Patch Patterson aligned the buckhorn sights of his Winchester .30-30 carbine on the very edge of a thick-barked Ponderosa pine standing alone on a hillside several hundred feet from his field. The gunshot echoed off the Virginian Ridge mountainside and reverberated across the valley.
The tree exploded outward in a spray of bark fragments and wood splinters. The man beside the tree screamed, the side of his face and neck streaming blood. He lurched and spun around, dropping his binoculars. He ran shrieking up the steep hillside away from the old man's field.
Serves the sneakin' son of a bitch right, Patch mumbled to himself. He stepped from his hiding place inside the goat shed, walked to his cabin, and put the rifle back on its pegs above the kitchen door.
He'd seen the stranger last week slipping around the edges of his property, and saw him again two days ago. Each time the man stayed inside the timber just outside Patch’s hillside fence. He was there for a long time scanning Patch's cabin, barn, and sheds through his binoculars. The man often lowered his glasses to write in a notebook.
The first time he'd seen the stranger Patch started across his field to approach the man, but he ran away along the hillside before Patch could get near him. Patch followed his tracks until he heard a car door slam. It sped away before Patch could get a look at it.
Damned peculiar, he thought.
The third time he caught the stranger watching him, Patch sprayed him with a bark shot. That’s fair warning, he figured. Decent people come to a man's door and introduce themselves. Sneaks and thieves slip around looking to cause trouble. He's got himself some trouble now. Ol’ Doc Jameson's gonna have some fun diggin’ them tree splinters out of his face.
He poured a cup of black coffee and sat, sipping from the thick mug, thinking. I’d best grab a hatchet and go up to that tree and chop out that barked spot. I don't expect the slug is stuck in there, but just in case that feller decides to call the sheriff on me, I don't want no slug left to match my rifle. Damn fools. Years past, everybody would figure a sneak-about got what he deserved. But the law these days, there's just no telling. Best not take a chance. I don't need no law troubles.
Graydon parked alongside his old friend’s cabin. He started toward the porch expecting to find Patch inside but instead, he heard the sound of chopping; then he noticed several of the goat herd looking towards the hillside across the road. He turned and followed the sound.
“Hey, Patch!” he yelled out when he caught sight of the old man some distance up the hill. He hurried his climb up the steep slope.
“Hey yourself, youngster!” Patch replied, hacking another slice out of the thick bark. His gnarled, bony hands brought the hatchet down in a slashing arc, widening a broad cut in the tree’s side. Graydon saw a ragged bullet track across the face of the exposed wood. He glanced in the direction it pointed; a line of blood drops glistened on matted pine needles and stony soil up the slope. He said nothing, waiting for Patch to explain.
“Damned snooper,” Patch finally said, leaning over to rest his hatchet against the base of the huge tree. He pulled a wadded handkerchief from a grimy pocket and wiped his face. Bark fragments stuck to his crusty denim work jacket.
“I see blood by my feet and more going up the hill. Somebody ran away in a big hurry, it appears,” Graydon observed. “Are those his binoculars over there on the ground?”
“Reckon so; he was spying’ on me... writin’ things down. First time I seen ‘im I tried to ask what he was doin’. But he ran. This was the third time I seen ‘im, spyin’ and snoopin’, so I barked ‘im.”
“And the chopping?” Graydon asked.
“Damn fool’s prob’ly runnin’ to call the sheriff, soon’s he gits his face patched up. Ain’t no point leavin’ a bullet track to point back to me.” Patch wadded up the kerchief and stuffed it back into a dirt-crusted trouser pocket.
“I’ll kick some duff over them blood spots; then we’ll go down and see if the coffee’s still fit to drink,” Patch said. “Maybe you kin keep yer ears open around town; see if you hear somethin’ about what might be bringin’ strangers snoopin’ around?”
The paunchy lawyer heaved his bulk from the dust-caked luxury sedan. He lurched over to the hog-wire fence, sagging between tilted posts, to confront the old man dressed in work-soiled black denims. The old man sat hunched in a lawn chair. Stringy black hair hung down over his jacket collar. His eyes, gleaming black under heavy brows, peered suspiciously from under a grimy, sweat-stained felt hat.
"Purdy Kendricks?" the sweating red-faced stranger asked. Purdy's eyes moved from the fat man to the car and its driver, and back.
"I am," Purdy answered. "Who are you? What's your business?"
The lawyer hesitated. "My name is Bertrand Adams. I represent a principal who wishes to make a very generous offer for properties you hold, Mr. Kendricks." He reached for the latch on the rusty iron gate to enter the yard. "I have papers with me. May I show them to you?"
"That's a problem, Mr. Adams," Purdy snapped. The lawyer froze in his tracks, the gate half-opened.
"It is. You'd best turn around and climb back in that car. You've got no business pryin' into what I own or don't own, and I'll tell you now that whatever I might own is not for sale. Even if it was, I don't know you or whoever you work for so I've got no interest in talkin' about it. You'd best leave."
"Mr. Kendricks, I assure you that. . ."
"That's another thing, Mr. Adams. My name is Purdy. Nobody calls me 'Mr. Kendricks' except strangers who don't know me. You don't know me, and I don't know you, so we've got nothin' to discuss. So, git back where you come from."
Purdy popped up from his faded chair. Adams was astonished at the old man's short, hunched size. Standing maybe five feet tall, he was thin, wizened, and ancient. Purdy scowled at Adams and scurried up the porch steps. He pushed open the screen door and disappeared into the cabin, letting the door slam behind him.
Adams stood with his hand on the gate, aghast at the unexpected rebuff. Crazy, crazy as hell, Adams mumbled to himself. The investigator told me the local people believed the old man to be half Indian. Siwash, they said. And that's not a compliment. A crazy old Siwash, they said.
Adams closed the gate, pulled a folded cloth from his lapel pocket and wiped his sweating forehead. His driver scrambled to open the rear door of the Lincoln town car. Adams settled himself and ordered the driver to return to Winthrop and his motel room.
"Parker," he barked into the telephone, when the private investigator came on the line after several minutes delay. "Parker, don't you ever keep me holding this damned phone again! For what we're paying you, I don't get put on hold! Do you hear me?"
"Yes, I hear you, Mr. Adams. My secretary didn't understand. I was on another call. I'll tell her to cut in next time. So, what do you want?"
"I want something done about that crazy old Indian, that shriveled-up runt, that Siwash, you called him, that old man, Purdy Kendricks. I tried to talk to him and he wouldn't let me in his yard! The rude little bastard!"
