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AUDRY07 enormous amount seemed me



Chapter 7 - High Society

A tale of Romance by The Star*

Hazel Parmentier Steele Lemmer looked over the ballroom--a look of
distaste momentarily marred her patrician features. She'd lots rather be
shagging George out in the hayloft of the barn, on their Long Island
estate. But George's friends had insisted and he agreed that it might be
good for business. So here she was, guest of honor at a reception in
Manhattan--that she and George had to pay for!

_'Quit bitching, Hazel!'_ she sternly told herself. _'You knew that
some of this went with the territory, when you decided to marry George.'_ A
smile crossed her face. She could have had George any way she wanted
him--including a permanent shack-up, if that would have suited her.
Amazingly though, she'd fallen in love with him; and he wanted to marry
her. Well, what's a girl to do? If the man you love wants to get married,
isn't that the natural response? The immediate problem was that they'd
invited all of George's really close friends to the wedding. What tonight
was all about was the myriad 'good acquaintances' that he worked with. And
their social climbing wives. Plus a few genuine friends who hadn't been
able to make it to the wedding.

From the day the announcement of their wedding at the ranch, with
pictures, had appeared in the New York papers, George had been bombarded
with a clamor to hold a reception, so 'everyone' could meet George's new

George's story was well known: His first wife, whom he'd loved
desperately, had died young. He dated rarely and was not a womanizer, but
rather threw himself into his work of investment banking, and his hobby,
riding show horses. He was very good at both his business, having moved
from 'well off' to wealthy, and at riding, with an Olympic silver medal for
the 3-day event.

It was through the Olympics that he met Hazel...and recognized in her a
woman who could be a soul-mate--besides being able to not only turn him on,
but fuck his brains out.

Hazel had to admit that George was good for her too: Excellent in
bed--though she wouldn't tell him that, directly--and an interesting,
attentive companion. They'd gone from lust to love and, along the way, had
become best friends.

Although she'd grown up in the eastern branch of the family, Hazel spent
most of her life on the ranch in Oregon. She was a bit rusty on current
relationships, but was conversant with the east coast 'aristocracy'.
Frankly, she preferred the ranch and had stayed there even after her
husband died. Now she had a new husband and a new job to do--for him.
She'd do everything she could to promote George, without sacrificing what
she believed or their essential privacy. George came first. She was not
about to let herself be drawn into the 'social season' swirl of 'important'
events. They would go to things George wanted. If that meant breaking an
engagement, tough.

_George came first!_

Putting a smile on her face, Hazel retreated to the suite George
maintained in the hotel, to put the finishing touches on her face and get
into the new gown she'd ordered for the event. That really put a smile on
her face. She'd spent more on that dress than she usually spent on clothes
in a year! And George suggested that she might want several. When she'd
protested about the cost, he smiled and said he wanted her to have them.

She remembered a lot about society, but was not used to living with this
kind of wealth. On the ranch, the money went into the ranch-a new prize
bull, to improve the breeding stock of Angus cattle; or a new mare, to see
if the colts would be as good as those already being bred there.

The ranch gave her another smile. She was sixty--though she looked like
a healthy and energetic forty--and had great-grandchildren growing up in
the big old ranch headquarters where she'd spent most of her life.

George came into the room. His eyes lit up at the sight of her, in bra
and pantyhose, finishing her makeup. Walking behind her, he gave her a hug
and kiss on the cheek, to not smudge her face. His hands caressed her
breasts, too, causing her to give a little gasp of pleasure.

"You know, dear," she said, "I'd lots rather be trying to get you in bed
than standing in a receiving line."

George laughed, "I would too. But ya gotta do what ya gotta do."

"You know, darling, we haven't talked much about this. How do you want
me to play it?"


"Do you want me to play the society woman, as if I'd always been here?
Or the newcomer, anxious to learn? Or the rich bitch who doesn't give a

"How about you just be Hazel? As long as you're only horny for me, just
be yourself. Anybody who doesn't like it can take his neuroses elsewhere.
Most will love you for yourself. Who knows? You might even make some

She had to laugh. He was right. She'd just be herself and let the
cowpies flop where they would.

With that reminder from her husband, she approached the evening as a job
to do-and an opportunity to make new friends.

Soon enough, they were standing near the entrance to the ballroom,
greeting their guests as they arrived. A majority of those they met were
business acquaintances of George's and their wives who wanted to say they'd
met his new wife... 'And isn't she a _dear_?'

Some were real friends of his, who hadn't been able to come to the
wedding. George had a special signal for Hazel for those and she made an
extra effort to remember them.

There were even a few horse people, who knew the sport and the
significance of the ranch. Horses bred there, trained by Hazel's son and
daughter in law, Martin and Adoré Steele, were becoming the standard for
winning steeplechase and show jumping mounts.

That two of her grandchildren, Rob and Audry Steele--married to each
other, too--were Olympic champions on ranch-bred horses helped a lot. The
two precocious brats won most events they cared to enter--with her George
just about their only competition.

(Adoré had closer blood links to the family than most knew, too. Her
father was Hazel's cousin and her mother was a slightly more distant

To Hazel's great delight, a few members of the Knicks and the Suns
dropped in. They became friends with Rob and Audry at the Olympics and got
to know Hazel during visits to the ranch. She was genuinely delighted to
see them, but also took a wicked glee from the reaction of their other
guests to the young, rich, _black_ athletes, who were obviously good
friends of hers. She made a point of introducing the basketball players to
the real horsemen in the crowd. It sure made a dull event more

By the time the evening was done, Hazel had done her best to charm the
socks off her two hundred plus guests--and mostly succeeded. She'd
answered the same inane questions many times, each time as if it were an
interesting and novel thing to ask.

She'd been photographed for several newspapers and suffered a short tv interview, with George at her side.

Her favorite 'trick' was to ask questions of her questioners. Usually,
she asked the same types of things they wanted to know about her. How long
married, how many children, and so on. To her amusement, no one asked
about great-grandchildren, thinking her grandchildren must be only infants.
Finally the last guests left and George and Hazel returned to their suite,
where they collapsed in each other's arms, laughing uproariously.

"Do you know," George choked out, between titters, "that most of the
folks there think you're a 'trophy wife'?"

Hazel laughed so hard, she rolled on the bed. Finally, clutching her
sides, she pleaded, "Please. Don't make me laugh any more. It hurts."
George was hurting a bit himself and readily agreed. "Do they really?"
Hazel asked. He had a manic sense of humor and might be putting her on.

"Yeah. Really. I overheard more than one conversation about it."

"That's too precious. I can't wait to share that with the kids.
They'll love it! ... How many know that I'm actually three years older than you are, George?"

"Besides family, I don't know of any. Everybody thinks I'm younger than
I am, too. You did, as I recall, you cradle-robber."

Hazel punched him, gently. "And don't you love it? What a hoot! ...
Besides that, and that alone makes the evening worth the trouble, how do
you think it went?"

"Oh, it went just fine. We'll have a big spread in the society pages.
You'll get scads of invitations to all kinds of things. Go to what you
want to. It's up to you."

"But don't you have lots of social obligations that you have to keep

"Sure, but you can do what you want about it."

"George, darling, you've been a bachelor way too long. You need to
remember that I married you--all of you. If you want, I'll start
'socializing' in a small way and work into it. But everything will be with
a very strong caveat that your plans come first. I will not allow us to go
to different events, or appear separately. If you want me home at night,
that's where I'll be. Honey... _fuck_ society! I'll only do what I have
to, in order to help you. I'm happy on Long Island with you and the

"That's just what I wanted to hear. Let's make that our pattern, if it
suits you. We live on Long Island and stay here only when we have to be in
town late."

Hazel held him close and began removing the studs from his shirt. "I
like it. Let's use each other as excuses to turn down most invitations,
too. There are a few things we'll have to attend. Other than that, let's
just be ourselves, with occasional evenings with real friends for our
'social life'."

George kissed her. It would work out just fine.

Hazel returned the kiss with interest and finished getting him out of
his tux. Reaching behind her back, in that motion only a woman can do, she
unzipped her gown and popped the hooks on her bra.

While George stepped out of his shoes and trousers, Hazel removed the
pantyhose and stood naked in the light of a bedside lamp.

"God, baby, you're so beautiful!" George breathed, as he embraced her.

