Chapter 1

My day had been very busy and I was tired. As I sat relaxing for a minute, Terry handed me a beer. She usually did this just before she put supper on the table. Without any preamble, "Johnny, I want a divorce. I'm not getting what I expected from you. We've been married seven years, and I'm afraid the next seven will be more of the same. Sooo, I want out."

As if I needed this. "Have you been messing around and found someone better?"

"Maybe, but that's my business. It doesn't concern you at this point. To be fair I'm willing to settle for less than half of our assets in the divorce."

"And how much is less than half going to cost me?"

"I want the house and my car and half of what is in our savings. You get to keep the business. You have your 403b account and you can keep that. That's fair isn't it?"

"Could be. You haven't mentioned anything about love. That should be considered."

"You are handsome enough. You can get sex from any woman in town."

"I know I can get sex. I said love."

"You mean you could still love me after I have just asked you for a divorce? Wake up Johnny, I'm gone and whatever love I had for you has been gone for awhile."

"Okay you've made that plain. You want to tell me what happened to us? Actually I mean you?"

"The thing I want to get away from the most is your name. Not the name really, but what everyone calls you. Junkin Duncan and me being referred to as Mrs. Junkin Duncan. When we got married I never thought you would buy the junkyard from your father."

"It pays damned well for all the stigma you claim it has. You live in a nice house and drive a nice car."

"Yes it does pay well, but that doesn't change the fact that it isn't the best looked on business in town or take away the fact I'm always going to be Mrs. Junkin Duncan."

"That seems a pretty thin reason to divorce me. Who is he? This person who has crawled into my bed."

"I don't have to tell you, but I will. It is Bill Boyle and he handles our affairs at the bank. He is one of the town's best citizens. So there."

"Seems as if he has handled more than our money. Moving up to a bank manager is a long way from living in a shack down on the south side where you came from. I knew you were ambitious and I suppose I should have known this was going to happen. You have one more problem. What are you going to do about hiding your father after you get rid of me?"

"I don't know. The bank foreclosed on his place finally. I saw him the other day and he wanted to move in with us. I told him no. He said you would let him. If we aren't married he can't. He can move in with you, but not me."

"Did you ever love your father?"

"I suppose so at some point. Before Mom died maybe. Now all he does is drink."

"It could be he wouldn't drink so much if his daughter had a little love left for him. Did you ever think of that?"

"So you say. Maybe he wouldn't drink so much either Johnny, if you didn't buy whisky for him. You buy him booze and rent those damned western videos he watches all the time. He should know by now he is never going to make it back out west where he came from."

"This is an argument we've had before. If we are divorced, this may be the last time we fight. You know Terry, sometimes I wonder why I married you."

"You know, but you don't want to admit you haven't been taking care of it."

"Well lately you haven't made it available that often. You have made sure of that. Was what we had three days ago the last time?" Terry's face flamed for I told the truth. She didn't say anything. She went over to the sideboard and brought back a folder with papers in it. I went through them. I took the pen from my shirt pocket and signed them. "You know, you may regret this some day."

"I'll remember you said that, but I very much doubt that I will. I wish I had known about you taking over the junkyard before we were married."

"It got you what you wanted. A nice house and everything that goes with what the so-called Joneses have. It also made it possible for you to meet a two-timing bank manager. You don't think he would have looked at you living where you did before, do you?

"Married to a junkyard operator got you out of the shack you grew up in. You were pretty sweet at that time. I can't say that my life with you lately has been anything that wonderful." I looked intently at the woman I had married. I didn't see anything in the person standing before me that I had fallen in love with.

Going into the kitchen I saw that I had no meal waiting. I went upstairs andpacked a suitcase. When I came down Terry was on the telephone. I scribbled a note just saying I would stop by and get the rest of my personal effects tomorrow. I drove over to my mother's house and told her all about what had gone on.

This was less of a surprise to Mom than it was to me, for she had heard some rumors. Funny thing, Mom wasn't my real mother. Dad had married her when I was two years old, the year after my own mother died. "How do you feel about losing Terry?"

"Hurt and somewhat sad. Sad for her, because she just doesn't know some things." I shook my head. "I should have realized it was coming. While I was packing my suitcase I thought of some glaring signals I was too dumb to recognize. I feel almost as bad about the way she is treating her father as how she is treating me. Say, haven't you got an uncle out west somewhere? Maybe I could ship Pete out there."

"Yes, Uncle Ezra Hogan, but I haven't seen him for twenty years. He must be nearly eighty now. Too bad you have a business. We could go visit him." Mom was grinning. "Uncle Ezra is quite the old buck. He was nearly sixty at the time I last saw him, and he had him a young woman that was living with him. She had a kid already by him too. I still get a card at Christmas so he is still alive."

Next day I didn't do much in the junkyard. I did do a lot of thinking and I called Mom at home a couple of times. It was odd as I stood looking out the window where I had always been so charged up about my business. Today it depressed me. Of course, old Pete lying drunk back of me in my chair didn't help my mood any. Terry appeared to have no love for either of us. I hated to tell Pete that she and I were splitting. I honestly believed he loved me more than anyone else he knew. Somehow I wanted to make the old fart happy.

I made up my mind there was going to be some changes, but I couldn't do anything about it today. Monday though, I was going to do some things that I had been putting off making a decision on. I shook Pete awake and made him clean up the best he could. I took him to Mom's with me so he could have something to eat before I told him about Terry and me. He was about my size and I lent him jeans and a tee shirt. Mom threw what he was wearing into the washer.

Pete had the shakes some, but out of respect for my mother, he tried to control his actions. He was eating just a little and sitting very quiet while Mom served supper. "Pete, I got some news. Listen closely to what I'm going to tell you. Terry is divorcing me. She is leaving me for the banker over on Elm Street. My house is better and she wants it for him. She is keeping the house in return for me keeping the junkyard."

"Junkin, I'm sorry for you. I know how you feel. She don't want me either."

