Author, Photographer, Researcher, Artist, Adventurer and Buccaneer Extraordinaire

“Or at least that’s the plan each morning after coffee.”

DL Tolleson.com

THIS UNNAMED GEOLOGICAL formation is the likely result of wind, rain and time eroading away surface material to expose what at one time would have lava (magma) that had cooled and solidified. Copyright © 2010 by DL Tolleson. All Rights Reserved.
COMING INTO OR out of the Chisos Mountains, this is the northwest view and is several miles south of Panther Junction and the headquarters for Big Bend National Park. Copyright © 2010 by DL Tolleson. All Rights Reserved.
THE CLARET CUP is covered in barbed spines and blooms a reddish, cup-shaped flower from about April to June or July in Big Bend National Park. Copyright © 2010 by DL Tolleson. All Rights Reserved.
THIS VIEW FROM a formation called, “The Window,” looks out from the westside of the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend National Park. Copyright © 2010 by DL Tolleson. All Rights Reserved.
INDIAN HEAD MOUNTAIN and its southern region offers this “leaning” wall of geology at the western boundary of Big Bend National Park. The rocks of the foreground are boulders ranging from man-sized on up. Copyright © 2010 by DL Tolleson. All Rights Reserved.
MASSIVE AND TOWERING, this wall of the geology is at least a couple of hundrend feet high and situated in the Indian Head area of Big Bend National Park. Copyright © 2010 by DL Tolleson. All Rights Reserved.
WIDE-OPEN PANORAMAS and mountainous terrain such as this are routine along roadside in Big Bend National Park. Copyright © 2010 by DL Tolleson. All Rights Reserved.
THE SOUTHWEST SIDE of the Chisos Mountains, also known as the Chisos Mountain Basin and home to the lodge in Big Bend National Park. Copyright © 2011 by DL Tolleson. All Rights Reserved.
A FALLEN TREE is an impassable barrier in an otherwise debris-free dry riverbed in Big Bend National Park. Copyright © 2010 by DL Tolleson. All Rights Reserved.
INDIGENOUS TO TEXAS, New Mexico and Arizona, Javelinas in Big Bend National Park genetically differ from swine. Copyright © 2010 by DL Tolleson. All Rights Reserved.
LOST MINE TRAIL in Big Bend National Park, looking southward over Juniper Canyon, the Chisos Mountain’s Northeast Rim and into Mexico. Copyright © 2010 by DL Tolleson. All Rights Reserved.
A TREE SILHOUETTED against the night sky as seen from Chisos Basin in Big Bend National Park. Copyright © 2010 by DL Tolleson. All Rights Reserved.
THIS VIEW EAST of a volcano is an illusion of the setting sun streaming through the Chisos Basin area behind Casa Grande Peak in Big Bend National Park. Copyright © 2010 by DL Tolleson. All Rights Reserved.
WRIGHT MOUNTAIN in background at Big Bend National Park. Copyright © 2010 by DL Tolleson. All Rights Reserved.
A VIEW WESTWARD after sundown from the Indian Head area of Big Bend National Park. Copyright © 2010 by DL Tolleson. All Rights Reserved.
A CAMERA COMPENSATION for the limited light after sundown provides this view westward from the Indian Head area of Big Bend National Park. Copyright © 2010 by DL Tolleson/Camera One. All Rights Reserved.
SANTA ELENA CANYON after sunset, as seen from the Chimneys in Big Bend National Park. Copyright © 2010 by DL Tolleson/Camera One. All Rights Reserved.

Publication History: The Bull. Copyright © 1994, 1998, 2009 by DL Tolleson. All Rights Reserved. Excerpts from this work are permissible if author attribution is included. However, beyond this no part of this material may be reproduced in any form or by any means without written permission from the author.

Tolleson, DL. “The Bull.”
DL Tolleson, 1998.
The Devil & The Bull.

Tolleson, DL. “The Bull.”
DLTolleson.com, 2009.
http://www.dltolleson.com/fiction/bull.php.

Tolleson, DL. “The Bull.”
TheLighthousePress.com, 2016.
http://www.thelighthousepress.com/dltolleson.com/fiction/bull.php.

Description: Short Fiction—10,383 words. Short story adaptation of the screenplay, North of Wild Creek, by Dean Reading

Commentary: Being about five times longer than commercially viable short fiction, my first of two failed attempts to published The Bull was an effort in razzle-dazzle. In soliciting a New York-based western-themed magazine, I wrote that my associate, Dean Reading, could hand-deliver the submission. We both figured that would be impressive enough to bump it to the top of the solicited submissions. Dean did indeed deliver the story, walking a good ten or more blocks out of his way to do so. Regardless of any special attention we may have garnered, I’m fairly certain the story’s length was an insurmountable obstacle.

Dean’s screenplay (from which I developed this short story) was about a down-on-his-luck Western-themed lawyer and in that idea I saw an opportunity to fulfill two desires. One desire was to convey that sometimes “doing the right thing” is neither comfortable nor even desirable. But it is the right thing nonetheless. And the second desire was to emulate some of what I loved in William Faulkner’s short story, The Bear.

It was necessary to alter the screenplay’s protagonist from a contrite embezzler to a man facing the ramifications of having remained faithful to principles. This involved creating the details of a sizable back-story absent from the screenplay and thus altering motivations moving the plot forward. I wanted to show that in a materialistic world of relevant truth, doing the right thing could be devastating on the materialistic side of the ledger. A major issue in the story is attorney/client confidentiality. Unlike in the screenplay, the short story’s protagonist demonstrates a history of doing what a layman might think, “morally right,” but what is actually, “legally wrong,” due to an attorney’s ethical responsibility in the attorney/client relationship. In short, how a man deals with the cost of opposing moralities replaces the typical story of redemption here. Working this into the story, trimming fluff and making the weather a harbinger of the plot makes for a story that beats with a different heart than the screenplay, but is no less dependent upon the inspiration of that screenplay. Dean once said to me, “You could change a few names and details and claim it all your own.”

While that was partly true it also, coincidentally, presented a moral dilemma not unlike that demonstrated in the short story. Change a few names and places and my little novella is hardly recognizable as the screenplay from which it draws inspiration. But the embryo of the screenplay is still there and denying that was—well—wrong.

Besides, crafting literature without regard for the story that might tell itself is a tragic loss. And, it is an effort not unlike that described by Michelangelo when he reported, “I saw an angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” Or even when he was more explicit in saying, “In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.”

The Bull is not a work of art on par with anything wrought by the hand of Michelangelo—but it is also too delicate a thing to destroy by hewing away that which gives it life.

—DL Tolleson

THE BULL
DL Tolleson

I

NORTH of Big Bend the Texas thunderheads stretched across the horizon. As if indecisive, the pelting storm front stalled within sixty miles of the small town of Clearview. Nestled at the base of the northern mountain range, Clearview was the storm’s last man-made obstacle before passing into the desert and on to Mexico.

At noon the sky was a ghostly dim liquid gray. It was a day unlike any Cullen Kincade Jr. had ever seen—and he prided himself as an avid weather watcher. He sat on the porch of his Clearview Feed & Dry Goods store, alternating his attention between the storm and a Cadillac across the road. An El Dorado from out of town was as unusual as the storm hovering out on the prairie. The mud-encrusted car had hobbled into Slim’s Gas & Repair a scant fifteen minutes earlier. The weary travelers were standing outside Slim’s office, watching the mechanic bumbling beneath the car hood.

Kincade dropped his feet from the porch railing and stood. His worn straw hat and scuffed boots gave him the stature of a man more sizable than his five foot ten inches. The 63 year-old storeowner had the craggy face and protruding stomach of a field hand nearing his mid-seventies. He had aged fast, Kincade was fond of saying, to spend his old age slow. Ironically, Kincade had looked the same for the last thirty-five years.