"Not bad for a grandma, huh?"

"Not bad for a teenager, baby! ... Have I told you today, how much I
love you?"

"As a matter of fact, you have. But I really don't mind if you repeat
yourself on that subject. I'm kind of crazy about you, too, you know."

By then they were joined, Hazel rocking steadily above him, her breasts dangling in reach of his greedy lips.

Capturing a nipple, to their mutual enjoyment, George licked and sucked Hazel's offering. "Your boobs are wonderful, baby. So full, yet so firm.
I love to bury my face in them."

She pressed her chest harder against him.

When she felt her body start to lose control and the orgasmic process
was beyond stopping, she gasped, "Not bad, for a bimbo trophy wife, huh?"

George, just as he was starting to spray her womb, caught what she'd
said and was overcome with laughter.

It was the most unique orgasm either of them had ever enjoyed.
Convulsing in laughter just as the body was spasming in climax...

"You witch! You did that on purpose!" George accused her, when he'd
caught his breath.

"And you loved every bit of it!" Hazel shot back.

He held her and kissed her thoroughly.

Still locked together, he cradled her head to his chest and pulled a
comforter over them. They didn't move until the phone woke them in the

George had a full day's work in the city. Hazel said she'd stay at the
hotel. Maybe do a little shopping. She'd wait for him and ride with him
to Long Island when he was done for the day.

When he realized that she was serious about doing whatever she could to
help him, but was not really concerned about making a place for herself in
'society', he essentially gave her _carte blanc_ to organize their life.

One of her first decisions was whether or not to buy their own place in
the city. There was no doubt that they needed a place to sleep and do
light entertaining or business in Manhattan. The question she had was,
would they be better off to keep the hotel suite, or get their own
townhouse or condominium? In the end, she decided to stay with the hotel.
The expense was a write-off and it was hassle-free. They didn't have to
worry about maids or plumbing or anything else. Yet the space was theirs,
exclusively, and the location was as good as they could find.

The other immediate concern was her social schedule. The relationship
with the Parmentiers of Virginia was well-known, after the reports of the
reception in the society pages. She had three invitations per day, for
everything from tete-a-tete lunches to lavish charity balls...

She needed her own secretary.

For most of a week, she fretted about it, while correspondence piled up,
awaiting response.

Finally, she consulted her husband.

George gathered her in his arms. "Damn, I love you! You wow society,
then have trouble hiring a servant. Hazel, don't ever change." He rang for
the butler. When that worthy appeared, "Fred, Mrs. Lemmer needs a social
secretary--someone to handle her correspondence, keep her calendar straight
with mine, and so on. Get her some suitable candidates for the job to
interview, would you?"

"Yes, sir... Ma'am, if I may...?" Hazel nodded for him to continue.
"One of the maids might be suitable. She took the housekeeping job as an
interim thing. She's a graduate of the Smithson secretarial school in the
city. Her references are very good. I think maybe you should speak to her

"Good idea, Fred. Is she in the house?"

"Yes, ma'am. She has several hours yet on her shift."

"Well, run her in. We'll talk to her right now. What's her name?"

"Gloria, ma'am."

"OK, thanks... Fred, would you do me a favor?"

"Anything, Mrs. Lemmer."

"When we're alone, call me 'Hazel'. Please?"

"Ma'am... Hazel... Thank you. It's hard for me to do that, because if
I start to think of you by your given name, I am too likely to forget and
refer to you that way in front of staff--or in front of guests. So, thank
you. But forgive me if I cannot do what you ask."

"OK, Fred. Whatever you're comfortable with. But I want your thoughts
and ideas. I'll share a little secret--of course it's no secret at all:
You know a lot more about living this way than I do. So I'll be picking
your brain regularly. Will that be a problem?"

"No... Hazel. I'm happy to provide whatever service I can."

"Great. Let's see Gloria."

"At once, ma'am."

The young lady Fred brought to them was an attractive blonde, slightly
overweight, and slightly coarse-featured. Her eyes were blue, but a bit
close together and 'squinty'. So she missed beauty, but would attract men,

Interviewing her, Hazel, who despite living most of her life on a remote
ranch was a lady instinctively, sensed that this woman was anything but a
lady. Though she tried, her attitude showed a coarseness that seemed
offensive to Hazel.

Finally thanking her, she dismissed the girl to return to her work.

"Fred, she was a good idea. Technically, she's well qualified, if she
can do what she says she can. But she won't do for me. She's everything
I'm not." A big grin at her husband, "About the only thing we have in
common is we like men a lot."

"Thank you, madam, for sharing your thoughts on it with me. I confess,
I hadn't seen her that way. I'll bring you some other candidates I think
you'll like better."

Hazel was not sitting at home, vegetating. She worked at helping
George. And she took over the stables. She rapidly discovered that she'd
forgotten more about horses than the head groom had ever known.

Within a week, Hazel hired a social secretary. The lady was named
Theresa, called 'Terry'. "And no, I don't know the Dragon Lady," she'd
confided with a laugh.

Hazel liked her and trusted her to handle the 'regrets', which were her
normal response to invitations.

Every morning, George looked over a list of the social invitations that
had arrived the previous day. He commented on the occasional one that he
thought might be worthwhile. Those women, Hazel invited to private
lunches, to get to know them a bit.

Rarely, George would ask her to accept one. Or would call to tell her
of some function he thought they should attend. She was always happy to go
anywhere he wanted to take her.

One of the reasons she chose Terry was that the girl could ride. She'd
never be in the Olympics, but she was an adequate weekend foxhunter. So
Hazel made it a part of the job, that she assist with the horses.

Most afternoons, then, the two women, with the two grooms, could be
found on the horses, making sure they were adequately exercised. Hazel
didn't neglect training Ginger and George's other jumper. George rode
Ginger himself at least three days a week. On those occasions, Hazel took
the role Adoré played at the ranch--coach and trainer. She wasn't as good
at it as her daughter-in-law, but was still much better than anybody else
in the vicinity.

Terry found that there was indeed a Dragon Lady. The maid, Gloria, who
had been passed over for her job, turned spiteful and started doing little,
mean things to her. It culminated when she carefully poured a coke on the
keyboard of Terry's computer, while Terry was at the stables with Hazel.
Fred saw it and dismissed her summarily, ending her reign of terror before
it got started.

A plus in the situation, besides George and Hazel becoming more besotted
with each other as the weeks went by, was that Hazel's help was making both
George and his horse much better than they'd ever been--and they'd been
very good. And her connection with the NBA players resulted in an
additional source of cash for George--several of the really top stars
wanted to invest substantial sums in some of the IPOs George put together.

~~ * * * * * ~~

On the ranch, life was proceeding. Audry was proud that she got
pregnant just a few months after giving birth to Erin. Regardless, she was
determined to compete at Nationals, having missed the previous year.

I didn't care. I liked the horses and working with them. I'd won about
everything I could and enjoyed the competitions. But I just wasn't driven
to win any more.

More and more, I found myself either doing mom's work, training the new
colts, or critiquing what she was doing--why did she do _this_, and not

mom is known to the world as Adoré Steele. She's no dummy. One
afternoon, she sat beside me on the top rail of the training ring, watching
dad train a foal to change leads.

"Robby, are you tired of riding?"

"No, mom. Why?"

"You seem to be spending more time working with the young horses and
less on keeping your own horse--and your own riding--sharp."

"I guess. I enjoy the work. But really, mom, what do I have left to

"Well, I'd kind of like to see a few more Olympic golds in our trophy

"Sure, I enjoy the Olympics a lot. It's a rush. But Sam and I have
dominated for so long, it's kind of stale."

"Well, let me see if I can provide a bit of motivation," mom said, with
a smile. "First, it's part of your job. Winning gold medals makes what we
do here on the ranch more valuable. Every time you and Sam win, his stud fee goes up. Winning is money in the bank, son."

"Yeah. I know that, mom."

"There's another aspect. Soon your kids will be competing. Zach's old enough to ride at the county fair and weekend meets. If he starts
competing--and the girls will be right behind him, never fear--he'll need
you and Audry as role models. If you're still competing when he gets old enough to appreciate some of the fine points, he'll work even harder to do
as well as you."

I had to think about that. "I guess... Anyway, I'm good for the next
Olympics. Audry's got her heart set on it. Damned if I'm going to let her
compete without me and Sam there, pushing her."

