By Waddie Greywolf

Chapter 57

Shane told the cowboy slaves to take a break and sleep late the next morning, but when they got up, to check out everything in the bunkhouse.  He knew there were some old supplies still left and cooking utensils.  He wanted a report on what was usable and what needed to be replaced.  They would find some brooms and old mops in a store room off the kitchen, and he wanted them to clean up the place as best they could; however, just the main living quarters, the kitchen, the mess room and their own rooms.  The other rooms were to be left for cleaning by those to whom they would be assigned.
It was going to be their new home, and he wanted it to reflect their pride in living there.  Cowboy slaves live with internal clocks which go off shortly before the sun rises to get their day started.  Monday was no exception.

Shane and Cole went to the front house to check on the old man and found him already up for the morning, dressed and sitting in the kitchen talking with Mrs. Huggins.  She brought more groceries and was cooking breakfast for the three men.  Potter introduced Cole to her, and told them to grab a cup of coffee and join him.  Shane got himself and Cole a cup of coffee.  He set Cole’s cup in front of him, but didn’t sit down.  He asked Mrs. Huggins if there was anything he could do to help her.

“No, Son, I’ve got ever’ thing under control, but it’s nice of you to ask.  Judge Potter told me you insisted on cleaning the kitchen yesterday so’s I wouldn’t have to do it this morning.  Your help is greatly appreciated.  You already done helped me a lot.  I can git more things done for him this morning.”

They had a great breakfast while Mrs. Huggins went upstairs to change Mr. Potter’s bed.

“You stayed up and watched our video, didn’t you, Judge.” Shane grinned.

“Oh, yeah.” was his response and they laughed.

“Well...?” asked Cole.

“It was refreshing to see a cowboy what really knows how to ride a Western saddle.” he giggled like a schoolboy. “Of course, I played with myself, and I thought I was gonna’ rip my damn guts out when I shot.” he whispered confidentially, “Hardest ejaculation I had in years.  You know, I’d be surprised if your boy don’t git pregnant, cowboy.” he said to Cole.  They laughed again.

“When you have time, you need to check out Commander Fielding and Captain Trong’s video, and I heard Captain Jones made another.” said Shane. Then as an afterthought, he added,  “It’s better if you watch it on one of the ships because it’s three dimensional holographic video.  It’s like you're right there watching them do it.”

“Do it?” asked Potter.

“Oh, yeah, big time.” laughed Shane. “You think our cowboy video was something?  Y’ain’t seen nothing yet.” he chuckled.

There was one other house on the Potter ranch not far from the slave quarters.  It was a small, two bedroom cottage.  Shane asked the old man about it, and he said it was the original foreman’s cottage until the foreman’s family grew so big they had to build a larger house on the apex of the two valleys.  He claimed he thought everything worked in the house, but he couldn’t be sure, because he hadn’t been in there for several years.  Shane said he wanted to check it out later that morning.  Potter said it would be fine with him.  After breakfast Shane and Cole walked over the hill to the slave quarters to check on their cowboy slaves.  The slaves were in the process of a major field day cleaning everything.  Shane told them to take a break and sit down at a table to talk.  They were going to go through the slave ritual with Shane, but he waved them off.  He told them while he appreciated their adherence to custom, there were certain times the ritual just got in the way of day to day progress, but he or Cole would let them know when it was appropriate.  The slaves reported they found four cans of vacuum sealed coffee, an old but serviceable coffee pot and made a big pot of coffee.  They offered Shane and Cole a cup, and they accepted.  They set down and Shane began.

“As you men already know, Mr. Jack Hamil and Mr. Spencer Gaether are two cowboys from a ranch in another county; the Morris ranch, I believe.” the two cowboys nodded, “Welcome to Potter Ranch, gentlemen, I hope you find a good home here with us and are comfortable.  Since we’re starting from scratch you men have the disadvantage of git'n in on the ground floor.  On the other hand, there just might be a few advantages.  Lester Gumble and Otis Hann, here, are from my brother Charlie’s ranch.  They know I was a slave under my older brother Angus Goodnight for ten years, but I’ve know’d  them almost all my life.  I’m pleased and proud they volunteered to come work for me.  So Mr. Hamil and Mr. Gaether, I hope their actions will put some peace in your hearts and ease your minds that you ain’t come to live in a bad place.  My brother Charlie does things differently than my brother Angus.  They get the same results, but I prefer the way Master Charlie works with and treats his slaves.  So Lester, you and Otis won’t notice much difference in the way we run things around here other than you might have to suffer through us getting this operation up and running, but you knew that when you volunteered.  I’m glad to have you aboard.  We can use cowboys with your knowledge and experience.

I’ll get some basics out of the way.  You will address me in one of several ways; ‘Master Goodnight’; ‘Master Shane’ or ‘Sir.’  You may also address me as ‘Foreman’ or ‘Strawboss.’  Judge Potter, who is the owner of the property, you may address as ‘Master Potter’ or you may call him ‘Boss Potter."  Cole Jenkins, here, is my right hand man, my ‘Ramrod” or ‘Top waddie.’  You will show him the respect his position deserves by calling him ‘Sir,’  ‘Ramrod,’ or 'Top Waddie.'  You may also call him ‘Mr. Jenkins’ unless he tells you otherwise.  Like you, Cole Jenkins is my slave, but before you men do a lot of cogitate’n on it, ‘yes’ we share a bunk.  We worked together as farriers for ten years, and when I was granted my emancipation it seemed like the right thing to do to buy the cowboy I love and take him with me.” the men smiled and nodded in agreement.  They understood about cowboy love.

“Things might seem a bit hectic around here at first, but we’ll try to keep you busy until the cattle gets here and we form a remuda.  Until then we have several maintenance projects we need to git done.  We need to know what you men are going to need in the cowboy mess area.  I found some writing tablets, pens and pencils in one of them drawers on the back porch.  Make lists of anything you can think of no matter how foolish yore’ cowboy brother might think.  I might not think it’s foolish.  If you need new brooms and mops we’ll get them.  For right now we’re on a limited budget, and let me assure you we won’t be shopping at Neiman Mark-ups.” the cowboys shook their heads and laughed, Shane continued, “Instead, we’ll be taking you men out on foraging expeditions to auctions, swap meets, yard sales, and thrift stores to get what we need.  ‘New’ don’t make a pot cook no better’n a used one.” the men smiled.  They liked this young man’s sensibility and practicality.  Otis held up his hand and Shane nodded for him to speak.

“Are we gonna’ be allowed to have a garden, Master Shane?”

“Absolutely, Otis, glad you asked; irrigated fruit trees, too.  We’re gonna’ take it one step further than my brother Charlie.  We’ll have free range chickens for poultry and fresh eggs.  Eventually we’ll raise our own pork, mutton and goats, slaughter and process ‘em.  Of course, like my brother, I’ll expect a portion set aside for Mr. Potter, me and Cole.  I want you men to start surveying the area so we can decide a place for a garden and its projected size.  Keep in mind we eventually plan to max out the slave quarter with a full compliment of cowboy slaves.  Forty double man rooms plus the four, double man, lead cowboy rooms is eighty-eight men.  That should be enough of a labor force to accomplish damn near anything we undertake.  As Lester and Otis know, I’ve eaten at my brother Charlie’s salve's table with them many times.  I’ve seen how a garden can supplement cowboy slave’s diet and overcome the monotony of slave chow and biscuits.  Cowboy slaves jes’ seem to be more dedicated and work harder if they get a good breakfast and they got a good supper to look forward to.  Eventually, you’ll git two main meals a day, breakfast and supper.

Lunch for slaves at Master Charlie’s ranch has always been slave chow and a nutrient biscuit.  We’ll continue that tradition, but until then, I’m afraid we’ll have to rely solely on slave chow for a while.  In keeping with that tradition your foreman and his ramrod will, most days, be taking their noon meal with you men.  Since we’re still a small operation I plan to supplement your meals with some groceries once a week.  Make me a wish list for groceries.” Shane smiled, “I say ‘wish list’ because what we buy will depend on cash flow for the moment.
  Since you men will have seniority and will suffer through our infancy working with us to give birth to our new ranch, you will be our first lead cowboys.” The new men liked that. “The title don’t come with a lot of perks except you git larger rooms, your own toilet and shower facilities.  When you men ain’t working on a project for me or the ranch, I expect you to be working on a project to better yourselves and your slave brothers as a whole.  If you got ideas, we wanna' hear ‘em, but once me or Cole make a decision, it’s final.”

The new cowboys were impressed.  They didn’t have anything like that at their ranch.  They occasionally got some beef but very few fruits or vegetables.  They lived for years on slave chow.  After talking more with Lester and Otis the new cowboys began to think they landed in a much better place, just this side of cowboy slave heaven, but they still held a deep affection for their previous master and his family.

“We got us sixty head of cattle and a proven bull coming in two weeks so I want to get as much maintenance work done around here as possible before then.  During the next two weeks Boss Potter, me and Mr. Jenkins may be gone for periods of time.  If we’re gone longer than overnight we’ll have a temp freeman foreman come and stay at the ranch.  After you men get through here, I want the old foreman’s house on the other side of the road cleaned up.  We’re going over there after talking with you to check it out.”

Shane got some idea of the men’s mechanical fix-it skills.  He knew Otis and Lester were jacks of all trades and were two handy cowboys to have around.  Jack Hamil was once a journeyman carpenter and Spence Gaether had been an electrician; he could do some plumbing and carpentry.  Jack was also good with engines and fixing farm equipment.

“I expect you men to start taking care of our big remuda today.” Shane said, and Cole laughed.  Their ‘big’ remuda consisted of their two horses and the two old horses that belonged to Boss Potter’s son.  When Shane explained to the men why Cole laughed, they laughed too. “I know Boss Potter’s ponies are pert-damn long in the tooth, but they’re fixtures on this ranch.  They were his son’s horses, and they just happen to be close personal friends of mine.  I’ll expect you men to take as good care of them as your own.”

“We will, Sir.  If’n you need horses for a remuda, Master Shane, our master tried to sell his, but couldn’t even git nobody to come out to look at ‘em.  They’s about--- what Jack--- eighty to a hundred ponies?” asked Spence.

“‘Bout that.” confirmed Jack.

“They’s some fine horseflesh among ‘em, mostly generic cow ponies, a few rare Indian ponies, some mustangs, quarter horses, two mules, a couple a’ jacks and ginnys, even a couple of Arabians, but they’s been neglected and need attention.  If’n you men is farriers, won’t be nothing for you.  Last we heard he was gonna’ contract with a slaughterhouse to come get ‘em.  I’m sure they won’t offer him as much as they’s worth.  Being cowboys we hate to see such fine animals go for dog food.” said Spencer

“I agree.  Thanks, Mr. Gaether, we’ll look into it today.  That’ll be a good project for our boss.” said Shane.

