In the late days of summer, usually the dinner bell at the Olivers rang a little after 5 p.m., early, so more ranch chores could be done before dark. Seldom did it ring at 7:30 p.m.
Joy Ann looked at the clock and had no idea when she’d be ringing the bell this night.
Late afternoon, Mack Westerman’s truck drove down the Oliver lane and heard the sound of shooting. Mack stopped. “Why, what’s my wife doing at the firing range?”
Larry launched out the truck and shouted over the truck, “Mack, it’s that gal, Stormy. Everything looks fine, but, I’ll check inside. Joy Ann should know why they’re so focused on shooting that they didn’t see us come back.”
“Joy,” he yelled inside the house. He made his way to the kitchen, yelling, “You okay?”
Her back was to him at the sink. She heard him holler, turned around with disheveled hair, her t-shirt sweat stained. She held a vibrant green bunch of broccoli stalks. The little tree-like objects trembled. She’s usually calm and collected, but if facing a crisis, she’d unwind, fall apart. He knew immediately something very serious had been taking place while he was gone.
“You okay?” again, he asked.
“I’m just so hot, in a rush fixing dinner for everyone.”
“No, it’s more than that. You’re worried about something. What the hell! What have you and the gals been doing?” He looked her in the eye. He wanted to know the truth, not some made up story like she often try to tell him when she didn’t want him to know. What’s she hiding?
“Well, Larry,” she said, sitting down at the table with the vegetable. “You guys came back sooner than we expected. Yes, we sure did something you probably wouldn’t have wanted us to do. But, we did and now you’ll probably want to check it out – Linda’s sure Mack will.”
“Slow down,” roared Larry. “Make sense.”
“Okay,” Joy Ann said with firm resolve. “Something—someone—we don’t know what—is inside that trailer. When you left, we went over there—inside—found it very strange—Stormy can tell you. She insists she’s going with you. Says she’ll be a good look out for you and Mack.”
“Shush,” his eyes calming. “That’s quite impressive, Joy, what you did. But, it’s going to be fine. Mack and I’ll take care of things at that trailer. We’ll see what Mack says about having Stormy tag along.”
Outside at the firing range, Larry jaunted over to Mack who was talking to Stormy. “Gal, if you’re as steady as your shooting action at the range, then, yes, you can come along and signal us if anyone arrives when we’re inside that trailer.” He turned to Larry. “It’s okay with me that she comes along. Before we head over there—by foot – no vehicle—“
Larry held up his arm and pointed a finger –“Did you know that there’s an underground bus that has a tunnel to it inside one of the bedrooms—“
“Under the trailer?”
“Absolutely. I’ve been down in it. Mighty weird stuff in the bus, too.”
“Then, I’d better bring my rifle,” said Mack who started toward his truck.
“And I’ll get my old camp lamp. We’ll need it. It’s dark under there,” said Larry.
“Meet up with you guys on the road to the valley,” said Stormy. “Pit stop, first.”
The three figures moved steal fully along the side of the road up to door of the trailer. Dark clouds followed their footsteps. Big winds blew, bending treetops.
Silently they went through the door. “Okay, I’ll wait, watch from here.” Stormy said. She stood inside the front door holding a big whistle. “This’ll let you know if anyone’s coming.”
Larry lit the lantern. Then, he led Mack with the rifle under his arm made their way along the cluttered hallway that led back to the bedrooms. They crept into the room with the tunnel. Larry shone the light onto the outline on the floor. He whispered, “Trap door.” Then, he picked up a steel rod lying on the floor. Mack put down his riffle to reach for the tool in Larry’s hand.
A dull sound came from beneath their feet.
“Good Lord,” murmured Larry.
“Hand me back the rifle,” said Mack.
“Yah,” agreed Larry, who set the lantern down, picked up the rod and began to lift the trap door.
It rose. Another big thump came, this time the sound from below louder.
Larry shone the lantern inside. The beam shown upon concrete steps. “There’s a landing. We’ll go down to . . . the door into the bus. If the door is closed or locked, I’ve got this tool on my belt that’ll open it.”
They climbed into the tunnel and started down the steps. Larry moved slowly down the dank and slippery path with the lantern. On the landing, the door to the bus stood open.
“What are those sacks on the floor?” wondered Larry.
“My God,” said Mack who looked over Larry’s shoulder into the bus. One of the sacks moved.
A voice came from within. “What do you guys want from us now?”
“We want you,” beamed Mack.
“That you, Dad?” coughed Cole.
“It is, son. It is. And, when you see your Mom and her friends, you can thank them for getting you out.”
X X X
In the few hours remaining before the kidnappers were to pick up the money, Larry and Mack rounded up several men friends. The determined group captured the three Hicks men who came for the money. After they were blindfolded, they took them up to the mountain to an open mine, where they positioned their toes at the edge of the pit, warning them never to return; the next time, they wouldn’t be as lucky. They’d be pushed over and spend their last days at a bottom that had no way out.
Late that night, the storm raged with high winds and heavy rains. It suddenly veered off, and left the community of Rusty Springs under a light rain fall that continued for days, slowing the fires.
Stormy clambered for a chance to help Lance get his strength back. She discovered that she truly enjoyed cooking his food over the little camp stove in the ti-pi. “Remember I’m not leaving this area. Don’t forget me. Come back. I’d be a lot of fun. I’ll make you laugh.”
Cole came by often to visit them in the ti-pi. When the day came for Lance to depart, he asked him, “Would you like to have my ti-pi? It’s yours if you want it. I won’t need it where I’m going. Relaxing in here might help you get rid of that nasty cough.”
Larry and Robert continued fishing together, often now that Robert had more time. He found new owners for the Rusty Springs Store. But, that ended the Stitch ’N Bitchers who no longer had a place to bitch.
Joy Ann knew she didn’t want to forget the Cowboy Casanova. She just couldn’t cross his name out of her address book. Every time she saw the name, Lance Turbyfill, she felt he was standing in front of her—tall—slim—light on his feet, and, those unforgettable blue-gray eyes smiling into hers. One day, she did add a few notes after his name: ’He’ll be back. Larry found his saddle in the barn. What a summer we had when he was here! Wildfires. Evacuation Notice. Made new friends: Westermans, Linda and Mack. (Their phone number is under “W’s.)