Crossing the windy road, Kincade tipped his hat to the travelers. The man was tall, distinguished and sported a handlebar mustache. Even though his brown hair was sprinkled with gray, Kincade figured him to be in his early to mid-thirties. Dressed very uptown, albeit wrinkled, the girl was a typical big-city teenager. With features vaguely similar to the man, her hair fell in a sandy disarray about her shoulders.

Kincade looked over to the car. A pair of legs in coveralls appeared to be leaning against the front grill. The rest of the man was buried under the hood.

“Any soda in the machine, Slim?” Kincade called.

“Oughta’ be an orange or two,” came a muffled voice from the engine.

Kincade moved to the garage’s repair bay and an old coke machine just inside.

Slim finally reappeared from under the car hood. True to his name, Barney “Slim” Davis was as thin as a rail. A shock of red hair sprouted from his gaunt head much in the way a clump of weeds stubbornly clings to a cracked sidewalk.

“Jest the fan belt,” Slim announced, wiping his hands on a rag. “I got one in stock, I’m pretty sure.”

The distinguished man met Slim in front of the car; “Great! How much?”

“Oh,” Slim drawled, furrowing his eyebrows with thought, “‘bout twelve, thirteen bucks. That’s installed and all told.”

“Hitch ‘er up,” the taller man said, giving the go-ahead.

Slim headed for the repair bay.

“Say,” the distinguished man called, “how do I get to the Benteen place from here?”

Slim, stabbed a thumb toward Kincade: “Culley’s the direction man.”

Kincade moved from the repair bay, switching his soft drink to his left hand. He reached out to shake hands. “Culley Kincade—I own the store over there.”

“McCade,” the distinguished man introduced himself, shaking hands, “Cody McCade—I own the car. This here’s my daughter, Amanda.”

Kincade smiled at the car remark and tipped his hat to the young girl. He looked to the taller man again, his voice becoming contemplative: “McCade. . . Sounds a might familiar.”

“I’m Travis Benteen’s nephew.”

“Oh yeah,” Kincade exclaimed with reserve. “Seems like he’s mentioned you a time or two. Lawyer, ain’t ya?”

“Ex-lawyer,” McCade corrected.

“Hmm,” Kincade grunted, then: “Yeah, ol’ Travis was in the store this morning picking up extra supplies in case this blow washes out his only bridge into town. You vistin’ for awhile?”

“Awhile,” McCade answered.

“That’s good,” the storeowner said with a nod. “Travis could use a little help out there. The girls ain’t much use, being so small and all, and poor ‘ol Gil and Jacy work their hearts out.”

McCade nodded as if he knew exactly to whom the storeowner was referring.

“Course everybody’s hurtin’,” Kincade went on, “‘cept maybe the bank in Marathon. But heck, never knew a bank to hurt much ‘less it was robbed or some such.”

“I reckon.”

Kincade laughed. “Here I am jawing your ear off and not tellin’ ya’ a thing ya’ want ta’ hear. You’re wantin’ to get out to ol’ Travis—let’s see now, with all the new roads the state’s puttin’ in, it’s a heck of trip. . .”

By the time Kincade finished with the directions and his commentary, twenty minutes had past. McCade paid Slim and took the hand-written receipt.

“Anyways,” Kincade added, “you can’t miss it after you pass that gnarled birch tree the state ran the new gravel road by.”

“Oh,” McCade drawled with assurance, “I know that tree.” He shook Kincade’s hand again and added; “Thanks a lot.”

McCade and the girl disappeared into the car and the motor came to life. The car fell into gear and pulled onto the road leading into the foothills.

Returning from the garage, Slim spit a stream of chewing tobacco at the ground near Kincade’s feet: “Old friend of yours?”

“Nah,” Kincade answered, watching the car pull away. “Travis’ nephew. If I remember right, he did a lot of huntin’ up in the mountains when he was a young sprout.”

“Hmm,” Slim grunted. “Never knew Travis had such lofty kin.”

“Lofty?” the storeowner echoed, looking at Slim.

“That’s the lawyer fella, Cody McCade, ain’t it? The one that got that rich kid off all those murders a few months back.”

“I’ll be hanged,” Kincade mumbled. “I thought I knew his name from somewhere else. At any rate, he said he’s an ex-lawyer.”

Slim furrowed his eyebrows again; “How’da ya’ git to be an ex-lawyer?”

Watching the car disappear over a hill, Kincade removed his hat and scratched his head. “Darn good question.”

II

CODY McCade called the prosecution’s case a travesty and discrimination against wealth.

“In other words,” McCade said during his closing argument to the jury, “this boy’s been roped, hog-tied and branded for being in pastures he’s never even seen.”

The son of a wealthy Real Estate investor, Vincent Canlin III was charged with, among other things, seven counts of murder.

Manipulating courtroom and public opinion, McCade reversed the image and case against his client. Contradicting the prosecution, McCade painted a “down to earth” picture of Canlin III. Everything from his education to employment in his father’s company, Canlin III learned from the ground up.

“He is not,” McCade had said, “the spoiled offspring of wealthy parents that the prosecution implies.”

The obvious contradictions only underscored the prosecution’s already shaky circumstantial case. The police investigation was sloppy, the witnesses nil and the DNA testing was botched. The jury ate it up. At the end of a three-day trial, Vincent Canlin III was a free man.

It was front page news state-wide. It was also the next to last time Cody McCade would enter a courtroom as an attorney.

III

THEY arrived in time for dinner.

Always an extravagant affair, two more chairs were pushed up to the table. Long familiar with “unexpected visitors,” drifting cowhands and out-right gluttony, the Benteens always prepared enough food to satisfy a number of potential guests.

Afterward, Benteen’s daughter, two granddaughters and great niece, Amanda, cleared away the leftovers and dishes. Benteen, McCade and a cowhand named Gil Canfield moved out onto the large covered porch. Benteen struck a match and lit his after-dinner cigar. Leaning back in an old rocker, he joined the others in a silent appreciation of the mountains.

The crawling storm was being quickly disguised in a blanket of darkness. Having failed to make an appearance throughout the day, the sun’s absence at dusk seemed even more conspicuous. The blackening sky became an impenetrable mask of bleak clouds. The surrounding mountain range passed from purple shapes, to mere memory. Beyond the house, the night claimed all.

Benteen moved to just inside the door and flipped the porch light on. He shuffled back to the old rocking chair. In his mid-sixties, he wasn’t in the best of health. His stomach protruded slightly and, depending on the weather, he occasionally limped. At just over 6’ 2”, however, Travis Benteen was still a force with which to reckon.

“Jacy’s grown into a beauty,” McCade said of Benteen’s daughter.

“Yep,” Benteen agreed. “Grow’d her up, and taught everything she knew, jest so a damned fool could cheat on ‘er.”

No one responded.

“I can overlook a fella or gal, messin’ up onced or twiced—but Frank made a habit of it.”

“Whatever happened to that rascal, anyway?” McCade asked.

Benteen shrugged casually. “Jest disappeared, I ‘spect.”

“Got lost in the canyons, I reckon,” Canfield added while quietly whittling on a stick.

McCade nodded knowingly. A man who “jest disappeared” or “got lost in the canyons” was buzzard bait.

“How’s ranchin’ going?” McCade questioned, changing the subject.

“Bad.”

“Oh?”

“Had ta’ sell over a third of the herd to old man Burke last month.”

McCade ran the name “Burke” through his head several times. He finally connected the name to a beef processor northeast of Clearview. The man had run a business for as long as McCade could remember.

“You mean Justin Burke out of Marathon?” McCade quizzed.

Benteen nodded.

“He paid top dollar, too,” Canfield put in.

“He always was a straight shooter,” McCade noted.

“Yep,” Benteen agreed with a nod. “Burke didn’t even try and chisel me down. A good thing, too. Every cent paid a couple of bank notes and restocked the ranch.”

“Damn,” McCade swore. “It’s been that bad?”

“Bad enough we’re considering going after the Bull,” Canfield put in.

McCade looked from one to the other, then with concern said: “Old Romeo?”

“Yep,” Benteen confirmed.

“How in Sam Hill is that goin’ ta’ make you any money?”