“Please, Master Goodnight, jes' call me ‘Spence.’  We feel so bad for our other master, Sir.  His wife is dying from cancer, and he’s worried about git’n enough money scraped together to bury her.  His boy’s awful sick.  He knows his kid probably won’t live long neither.  The medical care he had weren’t worth a damn.  They couldn’t or wouldn’t invest the money to find out what’s wrong with the boy.  Mr. Morris can use all the help he can git.  Once he sells his place he told us he and his boy will be living out of his camper on the back of his pickup.  Last we heard them real estate vultures done told him they didn’t know if they could sell his ranch; they said ain’t nobody interested in gambling on ranching no more.  If’n they don’t sell it, the insurance companies will place a lean on it for his wife’s unpaid medical bills and foreclose right after her death anyways.  One way or t‘other they’s gonna’ screw him for ever’ damn penny they kin git; you can bet on it.  Sometimes, me and ma’ partner, old Jack, here, is glad we’s slaves.  At least we got us a roof over our heads, a warm bed to sleep in and food to eat.  To live out of a small camper ain’t no way for a man with a sick kid to be living.” Spence shook his head in disgust.  Jack nodded his agreement.

“Is Mr. Morris a real God fear’n, bible thump’n fundamentalist?” Shane asked.  Spence got a surprised look on his face.  For a minute he didn’t know how to answer, but mature cowboys heard rumors, many folks, especially members of the Grange, were rejecting and turning away the insanity of the rabid Christianist movement, and he reckoned he spotted that in his new young master.  Knowing Shane was an ex-slave compounded his suspicions.  Most slaves didn’t cotton much to religion, because they were told: "There waren’t no room in heaven for slaves.  Since slaves weren’t considered human and were almost always used for homosexual purposes by their masters, they were considered the lowest of the low.  Since they were no more than animals, they didn’t have souls.  They forfeited their humanity when they done wrong or for whatever reason they became enslaved.  Their souls died and left their bodies the day they became slaves.  God wouldn’t allow no men what got butt fucked or sucked another man’s cock into heaven; unless, they were emancipated, sought forgiveness for their wicked ways, was born again, and became ‘warshed’ in the blood of Jay-zus."  Kissing a snake or two and speaking in tongues was a step in the right direction, but the unspoken metaphor of the act was completely lost to ignorance.  Spence looked at Jack.  Jack nodded his head slightly.  Spence thought he’d take a chance and tell Shane the truth.

“Naw, Sir.  He’s jes’ about lost all his faith.  He never was much of a church goer no ways, but he’s a damn good man, Master Shane.  You gotta’ know he treated us well for us to be say’n such about him.  If’n we didn’t love him and his family, we jes’ wouldn’t say nothing.  Meaning no disrespect to Mr. Morris, Jack and me come to think on him more as a younger brother than our master.  We’d do anything in the world for him.  He jes’ don’t deserve what’s happening to him, Sir.”

Shane got the name, address of the ranch and phone number of Mr. Morris, their previous owner, from Jack and Spence.  Shane asked his cowboys if they had any questions, but they seemed satisfied with his talk.  He told them to take advantage of the beautiful creek and swimming hole down in the other pasture during the hot weather, but be sure to leave it as pristine as they found it.  They assured him they would.  Shane and Cole said their goodbyes and walked over to the old foreman’s cottage.  It wasn’t locked, but Shane found a key for the doorlock on top of the door molding.  It was old and rustic, but had a feel to it that was almost impossible to describe.  It felt like a comfortable old boot and had a lived in quality about it.  It sort of pulled you in, invited you to pull up a comfortable chair and relax for a spell.  It had a beautiful, natural rock fireplace and what looked like a small office area off the large living room.  Like the foreman’s house it was fully furnished and had drop cloths over the furniture to protect it.  Everything seemed to work, but it looked like the old hot water heater might give out at any moment.  Shane made a mental note to get a new one.

Shane and Cole walked up to the big house and told Potter what they found.  When they mentioned the name of the rancher, Gil Morris, Potter said Morris was a close friend and associate of his boy, but he lost touch with him over the years after his boy was killed in the middle East.  Potter called and spoke with the man, explained he was retired and starting up his ranch again.  Could Potter, his foreman and ramrod drive over and take a look at his horses?  Had he actually sold them yet?

“Naw, Sir, Mr. Potter, I ain’t sold ‘em.  They’s still here.  I guess the man from the slaughter house heard I was hurt’n for money and only wanted to gimme’ five hundred bucks for the lot of ‘em.  I’d rather give ‘em to you than have ‘em killed for dog food.”

“I understand, Son, but I think we can do better’n ‘nat.  May we drive over and take a look?” Potter asked.

“Yes, Sir, be happy for you to, but I’m due back to the hospital this afternoon.  Could you come this morning, Sir?” he asked.

“It’s nine o’clock.  We should be able to be there by ten thirty if we leave now.”

“That’s fine, Sir.  I’ll be wait’n for you.”

The men drove over to the Morris ranch.  They were disturbed at the neglect of the place, but the man lost all his cowboy slaves and just couldn’t take care of two sick people and see to his ranch.  He was overwhelmed.  Morris was waiting for them.  Shane was impressed by the man’s size and handshake.  He looked to be about thirty-five but looked drawn and haggard like he hadn’t eaten a good meal in a while.  There was no doubt in either Shane or Cole’s mind he was a cowboy to the bone.  Shane didn’t see the boy anywhere.  After introductions he looked at Shane and Cole and spoke,

“You the men what got my last two slaves?” he asked.

“Yes, Sir.  They’s the one’s what told us about your remuda.” Shane replied.

“You got two of the best cowboy slaves I ever owned.  They’s been with me since I first took over this place.  They worked their damn butt’s off to see us make a go of it, and we done pretty good until my wife and kid got sick.  I hated to let ‘em go, but that man, Mr. Long, he bid double what anyone else done for ‘em, and they ain’t no young men.  Said he needed a couple of older, seasoned cowboy slaves for a good friend of his, the younger brother of his boss Charlie Goodnight, what just became emancipated.”

“That ‘ud be me, Sir, Shane Goodnight.”

“Well, Mr. Goodnight, you got chore’self two fine buckaroos.  I had to sell ‘em together.  ‘Er’s no way I could a’ split them two up.  They’s,...well.... you know.” he said shyly.

“We understand cowboy love, Sir.  We’re jes’ damn glad to git ‘em.” said Shane.  He showed the men his horses.  Shane and Cole got in among them to examine them.  Spence was right, there were a number of fine horses, but they were neglected.  All of them were going to need work and many needed new shoes.  That didn’t bother him and Cole.  Shane particularly liked the diversity of the animals.  He liked the mules, jacks and ginnys.  They weren’t good for much on a ranch, but Shane fell in love with them.  They begged him not to leave them behind.  They knew what their fate might be.  He flashed pictures to them of the meadows and the barns on the Potter ranch and they were pleased.  Even the mature work ponies expressed interests in going with him.  There were a number of young ponies and yearlings who hadn’t been shod yet.  Shane knew he wanted them and told Cole and Potter.  Cole backed him up and told Potter they were mostly a sound lot.   

Shane spoke with Morris.  “Come, Mr. Morris, walk with me.”  Shane put his big arm around the cowboy’s shoulder and walked him away from Potter and Cole.  “I know’d h’it ain’t an easy thing to talk about, Mr. Morris, but between two cowboys, what’s a funeral cost these days, Sir?” the man looked at Shane like he was the last kind man on Earth.

“The man down to the funeral home told me, a simple, no frills casket and service with headstone would run me three thousand bucks, Sir.” he said quietly.

“Okay, will you accept that amount for your remuda?” he asked. The big cowboy looked like he couldn’t make up his mind to either break into tears or kiss Shane right on the mouth.

“To be honest with you, Sir, I was jes’ gonna’ give ‘em to you.” he conceded like he was defeated.

“I done figured you was.  You’re the kind of man what loves animals and don’t wanna’ see ‘em killed.  There’s some good ponies in the lot.  Some not so good, but none deserve to be slaughtered for dog food.  Besides, you look like a man what could use a help’n hand right now and wouldn’t take charity from nobody.”

“You’re right about that, Sir.  I don’t know what to say, Mr. Goodnight.”

“Say we got us a deal, and I’ll write you a check.  I’ll contract with a transport company and have ‘em picked up in the next couple a’ days.”

“You got chore’self a deal, Mr. Goodnight.” Gil Morris stuck out his hand, and they shook on it.

“One more thing, Mr. Morris.  Can I meet yore’ boy?”

“He’s in his room in the house.  He’s awful sick, Mr. Goodnight.  I don’t think it would do him no harm, though.  He’s worried sick about them ponies.  One of ‘em, the little sorrel mare is his.  He’ll be thrilled to know they ain’t gonna’ be killed.  It might make him feel a little better.  I know'd it done me a world a’ good.”  Morris smiled at him.  Morris took the men into the unkept house and into the young boy’s bedroom.  He looked to Shane to be about seven or eight years old.  He heard the men come into the house and was lying in his bed awake.

“Bobby, these good men bought the remuda from me, and Mr. Goodnight, here, wanted to meet you.” the boy instinctively held his arms out for Shane.  Shane went to him, took him into his arms and gently started patting his back and rubbing his head.

"How long you been feel'n poorly, Bobby?" Shane asked as he rubbed the small boy's frail back.

"'Bout three years, now, I guess, Mr. Goodnight.  It's only been the last year I lost all my weight and can't seem to eat nothing.  I think I'm probably gonna' join my mom when she goes." he said fatalistically.

"I don't think yore' ma' would want that for you, Bobby.  I'd be willing to bet she'd want you to stay here and take care of yore’ pa.  I pray nothing's gonna' happen to her, but if'n it does yore' daddy's gonna' need you some’um fierce.  You got to fight for his sake, Son.  Besides, you got chore'self some new friends now what will stand by your side.  Me'n ma' cowboy brothers won't let nothing bad happen to you.  You're gonna' feel a lot better in just a little while, I guarantee you.  Tell you what, Bobby, I’m gonna’ sing you a song.  It’s one a’ my favorite cowboy songs, ma' pa taught me to sing when we's herding cattle at night to keep them critters from spooking.  If you know it, will you sing it with me?” he asked.

“What’s the song, Mr. Goodnight?”

“Red River Valley.”

“I know that song.  We sung it in school.”

Shane started singing softly, and the boy joined him.  He knew the song and sang it to the end with him.  Shane set the pace and sang it slowly so he could hold Bobby as long as possible.  It sounded almost like a funeral dirge.  Potter looked at Gil Morris, and the big man had tears running down his cheeks.  Potter put his hand on his shoulder to comfort him.  When they finished, Shane laid the boy down and gave him a kiss on his forehead.

“Thanks for singing with me, Bobby.  You got a fine, pure cowboy voice.  I hope you git to feeling better real soon, Son.”

“Thanks, Mr. Goodnight.  I already feel lot better jes’ know’n our horses ain’t gonna’ be killed.  Take care of my pony Stardust for me, Sir.  She’s a real good pony.” he said.

“You can come visit and ride her anytime you want, Bobby.” allowed Shane.  Shane didn’t want to stay longer.  He was about to lose it himself.