"I know, she told me that. Forget Terry for the moment. I've got a proposition for you. Mom would like to go visit an uncle out west in Colorado. She may be there for a month and I can't leave here to escort her. I have a lot of irons in the fire. Could you sober up enough in the next two weeks to do that for me?"

"Where will I be staying when I get out there?"

I slid a picture of a ranch house back-dropped by the Rockies. There was a small building with bunkhouse lettered over the door. Tears started pouring down Pete's face. He was so choked up he could hardly speak. Finally he said, "I never have been on that ranch, but I know about where it is. I recognize those mountains. God Junkin, you're the answer to my prayers."

"Okay that's good, but I have to have your promise of no drinking. You can stay here until you leave. Mom will feed you and help you get over the shakes. She wants to go west as bad as you do, so don't let her down."

"I promise no drinking." I had the feeling that Pete would never come back east if he got out there, daughter or no.

Before going down to the yard, I had my own business to tend to. My first stop was at the bank and a conference with Bill Boyle. I didn't mention Terry, but her presence was there just the same. Bill was unhappy when I withdrew my business account and when I took the 403b account. I pulled my name from the checking and our joint money market account. I made sure that I just took half of what was there. I made the statement that if there were any checks out, Terry and I would settle that so everything was equal.

He had to ask. "What about the mortgage on your house?"

My wife's lover was leery of me, but wasn't worried. It was well-known that I wasn't a violent man. I did have strengths though. Everyone agreed my business sense was pretty damned sharp.

"Terry didn't say anything except it would be transferred and I needn't worry about it. For some reason she wants our divorce to go forward as quietly and as quickly as possible. That's sensible, wouldn't you say?"

"Yes." Mr. Bill Boyle saw me leave by the front door with four checks of the depositors' money to the tune of almost two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. I hoped someone would ask him why. I went down on Main Street and worked with the manager of the other bank setting up new accounts in my name only.

Next I called one of the government agencies that had been corresponding with me for months. "Okay, I'm ready to listen to offers. Send down your people." I put the phone down and sat back and thought about my dad. Two years before he died he had purchased the property where my junkyard was located. This included the end of the spur that went down factory row. Not the whole spur, just the railhead where it connected to the mainline. All of the factories were closed now and sat empty and disintegrating.

The yard was the only access to the mainline as there were warehouses that served the local stores, etc., on both sides. I dealt in mostly junk cars, but could handle anything metal. I had a small crusher and a gantry-crane to load the junk cars onto railroad cars. Occasionally something bigger would come in and with the crane it was no problem loading it.

Six months ago, reps from the Federal super-cleanup-fund had approached me about using my facility to move equipment in, and during the clean-up, contaminated material out. This was going to be the focal point of the operation and it was needed to make the cleanup possible. I had several options, any of which was going to make me a rich man. Just the workers' payroll coming in was going to drive the economy of the whole town in the next three to five years.

After the situation that had taken place last week, I decided that I might just as well walk away with a fistful of money and change my name from Junkin Duncan to Lucky Duncan. Time would tell.

I thought that I had all of the surprises sprung on me already. At the divorce hearing, my attorney conferred with Terry's lawyer before we went into court. He queried me if I was asked to okay an accelerated divorce, would I agree?

"Sure, no problem. Why?"

"Your wife claims she is pregnant by another man and wants to have the divorce moved up. The judge can do this if both parties agree."

"I damned sure will agree."

I had received the final decree two weeks later and that same morning I handed Mom up into the train for her trip out west. Pete had cleaned up well and with Mom's cooking he was looking in better condition than I had seen him for years. He was like a kid for he said he felt he was going home.

I ran into Terry on Main Street as I was coming out of the new bank I was utilizing. "Junkin, have you seen my father recently? Is he still hanging out at the junkyard with you?"

"No, he hasn't been around there for a month. I did see him two weeks ago. He was in no worse shape than usual. Maybe he has gone west. He was always talking about it. How are you doing with your new husband? I hear you are married."

"Yes, I'm Mrs. William Boyle now. No more Mrs. Junkin Duncan. How are you doing?"

"Fine. I'm not missing you as much as I thought I would. You getting pregnant by another man kind of set my mind straight about you. I hope you are happy. A few people joke about me losing you, but I just tell them I'm the lucky one. Hope you don't mind."


The call came in that the Feds were in town and we arranged to meet in the bank's conference room. I had my attorney with me and we set to work hammering out an agreement for the agency to have full use of my junkyard and the equipment in it. Short of having the property condemned by eminent domain, I was in the driver's seat. The yard was in a unique position with its own siding. This was the only access to the railroad for several miles. The agency could deal with me or had the prospect of tearing down some buildings on either side of it.

No agreement was reached on the first long day and none on the second. At eleven a.m. of the third day, I had what I wanted. It came out that when the agency finished their work cleaning up the different sites, the land would be in pristine condition. It could be used for dwellings or commercial construction. Then the junkyard would revert to me as the former owner. I could do with it what I wanted, as long as the use was permitted. I was already grandfathered so the use wouldn't change as long as I owned it.

I made a deal after everyone agreed that my yard was priceless and necessary to the cleanup work. My father had purchased the property for $30,000 and I had paid him $35,000 two years later. Seven years after I bought it, the city assessed the value at nearly $200,000. All agreed that when the cleanup work was completed and with the newly cleared land, it would be worth millions. My property would still be the bottleneck and very unsightly if I continued to use it as a junkyard.

My proposal was for the agency to pay into an interest bearing escrow account $2,375,000 which would be the value of the property when the project was completed in three and a half years. This was because it was still the only feasible access to the railroad and the newly reclaimed property where the old factories had stood. At that time I would donate the property to the city in return for the deduction equal to what I had received. What it all boiled down to was that I would walk away with $2,375,000, tax free.

