Copyright© 2010 by Lazlo Zalezac
Pepper stared at the television screen unable to believe what he was seeing. A news helicopter was broadcasting the disaster scene that used to be the parking lot. Three cars were on fire and people were lying around on the ground. There were fire trucks, police cars and ambulances everywhere. It looked like someone had kicked over an anthill.
"It is kind of ironic, don't you think?" John said pointing at the screen.
"What?" Sam asked.
"That the big tough gang that has no respect for the law, calls the police when they get attacked," John said.
"Now that you mention it ... it is a little ironic," Sam said.
Craig looked over at Pepper and asked, "What do you think?"
Recognizing landmarks from his old neighborhood, Pepper said, "I live near there."
"You ... used ... to live near there," Craig said correcting Pepper on the status of his address.
It dawned on Pepper that everything he owned was back in Los Angeles. His store, his apartment, and his car were back there. And there was no one looking after his stuff. Even if he was released in a few weeks, everything he owned could easily be gone.
Getting angry, he said, "Goddamn it."
Getting out of his seat, John shouted, "Don't swear in front of my wife."
"I'm sitting here in the middle of bumfuck nowhere and all my shit is... ," Pepper began.
He was going to continue his rant, but John backhanded him across the face knocking him to the floor. He shook his head trying to clear it.
"I told you not to swear in front of my wife," John said shaking a finger in Pepper's face.
Pepper glared at John wishing he knew how to fight. He hadn't ever been in a fight, not even as a schoolboy. He knew that he would probably just flail away without accomplishing anything.
He said, "I don't care. Everything I own is back there and I'm stuck here. Why don't you just get it over with, and kill me?"
"That would be too easy," John said.
"I've lost everything," Pepper said, staring down at the floor.
This was the first time, since his kidnapping, that he had actually thought about what was back in Los Angeles. The first two days of his kidnapping he had been afraid for his life. The next three days had been spent working from sunrise to sunset, mucking out stables. Mostly he had been more concerned with surviving the present, rather than worrying much about the future.
His ordeal had lasted for five days, so far. It was hard to believe that so little time had passed since he had left Los Angeles. It felt like he had been there for a year.
"You'd better hope that Sonny gets home soon," Sam said.
Pepper knew that the gang wouldn't let Sonny live. They would go after him with everything they had. This had become a matter of pride to them, and they weren't going to lose face over one stupid cowboy. Sonny was going to die and he was going to be stuck there for the rest of his life.
At the idea of living like a slave until he died, Pepper felt his brain shutting down. He stared at the floor not seeing anything. Everything that he had worked for, was lost.
He lay there on the floor where he had fallen when struck, until he fell asleep. After the news was over, John turned the television off, but neglected to wake him. Pepper was left there to spend the night on the floor.
It was still dark outside when Craig nudged Pepper with a foot. When the man on the floor finally stirred, Craig said, "Wake up."
"I guess I better get to bed," Pepper said groggily.
"It is time to wake up. We've got to head over to the house for breakfast," Craig said.
Pepper stood up from the floor, and took two steps before falling flat on his face. He had forgotten about the bar and chain.
Sitting on the floor, he said, "I just want to go home."
"Better hope Sonny comes home soon," Craig said.
He could see that Pepper was near his breaking point.
Pepper changed clothes and made his way over to the main house for breakfast. For a change, he wasn't the last one to arrive. He sat around with everyone else, waiting for Sam. Everyone was drinking coffee trying to shake off the last vestiges of sleep.
The man walked in after five minutes and said, "Sorry I'm late. I was on my way over here and something disturbed the horses. I went over and checked it out. I didn't see anything. I was concerned that the grizzly bear might be back."
"The bear is going eat me. I know it," Pepper said while visions of being breakfast for a bear passed through his mind.
"I don't think so," John said. "The grizzly bear was seen yesterday about twelve miles from here. It was probably a black bear. I doubt we'd have two grizzly bears stroll through here in a year."
"Black bear? Are they small and harmless?" Pepper asked.
Craig said, "Don't worry about it. When we get busy around here it will go away."
Pepper said, "You people are crazy. Don't you get it? Bears eat people."
Donny said, "Anyone who leaves the immediate area around the house ought to carry a pistol with them just in case."
"There's nothing unusual about that," Craig said.
Pepper asked, "How about me?"
Donny ignored Pepper and said, "We've already had four or five bears come through here including that grizzly. Why do you think we've had so many bears this year? Usually they avoid the house."
Craig said, "I don't know. Maybe someone around here hasn't been taking care of their trash like they should. The bears are learning that where there are people there is food."
"That could the case," Donny said. "There have been a few city folks setting up summer places out here. They probably put their garbage out on the back porch overnight and the bears get into it."