"Yes, that sounds like Purdy Kendricks, alright," Bruce Parker answered. "He has few friends and no associates. He's never been married. He's always lived alone and he hasn't been known to socialize at all. He's a loner. He trusts very few people..."
"Yes, yes, you wrote all that in your briefing report. But you didn't say anything about him being crazy, rude and insulting!"
"Which part of 'trusts very few people' didn't you understand, Adams?"
"There's a big difference between 'not trusting' and 'not willing to listen,'" Adams retorted.
"Well, you don't understand these valley people, and I think you've probably worn out your welcome with him before you even got started. It won't be easy getting Purdy to look at anything now."
"Damn it, Parker! This is important. I've got to get him to sell!
"Look, I don't know anything about your client or what you all want with Purdy's properties, but I can tell you this: there's not a damned thing that you or your people have that he wants!"
"Bullshit! I saw that shack he lives in. I was there! It's nothing but old boards, cracked and unpainted. It's tiny. There can't be but two rooms in it! It doesn't even have a bathroom! I saw an outhouse in the back yard. How can a man worth millions live that way?"
"He's lived there all his life! It's his way, his lifestyle. Too bad for you people, he doesn't need or want your money. Seriously! There's nothing you have that he wants. Nothing! You pushed into his life and he slammed the door in your face, Adams! You shot your wad. You won't get another chance."
"Everybody has their price! Everybody wants something they don't have!" Adams stormed back. "He can't just shut us out. He's got to hear me! He's got to be reasonable, damn it! He can't just sit on all that real estate. What the hell does he intend to do? He sure as hell can't take it with him!"
"Maybe not, Adams, but he can sure as hell do whatever he wants with it while he's alive."
While he's alive, Adams snorted, the sudden thought burning into his brain.
"Alright. I need some field men, a few men to help me scout things out, to make contacts. Local people who fit in, who know the area, who can talk to people, who can help make things happen. Can you find some for me?"
"Yes, I think so. Call this guy when you get back to your motel. He'll fix you up." Parker spoke a name and phone number; Adams wrote it down. "Anything else?"
"Yes. What's the story on that dirty hillbilly with the stinking goat herd, that gangly old geezer who's squatting on three hundred acres of river bottom land up the valley from Kendricks?"
"That's easy. That's Patch Patterson. He and Purdy have known each other ever since Patch moved here. He survived World War One, only to lose his farm in the Depression. He knew somebody here in the valley, so he came here to start over."
"Christ! World War One?"
"Yes. Look, I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't bad-mouth that old man. He's a lot more than he seems, but I've said enough. Just drop it, okay? I'd advise you to leave him be. Don't mess with him."
"Leave him be? What the hell does that mean?"
"Just what I said, Adams. My advice to you is to walk softly around all these people. You obviously don't have any respect for them, and you don't understand their values. Cut your losses. Hire somebody local to represent your clients, and get yourself on a flight back to wherever you came from. Denver, wasn't it? Anyway, that's my advice. And while you're at it, find yourself another investigator. I've lost my taste for your business and quite frankly, I've had enough of your arrogant, disrespectful attitude. Don't call me again. We'll mail our final invoice by the end of the week."
Parker paused, waiting for Adams to say something. Adams scowled, about to say something threatening but he changed his mind and slammed down the motel phone. He snatched up his briefcase and stormed out of the room, shouting for his driver. He needed another investigator but now he'd have to go a hundred miles south to Wenatchee to recruit one willing to do what he ordered.
Ezekiel 'Patch' Patterson was well known to Parker, one of only a handful who knew the truth about the old Appalachian native.
Parker's uncle, Fred Parker, had served with Patch. Both men were soldiers assigned to the American Expeditionary Force under Colonel James Brightman's command in France. Patch earned sergeant's chevrons, a Bronze Star for gallantry in action, and a purple heart. Gassed and suffering from what would later be called PTSD, Patch returned home.
He lost his West Virginia hill farm in the following Depression years. He remembered his friends from Okanogan County in the far West. He came hoping for a new start. When Jim Brightman, his former commanding officer, welcomed Patch to the valley and introduced him to some close friends and neighbors, that was good enough for neighbor Purdy. He offered that Patch could move onto Purdy's up-river 300-acre bottom-land property to build a cabin and work its fields. Patch agreed.
Patch got a good home and a living. He built the cabin, patched up the derelict barn and sheds, planted a big garden, and started a goat herd. Purdy got a steady supply of vegetables, fresh goat's milk, churned butter, and meat. The two became inseparable friends. Winthrop residents smiled at the sight of the two old bachelors, the one tall and gangling, the other short and hunched. They wore crusty black denim work clothes and rode to town and back, side by side with Patch driving, in the cab of a sputtering 1929 Ford Model A one-ton flatbed truck. It would be their weekly cream delivery, grocery shopping, and post office day.
Bruce Parker suddenly regretted giving Adams that name and phone number. I think I'd better give Jim Brightman a call, he decided.
Dorothy "Dot" Alexander worried over her second cup of creamed and sugared coffee at her kitchen table. It was an early Friday evening and her son Graydon was expected home soon. She'd had a worrying day at work. It wasn't her job to worry but she couldn't help it. Something was not right. She suspected it went far beyond ‘not right’ to being something ‘very wrong.’ But she was just a District Clerk and these wrong things were coming from the highest levels of the Okanogan National Forest.
The front door banged open and Graydon came striding into the kitchen. He hefted the coffee pot to see if any was left. He pulled a cup down from the cupboard and filled it. Taking a seat at the table across from his mother, he frowned. She looked strained, worried.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"Work. Some papers came across my desk for Ranger Myers and our timber sales and roads people. Something's wrong. Very wrong. I think something big and upsetting is going to happen in the Virginian Ridge area."
“What sort of papers, Mom?”
“There’s an order for a timber inventory covering the Wolf Creek drainage from the canyon mouth up to Gardner Meadows. Another order requires a timber inventory along the entire length and breadth of Virginian Ridge, extending west to the Cascade summit,” she answered.
“Wolf Creek? That area has always been exempted from timber sales, Mom! For lots of good reasons. Nobody wants to see that lovely canyon torn up! It’s narrow and fragile. Nobody wants logging roads cut through there!”
“I know, son. Nobody in the District office agrees with logging there. That’s why it’s always been off the list.”
“What else, Mom?”
“A set of maps proposing access road surveys to be reviewed and evaluated by the District road engineer. One through National Forest land to the Brightman Ranch on the south end of the ridge and another to what Ranger Myers said is looking like a possible ski resort development on the north end.”