The mayor had sat in on this and wholeheartedly embraced my contract with the Feds. In fact much of it was at his suggestion. The city would get a valuable unsightly property and wouldn't have to use taxpayer dollars to buy it. The reclaimed land would be a chance for the town to expand and he was looking forward to a boom in land values.

I had one stipulation. My bank was the one that the federal agency had to use to handle the payroll. The president of the bank gladly agreed to the stipulation and the Feds followed suit. I hinted to the president that I would be very unhappy if he ever hired one Bill Boyle.

When the first of the agency equipment arrived by rail car, I handed the clerk-of-the-works the keys and walked away. Two days before this I had sent an embossed invitation to William and Terry Boyle asking them to join me at the local country club for dinner. I suggested a seven o'clock time. I had no idea if they would attend.

I had been much in the news and I suppose I wanted to rub Terry's nose in it just a little. She and Bill had seen me on the street at various times and crossed the street to avoid meeting me. By my figuring Terry should be in her eighth month of pregnancy. I think they both were curious and wanted to find out why I wanted to meet with them. They were on time.

I did have a pang of jealousy when the host escorted Terry to my table. She was lovely to look at even pregnant as she was. I complimented her and received a kiss on the cheek. Bill shook my hand as I finished seating my ex-wife. He and I had a cocktail, she declined the alcohol. I was surprised in one way, for Terry usually thought of herself and here she was thinking of the child she was carrying.

It was a pleasant evening. As dinner drew to a close, I announced that I was leaving town and joining my mother out in Colorado. She had just remarried and was happy living on her uncle's ranch. "I will be back in town occasionally. Technically I still own the junkyard although I'm not operating it. It reverts back to me when the cleanup is completed and at that time I'm going to turn it over to the city. Mom still owns the house where I have been living, so I'll be back checking on that at times."

Bill went to the restroom leaving Terry with me. "Why didn't you sell the junkyard before I asked for a divorce? Bill tells me you made a lot of money on the deal. He knows enough not to say anything. You must have known it was going to happen."

"I didn't know you wanted a divorce, but would it have made a difference? Would you have stayed true to me? I suspect it was too late by the time this opportunity presented itself. And would you have treated your father differently?"

"Yes--no--I don't know. I feel cheated somehow."

"Think how cheated I felt then. Think how I would feel if I had told you about the cleanup and then I found out you had cheated on me already and stayed because I was coming into a lot of money. Something that you hated and couldn't wait for me to get rid of. I looked at her. "You don't have to answer that, but let me ask you. Will you be trading up again if things don't work out just the way you want? Are you going to stick with Bill?"

"That I can answer. Yes I am. Maybe I have matured since our divorce, Junkin, and I really am ashamed of my treatment of you. That said, I do love Bill. I love the thought of having his baby. I suppose I could even stand my father around if he is still alive. I miss him and I never thought I would. Not like he was at the last, but how he was before he started drinking so heavily. Maybe if he knew he was going to have a grandchild he would shape up."

"He might just do that. I think he will surface after awhile. Tell him you miss him when and if you ever see him again." I looked up and saw Bill coming.

I had never been west before and never had the urge to. Mom had told me much about visiting her uncle's ranch when she was younger. This was before my father had lost my birth mother. She had never been back after her marriage to my father.

Her uncle was now seventy-nine and still spry. Pete was originally from the same area and it really was coming home for him. After reminiscing, Uncle Ezra and Pete found they had many common acquaintances. I knew Mom was forty-nine and Pete was somewhere near the same age, although he looked much older. Mom claimed Pete shed his old age look that was caused by his drinking and unhappiness. Uncle Ezra had hired him to do chores and take care of the stock that was still on the ranch.

My father had been dead for five years. Mom wrote that she had asked Pete how old he was and he said he was only two years older than her. This caused my mother to take a look at the man who had escorted her to the west. Mom wrote regularly, but a month ago I had received a phone call. "Junkin, would you be upset if your ex-father-in-law and I were married? I know you have always liked him. He hasn't asked me yet and I haven't encouraged him. If you think it is okay and he doesn't have the courage to propose, I very well might do the asking myself."

"Can he make you happy? I know how lonely he has been since he lost his wife. You aren't just two lonely people that want to console each other are you? If there is real affection between you two, I say congratulations."

"Thanks Junkin. By the way, when will you have things settled there? I'm real anxious to see you again. You promised you would come out as soon as the papers were signed. Pete wants to see you too. He wonders if Terry is happy with her new husband. He is awful disappointed in her. He can't understand why she treated you like she did."

"I'll be out there in three weeks, Mom. I see Terry occasionally, but haven't spoken to her. I guess I'll let her know that I'm leaving town. I suspect that will please her and Bill Boyle--not having me around as a reminder to them that they are an adulterous couple. The town knows and they did lose some friends over the breakup. So you and Pete go ahead and get married. I think it will be good for both of you."

I received the note that Mom was now Mrs. Peter Dobbs. This was the day I sent the invitation to Terry inviting her and Bill to dinner. Two days later I was on a passenger train that was going past the siding where my junkyard was located. Equipment was coming in already, for I could see a huge bulldozer being swung off a flatcar and onto a waiting truck. I had a seat facing forward and that is as it should be.

Pete met me at the rail depot which was forty miles from the ranch. It had been eight months since I had sent him off with Mom. I couldn't believe the change in him. When he looked at me, he looked me right in the eye. I could tell he had respect for himself again. He hugged me and slapped me on the back. "I hope you don't mind me and your mother hooking up. She is a fine woman. I wouldn't have dared to on my own, but she came to me one night and then demanded I make an honest woman of her."

"I thought that might happen. She called me about her intentions. Pete, I'm happy for both of you. I guess this makes you my pop, right?"

"In a way." He was concentrating on driving. I was hanging on wondering if I was going to live long enough to see my mother. He drove with the gas pedal to the floor. Traffic we were meeting drove the same way. "Did you stop to think, my marrying your mother, Terry is now your stepsister?"

