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Dog on a Rope

Dog on a Rope

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Dog on a Rope

326 pagine
5 ore
Aug 15, 2014


After leading the nation into two wars and an economic downturn, the president prepares for the stretch run of his re-election campaign by relapsing into a cocaine habit that triggers a fatal heart attack. Meanwhile, a group of Democratic senators decide the surest way to connect with voters is by finding their own version of Ronald Reagan --- presidential looking, smooth talking, friendly, affable, and a gets-his-hands dirty outdoorsman. A photo op of the candidate chopping wood leads to a heat stroke. Thus, it is politics as usual as the behinds-the-scenes operatives wheel and deal and navigate through a landscape that includes assassins for hire, voting machine hackers, and a Spanish prosecutor intent on taking the liars who concocted the war in Iraq to a court of law. Against this backdrop, Jay Dean Fine, a high school football coach fired for cheating, tries to make amends and get his dream back on track by working as a cowboy on a cattle ranch in the Flint Hills of Kansas while he figures out how to reunite with the wife and daughter he had left behind in Texas two years earlier. Returning home, he follows Interstate 35 back to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, encountering as twisted a version of America as Huck Finn and Jim encountered in their trip down the Mississippi River.

Aug 15, 2014

Informazioni sull'autore

Greg Rohloff resides in Amarillo, Texas, where he wrote for the Amarillo Independent, an alternative multimedia news site. He holds a master of liberal studies degree with a concentration in literature and English composition from Fort Hays State University, and a bachelor of arts degree from Wichita State University. He teaches freshman composition at West Texas A&M University in Canyon, and developmental writing at Amarillo College. He has written a short story collection, “I Was There Once,” and a second novel, “Dog on a Rope,” will be available August 15.

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Dog on a Rope - Greg Rohloff


Chapter One

A south wind ruffled the buffalo grass on the hillside as sunlight glinted off the Pepsi can. The wind blows that way, strong enough to flutter tree leaves and tall grass but not so great to ease the heat, early afternoon in early July in the Kansas Flint Hills. Jay Dean Fine steadied the .243-Winchester rifle as he squinted at the reflected light, firing just high of the can.

Shit! Your turn. He handed the gun to younger brother David as dust drifted over the edge of the hill, revealing a gash among the short-grass prairie, milkweed and buffalo grass.

No. This is ridiculous. Even more ridiculous than you coming up here to play cowboy two years ago. I feel like a fool.

Just take the gun and nail that sumbitch can. Then you'll understand why I'm here.

No. Look at the road. Someone's coming. David scurried inside as a rooster tail of dust kicked up behind a pickup truck.

That's just Will, Jay Dean said, stepping behind a tattered lawn chair.

The truck bounced over the ruts leading up to Jay Dean's trailer, stopping in front of the green-fiberglass-shaded porch.

I don't want to know what you're doing out here or if that was your boyfriend or what, but I hope to hell you're finally shooting at a coyote.

No coyote. And that was my brother David – from Dallas – and I was just demonstrating to him the ultimate in freedom -- shooting your gun naked on your front porch.

Well, ain't you the philosopher pervert. Get your pants on.

David, toss out my clothes. Ol' Will's getting excited.

David stepped back into the doorway, flipping boxers, socks, a shirt and blue jeans toward Jay Dean.

I'd say I'm pleased to meet you if I was sure you weren't as loony as your brother, Will said to David as he pulled on a golf shirt.

Look, he's always had a way of talking me into crazy schemes. I've been trying to get him back to Dallas and teaching again -- line coach position is open in Richardson and he's got a real good shot at that and then replacing the defensive coordinator when he retires in two years. Said I had to see 'freedom' from his point of view before he'd even listen to me. So that's why I was out there undressed –

Like I told Jay Dean, I don't care if you're his brother or his boyfriend. I came up here to tell him to saddle up that wreck of a horse of his and join me along the Lost Creek bluffs. Three calves were killed up there. Bobcat, it looks like. Probably come over from the Ozarks.

Anybody seen a bobcat?

No. But the calves were clawed up.

Anybody call the state game department to set traps for a bobcat and then take it back to the wilds?