Mrs. Daniels asked, "Speaking of city folks, are you going to lease that land in back of our place?"
"Yes," Donny said. "The fellow that owns the place told me that he was only coming out here two or three weeks a year. He wants me to watch the house for him. I told him that I'd try to find someone who might be interested in swinging by once a week to check the place."
"That's a long haul from here particularly in winter," John said.
The ranches might have shared a common border, but they were accessed by different roads. The actual route from door to door was close to fifteen miles in length with nearly ten miles of that on dirt roads. Add a little snow into the mix and it was a very long drive.
Pepper tuned out the discussion and concentrated on eating. It seemed to him that he was eating more than ever and was starving by the next meal. He didn't know if his appetite was the result of all of that physical labor, the fresh air, or if the food just tasted better. He had three pancakes, two huge spoons of scrambled eggs that probably contained four eggs, bacon, sausage, and a large biscuit smothered in cherry jam. Back at home he normally ate a Pop Tart for breakfast.
Once his appetite was sated, Pepper sat back and drank a cup of coffee. It wasn't like the Seattle chain brand of coffee, but it tasted good. In fact, it tasted better than the coffee that he bought for four dollars a cup at the coffee shop. He commented, "This sure is good coffee."
Donny said, "I really missed your coffee when I was gone, Mom. That stuff out in Los Angeles tasted like it had been burnt. It was just horrible."
"I don't know why. There shouldn't be any difference in the taste of coffee. It is probably the same brand out there like it is here. I perk it just like I have ever since I can remember," Mrs. Daniels said.
"You perk your coffee?" Pepper asked surprised by that little revelation.
Mrs. Daniels answered, "Sure."
Having grown up in Los Angeles, Pepper had been surrounded by plenty of coffee mavens who would go on at great length about the perfect way to make coffee. They also were quite harsh in their opinions about the worst way to brew coffee.
Pepper said, "I was always told that was the worst way to make coffee."
"You don't make twenty five cups of coffee at a time any other way," Mrs. Daniels said.
"I have to admit that it tastes good," Pepper said.
He remembered an old girlfriend who used to grind her own beans and used a French coffee press to brew coffee. She could have learned something from Mrs. Daniels about making coffee.
Donny rose from the table and said, "It is time to get to work folks. Everyone knows what has to be done today?"
There was a chorus of yesses around the table. Even Pepper joined in despite the fact that he hadn't been listening. His job was mucking the stables here, at Dan's place, and at Joe's place. He picked up the iron bar and cradled it in the crook of his arm. He gathered up some of the chain and held it in his hand. Using the appropriate shuffle, he headed out towards the barn. The sun wasn't even up yet, but the horizon was lit up with yellow and orange light.
Pepper paused to look at the sight and muttered, "That would make a nice postcard."
He went into the first stall and put the halter on the horse inside it. Having gotten a little experience, he knew this horse liked to step on people's feet. He automatically moved his foot out from under the horse's hoof, when it went to step on him. He led the horse out of the barn and tied it up. He returned to the barn giving the rear of the horse wide berth.
There was a storage area inside the barn where the wheelbarrow, shovel, and pitchfork were kept along with other tools. He gathered up the necessary equipment and went into the stall. He used the shovel to remove the droppings and put them into the wheelbarrow.
He muttered, "All these horses do is piss and shit."
He worked through the morning cleaning one stall at a time. This was a job that didn't require much thought, but it did require time.
He was in the middle of doing the sixth stall, when Craig came up behind him.
Craig said, "We're bringing in two more mares. Donny wants to breed them."
"They don't do that out in the field?" Pepper asked.
Craig said, "They could, but with sixty or seventy thousand dollars at stake, you don't want to leave it to nature alone."
"Sixty or seventy thousand dollars?" Pepper asked. It seemed to him that was a lot for a single horse.
"These are thoroughbreds. With the bloodline these animals have, they are worth a lot of money," Craig said.
"So they are going to do it here in the barn?" Pepper asked looking around the stall in which he was standing. It seemed to him that it was kind of small for two horses.
"No. The mating will take place in the corral. I'll handle the mare and Donny will take care of stallion. He's one of the best stallion handlers in the area," Craig said.
"Stallion handler? What is that?" Pepper asked. Most of the time he felt these people spoke a completely different language than him.
"He's the person who takes care of the stallion during mating. Stallions can get overly aggressive and that can be bad. You don't want to take any chances with this kind of money riding on it," Craig said.
"Oh," Pepper said.
He figured animals just knew how to do it and you left them alone to take care of things.
Craig said, "You're going to have to set up two more stalls. That means you'll have to wash them down, fill them with hay, and turn on the water to the troughs."
"Okay," Pepper said.