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AUDRY08 young mans hair Screams agony



Chapter 8 - Business

A tale of Romance by The Star*

We had just fallen asleep-finally--when the call came. Little Julie had
a cold and had been coughing and fussing all night.

Being closest, I picked up the handset and mumbled into it.

"Hello? Hello? Is this Mr. Rob Steele?"

"Yeah," I muttered. "Who the hell is this?"

"This is Sergeant Thomas, of the Los Angeles Police Department. Is
Martin Steele your father?"

"Yeah. What about him?"

"He's been in a serious accident. He and the woman with him are in
really bad shape... Can you come down here?"

"Yeah." I was awake. "Just a second." I grabbed paper and pencil. "OK.
Give me your name and how to reach you. I'll call as soon as I know when
and how I'll be arriving."

When I had that, the sergeant asked another question. "Do you know who
was with him? A slender woman, with dark hair?"

"My mother," I said, dying inside. "How is she?"

"It doesn't look good. Get down here as soon as you can."

When I hung up, I turned to Audry and held her, while I shuddered.

When I got that out of my system, she asked, "What is it, dear?"

"Mom and dad. They've been in an accident in LA. They're in bad

"Oh, dear! You pack a bag, while I call about flights out of here."

By the time I was packed, Audry found that the earliest practical way
out was at 9 in the morning. I might as well try to get a bit of rest.

Audry, being the smart one of us, called grandma.

Hazel wasn't much more coherent than I'd been. But she woke right up,
when Audry gave her the news.

"I've got to stay with the kids, but Rob will fly down there. The
earliest he can arrive is about noon."

"Don't worry about it," Grandma Hazel said. "George has a new jet.
We'll fly out right now. We'll pick Rob up at Bend on our way."

"Thanks grandma."

"I thought you were going to call me 'Hazel'?"

"I try. But you were just 'grandma' for an awful lot of years."

"I know, dear. And I love you a lot. We'll have somebody call, to let
you know when we'll be in Bend."

Audry called her folks next. Uncle Rick insisted he'd fly down with us.
If this would be his last chance to speak to his brother, he wanted to take
it. Before we knew it, we were all having an ultra-early breakfast in the
big house. Elin would stay with Audry until we knew more. She'd help
Shawna, the Indian girl who was our 'nanny', for lack of a better word--and
she and Audry could comfort each other.

Elin let us know that we'd be in real deep trouble if we didn't call
them soon and often with news.

Rick asked me to call my friend, Gary Butler, Shawna's dad, to see if we
could get a couple of reliable hands from Warm Springs for a while. If mom and dad were laid up, we'd need some additional help right away.

Shawna assured me that it wasn't too early. "For something like this,
it is never too early, Rob. He'd be angry if he knew you hesitated to call
on him."

I called, and briefly outlined what had happened, and that Rick and I
were flying out at first light. We'd need two or three good hands
immediately, for an indefinite time.

Gary just said he'd take care of it and had me put Shawna on.

When she hung up, she said, "At least two hands will report to Gerry
(our foreman) before the day is over. He'll try to get four, but a couple
of them may have to be teenagers."

Rick and I assured her that we were grateful--and teenagers have been
doing men's work, handling cattle in the west, for over a hundred years.

mom and dad had been in LA for a combination vacation and horse show.
They'd taken my horse, Windy, with them, to show him and to try to drum up
additional business for the stud farm part of our operation. My big
stallion, Sam, was getting on in years, but Windy, with his Appaloosa
blood, was a fine replacement and we wanted to get him 'off and running'.

Windy had been stabled with friends, who had excellent security and
would take good care of him. mom and dad were staying with them, too.

We tried to call them, but only got a sleepy maid, who said they'd left
last night and weren't back yet.

Dawn was just breaking when we landed at Burbank and were met by the
LAPD Sergeant who had called us.

"I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news," he said. "We haven't
confirmed much of anything, except your dad and the lady with him are in
critical condition. And we're not sure the lady is Mrs. Steele. There
was no purse or identification on her."

We rented a car. The officer said he'd ride with us. His partner would
clear the way.

Following the police car, lights and siren and the whole works, to the
hospital was an unforgettable experience--it was all part of the nightmare
that wouldn't go away. In the hospital, we were led right up to the ICU.