No. It isn't an endangered species. The only thing endangered out there are my cows and calves. And as soon as we saddle up, that critter will be endangered.

I know this isn't exactly the time to get philosophical about animals but did you ever –

The only thing philosophical I care to discuss about this is the price of cows and how much it's costing me to lose them to a bobcat or a coyote or whatever the hell is killing them.

Will, I wish you wouldn't interrupt me, Jay Dean said, tugging his jeans straight as he stepped out from behind the lawn chair. Because that just makes me want to make a point. So here it is. If those wild animals are so diabolically smart, then instead of killing them, we ought to just shoot at their feet and sting them with dirt any time they got close to calves, chicken houses or anything else you make money off of. That way, they'd figure out real quick what they could and couldn't kill to eat, and they'd stick to eating the rats and mice and feeble raccoons and skunks that crawl into the barn and eat cattle feed.

Hell. I don't know who's crazier. You for coming up with that or your brother for thinking you ought to be back in Dallas teaching and influencing young people. Just get your horse ready, a sleeping bag and something to eat for a couple of nights. And exert your ultimate freedom with that gun on the bobcat's ass.

You want me to go along? David asked Jay Dean.

No. You stay here. Lisa's bringing up Angela for a visit. You can meet them here in case it takes more than a couple of days to convince Will he won't come out ahead by killing that bobcat.


Yeah. I got a letter the day before you got here saying Angela wanted to see me this summer and so I went down to Will's and borrowed the phone and we worked it out. Lisa was downright agreeable for the first time in two years.

I'd rather not see her.

Why? She taking out on you what she used to take out on me before I moved up here?

Well, I guess I'd better tell you. I ran into her at a party New Year's Eve and she was drunk and despondent and I offered to drive her home and we started talking and she thought I was charming and she talked me into spending the night. David spit out the words rapid fire, a habit when he didn’t want someone to actually understand what he was saying. Jay Dean shook his head and turned away from his brother.

Will, does that tell you which one of us is crazier? He tells a lonely man with a gun that he's been sleeping with his wife and then he's not even trying to get out of the way.

David, seeing through the flippant reply, continued his explanation.

I left before anything could happen. I know I shouldn't have been there. That's how she got so mad at me. I didn't call her back for three months.

Now you know why I may get divorced. Just don't piss her off if I'm gone when she gets here. I want to see Angela.

David nodded and went back inside to finish dressing.

Ultimate freedom, Will let out in a rough whisper as he scanned across the edge of the hills. I'll give you your ultimate freedom if we don't get that bobcat. Hell, it's city boys like you wanting to play at country living that's causing this problem in the first place. You go out to the hills, get you twenty acres and build a 'retreat' out in the wilds so you can get close to nature. Only nature don't want to be close, so you chase it my way.

Will. Don't blame all of society's ills on city folks. Most of us were country folks in the first place. You done philosophizing?

Will nodded. I'll meet you at the creek and we can camp there. But I got to go to Council Grove on Thursday to find out what the bank's going to do with my loans. It's nip and tuck this year with cattle prices down. Hell, they may force me to sell, and then the only job on this place for you would be to dress up like an Indian and ride around through a buffalo herd.

Will, what the hell are you talking about? Jay Dean tugged on his socks and boots as he settled back into the lawn chair.

What I'm talking about is the offer from that Texas richass that's buying up cattle ranches from here to Wyoming. From what I've heard, he wants to winter his cattle down in Texas, take them here in the spring, then move them to Montana or Wyoming for the summer. He's got truck lines and what not to move them around, plus he sells them whenever the price hits a point where he's making money, even if he just bought the sons-of-bucks.

So what's keeping you? Sell now, Will and go to Florida or Arizona so you don't have to slug through the winters.

This place has been in my family for one hundred twenty years, right after the Indian wars. My great-grandfather survived the panics before the turn of the century and my father and grandfather survived the Great Depression when I was a kid. Now that prosperity is easy, it just don't seem like the thing to do to cut and run. Don't make sense, going broke in good times when every one else struggled to make ends meet and made it.

No, Will, it's a great conundrum; one of those things maybe you shouldn't try to understand. You just go with it. Kind of like when I left the Cowboys of Dallas behind to become a cowboy in the Wheat State.