“The National Forest isn’t in the resort development business!” Graydon said. “And what’s with involving the Brightman Ranch?”
“We don’t know,” Dot protested. “We’re not being told what’s behind all this. But the buzz around the office is that this looks like a prelude to a big development. Our timber officer, Bud James, told us that he’s seen something like this before, in Colorado.
“He said that a land development corporation pulled political strings to get ski resort permits on National Forest land. Then they bought out the surrounding private land before anybody knew what was coming.
Graydon felt a cold premonition. Yes, his mother was right. This was very wrong.
“Are you keeping a list of those documents?"
“Yes. I’ve been doing that in a private journal. I lock it in my desk before I leave work.”
“Does anyone know that you’re keeping notes?” he asked
“I don’t think so. Why do you ask?”
“I don’t know. It’s just a feeling. Has anyone seen you, watched you make entries?”
“No, but I haven’t really tried to hide it. What’s wrong? Why do you ask? You’re starting to worry me, Graydon.”
“Mom, really, I don’t know. But I’m getting a bad... a very bad feeling about this. You said you keep it locked up. Does anybody else have a key to your desk?”
“I’m not sure but I think there must be other keys. Ranger Myers, or Brad, the Assistant Ranger, they probably have keys. I’m the Clerk and they’d sometimes need something. Graydon, why are you so upset about this?”
“Premonition, Mom. Please bring that notebook home, okay? Keep it locked away in your bedroom. And Mom? Don’t say anything about this to anyone else.
Graydon gripped his cup, staring past his mother’s worried face. He considered the distant view through their kitchen window. Dark clouds were gathering on the west side of the valley above Virginian Ridge.
Brightman First Offer
"Jim, I think we've got company," Vi Brightman called out from the kitchen.
"Oh? Anybody we know?" he replied, standing up from his leather-padded swivel chair in their ranch office.
"No. It's somebody in a suit. And it's a Lincoln Town Car with Colorado plates."
Vi watched the car circle around. It came to a stop alongside the gated rail fence separating the yard. A balding, paunchy man in a tailored suit emerged from the passenger side. The driver stayed seated.
"Jim, he's going around to the front door. Can you meet him there?"
Vi frowned, setting her mouth in a tight line. Nobody they knew dressed or drove as expensively as that, and no friend would ever come to their front door. The kitchen door on the drive side of the house was their hospitality entrance.
Jim opened the front door as the stranger raised his hand to knock.
"Can I help you?" he asked.
"No. There's no Colonel Brightman here. I'm James Brightman. I own this ranch and I'm a civilian," Jim answered.
"I was told that a Colonel Brightman lived here and owned this property," the man said. "I assume that's you."
"How can I help you? Are you lost?"
"No. I think I can help you. May I come in?"
"That depends. Please state your business," Jim replied.
The stranger backed up a step. Obviously he'd made another bad approach. He reached inside his suit jacket and withdrew an envelope. He held it out.
"This is an offer for your property. My principals wish to take immediate possession, with a move-out provision of sixty days. If you need help relocating, they are willing to offer any reasonable assistance."
Jim looked down at the envelope but didn't take it.
"We won't need any assistance."
"Good. That's very good. In lieu of assistance, I'm authorized to extend a stipend of $2,000 in addition to our offer. Do you have any questions?"
"No. Our ranch isn't for sale."
Jim stepped back and closed the door, leaving the stranger standing on the front steps.
Jim ignored the man's loud knocking on the door. Five minutes later he watched the lawyer and his man disappear down the narrow gravel road winding down Virginian Ridge to the valley.
"Who was that, dear?" Vi wiped her hands on a kitchen towel. The aroma of hot rhubarb-apple cobbler wafted along with her when she stepped into the front room. Jim stood puzzled and half angry.
"Beats me. Some lawyer, I think. Said he was acting for his principals; that must be some corporation he works for. He tried to hand me an offer to buy the ranch."
"What did you tell him?"
"We're not interested. The ranch isn't for sale at any price."
"Good. Come in the kitchen. The cobbler is ready to come out of the oven. Would you like a fresh pot of coffee to go with it?"
"You know I love your cobbler. I always have. I'll skip the coffee and take a scoop of ice cream on the side," he teased.
"No, you won't, either!" she teased back. "Doc Jameson said your ice cream days are long behind you. You'll find a glass of sweet cider on the table with your cobbler. It's fresh. Graydon brought two gallons of cider with him yesterday while you were out. Will they be back, do you think?"
"Probably. He called me 'Colonel' which means they're pretty ignorant of us. I expect they'll be back. That lawyer seemed pretty full of himself. I think it'll take some discouragement before they believe we mean what we say."
"Too bad. If he'd been halfway neighborly, he'd be sitting here eating hot cobbler and sipping cider. City people these days! They just don't have their priorities right!" she scowled. "Come, sit, eat! It's ready and you always like it hot from the oven."
Jim Brightman had just turned 75; his wife, Violet, was 72. Theirs was a late love affair. Jim graduated from West Point, Class of 1902, ranked fifth in his class. He was sent to the Philippine Islands immediately upon graduation as a newly-commissioned 2nd Lieutenant. On arrival he was put in command of a squad of infantry to help put down the Moro rebellion. He was blessed with a senior sergeant who taught the young officer the grim business of surviving guerrilla warfare. Twice wounded and three times decorated, he returned to the United States in 1913 as a Major. He was sent to teach anti-insurrection and guerrilla tactics at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
Promoted to Lt. Colonel with fresh orders in hand, he sailed in 1918 to France in command of an American Expeditionary Force regiment. His unit spearheaded America's entry into World War One. Decorated twice again, he never spoke of the horrors of trench warfare, of gas attacks that crippled and killed his men, or of the permanent bond of friendship forged in the flames of war with Captain Michael Peterson who served under his command.
After the Armistice, Colonel Brightman resumed duties as an instructor of strategic studies, again at Carlisle War College. He demanded much of the young officers he taught, grimly insisting that they should never seek glory in war.
"It is better to avoid war at all costs, for it is a horrible and insane thing that men must never willingly choose," he taught. "But if war is forced upon you then fight it with cunning savagery. Fight to win and win quickly. Bury your dead and sue for peace."
Pressed by his students for explanation, he would only reply, "I pray for your sake that you never experience war. But when you leave here, I will have prepared you for it!"