Gil Morris couldn’t thank the men enough.  He saw them back to their truck and bid them goodbye.  He immediately took Shane’s check to his bank and cashed it.  He was going to leave Bobby home by himself, thought better of it, was going to put him in the back of the camper, but the boy said he felt like riding up front with him.  After they went to see his mother, Gil spent ten bucks of the money for a decent meal for him and his boy.  Bobby seemed hungry and ate more that he had in weeks.  Morris wondered about what he witnessed pass between the big, handsome cowboy and his boy.  The love that flowed between them as they sang together was palpable.  It felt to Morris like they became brothers.  Bobby assured his dad, they did.  He called Mr. Goodnight his cowboy brother.

* * * * * * *  

“Do you think you healed the boy, Son?” Potter asked quietly after they got to the blacktop.  Cole was driving.

“Not totally, Boss.  Like Cable done told ju’ my talents ain’t yet fully developed like some a’ ma’ brothers.  He’ll feel a lot better, but if I don’t see him again several times he’ll relapse.  He’s real weak; lost almost all his muscle mass.  He can barely walk or hold himself up.  I could a’ done more if I had full body contact with him, but you just can’t do that sort of thing with a young boy.  It’s different with a horny old judge.” Shane chuckled and tickled Potter with his hand.  Cole and Potter broke up laughing.  “I’s jes’ lucky Morris didn’t wonder about me singing with him” Shane added.

“I watched him, odd-job.  I think he knew there was something special going on between you and his boy.  He was deeply moved.  You made it the most natural thing to share a song with the kid.  Good think’n on your part, Son.”

“Thanks, Pa, I hope I git to see him again.”

“I have a feeling you will, Son.” allowed Potter. “Do you know what’s wrong with him?”

“I don’t know much about medicine, but there’s some'um wrong with his heart.  It beats all right, but one of the valves don’t close completely and allows blood to flow the other way for a few seconds.  It robs the rest of his system of normal pressure and flow.  His body is actually starving to death from lack of oxygen and nutrients.  Damn, I wish I could take him to Cable.  Maybe I could git Jesse Watkins and Utah to help.”

“Maybe you can, odd-job.  Don’t lose hope.  That man needs a miracle in his life no matter how it comes about.” Cole stated.

“See, Judge, I done told ju’ my pa was a good hearted man.” Shane smiled.

“Can’t gainsay that, Son.” allowed Potter. “How much you give him for them ponies, foreman?” he asked Shane with a smile like he already knew the answer.

“Enough to bury his wife.” Shane said without nuance.

“You’re a good man, Shane Goodnight.  I knew I done the right thing by you.” said the old judge.

“I hope so, Boss.” Shane smiled at him.

"Ain't no doubt in my mind, Son.” Cole stated firmly. “Whither thou goest, cowboy, I'd follow you anywheres." he added and smiled at his partner.

* * * * * * *

Shane contracted with a horse transport company that afternoon and they said they could pick them up and deliver them to the Potter ranch early afternoon on Wednesday.  It would cost him eight hundred bucks.  He agreed to it and told them the address of the Morris ranch and gave them Gil’s address and phone number.  Then the three of them went to the bunkhouse to check on the men.  They already cleaned up the bunkhouse.  It was spotless.  They were working on the old foreman’s house when they decided to take a break for lunch and have some slave chow and a biscuit.  Jack and Spence were thrilled when they heard Shane bought their previous master’s remuda.  They wanted to know how Gil and Bobby were.  Shane told them about their visit and they listened intently.  Jack said the hot water heater in the old foreman’s cottage was on its last leg.  Shane told him they would get a new one, and asked if could Jack install it?

“Easy job, Master.  No problem.  Just git me a couple of them flex hookups and some plumbing tape.”

They left the cowboys to their meal.  Shane asked Potter if he wanted to go shopping with them.  Shane wanted to go to the store and get some things for the cowboys and stop by the large hardware store for a water heater.  Potter said he’d buy the water heater, so he would go along.  He was feeling much better.  Cole agreed he noticed a great change in his stamina.  On the way, Shane announced to them he planned to take them to Mars tomorrow, now they had cowboy slaves to look after the ranch and animals when they were gone.  They wouldn’t stay overnight, but just see the sights and return after having supper at the Lodge.  

Shane bought food for him and Cole to start stocking a pantry and have something in their fridge.  They had food left over from the party on Saturday they were still eating.  He bought eggs, bacon, and wheat bread for him, Cole and the cowboys.  Shane felt like they couldn’t keep eating with Mr. Potter.  Cole told him he thought Boss Potter might have other ideas about that.  He said the old man seemed to really enjoy having breakfast with them every morning.  He wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t become a family thing.  Shane bought another couple of large bags of slave chow and one bag of nutrient biscuits.  His bill for all the food he bought was several hundred dollars.  He reminded himself he needed to start keeping records for tax purposes.  He hated the idea he had to render unto Scudder, but he reveled in the thought it might not be for long.  Anything bought for the slaves was a business expense and deductible.  He wished he had an accountant.  When they returned to the ranch it was like Christmas in the bunkhouse.  The cowboys helped bring in the groceries he bought for them.  Shane told them to make it last for several days, and he would get more.  Shane and Cole went to the big house again and warmed up leftovers from the party for supper for the three of them.  Potter was in heaven having company around him.  He was thrilled to see the way Shane and Cole were making the ranch come alive.

* * * * * * *

The next day after breakfast and some instructions to the cowboys Shane led his small family down to the old barn.  When they got there, Shane spoke.

“Kyron, are there gate posts in one of the many slots on the robo-cams?”

“There are several, Captain Shane.  Do you require one?”

“Please, Kyron, I’d like to install a gate, here, at the ranch for emergency purposes, and for ease of through passage to Mars port.”

“Look up to your right, Captain.” boomed Kyron’s voice.

The men looked up, and a robo-cam appeared.  It lowered itself to stop right in front of Shane.  A little drawer opened with a ‘zzzzit’ sound.  Shane saw a gate post inside and removed it.

“Thanks, Kyron.  I appreciate your help.”

“It was nothing, but it’s always nice to know you’re appreciated.” he allowed.

Shane found a stall way to the back in a dark corner of the barn.  Potter and Cole watched as he installed the post in the ground beside a four by four beam.

“Hold on to each other.” he said, “There will be a sharp jolt in the Earth.  It grounds itself in bedrock.” Shane instructed.  He leaned over and pressed the button on the gate stud.  He counted to five and suddenly they heard a ‘whump’ sound.  The ground shook and the barn rattled.  It didn’t bother the ponies a bit.  Shane sent them a message to expect it and told them why it was happening.  He named the gate ‘Potter Ranch’ set the coordinates for the Bandersnatch, hit the four by four post once with his fist and the gate sprang up.

“Right this way, gentlemen.  The next stop, the Twilight Zone.” he laughed.  His family considered themselves veterans of the gates by this time and stepped through with no trepidations.  The were met by Cable in sickbay.  After greetings Cable asked how Judge Potter and Cole were feeling.

“I didn’t expect the shot to work so quickly, Sir.” Potter told him.

“I’m having a problem ever’ time Captain Shane walks in front of me.” Cole laughed adjusting his crotch.  Cable laughed.

“Your body will adjust.  You just forgot how it feels to have an active libido.  When you’re young you live with it twenty-four/seven.  As you get older you’re lucky if you get seven out of twenty-four months.” Potter agreed with him. “Kyron tells me you plan to visit Mars port for the day.  Be sure and check with the desk at the lodge, Captain.  I’m told there’s several new things to see.  Come, gentlemen, I’ll see you to the gate.  Captain Shane is due for a small surprise on the other side.” Cable smiled knowingly.

Out of nowhere came one of the pups.  Shane was one of the few people who could tell them apart except for Larry and Shep who always wore their Visallian head bands.  It was Maxine.  She was staying with Dr. Stevens and Arnie in Parsons, but she came through the gate to visit Cable, David and Jonathan for the day.

“Captain Shane!  Are you going to Mars port?  I’ve never been.  Please take me with you.  My brothers and sister have told me so much about it, but I’d love to see for myself.  Please!  I promise to be good.” she begged.

“I don’t know.  What do you men think?” Shane winked and grinned at the judge and Cole.  They didn’t know what to say.  “Has she been a good girl, Cable?” Shane asked

“She’s better, Captain.  She suffers from a wasting of the heart.  Sadness and sorrow from great loss are difficult for any mammal to overcome.  She has a way to go before she’s recovered enough to travel life on her own again.  It takes a while.  It takes the unconditional love and understanding of those who care about her.  She’s eating a little more, but she still has her bad days.  She stays with us a lot and sometimes gets underfoot.  A trip to Mars port with you and your family might be just the thing for her.  It would certainly be a much appreciated relief for us for a while, Sir.” Cable subtly pleaded.

“All right, but you must agree to stay within earshot of my whistle and come running when I call, understand, little lady?”

“I promise, I will, Captain Shane.  I’ll be good.” the men laughed and proceeded to the gate.  As charming as they were, Potter wondered if he would ever get used to talking dogs.

The men were dressed in their best Western clothes, because, according to Captain Shane, you saw many people dressed Western on Mars.  He stressed they would be more apt to blended in with the crowd, but conceded it would be a bit more difficult with a talking pup by their side.  Shane took Potter and Cole’s hands, and they stepped through the gate together.  They walked into Mars port station or so it was named a little over a week ago.  On a metal plaque on a marble pedestal was a new name plate which read: Welcome to Goodnight Station, Mars port.  Beneath it read: Named in honor of our brave and heroic Captain Shane Goodnight.  Shane saw it and groaned.  Potter and Cole were wowed.

“My goodness,” exclaimed Judge Potter, “you weren’t kidding about being a hero on Mars.”

“I gotta’ admit, Son, the thought of you having my baby is sounding better ever’ day.” Cole grinned and winked at Shane.

“Arrrrg!” Shane exclaimed, “Trust me, gentlemen, being a hero ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.  I didn’t do nothing special.  I’s just doing my job.  All my brothers were the heroes.”

Once again, Shane was swamped by admirers wanting his autograph.  Potter and Cole got a taste of it Sunday in Parsons, but this was something else.  The androids came to him wanting to know if he planned to stay the night.  They had a suite available for him.  Shane thanked them, told them ‘no’ he was only there for the day, and he and his party would return after an evening meal.  Again they told him everything would be comped by Darryl and his corporation.  

“We’re just here to get tram tickets and inquire about any new sites of interest.” Shane explained.

“Right this way, Captain.” the androids ushered the three men and one pup to the front desk.  They were seen to immediately.  Shane got a brochure on new and interesting things to do while visiting Mars port.  He got four, round trip shuttle tickets to the savanna below.  He turned to Potter and Cole.

“Come, gentlemen, let’s walk to the balcony.  Maxine ran ahead as Shane walked his small family to one of the most spectacular views in the universe.  As Potter and Cole walked out onto the balcony they could see the vast stretch of the savanna, the mountains and waterfalls in the distance, but most striking of all was the massive movement of hundreds of animals below and flying through the air.  They were thunderstruck.  They were speechless.  It was truly a breathtaking sight.

“My God in heaven!” whispered Potter.

“Oh, odd-job, how could you keep this from yore’ old pa?  Them cowboy rumors was wrong.  This is beyond fantastic.  This is mind blowing.” Cole spoke in awe.

