Welcome to the fifth instalment of Mark and Ann bits. Like a lot of people Mark and Ann have to do something that might not be peasant, but it just has to be done. So how’s it get done? For Mark and Ann it’s solid will and strong determination and a whole lot of pure stubbornness. It gets the job done and sometimes it’s there’s that rare moment when all the discomfort and pain is worth it. Here’s another moment in the lives of Mark and Ann, before they became Wolf Moon.
It sounded like such a good idea to walk down to the village, and, in all honesty, the walk down isn’t bad, it’s the walk back up the hill that gets me every time. Oh well, at least the weather is good for a change.
I walk along the railings at the side of the park and see kids playing football, people walking their dogs, an older couple sitting chatting on one of the path-side benches, and decide a shortcut is in order. I’ll still have the hill to climb, but somehow it doesn’t seem as steep from the other side.
Turning left I walk in through the park gates and make my way along the footpath. The older couple look over with a smile and a nod, which I return, and resume watching the kids kicking the ball about. I smile. One or more of the kids must belong to them.
I follow the curve in the path, coming alongside the small clubhouse for the bowls green. There’s no game being played today so the building is locked down, but a flash of moving colour tucked into one corner draws my eye.
The closer I get I begin to hear laughing and jeering, and not the nice kind. My curiosity gets the better of me so I step off the path to take a look, only to find a man about my age kicking at something in the narrow alley that runs down the side of the building.
I pick up speed, rushing to find out just who this jackass is bullying. “Hey you!”
He turns to look at me, a snarl curling his lip. “What? Why don’t you fuck off and mind your own business?”
Oh yeah! I’ve met a few like this asshole before.
I laugh. “That work for you usually?”
I move closer and he steps towards me. “I told you to fuck off.”
“And here I was thinking you were clever enough to get the hint I wasn’t listening to a damn thing you said.”
He goes to shove me. I sidestep, twist the top half of my body and elbow him in the back of the head as he stumbles past me, knocking him into the brick wall of the building and rushing around the corner to see who he’d had pinned there.
I see nothing at first, then hear a small cry and look down. There, pressed tightly up against one of the storage bins, is a tiny quivering black kitten.
What the hell?
I feel my temper fire. If there’s one thing I can’t abide with it’s cruelty to children and animals. I spin on my heel to see the asshole coming towards me with a swagger in his step. He sure does seem to think he’s the man. Well, I have news for him.
I square my shoulders. “What the hell are you doing to that defenceless little animal?”
He comes at me and raises his voice. “Gonna make you sorry you didn’t listen, bitch.”
He pulled back his arm and threw a punch. It was awkward, unlearned, and easy to avoid. I leaned back, let his fist swing harmlessly passed me, step in and, with a sharp punch of my own to his kidney, send him sprawling to the ground in a heap with a startled cry.
I turn to go back to the kitten when he makes a move to regain his feet and I lift my foot and press it down on his crotch. “If I was you I’d stay down. Better that than being put on your ass by a woman again.”
He goes to speak. I press harder and he nods, tears building in his eyes. I move my foot and go back around the corner, coaxing the terrified little animal with a gentle voice until he overcomes his fear and comes towards me.
I lift him to my chest, cwtch him close. “It’s okay little buddy, I got you.” He has no collar, looks unfed, and his coat is patchy and coarse. I scratch his ear and he purrs so trustingly in my hands. I never can understand how people could treat them so badly. “Well, I guess you’re coming home with me.”
Sitting here on a horse in the pouring rain, waiting on rustlers. Sounds like a western show, but it’s not, it’s just another part of my life. The cowboy hat I tilt into the wind, and the slicker keeps most of the wind and rain at bay. But nothing seems to help against the biting cold. Shiver, seems to be living up to her name. I pat her on the neck. “I know it’s miserable, girl but you know we can’t quit.”
Most people would have called it quits by now, if they would have started it to begin with. Guess I’m just stubborn. Besides rustlers know most people wouldn’t be stupid or stubborn enough to be out in this kind of weather. I’ll know which one I am when it’s over, I guess. It’s perfect weather for a rustler to operate in. They think they will have free reign and all the time they need. If they put that much thought and effort into a real job they wouldn’t have to steal. Rustlers show up here, they won’t find free reign, just a wet Wolf.
It helps that the rancher has the cattle pinned up in what he calls a storm corral. A wood paneled patch of land with a wooden lean-to, no metal, in one corner. Fifty head of cattle in one place, like baiting a trap. I watch as the rain water makes the creek swell. It threatens to become a river, so I nudge Shiver across to the other side. Storms going to get worse, I feel it as the hair on my arms try to stand on end. There’s electric in the air. Shiver senses it too, I can tell by her nervous behavior. I give her another pat. “Easy Shiver, we gotta weather the storm, girl.”
The cattle feel the coming storm too. They bunch together and test the the strength of the lean-to. Just like that the sky lights up and is followed by the deep rumble of thunder. Shiver flinches, snorts and bobs her head. I give her another love pat. “Easy girl, just a tator wagon falling over.”