The man in one unit was dad, all right. He was asleep, with tubes and
wires everywhere.

The woman in the unit next to his was not mother!

So, who was she?

Where was mother?

Rick answered the first question.

"That's the lady they're staying with," he said. "Mrs. Jennings. Nice
lady and good horsewoman--though not in your mom's class."

She looked a lot like mom--similar build and hair color. But while she
was attractive, mom was beautiful.

Sgt. Thomas was happy to get this information. At least he knew who
the second victim was.

The lady was not expected to live out the day. Dad's chances weren't
much better, according to the doctor who came to talk with us.

"Sergeant Thomas," George started, "we've helped you a bit. I think
it's time someone from your department calls on the Jennings home and wakes
up that maid. I'm real curious about where Mr. Jennings is. And where my
daughter-in-law might be. Did the maid even check their rooms?"

The policeman smiled. "Great minds...and all that, sir. I was just
looking for a phone. I think I'll use that one right over there."

In minutes, he was back with news that Mr. Jennings was, indeed, asleep
in his own bed. He and Mrs. Jennings had separate bedrooms, with a door
between. It seemed he snores.

mom was in her room, too. The maid had just said whatever it took to
get us off the phone, so she could go back to sleep.

A half-hour later, they joined us at the hospital.

mom insisted, and was allowed to have a chair at dad's bedside. She
held his hand and spoke quietly to him, tears slowly tracking down her
cheeks. "Marty, darling... I'm here, Marty... I love you... Don't leave
me, Marty... I need you..." She kept up her quiet litany, never stopping
the stroking of his hand. One or another of us would join her for awhile,
then give way to another. If love and prayer could do it, we'd pull him

Meanwhile, Mr. Jennings was having a harder time. His wife was
fighting for every breath and her body was so battered the doctors were
wondering how long she could live--survival itself, barring a miracle, was
out of the question. We made a point of one or more of us spending some
time with him, too. When he needed a break, one of us would hold her hand
and speak to her. If she died, she would not be alone.

At noon, she did die. A kindly nurse took Mr. Jennings aside and told
him she would have been in tremendous pain, had she regained consciousness.
Her body had suffered too much.

Before Mr. Jennings left the hospital, a detective joined us. He
wanted to know what dad and Mrs. Jennings had been doing.

"Why, they were supposed to be going to a dinner engagement with a
customer of the Steele ranch. Actually, Mrs. Steele was invited, but she
had a touch of flu or something, and asked my wife to take her place. I
had some work to do this evening, so I couldn't join them."

"Do you remember who they were meeting and where the dinner was to be?"

"Sure. It was Mark Hammer and his son, Dick. They were interested in a
horse for Dick and in breeding a mare they had, as I recall."

"Are these local people?"

"No. They're from the south, I think. Louisiana, or Alabama or
something like that..."

"Where were they to meet?"

"At the restaurant. It was the New Wave on Wilshire. Nice restaurant,
lousy neighborhood."

"Do you recall where they are staying?"

"Haven't a clue. They came to town for the show. You might be able to
find out from the registration people."

"OK. Thanks. That's helpful... Mr. Jennings... I'm sorry to add to
your grief at this time, but we're going to have to do an autopsy on Mrs.

"What? Why?"

"Well, we don't think it was an accident. And the law requires an
autopsy whenever anything other than natural causes is suspected. We'll
let you know when you can have her body. It should only be a day or two."

While this was going on, the family exchanged eye contact. It seemed to
us that mom and dad were targets of something and Mrs. Jennings had paid
for her generous instincts with her life.

George and I went into dad's cubicle in the ICU and disengaged mom from
him. "We'll take over for a bit, mom. You go to the bathroom and wash
your face. Hazel wants to talk with you, too."

We took dad's hands and George said, "Marty, if you can hear me, squeeze
my hand... Marty, who did this? Marty, do you know who did this to you?
... Marty, squeeze my hand, if you hear me... Marty, we need to know who
did this. ... Marty, the family won't let them get away with it, but we
need to know who it was..."

If dad heard us, he wasn't able to let us know.

I wandered back out, to join mom, Rick and Hazel.

Hazel was just saying, "Where do I know that name 'Hammer' from?"

mom said, "They're from Texas. Don't we have a branch of the family there?"