“T’weren’t easy keeping it from you, Pa.  Many times I bit my tongue.  Would you have believed me?” he asked.

“Probably not.  I ain’t real sure I believe you now.” Cole grinned.

“I heard that, Son.” Potter agreed. “You mean we’re going down there among them?”

“Of course, it’s part of the Mars experience.  Besides you’ll meet some wonderful folks.  If you look closely you’ll see Visallian warriors working with and feeding some of the animals.  We have to go native so the animals will trust us, but we’re grown men, ain’t we?” Shane asked.

“Speak for yourself, old man.” Potter said as he grinned at Shane. “Let’s go.” he said with unbridled enthusiasm.

Shane warned Potter and Cole the tram ride was like the Matterhorn ride at Disneyland times two.  It was a thrilling but aerodynamically comfortable highspeed ride that wove in and out of the mountain side.

“If you like yore’ hat, you best be advised to take it off and hold onto it.” Shane smiled as he set down and clasped his hat to his chest.  Potter and Cole did the same.  Cole set by Shane, and Maxine set next to Potter.  The ride never failed to get Shane’s blood running faster.  He caught Cole out of the corner of his eye grimacing several times on a particularly sharp, banked turn.  He could see Potter in front of him fighting against the ride.  Maxine was having a ball.  She knew instinctively to lean in the direction of the turn.  The ride came to an abrupt halt at Savanna Station which threw the passengers forward a bit and then slammed them back into their seats.

“Woahhh!” breathed Potter.

“Ooof!” grunted Cole.

“Can we go again?” begged Maxine.

“No, little lady, we’re here.  We go see our family.” Shane laughed at her.

Shane showed the judge and Cole to the lockers, and taught them how to program the locks.  He told them to strip, and they did.  He took them by the hand and led them into another world they never could have imagined in their wildest dreams.  They saw wooly mammoths, huge mastodons, Kentaurians who could talk with them, unicorns, flying horses, several lummox families who were friendly, Langerians, Evanescent children who would conjoin with their bodies and took great delight in exciting them, and a host of other magnificent and interesting animals.  Cole and Potter remarked after a while they didn’t even think about being naked, but then, so were the other animals for that matter.

Maxine was good to her word.  She never strayed far from Shane’s side.  She was too busy herding Boss Potter around and looking after him.  She wasn’t clinging, but she let her presence be known from time to time with some interesting comment.  She loved the Kentuarians and Unicorns.  She became fond of the Langerians because they were like Ping and Pong and Jack and Jill.  Most of all she loved the big lummox folk, and they thought she was a little bit of all right.  After walking for hours and visiting with almost all the critters, the men decided to call it a day and return to the lodge.  The tram trip back wasn’t quite as exhilarating, but it was fun nonetheless.  Shane made reservations for a balcony table at the ‘Jungle Room,’ and they were right on time.  As they stood waiting for their table, an android came to Shane.

“Captain Goodnight, Mr. Darryl, Professor Wankle, and Miss McNair have just been seated.  They would like to have your party join them for dinner.”

“We would be honored.” replied Shane.  “Come, gentlemen, you get to meet some very important people from Venus.  Darryl is an ambassador to the colonies on our world, Professor Wankle is a bladder whale expert and Miss McNair is his niece and assistant.”

“Captain Shane!” exclaimed Darryl standing and walking to Shane to take his hand, gave him a big hug and a slap on his back. “So good to see you again.  Glad you and your family could join us.  It’s a great honor, Sir.”

Professor Wankle was next to shake his hand and tell him how wonderful it was to see him again.  Delfee McNee gave him a big hug and a quick peck on the cheek.  Shane blushed.  Shane introduced Maxine, Judge Potter and introduced Cole not as his slave, but his life-partner.  Cole was so touched, he almost lost his cool, but he stood strong and stoic.  Darryl graciously invited them to sit down.  Patty was with them and curled up at Shane’s feet to make herself comfortable.  In her less than optimum condition, she was a tired little pup.

“We’re so sorry we couldn’t make it to your celebration party in Parsons.  The professor and Delfee have been heavily involved with research, and I just returned from Venus.  My countrymen decided to chance the trip to Mars in one of our better ships to have it retrofitted here.  I’m afraid it was terribly slow, and I was still in route during your party.”

“No apology necessary.  It’s always good to see you, anytime.” Shane assured him.

They placed their orders with the android waiter and Shane ordered a half pound of ground round, medium rare, with gravy in a small metal dish for his friend at his feet.

“I ain’t hungry, Captain Shane.” Maxine said quietly from under the table.

“Yes, you are.  You must eat, little lady. You promised, if I brought you along you would be good and mind me.  I expect you to keep your word.  I will be upset with you if you don’t.” he spoke softly but firmly.

“Don’t be angry with me, Captain Shane.” she pleaded.

“Anger and upset ain’t the same thing, sweetheart.  I could never be angry with you.  Bring the food I ordered for her, waiter.”

“Yes, Sir, Captain Shane.” and the android was off.

As they were having salads, one of Darryl’s staff androids brought him a package and a briefcase.  He thanked the android, and told it to return to his room.  Darryl set it by his chair and went on with conversation.  Potter and Cole were impressed the Venusians looked for all the world like humans except Darryl and Professor Wankle were very fair skinned and had pink eyes.  Potter assumed rightly albinism is a universal anomaly.  Delfee McNair had blue eyes and a darker complection.  The waiter brought their main courses and set Maxine’s in front of her.  She got up and tried to eat, but didn’t seem to have the heart for it.  Shane looked down at her.

“Come on, sweetheart, you can do it.  Eat it for me.  You told me you loved me many times, now show me how much you love me by eating your supper.” Maxine went back to it, and Shane left her alone.  As they were finishing dessert, Darryl changed the subject of conversation.

“Do you remember our agreement and giving your approval for your action figure before you left Venus after saving the whales?” he asked.

“Yes, Sir.  It was a neat action figure.  It looked just like me and came with several costumes including a spacesuit, authentic looking buckaroo clothes, and a Tao'mak robe.  It was anatomically perfect as I remember.” Shane smiled.

“Yes, we’re very proud of it.  We created it from a holographic nude image of you while we were performing the Tao'mak with our brothers and the Visallian warriors.  Here’s your very own Captain Shane Action Figure to take back with you as a humorous token and celebration gift for your emancipation.  In the same spirit, we have one for you, Judge Potter as a small token of our appreciation for your generosity and courage to do the right thing.  We also have one for you, Mr. Jenkins, and Darryl handed Cole one.  In the clear plastic covered box it looked just like Shane.  Dirty old man that he was, Potter had to open his and look inside the figure’s Wranglers to see if it was, indeed, anatomically correct.  He smiled when he discovered it was proportionally accurate and showed it to Cole.  Cole grinned and nodded his approval.  Darryl reached down and took the handle of the briefcase sitting next to his chair and handed it to Shane.  “And, in accordance with our agreement, here is the first installment of your share of the profits from the sale of your action figure, here and on Venus.”

Shane clicked open the briefcase and it was filled with money in various large U. S. bills.  More cash than he ever saw at one time.  Potter and Cole gasped at the sight.

“There’s five hundred thousand in that case.  There will be two more as soon as I can transfer the funds into American dollars.  I wanted to give you cash because I know your government on Earth traces large deposits or wants to know where any amount over five thousand dollars comes from, and if they’ve missed any taxes.  This way you may spend it for whatever projects you may have without raising a lot of suspicion.  I believe cowboys have a saying: money talks and bullshit walks.” Darryl smiled, “So does cash for that matter.  Put it in a secure place, perhaps leave it onboard your ship, the Bluebonnet, and take from it what you need from time to time.” Darryl advised.  

Shane was speechless.  He didn’t know what to say.  He’d forgotten all about approving the action figure for Darryl to market.  He had no idea it would generate this much money.  He expressed his surprise to Darryl.

“The Captain Shane Goodnight and the Coyote Cowboys Action Figures are our top selling items on Venus and Mars.  We can’t make them fast enough.  If you check the shelves at the gift store here in the lodge you will find a sign that says: Sold Out.  Fortunately, I brought another large shipment with me on this trip, but they will be sold out within days.  You must get back to Venus for a brief visit, Captain Shane.  I understand within the next several weeks the Banshee plans to transport the new gate to Venus port.  It would be great opportunity for you to make an appearance and gain publicity if you and your family could come along.  I think the Admiral, your brother Charlie and the coyote cowboys and their brothers will be going for the installation and dedication.  I understand it’s to be dedicated to all the cowboys including you and the coyotes.”

“I don’t know, Darryl, we’re just starting a new ranch and we may be too busy, but I’ll talk it over with my family and git back to you.  Thank you so much for this.  I promise it will be put to good use.  I’ll take your advice and keep it on my ship.  Miss Maybelle has the best security system I know.  Nobody gets on my ship without her knowing, and she won't let anyone on-board without my permission.”

The evening was coming to an end.  Shane was proud of Maxine.  She ate all of her meal but a few bites.  He noticed she pushed them around in the bottom of the dish so it wouldn’t look like she left much.  Shane patted her on her head and told her he was pleased with her.  Shane and his family said their ‘goodnights’ and ‘goodbyes’ to Darryl, the professor and Miss McNair.  He thanked Darryl for the briefcase and its contents.  Potter wasn’t sure it really sank in with Shane he now had half a million dollars in his possession.  He could do anything he wanted.  It didn’t bother the old man for a minute.  In someways he anticipated some unusual windfall, because of the success of their business ventures in his dreams.  It takes money to make money.  Would Shane take the money and runaway with Cole?  Not too damn likely.  In the short time he got to know Shane, Potter knew he wasn’t that callow.  Potter bought into Shane’s dream a hundred and ten percent.  Besides, Shane had ten years cowboy slave work ethic ingrained in him, and Potter witnessed too many things Shane unconditionally did for others.  Potter was convince it was Shane’s purpose in life.

The men along with Maxine passed back through the gate onto the Bandersnatch.  They were met by Cable and his men.  They welcomed them, but were concerned about Maxine.  She didn’t seem her usual hyper-active self.  Shane spoke to Cable and said he needed to go to his ship to leave the briefcase he brought back with him from Mars port.  Cable set the coordinates for a nearby gate to one near the Bluebonnet.  Maxine insisted on going with them and dutifully trudged along, but the three men were worried about her.  There wasn’t the same spryness or natural bounce in her step.  They boarded the Bluebonnet and followed Captain Shane to his cabin where he locked the briefcase in his personal safe which could only be opened with a laser scan of his retina.  Before he placed it inside Shane opened the case and took out ten thousand dollars and put it in his pocket.  They left the ship, went back through the gate to sickbay.  Maxine seemed like she was really down or just worn out from the day.  Shane asked Potter and Cole to go with him to see Maxine through the gate and to her temporary home in Parsons.