"Well, Robbie, that was something else I wanted to talk to you about..."

"What, mom?" I hated it when she made me drag it out of her.

"I think it won't be you and Sam, pushing her."


"Rob, how old is Sam?"

"Uh. I don't really know. Nine or ten?"

"He's twelve, and you know it. It's past time he's put to stud,
exclusively. With lots of time to just run around the pasture. Oh, once
in a while, we'll take him on a trail ride. And I'd like to use him some
to train Zach and Moira."

"I suppose I knew this was coming. I just thought it would be after the

"Rob, you're letting sentiment get in the way... just like you did with
Shannon, before. Sam might get you to the Olympics, but he wouldn't win
for you there."

"I don't think Windy could do individual events and the 3-day like Sam."

"You're right. Windy can do either, but not both. With that strong
Appaloosa coloring, he's so pretty and distinctive, I think you should ride
him in the arena events. Sheik could be your 3-day horse."

I was really surprised. "I thought you were training him for that
friend of the family in South Carolina?"

"I was. But you come first. He can have Mabel." (That was what we
called 'Marybelle of the Deschutes', a promising filly mom had been working
with.) mom and dad were over for dinner that night and the conversation was
continued at the table.

"I dunno, mom. Sheik's got a nasty disposition. What do you think of
Mabel as a 3-day horse?"

Audry answered. "No way. She's got great form and heart, but not
stamina. You'd kill her."

mom nodded.

Dad said, "Sheik just needs a stronger bit. Work him with a four-rein
bridle for a while. I'll bet he gets the message real quick."

Dad was right. I was a good enough horseman that the temper of the
mount didn't matter too much to my ability to make him perform. I'd gotten
lazy, with Sam and Windy; they both had so much to give and worked to
please their rider.

Audry had put Shannon to stud the year before, leaving Clay as her only
competition mount--we knew she couldn't do a 3-day for a couple of years

The next day, we saddled Sam and Shannon, putting Clay and Windy on
leads, and set out for a couple of days in the mountains. Zach and Moira
wanted to go along, but we promised them a turn later in the summer. "This
is a time for mommy and daddy to be alone together," Audry told them, in a
loving tone that still conveyed that there was no room for negotiation.

Shawna would care for the kids, with our parents nearby if they were

We went first to the archeological site, to say hello to the Indian
crew. There were only five of them there, doing mapping and plotting, in
preparation for detailed work. They welcomed us and took pleasure in
showing us all they'd done and discussing their plans for future work.

It seemed to us that they had things well in hand, so we left after an
hour or so and rode on toward the hills. I had in mind an overnight camp
in a sheltered little draw, just inside the border of the home ranch.

When we reached it, Audry said she'd never been there. "Sure you have,
honey. When we were little, we came here with grandma that time."

Then she remembered. "It was right after that, I told grandma I was
going to marry you when we grew up..." Her face turned sad, briefly. "I
came real close to blowing that, didn't I?"

I wasn't about to let her turn weepy on me.

Gathering her in my arms, I said, "But you didn't. We are married, and
have three and a half wonderful kids to show for it. I'm a happy husband,
with a gorgeous wife. Now get crackin', girl. It's gettin' on to supper

That did it. Audry started laughing, even as she tried to hit me.
Kissing her soundly, I put her down and went out to check the horses.

Good thing I did. Some rough-looking guy I'd never seen was just about
to untie Shannon from the peg I'd staked him to.

"You lookin' for something, mister?" I hollered. I hoped Audry would
hear me and come to back me up. I was unarmed. Though we habitually
carried rifles, I'd left mine at our camp.

He took one look at me and backed away from the peg. "No. Just
admiring your horse, there. He's a mighty fine one, isn't he?"

"Yeah. My wife sets a lot of store by him. Good thing you didn't get
by that Arab over there. He'd have taken your ears off. That one there,
now, he'd maybe let you get aboard, then wipe you off on a low tree limb or
something... Where's your car, mister?"

"Well, ya see, my, ah, old truck kind of broke down, over to the road. I
was trying to find somebody to help."

I spotted Audry. She had a rifle and was under cover, keeping this
character in her sights. GOOD girl, that Audry!

"OK, pal. Down on the ground, flat on your face!"


"I said, get on the ground, flat on your face, arms straight out to your
sides. DO IT NOW!"

Audry rocked the bolt of her rifle and the man dropped like she'd shot
him. Being careful to stay out of Audry's line of fire, I walked over and
tied his hands together behind his back, using the rawhide thongs we always
carried. Then I searched him carefully. He didn't have a gun, but was
carrying two knives--and some needles and little pouches with strange
substances in them.

"You ever go to school?"

"Sure. Don't everybody?"

"They didn't teach you to read, though."

"I can read."

"Well, you sure can't read big words, like 'hunting' and 'trespassing',
can you? Even with a little word, like 'no' in front of them."

A try at an 'aw shucks' grin. "Well, I'm broke and I thought I'd see
what I could see."

"Well, friend, you just 'broke' yourself some time in the county jail,
when I get around to calling the sheriff."

His eyes got real big. "Now, you wouldn't go and do that to a feller,
would you? I ain't done no harm."

"You are trespassing on clearly posted land and you were trying to steal
a horse. In a bit, I'll take a ride back on your trail. I'll see how
broke down your truck is... Why, if I can make it run, I'll bet I could
use it to take you to the sheriff, now couldn't I?"

"Come on, mister. I didn't hurt nothin'. Just turn me loose, and I'll
be on my way clear out of this country."

"Well, I don't see trying to steal one of my horses as not hurting
anything. You got caught before you succeeded, is all."

"I wasn't going to steal him. I just wanted a ride to where I could get
help." I thought a minute.

"OK, lay back down, on your face. Feet spread wide. Audry, keep an eye
on him. Shoot him if he moves. I'll saddle us up and we'll go have a look
at this guy's truck."

Our unwanted visitor started to protest, until I kicked him in the side
with my boot.

"Next time, I break a rib."

I soon had us packed and Audry and I were in the saddle. Our visitor
led the way to the road--with his hands firmly tied behind him. The
contents of his pockets, including a billfold with almost a thousand
dollars in cash, were in a saddlebag.

When we got near the road, he became a bit too eager. I halted him and
placed a rope around his neck, giving Audry the end--suggesting she tie it
to her saddlehorn. "My wife is going to stay right here with you, mate.
If anything should happen to spook her horse, why it might just take off
running. Of course, that would be too bad for you, since that rope's
around your neck. Maybe you'd survive, though." Audry knew to keep the
rope tight on him and not let him walk toward her.

"Is there anything I need to know about your truck? Friends waiting for
you, maybe?"

He was sweating heavily and licking his lips. He didn't like it at all.

"You know, if there's shots, that would be certain to spook my wife's
horse. Why, he'd break into a dead run in an instant. Probably leaping
over stumps and going right through the juniper brush. Until your body
caught on a log or something and stopped him."

"Hold on, Mister," he said. "Uh...yeah... I have a couple partners
waiting for me at the truck. There's a rifle and a pistol under the seat.
Charlie would use them, if he felt like it. Kind of sudden, Charlie is."

"Well, that's real thoughtful of you, to tell me all that. Tell you how
we'll do it. You just walk over to that big pine over there and stand
there, facing the tree."

"What you goin' to do?"

"You'll see in just a minute."

I tied him securely to the tree. I had him sit and put his legs on
either side of the tree. After I'd tied his ankles tightly together, legs
around the tree, I repeated the process with his arms. There was no way
this character was getting loose without someone turning him loose.

"You're not going to leave me here, are you?"

"Oh, just for a little while. We'll take care of your friends and then
come back for you. At least, you'd better hope we take care of your
friends. They'd never find you, on their own."

He didn't like that. He liked the gag I put in his mouth, to keep him
from yelling, even less.

Audry and I rode near the road, then dismounted and tied the horses
where they couldn't be seen and were unlikely to be heard. We walked to a
point where we could see the road. On the shoulder was a large stake-bed
truck, with a half-dozen of our Angus cattle in it. Two guys leaned
against the hood, smoking. We'd found us some rustlers.

I didn't like it. They were too far away, with open ground between us
and them. We couldn't take them cleanly. I could probably shoot them down
where they stood, but if one of them got behind the truck and started
shooting, we'd have a standoff.