"Of course!" Hazel exclaimed. "My cousin mentioned that they were in
the social set Mrs. Valkenberg ran around in, when they were in Dallas."


George got the detective and suggested that we needed a little meeting.
Probably with the FBI included.

When we were convened--mom had gone back to sit with dad--George laid
out our problems over the years with the three families. When we came to
the tie-in between getting dad out to a restaurant last night, with a
couple of guys associated with the Valkenbergs, the evidence was
conclusive, as far as we were concerned.

Not so, for the cops. Suggestive, yes. Enough to make an arrest, or
even name suspects... no.

We called in the doctor who had attended Mrs. Jennings.

"Doctor, what would you say caused the trauma to Mrs. Jennings?"

"She's been beaten with blunt instruments. I'd say a pipe. And then
pummeled about the chest and extremities. If I were to make a guess, I'd
say someone beat her with a pipe, or bat or big stick. Then when she was
down, she was kicked--breaking bones. The damage to her skeletal structure
is not consistent with an auto accident--and I've seen some horrible ones."

"How about dad?"

"Same deal. He's bigger and more robust. I still don't think he'll
pull through... It will be a miracle if he lives another 24 hours. But
we'll do our part to make sure a miracle can happen if it will."

"Doctor, can you test for drugs? I think these people were drugged, at
least enough to dull their senses somehow, before they were attacked."

"Sure. I'll order it right now. Anything else?"

"Nothing. Thanks doctor."

"Por Nada. I hope he makes it. I hate the thugs in this town, that do
that to people!"

The policemen got our drift and began to believe we were right. But
they had nothing to go on.

During the night that followed, dad regained a bit of consciousness. He
thrashed about, then woke, to see mom, holding his hand, dried tears on her

"Dory?" he whispered.

"Marty? Do you hear me?"

"Dory. I love you."

"Marty. You hang in there. Hear?"

"I'm tryin'... Love you... Tell... boys... get them... Get

"You can tell them yourself, Marty, as soon as you're a little better."

"Hope so... But you... make sure."

"I will, darling.... Darling... darling! ... Please don't leave me. I
don't know how I'd live without you."

"Tryin'... Love you... Sleep now..."

"Stay with me Marty! Don't leave me!"

" you..."

Mom's anguished wail brought us into dad's cubicle. All the monitors
were on a flat line.

Dad was gone.

~~ * * * * * ~~

We held dad's funeral at the ranch, on a hillside he'd especially liked.
It was the place he'd taken mom, the first time she visited the ranch when
they were courting.

The outpouring of love and grief from his friends was incredible.
People from all over the world came to pay their respects. We had well
over three hundred guests.

Our Indian friends took their turn, after our pastor had finished the
rites of our church. They ceremonially washed his body and clothed it in
new deerskin garments. He was laid on a platform made of saplings, lashed
together and covered with a bearskin. Feathers were placed on him and sand
and pollen sprinkled over him. A gourd for drinking and a basket of corn
were placed by his side.

Prayers were offered.

Then he was left alone, for his spirit to travel to whatever heaven it
could find.

The next day, his body was cremated and, a few days later, we had a
smaller internment. His ashes are forever a part of the ranch,
concentrated in that spot that he especially loved.

mom took it hard. Her grief was so great, she was almost incapacitated.
By the time of the funeral, she was functional, but only with great effort.
The day after we spread dad's ashes to the wind and soil of the ranch, she
asked us all to join her, in her house.

Beside the family, she'd asked Gary Butler and Tom Shaliko to be there.
We were glad to have our Indian friends included, but didn't know what mom had in mind.

"Thank you all," mom started, in a very low voice we had to strain to
hear. "I want you to know that the only reason I'm not on that hillside
with Marty is your love, sustaining me. I wouldn't have been able to live
without that."

Turning to our friends, "Tom, Gary...your people have been fantastic.
Please... Please... Tell them all I love them. And I'm grateful. Marty
would have been so proud... to know that you all cared so much for him."

"He did the same for us, Dory."

"Never mind, Tom. I'm grateful and I want you to tell everybody."


"The other thing I am is mad. Mad clear through. Those bastards
attacked us, our ranch and our family, for no reason except we were in the
way of something they wanted. They've killed our stock and shot our
friends. Now they've killed one of us and one of our friends. It has to
stop. But we know that they won't stop. So. What now?"