“You don’t have to do that, Captain Shane.  I can go by myself.  I don’t really have no home anymore, no ways.” she said without raising her head.  “Dr. Stevens and Mr. Arnie are good and kind to me, but the truth is nobody needs me.  My brothers and sister don’t want me around; my ma and pa love me, but they got their own lives to live, and I jes’ seem to get in ever’ body’s way.  I love Cable, David and Jonathon, but I know I jes’ get underfoot when they’s busy.  I don’t wanna’ be a nuisance to nobody.  I guess I’m just different, I need a purpose in life.  I enjoyed today with you, Mr. Potter and Mr. Jenkins.  I really appreciate you letting me go with ya’ll, Captain Shane.  You made me feel like I belonged for a while, but when it was over I realized I don’t belong nowhere and the sadness creeps back into my heart.”

Shane looked at his family.  He could tell with one look Maxine broke Cole’s big heart.  Cole shared Shane’s heart when it came to animals.  Cable shook his head, started to speak but thought better of it.  Judge Potter was deeply moved by her words.  He slowly knelt down to her level, put his hand gently under her chin and raised her head to look into her eyes.

“Now, that just ain’t true, little lady.  Y'ain’t no different from anybody else.  I don’t care what tribe you belong to or what yore’ station in life is, ever’body needs a purpose in life.  You listen to me, and listen good.  I need you.  I’m an old man.  I’m retired.  I live alone.  I’ve lived alone for fifteen years.  I’m fortunate to have Captain Shane and his partner living on my property, working with me to start up my ranch.  They provide me with some company and companionship, but I’m still alone in the world.  Come home with me, and be my companion.  I need someone like you to keep me on the straight and narrow.  I know you can do it, and I promise I’ll be good to you.”

“Do you really mean it, Judge Potter?” she asked sadly.

“Of course I do, Maxine.  I wouldn’t offer if I didn’t mean it.  I have a huge, comfortable bed, but I need someone to share it with me to keep my feet warm at night.  My circulation ain’t what it used to be, and my old feet git awful cold.  You don’t have to make a commitment right away.  Jes’ come home with me and try it for a while.  Live with us and see if you enjoy living on the ranch.  You’ll get to be around Captain Shane and Cole almost everyday, and we got some ponies you can talk with.  We’re even gonna’ have a lot more after Wednesday.  I hear Captain Shane plans to have some goats and sheep later on.”
“I’d love to go with you and try it for a while, Master Potter.  Are ya’ll gonna’ have some cowboy slaves for me to work with?”

“We done already got us a handful, Missy.  A couple you already know, Otis and Lester from Master Goodnight’s ranch.”

“That’s wonderful.  I know Otis and Lester.  They’s my friends.  Mr. Cable, will you thank Dr. Stevens and Mr. Arnie for me?  Tell them I love them and appreciate all they done for me.  Tell them I’ll be staying with Judge Potter, Captain Shane, and Mr. Jenkins on their ranch for a spell.”

“I certainly will, Maxine.  I think it’s a wonderful idea for you to go to the Potter ranch for a while.  If you change your mind, get frightened or want to come back for a visit, you know how to use the gates.” Cable assured her.

“Thank you, Cable, for worrying about me and for all your help, but if I’m comfortable at the Potter ranch, I won’t be back; except, maybe to pass through with my family or for a visit.  I love you, Mr. Cable, Mr. David and Mr. Jonathan.” she said.

They assured Maxine they loved her.  The Potter Ranch family, with one new member, passed through the gate and were once again in the old barn.  Maxine seemed to perk up a little when they arrived and walked up through the beautiful pasture to the big house with them.  Judge Potter and Maxine said ‘goodnight’ to Shane and Cole, and the cowboys walked on to their house.  The men thought about walking down to the bunkhouse to check on the cowboys, but all the lights were off.  They would probably disturb them.  The cowboy slaves knew the three of them would be away for the day.  If anything out of the ordinary happened while they were gone they would be waiting on their front steps.  Shane and Cole decided they were tired and went in to shower and go to bed.  They held each other for a while, but their hearts weren’t into love making.  They had so many other things on their minds.

“Did you enjoy Mars port, Pa?” Shane asked him.

“More than I can tell you.  I’ve gone along all these years with the same dull, boring, tedious work with nothing much interesting happening in my life, nothing much to look forward to, then you come along, and I fell in love with you.  I done told myself not to do it a hunnert time or more; not to let myself fall in love with you.  I kept tell’n myself I was a gall-durn fool.  I told myself over and over, it would never amount to nothing; I's jes’ wasting my energy and my heart on a dream; a dream what would never come true.  I worked with you almost ever’ damn day.  I longed to hold you in ma’ arms and tell you I loved you.  We rarely spoke ‘cause I was so afraid you might see what was in my heart.  Ten years later you buy me and take me places I never could’ve dreamed about.  I ain’t pretending to make up for ten years, odd-job, but if’n it ain’t out of line for me to tell you, yore’ slave loves you from the bottom of his heart.”

“I don’t think it’s out of line for ma’ pa to tell me he loves me, no matter what his station in life is.” Shane repeated the line he heard Boss Potter use earlier with Maxine, “I loved you all these years but never thought it would be possible for us to be together, but here we are, in bed with one another, happy and comfortable.  You never had to say nothing.  I always knew you loved me.  I never made it no secret I was crazy about you.  Our cowboy brothers knew I had a major hard-on for you from the start, but they’d have their hearts cut out before they would a’ told ma’ brother or Birdsall.  What goes on in the bunkhouse, stays in the bunkhouse.  I love you very much, Pa.”  Shane said as they shared a kiss.

“What chu’ gonna’ do with all that money, Son?” Cole asked.

“Live, Pa.  Not extravagantly, but comfortably.  We’ll still have to work for a cover.  If’n we don’t somebody might get suspicious or nosey.  We don’t want that.  I guess you noticed I took some money out of the briefcase.  I’ll pay the horse transport people cash tomorrow.  That way there won’t be a lot of paper trails.  I need to start keeping receipts for tax purposes.  I also plan to spend some money to buy ma’ pa a couple a’ new pair, a’ fine, handmade buckaroo boots and buy him some new clothes; maybe a new belt or two and a couple of new hats; straw and felt.  A ramrod needs to look his best.  I suppose I could use me a new pair of boots and some better clothes, too.”

“If anybody deserves ‘em, you do, boy.” Cole said.

“Well, I don’t think it would be too extravagant to buy us some new duds.  After all, a cowboy rancher needs to look his best for them cows.” they shared a laugh. “What do you think about Judge Potter asking Maxine to come live with him, Pa?”

“A match made in heaven, Son.” Cole sighed. “I saw it coming.  Didn’t you see how she herded him everywhere he went watching out for him like he was a stray lamb?” Cole chuckled.

“You’re right!  I jes’ didn’t think on it much, but I agree.  I think they need each other.  I hope they’ll be happy together.  How are we gonna’ explain a talking dog to our cowboys?”

“Don’t.  Lester and Otis, from your brother’s ranch, are used to talk’n dogs.  Let them explain it to Jack and Spence, if they can.” he laughed. “It didn’t take me and the judge long to git used to ‘em.  They will, too.”

The men drifted off to sleep.  They were so tired they didn’t wake once during the night.  Shane’s internal clock woke him just early enough to get himself some hot cowboy cream from his pa before they started their busy day.  Somehow, breakfast was always just a little sweeter with the lingering taste of the cowboy he loved on his tongue.  Shane knew it would be a good day.

* * * * * * *

Maxine seemed a hundred percent better the next morning.  Mrs. Huggins looked at her askance, but when she tried to thanked Mrs. Huggins for her breakfast of a couple of scrambled eggs and a piece of bacon, she ran from the room yelling at the top of her voice, a devil got into that dog, and it was talking to her.  It took Judge Potter thirty minutes to calm her down by telling her Maxine was a special breed of dog scientist developed to be companions to the elderly and keep them company.  He was just lucky enough to get one.  He had his name on a list for a couple of years until one finally became available.  Potter laughed at himself covering for his new family and their technical advances.  It made him feel like a schoolboy again in cahoots with his buddies.  If Mrs. Huggins couldn’t adapt he would have to find someone else.  He was serious about his offer to Maxine to come live with him.  Maxine apologized to him.

“Don’t you worry about it, little lady.  You didn’t do nothing wrong.  If she can’t get used to a talking dog we’ll just find someone who can.” Potter assured his new companion.  He was almost sure Mrs. Huggins had thoughts of him being a warlock and Maxine his familiar.  He certainly didn’t feel like being burned at the stake for her lunacy or ignorance.  Shane and Cole walked into the kitchen of the front house to find Mrs. Huggins was again fixing breakfast.  She made enough for all three.  Judge Potter seemed to enjoy sharing breakfast with the men.  Shane had to admit, it was a great time to discuss things for the day.  There was nothing much on for the day, but delivery of the remuda.  Once that happened he and Cole would go into action and tend to the horses’ needs.  After Mrs. Huggins left, Shane tried to feel Potter and Cole out about making a trip to Venus like Darryl suggested.  They were both interested, but they didn’t know about leaving the ranch for several days.  

“Well, the flight on the Banshee is about a forty-eight hour journey, but there are many activities on board.  It will only be a one-way trip.” Shane said.

“Then how do we git back?” the judge asked without thinking.

“Through the gate they’re gonna’ deliver to Venus, Mr. Potter.” Maxine spoke up.  The old man grinned.  He felt like a fool.  

“Of course, how stupid of me, and how clever of you, little one.” Potter shook his head, and showered her with affection.  Her whole body wagged.  She found a new friend in the old man.

“Y’ain’t stupid, Judge.  It’ll take us a while to think like a member of Shane’s family.  Jes’ like it’s gonna’ take my boy time to adjust to being a freeman again.” Cole said in a consoling voice.  “Maxine knows about these things because she uses them daily.  They’re second nature to her.” he added.

“They’ll become that way for you and ma’ pa.” said Shane.

* * * * * * *

The ponies were delivered  at one o’clock in the afternoon.  The men just finished their lunch and came out to show the four animal transport drivers where to unload.  It didn’t take thirty minutes to unload every critter on the vans.  Once the doors opened, they were more than happy to jump free.  They wandered off into the pasture.  All the transports pulled out but one.  Shane signed the delivery statement, paid the man cash, and got a receipt.

“Em ponies gonna’ be the start of yore’ remuda, Mr. Goodnight?” the driver asked.

“Yes, Sir.”

“I know horseflesh, Sir, and they’s some fine stock in the lot.  They’s a few curs, but mostly, they’s good healthy critters.  They need some attention.”

“Yeah, we noticed that, too.  That’s me and my partner’s old farrier truck over there.  We’ll take care of ‘em.”

“You men got some business cards?” he asked, “I’m all the time git’n asked if I know’d a good farrier.”

“Naw, Sir.  We just started out on our own last week.  We gotta’ git some made up.  We’s still word of mouth, but they can reach us, here, at the Potter Ranch.  I’m Shane Goodnight.”

“One of the Goodnight boys?  You the son of Angus or Charlie?” he asked.

“Neither, I’m their baby brother.”

“Sorry, Sir, it’s jes’ you look so young.”

“No apology necessary, Sir.  I git that a lot.” Shane smiled at him.

 “The Goodnight name is rock solid around these here parts.  You should do well, Sir.  Best of luck to you.” he said sincerely.

