“Hey, where’s my other shoe?” Mitchell’s voice reverberated throughout the entire upstairs.
“Where’d you leave it?” Debbie hollered back from downstairs in the kitchen; used to the morning chaos.
“I didn’t put it anywhere.” Mitchell defended his lack of discipline and organization. Now Stewart, his was a different story. Everything in Stewart’s life was organized and had purpose; not so with his twin brother. Even though they had duplicated genes, still their personalities were night and day.
“Kelly must have taken it.” Mitchell just threw that out there. She was as good an excuse as any that he could think of for his messy nature.
“No, I never!” Kelly retorted. She didn’t appreciate Mitchell trying to pin his bad habits on her. She tended to be more neat and tidy, like Stewart.
Stewart; ever the peacemaker piped in: “I think I saw Dolly with the shoe.”
“Dolly!” Debbie exclaimed. “Why didn’t you take it away from her?”
Dolly was their three-year-old Golden Retriever. She was a wonderful addition to the family, except for the fact that she shed horribly, and had never kicked her puppy habit of chewing shoes. For one of the kids to see her with a shoe and not retrieve it, or at least report it, was totally unacceptable.
“I tried. But she ran away. Then you called us to come and eat. Well, I was hungry; and I didn’t mean to, but I forgot.” Stewart had found his way to his mother’s side. He was ready to accept all responsibility for the missing shoe, even though it wasn’t even his.
“He can wear a pair of mine.” Stewart offered. “The one’s he’s looking for are a lot like a pair that I have in my closet. I can just give them to him, if you want.”
Debbie looked at her young son and couldn’t help but forgive the transgression. Stewart was such a pleasant child. They all were, but there was just something special about Stewart. Maybe it was because his birth had been the most difficult. Mitchell had delivered with relative ease, but for Stewart it had taken some pretty strong determination and faith for him to enter into the world healthy and whole. The time lapse between the birth of the boys was pretty exceptional. They should have been born mere seconds apart, not the ten minutes that it had actually taken. Mitchell had been born naturally, but by the time that Stewart came along Debbie had needed an epidural as the pain was so severe and Stewart just wasn’t following threw the birth canal like he needed to. They almost had to take Debbie in for an emergency cesarean delivery, but then Debbie managed to make that final push. It had gotten pretty scary for her and for David.
“Mitchell!” Debbie hollered out to get her son’s attention. “Stewart says that Dolly had your shoe. Get the pair that’s like them out of his closet.”
“I’m right here. You don’t have to holler.” Mitchell didn’t care about finding the shoe anymore. He had already helped himself to a pair in Stewart’s closet. And they weren’t like the ones that he was going to wear either. “I got some.”
“Hey, them’s mine.” Stewart fussed, but only half-heartedly. He really didn’t care if his brother wore a pair of his shoes or not.
“Just borrowin’ ’um.” Mitchell reassured his brother. “Heard you tell mom that Dolly had my shoe. Why didn’t you get it?”
“She ran off.” Stewart explained simply. And it was true. He had started after her, but well, he was distracted. Stewart may have been the neatest of the two, but he didn’t have the best attention span on the planet.
“I found the shoe.” Kelly said, with a smile that would have lit up the whole room, except for no one was smiling as they looked at what once was the second shoe in a pair, but was now obviously a dog’s chew toy. The laces were pretty much gone, and the canvas that was the top of the shoe was in taters. The shoe was a mess.
“Dolly!” Mitchell screamed out as he grabbed the shoe from a bewildered Kelly. She had thought that the problem with the shoe had been solved. She didn’t take into consideration the uselessness of the shoe that she had found.
“Mitchell, just let it go.” Debbie yelled out after him. What good would it do to beat the dog? Oh, she knew that Mitchell wouldn’t actually beat the dog, but Dolly was definitely going to get a good chewing out by her boy, of that she was quite certain.
“Want some eggs?” She spoke randomly. She knew that the kids weren’t going to be happy with a healthy breakfast, but she could try.
“I want pancakes.” Kelly stated matter of factly.
“I’ll take a bagel.” Stewart made his request. “Maybe toast one up for Mitchell too, if you would.”