Audry had a better idea.

"How about we take the horses and go around the bend, then ride right up
to them on the road? We can look like recreational riders, staying off the
posted ranch?"

"Not only beautiful, but smart. We'll do it."

It worked just like she said. When they heard our horses approaching,
the guys opened the hood of the truck, as if they had a breakdown. We
stopped to ask if they needed us to go for help.

"Nah. Thanks anyway. Our partner got a ride with a guy about an hour
ago. He should be back soon."

Shucking my rifle, I cocked it and said, "Nope. He's all tied up at the
moment. Now you two get on your faces in the road... NOW!"

One...I guess sudden Charlie...tried to pull a pistol from his belt. He
wasn't even a beginner fast draw. I put a bullet in his thigh and
suggested the next one would be a body shot. They both got down in a

While Audry covered them, I tied the one who hadn't been shot, hands and
feet. Then I looked at the wounded guy.

"Well Charlie, this isn't your lucky day, is it?"

He moaned. "Help me."

"Oh, I will. I'll put a pressure bandage on this. Let's hope that
isn't a major artery or something, shall we?"

"Get me to a doctor."

"Why, Charlie, a man would think you didn't appreciate what I'm doing
for you. Here I put a bandage on your leg...and you stealing my cows and
all. Why your friend was even stealing my horses--except he got caught.
And now you got caught."

Audry and I cut a gate in the fence and let our cows out of the truck,
using its hinged ramp. Then we put our captives in the bed of the truck,
tied as securely as we could manage it. We didn't want them able to undo
the knots on hands or ankles, so they ended up in a fairly tight hog-tie.

We rode back to where we'd left the first guy and unceremoniously dumped
him over a horse, to carry him back to the truck. Once there, I fixed the
fence, while Audry loaded the horses. We didn't concern ourselves if they
stepped on our 'visitors'.

I searched each man thoroughly and found more drug paraphernalia, as
well as more knives. The only firearms were the rifle and pistol we'd
already found. The other two had several thousand dollars in their
wallets, too.

Audry was all for taking them right to Bend, to deliver them to the
sheriff. I had another idea.

"Let's stop at the ranch, first. Maybe our folks will have some

When we got to the ranch, we unloaded our horses and explained what we
had caught to our parents. The kids were interested spectators, too.

"So, dad," I concluded, "we can take them to the sheriff and then have
to testify. And they'll say we can't prove that they stole anything,
because we got our cows and horses back."

Dad and Rick nodded.

"Or, we can just take care of them ourselves."

Dad caught on immediately and took over.

"Son, I thought I taught you that we don't do things that way anymore.
We won't hang these critters until they get a fair trial. Now you go put
them in the barn, where they won't be in the weather, until we get the
sheriff out here to take care of them proper."

Grumbling all the time--for the benefit of the rustlers; it was all an
act--I backed their truck up to the barn and took them one at a time to
where I could tie them to supporting beams. They ended up sitting on the
floor, arms around a post behind them, wrists securely tied with rawhide

They hadn't had anything to eat or drink, so we set large drink
containers with built-in plastic straws near each. These were filled with
fresh water and were placed so they could drink by moving their heads.

Then we left them for the night.

In the house, dad called the sheriff, apologizing for disturbing his
dinner. The sheriff called us back in about fifteen minutes and asked what
was going on.

Dad explained about the rustlers and told him how we'd arranged them for
the night. Then he described what he had in mind for the next morning.
The sheriff thought it was a likely plan and said he'd go along, after
having a good laugh at the plight of our prisoners.

After breakfast, we made sure the stock was cared for, and then went to
visit our prisoners. They were a surly bunch.

"Dad, I still think a trial would be a waste of time on these worthless
skunks. Let's just string them up and be done with them."

"Son, I know you're a grown man now, but you got to learn that there's
right ways and wrong ways. We got to let the judge and the sheriff have
their crack at them."

"You say that, but what if they just let them go?"

"Well, next time, you shoot first, when somebody is stealing a horse or
cow of ours. When you brought them in, we didn't have any choice. Now,
the sheriff will be here soon. You bring him right over, so he can arrest
these polecats proper."

We deliberately slipped into 'country idiom'. It was part of the role
we were playing for this audience.

Another part of our plan had worked to perfection. Keeping them tied
like we had, but giving them plenty of water, each had wet himself--they
couldn't help it. They smelled awful! And the one I'd shot was in serious
pain, though not, unfortunately, in danger of dying.

They were all three hollering at us, wanting this or that. We didn't
violate their 'rights' any, since we didn't question them any. We just
held them as best we could until the proper authority could take charge of

The sheriff arrived with a deputy and a judge of the district court. We
spent some time with these gentlemen over a cup of coffee and outlined what
we had in mind. They thought it was a workable plan and only offered a
couple of suggestions.

The day was sunny and warm, so we set up a table under a really big oak
that shades the ranch house. The judge put on his black robe and sat
behind it. The sheriff, with his deputy, went into the barn and took
charge of the prisoners, formally arresting them for rustling and drug
offenses, as well as Charlie for aggravated assault, when he drew on me.
They were released from the posts and handcuffed to each other.

Their rights were read to them.

Each demanded a lawyer.

They were marched in front of the judge, who repeated the charges
against them and asked how they pleaded.

They demanded a lawyer.

"Very well," the judge said. "You have refused to enter pleas to the
charges. I will enter pleas of 'not guilty' on your behalf. The court
notes that the defendants have requested legal counsel. Counsel will be
provided. The court finds that the evidence presented is sufficient to
show that a crime has been committed and that a probability exists that the
defendants committed it. The defendants are therefore bound over for trial
in the Circuit Court as soon as a trial date can be set. The sheriff has
shown that the defendants are a risk to flee the jurisdiction of this
court. Therefore, under the Oregon rules, I set bail at one million
dollars, each. Are there any questions?"

There was a clamor from the three. The judge calmly held up his hand.
When they were quiet, he commented, "Threats and demands of this court will
result in contempt citations, for which I have the authority to decree
sentences on the spot.

"You were held under lawful citizens' arrest and were provided adequate
care and facilities. Gentlemen, the victims of a crime are not obliged to
offer their attackers their beds and tables. You were housed out of the
rain and cold, and given water to keep you alive. These people were not
obliged to feed you. They could have kept you out in the elements.

"The one with the wound--your wound was treated with the best care
available. A doctor will look at it when you reach the county jail. But
you need to know that when you try to shoot someone, he might shoot back.

"The sheriff will talk to you in a few minutes. He will not ask you
anything, beyond confirmation of your names and addresses. Pay attention.
He will tell you how things work here in Oregon--and especially in
Deschutes County. "This court is adjourned."

The judge rose and marched into the house--where he removed his robes
and commented that he'd have his clerk 'make it all legal' when he got back
to Bend.

The sheriff took the three and had them sit under the other oak in the
yard. "You boys should, by now, be getting the idea that you're in deep
shit. Maybe this isn't such a big thing where you come from, but out here,
we take rustling and trying to shoot somebody seriously. Those cattle you
tried to steal are worth somewhere around $50,000 each, or more--of course,
you knew that when you stole them. The horse you tried for can't be sold.
He's too famous. But if you could sell him, I'd guess a half-million
dollars might be about right. So you see, boys, you tried to steal close
to a million dollars worth of property. Now we may be backwoods here, but
that's a felony anywhere.

"Plus old Charlie here tried to shoot it out with Mr. Steele. That
makes all of you guilty of Charlie's folly, since you're all accessories in
the felony you were committing. Attempted murder, which is what I'll have
the D.A. charge you with, is a life-sentence offense. Sure, you might get
parole after twenty years or so. But then there's the felony grand theft

"So, boys, you're in it up to your eyeballs... I've got you cold. As
far as I'm concerned, you have only one way out." He paused, to let that
sink in.

Of course, these rustlers weren't too swift and were druggies besides.
"What's that?" they all wanted to know.

"Well, if you help me, I can talk to the D.A..."

"How? What?"

"How did you know about the cattle and horses on this ranch? Who buys
such stock from you? And, are you willing to cut a deal? I get these
people as cold as I have you, in return for a better deal?"

They couldn't talk fast enough.