“You, too, Sir.  Thanks for your service.”

“Anytime.  Glad to oblige, Sir.” he climbed into the cab of the huge transport then jumped back down again.  “Damn, I almost forgot.  Mr. Morris asked me to give you this.” he turned, got back into the cab, smiled, waved and was gone.

It was a small, white envelope with Shane’s name on it.  He carefully opened it and read:  Dear Mr. Goodnight, your act of kindness couldn’t have come at a better time.  My beloved wife passed away early this morning.  The funeral will be Friday morning at nine A.M. at the only funeral home in our town.  Thanks for your help.  May God bless you, Sir.  Also, I don’t know what you done for my boy, but since your visit he’s been feeling better than I seen him in six months.  I just hope the death of his mom don’t cause a set back.  Respectfully yours, Gilbert Morris.

Shane felt terrible for the man and shared his note with Cole and Mr. Potter.  They both expressed an interest in attending the funeral and taking Mr. Morris’ former cowboy slaves with them.  Shane agreed it would be the right thing to do.  The men and Maxine walked down to the bunkhouse to tell the men about Mr. Morris’ wife.  They were out looking at the ponies and just returned.  Lester and Otis were surprised and thrilled to see Maxine.  They knew her well.  She ran to them and they started talking.  The other two cowboy’s eyes got real big, and they looked at each other.

“She can talk?” asked Jack.

“Of course she can.  She’s our friend.  Ain’t chu’ never seen no talk’n dog before, cowboy?” asked Lester with a big grin on his face.  “She comes from a family what the parents were genetically altered and given the speech gene from humans.  “It’s so good to see you again, sweetheart.” Lester cooed over her.

“You gonna’ be around for a while, Miss Maxine?” Otis asked.

“I jes’ might.  Master Potter said he needs a companion, and Master Shane told me they might be git’n some sheep for me to tend.  So far, I like it here jes’ fine.” she wagged her whole body.

Shane told Jack and Spence about Mrs. Morris’ death.  They broke down and cried for their master.  “We plan to take you men to the funeral Friday morning if you’d like to go.” Shane said.

“Bless you, Master Shane, of course, we’d like to go, Sir.” they both agreed.

“Can we count on you men to take care of Maxine while we’re gone?” Shane asked Lester and Otis.

“Of course, we’d love to have her visit, Master Shane.  We’ll take good care of her.” said Lester.

“In the meantime, Mr. Jenkins and I are gonna’ set up our forge down to the old barn.  We need you men to rope and bring us the worst of the lot who need immediate attention today, and we plan to work on ‘em all day tomorrow.  Friday morning we’ll leave about seven-thirty for the Morris funeral, but when we git back we’ll do some more.”
Shane and Cole surprised themselves.  They finished six horses apiece.  It seemed to not be so much like work when you didn’t have a deadline to meet.  They could take their time and do a better job.  They always did quality work, but no frills.  Thursday they were up before dawn and didn’t stop until the sun was setting in the West.  They only took thirty minutes for lunch and Potter brought them sandwiches.  They were back into their comfortable, silent work mode, and the cowboys could barely keep up with them.  They were amazed the men could work so fast.  Potter brought a folding chair and set watching Cole and Shane work for a couple of hours with his constant companion by his side.  Now and then he and Maxine would have a word with each other.  Potter was impressed by the men’s work ethic.  It was obvious Cole was the undisputed leader, but Shane could keep up with him, horse for horse, without any problem.  By the end of the day they finished fifteen horses each.  It was an all time record for them.  They were tired, but smug about their accomplishment.  In a day and a half they worked their way halfway through the remuda.

Friday morning, Cole expected to be stiff, sore and have to stand in a hot shower for thirty minutes to get going, then move very slowly for the first hour, but he bounded out of bed and felt better than he had in years.  He knew it must be the longshot.  Cable confided in him it would work faster on him, because he was younger than Potter.  The three men got into Shane’s new pickup, and the two cowboy slaves got into the crew cab in the rear.  They left Maxine with Lester and Otis.  She was a happy camper.  She knew her family would be back and looked forward to spending the day with her cowboy friends.  Gil Morris was surprised and delighted his old cowboy slaves were allowed to come to the funeral.  He hugged and kissed Jack and Spence on the cheek.  He held them as they cried together.  Little Bobby made a beeline for Shane and gave him a big hug and a kiss.

"Mr. Goodnight!  Shane!"  Bobby hollered as he ran to Shane's open arms. "I done told my daddy you'd come, but he didn't think so.  I knew you'd come.  Jack and Spence taught me about the cowboy way.  I know'd when a cowboy tells you he'll be yore' friend he won't never let you down."  Bobby insisted.

"You're right, Bobby.  I meant what I said." Shane was squatting on his haunches holding the boy as Bobby broke into tears.  Shane picked him up and carried him in his huge arms.  The boy weighed almost nothing.  He was skin and bones.  There were only a handful of people at the service.  They didn’t have many relatives.  There was one big black, matronly woman who attended.  Gil introduced her as Mrs. Biddle.  Essmee Faylene Biddle was their housekeeper and cook for many years on the ranch.  She was another employee Mr. Morris considered family, but he had to let her go.  The funeral service was short.  It was like the funeral home had a special on funerals, and while they appeared to be gracious they rushed it along.  They followed the hearse to the grave side.  Only Mr. Morris, Bobby, and Mrs. Biddle, were at the gave side with Shane, Mr. Potter, Cole and Mr. Morris’ old cowboy slaves.  Gil Morris seemed to take great comfort and encouragement the men from the Potter ranch drove a good way to be with him and his boy.  Bobby set in Shane’s lap through the funeral, with Shane’s huge, muscular arms enfolding him like the comforting wings of a guardian angel.  The boy would break into tears, but Shane would kiss him, wipe away his tears with his bandana, hold him close, rub and pet him to comfort him.  There was no music planned, but Mrs. Biddle was having none of that.  With great dignity, the large black woman walked quietly to the head of her mistress’ grave, threw back her handsome head and began to sing.

Steal away, steal away, steal away to Jesus!
Steal away, steal away home, I ain’t got long to stay here.

My Lord, He calls me, He calls me by the thunder;
The trumpet sounds within my soul, I ain’t got long to stay here.

Steal away, steal away, steal away to Jesus!
Steal away, steal away home, I ain’t got long to stay here.

Green trees are bending, Poor sinners stand a-trembling;
The trumpet sounds within my soul, I ain’t got long to stay here.

Steal away, steal away, steal away to Jesus!
Steal away, steal away home, I ain’t got long to stay here.

My Lord, He calls me, He calls me by the lightning;
The trumpet sounds within my soul, I ain’t got long to stay here.

Steal away, steal away, steal away to Jesus!
Steal away, steal away home, I ain’t got long to stay here.

She sang several verses with the same haunting refrain between each verse.  She sang in a strong, clear, pure voice.  From time to time her voice would crack and Shane could see a tear run down her cheek, but she refused to break and pushed on to the end.  There wasn’t a dry eye among the mourners when she finished.  She bowed her head and spoke, "Go to Jesus my dear, sweet friend.  ‘Dis old world was never meant for one so beautiful as you.” then she quietly returned to her seat.  

The funeral was over and everyone began to leave.  The men quietly thanked Mrs. Biddle for her wonderful song and words.  It meant more to them than the preacher’s palaver.  Morris hugged and kissed her cheek.  She hugged and kissed Bobby like he was her own boy.  Shane was last to thank her.  Everyone else walked away.  When she took Shane’s hand she acted like a jolt went through her body.  Her eyes got real big, her eyelids fluttered, her other hand flew to her breast just below her neck like she couldn’t get her breath, she breathed deeply a couple of times, pulled herself together and looked him straight in the eye with a stare that looked to the bottom of Shane’s soul.  She spoke in a lilting Cajun or Jamaican accent.

“You got de’ gift, boy.  You’s a healer-mon.” she said, “I can tell a healer.  Once you been touched by a healer you don’ never forgit ‘dat touch.  ‘Dat boy done tell me a big cowboy hold him, sing song with him, heal him.  You heal ma’ boy Bobby.  You done heal him good.  He better than I seen him in a year or more.  You be special mon.”

“I’m afraid I wasn’t able to heal him completely, Mrs. Biddle.  My gifts are not yet strong enough.” Shane said to her quietly. “I didn’t have enough time or exposure with him.” Shane was trying to keep his voice low so the others wouldn’t hear their conversation.
“You know what’s wrong with the boy?” she lowered her voice, asking more quietly and confidentially.

“A valve in his heart is leaking, Mrs. Biddle.  Instead of closing tightly like it should, it flutters like sheets in the wind and allows blood to flow in the opposite direction.  It lowers his blood pressure and robs his body of oxygen and nutrients he should be getting from proper pressure and blood flow.  His system is starving from lack of oxygen and nutrients.” Shane quietly explained. “I was only able to repair it temporarily.  It will fail again.”

“Oh, sweet Jesus!” she exclaimed, “Mr. Morris, ‘dat dear, sweet mon, he won’t survive the death a’ ‘dat boy.” she lamented.  “Help him, Son.  You got ‘da power.  You older ‘dan you look.  You smell of roses.  You be ageless.  You be one of thum whose body will never age even after death.  You be an old soul in a young man’s body.  You done walked through ‘dem hot flames of bondage and degradation.  You be a man of many sorrows; yet, you done come out de’ other side as strong and burnished as fine brass.  Never forget where you been or how far you come.  Negro slaves from the old country sing songs about listening to thum voices of the Ancients of days.  Ain’t got nothing to do with no gods or religion.  Thum voices be older than the God of Abraham.  You hear thum voices, I know you do.  They speak to you.  I can see it in your eyes, healer-mon.  They done put chu’ on this Earth to help others.  Don’t chu’ deny yore’ gift, boy, it can only bring you what most men seek, but never find; it will bring you peace.  You don’t need no possessions or pretensions of power.  They’s only vanities and concessions to false gods.  Your strength will come when you need it most.  By yore’ goodness alone, you will lead many men.  Where your bare-feet walk, the lilies will grow.” the old woman shook Shane to his core.

“I promise, I’ll try, Mrs. Biddle.” he conceded humbly.

“Thank you, Mr. Goodnight.  ‘Dat’s all I ask.  I will sing to thum voices and praise your name.  Sometimes they pay attention to this old woman; sometimes they listen to me, but not always; sometimes they can be rapscallions and play tricks on you, because you ask for too much or something they think not good for you.” she grinned wickedly.

“They hear us all the time, ma’am.  The voices on the winds of consciousness.” Shane said quietly.

“The very same.  They sing to me of an old warrior in a young body who arises from slavery to do great deeds in the final days.  His youthful appearance hides his maturity, the portent of his goodness and his power.  May the Ancients of days bless you, Son.”

“And you, Mrs. Biddle.”

Shane asked Mr. Morris if he would take another walk with him.  They walked away from the crowd.  “I’m so sorry for your loss, Mr. Morris.  If there’s anything we can do to help you and Bobby, please let us know.  You have our address and phone number.  I don’t want to intrude in you life, Sir, but if you come to a dead end and there ain't no turn around, y'ain't got no wheres to go, remember my offer of help and come to me.”  