George said, "I've been thinking on this. Would you like my ideas?"

"Yes, George, I would."

"I think I'll pay a call on Mr. Jennings--and maybe we'll have a little
discussion with a couple of his staff people. I'll see if he wants a piece
of this, or if he's willing to let it lay... Hell, maybe he's glad to be
rid of his wife, though I don't think so."

"OK," mom said, simply.

"Then I think we get hold of anybody we can, from any of the four
families--the Hammers are on our list now, too. Once we have one of them,
we wring him--or her--dry. Then we go to war."

"I follow the first part," Gary said. "But what do you mean by 'war,'
in this context?"

"I mean we destroy all four families completely, by fair means or foul.
We wipe out their reputations, their wealth, their standing. If we can
capture one, we will, and wring him dry of everything he knows and send a
completely broken husk back to the rest--if not a dead body. If some of
them disappear, that's wonderful, as long as we're the ones responsible for
the disappearance. If they go into hiding, we smoke them out. If they
run, we pursue... That's what I mean by 'war', Gary."

"That's what I hoped you meant," he replied calmly. "I have a
suggestion of my own... I think some of our cousins in Dallas should
arrange to lay hands on the Hammers. I am thinking of a couple of guys who
are steelworkers--you know, the 100-story high-rise kind of steel? These
guys are Apache and not all that civilized. I expect that we could go a
long way toward achieving our goals if we can get these guys to help."

Hazel smiled approvingly at her husband and our friends. "I didn't know
you had that in you, darling. I'm pleased to learn that the man I love has
a killer instinct matching my own."

Rick put in, "Gary, could your friends handle the Hammers in such a way
that we could get hard evidence against them all without putting us or
themselves in danger?"

Gary just grinned. It was not pleasant to see. "Be prepared to fly to
Dallas. And don't have a weak stomach."

George and Hazel stayed at the ranch with us--and George left his new
jet parked at Bend. Hazel spent a lot of time with mom. She was still
nearly prostrated with grief. She'd do what she had to, but she really had
no interest in living with dad gone.

I knew she loved him--and he loved her, as his last words proved. I'd
never appreciated just how strong that love was.

Then, one morning, mom came over to our house. She strode across the
ground by the corrals and practice ring with determination. Her head was
up and she no longer appeared listless and uninvolved.

When she appeared in the kitchen, Audry and I gave her big hugs.

"Thanks, kids. I think I'm going to be least for a while... I
lay awake a long time, last night. Dreaming of Marty and the nights we'd
shared that bed. And then I thought that he would never share that bed
with me again. And I got mad all over again. I'm mad clear through! I'm
going to do something about those people, to make them wish they'd never
heard of us...

"We know who's responsible, don't we? I don't have to pussyfoot around
with Miranda warnings or any of that legal crap. I can avenge my
husband... and I will, before I die, see him avenged."

Mom's plan was simple and straightforward. The sticky details would
involve making sure no one got caught.

She talked to Rick and to us, "I need half the cash in the ranch
accounts. I'll talk to George, too. This will take money and it needs to
be cash, to avoid tracing it."

We agreed without hesitation.

In fact, we only had one question, "How can we help? He was important
to all of us and we're all mad about it."

mom smiled. "Two ways. I'll run my plans by you. You pick holes in
them and suggest improvements. And I'll call on you for various chores
from time to time. Is that agreeable?"

Even Elin, the gentle one, always home- and family-oriented, demanded
that she be included.

mom drove out to the box canyon archeological site, to meet with Tom
Shaliko, the tribal elder. They spent a couple of days walking around,
even climbing to the top of the small butte that contained the canyon;
always in deep but quiet conversation.

Tom approved of mom's ideas. She was a member of the tribe, after all.
He just wanted to make sure that all the bases were covered and everybody
was protected. mom came home with some good ideas and some even better
contacts. From a pay phone in Sisters, she called one of them. The result
was a meeting in Santa Fe, two days later.

Horseface Sam was a full-blooded Apache and one of the world's top high
steel workers. With all of his skill and far above average income, he was
still all Apache. When Adoré Steele called, he was expecting to hear from
her--Tom had already tipped him off, including an idea of what Adoré would
ask. Tom had also told him that Adoré and her husband--and all their
family--were full members of the tribe. That was unusual, to say the
least. Sam didn't ask details, he just agreed to help.