Debbie methodically reached into the freezer and grabbed out a three pack of pancakes. Whoever had invented microwave pancakes was definitely one of her heroes. She could still recall when she would make them up from scratch and then smoke up the house with the hot griddle, only to have a mess and most of the batter left over. Now she could just pop them in the microwave on demand. Kelly was her pancake fan. David liked to grab them on the go too. Debbie, she was with the boys and would prefer a bagel with a bit of cream cheese.
“You want a bagel?” Debbie again called out loud enough for her son that had left the room to hear her. Mitchell returned seconds later.
“Sure, mom. Thanks. I gave Dolly the other shoe. She was happy.” Mitchell offered.
Why the kids didn’t understand that it wasn’t okay to encourage the dog’s bad behavior was beyond Debbie. She didn’t say anything. Things were going along relatively smooth for a Monday morning.
David wasn’t having such luck. Two of the men showed up late, and then there was a third man that was a no show. He had called, but that didn’t help the fact that the six remaining men would have to carry the brunt of the work load. David had arrived early to make sure that everything went smoothly, and was a bit annoyed with the lack of professionalism that he witnessed. He came to understand right away that being in charge of a large operation like Daniel’s farm wasn’t for the faint at heart.
“Mario, David here. How’s it going on the back forty?” David had been concentrating on the farm animals, but now he needed to make sure that the crew was getting their work done also.
“It’s good. Got a few calves that I’ve got Jacob’s branding; and Marcus is mending some barbed wire. It looks like someone had cut the wire. I’m a bit concerned. I’m having Jacob do a head count once he gets those young calves branded. What good it does these days though, is beyond me.” Mario was frustrated, and not without cause. Stealing cattle wasn’t something that was reserved for the pioneer days: But in modern days the thieves were making getting caught a whole new game, and a whole lot more difficult.
The favorite trick of rustlers was to create a brand that incorporated a popular brand, and then they would steal the cattle and get them branded pretty much on site. The way that they did that was by using large transportation trucks that were fully equipped with the branding irons and everything that was needed to instill the new branding. They would sneak near a farm; cut the fencing; load their truck with cattle and then go up the road a ways to an empty field; unload the cattle; brand them to cover the original brand; and reload the trucks and head on down the highway. It was a market as huge as stealing cars; stripping them; and selling them in parts. The modern cowboy had to guard their cattle like they were a precious commodity; of which they really were.
“If you think that there has been some rustling going on, then don’t you think that getting a head count is important, like now?” David was appalled at the thought. He didn’t want to answer to Daniel after only one day of being in charge that there had been thievery going on.
“Sure, it’s important sir. But so is branding the young ones. They get too old and it’s twice the work, and twice the manpower. Just keeping with protocol, sir.” Mario knew what he was doing. He had a tally sheet all ready for Jacobs just as soon as the calves were properly branded and secured. Even when a crisis arose, Mario knew that he had to stay focused and to work things through decently and in order. It was the only way that everything would be completely in a timely and proper manner.
“Keep me posted.” David said, trying to stay much calmer than he actually felt. He knew that the front end of the farm was running smoothly, and that he was needed in the back forty, regardless of what Mario had said. It was his job that was on the line.
“You okay if I go and check on the boys?” David asked his friend and fellow fruit and vegetable stand worker, Gladys. She was a tough old girl from way back. She knew just about everything that a person could know about produce and David would listen to her stories time and again as she told of her good old days out on the range. She was a cowboy through and through. She had some Cherokee in her and she spoke often of her Grandfather, the Medicine Man. Gladys worked with the produce because she was a firm believer that diet was crucial to long life and health. And she should know too, as Gladys wasn’t a day younger than eighty, but no one dared to call her on it. She certainly knew how to hold her own.
“I’ll be just fine. You better take your truck. You don’t need to be wearing yourself out hiking clear out there and back.”
Gladys was right. David had no intention of ‘hiking’ anywhere.
“So, what’d you find out?” David jumped out of his pickup truck.
“Jacob’s just now finishing up with the branding. But I went ahead and did a head count. Seems that there are sixty head that should be in the South pasture, but there only appears to be about forty. Now normally if someone’s hustling, they are going to make it worth their time. I think that the wire might not have been cut after all. I think one of the neighbor boys have probably been out here with a tractor again. It’s not that hard for them to bull-dog a fence with a tractor. If that’s the case; which I suspect it is, then our missing head should be in the North pasture. I’m on my way to check it out. Want to join me?” Mario offered.
“I could.” David was willing. “Guess I need to saddle up?”
