Wholy Cow by Jean-Paul Tertocha

posted Oct 13, 2016, 7:48 AM by Jean-Paul Tertocha   [ updated Aug 20, 2017, 8:00 AM ]
Wholycow 
by:
Jean-Paul Tertoca
    1.

     Strother Jones stopped his horse on a low hill and surveyed the
land in front of him.  Cattle littered the landscape.  Scattered as far
as the eye could see.
     A deep frown set into the 35 year old face.  Jones reached with
his right hand into the saddle bag and brought out a set of binoculars.
He pulled the amber lensed, black rimmed sunglasses from his face and
replaced them with the binoculars.
     "What the hell is going on here," he exclaimed to the wind.
     His curse was initiated by seeing his neighbors brand on some of
the cattle intermingling with his. It was normal to have some mixing of
brands on the open range.  Lately though the intermixing of brands
between his and his neighbors have been chronic and excessive.  There
was no herd to speak of.  Just a bunch of cattle meandering over the
wide range.  Jones was a stickler on keeping a tight herd, even while
grazing.  He also liked his men to keep a close eye on things, and he
saw none of them in sight.
     Jones felt as though his skin was on fire.  Not from the noon sun
shining on his bare back, but from the fire that was beginning inside
of him.  This was the third time in two weeks he found this particular
group of animals in this way.  To top it off, buzzards were flying
their ghoulish formation about a mile West of him.  Strother Jones was
mad!  That meant another lost head!
     He came to this site just to look around.  He had no shirt and was
dressed in jeans and square nosed boots.  On his head, the traditional
cowboy hat, in this case white.
     Strother Jones wanted to hit something right now.  At least yell
and curse, maybe throwing an object at another one.  He was the boss
though.  The owner of the decent ranch that had been in
his family four generations.   He couldn't afford the luxury of a
tantrum, he had to find out what was going on.
     He put the binoculars back into the saddle bag and began to head
north.  He eased the horse into a trot as he scanned the horizon for
the man in charge.
     It didn't take very long for the man to be spotted.  Jones tapped
the horses sides with his boots and went into a gallop towards his
find.  The man turned towards him as he approached.  Upon recognition
his face went from a look of disgust to one of worry.
     Strother Jones reached his hired hand and quickly slowed his horse
to a stop.
     " What the hell is going on Art," Jones asked his foreman in a
harsh tone.
     Arthur Veew, a six year employee of the Sleepy K ranch, opened his
mouth but nothing came out.  He started a couple of years after he got
out of high school.
     "Don't you see anything unusual here," shouted Jones.
     "Mr. Jones, I uhh, I... ."
     "Spit it out man, I want an answer!"
     "I don't have one sir, I just got up an hour ago" Veew finally
replied.  He looked as though he was going to have a heart attack when
he said this.
     "It's NOON Art, what happened to up at sunrise?"
     "Mr. Jones I'm sorry sir... ."  Veew started to explain but was
interrupted by the roar of a Jeep coming over the hill.
     Strother Jones looked around to see who the visitor was.  "Shit,
it's Milligan."
     Leroy Milligan was owner of the Bar O ranch.  Located North of the
Sleepy K.  He was in his fifties.  As opposed to Jones more
cosmopolitan appearance, for a rancher, Milligan could easily be
described as gruff.  He wore the traditional pointed cowboy boots,
jeans, a flannel shirt with the sleeves ripped out, with a wide brown
straw hat upon his head.
     He stopped his Jeep near the two men who sat on their horses.  He
began talking before he reached them.
     "What's going on, Stro, ain't you got enough cows of your own,"
he asked.  His question not filled with humor.
    "I don't know Leroy,"  replied Jones, I just got here myself."
Strother turned to his ranch hand, "Art, get everyone available
together and straighten this mess out.  And find out who's cow the
buzzards are eating!"
     "Yes sir."  Art was only too happy to get out of there.  His boss
should cool down, he hoped.  In the mean time he needed to make up some
brownie points bad.
     Then the thought entered his head. "What the hell IS going on?"

                                                                          2.