When they met, mom asked, "Please call me Dory. That's the name I've
gone by since I met Marty. My husband. Adoré is an affectation my mother laid on me."

Sam grinned and said, "OK."

Then they got down to serious plotting and conniving.

mom traveled coach, having paid cash, using a different name. She
arrived at Dallas/Ft. Worth and was met by a nondescript Indian, who
whisked her off in a beat-up car--that ran like a watch--to a good motel.

She again paid in cash and used a different name. Since she was paying
cash--a week in advance--no one asked for ID.

That evening, she was taken to an industrial complex near the airport.
One section of it was full of warehouses made of solid concrete--mostly
vacant. The speculator who'd built them was a bit over-optimistic about
the boom in the area. No matter, they'd be leased out in a year or two and
meanwhile were collateral for other ventures...

Ushered into one of the empty buildings, a strange scene met her eyes. A
middle-aged man, naked, was bound securely to one of the rare supporting
posts in the center of the building. He'd been there a while. He was
sagging against the ropes that held him. An interesting twist was that his
eyelids had been taped, so he could not close them. This made his eyes
very dry and uncomfortable, as well as preventing him from avoiding
watching the scene before him.

A younger man was suspended by ropes from the ceiling trusses, hanging
by his feet, his head about a yard from the floor, his hands lashed
together behind him in the small of his back.

Directly beneath him, a small fire burned. It had already singed away
most of the young man's hair. Screams of agony filled the cement space and
reverberated in the unbaffled area, as his head was cooked--very slowly.
Their captors hadn't spoken a word to them since they'd taken them off the
street in Ft. Worth.

Mom--Dory--looked on from the shadows for a few moments, then slowly
entered the pool of light around them.

"These are the Hammers?" she asked.

"That's them."

She turned to the older one, by the post. "How do you like it? Are we
having fun yet?"

He just groaned and tried to turn his head so he wouldn't have to stare
at her.

"You know who I am? Do you want to know why you're here?"

"Yeah. That would be nice."

"My name is Adoré Steele." His eyes widened. They really thought they'd
killed her. "Do I have to spell out why you're here?"

"Hey, look. We didn't have any choice..."

"We'll get to that. Who beat my husband with a pipe?"

"I don't know," Hammer answered.

Dory grabbed his balls and squeezed hard. Her fingernails left blood on
his scrotum.

"I don't give a fuck about you. All I care about is hurting you. How
much pain can you stand? We'll see... Now, who hit my husband with the

A very quiet voice answered, "I did."

"And your son? What did he do?"

"He hit you. Or, anyway, we thought it was you."

"So, describe it. Tell me what you did and what happened."

"Well, Valkenberg and Olsen gave us this stuff. We put it in the drinks
at dinner. Then we drove to a warehouse area and pulled the Steeles out of
the car. We each hit them a few times with pipes--Schwartz insisted that
they be 'broken up' a lot. Then we kicked them, to be sure ribs were
broken... Hey, it wasn't my idea. They insisted.

"Anyway, then we loaded them back into their car and crashed it... I
don't get it! ... How can you be here?"

"The woman with my husband was a friend. We were staying at her
house... Did your wife know anything about this?"

"NO. She didn't have a clue!" he answered. His answer was too fast and
his eyes shifted away from her face. This guy was a lousy liar.

Dory punched him in the solar plexus with everything she had. While he
was getting his breath back, she signaled the Indians to lower his son a
few inches closer to the fire. His screams brought his father back to

"Now, tell me about your wife...and your daughter..."

"Carleen said we should do whatever Valkenberg wanted. It was a great
chance for us. I said he might want us to do some pretty strange things
and she said it didn't matter. This was our chance to make it to the
really big time and we'd better not screw it up..."

mom looked at a shadowy figure, who left the building for a few moments.
He'd be back.

Then she turned her gaze to the young man who was hanging upside down.

"Don't you think it's time for these two to trade places?" she sweetly
asked the Indian tending the fire, just before she squeezed Hammer's balls
as hard as she could.

Without a word, Hammer senior was suspended over the fire and junior
lashed to the post. Both of them screamed at the treatment. Junior when a
layer of Vaseline was rubbed over his burned scalp--not very gently.
Senior when his hair started to singe, the heat of the fire penetrating his
scalp and starting to sink into his brain.