“Big Mike offered twenty-five thousand for ‘em.”

“Mike Paxton? The Banker holding your note?”

“Yep,” Benteen answered.

“Why?”

“Mike Jr. had a little run in with Romeo. Stayed in a coma for nearly a week. Big Mike said enough’s enough.”

“Been any takers on the offer?” McCade asked.

“A few. Been a couple of fellas roamin’ around the area that folks say are bounty hunters, too.”

“Hmm,” McCade grunted, not seeing his daughter saunter out of the house and set down. “Twenty-five grand to kill Romeo. . . You seriously goin’ after ‘im.”

“Been mullin’ it over pretty hard,” Benteen answered. “It’d sure be better than takin’ a loan from Culley.”

“If Romeo don’t kill ya’.”

“That’s why I’m mullin’ it over so hard.”

“Dad,” came Amanda’s voice.

The men looked over to see the young girl sitting on the porch railing.

“Who’s Romeo?”

“The Devil on four legs,” McCade answered.

IV

THE Bull.

It loomed in Cody McCade’s memory as only a legend could: A fearless and timeless reality. Only a few had seen it, and even a lesser few had lived to tell of it.

Even before he was old enough to hunt the Bull, McCade had heard the stories of blood-thirsty rampages. The stories were from men who had seen the bodies of gored cowboys and passed the memory on. The stories had been told and retold until even the telling seemed an omen of fate; good or bad depended upon who was doing the telling.

As a teenager, McCade had sat with his father and Uncle Travis at summer campfires.

Back then there were always hired hands telling stories of the Bull. Under starlit nights, McCade would lean back with a full stomach and drowsily listen. It was a wonderful and exciting time sitting by his father and hearing of legends that still existed.

Mexican Joe, an old half-breed Indian had said the one thing McCade always remembered first and best.

“The Bull,” Joe had whispered at one of those campfires of his youth, “is Indian curse upon white man. The Bull dies, when no longer of use.”

Mexican Joe never elaborated or explained. Years later, when McCade returned on a visit from school, he came across Mexican Joe on the porch of Culley Sr.’s Feed & Dry Goods Store. In the course of their conversation, McCade reminded the old half-breed of his words and asked him what he had meant. The aging Mexican lifted his tired eyes and said: “You must live to understand.”

Mexican Joe clamed up again. A few days later McCade left for school, never again to see Joe alive.

But before that, during those summers of youth, McCade didn’t think about Mexican Joe’s curse. He was too busy chasing rabbits and begging his father and Uncle Travis to let him hunt the Bull. He was too young they said. So the summers passed—summers of stories and Bull hunts. Fences erected in the lower lands outside Clearview forced the Bull back into the mountains. But still, no one could find the Bull. At fifteen, McCade’s father allowed him on hunts with the older sons of neighboring ranchers. The ranchers, weary of the chase, began attributing some of the old wives tales to coyotes instead of the Bull. Most agreed it made more sense for a coyote to slaughter sheep. They still noticed however, several of their heifers birthing calves in the absence of stud bulls. Thus was born the Bull’s nickname: “Romeo.”

Then came the summer of McCade’s seventeenth birthday. Like the previous three years, he divided his time between chores, listening to the old timers playing dominoes in Culley Sr.’s Feed & Dry Goods Store and searching for Romeo. By this time however, the fever of years past had faded. The older boys with whom McCade had hunted, moved away, took on the responsibilities of their father’s ranches or settled down with wives. McCade was the only one left with, as his father put it, “the fire of adventure in his eyes.”

Two days previously he had searched the southeast fringes of Uncle Travis’ ranch through which meandered a gully called Wild Creek. That particular summer had been mild, and a muddy trickle of water still remained in the gully. When he found the tracks, he knew they were the Bull’s. Shaped like common hoof prints, they were nearly twice the normal size of even the largest of bulls. For three days he tracked the Bull around the outskirts of the ranch. At the end of each day sunset forced him to return to the ranch house. By the end of the fourth day he had circled the eastern side of Uncle Travis’s ranch and was in the unfenced flat lands. Having already ridden longer than intended, he was turning toward the ranch house, worried about making the trip in the dark.

Startled, his horse balked.

“Whoa, there, boy,” McCade said, calming the horse. He stood up in the saddle and looked around.

“Nothing but bushes out here boy,” he said to the horse. No sooner had he said the words, than the hairs on his neck stood up. He turned around, looking at the bushes thirty yards behind him. Something just wasn’t right. He dismounted and pulled his rifle from the saddle scabbard.

And then something very big and black emerged from the thicket. Cody McCade stood face to face with the Bull.

McCade blocked the surroundings out. He saw only the black void on four legs pawing the ground. In the fading light, he could just discern Romeo’s glistening eyes. Even at the shoulders, McCade judged him to be six foot.

The two stood staring. Then at last Romeo charged, his huge horns down.

McCade lifted the rifle and fired. . .

And fired again . . .

And again . . .

Then the gun jammed

“Crap!”

McCade turned to jump to his horse. The horse was gone.

“Crap! Crap!” McCade glanced back at Romeo barreling down.

McCade started running. For lack of anything better, he made a beeline for a small tree standing a mere fifty feet away.

With thundering hoofs at his back, McCade tossed the rifle and leaped. He grabbed a branch and pulled up.

Romeo sailed beneath, jerking his head up and slicing into the soft branch from which McCade was climbing.

The branch snapped, and McCade was dangling from another branch he had just grabbed.

Romeo was charging back.

“Crap! Crap! Crap!” McCade grunted in a panic. He hauled himself up as Romeo roared by, slicing another chunk from the tree.

Like a treed raccoon, McCade peered down to watch an insane monster venting an unearthly wrath on the tree.

It was fifteen minutes before Romeo decided McCade wasn’t coming down. He snorted and moved off.

Breathing a sigh of relief McCade leaned back. A peculiar odor suddenly caught his attention and he sniffed the air. After a couple more sniffs he looked down to the crotch of his pants.

“Oh,” he mumbled with understanding. “Crap.”

V

JACY Benteen caught her daughters at the corner of the house: “Kathy, Kimberly, do mommy a favor and finish hanging the clothes, okay?”

“Do we have’f ta’?” whined the sandy haired eight-year old.

“I want to,” the dark headed five-year-old chirped. “It’s fun!”

“You can’t even reach the clothes line, ding-a-ling,” Kathy came back.

“Just do the best you can,” Jacy said, moving toward the front porch. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

Jacy walked from beneath the greenhouse—if you could call a tin roof supported by 2x4 corner beams—a greenhouse. She used the “greenhouse” for hanging clothes during bad weather.

Amanda was sitting on the steps of the porch when Jacy walked up. Jacy sat down at an angle to the young girl.

“How’s it going?”

“Fine,” Amanda said dejected.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.”

“Worried about your father’s decision?”

Amanda sighed, pushing her perfectly styled hair back. Her blonde hair neatly curled under at her shoulders and Jacy had suppressed the urge to playfully call her “Barbie.” Amanda always seemed dressed just perfect, her blouses were always starched straight and her movements seemingly calculated. She was the epitome of refinement. And because Amanda managed all this without a trace of snobbery, Jacy admired her.

“It’s just that I’m not sure who he is anymore,” Amanda said.

“He’s the same.”

“No,” Amanda came back shaking her head. “You didn’t know him when we lived in the city. Remember that story about the Bull and the tree a couple of days ago?”

Jacy laughed. “Yeah.”

Amanda smiled a second then became serious. “I’ve known him all my life and he’s never told that story.”

“So?”

“And look at him,” Amanda said with a tilt of her head toward the corral. Culley Kincade, Slim Davis and Travis Benteen were seated on the top rail. Along with the mounted Gil Canfield they watched as McCade—wearing western wear—easily sent a lasso through the air. It landed perfectly on a corral post next to a stationary steer. There was a chorus of laughter.

“He’s nothing like the father I knew.”

“Is this bad?” Jacy ventured.