"I didn't, but that's okay. I talked to her a couple of weeks ago. You know, now that you aren't around and she doesn't know if you are alive or dead, she has been rethinking her thoughts about you. I think when she sees you, she will tell you she misses her father."

"Maybe, but I'm not putting any money on it. I don't care if I ever see her again."

"You might not know, but in a few days you are going to be a grandfather. Hmm, let's see, that would make me an uncle wouldn't it?"

I was smiling as Pete turned his attention to me. He started laughing at how incongruous this situation was. Before we knew it we were in the water ditch. Even this struck us as funny. A half hour later a cattle truck came along and yanked us out. No harm done--happens all the time.

As we sat waiting, Pete started telling about the ranch. "Ezra owns a section outright and leases a couple of thousand acres from the government back of it that slopes up to the nearest mountain. There is not much of value on it except a couple hundred or more acres of hay land and some timber. He owns the timber rights and he is always talking about logging it off, but at his age it is unlikely. There is an old trail that winds up the mountain through the property and ends on the far side. Many years ago silver was discovered and a mining camp established, but after a short boom it died out."

Living on the ranch were Ezra, Pete and my mother. Also a eighteen-year-old dropout lived there as well. Ezra had some family. The mother of his kids was still alive, but had deserted him and gone back to Mexico taking the two boys with her. Ezra doesn't know of which country she is a citizen. There was a daughter who lived in the town where Pete had met me. She worked at a clinic and had two small children, both girls. Her husband had been a veterinarian, but a horse had kicked and killed him. She and the girls came out to the ranch a couple times a month for the weekend.

"So what does the ranch raise?"

"Not much. He has a stallion and a few mares. He also has two bulls and about sixty head of beef cattle. His main crop is hay. There is the 250 acres up on the lease and there is about double that amount here near the home place. He hires the haying done on shares."

"You say his wife went back to Mexico. How come?"

"Yeah, her and their two boys. I guess they had a battle royal about something and she left him. He wasn't married to her anyway. She went back with a hired Mex he had working for him. He speaks about the boys but she took them with her and he figures he didn't sire them. Course they are citizens and have his name."

"What's the daughter like? What's her name anyway?"

"Her name is Angelina Betite. You won't like her. She's uppity. Worse since your Mom and I got here so Ezra says. Her two kids are regular though. They just love the old man and would like to live here all the time. Can't with Angelina for a mother. She don't want anything much to do with her father. Putting it into perspective: Terry, your junkyard and you--same comparison as Angelina and the ranch.

"She wants Ezra to sell out and move into town. Course the money he got for the ranch might color her mind a mite. You keep away from her. She'll eat you up just like Terry did."

"Thanks for the warning. How much farther to the ranch?"

"Ten minutes to the house, tops. We've been on the land for the last three miles."

Mom was waiting for me. At age fifty now, she was still a lovely woman. I was glad she and Pete had found each other. The two of them were the only people left in the world I had much affection for. It thrilled me that they were happy together. Mom hugged me asking, "How about your Mom being married? You got along with Pete coming out okay didn't you? I should have warned you he drives like hell."

"Everyone out here seems to drive like hell. God it is good to see both of you. Pete and I always got along. Where is your uncle? I want to meet him."

I hadn't paid any attention to the man standing back from us a little, waiting. He was a small person, five-five, and at first glance looked not more than sixty-five. He didn't wait now for an introduction. He stepped forward. "Ezra Hogan. Nellie says your name is Johnny but everyone calls you Junkin. I like that. Come in, come in and welcome. God, we're getting some people around the ranch again. Makes the place more home-like than it has been for years. You know at one time there were more'n twenty-five souls working here. Fact!"

"Glad to meet you. Mom often spoke of you and the ranch. I'm out here to see you and it for myself. Looks as if she is pretty happy to finally get relocated."

"Yep, never going to let her go either. Kinda like the man she brought with her too. I hope you can stay as well. You're welcome as long as you want to. The place needs some young blood around here." We went inside. The rooms were huge. The living room was thirty by something foot square. There were rugs scattered about and seven couches placed willy-nilly. There was a fireplace on one end and a 50-inch TV next to it. I could see that the fireplace had a heatilator installed.

The kitchen eating area was as large. A massive table went down one wall with the cooking range, refrigerator, work counters and cupboards taking up the other side. "Used to feed all the help in here. Saved steps when we fed 'em. Good place to play poker too. Bunkhouse was just for sleepin.' Most of the men didn't have families. Made it more home-like for them."

"Junkin, you sit and talk to Nellie. Me'n Pete got work to do. Izzy and us will be in for supper. Izzy's the boy I keep around to muck out the riding mounts when they are stabled. You ride?"

"Nope, never been on a horse."

"Real dude, ain't you? Well if you stick around, we'll change that."

As Ezra left, Mom spoke up. "What do you think about Uncle Ez? Quite the old cuss isn't he? Hard to believe he will be eighty in a couple of months. People talk about the passing of the old west. A good example of it will die when he goes."

"What's going to happen to the ranch when he dies?"

"I don't know. Angelina wants him to sell out. She ain't too happy with a relative of his showing up. He don't pay no attention to her although he favors her above her two brothers. Pete tell you about them?"

"Not much."

"I'll tell you what I know. Ezra never married. That's not to say but he had a woman around most of the time. He always had trouble keeping them. One would come and stay awhile, but invariably run off when one of the help left. He never had any kids until Nina came. Angelina is his oldest at twenty-eight. Two boys followed--Paco at twenty-four and Juan at twenty-two.

"He was pretty happy finally having a family although he was in his fifties and sixties. Then he caught Nina shacking up with a Mex he had working for him. The Mex was someone that knew Nina before and followed her. Ezra chased him out and Nina went with him taking Paco and Juan with her. It just about broke his heart.

