready.” The Ute said as he joined them, now wearing his backpack. “What say we get show on road?” he said to Dan.

“I like this guy.” Dan said to Russ who was smiling.

“Let’s do it.” Russ told them.

Fifteen minutes later they were hiking up the western slopes of Greenhorn, Wolfpaw leading the way. It was 2:00 P.M. when they reached Chucharas Plateau. This meant four hours of daylight before setting up camp. As this side of the mountain had been a possible “last seen” for the cougar, they were hoping to see some evidence of the predator. Preferably tracks. The first two miles were reasonably smooth, free of rocks and protruding brush. After two more miles they stopped to rest in a clearing that had a beautiful view to the south. Walsenville could be seen in the far distance.

“You guys have breakfast this morning?” Dan asked.

“What YOU think?” Wolfpaw said.

“And right when I thought it was gonna be a bad idea to bring him with us.” Dan told Russ.

“To answer your question, yes, we had breakfast.” Russ explained.

“The Indian there had six eggs, as many pancakes, sausage, toast and a quart of milk. And that was after all that shit about not liking white man’s food.”

“Wud you have?” Dan asked.

“Cereal, toast and orange juice.”

After topping themselves off with water, they resumed their trek up Greenhorn. Four miles up the trail, the three men were exhausted. They set up camp in a small clearing surrounded by woods. The two dogs, who were still full of energy, began exploring as Russ started looking for firewood. Most of their rations consisted of canned goods, sardines, chili or stew. But Russ had brought along some unthawed beefsteaks and this would be their meal tonight. Dan had four cans of dog food in his backpack. Wolfpaw started the fire and Russ prepared to make coffee. Soon, they were sitting around the fire, sipping coffee as three of the miniature steaks were sizzling over the open flame in Dan’s new aluminum frying pan.

“Hey look, he’s drinking coffee.” Dan said, pointing at Wolfpaw.

“Little choice.” The Indian said.

“He’s got a point.” Russ said.

“I hope we can get this thing wrapped up before our supplies run out. I didn’t bring my fishing pole.” Dan said.

“No place to fish up here anyway.” Wolfpaw told him.

“Well, that settles that one. What are our chances of getting this animal anyway.” Dan asked the Indian.

“Less than 50-50.” Wolfpaw said. “And if we fail, Wolfpaw suggest you forget about painter forever.”

“Where do you think he is?” Russ asked.

“Most painter dens above eight thousand feet.”

“You gotta be SHITTIN’ me!” Dan exclaimed.

“Painter not stupid either. That how they stay away from man.”

“Yeah, well, I owe him for a little visit he paid THIS man.”

“Here, here!” Russ said, raising his coffee in a toast.

“And I’ll show you something I brought along, if anybody wants to see.” Dan said. He opened one of the side pouches of his backpack and pulled out a bottle with a skull and crossbones on the label. “It’s okay by me if we get him this way.” He said.

“Aw shit. Isn’t that dirty pool?” Russ asked.

“Who gives a fuck what kind of pool it is?”

“Yeah, I see your point…. Sort of.”

“That not fair. That make you worse than painter.” Wolfpaw objected.

“Yeah, well, it’s like Youngblood said. It’s not how you play the game, it’s whether or not you win or lose.” Dan replied.

“Hey, why don’t we eat.” Russ said, in an attempt to change the subject.

“They done yet?” Dan asked.

“I don’t know.” Russ said as he turned the steaks in the skillet.

Three minutes later they were eating. And when they finished, Russ broke out three cigars he had picked up in Pueblo and passed them around. Wolfpaw lit one end of a small twig in the fire and lit his cigar. He then handed it to Russ, who, in turn, gave it to Dan. And as they smoked, they talked. When Wolfpaw finished his stoagie, he unrolled his sleeping bag and retired without saying a word. Russ and Dan talked for another hour.

“Why do I get the feeling this is a waste of time?” Dan said.

“I was thinking the same thing. But… we’ll know in a day or two.” Russ replied. “Well, I’m hittin’ the hay.”

“Right.” Dan said. “I’ll feed the hounds and be right behind you.”

 

After breakfast of instant potatoes and bacon, they resumed their ascent of Greenhorn with Kaleb and Plowboy leading the way. Leaving no stone unturned, the two dogs investigated everything and promptly scared up a group of cottontails which scattered in every direction. Kaleb went in one direction, Plowboy another, but both came up empty.