     Strother spent nearly four hours with his neighbor and the ranch
hands.  Calming the first while assisting and directing the help.  The
sun was low and the air was cooling down.  Although tired, the chill of
the evening air on his bare torso kept him alert.  He felt like the
Marlboro Man(r) after a hard day on the range.  Well, it was a hard 1/2
day on the range.
     The buzzards were in fact chewing on the mutilated remains of a
cow.  One of his.  That made three lost in two weeks.  All of them full
sized adults nearly ready for market.  Any rancher is adjusted to the
fact he cannot keep all the animals alive all the time.  Jones saw a
bad pattern developing here though, which could lead to an expensive
loss of revenue for the ranch if it continued unchecked.
     Jones saw the light gray late model Toyota parked outside the
house.  Oh boy, Beth's here.  She was a delight of course,  the best
woman he has been with to date.  But he didn't know if he wanted to
deal with her tonight.  The marriage spook has been hovering over their
relationship and this scared Strother Jones a great deal.
     He turned his horse towards the barn and dismounted the animal
when they reached it.  He could gather his thoughts while taking care
of the horse.  This really didn't take long.  Second nature to one who
used horses regularly.
     Jones finished up by making sure the animal had plenty of water,
and feed.  He grabbed the saddle bags then walked to the house, but he
wasn't ready to go in yet.  So he walked up and onto the porch and over
to the porch swing dropping the saddle bags.  He took off his dusty
hat, tossed it on the swing, then sat down beside it.
     Strother Jones didn't smoke much, but like the character he felt
like earlier, he enjoyed a good smoke after riding the range.  He
reached into one of the saddle bags pulled a cigarette out of the pack
inside and lit it up.
     He heard Beth in the house.  She didn't live with him although she
did spend a lot of time here.  The door was never locked.  The two
German Shepherds he had kept an eye on things pretty well.
     She came out side letting the wooden screen door slam behind her.
She was barefoot and in snug short shorts.  A loose yellow tank top
covered her top.  Plus a scattered layer of dirt and dust in various
places.
     "My, but you're a mess," she said to him sweetly.  Her green eyes
met his brown ones.
     "You are too," replied Jones adding, "but I have an excuse.  I'm a
rancher.  Been rolling in the dust to get rid of fleas?"
     "No goof, I was planting the garden," she explained as she lightly
waltzed over to the front of him.  "More trouble on the range huh?"
     "Ya, another butchered cow, no herd to speak of, and more of
Milligan's cattle on my range than mine," said Jones in a dejected
tone."
     "You think Milligan is up to something," she questioned.
     "Na, Leroy's a straight shooter.  Anyway the guys loaded and
doesn't like trouble.  He thinks I'm up to something."
     "Are you?"
     Jones pursed his lips and looked at the woman with a scowl, "what
do you mean by that?"
     "Well," she hesitated, "last week I was coming in to see you.  I
was coming on county 44 about, oh nine or so, and I thought I heard a
vacuum cleaner."
     Strother Jones said nothing to this.  He just raised his eyebrows.
     "A very loud vacuum cleaner," she said defiantly.
     Not good, she thought.  Her man looked as though he was getting
upset.  She probably should have not even mentioned the stupid noise,
unusual as it was.  She then had an idea to get the range off of Stro's
mind.
     "Say," she continued, "we should really conserve water and both of
us are a mess."  Her eyebrows then went up and down a few times as a
sly look spread across her face.
     "I haven't had any supper," Strother lamely stated.
     "Are you all that hungry," she asked as she ran her index finger
of her left hand across his upper lip.
     "Actually no, let's get cleaned up."
     With that said they both went into the house.

                                                                             3.