“I’m not saying that,” Amanda said, looking at the young woman across from her. Jacy was the picture of the American west. Her high cheekbones and dark eyes gave her the unsettled wild look. She was provocative without realizing it. Naturally Benteen and McCade were oblivious to her. But not, Amanda had realized, Canfield.

“Then what?” Jacy pressed. “You’ve always been proud of him? He made you feel special?”

“Yeah.” Amanda answered. “We would walk into a restaurant and people would look. He was always so sharp. Pressed shirts, cuff links. He was elegant—except for his stupid mustache.”

Jacy smiled.

“But now he’s. . . he’s a . . . cowboy.” She emphasized the last word.

Jacy remained quiet.

“I just don’t fit in here. And I’m surprised he does.”

“Your father was practically raised in those mountains there,” Jacy said, looking out beyond the corral. “Every summer he and your grandfather came up here and—well, basically played. I was about nine when he started law school and stopped coming every summer. But before that, your daddy would show up like one of those heroes in a western movie. He could ride, shoot and fight better than anybody.”

“Really?”

“Oh yeah. He was as much a part of this country as that darned bull he was always chasing.”

This time Amanda was quiet.

“The clothes don’t make the man—”

“The man makes the clothes,” Amanda finished. “I know.”

“All I’m saying is, judge him for who he is, not for what you see. He’s had a hard go of it.”

“I know.”

“I don’t think you really do,” Jacy said flatly.

Amanda looked at her.

“Your father was a lawyer—and a fine one according to everything I see and hear. The other night Daddy told me Cody practiced law like he had hunted for that bull.”

Amanda smiled.

“He said, and I quote, ‘in the courtroom, that boy was the bull.’”

“He was usually very determined,” Amanda admitted.

“You’re missing the point.”

“Really?” Amanda said plainly.

“Your father will never practice law again. He’s dead to it, Amanda. Everything he did, everything he worked for, had become and stood for, is gone. A man can’t be more dead than that.”

Amanda looked out at her father.

“You’ve got to realize he’s hurting. His life is shredded. Then your mother leaving like that—just up and leaving. . .” Jacy shook her head. “Even when your husband or wife treats you like dirt, at least they’re there. You have them, and you can lie to yourself. You can say ‘well times are hard on us’ or ‘they’re just having a bad day.’ But when they leave—when they’re just gone and you need them most. . . That hurts deep. So, so deep.”

Amanda looked as if she were about to be sick. “I just never thought about it.”

“Believe me, Amanda, we could use the money from capturing that ol’ bull, but that’s not why Dad’s all fired up to go. He’s going so Cody can do something.”

“Do something?”

“Yeah. Sometimes people, especially men, have to be busy—they have to just do something—anything. It helps them cope. That’s the real reason Dad talked Cody into the hunt. Just to get his mind and heart off all that worry and heartache. Your dad’s a big man, honey, but he’s still just a man.”

“God,” Amanda moaned, “I feel like such a heel.”

“Just support him.” Jacy smiled conspiratorially and lowered her voice as if conveying a secret: “I overheard him talking to Dad the other night. He said you’ve handled all this so well he wishes he could pin a medal on ya’.”

“If he only knew—”

“But he doesn’t,” Jacy cut in with her regular voice.

Jacy glanced to the “greenhouse” to see a sheet-covered Kathy chasing Kimberly. The damp sheet was dragging the ground.

“Booooooo,” Kathy bellowed at the laughing little girl. “I’m going to get yooouuu...”

“I’ve got to spank some little girls now,” Jacy said dryly and started after her daughters.

Amanda walked to the corral and climbed onto the railing. Everyone was laughing as a roped steer had just pulled McCade out of his saddle.

“Gil,” Benteen snapped as if seriously scolding, “I told you Cody here was rusty and to get Culley’s dumb ropin’ steers!”

“Damned,” Canfield said with a grin, “I thought you said Cody wanted to be ‘dusty.’”

As the men laughed, McCade had trouble keeping a straight and sour face. He made a show of brushing away the dirt.

“‘Sides, boss,” Canfield added in the middle of a belly laugh, “these ARE the dumb steers.”

It was, Amanda reflected, the first time she ever saw her father laugh until he had tears.

VI

THE sign said Slade’s Spirits, Sodas (when Culley is out) & Billiards. Like the other storefronts on Clearview’s main street, it had a large picture window framed in wood. And as everywhere else, dust from the desert mountains clung to the facade like a second paint job.

Two men, dressed differently as night and day, emerged from Slade’s, allowing the screen door to bang shut. They strolled over to the bench in front of the picture window. The well-dressed man, took a handkerchief and dusted off a place to sit. He shifted an empty Styrofoam cup to his left hand while doing so. The other man had sat without looking.

The well-dressed man, Clarence Hanes, sat down and sighed. Wearing a blinding white stanched shirt and khaki trousers, he appeared as far removed from the west as one could while still dressed in roper cut boots. Those immaculately polished boots appeared to be his only link to the west.

“What’da ya’ think?” Hanes said, with an obvious southern drawl.

The other man shrugged. “I think I’m tired.”

Neddles Bassett pulled his sweat stained felt hat over his eyes and leaned back. Everything about Bassett said he had just walked out of the desert—which was practically true. Had that not been the case, Bassett would have still looked the part. While his faded jeans and threadbare shirt were not dirty from want of cleanliness he never seemed to be “dressed up.” Bassett was the sort who wore clothing until the patches had patches.

Hanes removed his cream colored straw fedora and ran a hand through his closely cut sandy hair. He replaced his hat. “It’s a perfect plan.”

“You mean like the plan where we drove all the way over here, tried to find a bull to shoot and collect twenty-five grand? Let’s see, we’re already three weeks into a four-day plan that was ‘perfect.’ Now when you say ‘perfect’ do you mean ‘perfect’ like that?”

Hanes leaned back.

“Okay, Clare,” Bassett said, his face still hidden by the hat, “assuming Slade’s right and this McCade fella’s the same guy who spent years looking for the Bull; assuming Culley’s right and McCade’s group starts the hunt tomorrow: Assuming all that, what makes you so sure they’ll know where the Bull is?”

“Because it ain’t turned up anywhere else,” Hanes answered, “it’ll have’ft be on the eastern part of the Benteen place. And as we both know, that’s as close to flat land as this corner of the state gets. They’ll know their own land and about where to look for the bull.”

Bassett grunted noncommittally.

“All we do,” Hanes went on, “is drive out there, follow them in your truck and pop the Bull when we see it. They do all the looking, we do the shooting and presto, twenty-five grand worth of USDA approved ground beef. Nothing could be as easy.”

“If it’s there.”

“It’s a bull, not a mountain goat.” Hanes said, pulling out a packet of chewing tobacco. “It’ll be there. And ya’ have ta’ admit, bull-huntin’ is a lot easier than man-huntin’.”

“It ain’t been so far.”

“That’s why we’re letting other folks do the huntin’ now,” Hanes said with a chunk of chewing tobacco in his mouth.

After a few moments Bassett said; “Slade really think this McCade’s a good tracker?”

Hanes spit a stream of juice into the cup. “Yep. Said he and McCade used to hunt for the Bull when they was kids. Never saw hide nor hair of it, but Slade says McCade could find a yella’ needle in a haystack.”

“Hmm,” Bassett grunted again.

The two sat in silence for a moment.

“Hey,” Bassett suddenly said, removing his hat to look at Hanes, “what about this weird weather? They mightin’ not go ‘cause of it.”

“I hope,” Hanes said, spitting another stream into the cup, “they have more sense than you and listen to the weather reports.”

“Huh?” Bassett said, looking at Hanes.

“This mess,” Hanes explained, waving his hand to indicate the gloomy skies, “is working its way west now. The most of it has passed and Clearview shouldn’t get hit.”

“Oh,” Bassett said, settling back and dropping his hat back over his eyes.

VII

THE sun was attempting to bathe the countryside in a warm glow. True to weather reports, the storm was leaving breaks in the cloud cover through which Clearview glimpsed the blue sky. It had been six days since McCade arrived.