“Too fast for ya, huh boy.” Russ said to Plowboy, taking his face in his hands. The dog licked Russ’ face with enthusiasm.

The next hour was uneventful as the incline grew steeper and they decided to take a break. The men separated themselves from their backpacks and weapons and sat down, using rocks for chairs.

“How much tougher is this gonna get?” Dan asked, still painting.

“Fun not begin yet.” Wolfpaw answered.

“Aw, I don’t know why in the hell I even asked.”

“Well, you could have figured this wasn’t gonna be a picnic.” Russ contributed. The dogs were still exploring, not the least bit winded.

“Wudda ya figure the altitude is here, Tonto?” Dan asked the Indian.

Wolfpaw looked at Dan and hesitated before answering, resenting the sarcasm. “Maybe eight thousand.” He told Dan.

“So, we’ve got at least another thousand to go before things start getting interesting. Right?”

“Right, Kemosabe.” WolfPaw said. Russ laughed.

“Okay, I get the picture. How do you prefer to be addressed?” Dan asked him.

“Wolfpaw do fine.”

“All right, you got it. Let’s get movin’” Dan replied, putting on his backpack.

 

A hawk now circled above them, expressing her disapproval of their close proximity to her nest. They continued their climb at a much slower pace than when they started and took frequent breaks, using their water sparingly. By three o’clock they had reached the 8500 foot level of the mountain where they again took a breather.

“You see what I see?” Russ said.

“No. What?” Dan asked.

“Treeline.” Wolfpaw said as he sat on the ground.

“Oh, yeah.” Dan said, gazing up the slope, shading his eyes with one hand. “Thought the vegetation was thinning out a little.”

“We make camp again before get there.” said Wolfpaw.

“Suits the hell out of me.” Dan said.

By five o’clock they had almost reached the clearing they would use for the night. This was when Wolfpaw spotted the first puma tracks. They were accompanied by deer tracks.

“Wutcha got?” Russ asked as the Indian inspected his find.

“This cat female.”

“What?” Dan said, joining them.

“Female painter make different track than male.” The Ute told Dan.

“Not to mention smaller.” Russ added as Wolfpaw looked at him.

“Deer carcass not far. We try find before dark.”

After another half an hour of hiking, Kaleb and Plowboy caught the scent of the carcass. The men followed as fast as they could as the dogs bellowed with anticipation. Fifteen minutes later, Russ, Dan and Wolfpaw were standing over the dead buck which was more than half devoured.

“How long’s it been there?” Dan asked.

“Fresh kill.” The Indian said.

“That’s not all that’s fresh. Take a look.” Russ said as he pointed at a new and larger set of cougar tracks.

After inspecting the new tracks, Wolfpaw stood up and, after gazing up the mountain for a few seconds, he looked at Russ.

“Well?” Russ said.

“Lady painter have mate.”

“Yeah, so it would seem. Wonder where he is?” Dan said, caressing the sling of his 6mm Remington.

“You think it’s….?” Russ asked, looking at Wolfpaw.

“It possible. This cat plenty big. Won’t know till examine HIS carcass.”

“I’ll see what I can arrange.” Dan said.

“We need camp soon. Must stay close to deer carcass.”

“Okay. Let’s take the next half decent spot.” Russ said. Fortunately, that spot was only seventy-five yards ahead. It wasn’t as level a place as the night before but it had enough of a flat spot to suffice. The dogs were still back at the site of the dead deer, but soon joined their masters as Russ & Co. began to settle in for the night. It would be canned beef stew tonight along with biscuits. As it turned out, the only food Wolfpaw had brought was beef jerky. But he was happy to share Russ and Dan’s food. But they didn’t mind because they knew the Indian was imperative to the success of the expedition.

 

Our cat was perched atop his den just above the tree line. As he looked down the mountain, he saw a campfire. This could only mean one thing- humans. His first thought was to look out for number one. But he also knew he had a mate and three newborn cubs to protect. He would not venture far from the den for the next thirty-six hours as he and his family were now well fed. His enemies, now camped just below the tree line, were exhausted from their two-day ascent of Greenhorn and would sleep the majority of the next day and a half.

The hunting party woke up exactly twenty-four hours after they bedded down. They were well rested but hungry. They watched the sunset down the western slope of Greenhorn as they cooked the last of the steaks, which were packed in salt.