Morris was most grateful and thanked him.  He tired to get Shane to say what he did for Bobby, but Shane wouldn’t commit to anything.  He told Morris he heard it said by some they thought he might have some strange powers.  He wasn’t sure just what he’d done or how much.  All he was sure of, was his touch could calm a frightened pony.  How could he ever explain to the man he needed full body contact with the boy without thinking Shane was some sort of pervert?  Maybe he could get Jesse Watkins to intercede?  In the meantime, Shane wanted more information on Gilbert Morris.  He knew just where to get it.  After they returned to the ranch, Shane put in a call to his nephew and asked if he and his brothers could find all the information they could for him on a Gilbert Morris, a rancher in Davis county.

The men returned to the Potter ranch, and had lunch.  Shane and Cole returned to their farrier work on the ponies.  They each got seven horses shod that afternoon.  Saturday was only another work day on the ranch, and Shane and Cole put in another sunup to sundown day of work on the ponies.  By Saturday evening they shod almost all the major work horses and had only the odd lot left to do.  They would take care of them the following week.  The two cowboy slaves from the Morris ranch were very impressed with Shane and Cole’s work output.  Lester and Otis knew how good they were.  They helped prep the horses by thoroughly cleaning their hooves before they brought them to the master farriers.

Angus and Charlie always set Sunday aside as a day of rest and worship if a cowboy slave wanted to attend church.  It was also a day of family get togethers and Shane told his partners he would continue their tradition.  Angus was having a big feed and get together for his family and invited his little brother, Shane’s family and slaves to the ranch for food and a fun day.  It would be the first time Shane and Cole returned to Angus’ ranch.  Bill Birdsall had not yet returned or Shane might not have accepted Angus’ invitation.  It was too soon for him to confront that can of worms.  Shane told the cowboys to hook the old two horse trailer he borrowed from his brother to the hitch on his new truck.  It was time to return it.  They left Maxine behind again with Otis and Lester.  Shane told them he would alternate and next time they would get to go.  Shane promised he and Cole would bring them back a good supper.

When Shane inquired if he would get to see his nieces and nephews, Angus’ kids, his brother sort of hung his head and made excuses for them being too busy with their lives and not being able to come to the ranch as much as he’d like.  Shane couldn’t help feel sorry for him.  He wondered if that was the reason Angus treated Shane and Cole like prodigal sons returning home after only a week being gone.  He wouldn’t let Cole go through the slave ritual with him, but instead shook his hand, hugged and kissed him like he was the spouse of one of his children.  Only one of Shane’s new slaves, Spence, completed the ritual with him as representative for him and Jack.  Angus complained, since Shane and Cole were gone, it seemed like the life went out of his cowboy slaves.

“They still do the work, but they don’t put their hearts into it.” he moaned.

Angus had Birdsall to keep a barrier between him and his slaves.  Of course, for years Birdsall had Angus’ ear and influenced him greatly with his ideas and decisions about his slaves.  Birdsall’s influence even filtered into Angus’ personal family relationships and certainly the way he treated Shane.  It was partially Birdsall’s fault Angus wasn’t more forthcoming with his little brother and treated him like a slave to the very last.  Birdsall pushed to the end to get Angus to talk the old judge into extending Shane’s slavery for another five years.  Angus balked.  It was only because Birdsall withdrew in anger the last few days of his slavery Shane got anything at all from Angus, and that, he had to fight for.  On the other hand, Shane thought himself extremely fortunate to get what little he did from his brother.  He considered quality was far better than quantity, and he was satisfied he got the very best.

Now, Angus was having to deal with his slaves on a daily basis, and he was uncomfortable with it.  He owned as many as a hundred cowboy slaves at one time, but he was down to about sixty because of attrition and advanced age.  He seemed surprised to find Shane already had four slaves.  He recognized the names and knew the two slaves who were a gift from his brother Charlie.  He knew Lester and Otis well, but he didn’t recognize Jack and Spence.  When he heard Lazarus gave the slaves to Shane it broke something inside of him.  The slaves, together with the beautiful pickup truck, plus thirty head of cattle were far more than Angus gave him, and it began to eat on him.  He suddenly realized he hadn’t given his little brother anything but what was already his, and made him bargain for and spend his money for the rest.  Shane was still in debt to Angus for the old farrier truck and tools.  Charlie and Lazarus made him look cheap and niggardly.  After a couple of drinks, his conscience began to weigh heavily upon him.  Angus got Shane away from his family to talk with him.    

“I ain’t done right by you little brother.” Angus declared.

“What do you mean?  I got what I wanted from you.  It was enough.  I got quality instead of quantity.  I never expected more.” Shane was stunned by his admission.

“I could a’ done more for you, but I didn’t.  I could blame it on Bill 'cause I listened to him, but that would be doing the same damn thing I accused you of, playing the blame game.  I didn’t have to listen to his bullshit.  I should a’ done better by you, boy.  Damn it!  You’re ma’ little brother, Shane.” Angus berated himself.

“Don’t do this to yourself, brother.” Shane said in a demanding but pleading voice, “First of all, it’s embarrassing to me and makes me very uncomfortable.  You done told me you did the best you could, and I believe you; end of story.  Have you heard me complaining?  Has anyone come to you and told you I’m upset with you or feel cheated?  Have I given you any indication I’m displeased with you?  Do you think I’d be here today if I was?”

“No, no, but I know you.  You’re more like Charlie than me.  You’re far more generous than I am.  I’d wager you’re more generous than Charlie.  You wouldn’t say shit agin’ me.  That’s just the way you is, boy.” Angus insisted.

“Look at me!  Take a good look, brother!  Do I look unhappy to you, Angus?"

“No, I can’t believe the difference in you and what you’ve accomplished in a couple of weeks.  By the way, I got away for another evening with my sweet Indian Brave and almost pissed my pants when I found out Mars port station was renamed ‘Goodnight’ station in yore’ honor.  Congratulation, Son.” Angus said sincerely as he hugged Shane and stole a kiss.

“Look, brother, I got from you what I most wanted in this world, and I’m satisfied.” insisted Shane.

“No, no, I tell you what.  I’m gonna’ make it up to you.  I’m gonna’ give you any two of my slaves of your choice, and hitch the trailer back to your truck ‘cause I know ‘em cowboys is gonna’ wanna’ take their ponies.” Angus stated flatly.

“My choice, brother?  Are you sure?” Shane pressed him.  Shane didn’t know what came over Angus, but if he wanted to whitewash whatever guilt or remorse he was feeling by being generous, Shane certainly was going to take advantage of it.  Lightening don’t strike twice in the same place.  Angus grimaced before answering.

“Yeah,... I’m sure.” he answered, almost in disgust.  

The men walked over to where the cowboy slaves were sitting finishing their Sunday dinner.

“Okay, you men listen up!  I got me an announcement to make.  I’m giving my little brother two cowboy slaves and their ponies.  Who wants to volunteer to be my little brother’s slaves and go work for him on the Potter ranch?” Every slave raised their hand including the three baby slaves.  Angus just grinned and shook his head.

“Pick ‘em!” was all he said to Shane.  Angus raised his arm and waved their hands down in mock disgust, grinned real big and turned his back on his slaves.  Shane didn’t hesitate.  He knew exactly who he wanted.

“Phil Pie and his partner Eli Stone.” said Shane.  There were a few moans and groans from the other cowboys, but a big whoop and applause went up for Phil and Eli from their comrades.

“You men git chore’ shit together, throw it in the back of ma’ little brother’s truck, including yore' saddles.  Hitch-up that old two-horse trailer to the back of his truck again and load your ponies.  You’re going home with him this evening.” bellowed Angus.
Phil and Eli came running up to Shane, dropped to their knees and went through the slave ritual with him.  Shane gave old Phil a kiss that caused an erection and a wet spot in all the other cowboy’s Wranglers.  Phil returned it in kind.

“Why us, Master Shane?” Phil whispered to him as he stole another kiss.

“Why not you and Eli?  You done told me not to forgit those what love me, didn’t you, Poppa Pie?” Shane grinned at him.  You could hear Phil’s laugh across the compound.

“God I love you, boy.” he whispered.

“No more’n I love you, cowboy.” Shane told him, “Now, you and Eli do what my brother done told ju’ ‘afore that tight ass old som'bitch changes his mind.” they shared a laugh and were away to get their meager belongings.

“What is it with you and them older cowboys, little brother?” Angus demanded of Shane as he handed him the ownership papers on Phil and Eli duly singed over to Shane.

“The older the cow the sweeter the cream, brother.” Shane told him and grinned real big; then added, “Why you think I always preferred you over Birdsall.” Shane laughed more.

“Damn it!  I always know’d you done liked it better with me than him.” Angus grinned, put his arm around Shane, stole a kiss and slapped him on the back.  It was a new beginning for them.

Potter and Cole couldn’t believe their good fortune.  Cole assured the judge, Phil and Eli were two of Angus’ best, seasoned cowboys.  Cole was a bit stunned Shane went for the very best of Angus’ herd, but he didn’t know what Shane had to go through to get him away from Angus.  If Angus felt guilty and was looking to atone for his sins, Shane was going to make damn sure he felt absolved.  The day came to an end and everyone began to leave.  Shane and his family and slaves were the last to leave.  It seemed to Shane, Angus was almost a transformed man.  He allowed himself to be close with his little brother, closer than they ever were before.  Shane didn’t reject him.  He just let it happen and basked in the warm glow from the depth of love he knew his big brother was capable of but rarely showed.  

“When you coming over to visit, brother?” asked Shane.

“After you git chore’ cattle, I’ll make a trip over.” he promised.

“Sorry I took your top waddie, brother.”

“No, you ain’t!” Angus laughed, “I know’d ju’ love them old cowboys.  I’ll get by without Phil and Eli.  Won’t be near as much fun, but I got me a couple more men what can do the job.” he lamented.

“Any word from Birdsall?” Shane asked.

“H’it don’t look good for him.  They may press charges against him.  I hope not.  They say he needs some character witnesses, or he just might be looking at slavery his-self.  I plan to stand up for him.” Angus tossed out like chum on the water.

“With his reputation he should have no problem git’n lots of men to stand up for him.” Shane tossed it back to him.

“I don’t know, Son, I jes’ don’t know.” Angus sighed deeply.

They managed to pack everyone into Shane’s truck.  Cole drove.  Phil sat behind Cole in the crew section.  Since they were old friends, Cole lowered the window so they could chat.  

“Is this a decent outfit we signed onto, brother?” Phil joked with Cole.

“I’ll be honest with you, cowboy, it’s a bit hectic right now, but it shows a hell of a lot of promise.  Y’ain’t gonna’ believe the beauty of the place.  I got me a feeling it’s gonna’ be the show ranch of West Texas in a very short period of time.” Cole mused.