"Angelina by this time was married and living in town and had two girls. Her husband was killed two years ago. Ezra has pinned all his love on the two girls and begs his daughter to come back to live here with him. She won't. She's foolish for he would do anything for her. He says her two brothers show up occasionally looking for money from him. Even he can see that he didn't sire them, and he realizes that Nina strung him along for years. They have the Hogan name though and that means something to him.

"I honestly believe Angelina is his daughter. She is small like him and has the same facial features. I don't know where her beauty comes from. Maybe from Nina's ancestors."

"Maybe from Ezra's. You know Mom, you aren't homely."

"Say what you want to, you haven't seen beauty until you see her."

"What about this Izzy?"

"He's just a kid that Ezra took in. He only has half a brain. I think he must be eighteen or so. He adores Ezra. Ezra is good to him and he takes the boy with him when he goes to the city. I ain't going to tell you where they go, but they both come back happy. Ezra says he still has needs and I guess the boy does to."

"You happy here, Mom?"

"Happier than I have been since your dad died. Some of that comes from being with Pete, but I love it out here. I'll never live back east again. I wish that it could have been with your father, but Pete--well he is here and your dad isn't. Did you see your wife before you left?"

"Yeah, I took her and her husband out to dinner. She'll be having the baby in another couple of weeks. I didn't mention it to Pete, but Terry is feeling guilty about the way she treated him. She doesn't know if he is dead or not. I could have told her, but I thought Pete was the one to straighten it out."

"How did you make out selling the junkyard? Did you make any money on it?"

"So much money I don't know what to do with it. More's coming in a few years. The Feds are throwing it at me. Not only that, the city will eventually end up with the property and it won't cost them a cent. I've pretty much cut loose from back east. What's for supper? I smell something good."

"Beef. There is a roast in the oven. You'll get beef most every day. There is a big bean pot in the same oven. Years ago that's what they ate here about every meal and Ezra hates to change. Back east people eat by the ounce. Here everyone eats by the pound. You'll see when I set half a critter on the table." I knew she had to be pulling my leg.

"Thank'e Lord for the food before us and the friends around us. Amen. Eat up folks. Junkin, your mother can cook. Most of the women I've had here, all's they knew was to load on the hot peppers. Burned your tongue so bad you couldn't taste nawthin'. Come tomorrow I'll take you about to see the place. It's getting run down some. I counted on them two lazy-ass sons of mine to take over someday. Nina done took them with her when she runned off. Guess I wasn't ringing her bells anymore." I think he was telling us he missed his unfaithful woman, but he was a hard person to read.

"Them sons of mine show up now and then for a handout. Most usually I don't have anything for them. Things are pretty tight, or I let on it is." I suspected things were tighter than he was letting on. I looked across the table at Mom. She knew what I was thinking and she nodded.

Ezra put me on a horse in the morning to tour the 640 acres around the ranch buildings. By the time we got back, the insides of my legs were rubbed raw. Mom was sympathetic and said she'd give me lessons when I went out next time. She glared at Ezra and he laughed. Later she explained at a certain speed of a horse a person bounced up and down in the saddle. That afternoon we went in the truck up to the lease.

You didn't realize how high you were until you looked down through the gap we had just come up through. The land spread out, but you were still rising. The views from the uplands were awesome. There was one field of grassland. The edges were being encroached on by brush. Ezra said that twenty years ago the field was larger by half, but the land was rougher and as his herd had decreased, he hadn't bothered to keep the land open.

We came to the start of the trail that went up and over the mountain and down into the valley on the other side. It was not passable by vehicle other than trail bikes. "You want to see a view you should make the trip sometime. There is another horse trail that splits off before you reach the top on this side and comes down over on the west side of the field. It is pretty much brushed in so it isn't used at all now."

I could see that the trail had been traveled. "Who comes this far out here to use it?"

"Kids on bikes mostly. Last year some kid in a dunebuggy tried the trail. They buried him the next week. Junkin, I brought you up here where you could see the whole layout. I got to ask. You got any money you could put into the place? The lease is running out in a few months and it goes out to bid. I hate to see it go out of my hands.

"The home place is big enough for the stock I have, but if someone gets the high ground it will cause all kinds of problems. I'll have to let whoever gets the bid access through my property. I've asked Nellie and Pete, but they ain't got what it'll take. Angelina has got little enough from her life insurance, but she wants me to sell out. I figure I got another ten years of life left in me. Damn, but I'd hate to move to town."

"I'll think on it. Mom is out here and I guess for good. I have an ex-wife back where I'm from. It still bothers me to see her. It's going to take three-four years to wind things up back there, but I do have some money coming in occasionally."

For the next two weeks I watched how the ranch was run. Izzy was the one that I hung around with the most. He was the one to teach me how to ride a horse. Not so much by telling me, as he very seldom found any words, but by showing me. Of a Friday night, I saw him and Ezra getting slicked up. Mom told me where they were heading and said it might be fun if I went with them. I declined, but kept the option open for next time.

A half hour after they left Angelina came driving in with her two girls, Amelia and Amy. She was confrontational immediately. "Another freeloader for Pa to feed." This was said after I was introduced and where I could hear it. "Nellie, I know you are Pa's niece and he likes you, but I don't want you here. You have to leave. He was about ready to sell out when you showed up. Now you've brought in your son and I suppose he'll be staying too. Pa needs to be in town where I can see to him."

I knew my mother hated to fight with Ezra's daughter, but I was also sure she wouldn't leave unless Ezra told her to. Knowing my presence would make Angelina more upset, I went outside to the veranda and tipped back in a chair. I could still hear what was going on inside. In a few minutes Amelia and Amy came out.

"Where's Pete?"

"Feeding the horses."

"Would you take us down to watch him? Mama won't let us go alone."

"Sure." The two girls were five and seven. Before we got to the barn I had one on either side of me with their hands holding mine. We went through the hay barn and out to the corral where Pete was breaking bales into a feed bunk. There were seven mares there. We could hear a stallion in the nearby horse barn trumpeting. The mares, all but one, paid no attention, so I figured he had seen most at some earlier time, but he knew he was needed.