“It’s fuckin’ freezin’ up here.” Dan said to Wolfpaw as they stood over the fire watching their sizzling steaks.

“We need take care of business quick before snow come.” The Indian said.

“When will that be?” Dan asked him.

“Very soon.”

“And if we don’t?”

“Then we die up here.”

“Uh-huh. So, when you say “very soon” what do y…?”

“Tomorrow, next day at outside.”

“Swell.” Dan said as he squatted down to warm his hands. Russ then joined him by the fire and began to make coffee.

“Well, we slept all day, so it looks like a long night unless somebody brought a deck of cards.” Russ said.

“All kidding aside, that wouldn’t have been a bad idea.” Dan agreed.

“I wasn’t kidding.”

“We can always tell jokes.” Dan suggested.

“Yeah.” Russ said, gazing up the mountain. The moon was just short of full and he could see the silhouette of the top of Greenhorn against the sky. “It might be a wise move if one of us stands guard tonight just in case anybody dozes off. We wouldn’t want any resourceful critters sneaking up on us.” Russ continued.

“I think the dogs would wake us up plenty in advance.” Dan said.

“Wolfpaw not need much sleep.”

“Are you volunteering?” Russ asked the Ute. He didn’t answer.

Having eaten the last of the steaks, the vittles for the rest of the trip consisted of sardines, beef jerky, crackers and very little else, but Russ had brought along a six-ounce bottle of Skol Vodka. That was just about enough to give each of them one nice, powerful shot. They drank their Vodkas, which they put in their coffee.

“Got any more of that?” Dan asked.

“Sorry to disappoint you, old buddy, but the last thing we need is to get shitfaced. Especially at this point.”

“Yeah.” Dan grudgingly agreed.

“But what I do have is a good supply of are these.” Russ said, and handed Dan and Wolfpaw a cigar.

“Oh, you’re a great man, Russ boy. I don’t care what he says.” Dan said, referring to Wolfpaw. The Indian lit his in the same way as last time and promptly blew a smoke ring.

“Hey, that’s awesome. How do ya do that?” Russ said, impressed.

“White man not understand.”

“Gotcha!” Dan said, pointing at Russ.

“Well, I can live without blowing a smoke ring.” Russ replied, shrugging his shoulders.

“Wolfpaw not often smoke, but these not bad.” The Indian said.

“We aim to please.” Russ told him, tipping the bill of his L.A. Dodgers ball cap.

“So, what’s it gonna be, twenty questions?” Dan asked as he puffed his cigar.

“Yeah, I’ve got one for ya.” Russ said.

“Shoot.”

“What would you rather be, a virile pauper or an impotent millionaire?”

“Oh hell, leave it up to you to come up with THAT.” Dan said.

“Well?”

“I don’t know, I’d have to think about it.” Dan said, scratching his head with his free hand. “And while I’m thinking, here’s one for you. If you could control the weather or politics, which would it be?”

“Aw damn. I’d have to think about it.” Russ said, and they laughed.

At 2:00 A.M. the men were still sitting around the fire drinking coffee and telling dirty jokes. They had also finished off the rest of Russ’ cigars. By four, Russ and Dan had dozed off and Wolfpaw sat Indian style next to the dying campfire, meditating. Thirty minutes later, Russ woke up and proceeded into the bush to urinate, and the cat screamed.

Dan sprang to his feet as Kaleb and Plowboy bellowed.

“Shit! It’s not even five. What’re we gonna do!?” Dan yelled.

“I don’t know!” Russ said as he grabbed his rifle and looked down at Wolfpaw, who was still seated by the fire. The Indian began to chant as the dogs were now going crazy. Kaleb was chewing at his chain leash trying to get free.

“Ho weh nah ah keh a keh!” Wolfpaw chanted as Russ tried to calm the dogs. “Ah keh ah keh moleh ta moleh taaahh!” the Indian continued.

“Get your rifle!” I’ll be sunup in a half hour but we can’t wait! I’m gonna turn the dogs loose!” Russ yelled to Dan.

“Tee kee nah, toe kee nah, mo kaheh, mo kaheh!” Wolfpaw chanted.

“Will you tell him to shut the fuck up!?” Dan said.

“No time! Let’s go!” Russ yelled.

