He no longer wanted to rub shoulders with trouble.
October 4, 2013
A VG Serial: Borrowed to the Bone
Mesa, the ghost town, was short on a lot of things and was fresh out of water hoses. So Purcell was torn between staying and trying to put out the fire that threatened all the buildings or driving to Riverby to alert the fire department. He decided on the former. He went at the wall between the building in flames and its neighbor with vengeance and a crowbar, removing fuel from the fire’s path, trying to guide it away from the other buildings.
The former feed store was almost gone when Ben Tom arrived just ahead of the fire department. He had seen the fire from several miles away, turned around to make a call. He ran to his father. “What the hell happened?”
“How the hell should I know? These old buildings are all fire traps.”
The firemen shook their heads, not bothering with the old feed store that was totally engulfed, concentrating their attention and limited water on the surrounding buildings. Two hours passed before they felt it was safe to return to Riverby.
Ben Tom stood watching the smoldering ruins as mental images of the precious artifacts turned into ashes burned into his brain. “You slept in here last night, didn’t you? Fell asleep with a cigarette in your hand?”
“Now what makes you think that? I got a fair enough bed over in that trailer you drug up.”
“It might be that mattress in the floor that didn’t quite burn. There’s a big burn hole in the middle of it. Looks like it’s been slept on.
“Hell, son, it’s been in a fire. What did you expect?”
“Got a little whiskey in you and decided to take a little nap, didn’t you?”
“Don’t matter what happens, you always blame whiskey or cigarettes. Besides, I don’t see what you’re worried about. That old building needed tearing down, anyway.”
“What about all the stuff I had in it?”
Purcell “Wasn’t any of it worth a plug nickel, and you know it.” He looked at the trailer behind Ben Tom’s truck. “What’s that behind your truck?”
“What’s it look like?”
“Looks like some type of livestock trailer and that looks like a horse inside.”
“Your eyes don’t deceive you.”
“What the hell are you up to now? You don’t know one end of a horse from the other.”
“I aim to learn. I was taking this gray I just bought out to Joe Henry Leathers’ place to get some advice.”
“He that long, tall drink of water that wears them boots all the way up to his ass?”
“He runs the Redheart Ranch and practices law in downtown Riverby. Knows more about horses than anybody in this part of the country, maybe the whole state.
“Well, that’s three things you ain’t got in common.” Purcell said this as he shuffled away, shoulders slumped. Ben Tom knew his father had a guilty conscience, but would never admit, even to himself, that the fire was his fault. He looked old, and Ben Tom decided to follow him.
He found his father inside the building behind the one that had burned. The former dry goods store building was full of smoke and smelled acrid, but it was also full, floor to ceiling, with boxes of shoes.
Purcell turned on him angrily. “What the hell you following me for? Mind your own damn business.” Ben Tom opened a few boxes, found some new and some used pairs. He looked at his father, shook his head and walked out.
He worried more about Purcell as he headed for the Redheart Ranch. And he worried about his brothers. He couldn’t shake the feeling that he had abandoned them, though they were grown men and should be capable of supporting themselves.
Ben Tom had never imagined that he would go so long without contact, but the pure, innocent, country air had made him reluctant to breathe urban air again. At night, he dreamed and knew with almost certainty that both brothers were in some sort of trouble. And he no longer wanted to rub shoulders with trouble.
At the Redheart Ranch, he led the gray mare down the ramp of the expensive horse trailer that he could not afford and proudly showed her to Joe Henry. The tall lawyer’s half smile was hesitant, skeptical. “Looks familiar. Where did you say you got her?”
“Fellow named Pennebaker over in Bonham. He’s big into cutting horses. You probably heard of him. Got a national reputation.”
Joe Henry nodded. “Bob Pennebaker. I know him. He tell you he was into cutting horses or somebody else tell you that?
“He did. Said this gray was a champion.”
Joe Henry stared at his boots. “And what is it you want me to help with?”
Ben Tom was caught off guard by the question. “Well, I was just hoping you might give him a try and see if I got my money’s worth. Maybe cut a few cows on him.”
“Well, I don’t have any cutting stock caught up at the moment; don’t really own any for that purpose. But we can try him out in the corral if you want to.”
Ben Tom could not wait to see this wonderful animal work. The stories Pennebaker had told were magnificent. He led him into the corral. Joe Henry walked over and looked into the mare’s eye. “You got a saddle and bridle?”
“Sure do. Bob said the horse and bridle went with the horse.” He returned with both and a too-thin blanket in a matter of minutes.
Joe Henry put two fingers in the gullet and put the saddle on his shoulder. “Now, I don’t aim to demean a man’s purchases, but this saddle and bridle are not cutting equipment. Wrong horn, wrong stirrups. Saddle’s not even double-rigged.”
Ben Tom looked disconsolate and felt dumb. He did not know what double-rigged meant. “It was one of the prettiest ones he had.”
Joe Henry laid the blanket and saddle on the gray and looked into her eye again. “Tell you what, Ben Tom, let’s put this mare in the round pen instead of the corral. See what’s she’s gonna do. You an experienced rider?”
Ben Tom recalled the times he and his brothers had ridden an old swaybacked horse around his uncle’s place without benefit of saddle or bridle. “Since I was a little kid.
“Cause if you ain’t, I don’t recommend mounting this gray. I think I recognize her.”
Five minutes later, Ben Tom’s head bounced off the dirt. He was flat of his back in the round pen, writhing in pain. The gray stood over against the rails, staring at her most recent casualty.
Chapters of the serial are published on Friday.
You can learn more about Borrowed to the Bone and other titles by Jim H. Ainsworth on his Amazon Author Page.