He was a guest of friends at their Pennsylvania horse stables when a mature beauty from the far west claimed his heart. Violet Anita Scott, a daughter of a Spokane, Washington mining family, had never married. She grew to admire and then love the soft-spoken Army Colonel with the handsome face and haunted eyes. Within two months they'd engaged to marry. At age 55 James Brightman resigned his commission and took retirement pay; they were wed in Spokane with her family attending. Before 1936 ended they'd found a mountain ranch for sale in the Methow Valley, high on the south end of Virginian Ridge. She loved the harmony and beauty of the high country. He found peace and satisfaction in working the ranch. They'd found their home; they vowed never to leave it.
Brightman Second Refusal
It was only a week later when Violet Brightman handed the thick envelope to her husband at the kitchen table.
"Jim, didn't we tell that lawyer last week that we didn't want to sell?" she asked.
"Yes. To his face. Emphatically! What's this?"
"It came in the mail today. Certified, receipt requested!"
Vi had gone into Winthrop for her weekly card club meeting. She'd stopped by the post office before returning home. "I'm not sure what this is, but it's got a return address for a Denver real estate corporation."
"Hell's Bells!" he cried out, holding up the cover page of the thick sheaf of paperwork, waving it at Vi.
"Jim! Language!" she scolded.
"Well, I'm sorry, dear," he apologized. "But you haven't seen this yet!"
The cover letter was an offer of $90,000 for their 300-acre ranch. It was nearly three times the appraised value of the property.
"Those fools sure make it hard to turn them down," he mumbled, passing the papers to his wife.
"Jim, we've discussed this ever since that strange man showed up at the wrong door. We don't want their money. We don't want to sell! We decided that years ago. I'm not changing my mind!"
"No, I'm not changing my mind, Vi, and I'm not considering this offer. But something is wrong. This is way out of line for what our place is worth. That Colorado corporation doesn't just throw their money away! This $90,000 offer is far too much unless there's something we don't know. There's got to be something hidden behind all this."
"Well, hidden or not, it's gone too far, Jim. I'm worried. Can you talk to somebody? Maybe find out what's happening that we haven't heard about?"
"Yes. I'll make a call or two. Maybe I'll stop by North Cascade Realty and talk to Brent. He's got good connections. Maybe something's coming our direction that we haven't heard about. And I'll give this offer to him to handle. Maybe he can tell them 'no' and make them believe it."
The gold shone through the sparkling quartz structure like glittering webs in a white butterfly's wing. A waterfall of quartz, wide sheets of it, flowed through and across the granite face of the mine.
Michael Peterson, dressed in dull brown coveralls, hammered steadily against a hand-held star bit. Tink, tink, tink, each blow sending a trickle of granite dust falling from the hole. A series of deep holes pierced the rock face, some above, some below the glistening quartz ribbon. By early evening he'd be ready to place a small blasting charge in each hole and from a safe distance he'd blow them. A pile of gold-laden rubble would lay at the base of the rock face, waiting for sorting.
Before he was done and ready to leave, he'd have filled a dozen leather bags with gold pried from the exposed seams in the quartz rubble.
Changed into his beaded buckskins, Mike rode a roan saddle horse and led a gray pack mule, its pack saddles rocking and swaying. He'd follow an obscure side canyon track down through thick timber to merge, unseen, onto a trail following a tributary branch of Wolf Creek.
He'd been gone for two weeks. He was ready for a hot bath, a char-broiled steak, and an evening of pleasant company with Jim and Vi Brightman at their ranch home.
This will do for the year, he thought as he rocked gently in the saddle, yielding to the rhythmic, rolling gait of his horse. He'd deliver the gold to a long-trusted agent in Wenatchee, one hundred miles south. The assay report, the sales report, and a cashier's check would be mailed to their accountant who would file the tax documents required by state and federal authorities. The balance of the funds would be transferred to private branch accounts.
"Come with me to Wenatchee this trip, Graydon," Mike asked. "You're eighteen and it's time you were brought into our project. We'll overnight there. You'll meet our metals dealer, learn our income and reporting procedures, and learn how to review the tax reports and payments with our accountants. You'll sign on as a corporate officer and be authorized to receive and disburse funds."
Graydon hesitated; he hadn't expected this.
"You're both sure?"
"Without a doubt, young man. Perfectly sure!" Jim affirmed. Mike smiled, his eyes flashing to Graydon that he was being foolish to doubt himself.
"Okay. Who's driving?"
Mike laughed; Jim suppressed a guffaw. Ever since Graydon had gotten his driver's license he was eager to drive, especially a longer trip like the hundred-mile run down the Methow River highway to Wenatchee.
"Uh... " Graydon hesitated. "I came for something else," he blurted. "I think we've got a problem, or... we're going to have problems, like something's coming. Something that's got Mom worried. Mike, it's giving me one of those 'feelings' and I can't shake it. Mom's seen things coming through the Winthrop Ranger's office that has her half-scared. She's so worried that she's started keeping a journal, recording document titles and summaries, and names and dates. When she told me, I had a flash, a bad premonition. I told her that she was getting drawn into something dangerous. I warned her to bring that journal home and keep it locked up and not to tell anybody about it. I cautioned her not to let anybody see her taking notes or paying too much interest."
Graydon fidgeted nervously where he sat in Vi's favorite porch rocker. A cold glass of lemonade dripped condensate onto his leg, expanding an ignored wet spot on his jeans.
Mike turned his attention to Graydon and watched, thoughtfully. Jim took up his pipe, knocked the dottle into an ashtray, scraped out his pipe bowl with his penknife, and slowly tamped in a new charge of tobacco. This was his life-long habit of freeing his mind for serious thinking. Soon, blue-gray tendrils of smoke rose in curls to the ceiling.
"What else?" Mike asked, knowing there was more on Graydon's mind.
"I've got no clear idea, yet," Graydon answered. "But I questioned Mom carefully about everything she'd seen. I think the National Forest land on Virginian Ridge is being targeted for a big ski resort. I think your ranch is threatened, Mr. Brightman
"Damn!" Jim snarled.
Graydon stared in shock. He'd never heard Mr. Brightman curse. Mike raised an eyebrow and stared at Jim, waiting for his next words.
"That explains the lawyer! And that certified bundle in the mail! Their ridiculous offer, way more than this place is worth! Our refusal to sell must be some real threat to their plans. That's the only thing that makes sense!" Jim exclaimed.
"It explains something else, Mr. Brightman," Graydon interrupted. "I wasn't going to tell anybody, because it might get Patch in trouble, but there was a guy sneaking around the edge of his place with binoculars. Patch said he tried to confront the man but he ran away."
"Did something happen?" Mike asked, with a troubled frown.