“Sounds good to this old cowboy.” Phil allowed.  Phil thought about the baby cowboy slave he left behind.  The kid cried in Phil’s big arms.  The boy was just coming around, and with Phil’s guidance he would be broken shortly.  Phil felt sorrow he wouldn’t be there to welcome him to the other side.  He hated to leave him, but cowboy slaves don’t have a chance to improve their lot in life very often.  He prayed the kid would make it.  He knew there were others who would make sure he did.  Potter rode down to the bunkhouse with the men.  He wanted to pickup his companion and find out about her day.  Lester and Otis were thrilled to see Phil and Eli and know they were going to be working with them.  Shane and Cole brought them each two big plates of good food plus a couple of desserts from the big spread at Angus’ ranch.  They were grateful to their master.  The men got the ponies out of the trailer and let them loose in the pasture with the others.  Phil and Eli took one of the other lead cowboy rooms on the opposite side of mess hall and rec area.  Phil couldn’t believe he and Eli would have their own bathroom.  It was an unheard of luxury for cowboy slaves.

They unhooked the horse trailer and parked it under a tree near the bunkhouse.  Boss Potter and his family drove back to the big house.  Maxine talked nonstop on the way about everything she and the men did during the day.  They even let her practice herding the ponies for a while.  She had a great day and seemed happy.  The cowboys shared some of their slave chow with her for her supper, and she was pleased.  They said she ate everything they gave her.  Shane wondered if she turned a corner.

The next week was a busy one around the ranch.  Shane and Cole spent all day Monday working on the ponies again.  Cole asked Phil and Eli to help with the horses and assigned the other four cowboys to continue repairs on the old foreman’s cottage and their house.  By Tuesday noon, the last of the horses were shod, even Phil and Eli’s ponies.  It was a good feeling to get such a big job behind them.  Tuesday afternoon Gil Morris called to talk with Shane.

“Mr. Goodnight, I got a fine quality John Deere tractor over here to the ranch with a number of attachments.  It’s only seven years old.  I bought it brand new right after my boy was born.  It’s in as good shape and running order as the day I bought it.  Yore’ slave Jack Hamil is the only man what’s worked on it, and he kept it in tip-top condition.  He can tell you what a fine piece of machinery it is, but if I don’t git rid of it, when them real estate people come to slap locks on the place they’s gonna’ git everything.  I’d rather see it go to a man like you.  It’s yours for the taking if you want it, Sir.  Just bring a couple of pickups over for the attachments and old Jack, he can drive it back for you.”

“Thanks for thinking of me, Mr. Morris.  I’m very interested, but I’m like you, Sir, I won’t accept charity from no man, and I know you must be hurt’n financially right now.  What if I offer you five thousand for it?  Would that be fair?” Shane waited for a response, but it didn’t come right away.  He could hear the man weeping silently on the other end.  Shane just waited.

“More’n fair, Mr. Goodnight.  God bless you, Sir.”

“Then we got us a deal, Mr. Morris.  Is this afternoon too soon?”

“Naw, Sir, that’ll be fine.  I’ll be looking forward to seeing you again.  I know ma' boy will be, too.  He cain't talk 'bout nothing else but his cowboy brother Shane.  He thinks the world of you Mr. Goodnight.”

"I gotta' admit, I's sort a' fond of him, too, Mr. Morris.  I come to think on him as ma' little brother."

Shane yelled at Cole and Boss Potter.  “Grab yore’ hats, gentlemen.  Bring Jack, Spence, Phil and Eli.  We need two pickups and that old hay trailer Jack fixed up for us.  Boss, can I drive yours and Cole can drive ours?”

“Sure, what’s up, Son?”

“I jes’ bought us a tractor with several attachments from Gil Morris.  We need Jack Hamil to drive it back for us.  C’mon, I’ll fill you in on the details on the way.” Shane urged.

The men drove to the Morris ranch.  Gil was right.  It was in perfect condition and turned right over the first time.  Jack Hamil swore it was in great shape.  Gil must have made money from his ranch because the paperwork showed he paid cash for it new.  He signed over the pink-slip to Shane and gave him all the manuals and maintenance papers on it.  This time Shane counted out to Morris ten, five hundred dollar bills.  The big cowboy turned his head and wiped away a couple more tears.  There were seven attachments in all.  The men loaded six onto the trucks which weighed down both 3/4 ton pickups until their rears were almost dragging the blacktop.  The seventh attachment, a huge scoop, they attached to the front of the tractor and Jack raised it up and over the cab to keep it out of the way.  Shane looked in on Bobby before they left the Morris ranch.  He could tell Bobby was starting to lose ground.  Shane felt really bad.  He told Gil to give Mrs. Biddle his best.  He promised he would.  He planned to give her some of the money he still owed her.

Jack Hamil was thrilled to get to dive the tractor back to the ranch.  Spence crawled up into the long seat next to Jack to keep him company.  They made a big caravan with the tractor leading the way.  It took them several hours to get back to the ranch.  They found room to store it in the newer, larger barn on Potter’s ranch.  Jack kept going over it like it was his personal baby.  The men could tell Jack loved farm equipment.
  Cole and Potter just shook their heads at Shane’s good fortune.  They didn’t know what to expect next.  Charlie called to talk with Shane to see how Lester and Otis were working out.  Shane assured him they were working out great and thanked him again.  He told Charlie about Angus giving him two of his best slaves Sunday along with their favorite ponies.  Charlie laughed and told Shane it sounded like Angus’ conscience was bothering him.  Shane agreed with him.

“You know, Son, I let them men take their saddles and tack, but it never occurred to me Lester and Otis might like to have their favorite ponies.  A good horse is a cowboy’s right arm.  You’re welcome to ‘em if they want ‘em.  Lazarus should know which ponies they preferred.  I’ll have him git one of our cowboys to walk 'em through the gate and turn ‘em loose in your pasture.”

“Thanks, Charlie.  I know it’ll make them happy.  They been work’n hard.  It’ll be a nice surprise for ‘em.”

Sure enough, the next day, Lester and Otis’ ponies mysteriously appeared among the remuda along with the other horses.  They were thrilled and asked Shane to thank Master Charlie.  The week passed and the men were getting more and more work done on the property.  It was beginning to look pretty damn good and Potter couldn’t have been more pleased.  Mrs. Huggins was beginning to act strange.  She didn’t want Maxine coming anywhere around her when she was there.  Maxine tried several times to make friends with her only to have Mrs. Huggins chase her out of the house with a broom.  It made it awkward for Mr. Potter.  He didn’t appreciate her actions and told her so.  He didn’t think it was very fair to Maxine.  He told her if she couldn’t accept Maxine, he might have to find someone else.  She made the mistake of arguing with him, and he fired her.  With every day that passed, he was feeling better and thought he might try taking care of himself for a while.

The weekend passed quickly.  The Potter/Goodnight family stayed home for Sunday and had their own barbecue for their cowboy slaves.  They spent most of the day sitting around jawing with each other.  In the heat of the afternoon they all walked down to the creek and went skinny dipping.  Everyone had a great time, and it was remembered as one of the best days they had at the new ranch.  They were coming together; they felt like family.  Even Jack and Spence commented how much they felt at home on the Potter Ranch.  Maxine was coming out of her shell and recovered quickly from Mrs. Huggins’ abuse.  The cowboys assured her of their love and reassured Master Potter he done the right thing to fire the witch what was bad to their little lady.  They loved Maxine and wanted her to stay.

Since Charlie, Lazarus and Angus were the major contributors of cattle to the new fledgling ranch, the other Grange members who donated were urged to deliver their cattle to either Goodnight ranch where they were being kept in special corrals and would be taken to the Potter ranch when Shane and his men were ready.  The two weeks Shane decided they needed to get organized and make repairs were past, and he notified his brothers they could have the cattle delivered on Monday.  Shane set aside a good amount of money for transport fees.  Monday came and it was a usual day around the ranch except by sundown the cattle were not delivered.  Shane called his brother Charlie to inquire if there was a problem with the transport service and he assured Shane there were no problems.  Monday was not over until midnight.  About nine in the evening a couple of the cowboys came running up to the foreman’s house yelling for him and Cole.

“Master Shane, Mr. Jenkins.  You ain’t gonna’ believe it.  We seen a bright flash of light down in the lower meadow.  We went to investigate and there’s damn near a hundred head of cattle down there.”

Cole looked at Shane and grinned as he shook his head.  With a little help from his friends, Charlie kept his word, but it didn’t cost Shane a penny for transport.  Shane felt like an ass.  Why hadn’t he thought of picking up the remuda with his ship that way, or the tractor.  He laughed at his own stupidity.  He not only had to start learning to be a freeman he had to start learning how to most efficiently use the technology he had available to him.  After they took a head count they discovered there were more cattle than Shane was told would be delivered.  Charlie explain, in another fit of guilt or remorse, Angus gave Shane twenty more cows than originally agreed upon.  So now they had eighty head with one bull.  They spent several days tagging and inspecting every cow or calf.  Wednesday afternoon late, an older pickup truck with a camper on the back pulled into the Potter ranch.  Shane knew who it was before the man got out of the cab.  It was Gil Morris, but Bobby didn’t seem to be with him.  Morris looked worried.

“Welcome, Mr. Morris.  Good to see you again.” Shane shook his hand. “What can I do for you, Sir?”

“It’s ma’ boy, Mr. Goodnight.  They threw us off my ranch over the weekend, and we been living out of my camper for several days now.  He got real sick, took a turn for the worse, and I took him to Mrs. Biddle.  She always seemed to make him feel better, but she told me she thought he was really bad.  I took him to emergency at our local hospital, but they wouldn’t look at him ‘cause I don’t have no insurance no more.  They apologized but told me there weren’t nothing they could do.  I couldn’t get a doctor to look at him.  He’s in the back of the camper with Mrs. Biddle.  I think he’s dying, Sir.  I didn’t know what to do, but Mrs. Biddle insisted I drive him here to you.  She said something about you being a healer-man.  Bobby keeps asking for you, Mr. Goodnight.  He kept begging me to bring him to you.  He tells me his big brother will save him.  He seems to think you can help him, Sir.  Can you help my boy, Mr. Goodnight?  You done told me to come to you if’n I came to a dead end, Sir.  I’m there, Mr. Goodnight, I done run out of road, there ain't no turn-around, and  we ain't got no place to go.  I can’t lose ma’ boy, Sir.  He’s all I got left in this world.  I won't have me no purpose to go on live’n without him.  I’m a’ beg’n you, Sir.  I will give you anything, up to and including my life as yore’ slave if you will only save him, Mr. Goodnight.”

"I'll do what I can for him, Mr. Morris." Shane made no promises, but somehow his word was enough for Gil Morris.

Shane urged Morris to take him to the boy.  He opened the door to the rear of the camper and the stench of vomit and fecal matter filled their nostrils.  It was rank.  Inside was Mrs. Biddle holding the boy.  His bowels let go and he threw up all over her, but still she clung to him like he was the most precious object on Earth, singing softly to him an old lullaby her grandmother sang to her when she was a little girl.  She caught Shane’s eyes with hers and tried to smile through her tears.  Shane needed no words to understand her tacit message.  'There's little time, healer-mon.'

End of Chapter 57 ~ Waco’s Lummox
Copyright 2008 ~ Waddie Greywolf
All Rights Reserved ~
Mail to: waddiebear@yahoo.com