At this point, Hammer's wife and daughter were brought into the circle
of light. They were both naked and not bad looking women. Their hands
were secured behind them and their mouths taped closed with duct tape,
which was ripped off. Nobody cared if they screamed in the empty

mom asked Hammer, "Do you have anything else to tell us?"

Frantically, he said, "Take me down. I've told you everything. I just
did what I had to. Carleen made me..."

mom asked the Indians, "Do you want either of these two?"

Sam said, "Sure. I'll take the older one. Then we'll see about the

Carleen Hammer was unceremoniously thrown on the cement floor. Sam
dropped his pants and raped her brutally. Her screams were overlaid by
shouts and groans from the Hammer men.

When Sam had finished, mom asked her, "Tell me about the Steeles."

Carleen was made of sterner stuff than her men. She just spit and said

mom nodded and the other Indian threw their daughter to the floor.

"Wait!" Carleen pleaded. "All I know is that Anita Valkenberg had the
access to society and big money that we needed. If I could get into the
really big money circles, I knew that we'd make it, too. Anita told me
that her husband needed some people 'taken care of', before they spoiled
things for all of us. My son, Kyle there, was doing pretty well at show
jumping and you didn't know us--or that we knew the Valkenbergs..."

mom said, "That's nice... Fuck her," to the Indian.

She had all the information she expected--and really, it just confirmed
her suspicions. With her cell phone, she called her friend, Jennings. Did
he want to participate in the revenge on the people who'd killed his wife?

No. He was glad to know that she'd been avenged, but didn't feel a need
to participate directly. He did offer to alibi Dory any time she needed
it. The Hammer girl was raped as brutally as possible in front of her
parents, then beaten severely--first with whips, then with a pipe, to break
bones. Just like dad. Finally she was killed with a blow to the skull.

The rest of the Hammers knew by now that this was vengeance, pure and
simple. They were sickened by what had happened to their daughter. And
they knew there was no escape. mom saw that knowledge creep into them and
knew that the loss of hope--in these people who always counted on another
day for another scam--was the worst punishment of all.

Two more fires were lighted and all three Hammers were roasted--very
slowly. They were tied with feet attached to wrists and their genitals
cooked. Then they were suspended and hung over small fires until they died
from the increased temperatures within their skulls.

Finally several tons of waste cardboard was dumped over them and all set

They had taken three days to die.

The fire department never discovered human remains in the ashes.

~~ * * * * * ~~

We already knew all we wanted to about the Schwartz clan. Both boys had
died on the ranch. The senior Schwartz's were convinced that we were the
cause of their boys' deaths--though they'd never figured out what happened
to the younger one. His bones are still unburied, atop a knob overlooking
our ranch.

mom flew to New York, on George's jet, to confer with Hazel.

She gave her all the details on the Hammers, especially confirmation
that the Valkenbergs and the others had been behind it.

We had no doubt that additional attacks against us and our ranch were
being planned, even as we moved onto the offensive.

George had some contacts he shared with mom.

mom thought we could put the Schwartz family out of the picture forever,
without killing them. There were a couple of guys who were convincing as
crack addicts, but who really didn't do drugs at all. They made a very
good living mugging people to order.

Just what mom was looking for.

She gave them all the details about the Schwartz's. And she specified
that she wanted them both so damaged that they'd never get out of
wheelchairs. Even some brain damage, or drug addiction would be OK--but
they couldn't be killed!

Two weeks later, a brutal burglary-rape was reported in the New York
newspapers. The perpetrators got away clean and the police had no
suspects. The victims were in Columbia Medical Center and were expected to
live, though it was touch-and-go. They'd be invalids, though. The man had
suffered a severe stroke as a result of a head injury and would always have
trouble speaking.

Simultaneously, George arranged for the financial 'rug' to be pulled out
from under them. The bank loans that were financing their lifestyle were
all called at once--the justification being their inability to make
payments, in view of their incapacitation. All very legal--especially
since the Schwartz's had not taken any life or disability insurance on
their loans.

They soon found themselves in the charity wing of a state nursing home,
where their main source of entertainment was the tv they shared with fifty
other geriatric cases--the youngest being twenty years their senior--or
day-old newspapers.