In a clearing several miles northeast of the Benteen ranch house, an old truck and horse trailer rolled to a stop.

Canfield, Amanda, and Benteen’s two granddaughters jumped from the bed of the truck. Benteen, McCade and Jacy stepped down from the cab and move around to open the horse trailer doors. Disappearing into the trailer, Jacy and Canfield led three horses out.

“Like I was a saying,” Benteen grunted, saddling one of the horses, “Samson here’s a bit rough—but don’t spook easy.”

McCade nodded, and finished tightening the saddle down. “Thanks.”

The other two horses were saddled and waiting when McCade led Samson around to the front of the truck.

“Now ya’ll be careful,” Jacy was saying, handing each of the men a rifle.

Amanda stepped up to her father; “I know this sounds corny, but I’m proud you’re going after Romeo.”

McCade kissed her on the forehead. “Always did like corny.”

Amanda smiled.

The three men mounted their horses.

“Don’t you forget supper at the Wildcreek junction,” Jacy instructed.

“Forget?” Canfield questioned with a grin, “not your cooking, Miss Jacy.”

Jacy smiled. “Ya’ll git on—shoo.”

The men laughed and turned their horses into the southwest.

“Well girls,” Jacy said, turning to the others. “We’ve got a full day’s work ahead runnin’ a ranch.”

“Just when I thought I might like it out here,” Amanda groaned.

Jacy climbed in the driver’s side of the truck. “Don’t worry, I don’t run a ranch near as hard as Dad.”

Amanda grinned and climbed into the truck. Jacy’s daughters leaped into the bed. The truck circled and headed back to the ranch.

Eleven miles further northeast, Bassett’s old truck raced down a road more befitting the description of a dirt trail. The road itself was an under construction offshoot of a main thoroughfare to Midland. Hardly anyone knew it existed, or that it would soon bring in Big Bend tourism.

Irritated with Bassett having taken his time earlier in the morning, Hanes, as smartly dressed in white as usual, was behind the steering wheel, pushing the old truck for all the speed it was worth. Bassett on the other hand, seemed all smiles and even had an occasional grin.

“Doggone it,” Hanes was raving, “you sit there grinin’ like the cat that ate the mouse. Don’t you know if them fellas get too far into that country we won’t find ‘em for days.”

“Ahh, you worry too much, Clare.”

“Bullcrap,” Hanes snapped, spitting a stream of tobacco juice into his ever-present cup. “I’m just a tryin’ to make us a bundle without gettin’ shot. Least you could do was wake up on time.”

“Say” Bassett said, noticing some construction signs, “I don’t reckon they’ve finished this road yet.”

“You just figerin’ that out, Sherlock?” Hanes said.

“No call ta’ get nasty,” Bassett came back.

Just within eyesight, a flagman was at the roadside ahead. He was watching a yellow caterpillar digging a trench at the bottom of an embankment. Not paying attention, the flagman slowly waved a flag, instructing nonexistent traffic to pass through.

Bassett leaned forward to watch Hanes.

“What in tarnation you looking at, Ned?” Hanes growled, spitting another stream of tobacco juice into the cup and glancing at Bassett.

“Nuttin’,” Bassett assured him, now grinning.

Suspicious, Hanes looked down to see tobacco spit oozing onto his pressed khaki trousers.

“What the. . .?”

“I put pin holes in it,” Bassett roared with laughter.

Hanes roared in anger, grabbing an old rag and wiping the juice away. “You sorry sonova—”

“Look out,” Bassett interrupted, laughing and pointing, “the flagman!”

“Flagman?!” Hanes yelped, dropping the cup into his lap and grabbing the steering wheel. They saw an orange flag fly past the window as the flagman leaped out of the way and into the ditch.

VIII

THE three men covered the gentle rolling hills of the northeastern section without luck. As the day neared its end, McCade looked up from some tracks and squinted his eyes southwestward.

“Riders, I think,” McCade said.

The others looked without seeing anything.

“Dang, Cody,” Canfield said, pulling out a pair of binoculars, “I bet you can read the ‘made in Japan’ tag on the eye chart.”

They waited while he focused.

“It’s uh…” Canfield said, still trying to identify the people. “It’s just Glenda and Vera.”

“Who?”

“A couple of sisters who own a spread northwest of Clearview,” Benteen explained. “Vera’s the cowgirl and Glenda’s a scholar of some sort. Nice girls.”

Sundown found them at the junction of two dried up creeks. Waiting under the trees was Jacy, Amanda and the girls.

While Canfield tended to the horses, McCade and Benteen helped the women put the finishing touches on supper.

The group sat down to the campfire and ate.

“Ya’ know,” Canfield said, his mouth full, “all I could think about all day was eatin’ these here dumplings.”

“It’s a wonder you’re not as fat as the ranch, Gil,” Benteen said.

“I’m a growin’ boy, boss,” Canfield retorted.

“Yes you are Gil,” Jacy said smiling, “and you’ve been growing like this for the last five years.”

Their laughter was interrupted by two men arguing in the darkness.

“Hello in the camp,” came a voice.

“Come on in so we can see ya’,” Benteen said, standing up.

At the edge of the camp light appeared Neddles Bassett and Clarence Hanes. While Bassett didn’t appear any the worse for wear, Hanes was splattered with blood, dirt, mud, grass and several unidentifiable stains. With his arm wrapped in a homemade bandage, he was using a rifle as a cane.

“That food sure smells good,” Bassett said. “We’d pay ya’ for a helpin.’”

“Ahh,” Benteen said with a smile and wave of his hand, “hep yourself.”

Bassett helped Hanes hobble in and ease down on one of the logs near the fire.

“I’ll get ya’ some,” Bassett said to Hanes and moved over to the pot. While Amanda assisted Bassett, Jacy checked Hanes’ arm.

“You’ve been shot,” she said, startled.

“Yes ‘em, and by the worse marksman I know, too.”

“Who would that be?” McCade ventured.

“Myself.”

There were several eyebrows raised.

“Your leg broke?” Jacy asked, noticing he flinched when she touched him.

“I think it’s sprang.”

“Kathy,” Jacy called to the eldest daughter playing near the campfire. “Go git Momma that big box with the cross on it.”

“The first aid kit?” Kathy asked.

Jacy smiled. “Yes, dear.”

The girl scampered off.

Bassett handed Hanes a plate of food and sat a cup of coffee on the ground in front of him. Sitting down himself, he hungrily launched into his own plate of chicken and dumplings.

“Ya’ll are those bounty hunters, aren’t ya’?” Benteen said.

“Yes, Sir,” Bassett said between bites. “I’m Ned Bassett and he’s Clare Hanes.”

“You fellas run into Romeo?” Canfield asked.

“No Siree,” Bassett answered. “We run into his ‘perfect’ plan.”

Another round of looks went by and Kathy showed up with the first aid kit. While Jacy went to work on Hanes, Bassett explained how the day had unfolded for him and his partner.

“We thought we was pretty darn smart,” Bassett said after a gulp of coffee. “We was just going to drive out into the middle of everything and shoot the Bull from the truck. We’ve had more heartache today than the whole of our lives. We thought we saw the critter about noon. Hanes here jumped up in the bed and I drove. Turned out to be an old heifer, and right about that time we hit a dip which threw Clare here out the truck.”

“That’s when I hurt my leg,” Hanes put in, watching Jacy wrap his arm.

“A tire blew out and a wire to the distributor cap came loose. Took me and Clare a good hour just to find the wire and reconnect it.”

“Yeah,” Hanes put in smiling, “but we know now everything else under that hood works—’cept the radiator.”

“The radiator?” McCade echoed.

“Yeah,” Bassett said. We changed the tire and fifteen miles later the damned radiator overheated. That truck’s deader than a door nail.”

“What about the bullet wound?” Canfield asked.

“Was using the rifle for a cane,” Hanes answered sheepishly. “Forgot to unload it.”