The sheriff stopped them. "Remember, you all demanded lawyers. Are you
changing your minds?"

They assured him that they would tell him everything they knew, if he'd
try to help with the DA. He called his deputy over to witness that. Then
he sat down to listen.

"You gotta believe us! We've picked up a few cows here and there. And
a horse or two... It was this guy we met in Denver, at a livestock
auction, who told us that we could make a really big score in Oregon."

Another picked it up. "Yeah. He told us there was this one special
ranch, that didn't raise beef for eating, they raised beef for breeding.
And the horses, he said, were the Ferraris of the horse world. One little
swing by that ranch... why, we'd be set."

"Yeah. Well, you see where that got you," the deputy commented.

"Well, we've told you the story. Will you let us go?"

"Not a chance. Our deal was to talk to the DA. You haven't given us a
thing, except that you thought you could sell anything you stole. We
already knew that. Big fuckin' deal!"

"But, we'll give you the guys' names!"

The sheriff picked up on that quickly. "Guys? There was more than

"Yeah. There was two. Looked like they'd been real shit-hot. But kind
of raggedy, you know?"

"No, I don't know? What do you mean?"

"Well, they looked like they had lots of money, you know? But there was
something missing. Like they'd lost some of it. Or just didn't care.
They were worn and ... not dirty... just... not clean, either."

"OK, I'm getting a picture. Are you going to tell us who these guys are, or are we just supposed to recognize them?"

"We don't know if their names are real, you know? But they said they
were Claude Valkenberg and George Olsen. I don't know if that helps or

"What did they offer you for stock from this ranch?"

"Four times what we'd get for them at beef prices."

"Yeah, that would make the trip worth it," the sheriff agreed. "You're
willing to testify?"

"Yeah, sure, if it gets us off."

"I don't promise that. All I promised was to see what I could do. You
guys keep forgetting that."

"Yeah, right. Anything you say, sheriff. Can you get me to a doctor,

"You'll live, more's the pity. OK, deputy, get them in the car and book
'em." The deputy left with the prisoners and the sheriff left with the
judge a bit later.

We still had to deal with 'the unholy three'. Damn, we were tired of
that bunch!

~~ * * * * * ~~

In New York, Hazel was fast becoming a player in the social scene.

The reasons were many. Among them was the fact that her social activity
was minimal. She accepted only very few carefully chosen
invitations--preferring to spend most evenings quietly with her husband.
She absolutely did not accept the 'hierarchy' of New York society...and
just couldn't be bothered about what others thought. No matter: Her
patrician lineage guaranteed her standing.

Before long, those who were allowed to get to know her realized that
Hazel could be a gregarious woman, but also was used to having no one but
her family around her for long periods. She liked people, in other
words--but was perfectly happy with her husband's company.

She felt no need to become a 'mover and shaker' in society and refused
to play the game. Oh, she'd charm anybody, if she felt that it would do
George some good, but she wasn't willing to do what most of the 'society'
matrons did, to work their way up the pecking order.

Unimpressed by either wealth or social standing, Hazel made friends the
way she always had--she looked for quality and integrity.

She accompanied George into the city about once a week. While he
worked, she shopped and entertained friends at lunch. In the evening, they
might attend someone's party--if the hosts were friends. Just as often,
they attended a play or even a new movie.

On weekends, they often had friends out to the Long Island
estate--enjoying the horses and bridge games, good food and excellent
conversation. Few turned down a weekend invitation to their home.

On rare occasions, they would host a dinner party at the hotel in
Manhattan--as a 'payback' for invitations accepted, as much as anything.
Even these events were kept small and intimate.

Before she knew it, any invitation from Hazel generated automatic
acceptance. When she realized that, she laughed and jokingly compared
herself to the White House.

In the spring, George rode in some regional equestrian competitions.
His riding was better than it ever had been and Ginger performed beyond his
expectations. George quickly concluded that the improvement was a result
of Hazel's work with the horse and coaching of them both.

"I'll probably beat Audry this year," he confided with a chuckle.

"Well, maybe. She's pregnant again and only doing arena events. Rob is
the one to watch for this year."

"They're both formidable at any time. I'll watch out for them both...
And who will you be rooting for, love?"

"My husband, of course," Hazel said, eyes twinkling. "I love those
kids, sure. But you are my husband and my one true love. I'd be thrilled
to see you beat both of them."

At Nationals, we saw Hazel and George for the first time since their
wedding, though we talked a lot on the phone.

The event was held at Hilton Head, down the coast from Charleston, South

The horses had taken the air trip to Charleston just fine. Neither they
nor we enjoyed the heat and humidity we encountered very much. Temperature
and humidity both above 90 make for pretty tough conditions. The arena was
air-conditioned, which helped. But I expected the 3-day to be a bitch. I
wasn't disappointed.

Our reunion with grandma was joyous. George was never allowed to feel
left out. Even the kids swarmed over him. And he and Hazel both got their
turns feeding Erin.

To our amusement, Hazel made him change her, when she wet or pooped
while he was holding her. He took it well, saying it was part of being a
grandpa--and he took the role seriously.

Hazel warned us, too, that George was improved and was out to eat our
lunch at the Nationals. We'd seen his scores in the monthly equestrian
papers, and believed her.

When we saw him practice, there was no doubt that he and Ginger were far
better than they had been. Audry just got determined. Clay was a better
and stronger horse than Shannon had been, but maybe not quite as elegant.
Windy was the best arena horse I'd ever ridden. I wasn't worried. The
judges would determine the outcome.

For the 3-day, I was worried. Sheik could do it, but I didn't know if
he _would_. He was by far the most cantankerous horse I'd ever ridden at
that level. Just when I thought I had him in hand, he'd throw a bucking
fit, or deliberately balk at a gate. For the first time as a rider, I
carried a crop. Sheik needed it.

In the qualifying round of dressage, Audry and I both made the finals
easily. George was in the second day and qualified easily, too.

The final round was a much closer contest than I had endured in a long
time. I was used to Audry beating me, but with Windy, I had a better horse than her Clay--in my admittedly biased opinion. And I was not willing to
say she was a better rider than I.

George and Ginger were a formidable combination.

It was a three-way dogfight, as far as I could tell.

Grandma said George would win. mom predicted that I would. Dad said
Audry would prevail one more time.

In the end, I won dressage, beating Audry for the first time in years.
And George was second. Audry was pleased with third, but was not happy
that we had both beaten her.

She vowed that we'd never beat her over the jumps. Well...we'd see.

George was the favorite in the jumping event, so he rode last. Since we
were on new mounts, Audry and I were in the middle of the pack.

Clay turned in a clean round, in a very fast time. Another horse and
rider followed them, and then it was my turn.

Windy was flawless! He was so smooth, he made it seem effortless. And
his time was a scorcher! We were three seconds ahead of Audry. Our time
stood until George took his turn. I couldn't believe my eyes. Ginger
flowed through the course and seemed to take the whole thing, including the
gates, at a full gallop. George ended up more than two seconds ahead of

Audry was not amused.

In the second turn, we were the last to ride. Audry and Clay really
turned it on and her time was better than mine had been in the first round,
but not quite as good as George's. Her only hope was that he would slow
down. I put Windy to it and we turned in our best performance ever. Our
time for the second round was three seconds faster than George's time in
the first. I was a second ahead.

Grandma Hazel gave George a big kiss--and pointedly told him to 'show
the kids how it was done.' He did...beating my time by a half second,
winning the event. Audry and I did not like losing, even to a friend
riding one of our horses. mom smiled quietly to herself and whispered to
Elin, who always seemed to know something we didn't.

George arranged a private room in an excellent restaurant for a big
family dinner that night. We loved having them with us again and the only
ones who seemed at all put out that George had won were Audry and I. Our
folks were happy for the family 1-2-3 sweep. I felt they were betraying
their own kids. But we did our best to have a good time and mostly
succeeded. George was very gracious and didn't rub our noses in it.

He did surprise us, though, when he said he was going to ride Ginger in
the 3-day, too. We never suspected she'd have the stamina to do it after
the arena competition.

"Does she have that much in her?" I blurted.

"I think so," George answered. "This isn't an Olympic year, so it's a
good time to find out. She's a funny personality. Maybe it's just
attention she craves. It seems, the more work she gets, the more she
wants. Anyway, I want to try. If she runs out of gas, oh well."

mom just nodded. She'd always thought of Ginger more as a 3-day mount
than an arena horse anyway.