"That's the part I didn't want to tell anybody. After the third time Patch caught the guy snooping around, he 'dusted' him with a bark shot. I came along right after. Patch was chopping away the bullet track that blew open the side of the pine tree the guy was standing beside!"
"Damn!" Jim swore again. "Sergeant Patterson could be pushed pretty far before he pushed back, but when he pushes back, Katie bar the door! He never did anything half way!"
"Sergeant Patterson?" Graydon asked, his eyes wide.
"Yes, he served with us," Mike answered. "He was my best sergeant. I was one of Colonel Jim's company Captains. That was before you were born, Graydon, long before."
"Well, he must be a pretty darned good shot, because from his barn up to that tree is over a hundred yards. He skinned the side of that tree like nothing I've seen. It must have been real close to that guy's face to shred him up like it did. He bled big drops and left a trail when he ran away!"
"I don't doubt it," Jim said. "He grew up in the Appalachian hills carrying a squirrel rifle. The men he trained said Patch could drive nails from a hundred yards with any of their service rifles."
"But could he get in big trouble if the sheriff found out?"
"Oh, yes, no doubt. But who's going to report him? I have a feeling that fellow wishes he hadn't run away the first time Patch tried to confront him. The real question is, what was he looking for?"
"That's Mister Kendricks place... Purdy's place where Patch lives, isn't it? And I stopped at Purdy's place to drop off a half dozen jars of Mom's special chokecherry jelly she made for him. And he said I was a lot more welcome than the fat lawyer who tried to push his way into his yard last week! He said something about wanting to buy some of Purdy's land. Purdy said he ran the guy off. He was pretty upset that somebody was poking into his business, so he didn't give the guy a chance to say anything more about it. I get a feeling that it's all linked," Graydon said. "It's got to be connected with the spying at Patch's place, and your problem, and all the papers that's got Mom so upset at the Ranger office!"
“No, shot at. There’s a difference.”
“Obviously there’s a difference. So he wasn’t shot, then?”
“No, not shot. But he was badly hurt.”
“How the hell did that happen?”
“Bark. Bark and wood splinters in his face and neck.”
Bertrand Adams almost slammed his phone down in frustration. Instead he gritted his teeth, took a steadying breath, stared up at his Denver office ceiling in supplication, and in his most unctuous, witness-questioning manner, he began again.
“Stop, please. This is getting us nowhere. Simons, start from the beginning and don’t stop until you’ve told me the whole story. I’ll try not to interrupt you. Alright?”
“Sure, boss. Anyway, Martin, that’s the special investigator you guys sent here, he was scoping out that dirty old Arky, the goat man, and the guy spotted him and tried to run him down, but he got away. So the next time, it was okay, he got a good chance to inventory things and watch the old guy before he got spotted, but then the third time he got shot at.”
“GAWDAMMIT!” Adams screamed into the phone. “Can’t you even speak coherently?” he raged. “Just STOP! Stop right there!”
“Hell, boss... I’m just tryin’ to say...”
“NO! You’re not. You’re about as coherent as a cub bear with honey on its dick! So let me ask you very simply, did Patch Patterson take a shot at our investigator?”
“Well, nobody’s exactly sure... ”
“SHIT!” Adams screamed again. He slammed his handset down into its cradle, snatched up the entire phone and hurled it against the wall. It snapped the cord and impacted so hard it shattered and fell to the floor in pieces.
“BEVERLY!” He screamed for his secretary.
“Yes, boss?” She poked her head around his office door.
“Fire Simons! That idiot in Winthrop. Fire the whole damn bunch of them. Terminate them immediately and pay them off. But first, get me one of our local private investigators. One from our ‘preferred’ list. And bring my private bottle, the one you hide in your desk drawer. And two glasses. I’ve got to share this with somebody so it might as well be you. Hurry. I’m not sure how much longer I can hold myself together!”
Beverly ducked out of sight. She waved her assistant over to her desk and relayed Adams’ order to fire the Winthrop watchers. She grabbed her Rolodex and pulled the first card that opened on the P.I. section. Then she snatched the bottle and two glasses.
One small shot and I’m out of there. He drinks three and his sweaty hands start creeping around. This is the third time in two weeks. I doubt if he’s going to survive this project!
Jaydee Simons, Ron Lester, and Spud Colbert sat around Jaydee’s trailer Friday morning, grumbling and drinking beer. They’d been at it for awhile, judging by the number of cans scattered around their feet. A pile of cigarette butts spilled out of an ashtray onto a littered coffee table. Spud snatched a half-gone butt off the table surface. It had burned a long scorch track beside several others. He dropped it into an empty beer can.
“D’ya believe that chicken-shit outfit? Firin’ us? Shit! I tried to tell that fat-ass lawyer what that dirty goat-man did, and he screamed at me an’ hung up. Next thing, this bitch calls and we’re all fired!” Jaydee complained.
“But we’re gonna get our checks, right?” Spud asked.
“Well, yeh... but there won’t be any more after that. I don’t know about you guys, but my unemployment checks are a real bitch to git goin’ again. And they’ve cut Louisie’s hours back at the Burger Shack again. Shit, man, it’s gonna git tight!” Jaydee whined.
“This is Friday, right?” Ron belched, reaching out to grab another beer while tossing his empty over his shoulder.
“Hey, watch that, asshole! That 'empty' sprayed beer on the wall!” Jaydee whined.
“Sorry, but I’m askin’... this is Friday, ain’t it?” Ron growled.
“Yeh, it’s Friday all day. So what?”
“So them two ol’ bastards come to town on Fridays in that freakin’ rattletrap truck. It's still early enough we can catch ‘em on the road out there. We can get a little payback, maybe. We can have a little fun with ‘em, too. Beats the shit out of sittin’ around here, cryin’ in our beer!”
Patch braked the ancient Ford truck to a clattering stop at Purdy’s cabin. Purdy scuttled down from his back porch, flipped up the gate latch, and scurried to reach up and yank open the truck door. He hopped up onto the broad running board and swung himself onto the horse-hair padded bench seat. His eyes barely cleared the dashboard to peer through the lower few inches of the old plate-glass windshield.
Patch engaged the shift lever, eased out the clutch, and amid a thump-pop, bang-clatter from the antique four-cylinder engine, the truck lurched forward down the gravel road that ran straight for a mile before reaching the river bend, and another three miles to town.
“Lookit that big ol’ sumbitch,” Jaydee yelled, behind the wheel of his car. Spud rode shotgun beside him; Ron sat in the back seat, spinning the cylinder of his .38 calibre revolver, peering down at the round-nosed bullets visible in the cylinder face.