Benteen and McCade were having trouble keeping straight faces.

“You fellas have had a run of bad luck,” McCade said.

“No sir,” Bassett said. “We’re just plain stupid.”

Laughter filtered around the fire.

“It’s just a flesh wound,” Jacy said. She sat back.

“Thank ya’ ma’am,” Hanes said.

“You boys ain’t quite set up for this sort of huntin’ are ya’?”

“Well we sure didn’t plan on being out this long.”

“I’ll tell ya’ now,” McCade cut in, “that bull ain’t likely to be in these low lands.”

“No?” Bassett questioned.

McCade shook his head no. “We came across tracks at sundown. He’s up in the foothills.”

“Figures,” Hanes said.

The talk moved on and for several hours the people swapped campfire stories and tall tales. Bassett and Hanes proved to be an endless source of hard luck stories.

At bedtime, Benteen offered the bounty hunters bedding for the night. They happily accepted.

IX

SUNRISE was a repeat of the previous day. It was another sky scattered in muted colors and dark clouds. The blue still poked through only in patches.

After breakfast, Benteen limped over to the bounty hunters.

“You boys ain’t got horses, food, bedding or clothes enough for this here job. I’ll provide all of that and ten percent of the 25,000 to the one who brings that bull down—you’ll be ridin’ for my brand.”

Hanes thought it over quickly. “Well, it’s a come down from 25 grand, but it beats nothin’.”

“I’m with him,” Bassett said.

“Good,” Benteen said. “There’s three more horses in that trailer. Pick the two ya’ll want. There’s a couple of saddles and whatnot in the truck-bed. Whoever gets Jacy’s saddle best take care of it.”

The two men wandered off.

“Trust ‘em?” Benteen asked McCade.

“What’re ya’ askin’ me for?”

“Say they was on the witness stand, what would ya’ think of ‘em?”

“I’d say they’ve been humbled by the land. I think they’re okay. I guess having them with us is better than sending them back to the ranch.”

“Kind of what I was thinkin’.”

Once again the men mounted. Benteen spurred his horse over to Jacy.

“Well Hon, see ya’ at Sundown.”

“Be careful, Dad.”

The five men turned their horses south.

X

THEY spent the day following the tracks over rocky terrain. The trail was cold, McCade said, and the Bull could be anywhere from a day to two days ahead.

“I’d be more accurate, but I’m rusty,” he added.

After mid-day, they crossed a trail of two horses. McCade dismounted and studied the hoof prints.

“Well?” Benteen asked from atop his horse.

“It’s them same two women we saw in the flatlands.”

“Glenda and Vera,” Benteen said.

“Yeah,” McCade agreed, remounting. “They’re heading in the right direction—but only out of luck. They ain’t following a trail.”

“Becket Hollingsworth was a good rancher,” Canfield put in, “but he didn’t know squat about trackin’. Can’t teach your daughters what you don’t know yourself.”

“Did you say Hollingsworth?” McCade asked.

“Yeah,” Canfield answered.

McCade looked to Benteen.

Benteen nodded. “Yep, that Hollingsworth.”

“Did I miss something?” Canfield asked.

“I represented Mr. Hollingsworth once,” McCade answered. “A crooked lawyer could’ve done better.”

“Oh.”

“Which way they specifically headed?” Benteen asked.

McCade pointed. “To supper.”

“Huh?”

“They’re headed to our next camp.”

“Might as well feed them too,” Benteen grumbled, “already feedin’ everybody else in the whole damned state.”

An hour before sundown, Benteen ordered them to break from the Bull’s trail and head west to the new camp.

XI

AS predicted, the Hollingsworth sisters were waiting when the five men rode in. Not wanting to impose, the Sisters had cooked the last of their supplies and added it to Jacy’s supper.

“We’ll be headin’ back to the ranch in the morning, anyway” the shorter Vera said as they sat around the campfire. “We’ve been out here for two weeks.”

“Two weeks?!” Canfield said.

Glenda nodded yes. She was a shapely woman with raven dark hair. She was the sort of woman men notice when they had an eye for strength. She wasn’t one to talk much, and when she did it was in a strong throaty voice.

“Mr. McCade,” Glenda said in a rich tone, “I understand you are quite the authority on the bull.”

“No ma’am,” McCade said. “I’ve just spent a lot of my youth out here.”

“My father once said you were the only one to have actually seen the bull and lived?”

All eyes were on McCade.

“Well Mexican Joe saw ‘im a few times.”

She wasn’t deterred. “And you?”

“I had a run-in with ‘im.”

“No kiddin’?” came Hanes’ voice.

“What was he like,” Glenda asked, her sultry eyes locked on McCade.

McCade appeared thoughtful. “To see him, you’d think God had made an eternal animal.”

The talk dwindled after that. Only the sound of a slurp of coffee or spoon on a plate broke the crackling of the fire. Some moments later, Jacy started cleaning the dishes. Amanda and Benteen’s granddaughters helped.

Benteen, his leg hurting, went to bed early. After awhile everyone said their goodnights and McCade and Glenda were left at the campfire.

“I have to admit,” Glenda said in her sultry voice, “I’ve been something of a fan of yours.”

McCade was pouring another cup of coffee and glanced at her. “Excuse me?”

“There aren’t many young men Daddy respected—and one that cost him several hundred thousand dollars at that.”

“I’m sorry Ms. Hollingsworth—”

“Glenda.”

“I’m sorry, Glenda,” he corrected. “I really wanted him to have that oil. But the environmental issue was too important. I’m talking ecological disaster.”

“Yes, I know,” she said, taking his cup for a stolen sip. Her full lips seemed to seduce the cup.

“You want some?”

“Just that sip,” she said and handed it back.

He smiled, deciding right then and there that he liked her.

“He told me in great detail how you ‘legally’”—she used her hands to emphasis quotation marks in the air—“tipped the state to the ramifications of drilling.”

McCade nodded. According to the “ethical” obligations of a client/attorney relationship, it had been wrong. Since the state hadn’t done their homework McCade could have won and Becket Hollingsworth would now be in the same league as Exxon or Shell Oil.

Glenda reached out and touched McCade’s knee. Her hand was warm. “He agreed with you.”

“He did?”

She nodded. “He said to me one time ‘if men would obey their conscience like Cody McCade did his, the world would be a better place.’ I never heard him compliment a man so.”

McCade was genuinely shocked.

“I loved my father, Mr. McCade—”

“Cody.”

She smiled. “Cody it is. Anyway, I loved my father, but he was a hard man to impress. You cost him an empire and instead of suing or killin’ you, he admired you. Anyway, I had an attorney friend in Midland start sending me court transcripts of some of your cases.”

“I’m honored.”

She smiled a row of perfect teeth. “You should be. I almost decided on law as an occupation.”

“What stopped ya’?”

“Truth.”

He looked at her.

“I suppose even liars are entitled to representation. But I couldn’t do it.”

McCade nodded in agreement and they were silent a moment.

“I hope I’m not being overly intrusive, but what happened?” she said at last.

“What?”

“That last case, where you defended Vincent Canlin—what happened? My friend said it had something to do with client confidentially.”

“Yeah,” McCade agreed, taking a sip of coffee. “The kid wasn’t quite as honorable as your father.”

Glenda looked confused.

“The prosecution was sloppy,” McCade began explaining. “The police had no witnesses to speak of, the DNA testing was botched—and I believed Vincent was innocent. He sat in my office, on the verge of tears, saying he couldn’t believe it was happening to him...”

XII

CODY McCade presented a perfectly airtight defense for Vincent Canlin III. McCade not only believe his client, but also he made the world believe. The young man accused of abducting, raping and murdering seven college women in Austin, Texas, was free. Such things, observers noted, were nearly impossible.

A month after the trial, Canlin III and his father appeared at McCade’s office, their faces masked in tension. Vincent Canlin II, a gaunt man with piercing eyes pushed a check across McCade’s desk. On it was the figure $60,000.00. McCade looked up.