    What started as an isolated incident continued on as a periodic
event.  Three weeks had gone by with a mutilated cow and oversleeping
ranch hands every three to four days.  The butchered cows always
belonging to the Sleepy K.  Strother Jones was getting madder as the
days went on.  His neighbor, Leroy Milligan, becoming more unsociable.
His cows were regularly ending up on Sleepy K ranges in greater
numbers.  At least he wasn't loosing any,  he always got them back
intact.  More than Strother Jones could say for himself.
    Beth had told him of her weird encounters in the night while
heading for the ranch house.  Bluish lights, combined with the sound of
a giant vacuum cleaner.  She seemed very sincere and a bit scared of
what she saw and heard.  Jones did not know what to make of any of it.
    The men are screwing up on purpose, they were getting dumber as
time went on, or there was an outside source of his ranches problem.
He thought his pay was fair.  Jones heard not one complaint since he
began to run the ranch.  If things went good, they got a bonus.  If
things were bad, they still got their pay.  The work was no harder on
the Sleepy K than any other ranch.
    Did he have an enemy?  Strother Jones liked to think not.  But the
possibility was there.  He had a tendency to tell it like it is.  Not
everybody cared for direct conversation.
    Things have gotten so out of control he felt he had to do some
direct investigation himself.  He told Beth that he was going out of
town on business.  An old schtick for sure, but Jones actually did have
to leave for business now and then.  So why not use it.
    He was smack dab in the middle of his ranch.  Jones brought a
couple of days supplies and did so on foot.  He started out at dusk,
taking a bit over two hours to reach this spot.
    Facing North, he could guard a herd of the Lazy K's cattle.  To the
West of them a small fire and it's smoke was visible in the distance.
The air was calm and crystal clear.  "Perfect," thought Jones, "If
anything happens tonight at least I'll see it.  If it happens here that
is."
    There were other herds out on this night.  But the one Strother
Jones kept a leery eye upon was the largest.
    It was going to be a long night more than likely.  So the lone
rancher began his vigil with a cup of jet black coffee.  He sat down
with it on the bare earth and began to scan the night.
    Several hours passed by.  Jones lost track of them.  Despite the
coffee he drank,  drowsiness overtook him.
    Strother Jones suddenly jerked awake.  Briefly puzzled, he looked
around to get his bearings.  He looked at his watch and found it to be
3:10 in the A. M..
    Then his consciousness heard the noise that must have awakened him.
It sounded like a vacuum cleaner.  Beth must be getting to him.  Jones
poured some of the now lukewarm coffee into a cup, and gulped it down.
He then grabbed his night vision binoculars.
    Strother Jones made a slow pan of the herd, starting West and
panning towards the East.  The sound was getting louder, but he did not
find its source.  No one stirred in the campsite.  The cattle moved
around a bit, not as they were startled though.
    Then the noise stopped.  Promptly taken over by the natural sounds
of the night.  Jones kept the binoculars glued to his head.  Then he
saw a figure!  It was upright, black as the night, and moved swiftly.
The creature approached one of the cows , some blurred motion went on,
and the shadowy figure darted back from the animal.  Within a few
seconds the cow just fell over.  As though it was a ceramic figurine
that had toppled onto it's side.
    Another of the night creatures then came out, and the two
approached the stricken bovine.  A few seconds went by then one of the
creatures raised its arms and waved to the West.  Waved?
    Instantly the vacuum cleaner sound began.  The cattle began to get
restless and some began to wonder off.  Strother Jones soon found out
why.
    From a westerly direction, and towards the heard, approached a
vehicle like Jones had never seen.  I was rounded and very low to the
ground.  As far as Jones could tell in the dark, the mechanism did not
actually touch the ground.  "What's going on here,"  Jones thought,
"I'm being accosted by aliens?"
     As he watched through the binoculars, the 'aliens' craft moved
towards the fallen cow.  Then Jones began to realize what was going on.
"Hidecutters", he mumbled to himself, "stinkin' hidecutters."
     As the hidecutters began to work at maneuvering the cow onto the
vehicle, Strother Jones began to sneak forward with the rifle he
brought with him for the vigil.
     The thieves had their job of putting the large beast on their
vehicle done when Jones got into shooting range.  He couldn't contain
himself anymore.
     "Hold it right there", Jones yelled out.
     The two visible people in the black ninja type suits jumped up,
looked around toward Jones, then quickly jumped up on the craft.  Jones
was running now.  As he closed in he could see the machine was a large
hover craft.  It was amazingly quite.
      The high tech hidecutters did not heed Jones warning, and began
 to pick up speed.  Jones dropped to one knee, took aim, and began to
 fire.  The rifle was semi-automatic and burst the rounds as quick as
 Jones could pull the trigger.  He was not out to kill, his intention
 was to disable the craft by putting holes in the air apron below it.
 It was beginning to work.  The hover craft looked as though it was
 leaning towards its rear.
      Strother Jones heard the click of an empty chamber.  He jumped up
and began to run again in pursuit of the hover craft.  While he ran he
pulled the empty clip from the gun and replaced it with a full one from
his gun belt.  As soon as it was loaded Jones again went into a
shooting position.
      This time one of his bullets struck a vital part.  He hit the
fuel tank.  The machine burst into flame, tossing the riders and the
sole driver off and away from the vehicle.  The machine then traveled a
few yards on, came to a slamming halt, and became totally engulfed in
flame, along with another one of Jones cows.
     Strother Jones then replaced the second clip he emptied from his
gun and replaced it with the last full one he had.  In the dark he
could see the three cattle thieves sprawled on the ground.  They all
began to move and groan as Jones approached them.  "Too bad", was his
gruesome thought.
     He will have to remember this night.  He could see himself telling
his grandkids of the time he captured the Flying Ninja Hidecutters,
single handed.

©2013 Jean-Paul Tertocha




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