In the 3-day, George ate my lunch. Sheik got fractious in dressage and
we ended that stage in fifth. He did well in the strength and endurance
stage, taking second, in good enough time to make us second overall, going
into the jumping day.

Then he got cantankerous again and balked at a fence--putting us out of

George, on the other hand, was right about Ginger. She was a tired
animal at the end, but had enough to win the event. She'd never be a
dominant horse, like Sam, but she was the best in the country that year.

After hugs and kisses, George and Hazel promised to come out to the
ranch in a couple weeks. We returned to Oregon and they to New York.

~~ * * * * * ~~

The DA came out personally, to tell us about our rustlers. They were
wanted on various charges in a number of states. Charlie was wanted for
murder in Ohio. The information they'd given the U.S. Attorney was not
enough to do anything about Valkenberg or Olsen.

The three would be charged with various felonies in Oregon, but would be
released to other jurisdictions that had more serious charges pending
against them. If they were released from those, Oregon could have them
back, to try for rustling and assault and so on.

He thought that these guys were small potatoes, really, and that the
state could save money and effort by turning them over to others who really
wanted them.

We agreed, as long as the sheriff was allowed to have a little 'talk'
with them, first.

The DA, a good friend of Rick and Elin's, grinned. "Already done.
Those guys can't wait to get out of our jail and into some nice friendly
place that only wants to put them on trial for murder, armed robbery and
the other usual mayhem. They thought that they'd walk, if they pleased the
US Attorney. But they didn't have anything useful for him. The sheriff
spread the word in the county jail that they were being held for trying to
gang-rape a 6-year-old girl... Then he threw them in the tank for a

We all laughed.

"They can't get out of Oregon soon enough. It will be as prisoners,
when they go."

We were satisfied, as far as it went.

"You know, Kent, that the guys that put them up to it won't stop there."

"Yeah. I know. The sheriff and I discussed that, too. I don't know
that I can do much to help, though."

Dad spoke for us all. "I guess if you know what we are up against and
will stand by us, we'll do what we have to, to protect our families and our

"Works for me, Marty. Neal and I agree that we'll back you up. And
Neal said he'll send a deputy out this way more often."

"OK. We'll handle whatever comes along."

"Yeah. You seem to do that."

~ ~ * * * * * ~ ~

Not much later, George and Hazel arrived--in a rented helicopter.
George just couldn't resist giving Hazel an aerial tour of the range and
mountains where she'd lived so long.

To say we were happy to see them would be like calling the Tetons,
hills. The kids swarmed over Hazel, pulling her this way and that, talking
a mile a minute--trying to tell her all about everything all at once. My
folks and Audry's--and Audry and I--wanted to hug them and welcome them,

We finally got everyone straightened out and into the big house. In the
living room, Audry and I poured drinks for everyone. (Of course, the kids
were included. They got cokes--except Erin, who was still on a bottle.)

We filled them in on all the details about our rustlers and the fact
that there was nothing real we could do about Olsen and Valkenberg.

George said, "Let me think on that a bit. Maybe I have an idea..."

"What, George?"

"It's not quite there, yet. I won't forget."

"OK... How long can you stay?"

"Hazel wanted a month. I only have a week... So about 10 days or so."

"Great. Do you have anything specific you want to do?"

"Mostly, look at the spot Hazel wants to build our 'vacation hideaway'."

"Works for us," Uncle Rick said. "Whistle if you need anything."

Grandma Hazel said, "I assume my horse is in good shape? And there will
be something decent for George to ride?"

"After what he did to us at Nationals, George should walk. But we're a
forgiving sort." A big grin from my wife, "I'll personally make sure
there's something suitable for him, if you want to ride."

Hazel said, "Now Audry, I don't mean that 20 year old, broken-down
gelding of yours..."

We all laughed. The gelding grandma was referring to died a year

Late the next morning, while Audry and I were working with the
horses--Audry from the top rail of the ring, since she was too far along in
her pregnancy to ride any more (Nationals had been the end of her riding,
until the next baby made its appearance.)--George and Hazel rode out to the
ridge where Hazel thought they could have a nice 'retreat' cabin.

She had chosen well. The spot had a lovely view over meadow and pasture
into the Cascades across the way. There was a good creek, providing
plentiful water, and it was not so far that stringing power lines would be
a problem. As soon as he had looked around, George said, "Hazel, honey,
this is a perfect place. The only thing I can see wrong with it is that
I'll want to spend all my time here and not in New York, where I need to

Her grin showed her dimples. "That's just what I had in mind,
sweetheart. And you know damn well that most of what you do is done by
phone and FAX anyway--why not from here?"

"Because my clients expect the personal touch and access to me,
personally. And because a lot of the leads on new deals come from lunch or
a drink in some club or bar in Manhattan--as you know perfectly well."

"But you have to admit, you could do a lot of your work here, if you
wanted to?"

"Yeah, Hazel. I could. And I suspect I will. But I can't spend as
much time here as either of us would like me to."

Hazel hugged him. "I know, darling. And I'll be beside you, wherever
you are. You know that... I do think that this place would be the perfect
hide-out spot for us, though."

George hugged her back. "Damn, I'm glad I married you!" Then he
chuckled, "Yeah. It's a good job you insisted on this when you gave the
kids the big house."

"I may be old--that doesn't mean 'stupid'."

"Yeah. Right. Granny."

Hazel hit him for that. It had been too many years since she'd been in
love like she was with this man.

"So, Hazel, should I go ahead and have a place for us built here?"

"Sure. Why not?"

"I thought maybe you'd want to 'supervise' it all?"

"Nah. That's man's work. I just want to approve the kitchen layout. I
do insist on indoor plumbing, though."

George laughed again. "Yes, love. We'll have indoor plumbing. Maybe
even running water...?"

In the time--way too short--they could spend with us, George and Hazel
managed to ride up to the little canyon, to see how the Indians were coming
with their work. They also checked out all the young horses on the
place... We didn't really mind that. George confided that Ginger was his
last competition horse. He would retire when she could no longer compete.

On their last night with us, we had the whole family together. George
said he'd get going on building a place on the site grandma had selected,
and asked if one of us would consent to be the local representative of the
owner for dealing with contractors and so on.

Dad and Uncle Rick looked at me simultaneously, so I was elected.

George said, "I'll send a set of plans out FedEx, as soon as we've got
them. I need to meet with an architect, first. You may have one of them
out here soon, to look at the spot."

As it turned out, three different architects arrived at three different
times, to look over the site. George ended up making it a kind of
competition. He paid each a flat fee, to come up with a concept and basic
plan. Then he and Hazel would select the one they liked best and refine
the details from there. It was most of a year, and after the birth of my
third daughter, Julie, that grandma told George to quit screwing around.
THAT one was the one they would choose!

George chose to build a log house. We all liked that. It would blend
into the scenery nicely.

His 'log cabin' vacation retreat was a 6,500 square foot mansion! And I
was the guy who was expected to supervise?

Not to worry, Hazel told me. The architect would be out often during
the construction, to make sure his plan was followed.

Before I knew it, I was meeting the architect again and being introduced
to the general contractor, a guy from Portland who mostly did commercial
buildings. His biggest industrial customer owed George big time, for a
financing package George had put together for him; he convinced the
contractor that it would pay off in the long run to do this big house--and
do it right, down to the last detail!

Next thing we knew, the county was out to approve site, sewer and water.
Then heavy excavation equipment arrived, along with the electric company,
to string power and phone to the site. In no time, a septic system was
installed and the foundations of the house excavated.

An enormous amount, it seemed to me, of cement was poured. Not just for
foundations, but for deck and floors for the barns and shop.

Next, asphalt was laid from the county road to the ranch house. And
from there, on out to George's 'retreat'. That was nice--we'd often
complained about the dust from the drive and the open space around the
house in the summer. But we'd always felt that the expense didn't justify
the solution.

It did to George. He didn't want dust from his coming and going--or
that of his guests or people making deliveries--to disturb us.

(Grandma confided, with a grin, "He can afford it--what else is he going
to spend his money on? Just thank him when he comes out. He'll say, 'Aw,
shucks', but be pleased." ... She was right.)