The girls left me and ran to Pete saying hi. He held first one up and then the other so they could pat the horses. It wasn't long before we each held one. When we went in to feed the stallion I had them both. We then had to feed a calf that had lost its mother and how the kids laughed when the calf sucked on their fingers and butted their hand.

When we got back to the house, Angelina was still haranguing Mom. Mom paid no attention, just putting supper on the table. My mother had known that Ezra was going to be gone so had put a big roasting chicken in the oven for a change of diet. She had a chocolate cake for dessert.

I totally ignored Angelina. It was difficult to do, for as I had been told, she was a beauty. Black shiny hair, full lips, sparkling eyes and even with having two children, her figure was as near perfect as any man could wish. At eight o'clock Angelina went up and put the two girls to bed. Pete and I were watching television. Mom and Angelina were now sitting on the couch nearest the kitchen.

The door opened and four Mexicans came in. I knew immediately that two of these were Angelina's brothers. Both were small like her. The other two men were bigger than me or Pete. One had a scar across his face. It had to be from a knife slash. The other, the biggest one, had on a suit coat, but it hadn't been cleaned for awhile.

He pointed to Paco and Juan and the kitchen table. "Sit." They did. He came to the two women. "Well what have we here?" He turned back to Paco. "I thought you said there was just one old man here?"

"That's my sister. I don't know who the other one is. I don't know them either." He pointed in Pete's and my direction.

"Don't matter. More chance they will have the money you need to pay me. If they don't, just maybe we'll take some payment in kind. These two are pretty enough." He headed for Angelina and reached for her. She twisted away and her blouse ripped where he grasped it. Pete and I were on the move, as well as my mother. Mom headed to where the pots and skillets were hanging. I headed for the pokers that were displayed by the fireplace. Pete was headed for the smallest of the men who went into the kitchen after my mother.

"Stop before I shoot somebody." This was uttered by the big man. I could see he had a small automatic in his hand. He was twisting and turning trying to keep track of everyone. Angelina didn't run, she looked as if she wanted to slap the guy. I put my hand on the poker and kept going. I had about eight feet to go to reach him.

About that time I heard Mom clobber the guy in the kitchen. I was moving as fast as I could. The man I was after swung his attention back to me. He raised the gun just as I swung the poker. The gun went off and then he screamed--and kept on screaming. I kept going for him, but he was down. The gun had skittered away from him by this time. I still had my hand on the ring of the poker. I let go of it and he screamed again. I looked at him. The poker had a four-inch hook on it and when I swung, the hook went into the cheek of his butt and was still embedded there.

I looked into the kitchen as Pete was just getting up off the other guy. He was on the floor, still and unmoving. Paco and Juan were still sitting at the kitchen table. Angelina picked up the gun. I could see it was a little .25 caliber Beretta. She said to me. "Take off your jeans--now! You've been shot!"

The sheriff was still at the ranch when Ezra pulled in about three in the morning. The two Mexicans we had fought with were gone. One to the hospital, and the one Pete had tackled and clobbered by Mom, to jail. Angelina had dressed the flesh wound in my thigh. I was going to see a doctor sometime after daylight in town. Paco and Juan were still here as Sheriff Robbins considered them victims. Paco had been gambling and owed the big guy $673. He had forced the two Hogans to find the money--and soon. Juan said they would get it from their father.

I guess we were all lucky no one had been killed. Ezra was all over his two sons for bringing trouble to the ranch. "Just think what would have happened if Angelina was here alone? And my niece--damn you. I should kick you out and never let you return. You are so damned useless! You two assholes sat right there while someone went after your sister. What would have happened if I had been alone? They might have killed me."

Luckily the girls didn't wake until the sheriff and the ambulance came into the yard. Angelina stayed out of sight with them except to give statements. I had a little surprise. After breakfast Angelina said to Mom, "Nellie would you and Pete watch Amy and Amelia while I take Mr. Duncan in to see the doctor? I don't think he should be bouncing around in the truck. I'll be back and stay another night."

I was in pain. The bullet was a steel jacket and had made a small hole to the left of the bone midway between my knee and hip. The exit wound was larger of course, but still under an inch in size. Angelina had disinfected it and bound it up. No major blood vessels were involved and that was why I wasn't rushed to the hospital. Actually I had sustained worse injuries working in my junkyard.

It was a silent trip to start with. As we neared the city, she asked, "How are you doing?"

"Okay. I'm feeling some pain, but nothing I can't handle. We haven't much farther to go by the looks of things."

"Maybe five miles, that's all. Mr. Duncan, I'd like to apologize for some of the things I said when I first met you. I want to thank you and tell you how glad I am that you were there last night. Things could have become ugly if you didn't take over and fight back. I'm so sorry you got hurt."

"Thank you Mrs. Betite. I have never been in a situation like that before. A man never knows what he is capable of until he faces a challenge such as this. My ex-wife never saw it in me. Maybe that is why she isn't with me now."

"You have been married before?"

"Yes. I was divorced eight months ago."

"I'm sorry. Here we are at the doctor's office. I know him and I will go in with you."

There was some tissue damage that had to be cleared away to promote faster healing. I didn't go home with Angelina because the doctor put me in the hospital for a day until the antibiotics kicked in. I saw a lighter side of Angelina when she was in the doctor's office. He said to me, "So Mr. Duncan, you were fixed up by this pretty little horse doctor. Well I'd take a bullet just to get her to dress a wound for me."

"I would again now that I know her. She scared me pretty bad at first. She had a gun in her hand and told me to drop my jeans."

"When was this?"

"Right after the fight. I thought for a minute she liked me."

Angelina blushed. "Doc, it wasn't that way at all. The damned fool was shot and he didn't even know it. I just wanted to see how bad the wound was." Then she laughed. "Kind of funny now that I think about it. I think those were the first words I spoke to him."