In that manner, they watched the fall of their co-conspirators.

Hazel made a point of visiting the nursing home--using a different name.
When she was alone with the Schwartz couple, she made sure they knew who
she was--and that the rest of their miserable lives would be spent paying
for what they'd done to Marty Steele.

~~ * * * * * ~~

The Olsens were well aware of what had happened to the Schwartz's. It
did not occur to them to offer to help, or even to send condolences.

In Dallas, where Mrs. Olsen was a socialite 'wannabe', they traded on
lavish spending and their family 'expertise' in the cattle business.

Attacking them socially and financially was child's play to mom. The
Parmentier family refused to have anything to do with them socially, and
not only would not participate in any deal in which they were involved, but
let their friends know that they would not participate. The Parmentiers
had a significant contingent in Texas and were respected; their opinions of
the Olsens soon made the rounds. Mrs. Olsen found that she could only
attend those social events that were open to anyone--and then, she had to
find out about them in the papers and purchase admission. Mr. Olsen and
his son found that they were required to either post bonds or deposit cash
'up front'. No one would allow them to trade in cattle--or anything
else--on margin or credit of any sort.

Since their cash was all borrowed, they were soon frozen out completely
and were seriously considering a move to New Orleans or Denver.

Mrs. Olsen was a trophy wife--great body, pretty face... small, venal,
vindictive personality. She definitely put her loyalty on the money. With
the money dwindling, she was getting restless--and casting her eye on more
'stable' members of Dallas society.

One of them was a cousin of the Parmentiers.

Having agreed to a clandestine tryst, Mrs. Olsen found herself in the
classic position: bound, gagged, and rolled in a rug.

Her husband, summoned to a meeting to discuss ransom, was captured with
laughable ease and treated similarly.

The Olsen son was skiing in Aspen. He was picked off at the rented
condo when he returned.

In another warehouse, mom addressed her trussed captives.

"Does the name, 'Hammer' mean anything to you?"

Eyes widened. They recognized the name all right. But they all denied
knowing anybody named Hammer.

mom stated, flatly, "I'm really tired of you people. You've been
attacking us for years--when there was no reason for it. We thought we'd
taught you that it doesn't pay to mess with us, but you're too stupid to
learn. Well, this time, you will learn!"

Audry and I were there with her--Uncle Rick, Aunt Elin and Grandma Hazel
would join us tomorrow. (George stayed home to provide an alibi, should it
be needed.)

"Rob, please give them a taste of what they gave your dad, and Mrs.

Again, eyes widened. They knew what this was about, beyond question. I
carefully pulled on a pair of gloves. Then I approached the younger
Olsen--and slugged him in the balls as hard as I could. He gagged, then
passed out. Moving to Mrs. Olsen, I slapped her till her face was bruised
and a lip was torn. Then I slapped her breasts--somewhat floppy, to my
taste--until they were bruised, also. She was sobbing and incoherent,
drooling from her mouth, and had wet herself.

I started to walk past the senior Olsen, when I whirled and sunk my fist
into his belly. He passed out, too.

We dumped water--cold, from buckets--over each and made sure each could
see exactly what was happening to the other.

mom made a little speech. "I really don't give a damn what happens to
you. Frankly, I don't care about me, either. You stole my life when you
killed my husband. I promised him retribution..." She looked, in the dim
light, ghastly. "Do any of you have anything to tell me that might cause
me to turn you loose?"

After listening to a couple of minutes of denials and excuses, mom just
walked to each of them and hit them in the face.

"Maybe you don't understand," she said. "I don't give a damn. I am not
interested in lies or bullshit of any kind. Give me some solid information
about what you've done to us. Or what you've planned. Tell me why I
shouldn't execute you for the murder of my husband."

Over sobs from Mrs. Olsen, Mr. Olsen shouted. "It wasn't us. It was
Valkenberg. Him and his wife. They were the ones who wanted to do away
with you. They said that, without your connection to the Parmentiers, you
were no threat to any of us. They promised to take care of it. We didn't
have to do anything."

"What about the guy you hired to kill our stock--and us if he got a

"That was years ago. What does that have to do with this?" the son

"Shooting at us doesn't matter because it was years ago? My, my...
Your ethical sense is really warped, isn't it? Do you have anybody at the
ranch now? Anybody going to try to steal or kill our stock? Or us?"