“That’s one hell of a dust cloud, too!” Spud yelled. “What’cha gonna do, Jaydee?”
“We’re gonna cut ‘em off and scare the shit out of ‘em, that’s what we’re gonna do!” Jaydee yelled.
“Damn straight!” Ron mumbled, latching the pistol frame and giving the cylinder another spin. “I think I’m gonna kill me an old Ford truck, that’s what I’m gonna do.”
Half a mile up the straight-away Jaydee spun the wheel and braked to a hard stop cross-wise in the road to block the on-coming truck. The three of them bailed out of the sedan and took up positions beside it. Patch barely got the Model A braked to a halt to avoid hitting the car. He and Purdy stared, unable to guess what the three men wanted with them.
“Hey, you ol’ bastards! Going to town? Shee-it, I don’t think so!” Jaydee yelled. “Hey, goat-man, you dirty ol’ coot, you the one that popped off that shot that cut up Wendell’s face? I bet it was you, alright. Well, you messed up, ol’ man. We’re gonna mess up yer truck, and there ain’t nothin’ you can do about it!”
Jaydee leaped forward with a heavy tire iron in his hand and he slammed it against Patch’s door, beating a big crease into the sheet metal. He lifted it again and smashed the door window. The plate glass shattered. Patch raised his arm barely in time. Blood ran from cuts on his arm, his face and neck.
Spud ran to the other side of the truck and clubbed the passenger door, then he leaped onto the running board and began beating down on the cab top, tearing and ripping the tarred fabric roof panel above Purdy’s head.
Ron stood by the car hood, watching, his pistol tucked in his waist-band. Jaydee and Spud continued pounding on the truck cab, moving from the door panels to the big bat-wing fenders, and the folding hood panels. Patch and Purdy hunkered down as low as they could in their seats, covering themselves against shards of broken glass.
Winded, Jaydee and Spud backed away, breathing hard and admiring the damage they’d done.
“Hey, have you had enough fun yet?” Ron yelled at his friends.
“Yeah, for a minute. But we ain’t done. I’m thinkin’ we need to pull them two out and thump ‘em a little,” Spud yelled back.
“Well, hold on. I’m gonna kill me a truck!” Ron hollered, pulling his pistol out. He fired into the truck radiator, theatrically jerking the pistol up high after each shot, then dropping it down to shoot again. He was striking a pose, bracing his off arm with his hand against his hip. Steam erupted under the hood; rusty hot water gushed out to spill on the road. His shots were scattered, his drunken aim wild. The truck windshield shattered. Purdy yelped in pain.
“Oh, shit! You crazy asshole! You shot him!” Jaydee yelled in fear. “Get your ass in the car. We’re outta here!” Jaydee grabbed Spud and shoved him in the car and jammed himself behind the wheel.
“Ron, you crazy son of a bitch! Get yer ass in here or get left!”
Jaydee slammed the car into reverse, spun the wheel, accelerated into a hard turn and got straightened out. In a minute they were gone with nothing but a dust cloud hanging behind them.
Purdy moaned; Patch scrambled to pull Purdy’s jacket open to press a wadded-up bandana against the wound. Blood flowed from an ugly hole in Purdy’s chest, just under his left shoulder.
Graydon gasped and clutched his left shoulder. The flash of sudden pain was unbearable. His knees weakened, buckled, and he spun to the floor.
Jim Brightman was first to race across the room to reach him. Graydon lay shaking, his body convulsing, his eyes rolled back and showing nothing but white. Jim grabbed Graydon’s cheeks, popping his jaw down to check that he wouldn’t swallow his tongue. Graydon’s head rose and fell, trying to thump against the carpet of the Brightman’s living room. His heels hammered on the floor.
“Mike, what’s happening to him?” Jim yelled.
“Vision! An empathic attack! Somebody real close to him is hurt, maybe life-threatening! We’ve got to move, fast. Let me take his head. I think I can pull him out of it,” Mike explained.
Jim pulled back and shifted around to hold Graydon’s thrashing legs. Mike leaned over, his face very close to Graydon’s contorted face. He barked guttural phrases in a tongue Jim had never heard. Graydon slowed his thrashing but his eyes remained unseeing, still in shock.
Again Mike barked the phrases, sharp and commanding. Graydon’s eyes rolled down. He gasped, his chest heaved. He stared up at Mike. Then his right hand shot across to clutch his left shoulder. He opened his mouth wide and he wailed in agony. Vi came running from the kitchen, her face ashen and frightened.
Mike lunged to grab his beaded medicine bag resting against the chair where he’d been sitting moments before. He pulled out a small pouch. Swinging back, he waited a moment until Graydon gasped for breath. He dropped a large pinch of greenish herbal powder into Graydon’s mouth and forced it closed while repeating his guttural commands again.
Graydon went limp.
“That poor boy!” Vi cried. “What happened?”
“He’s not a boy, Vi!” Jim barked. “He’s a man, and Mike said he’s having a vision. Somebody important to us is dying! We’ve got to move! Mike, can you bring him around?”
“Yes, in a minute. Jim, get your aid kit, the big one, and some blankets. Fast! Put them in Vi’s car. We’ll need to move out very soon now. Vi! Call Doc Jameson in Twisp. Tell him we’ll be bringing in a serious trauma case. Have him standing by. We hope to be there in a half-hour. He’ll want his nurse. Don’t take any excuses, Vi! Tell him it will be life or death and he’ll have to stabilize the patient for probable further transport. Ok?”
“Of course,” she replied. She scrambled back to the kitchen for the telephone.
“You’re sure about all that?” Jim asked, incredulous.
“Yes. I’m getting his vision. It’s bad. It’s a gunshot and the loss of blood and shock are very bad. We’ve got to go now!”
Mike pulled Graydon to his feet, grabbed their coats and wrapped Graydon in his, then began pushing him toward the door. Jim had raced ahead, grabbing up a military-grade first aid kit and a stack of blankets.
They raced the car down the switchback grade from the ranch, fish-tailing around the sharp curves. They burst out onto the Wolf Creek road and Jim accelerated sharply, struggling to keep the car under control on the rutted, washboard surface.
“There, ahead. That’s Patch’s truck!” Mike cried. Jim braked the big sedan hard, sliding to a stop. The damage was obvious; steam still rolled out from under the hood. Shattered glass lay scattered everywhere. Patch was leaning over Purdy, holding him upright, his big, bloody hand pressing a blood-soaked, wadded bandana against Purdy’s chest.