She stayed with me until I was in my hospital room. "Do you have insurance? This can be pretty costly."

"All taken care of."

"Okay. Would you call me to take you out to the ranch? I have to work during the week, but I can take you home some evening."

"No you don't have to bother. When I get out of here, I'm going car shopping. The ranch needs another vehicle besides the truck. Are you going to be out at the ranch next weekend?"

"Yes. The girls will be spending the week there. I don't think Nellie will mind and Pa fools with them all the time."

"I'll see you then. Thanks for taking care of me."

"I'm sorry I had to." She paused when she realized how that sounded. "You know what I mean."

"Yes, think nothing of it."

The assistant DA tracked me down and took another statement before I was discharged on Tuesday. I bought a three-year-old Subaru Forester and made it in time for supper that night. Mom hugged me and Pete and Ezra declared they were glad to see me home. I will say the beef Mom put on the table was welcome after what I had been eating for the last three days.

Paco and Juan were still there. Ezra had put them to work. They were mostly silent. I thought they wouldn't stay long the way their father was treating them. He cussed and swore and ordered them to do things and complained if they didn't do just as he wanted. I could see some of it was they didn't know how and some of it was built-in resentment.

It was Friday afternoon. "You going to town tonight like last week?"

"Hadn't thought I would. Why, you want to go?"

"Nope. I just thought your two boys might like to though. You've been on their asses all week and they've pretty much done what you wanted them to. Why don't you reward them? You do it with Izzy, do it for them."

"You mean after all the trouble they brought here, you think I should do that?"

"Nobody got killed or harmed greatly and they certainly didn't plan things that way. Isn't this what you looked forward to when they were growing up? You know the three Hogans hitting the big city for a night on the town? I'd say you had some catching up to do."

When it came time to leave, Ezra came to me. "Can we use the car? Izzy can drive. He just don't have no license. He don't drink so it will be safe. Besides them boys won't want to go the same place Izzy and I go to. They'll be lookin' to get drunk and laid." I handed him the keys.

Of course Amy and Amelia had to tell their mother all about their Grampa, Izzy and their uncles going to town when she arrived an hour later. I was asked how my leg was, but other than that I received a cold shoulder. It didn't help when the Hogan boys came in at three in the morning. Paco and Juan made it to the living room and the couches. Angelina saw them there when she came down for breakfast. Other than looking a little sheepish nothing was said at the table, but I could see that things had changed. For the better, I hoped.

Saturday was quiet. Ezra seemed to have a lot on his mind. Sunday morning at breakfast he said, "I've been trying to decide something. After dinner I want everyone to sit at the table and listen to what I have to say."

I think we were all curious. I wondered if he had decided to sell out and move to town with Angelina. Mom said she didn't think so as he loved this place and had figured out a way to stay. She was right.

His first words were to his daughter. "Angelina, what would you do if you owned half of the ranch?"

"I don't know what I would do. If I owned it all, I could sell it and take care of you in town. It would depend on who owned the other half. If it was Paco and Juan, they would side with me and do the same."

"What if Nellie owned the other half?" Angelina's lips tightened together and she just stared at her father. She was angry. I didn't think she was greedy. I think it was just that she thought she wasn't being treated fairly, given that Nellie had showed up just recently.

"Then I guess I would stay in town and forget about you and the ranch."

"Don't you care about your brothers? I can leave it to them. They are my sons, but you know they are never going to amount to much and they would gamble it away." The boys sat there with an unconcerned look on their faces. "I'm relying on you to watch out for them. They shouldn't have to go back to Mexico to be with their mother if she is still there."

"I shouldn't have to take care of them."

"I know that. To be honest, Nellie and Pete haven't much for prospects, the same as Paco and Juan. They are all happy here, but they need someone pushing them. How about if I partnered you up with Junkin? I been watching him. He don't say much, but he asks a lot of questions. I admit he don't know our ways, but I don't expect to die off soon and I can teach him a lot. Besides that, I think he has enough money to keep the place afloat until I die anyway."

"How do you know I have any money?"

"Pete. He bragged about his son-in-law when he first come here."

I looked across the table at Pete. His face was red. "Well you saved me when my daughter disowned me. Why wouldn't I brag about you? Maybe I let it slip that you owned a business."

I glanced at Angelina. She got the connection immediately. "Christ, that would make your ex-wife your sister. I don't believe it."

I grinned. "Stepsister, but she is out of both Pete's and my life."

Ezra broke in. "Okay, okay, we're getting off track here. You haven't answered me, Angie. I'm thinking Junkin can figure out how to make this place pay for itself and make a home for him, his parents, me and my boys. You would be gaining if the ranch is kept up."

"What? Why, so you and my brothers can go into town every Friday night? You never married mother just so you could do that." There was silence.

Ezra was crushed and we all could see it. "I guess this wasn't such a good idea. We'll go on as we have been. This meeting is done." Ezra walked into the other room and we heard him go into his room.

"Christ Sis, do you know what you have just done? Paco and me will be out standing on a street corner waiting for someone to come along and hire us for the day. Maybe we'll have enough for a supper and maybe not. Pa ain't even our blood. All we got between us is the Hogan name. You weren't here when Mam left or you would know he begged her for a week to marry him."

"Did you know about any of this Mom?"

"Some of it Junkin. Pete doesn't want the responsibility and I don't either. I can't figure her out. She sure hurt Ezra. Maybe she resents the fact that her mother and father weren't married. That must be it. I hope she goes to him and tells him she is sorry."

"You know this was all a surprise to me. He did ask me if I had any money. There could be a way to make the place pay. Those boys are willing to work. I watched them all week. Izzy may not be all there, but you give him something to do and show him how and he sticks right there until it is done. I'm not going to butt up against Angelina though. It's not my place."

"I know, but if it smooths out, would you stay and do as Ezra suggests?"

"It would depend on Angelina." Mom shook her head for she felt that was an impossibility.