Within three months, the construction crews were gone, and the house was
ready. Wow! What a house! It was twice as large as the old ranch house
we lived in and it sure had all the comforts money could buy, while
maintaining the rustic ambiance.

It also had its own stable--stalls for six horses, as well as a large
corral and fenced pasture--and a combination shop and garage, with four

There were five well-appointed guestrooms and a small suite for a
live-in cook-housekeeper. They considered a swimming pool, but decided
that it was probably too cold much of the year--unless they wanted to put
it indoors. Besides, they were mostly interested in riding when they were
on the ranch. Naturally, there was a helicopter pad.

As soon as the spring weather was warm enough, George--actually it was
grandma--had a housewarming. It was a small event, with a half-dozen
couples from the east invited, as well as some of grandma's friends from
the local area. Grandma called to get us to help set it up. "You know I
can't do it from here without your help. And there are too many details
that have to be done from your end. I'll mail invitations, but would you
make the follow-up calls? I'll FAX you the list." Audry agreed readily

"And, would you especially make sure the people on the list from Warm
Springs come? I don't want anybody to think it's too 'high-brow' an event.
We want to have some fun with our friends."

"OK, grandma," Audry agreed. "We'll keep the lid on it, until you can
get here yourself... When will that be?"

"Next week, dear. Lord willin'."

Only one couple had to cancel, due to a severe illness. Everyone else
came. We had guests coming out our ears and some creativity was needed to
find places to put them all. We used our motorhome and had a couple of
friends from Bend come out in motorhomes of their own, just to help with
housing. The guests from the east stayed in the new house. The rest
stayed in our houses, or the motorhomes.

We ate steaks and corn on the cob and the kids had all the ice cream
they could stuff down.

"Well, mom," dad asked, "now that you've built it, what will you do with

Grandma laughed. "Why Martin... We'll open a cat-house. I'm surprised
you had to ask."

That increased the level of merriment.

Rick looked at George. "Why would you want to do that? I thought Hazel
was all you could handle?"

"Well, she's all she'll let me handle..." George hollered across the
group to Tom, the tribal elder, who'd come with Gary Butler and his family.
"Hey, Tom. How do you folks handle smart aleck kids? Mine are getting a
little uppity."

"We smack 'em on the backside, George. Until they get big enough to
smack back. Then we pretty much stay out of their way... Nice party, by
the way, but the new teepee is a bit much, isn't it?"

"Nah. I need a big place, so I can have lots of bathrooms. That way,
there's always sure to be at least one that Hazel isn't in when I need to
take a leak!"

A bit later in the evening, Tom asked dad about the rustlers. George
overheard, and asked for a moment from everyone there.

"Friends, a lot of you know about the trouble the family had some years
ago, with a group who were trying to force their way into eastern society
at Rob and Audry's expense."

Heads nodded. Most everyone had heard the story. Hazel promised to
tell those who hadn't, later.

"They managed to put them out of business and all was well--until one of
the Schwartz boys decided to take revenge. He was killing stock on the
ranch. Then shot one of the Indian girls who was helping patrol the place.
Anyway, he's dead and not a problem.

"But we just learned that Olsen and Valkenberg are behind the rustling
that happened last year. That attempt wasn't successful, but we expect
they'll try again. Unless we can prevent it.

"It seems that they're trying to recover their fortune, at least in
part, through the cattle business. Of course, that was Olsen's

"I kind of thought that, with all the talent and the contacts of the
people here, we can find out where these people are nowadays and what
they're up to. And when we find that out, we can set them running... I'm
thinking a long-term program to keep us all informed of where they are,
wherever they light and set up shop. We could also quietly let our friends
in those places know all about them, and the dangers of doing business with

Heads nodded. It would be done.

"I kind of think they'll never get on their feet again, if we see to it.
We have to be careful not to cross the line, ourselves. No threats, no
intimidation. But if you folks, who are my friends, will use your
influence, as I'll use mine, I'm sure we can find out what we need to know
and take appropriate action."

George's eastern guests were couples who were genuine friends--and moved
in similar social and business circles. Hazel's local friends were
influential people, too. Of course, the Indians had contacts with all the
other tribes and bands in the country--a pretty incredible network that
most people seldom saw, or thought of.

Harry Jameson, horseman, and CEO of a major conglomerate, had a
suggestion. "If these people are behind the rustling, why don't we make
sure that they get a message--that for every dollar you lose to rustlers,
they will lose an equivalent amount, in ways they can't protect against?"

"Sounds OK," another guest agreed, "but how would you do it?"

"Lots of ways. Investments go sour. Cattle they buy at top prices turn
out to be low grade. Real estate deals can't get the permits they need.
It's not too hard."

It was agreed.

They would make an effort to find out all they could about the three
families and their current locations and activities. George and Hazel
would coordinate.

Audry and I were not vindictive. As far as we knew, we'd stopped them
every time they'd tried to hurt us; although they had done us harm, in dead
stock and injured friends. Two dead Schwartz's--one still unburied--were
more than enough revenge. We'd picked up a few rifles and a couple of
trucks out of it.

Our goal in the whole thing was to get these people to just leave us
alone. It seemed that they had formed a habit of taking a swipe at us from
time to time, when it didn't cost them anything and they thought they could
get away with it--like with the rustlers.

My concern--the fear that made me wake in a cold sweat--was that one
time, it would be Zach, or Moira who would be in the way. They'd proven
they were completely ruthless. There was no reason to think they'd spare
our children, if they felt they could get away clean.

Dad and Uncle Rick agreed--and so did George, when I asked him.

We'd try to smoke them out, so we could dispose of them.

~~ * * * * * ~~

Audry asked me, "Do you really think we can do anything?"

"Well, that's a pretty high-powered group Hazel gathered. If anything
can be done, that bunch can do it."

"I'd just like to be able to quit worrying all the time. Every time we
leave this part of the ranch, I feel I have to watch over my shoulder for
some crazy with a gun. I'm real tired of it. I'd rather we didn't have to
carry rifles all the time, too."

"Darlin', I love you... I wish, with all my heart, that I could make it
that way for you. And for the kids. But you know, this is the way the
first Steeles on this ranch had to live every day of their lives. The
Indians were friendly, mostly. But you never knew when a rogue band of
young bucks might break loose in the area. And the white men who passed
through were notorious for picking up anything that wasn't fastened down.

"We're blessed to live in a more civilized, peaceful time. We enjoyed
that during our growing up years. Now we have enemies, through no fault of
our own. We have to be careful, to keep what is ours--including especially
our lives and the lives of our children."

My wife snuggled her exciting shape against me. Four children-and her
body still turns me on instantly.

"I know that, Rob. But I'd love to be able to give our children the
same peaceful childhood we had."

"Well, look at it. They already have more playmates than we had..."

My hand, gently passing over her firm breast elicited an enchanting

"Yeah. And you keep that up and they'll have even more."

"Well, I do what I can..."

Audry giggled and wriggled underneath me, steering it in.

"Quit talking and get to doing then!" she said, her voice trailing off
into a contented sigh, as I penetrated her soft, hot core.

When we were lying side by side, kissing and stroking and cooling down,
I took it up again.

"I don't see what we could do, darling, except hunt them all down and
kill them. This bunch has decided that we're responsible for their
troubles--even though they began it and we've not pursued them, after their
various attacks. I think that living 'on our toes' might be a good thing,
in the sense that the kids will grow up aware that there are evil people
out there, as well as good ones. I hope they'll grow up alert and aware of
what's going on around them--and better able to survive as a result."

"That's all well and good, Rob. But I want peace. I don't want to have
to scan the horizon and the corral fence every time before I step out of
the house, like I do now."

"Audry, honey, I'm not arguing with you. I'd like that, too. But we
have a situation that we have to live with. And we have to accept that it
may go on for years. We could probably behave normally, in perfect safety,
for a long time. Years maybe. But those people are out there and they do
want to hurt us any way they can. We have to remain alert all the time, if
we're going to catch them before they do one or more of us in."

Reluctantly, she agreed.

In New York, Hazel and George had the same conversation. But with a bit
of a twist.

"Hazel, I'm really tired of the way that bunch operates. They've been
after your family for years--for no reason except malice."