“I got you covered. Here, take my horse. I’ve got Jacob’s bringing me his. I already radioed him and he’s on his way. He’s going to be cutting some cattle out to go to market. That’ll keep him busy for a little while.”
“Won’t he need his horse?” David didn’t want the man to be on foot because of him.
“No. He’ll be cutting with a dog. He won’t need anything except for a quick hand on the gate. Sarge is a great cow dog. They’ll get by just fine.”
Sarge stood at Mario’s feet and wagged his tail. The Australian Cattle Dog was in his element amongst the cattle. His molted blue coat was smooth and uniform. He had a perfect stance and black markings on his face. He was a work-horse, so to speak, and bred to be as such. He worked tirelessly herding the cattle with delight. Sarge stood next to the men, anxiously awaiting the command to go to work. Everyone should be such a willing laborer, David thought as he admired the dog and his obvious anticipation of being put to task.
They didn’t have to wait long until Jacob’s showed up on the bluff. “Here he is.” Mario stated as he was finally able to persuade David to take the reins of his horse. “Mount up.”
David easily placed himself into the saddle. He felt good. He hadn’t been on a horse for a while, but he certainly hadn’t forgotten how to ride.
Jacob’s dismounted with ease and addressed his co-workers and supervisors. “Gentlemen. The branding’s done. I’ll get the cattle loaded for auction. Take the trail up through the bluff, and then veer right to the road. Marcus got that fence mended. I doubt that the missing cattle will be too very far. If I had time I would have gone after them myself. Anyway, Marcus is scouting out the rest of the South pasture; making sure that there aren’t any more compromises in the fencing.”
Mario saddled up onto his mount and got a good grip on the saddle horn and the reins. “Let’s go.” He stated, and with no further pause he gave the horse a couple of firm jabs with both of his insteps. The horse lurched forward and David followed suit.
The two men had a very successful outing. David was wishing that he had a dog like Sarge along with them though, as even after they found the missing cattle, in the North pasture, as suspected; still, it was their responsibility to get the animals back into the South pasture. Mario was an excellent horseman, but it still took everything that both men had to convince the cattle that they needed to go where they belonged. It took much more time than David ever had imagined that it would.
He pulled into his driveway at a half past eight and he was worn out to the bones. He had forgotten what it meant to be a real cowboy. He had been running the produce stand for the past several years and had gotten away from the cowboy ways. He got out of the pickup truck not only smelling like a ‘real’ cowboy, but feeling like one too. He could hardly walk as his legs were numb from hugging a saddle all day.
“Daddy!” Little Kelly greeted him at the door. “Dolly ate Mitchell’s shoe!”
“That’s nice dear.” He stated, as he only wanted food; food and his pillow.
Dolly was the next to greet him. “Hey, girl.” He stated. “You being a good girl?” Of course she hadn’t been being a good girl, but that was lost on David. He was dog tired.
“Long day?” Debbie asked as she took David’s hat from his hand and placed it on the rack by the door. He slipped out of his work coat and hung it on a hook on the wall.
“I’ll say.” David said, but didn’t elaborate. He didn’t feel like talking. Food and sleep: That is all that he wanted.
“Your dinner’s in the oven.” Debbie stated as she walked with David to the kitchen. She could tell that he was tired, but she didn’t say so; she could also tell that her man had worked hard. He reeked of sweat and horse.
The twins came barreling around the corner. “Dad!” Shouted Mitchell, echoed by “Dad!” by Stewart.
“Whoa, now. Calm down, boys. Your dad’s had a long day. Go on upstairs and get in your pajamas. It’s close to time for bed.
“But, Mom!” Mitchell protested.
Then Stewart chimed in, “It can’t be our bedtime. Dad just got home!”
“I want my desert.” Kelly pouted. She hadn’t had any attention and wanted someone to notice her.
“You didn’t eat all of your dinner.” Debbie stated firmly. “I told you that if you didn’t eat your dinner then no desert.”
“But that’s not fair!” Kelly protested.
“You said we could have brownies.” Stewart reminded her.
“With ice cream on top.” Mitchell hadn’t forgotten either.
Dolly was right in the mix of things, wagging her tail and hoping for leftovers.
David resisted just collapsing into the kitchen chair. Instead he sat down gently. He looked at his hands. He should have washed them. “What’s for dinner?” He asked simply amongst all of the noise and confusion. It felt good to be home.