There was just enough moonlight for them to see their way up the slope. It was bitter cold with a stiff wind. They bundled up as best they could and took off with Plowboy and Kaleb leading the way. Thirty minutes later the sun cracked the horizon and they could see the rocky western face of Greenhorn as it was now devoid of trees. They could see a dark spot, perhaps a shadow, that might indicate a cave entrance but it was a healthy quarter mile ahead. And it would be rough going. What was left of a path was heavily obstructed by boulders and uneven terrain. It would be a tough climb but they began their ascent, following the dogs. A little later, the path became smoother with fewer rocks as they and the hounds took a break. It was about seven thirty.

“What I want to know is what the fuck are we gonna do when we get up there besides die of exposure?” Dan asked, lying down on his back.

“With any luck, we’ll nail the bastard and go home.” Russ answered.

“And without any luck?”

“Nevermind that. We’re on a mission, so let’s do it!”

Now it was full daylight and Kaleb and Plowboy began to broaden the gap and they had now picked up a scent. They began to bark with vigor as they hustled up the mountainside. At one point, they were a good three-hundred yards ahead of Russ and Dan.

“Whoa boy, whoa!” Russ yelled. Plowboy stopped, then turned and looked but Kaleb continued on. The men scaled the rocky face of the mountain as fast as they could. They finally reached Plowboy who started to lick Russ’ hand. Kaleb was still well ahead of them and Dan spotted the Pitbull as he was approaching what now definitely appeared to be a den entrance.

“Yo!” Dan yelled. Kaleb turned and looked, barking wildly then retreated about fifty yards and waited. When Russ, Dan and Plowboy reached him, the four of them took their final break before approaching the mouth of the cave. It was a short one.

“He picked up on something in or near that hole in the wall.” Dan said, referring to his dog.

“Yeah, well, I hope it’s wh…” Russ began.

The cat screamed. And as they looked toward the cave, they saw the freak of nature they had come for perched on a boulder just outside the den’s entrance, which was now only 150 yards away. The dogs reacted immediately and charged up the grade. Kaleb somehow knew this cat was the cat that killed his brother. Dan didn’t have a clear shot but tried one anyway. The 6mm projectile shattered part of the rock splattering it into the cougar’s eyes. The enraged cat screamed and charged down the grade like a rabid linebacker. Five seconds later, he met Kaleb and tried to avoid the dog but the full pedigreed Staffordshire terrier was hell-bent on settling the issue. He lunged at the cat camping his powerful jaws firmly down on his upper right leg. The puma now knew this was the same animal that had nearly crippled him some months ago in the attack at Dan Rawlins’ barn. The cat then rolled to his left in an attempt to free himself but Kaleb hung tough. At that moment, Plowboy was on top of the mountain lion and tried unsuccessfully to bite into the huge cat’s tree-trunk neck. Dan and Russ were now only fifty yards away and Russ was leveling his .308 Winchester at this mass of canine and feline fury.

“Don’t, Russ, you could hit the dogs!” Dan yelled.

“FUCK FUCK FUCK!!!” Russ screamed.

Plowboy was now making a second attempt at the cat’s jugular. And this was when one of the cougar’s massive front paws with its set of needle sharp claws ripped the Bull Mastiff’s abdomen open. Blood poured out onto the rocks as the dog howled in pain, dying almost immediately. He now laid on the rocks, blood still flowing out of his lifeless body. The cat then rolled back over Kaleb. The dog was now forced to let go as the tremendous weight of the cat began to suffocate him. The moment he was free, the big feline, sprinted toward Russ and Dan, then veered off down the mountainside toward the campsite. Russ shouldered his Winchester and fired. The spire joint .30 caliber bullet caught the cat at the nape of his thickly muscled neck. He tumbled three complete flips before regaining his feet and disappeared into the massive granite formation. Kaleb, still not intimidated, gave chase, and just before he vanished into the rocks, Wolfpaw screamed.

“Oh shit! The Indian!” Dan shouted.

But Russ, as if not hearing Dan, dropped his rifle, shattering the fine-tuned glass in its telescopic sight. He then went to Plowboy and dropped to his knees beside his dead pet. He fell headlong over the animal- and cried. He then removed his collar and tag.

“I love you, boy.” He said, placing his hand on the carcass, then walked back to Dan.

