No Man's Land - Excerpt
The silence of that Thursday morning, on a brisk fall day when a person could see his own breath, was interrupted by a loud “over here.” Ryan, the ranch’s line boss and son of Max, along with the hired hands, had been in the saddle since sun-up combing the trail in search of him. As Ryan rode in the direction of the loud shout, he noticed for the first time the many buzzards lazily circling overhead, and knew that with them there, it always meant death. Reining up beside his brother, Russell, he noticed the blank stare on his face. That told him all he needed to know, along with the circling birds of death, to tell him what he had been worried about concerning his father. Looking down into the ravine, the first thing that caught his eye was the large pure- white Stetson. Looking carefully, he noticed the hat band which had sported several large silver conches were missing from it. That Stetson was Max’s pride and joy. It was a gift for the hard work he had put in to get the railroad to reroute the tracks so instead of bypassing Jackson Hole, Jackson Hole would now have a station, which was necessary for a town to grow and expand. Without the railroad to move commercial goods in and out of a town, that town was doomed.
The hopes of the town was that it would become a major hub in the shipping of cattle and horses to both the east and west coast. That white Stetson now lay in the dirt. Next, his eyes zeroed in on the fancy tooled saddle that was decorated with silver conches, which Max had modeled after the missing ones on his hat band. Ryan had always admired that saddle and knew that someday he would own it. Then there was the Big Red, “Duchess”. Only one man in the whole state rode a Big Red and that was Max. They were nicknamed “Devil’s Angels”. They had the reputation of being evil tempered and non-trainable, but Max had raised Duchess from a filly and they had bonded just like father and daughter. Every once in a while they butted heads, and when they did, well let’s just say, it was a sight to behold. Now, seeing her lying there, lifeless, brought a tear to Ryan’s otherwise cold, steel expression. Lying across Duchess, face down, was Max, his face matted with dried blood and caked on dirt. It looked like Duchess had fallen first and Max landed on top of her. That broke his fall, somewhat, but not enough to save his life. Tears that had formed in Ryan’s eyes were wiped off on his shirt sleeve, he then dismounted and made his way down the steep bank, followed by Russell. Checking the body of the horse, Ryan determined she had probably been dead for at least two days, which meant that all this had to have happened the evening of the same day he had left. Swarms of flies and maggots could be seen crawling around inside holes that had been gouged out where the buzzards had been feasting.
Then he noticed something very strange. Gone was his dad’s fancy saddle bag. In its place was an old worn out battered leather one. That doesn’t make any sense at all. I wonder what happened to his fancy one. Ryan then focused his attention on his dad. Clenching his teeth, slowly and carefully as if he didn’t want to cause his dad any more pain, Ryan untangled the crushed body. Although he lay on top, one of his feet was caught in the stirrup. As he rolled the body over, Max’s eyes slowly opened and he looked directly into the eyes of his oldest son, then as though he had been holding his breath until help came, he gave off a loud, opened mouthed gasp, then exhaled for the last time. Max, the stealth figure who over the past couple of years had held his sons in check was dead. Ryan would become the head of the “Triple R”. That day, Ryan swore to himself, If it’s last thing I ever do I will find out who did this. Deep down in his gut he was sure it was someone from the “Double D.” Now, Randy C. Maxwell, better known as “Max”, the owner of the “Triple R” ranch, had been two days overdue in returning from the county seat where he had gone to secure a land deed for five hundred acres of pasture land which he thought his daddy Raymond Maxwell had staked out and claimed over fifty years ago, lay dead. Frank Dalton, the owner of the “Double D” ranch that bordered that parcel of land, had a gentleman’s handshake with Max, which allowed him grazing rights on that land, which also featured a running spring for his cattle during extra dry seasons. Every member of both families was aware of that agreement, but since the death of Frank and the crumbling relationship between Max and Frank’s daughter, Emily, that parcel of land had become a major contention between the two families. Max sought legal help when no land deed could be found. Emily was trying to claim ownership since her father’s death which she held Max responsible for. The old ways of the gentleman’s handshake would make way for barbed wire and gunpowder in a land battle that would only end when the last strand of barbed wire was cut and the last gunshot fired, even if it took a hundred years.