Some cowboy you were. Hell, I had to give you a saddle and lend you the money for a horse that probably should be giving rides at the county fair instead of heading into the rough country.

Say, you want me to bring along my dog?

That toothless mutt sleeping on your couch?

He ain't toothless. He's just getting a little old, but you whistle at him and tell him you're going to take him for a run through the pasture and his tail's wagging and he's as frisky as a pup.

And then he sleeps for three days. Do that dog a favor and use the first bullet you put in your rifle on him.

Jay Dean shook his head and turned his back on Will. Can't do that. He's been my closest friend for the past two years. David'll look after him.

Just get out there as quick as you can. I don't want to lose any more calves to whatever it is that's killing them, and I'd sure like to tell the bank that we won't have any more losses. Story like that about a bobcat running loose through here is enough for those antsy bastards to go against me. That'd be the shits to have to sell under those circumstances, specially to that Texan Whitman Perry.

Perry? He just operates out of Dallas. That old boy may have been born there, but he's Harvard educated -- an MBA after he graduated from the University of Texas -- and his family made millions in offshore oil and gas in Louisiana. Me, I'm a Texan, and when I'm done watching the sunsets here, I'll probably head back. Maybe take that coaching job if you can do without me.

Will snorted as he climbed back into his pickup truck. Cowboy, my butt.

Jay Dean went inside the trailer. David was tucking in the golf shirt, standing in front of a mirror.

You did it to me again, Jay boy. Talking me into some dip-ass stunt, swearing no one would ever know. Then your ranch owner drives up. I swear, I'm not listening to you again.

Don't worry about Will, he won't tell but half the town how you and me were standing outdoors buck naked in the middle of the afternoon shooting a Pepsi can. Everyone will have a good laugh and they might snicker when they see you in town, so long as you aren't looking at them, but in a month or two, something else will come up and take your place, and they'll forget all about you until I talk you into some other dumbass stunt.

Oh, well, maybe you'll figure it's all the more reason to come home. That and seeing Angela. That girl is getting big. She'll be in fifth grade and then, look out.

She a tomboy?

Not really. She could have gone to cheerleader camp at Texas A&M, but Lisa was making a trip up here to look at some ranch lands for Whitman Perry. She's working for that guy.


Yeah. That's what she was so despondent about New Year's Eve. Her job in Fort Worth was downsized out of existence, and she had applied with Perry's organization right after Thanksgiving, but she hadn't heard anything from them by New Year's Eve, so she was crying and wondering just how she'd make her car payment and keep the house in Hurst.

Guess my eighty-five dollars a month don't go very far. But that's a fourth of my take-home pay. That and this trailer.

Get off you. I bet Lisa's coming to make an offer on this place.

To spite me?

I said, get off you. Dallas Morning News had a big article one Sunday about Whitman Perry, how he was blending oil money with cattle money and investing in a string of ranches; keeping the pastures for grazing beef while turning the ranchhouses into corporate retreats, weekend getaways, bread and breakfasts ... whatever seems most able to turn a buck the fastest. He said he wanted to get some ranches here in Kansas and get a huge buffalo herd and let them go for miles.

Poor, damn Will. He thinks he's got a chance at that bank. They're going to take one look at the numbers, and if Lisa's gotten to them first, they'll find a way to say 'Adios, Will.' Just kiss him off like that to hook up with the next big thing. Buffalo ranches for the amusement of Whitman Perry and his Tea-Sip socialites.

So far, he's made more money on the Texas ranches that he's bought than the owners before him. Probably do the same up here.

That's because he goes to the bank in New York and gets a better loan rate than what the local bank is giving Will. I bet you anything. Shame a man like Will can't keep his ranch when he's doing everything right.

Jay, wake up. You're in the Twenty-first century as a saddletramp cowboy, working for some backcountry hick who probably should have gone out of business twenty years ago.

Hey. I don't mind you trying to screw Lisa. But you go bad-mouthing Will and I'll kick your butt up and down that dirt road leading up here. Will's a good man, and his family's good, too. It just seems that doesn't count for anything these days.