“Thank Gawd!” Patch called. “He’s about bled out. I tried... I got nuthin’ to stop it good enough,” he cried.
“Jim,” Mike ordered, seeing the bloody gashes on Patch’s face and hands, “take Patch to the car. Get those lacerations cleaned and bandaged. Keep him there. I’ll take over with Purdy!”
“Right! Patch, you did good. You’re hurting. Come over here with me,” Jim ordered. Patch numbly released his old friend and stiffly eased down from the seat, leaving a bloody trail from his cuts.
“Graydon,” Mike called. “Grab Purdy’s legs and swing them out the door, carefully. Hold his ankles up on your shoulders. He’s going shocky; we need to elevate his legs.
Mike reached into his belt sheath and pulled out his knife. He tugged the shoulders of Purdy’s denim jacket and zipped the knife down each sleeve, laying them open and pulling it free. He peeled back the left side of his blood-soaked shirt and cut it free to expose Purdy’s bare chest and the wound. He ran his hand behind, feeling no exit wound. The slug is still in there!
He reached down to the floorboard where he’d set the aid kit, popped its lid and grabbed wound powder and a big bandage pack. That went on the bullet wound. He grabbed a rolled wrapping and laid it across Purdy’s chest, over his left arm, then underneath his back and across and up the other side, back to his arm. He got four good wraps that would hold the bandage pack in place and secure Purdy’s arm and shoulder from moving. He pinned the end down with a metal clasp.
“Graydon, we can move him to the back seat of the car. I’ve got him as secure as I can make it. You stay with his legs. Lay him out flat, then slide under his lower legs. I’ll sit at his head.”
“Right. Whenever you’re ready!”
“Jim, are you done with Patch?”
“Yes. He’s almost out, but he’s okay.”
Great. You drive. We’ll be in back. Purdy’s out. His pulse is thready but there. I can’t guess how much blood he’s losing internally. He’s pretty shocky. There’s not much more we can do with what we got. Head for Twisp!
They piled in. Graydon draped several blankets over Purdy and lifted his legs into his lap. Mike kept a worried watch on Purdy’s pulse and breathing. Jim drove fast but under control. In two miles, they reached the paved road and Jim pressed the accelerator to the floor; he turned on the headlights and as he saw oncoming traffic he repeatedly toed the high beam switch to alert them of an emergency situation, warning them to stay clear. Traffic was light.
Elapsed time: fifteen minutes to grab the kit at the ranch and get to the victim; six minutes to stabilize and load and get underway; eleven minutes to drive four miles to Winthrop and another nine miles to Twisp. Two minutes to unload and get Purdy onto Doc Jameson’s gurney in his office and begin a plasma IV. He lived.
“Gawdammit, Brightman,” Doc Jameson grumbled. “I’m gonna charge you a whole damned side of beef for this! How the hell did you know enough to have Vi call ahead, before you even got to Purdy?”
“Family secret, Doc. And don’t feel left out. You’d never believe me if I told you, and for sure if you did believe it, you’d wish you’d never heard it. So just leave it be. And make that a side of beef for Nurse Emily. She’s a marvel. How the hell did you get so lucky, anyway?”
“I had to promise to marry her! Imagine, two old fools getting hitched. I’m past sixty; she’s... well, let’s say she’s a bit past ‘cheerleader’ age. So that’s TWO sides of beef we’ve got coming, then?”
“A promise is a promise, Doc. Better rent an extra locker at the freezer plant. So how’s he going to do?”
“It was a race, for sure, between St. Peter fittin’ him for a halo or Satan measurin’ him for a tail. It was pretty damned close. He’s old, scrawny, and tough. I think he’s got a fair chance. You do know that we’re gonna have him flown to Deaconess Hospital in Spokane in the morning. Molly Brubaker’s gonna take him in her Cessna 180. She’s got it fitted as sort of an air ambulance. Emily will go with her to keep an eye on his vitals,” Doc explained.
“Weather will be good?”
“Molly says ‘real good.’ No problems.”
“So... how about Patch? His cuts?” Jim asked.
“After Emily got him scrubbed up she went through half a dozen wash cloths on his face alone, and near to half a bottle of antiseptic soap. Christ, Jim, don’t those old coots ever get near water other than the spring floods? Anyway, he’ll look a bit like the starring monster from a Frankenstein film with all that stitching on his face and neck, but he’ll heal up okay.”
“Good enough. Where is he now?”
“We knocked him out with a strong sedative. He’s sleeping in Room Two. I’d like to keep him here overnight. He’s had a hard go of it; he needs sleep more than anything. Be here at nine in the morning. No doubt he’ll be bellowing for breakfast and coffee. I’ll turn him over to you then. And Jim? For heaven’s sake, get him a bath, a haircut, and a clean set of clothes. We already cut off his long underwear and slid him into a clean set of scrubs. Emily used a stick to take those long-johns out to the burn barrel!”
“Nine a.m. Got it. We’ll bring some clothes with us,” Jim grinned.
“I’m warning you, Jim. Don’t be late. If I have to listen to that old fart bitch and moan, I won’t take beef. I’ll charge you real money!”
“Okay! I’m warned. We’ll see you in the morning!”
“Mr. Adams, we employ you to prevent exactly the sort of impending complications I’m beginning to sense from our new project. In concise terms, please explain what is going on out there? One of our most critical landowners was shot. It appears, Mr. Adams, that you may have lost control.”
Bertrand Adams had never met Augustus Atwood, Chairman and CEO of Alpine-Colorado Corporation. He had never been invited to Atwater’s offices. His only contact had been a distant meeting with a second-level assistant, and a telephone confirmation of his engagement for the Virginian Ridge project. He felt a cold rivulet of sweat running down his back. His hand shook; he squeezed his telephone handset so intently that his stubby fingers turned white at their knuckles.
“S-sir, I... uh, that is... we had nothing... nothing whatsoever to do with that attack. Those men... thugs, really... we had fired them. They had no association, no role... nothing to link them to our project.”
“I understand that you employed them, Mr. Adams. You accepted a recommendation and approved their selection. In fact, you terminated their employment barely a half day before they attacked and wounded not only our prime property owner, but also a close friend and associate of his in the same incident. Is my understanding of the event correct, Mr. Adams?”
Adams felt an urge to get on his knees under his desk to begin digging a hole in the carpet for himself. Fleeting visions of ruin and impoverishment flashed through his mind.
“Th-that is... is essentially correct, sir.”