Dan followed Kaleb down the grade to the campsite where Wolfpaw lay mauled by the cat. The dog was not to be seen. Dan then waited for Russ to finish grieving as he had had to do when the cougar killed Lawsuit, Kaleb’s brother. About an hour later, Russ came moping into the campsite.

“Jeeeesus.” He immediately said, looking at what was left of the Indian.

“It’s almost as if he wanted to die.” Dan said staring at his remains.

“Yeah. His heart just wasn’t in the hunt.” Dan lamented.

“Looks like Kaleb got his licks in.” Dan said as he looked at the trail of blood leading out of the campsite. “He took a chunk out of that motherfucker’s front leg. And you put a bullet in him somewhere.”

“But not somewhere enough.” Russ said, disgusted.

“Let’s go find Kaleb.” Dan said as he stood up and put his arm around Russ, who had now again begun to cry.

They buried Wolfpaw and started down the mountain.

 

(5)

Our cat, as it turned out, actually made it to the flatlands at the southwest corner of Greenhorn. He bled profusely due to his injuries, courtesy of Kaleb and Russ, in that order. He would certainly have bled to death on his own. But instead, he made the fatal mistake of exposing himself in a wide-open area at the base of the mountain, where he was attacked and killed by a pack of wild dogs. And Wolfpaw wouldn’t have had to kiss any white man’s ass in Pueblo County or any other. If our cat had ever been placed on a scale, he would have tipped them at a “mere” 237 pounds!

 

EPILOG

 

Wolfpaw’s remains were retrieved forthwith by a Colorado Game Commission helicopter. He was given the customary Ute Indian burial in San Isabel forest, near his cabin. Russ and Dan were the only ones in attendance with the exception of an old Ute medicine man they managed to locate in Beaulah, who performed the above ground ceremony. The chant that Wolfpaw was singing at the final campsite was called “Song of the Painter,” written by his Ute ancestors centuries ago.

The parents of the child killed by our cat just before the Greenhorn Mountain showdown had declared that they would, after hearing about Wolfpaw, pay an “out of pocket” bounty to anyone bringing in the carcass of a man-killing mountain lion. This, however, turned out to be unnecessary. The Colorado Fish and game Commission soon announced that they would take full responsibility for the disposal of such animals.

Russ and Dan received another bill from Chase Inc. for the balance of their services. They wrote Damon Youngblood a letter telling him, in effect, “If you want it, come and get it.” Dan and Russ then contacted the Denver Post, telling them of Chase Inc.’s sleazy methods and intimidation tactics used to collect their fees. Once exposed, other letter came pilling in to the Post about Chase. When one too many letters came to the newspaper, the Post finally published a not too kind article and notified the state’s attorney who launched a full investigation. Damon Youngblood was finally issued an ultimatum to either close his office or do prison time. He chose the former.

….. And on a beautiful Saturday night in 1971, Billy Konklin made his final visit to the Synagogue in Pueblo. It seems that he and his friends from the now defunct Chase Inc. entered the strip club after they were already heavily intoxicated from visiting two other establishments earlier that evening. As it turned out, there were no vacant tables, so Billy took it upon himself to remove the occupants from one of the tables near the stage. And it looked as though he might be successful in doing so until the nine-inch bayonet blade entered his liver. It seems the gentleman with the weapon took exception to Billy’s gesture and expressed it in this most harsh manner. Billy bled to death before the meat wagon arrived. The man, a sixty-year-old Korean War veteran and dishwasher at a local hash house was arrested and charged in the incident but did no appreciable jail time given the circumstances. This Synagogue was closed until the following Monday.

Molly moved in with Russ and they lived together for the next six years before tying the knot in 1973. Faye Rawlins died of cancer the following year and a devastated Dan Rawlins sold his ranch and moved to Denver and rented an apartment. He then proceeded to spend all his assets on Jim Beam bourbon. He died of liver cirrhosis in 1985.

On a mild summer evening one month after Dan’s passing, Russ and Molly sat on their front porch. Their child, eleven-year old Faye Ransome was upstairs in her room, soundly asleep. Russ was on his fourth vodka and cranberry double. He intermittently sobbed as he lamented to Molly about his friend. Molly got up from her rocker and walked over to him and bent over and kissed his forehead.

…… And when the half-moon appeared above the dark and peaceful summit of Greenhorn Mountain…. The cat screamed.


Submitted: March 06, 2019

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