"Darling, we're all tired of them. But we don't know what we can do
until they attack. We can handle them if we can catch them. How can we do
anything to them if we don't even know where they are? And even then, the
law won't touch them, unless they can catch them in some criminal act."

"Well, I think they need a lesson in manners. Your sons and grandson
have done an amazing job on them, all things considered. But, though I
operate in a strictly ethical manner, I know every trick of the sharks... I
think they'll find I'm the biggest shark of all."

"What do you have in mind?"

"Ask me in a couple of days. I need to check a couple of things first."
Hazel smiled and kissed him hard.

It turned out not to be too difficult to locate the three families.
Their wives' social pretensions made them appear on the 'radar screen'
George and his friends set up. They were in the Dallas, Texas area, where
they were speculating in cattle and oil.

Without much effort, George was able to get a pretty complete picture of
their activities from a customer, whose company was now traded on the
NYSE--and who had gotten his initial financing through George.

"Don't know why you'd want anything to do with that bunch, George.
They're not your kind of people at all. They've got a little money, I
think, and their wives like to play it big in the social whirl--though
they're not really very well liked. But you deal with honest people.
Hell, you've loaned millions on a handshake. These guys? George, I
wouldn't trust their contract, unless I had their balls in my safe for

"I know what they are, Dan. They've been causing some trouble for my
family. I intend to put a stop to it. But I need to know all I can find
out about them, in order to do it."

"That makes it different. Want me to nose around a bit?"

"Please. If it's not too much trouble."

"For you? No trouble at all. When are you going to bring that babe you
married down here to Texas?"

"I don't want her associating with you clowns!" They shared a laugh.
"Actually, we may come down there to take a look at those people
ourselves... Lemme know what you dig up."

"Any time, George. I'll call you in a few days."

Another friend called to tell George that Olsen had borrowed the money
they were operating on. There was some speculation that it was drug money
he was trying to launder. If true, he was playing a dangerous game.
Speculating in cattle and oil was not for the faint of heart or weak of
stomach. And speculating with drug money, from someone who would want his
investment back, clean and with interest, was really risky.

Harry Jameson spoke with George daily and kept abreast of the
investigation too. One of his friends told him that Valkenberg's wife had
just spent a million dollars on a new townhouse for them. And the other
two women were spending lots of cash, too.

"Where's it coming from, Harry?" George asked him.

"I don't know. The guy who told me said he couldn't figure it out,
since they didn't seem to be doing that well in the oil and cattle

"Could they have found some investors and be skimming the deal?"

"Possible. I'll see what I can dig up."

Hazel checked with the Parmentiers in Virginia. Her cousin, Alan, said,
"Funny you should call... I thought those names were the same as the group
that were after the kids--that thing about rigging the equestrian

"Yep. That's them. What have you heard, Alan?"

"Well, my nephew, Gary, says the women in that group are social climbers
like you wouldn't believe. He also says they're really heavily leveraged
right now on some deals--both in cattle and oil. I guess they bought some
breeding stock on credit, then used them as the collateral for the margin
on an oil deal."

"So any 'correction' in either deal would wipe them out?"

"Yes. That's what Gary says, anyway."

"Can you find out more of the details about these scams?" Hazel asked.

"Sure. I'll call Gary and get back to you in a day or two."

"Thanks, Alan. I knew I could count on you."

"Any time, Hazel... I have to say, from a purely selfish point of view,
you were more fun before you got married. But George is a good guy and all
of us down here are happy for both of you."

"Thanks twice, then, Alan. I'll look forward to hearing from you."

In a couple of days, they had the details. The three families were
indeed highly leveraged and were living on credit, with very little to back
it up. The cattle deal involved some very expensive breeding stock they
bought and were trying to syndicate, just like one would a champion
racehorse. Turns out the breed involved was Black Angus.

Hazel's grin got wolfish at that.

She called Rick at the ranch immediately. He was out, but was carrying
a cell phone. Hazel reached him in his jeep.

"Rick, does the ranch have any excess bulls right now?"

"One or two--and a couple of young ones we haven't proven yet. Why?"

Hazel outlined her plan. Rick thought it was an excellent idea and said
he'd ship the animals within the week.

Breeding stock from the Steele Ranch was well known across the country,
among serious breeders of Black Angus. The sudden availability of two
proven and two young bulls and three champion cows from the herd
dramatically reduced the value of the animals Olsen, Valkenberg and
Schwartz had bought.

Since they had used the full amount that they expected to get for the
animals in their margin on the oil deal, their suddenly reduced value
caused the bank that was underwriting the venture to issue a margin call on

Very quietly, the bank was made aware that George knew something about
these people. Having done business with him before, the bank president
called George for a confidential report, knowing he'd get George's honest
opinion in a straightforward manner.

"You know, Brad, I have a personal issue with those people. Olsen and
Schwartz especially, but Valkenberg, too."

"How's that, George? I hadn't heard that you'd done anything with

"I didn't. But they've carried on a vendetta against my wife's kids for
years. Some pretty low stuff, too."

"George, thanks. I'll keep that in mind. But you know, telling me that
up front just confirms your integrity, as far as I'm concerned--as if it
needed it. How about filling me in?"

"OK, Brad... They've always been skaters right on the edge. Mostly
they haven't gotten caught. When they have, it's usually been a matter of
the case not being strong enough to convict them, or the crime not quite
serious enough to be worth the effort to secure a conviction...

"They did deliberately mess up my grand-kids' registration at the
national horse show several years ago, so one of their sons could win.
They bribed and intimidated judges too. When it was proven, the results of
that year's competition were thrown out. You may remember: Audry was on
the cover of _Sports Illustrated_?"

Brad had a vague recollection. But it must have been quite a scandal
back then to make that much splash.

"Then," George continued, "they hired a guy--actually, he already worked
for Olsen--to kill stock on the ranch. The guy got caught, and told all.
That resulted in them losing their existing businesses--they relied on
social contacts. When they were exposed for the crooks they were, no one
would do business with them.

"Later, one of the Schwartz boys, John, tried to kill some stock again.
He'd drive out to the ranch from time to time and shoot a few head. He's
dead, now. And a year ago, they talked some guys into trying to rustle
stock from the ranch. One of them pulled a gun on Hazel's grandson. Not a
good idea...

"Anyway, Brad, you get the idea. They are amoral at best and shameless
social climbers. Their biggest problem of all is they have no class. A
little patina maybe, but really crude characters--the women, too. My best
advice is, recover what you can, if you have any exposure with them. And
don't let any of your friends get involved with them."

"OK, George. Thanks for your help. I really do appreciate it."

"Any time, Brad. Sorry I couldn't give you good news."

"Oh, you did. Weren't you behind those bulls from the ranch showing up

"Purely coincidence, Brad. Purely coincidence."

"Sure, George... And somewhere on that ranch, you really do have a pig that knows how to whistle."

"See you, Brad."

Since all three families, including the wives, had personally guaranteed
the balance on the oil deal, the bank swooped in and confiscated all their
assets that it could find. Surprisingly, this included several million
dollars in cash, in relatively small bills, found in Valkenberg's bedroom,
in their expensive townhouse... which was also seized.

The cattle Olsen had bought for them were really pretty good--just not
as good as those from the ranch. The guy who'd bought our bulls ended up
buying them, too--at half of what Olsen had paid. (Olsen still owed the
remainder to a bank.) He kept only one of our proven bulls and one of the
young ones and shipped the other animals back to the ranch.

We didn't care. The two bulls he kept brought in more money than the
family really wanted to make that year, even with income averaging.

Valkenberg's wife almost left him over the debacle. He'd promised her
that he'd make it big and she would have the social standing she demanded.
In the end, she didn't have anyplace else to go and followed along to the
next scam.

The banker, Brad, made sure that all three were quietly informed--but
not from him--that it was not a good idea to carry grudges. Compared to
the people they wanted to swim with, they were small fish, indeed. And a
couple of really big sharks had taken the Oregon ranch as a special
project--those three should lay off. Or else.

We enjoyed real peace and tranquility for the next two years.

Well... as much as parents of four small, active children can.

* 'High Society' is the seventh in the series of Audry stories. (c)
1997, 2001, Extar International, Ltd. All rights reserved. Single copies
for personal, non-commercial use may be downloaded or printed. Any other
uses, including reposting, or posting on an archive site, must have prior
permission from Extar International. Comments always welcome.


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