David slumped on the couch and scratched Digger along his rib cage. The old dog kicked his back left leg and rolled over on his side, never missing a wheezing snore. He's right about this dog. Take him into a vet and get him checked over. If he's about to go, it would be a whole lot easier on you knowing he didn't suffer.

I'll take him in when I get back. But unless he's got something way wrong with him, I'm bringing him right back here. That old dog's kept me going. I can at least repay him that favor.

How long you going to be gone?

Till we either shoot that bobcat or run him off, or the bank tells Will he's got to sell. Like I said before, don't make Lisa mad and have her drag off Angela before I get to spend some time with her.

Sure. David eased off the couch to keep from waking Digger. He stepped out beneath the lean-to covering that served as a porch and looked out across the prairie. Cottonwood trees edged the bottom of the slope at the far end of the pasture. A creek ran through there, maybe fifteen feet wide at its greatest point, but running cold and murky as it wound through the Lazy L Ranch, watering Herefords, Angus, Charolais and any other beef bred for its meat and hide down through the years.

Jay Dean threw a nylon duffel bag across his shoulder as he headed out to the barn next to the trailer. Inside was a stall with a quarter horse mare, nearly twelve years old but acting more like twenty, and a tack room where he kept his saddle.

He led the horse back to the fence that surrounded the trailer, and tied him to a rail, and then fetched his rifle and a box of shells, and a bed roll made up of a blanket that was torn on one edge and some sheets that no longer stayed tight on the bed. He tied it and the duffel bag to the saddle, and then stuck the rifle in a saddle holster like he had seen in western movies as a kid and did not realize that they really existed until he had come here.

Once loaded, he hollered at David. Remember, don't make that woman mad. I don't want to find you filleted and a note saying Angela's going to cheerleader camp.

David laughed. I'll keep my pants on when she's here.

Chapter 2

The tourists walking along the Capitol Mall paid little attention to the man in the torn blue jeans and Marine Corps t-shirt sitting on the bench. He was bent over, looking downward, his beard a gray stubble on his cheeks that edged his chin in black scruff.

You Corps? another man, middle-aged and trim said as he sat down on next to him on the bench.

First Gulf War, if it still matters. Rolled through Basra.

Trying to get rid of your combat nightmare?

No, the first man said, chuckling. No nightmares. No automatic weapons in my closet. Just up here on a little 'vacation.'

I see. I guess I sound a little foolish. I was in ROTC when the Vietnam War ended, so I never got to go.

Never got to go?

Now I really feel foolish. I mean I didn't have to go, but I didn't want to sound like I was some draft dodger. I thought if I went in as an officer I could get a choicer assignment. Not that I wouldn't have taken combat if that's where I would have been sent, but when the war ended, they said they didn't need us in the Army right then as officers so if we wanted out of ROTC they wouldn't make us pay back the scholarship money.

You're rambling like an idiot. And where I'm from in Texas, you don't say that lightly to someone five minutes into your first conversation.

Well, I'm sorry. You sat there looking forlorn and angry and I thought maybe I could do something for you. My wife took our granddaughters shopping this afternoon and I didn't want to hang out in a shopping mall. So I thought I'd scout out the sites for tomorrow.

Going to show them the poor broken down vet with a dozen wasted years to show for his duty to his country?

Look. You don't have to get smart with me. I thought you were someone needing a hand. Obviously I made a mistake and I tried not to insult you.

Sorry. I'm just not in a good mood right now. My back's acting up. And no, it isn't a war wound. Got laid off from an oil tool supply job in '94 and then knocked around trying to find something that paid half as good. Wound up foreman in a warehouse in Houston – import-export business – and one day some of the guys didn't show up and we had a rush order to get out and I overdid it. That was four years ago. Took worker's comp until it ran out, company doctor said my back was fine even if I couldn't stand up for twenty minutes without buckling over. That's my sad tale. I came to see a congressman about how the VA had told me I couldn't get free treatment, then I think I'll go see the Statue of Liberty and then wind my way back to the Gulf Coast in time for fall. So thanks, but no thanks, I don't need no help.