“I trust that you will take corrective measures, Mr. Adams. I extend this opportunity to repair the situation only because our original purpose for employing your firm is still valid: until our various permits and property acquisitions are in place, we require a certain separation of identities, as we explained in our earlier agreement. I must caution you, however, that if the situation in that location continues to spiral out of control, we will be forced to intercede. I trust that you understand the probable consequences. Do you, Mr. Adams? Do you understand?”
On the second day after the shooting, a pair of Okanogan County Sheriff’s deputies rounded up Jaydee Simons, Ron Sylvester, and Spud Colbert, arresting them on charges of assault and attempted murder. A local attorney hired by an assistant from Adams’ law offices counseled them at the county jail.
“Mr. Patterson positively identified you three; it looks open and shut, gentlemen. The only question is how much time the three of you will spend in prison. Do any of you dispute that fact?”
“Yeh, I do,” Jaydee grumbled. “Spud ’n I had nothin’ to do with the shootin’. It was that asshole Ron. It was his gun and he yanked it outta his belt and started blastin’ away. Me ’n Spud didn’t do nothin’ but bang on their truck a little. This is a bunch of bullshit!”
“Listen to me very carefully, you ignoramus!” Darrell Fife hissed through his clenched teeth. “You were there. Your friend Spud was there. The law considers you all equally involved and equally culpable. It does not matter who held the gun or who pulled the trigger. The three of you will go down together. Is that clear?”
“Yeh, whatever...” Jaydee grumbled. “It’s still a bunch of bullshit!”
Fife ignored the protest. He stared at the three of them until they stopped whining and grumbling. When he had their fidgeting attention, he explained the ‘Gospel of Bertrand Adams’ to them.
“Collectively the three of you don’t have enough cash or assets to defend a jaywalking ticket. Each of you faces a possible fifteen years in state prison, and that’s if you get lucky with a kind-hearted judge. Or you could get thirty years, each, if Mr. Kendricks relapses and dies. You’d be represented by a court-appointed public defender. Let’s face it. You won’t be at the top of his or her 'favorites' list once the facts of your case become clear. You’ll be lucky if you're allowed to throw yourselves on the mercy of the court. So here’s the deal. Pay attention and keep your mouths shut. I’ll make this offer only once!”
Fife outlined the conditions of a confidential agreement that would provide competent legal counsel for the three men. They would never discuss or reveal their brief employment by the Virginian Ridge project. They’d forget the name of the project and the names and faces of anyone associated with it. They would accept a plea bargain arranged by their legal counsel who would also argue for first-offense consideration during the sentencing phase.
“We’ll pay sufficient support to your families to keep them housed and fed,” Fife added. “If you don’t have a family, the payment will go into personal savings for you. There’ll be no mention of this arrangement or the support payments. When you get out a few years from now, we’ll pay a small resettlement gratuity. And don’t get any ideas about holding out for more. You’ve got nothing to bargain with. If any of you think that running your mouth off will get you more, I can assure you that it will. It’ll get you into a world of permanent hurt. I advise you not to screw with us.
“Trust me,” Fife continued. “You have no idea what you’ve gotten yourselves into. If you take another wrong step I can promise that you’ll fall into shit so deep you’ll never see daylight again. So shut up and settle down. You’re in for a long ride but at least you’ll have a chance to survive it.”
“Brightman, I hear it was you, you and Peterson and the kid... you three saved me.” Purdy lay propped on a pillow wedged against the elevated head of his hospital bed. He seemed shrunken, withered, lost among the bandages and glaring-white sling that supported his left arm.
“Not entirely, Purdy. Patch did a lot to keep you from bleeding out. You know he was hurt pretty badly himself. His face, his hands...”
“Yeh, durned ol’ fool. He coulda bled out, too. How’s he doin’?”
“Fine, just fine. We got him some help from a ranch family up-river. Their kids come down mornings and evenings to milk and feed and help him with chores. Truth be told, I think he’s loving it.”
“Has a soft spot fer kids, he does. He healin’ up okay?”
“Yes. Doc Jameson’s gal, Nurse Emily, sews a real neat stitch. Doc joked that Patch could star in a horror film, but I don’t agree. She sewed him up so neat that when the swelling goes down, he’ll show hardly any scars at all,” Jim said.
“Won’t help his looks any, will it?” Purdy started to laugh but a weak cough choked him off. His sunken chest heaved once, jerked, and he gasped in pain. “Damn... it sure as hell does hurt when I laugh, don’t it?” he wheezed.
“There was a sheriff's deputy here yesterday,” he added. “T’was a strange thing, he told me. He said that Doc Jameson claimed it was a near miracle that your Vi called him before you found us, to have him get ready for somebody near to dyin’. That if she hadn’t, and he hadn’t got stuff ready, I might’uv died. And I don’t remember too much after I got shot, but I do mind that it seemed like only minutes later you got to us and Peterson slapped that big handful of bandages on me. How’d that come to happen, Brightman?”
“Truth be told, Purdy, it was Graydon. Him, and then Mike.”
“Yeh, Mike... I always called him Peterson. So’s I wouldn’t mess up and call him... well, anyway. So how’d the kid know?”
“Mike said he had a vision. He took it so damned hard, feeling you being shot and hurting, that I thought he was dying himself.”
“Truth? How’d it happen?”
“It was like a fit. He fell. His eyes rolled back, his legs kicked, and then he screamed. Damn near scared poor Vi to death. Nearly gave me a heart stoppage! Mike brought him around; he barked something at him in some language and dropped some herb powder in his mouth. Then Mike said he felt it too and knew you and Patch were hurt. So we came running.”
Purdy lay back and closed his eyes for a time. Jim thought the old man was dozing, but he wasn’t. Purdy grunted. His glittering black eyes popped open and he grabbed Jim’s hand with a fierce grip.
“Thanks, neighbor! When I sold you and Vi that dryland ranch, you said that you’d always owe me a favor for the favor I did you two. Now I’m gonna call it in. I’ve got to talk to Pete... Mike, fer a few minutes. Then I’m gonna ask the kid, Graydon, to take on somethin’ that I think’s gonna make you men think I’m crazy. I’m not. I been layin’ here, thinkin’ hard about where I’ve been and where I’m goin’ and you tellin’ me about that vision the kid had. It’s decided me. So I’m gonna ask you, Brightman, to go along with me. I’m gonna lay a big burden on the kid, and I want you to promise that you’ll help him. Don’t fuss me over it. Just go along and help the kid anyway you can. Can you do it?”
“You’re not going to tell me what it is, are you?”
“Nope. Not until after I lay it on the kid. You gotta take this on faith, neighbor.”