It got worse at supper time. Ezra came out of his room and sat at the head of the table the same as usual. I thought the storm was over. Angelina passed a plate to me. I responded. "Thank you Angie."

"Mr. Duncan, Pa is the only one allowed to call me that. Please address me as Mrs. Betite or I will allow you to say Angelina if you are referring to me, but not when you address me directly. Is that understood?"

I smiled into her face. "As you wish, Mrs. Betite." It was silent as the meal continued.

That was until Ezra capped it with, "Mrs. Betite, would you pour me a cup of coffee? While you are up, would you pour Junkin one too?" It was Angelina's time for hurting and going to her room. The only tears that could be seen were in Ezra's eyes. He had hurt his daughter, but he felt he had to bring her up short. He looked at me. "I'm truly sorry about all this. I can't understand what's got into her."

"I know she wants the best for you. She resents me. You offering part of the ranch to me goes totally against what she thinks is fair. Why don't we forget that you did offer it. I would be open to becoming the ranch manager. In that capacity, I could look for investors if we need some to keep the ranch going. Everything would be clear and open to everyone so Mrs. Betite couldn't feel she was being edged out in any way.

"As daughter of the owner, she could command from the manager that I address her as Mrs. Betite. I would do that. It was too forward of me to call her by your pet name and I will apologize for doing so."

"You already ran into one buzz saw today. Are you really going for two?"

"Why not?"

"If you are, would you mention what I talked about concerning Izzy? To be honest I want it done but can't think of any way to approach her."

"Sure. I might as well get it all done at once." I went to Angelina's door and knocked.

"Who is it?"


"Come in, I don't suppose I can keep you out. Not after the way you have taken over."

I stepped in. Angelina was sitting at a small desk and swung to face me. "Yes."

"First, I would like to apologize for the way I addressed you. That was way too forward for a person that is just staying here. Second, I didn't know what your father intended concerning the ranch. As to that, I have refused it. You must think I was taking advantage of him. I'm not. However I am staying on as the ranch manager."

The woman facing me broke in with, "What is he going to be paying you with?"

"The understanding is that I am to figure out a way to generate some income and will be paid from the profits. There is a bank back east where I have done some business and I may be calling on it for some working capital. The books for the ranch will be totally open for anyone's perusal, especially yours."

"Why are you doing this? Why are you even thinking about doing it?"

"Not for myself. For Ezra mainly. More for Ezra's granddaughters. Some for the sons he claims and knows he doesn't have to. I'd like my mother to be happy and she is out here with him, although she and Pete could go anywhere and be happy." I paused, "There is one other that enters into this who your father has asked me to tell you about. He expects you will hit the ceiling, but I said I would. He wants Izzy to have the Hogan name."

"The half-wit? No way!"

"You've reacted just the way I figured. Would you listen to my reasoning?"

"Do I have a choice?"

"Yes Mrs. Betite, you do have a choice, but remember this is something that your father cares deeply about." I waited. "Shall I leave?"

"No, you might as well continue."

"Maybe I need a little background here. How long ago did your mother leave?"

"Six years ago."

"You've been gone eight. You left when you got married. Am I right?" She nodded. "So your father hasn't had anyone around since he was seventy-three or four. He has lived here all alone because your mother took your brothers with her. When Ezra was seventy-five, a woman asked him to look after Izzy. She was just a friend--no benefits--that cooked him Sunday dinner on occasion. The boy was twelve and mentally challenged, but Ezra took him on when his mother died.

"I don't know who has been helped more--Izzy or Ezra. I will say this, I believe neither would be here today if they didn't have each other. Look at the place. Your father still has a herd of cattle and some horses. Mom said Ezra was worn out when she and Pete showed up. I'll ask a question you don't have to answer. How often did you come out here to the ranch to see him?" Angelina was sputtering and I held up my hand.

"No, don't answer. I'll continue. All of a sudden your father has someone around besides Izzy to care for him. Yes, that he too can care for as well. My father-in-law was a serious alcoholic when he got here. He had been sober for only two weeks. You wouldn't know it now because Pete has recovered. You don't have to worry about them, I'll take care of them myself.

"You want to know something else? You begin to show up because you are afraid Mom is going to replace you in your father's favor. That's okay, for you bring his granddaughters with you and he wants to be around just awhile longer to see them grow up and remember him. He feels for them just as he did you when you were little. How about your brothers? They remember that love he had for them. Ask them how they feel about bringing near tragedy down on him last week. They want to make up for that and are willing to work to show him that they didn't mean any harm."

I contemplated what to say next. Angelina was sitting quietly now, not looking at me. "They are willing to have Izzy have the Hogan name. They know he is as near a blood relative to Ezra as they are, which is zero. Izzy was there for their Pa when they weren't. They want Ezra to live as long as he can. They want to care for Izzy just because he kept Ezra alive so they could know him again.

"That brings things down to me. You resent me and I would do the same if I was in your shoes. I show up here and right away it may seem that I am taking over. Ezra wants to do wonderful things for me. Part of that is because he feels he may see a little more of life before he dies and with me around it will happen. Before Mom came he figured he would die and who would care. Then he would think of the boy that had been helping him maintain a semblance of the life he had lived for so long. He would get up and go tend his stock.

"I guess I have talked long enough. I came in to tell you I'm taking over as ranch manager. At the end of four years, I have other things to tend to. I will be leaving at that time so you won't have to be concerned about me to any great extent. Good evening Mrs. Betite."

Just before I closed her door, she spoke. "Mr. Duncan, how best could I apologize to Pa?"

"Let Amy and Amelia stay here until school starts. They will be safe enough and they need Ezra. I'm not going to say anything about Izzy. As you are the oldest sibling, you would be taking him on as an adopted brother, which is a big responsibility. Ezra has faith because of your intelligence that you would do right by all of your brothers. It is your call." I closed the door.

For the rest of this story, you need to Log In or Register

Story tagged with:
Ma/Fa / Romantic / Heterosexual / Slow /