“There will be $120,000.00 more,” Canlin II said, walking to the window and looking down on the street. “Whatever you want.”

“I can’t take any more of your money, Mr. Canlin,” McCade said smiling. “You’ve been more than generous already. Shoot, I was honored to represent young Vince here, anyway.”

The father removed several items from his coat pocket and tossed them onto McCade’s desk.

McCade picked up a handful of Polaroid snapshots. They were of nude women, bound, gagged and being raped by the person taking the pictures. As McCade looked through them, they became progressively perverse and graphic. McCade dropped the photos to his desktop and stared at the impassive boy seated before him. As if stone, Vincent Canlin III, his eyes hidden behind dark sunshades, kept his head cast downward.

“The bastard lied,” the father said of his son. His back was still facing McCade. “And he did it again. An investigation is already underway and there’s nothing pointing to Vince yet—but that’ll change. As you know, my wife is dying of cancer—she hasn’t long to live and if she were to know Vince did this. . . Money is no object.”

Still in shock, McCade looked up to see the brooding father turn. Tears streaked the father’s face. “She mustn’t know.”

McCade stood, moving to the sulking young man.

“Stand up,” McCade ordered, “and take off them shades.”

The lanky son did as ordered. His left eye was swollen.

“Mr. Canlin,” McCade said while glaring at the son, “I’ll feel fer ya’. And I wish I could help ya.’ No man deserves this for a son. As your attorney I advise you to do three things. One, find yourself an attorney without scruples. Two, file charges to have me disbarred for releasing confidential information from his last case.

“And third,” McCade finally said, trembling with anger, “file charges against me for assault and battery.”

And with that, McCade swung a right hook that sent Vincent Canlin III across the room. The young man thudded into a bookcase and slid to the floor with what was to become another black eye. Opening the door to leave, McCade picked up his coat and hat.

“Mr. McCade,” came the voice of the father.

McCade stopped in the doorway and looked back. The father was standing as he had arrived; tears still on his face.

“I will do none of those things, sir,” the father said. “But I’m sure THAT—” he pointed to his son as an object—“will.”

“I’m countin’ on it,” McCade said. He put on his hat and left his office—never to return.

XIII

MORNING arrived with a splash more color. The storm clouds were farther away and the blue sky came through with greater vibrancy. While the camp slowly stirred to life, Amanda and Vera cooked breakfast. Jacy and Canfield attended Hanes and Benteen.

“—I told you,” Jacy was saying to her father, “you couldn’t go runnin’ all over kingdom come.”

Sitting on the ground near the fire, Benteen and Hanes each had a swollen leg propped up on a log.

“And I told you, Jacy,” Benteen snapped, “don’t butt in when I’m talking!”

“It was a fragmentation grenade in ‘Nam,” Jacy said to Hanes, ignoring her father. “He was a fool hero that’s turned into a bigger fool.”

Benteen glared at her.

“What’re ya’ goin’ do, chase me down?” she snipped at him and ran a knife up his pants leg. She spread an ointment over several scars and wrapped a bandaged around it. “Hunt’s over for you.”

She stepped over Benteen and squatted by Hanes.

“I think it’s over for him, too,” Canfield said.

“Yep,” Jacy agreed, checking Hanes’ swollen leg. “You might have a fracture, Clare.”

“Figures,” Hanes moaned.

“Breakfast is on,” Amanda called.

Glenda and McCade came around from the trailer, leading several saddled horses.

“Breakfast is on and you can unsaddle two mounts,” Jacy said, walking up with a plate of eggs, bacon and rolls.

“Oh?”

“Dad’s injury’s acting up and Clare ain’t any better.”

“I’ll get us something to eat,” Glenda said and handed the reins of two horses to McCade.

Jacy watched her walk off.

“You two were certainly up late—and early.”

“Didn’t think anyone noticed,” McCade replied.

Jacy smiled, watching Glenda over near Amanda. “Women always notice.”

McCade didn’t respond as he tied the reins to the trailer.

“She’s a fine woman, Cody,” Jacy said, and turned away just as Glenda walked up.

When breakfast was finished, Canfield, Bassett and McCade mounted their horses. Glenda handed McCade the lead to the packhorse Jacy had loaded down with supplies.

Amanda noticed Glenda’s hands lingered while handing over the reins to her father.

“You’ll have enough food for four days,” Jacy said. “After that, one of ya’ will have to return here for re-supply.”

McCade nodded.

“Hey, Boy,” Benteen called from his position by the fire.

“Yeah?” McCade said.

“Don’t let that ‘ol bull tree ya’ again.”

There were a few laughs.

“Well if he does,” McCade said with a grin, “I brought toilet paper this time.”

The camp roared with laughter and the three riders turned their horses to the southwest.

XIV

THEY tracked the bull for two more days. It was sundown of the second day when Canfield pulled out his binoculars and spotted the massive black beast in the distance.

“We might as well camp here and catch ‘im in the morning,” McCade said.

“Why not now?” Bassett asked.

“Too dark,” Canfield answered.

“Yeah,” McCade agreed, dismounting. “That hell-for-leather riding looks good on TV, but I ain’t running a horse of mine ‘cross anything I don’t know or can’t see.”

They made camp and ate.

“How’d you get into Bounty huntin’, Ned?” Canfield asked, draining a cup of coffee.

“Oh, I dunno,” Bassett drawled. “Just lucky, I guess.”

“Lucky?” McCade echoed, leaning back and using his saddle as a pillow.

“Well, I was a cop in Dallas for a while.”

“No way,” Canfield said.

“Yep. All I needed to git in was a degree—and I had that.”

“What in?” McCade asked.

“Art.”

The other two glanced at each other.

“Go ahead, make fun,” Bassett said with a good natured grin, “but I do love to paint pictures.”

“You surprise me, Ned,” McCade said.

Bassett smiled.

“So how’d you end up bounty huntin’?” Canfield pressed.

“I got sick of police work—jest got tired of the scum, ya’ know?”

McCade nodded he knew.

“Anyways, I got it in my head to do detective work. A couple of my police buddies vouched for me, so I drove to Austin and took the test.”

“You’re a private detective?” Canfield asked.

“Well I keep my license current, anyway,” Bassett said.

“And Clare?” McCade questioned.

“Clare’s a self-made geologist. He’s forgot more about rocks than I’d care to ever know. I met him a few years back, when I was lookin’ for a fella lost in the Mexico side of Big Bend.”

“Hired Clare as a guide?” Canfield ventured.

“Yep. We found the fella too. The three of us had a good time over there. Ya’ might say we out-stayed our welcome. Anyways, we ain’t really bounty hunters, ya’ know. Sure we’ve tracked down a few, but we’ve found lost dogs and cats, too—anything for a buck. And that’s about it. Here I am”

Bassett leaned back with his coffee. “Time sure flies.”

“That’s for sure,” Canfield said. “But for fellas like you two, it should.”

Bassett and McCade looked at the young cowhand. His hat was pushed back on his head and his lopsided grin seemed almost mocking.

“Now what in blazes brought you to that?” McCade asked.

“Well, you boys are educated. Ya’ll should’ve stayed employed. Why, I ain’t never saw a day pass, but employment made time whiz by. If I had half the brains ya’ll had, I’d be employed up to my eyeballs. Don’t git me wrong—working for ol’ Benteen is the best thing I’ve ever done. But if the cards had come my way a bit different...”

“Let me tell ya’ somethin’,” Bassett said casually. “When ya’ deal with people, your whole perspective changes. I got so tired of hearing grown men and women tryin’ to lay everything off on their parents, it made me sick. The way I figure it, if you can say ‘I’m like I am ‘cause of what my folks did to me,’ then you have enough sense to know better in the first place.”

“That ain’t no reason to throw it all away is it?” Canfield asked.

“I ain’t throwed nothin’ away,” Bassett said. “But, sittin’ here in these hills, looking at these skies, I think maybe everything I’ve done up until now has been throw-away. This here, boy, this is what counts.”

