The Main Street of Rusty Springs sprang up in the early l900’s. This was around the time Mabel opened a café on a corner across from the Rusty Springs Bank. Her building now had a new neighbor, The Western Outfitters. Her little restaurant, in continuous operation since the l900’s, was now in the competent hands of her Granddaughter Marge.
The tall ceilings were like most buildings built of that time. Shelving ran along a wall over six red, plastic-covered booths placed to look out big windows onto Main Street. The vintage tin ware artfully decorated on a wooden ledge. Marge dusted them once a month, dragging a ladder from the back store room to do the strenuous task.
Lance and Alexis took one an unoccupied middle booth. It had the best view of the bank across the street.
“If we’d been sitting here years ago, we might have seen Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids enter that bank,” said Lance. “I wish I could have been here to see them.”
“I didn’t know they robbed banks in Montana.”
“So says local myth,” grinned Lance, smiling as he looked over the menu written out in Marge’s flowing perfect penmanship on a single sheet of paper. “Let’s see if Marge has signature lamb stew on today. I’ve heard it’s exceptional. Like to try it?”
Alexis nodded okay. “Place is getting crowded,” she said, looking at the people sitting at the counter and filling the booths. “Folks flock to good home cooking. Her stew must be made of veggies fresh from her garden.”
“Speaking of Marge. Here she comes,” said Lance. The woman, a slender senior dressed in a white short-sleeve shirt, button missing at the top, and jeans, with a white, spot-speckled apron and a quick smile, came up and said quickly, as a woman who has many things going at the same time must do, “Fire-eating weather. Things are heating up. You folks tourists?”
“No,” said Lance. “I work at the Olivers.”
“Their ranch is right in the fire’s path! Are you leaving town?” Marge studied Alexis, wondering who the woman was. She thought they both had the most interesting eyes. The woman looked majestic, and yet she was just a tiny little thing sitting with that great big cowboy.
“No, we stopped in for two orders of your lamb stew. Heard you have it on the menu.”
He winked at Alexis.
Marge smiled, wrote on her pad, turned and went to pass their order through the opening to a man working in the kitchen behind the counter stools.
“You’re smooth,” Alexis said. “On the way coming here, I thought about you.”
Lance stared at a sheriff’s car pulling in to park across the street. A prickle went up his spine. Was Alexis was going to tell him to butt out of her life?
Alexis moved closer to the edge of the table-top, crossed her arms and leaned toward him.
It may not be what I’m thinking, but she seems serious, as if she has something weighing on her mind. So intensely were they into each other that neither of them heard or saw Sheriff Anthony Castellano come into the café, walk over and stand by their booth.
“Sorry to interrupt,” said Castellano, looking down at Lance, and giving Alexis a quick glance. “I saw you in here and wanted to ask a favor, that’s if you’re still working at the Oliver Ranch.”
“Sure am. We just came in for lunch,” said Lance, reaching up to shake Castellano’s hand. “How can I help?”
“Can’t spare a deputy to run out and check on a house in the valley. It’s one that’s near the Oliver Ranch. Inmates are coming in within the hour to fight these fires. We’re busy looking for places to house them in Rusty Springs. Things are heating up on all fronts. Man power is tight. I came in to see if you could take care of a task for the department.”
“I leave for the Oliver Ranch in a few minutes,” said Lance. “What can I do there for you?”
“There’s a vacant trailer home across the valley from the Oliver Ranch. Or, at least we think it’s not occupied. We need someone to check it out . . . see if anyone still is in the house. If no one is in the home, then to place a white flag on the door so fire fighters will know it’s vacant.”
“Consider it done,” said Lance.
“By the way,” said Castellano, “They’re moving cattle to the Richards Ranch near base camp. If you’re the person taking care of that move for the Olivers, make sure their stock is tagged.”
“Appreciate the information,” said Lance.