The thunder starts sounding worse than a tator wagon falling over. Sounds more like several tator wagons being throwed around and crashing into each other. No longer just a biting cold either. More like it’s trying to eat its way to the bone and gnaw on it a bit.
After the sky starts to get real angry, three dually pickups pulling gooseneck stock trailers pull into the pasture. I only notice the taillights. Headlights are off. They know they’re not supposed to be here. I wait for them to back the first stock trailer into the corral gate. Two passengers each, six against one. Almost a fair fight. Two of them grab rifles out of the truck and stand guard, watching the tree line. Great, worse kind of rustlers. The kind willing to kill to get what they want.
I nudge Shiver into motion, swing her wide through the trees. She goes from a gallop to a full run before we break the tree line. The thunder in the sky drowning out the thunder on the ground. The sky lights up again, the first rifle swings my way. Too late for him. Shiver never slows as she goes right over him. He may not be dead but he most likely will wish he was.
We head for the other rifle, the man side steps. I dive out of the saddle, hit him hard and drive him into the mud. I grab the rifle and roll to my feet. I swing around just in time to see the rustler jump to his feet and reach into his coat. I slam the rifle stock against his head. Crack it like an egg. I don’t see no yolk, but there’s lots of blood.
I feel strong arms grab me from behind, pinning my own arms to my side. He spins me around so his buddy can whack me in the head with a tactical baton. No, sir, ain’t gonna happen. I throw my feet into the face of the whacker. Slam my head back into the nose of the grabber. His grip loosens and I shoulder throw him into his buddy. I grab the baton and do a little whacking myself. Their knees being shattered, they won’t be going far. The last two are already headed my way. I prepare for a beat down, but they both pull pistols from under their coats and turn it into a fire fight.
I see the flash from their guns but the thunder is all I hear. I tear at the buttons on my slicker, reach in and yank out my Colt .45 ACP. Their aim is shit, mines not. A pair of double taps to both their chests and they drop in the mud. I allow myself to breath, then jump out of my skin when a bolt of lightning slams into the ground near the corral. The cattle spook. Some find the exit between the gate and the trailer, the rest barrel over the top rail, the first ones knocking it loose, making it easier for the rest. All of them head straight for me. Stampede.
This feels like a goddamn western again. I turn and run, well, I try to. More like slog through the mud. I dive under one of the trailers and wait it out. Listen to the thunder in the sky, on the ground and all around. I crawl out from under the rolling shelter and use the lightning to scan the area. Any rustlers that were alive before, ain’t no more.
I set on the edge of the trailer fender and let the rain wash the mud off. Try to figure out how I’m going to explain six dead men to Sheriff Sikes. Well, at least it’s in the country and I don’t have to explain them to Captain Stanford. Course, I really don’t know which one of them is worse. They both seem to do a lot of cussing around me. I pick my hat up, I lost in the scuffle, and put the damn muddy thing on. Maybe the rain will wash it off.
Another lightning flash lets me know Shiver didn’t go far, she never does. We meet each other halfway and I step back into the saddle. A little more sore and worn than the first time I did it. I notice the rain has let up and the thunder and lightning are more distant now. I pat Shiver on the neck. “Storm broke girl and we managed to survive without it breaking us.”
She neighs and bobs her head as though she understands, I like to think she does. I hear a calf bawl in the distance. Feint at first, but Shivers ears lets me know she hears it too. Then I hear a return bawl and it’s a back and forth conversation. Not a conversation! Not normal bawls either, you can hear the panic in both. That calf is in trouble.
I point Shiver in the direction of the noise and don’t have to encourage her much to bring back the thunder. I get closer and I realize the creek is no longer a creek, it’s a full blown raging river. I see a mama cow near the edge, bawling for her baby. Baby calf, is struggling to keep his head above water, gurgling out a bawl for help when he can.
I wrap the reigns around the saddle horn so they won’t fall in Shivers way. I give her free reign as I stand in the saddle. Just like I knew she would, she stops at the edge. I let the momentum carry me forward. I tuck my body and hit the water. I fight against the current and try not to take in a lung full of water. One seems to go better than the other. I grab the calf, he kicks in panic and I got a second fight on my hands.
I manage to grab a limb and let it pull us closer to the edge. I let go of the limb and grab a handful of mud. Calf in one hand, I claw with the other. I manage to pull the calf up far enough he can find purchase and run to his mama, before I collapse in exhaustion. I feel Shiver nuzzle the back of my head. “Let me just lay here a bit.”
She nuzzles me again and I know she’s ready to go home. “Okay, okay. Good thing I didn’t name you Patience.”
I struggle to my feet and reach for my hat. Gone. Good news is it’s most likely got the mud washed off of it. Bad news is, I won’t ever find the damn thing. I pull my tired, sorry ass back up into the saddle and give Shiver another pat. “Let’s get back to the truck and call Sheriff Sikes, we get this over, we can go get cleaned up and call it a night. It’s been one Hell of a night.”
I nudge her forward and watch mama cow and baby calf nuzzle each other. I smile and pat Shiver. “Guess it was worth it.”