Chapter 3

Jay Dean checked the shoes on his horse, not quite certain what he should be looking for. Damn good thing those shoes look alright to me, Lucky, or we'd be in a world of hurt with old Will. He'd probably shoot you himself and take out Digger, too. We're heading for the creek. I ain't going to tie you up if that bobcat is rabid and skulking around there. Just remember to kick so I can get the gun up and a shot off.

He rode slow through the pasture, careful not to spook the cattle that had wandered up from the creek's edge. He would follow that creek through the hills to the far pasture. The ride was no more than three-quarters of a mile, but if he would have to walk it, it would take nearly three hours, for the creek cut sharply through the hills that separated the two pastures, creating sheer drops along the creek bed. The water rushed through there, narrow and shallow enough to cross. A half-mile away, the stream started to meander once more and the hills plunged into a valley so that the far pasture sat some two hundred feet below the base of the hills.

The Lazy L wasn't big as far as ranches go, not quite sixteen thousand acres. The front part of the ranch, where Will Lindtmann grew cattle feed and alfalfa fronted a two-lane highway to Topeka. But the dirt road that led to the pasture where the trailer sat rusting in the Kansas sun headed toward a creek that fed into the Kansas River, a tributary of the Missouri. Lost Creek cut through terrain that grew rougher as the years passed. On that far pasture at the bottom of the hills, Jay Dean could blot out the two years since his separation and look up at stars and camp in the brush between the hills and the creek and lose himself further than being six miles from the highway should give him.

This was a fine place, a far place from city life and his life past, for he was surrounded by wild sounds and rushing wind. The billowing clouds might dump a brief afternoon shower to kill the heat. But even if they did not, Jay Dean watched them change shapes in the wind, appreciating the solitude of watching their shadows play across the land. He pitched his tent in the shade of the cottownwood trees where the gentlest breeze would rustle a peaceful two-note song from the fluttering leaves. Lucky stopped at water's edge, drinking slowly before retreating to the shade of the cottonwoods. Jay Dean gathered dry wood. Cottonwood was soft and would burn quickly, but in summer, he would not need the fire until night for cooking dinner. There would be no fire after that, for the bobcat or coyotes would run from it. That suited Jay Dean, for here he could dream of what had been, the kind of dream that comes only with dark. Jay Dean was not one to live in the past, but with Angela and Lisa coming, he needed to reconnect with them, and he needed to rekindle the memories that they shared.

So in the dark, deep in the prairie at the edge of the creek that had served as a watering place for the Kaw Indians and for settlers after that and now, for a wild animal struggling for its own survival to the extent that it was willing to come into man's territory, he rekindled the dreams he held and had buried deeply as a father in love with his wife and child.

The rumble of Will's pickup as it stopped at at the rim overlooking Lost Creek shook Jay Dean from his thoughts of Angela. Will stood at the edge, hollering but barely heard, and waving his arms toward Jay Dean.

Come on Lucky, you got to go up and down that hill once more. He rode to the base of the hills and now he could hear Will.

I got a camp stove and food packed in a cooler. Help me with it so we can have enough food to stay for a couple of three days if we need to.

Will, you're a damfool thinking this horse can haul that stuff up and down these hills. Give me a minute to take the long way around.

Will nodded and Jay Dean spurred Lucky and turned him to the south. They rode about a half mile to where the slope was gentler, and then they switched back. Jay Dean eased off so that Lucky would not grow overly tired packing the supplies back to camp. The ride took nearly fifteen minutes, even though he was no more than six hundred feet from where he had seen Will from the floor of the valley.

See the sights? Will huffed as he hoisted the campstove up to Will.

A prairie dog.

I didn't hear you shoot him. Don't you know that horse of yours can break his leg stepping into those prairie dog holes.

That's why I went slow. Jay Dean balanced the camp stove on his saddle. You got anything else?

No. I'll unload the truck up here and then take it back to the house and saddle up my horse.

Tie your sleeping bag to the back of my saddle and that way if your stud horse can get the rest down, Lucky will be ready for a hunt tomorrow.

Yeah. I forget that horse is nearly as old as my youngest grandson. Will lashed the sleeping bag to the saddle and patted Lucky on the flank. "I'll see you in a half hour or

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