McCade nodded in agreement. “The only real thing I’ve ever done was provide plenty of investments for my daughter’s future. That aside, everything else seems pretty thin. I think Ned may have just hit upon one of the greatest secrets of life.”

“What’s that?” Canfield asked.

“Look around ya’,” McCade answered, and leaned back on his saddle to look at the stars.

XV

THE clouds were gone with sunrise. The warmth of the sun melted away the dew as the three men cleaned up after breakfast and broke camp.

“Let’s go catch us a legend,” McCade said, mounting his horse.

The other two mounted. With packhorse in tow, they rode after the Bull.

Three hours later, they sighted him.

“He’s big all right,” Bassett said, watching the Bull disappear into a thicket of trees and bushes.

“I’ll tie the pack horse to that tree where Romeo went in,” McCade said. “You two go in on either side.”

They spurred their horses across an open area and separated at the point Romeo was last seen. McCade tied the packhorse and rode into the bushes. After a few minutes he came out on the other side of the bushes. It was a clearing of about two hundred yards. Looking down, he found the tracks and followed.

A gun shot broke the silence. Canfield came riding out of the bushes to McCade’s right.

“Thought that was you,” Canfield called, slowing his horse.

“Came from Ned,” McCade said, and spurred his horse. Covering the open area, they slowed the horses to a trot as another wall of trees and bushes loomed up.

“Any tracks?” McCade called, his horse dancing around as he studied the ground.

“Nah, nothing,” Canfield called from several yards over, then; “wait a second, I hear somethin’.”

McCade rode over near Canfield.

A low moan drifted to them from the trees. Riding toward the sound they found a dried-up gully running through the trees.

“There,” Canfield said, pointing to a movement.

McCade dismounted and slid down into the gully.

Propped against the far side of the gully, Basset sat with pistol in hand,

“What happened?” McCade asked, reaching Bassett. Bassett’s left leg was covered in blood.

“Craziest thing I ever saw,” Bassett said with a slurred voice. “Or didn’t see. Got off my horse to look a little closer at the tracks... Somethin’ scared ‘im and he pulled free.”

McCade pulled out a knife and sliced open Bassett’s trouser leg.

“Well?” Canfield called from above.

“Ned’s down here,” McCade yelled back. “Look around for Romeo. He’s nearby.”

“Will do.”

“So what happened?” McCade asked.

“I was hit by a freight train,” Bassett answered. “One second I’m up there—” he tilted his head to indicate above the gully—“and the next I’m twenty feet in the air.”

“It don’t look too bad,” McCade said, tearing Bassett’s shirtsleeve and making a bandage. “Did you shoot ‘im?”

Bassett gave a snort. “I shot at ‘im. Had to—the monster came down after me. Most I saw was a black blur headed down the gully that-a-way.”

“Come on,” McCade said, helping Bassett to stand. They climbed from the gully in time to see Canfield riding up with Bassett’s horse.

“You ought to sit a spell, Ned,” McCade said as Bassett limped to his horse.

“I intend to,” Bassett said and mounted his horse with a grunt, “while I’m in the saddle. Let’s git ‘im.”

“Ned says that-a-way,” McCade said, mounting his horse and pointing. They spurred their horses.

Half a mile further down, the Bull’s tracks appeared coming out of the gully.

“Looks like you got ‘im, Ned,” McCade said, noticing blood.”

“There,” Canfield called, pointing.

In a distant open field, Romeo had staggering to a standstill.

“Do you want ‘im dead or alive?” Canfield asked.

“Alive,” McCade said.

“We get one chance—maybe,” Canfield said.

McCade nodded. “I know.”

They started preparing loops with their ropes.

“We’ll go around ‘im and catch ‘im from his left and right sides,” McCade said. “How’s that sound?”

“It’s a plan,” Canfield agreed.

“Ned,” McCade said. “If he comes this way, shoot in the air. That’ll change his mind.”

Bassett nodded weakly.

“Let’s do it,” McCade said. The two men spurred their horses and rode off in different directions.

It was a mere quarter of a mile for each of them. Once on the far side, they rushed the Bull, loops flying. McCade’s rope caught the Bull around the horns. Canfield’s rope fell short.

Romeo turned on McCade and charged.

“Hold on Samson,” McCade said, more for his own benefit. At the last second, McCade spurred his horse and the Bull gored the air. When Romeo turned for a second charge, Canfield’s rope caught him by the horns.

“The trees,” McCade yelled.

Fighting an alternating tug-of-war the men maneuvered the bull between two trees. They each tied off their ropes and backed away. With the ropes taunt, Romeo settled down.

“That wasn’t too bad,” McCade said as Bassett rode up.

“Speak for yourself,” Bassett said.

“He don’t look as mean as I thought,” Canfield mumbled.

“He is,” Bassett said.

XVI

McCADE walked up to the campfire and took the lunch plate Canfield offered. He poured himself a cup of coffee and sat on one of the nearby logs.

His leg properly bandaged from the first aid kit, Bassett was stretched out on the ground working on a second plate of beans and cornbread.

“What’d ya’ reckon Paxton’ll do with Romeo after we bring ‘im in?” McCade asked, scooping up a spoonful of beans.

“I don’t know,” Canfield answered. “Probably hang his head on the wall of his office at the bank. He’s got a lot of ‘em up there from safaris.”

“Wonder why he didn’t track the bull.”

“He had a bank to run.”

“How old is this ol’ bull anyway?” Bassett asked.

“At least twenty-five,” McCade answered.

“And that’s real old for a bull,” Canfield put in.

They were silent a few moments.

“I guess ‘ol Romeo has kind of broken all the records,” Bassett commented.

“Yep,” McCade agreed. “He ain’t a legend for nothin’.”

“Kind of sad,” Bassett mumbled.

“Yeah,” McCade agreed again.

“I suppose nothin’s forever, huh?”

“Not even legends, I guess.”

“Ya know,” Canfield put in, “whenever I thought of Clearview, I—”

Canfield stopped, his spoon in midair, and looked at the two men: “You fellas are workin’ up to somethin’, ain’t ya’?”

The two older men looked at Canfield.

“Ya’ll ain’t suggestin’ we jest up and turn ‘im loose, are ya?”

“It crossed my mind,” McCade said.

Canfield shook his head, sat down his plate and left the fire. McCade followed him to one of the trees to which Romeo was tied.

“I’ve heard of this bull all my life,” Canfield said, looking at Romeo. “I’ve even dreamed of bringin’ ‘im in. It’s sort of an immortality, ya’ know?”

“Yep,” McCade agreed. “That’d be somethin’.”

They both watched on as the old bull stood without movement—as if knowing he was being discussed. His dark hide was a maze of gouges and scars. Bassett hadn’t been the only one to hit the bull.

“He’s a throwback to the past alright,” McCade said quietly. “Everything’s a changin’, ‘cept him. I guess if we can’t change it, we kill it.”

Canfield looked at McCade. It crossed his mind that the ex-lawyer was talking about something other than the bull. After a moment, Canfield said, “If you’re serious about turnin’ ‘im loose, what’d ya’ think Travis will say?”

“Same thing he’s said all along.”

“‘If folks left him alone, he’d probably leave them alone’?” Canfield quoted with a question.

McCade nodded.

“It’s just a bull, Cody,” Canfield said.

“He will be if we kill ‘em.”

“And if we don’t?”

“The bull will live as long as needed,” McCade said, only now understanding a lesson hard-learned by experience. To Canfield he added, “Or as long we allow.”

Canfield watched McCade pull out a large pocketknife and walk to one of the ropes. Mindful of the bull, McCade cut the rope. Romeo remained motionless, following McCade with his eyes. Moving behind Romeo, McCade, gave him a wide berth. He reached the other tree and cut the last rope.

The bull panned his eyes over Canfield and Bassett. After a last look at McCade, he ambled across the clearing and into the thicket.

McCade knew “he had done the right thing.” That Uncle Travis later agreed only added weight to what he realized as the bull faded into the wilderness.

With vigilance, the bull would live forever.