They all denied it, vigorously.

Audry stood at the edge of the light. They could see her, but not her
face. "Do you know how the Hammers died?" she asked them, in a husky
whisper they had to strain to hear.

"They disappeared. I didn't know they died..." the Olsen kid, at least
was starting to see where this was leading.

"Do you know how my dad and Mrs. Jennings died?"

"They were beaten and then put in a car that crashed," Olsen senior

"And the Schwartz's?" I asked.

"Their townhouse was broken into... they were both raped and beaten..."
Mrs. Olsen was getting the picture, too.

"You don't have the whole story on the Hammers," mom said. "Before they
died, their balls were roasted, over a low fire--Mrs. Hammer got the daily
special: broiled pussy. When that was well cooked, their heads were
roasted--very slowly--until they got tired of screaming. But they were
suspended upside down over low fires until they finally stopped breathing."
Mom paused for effect, then smiled a very nasty grin. "It was the most
rewarding three days I've had since my husband's murder."

The Olsens were pleading and begging. "We'll tell you anything you want
to know. Just don't do that to us."

mom replied, caressingly, "Oh, I'm sure you'll tell me everything you
know. I have no doubt about it. You can start right now. How long did
you know the Hammers?"

"Only a couple of months. Anita Valkenberg introduced us."

"He's lying. Hit him, Robbie," mom said, coldly.

I buried my fist in his mouth, then in his stomach. Then I dumped
another bucket of ice water on him. We really didn't care if the shock of
the ice killed one of them. We still had two more...

Mrs. Olsen talked. "I knew them from before. When I was married to my
last husband, they were friends. Then when I married Olsen, I introduced
them. I thought they'd be useful."

"Useful how?"

"Well, I'd heard about you folks and the horses. I knew the Hammers
looked like socialites, but just didn't give a damn... and young Hammer
rode some. I thought they could help take care of you, if you became a
problem... you know?" Her voice trailed off.

"So putting the Hammers on us was your idea?"

"Well... I didn't tell them to kill your husband or anything like

"No? Who did?"

No answer.

mom nodded at another figure in the shadows and a huge Indian untied the
Olsen woman and threw her to the floor, where he raped her as brutally as
he could--making sure the Olsen men got a good look. When he was done,
another sodomized her. Her screams were rewarding and so were the cries of
outrage from her husband and son.

She was cleaned up with still another bucket of ice water and returned
to the post she was tied to.

"We've got days. No hurry at all... Either of you two want to lie to

Neither said a word, too frightened to speak. I slapped them both, hard
enough to leave bruises, with both gloved hands. "The lady asked a
question. A gentleman answers a lady's questions... Talk, assholes!"

The older man started babbling, "It was Valkenberg. It was all him.
His idea..."

I cut him off with another slap.

"Which one of you suggested to Valkenberg that Hammer should kill me and
my husband?" mom asked.

Again silence.

mom nodded to a shadow. A tiny arrow was set on fire and shot into
Olsen's chest, where it bobbed, lodged in his pectoral, burning the skin.
Olsen screamed. The Indian commented that this man was no fun at all. He
had no courage and screamed with the first arrow. A real man, he said,
could take ten or twenty arrows before he screamed. With that, a second
and third tiny arrow were launched into Olsen's body, causing him to writhe
and scream dementedly.

The Olsen boy screamed, "It was Dad--and mom--they were the ones who
talked to Valkenberg. I didn't have anything to do with it. You've got to
believe me."

mom softly stroked his cheek. "Oh, I do. But I also know that you were
the one who figured out the plan to get Marty and me to LA, and out to the
restaurant. And you were the one who supplied the sedatives used in their
drinks... Date-rape drugs."

"NO! It was dad! I didn't know anything about it."

At mom's nod, I hit him, breaking his nose, forcing him to breathe
through his mouth.

Then we stepped aside. He was thrown to the floor and sodomized in
front of his parents. Retied to the post, he got a few of the tiny fire
arrows, too.

When the screaming had stopped and we were sure the Olsens were alert,
mom asked, "Do you know how my husband died?"

All resistance gone, they nodded. "A lot of bones broken, then a car."

"That's right. Is there any reason you shouldn't find out how that
feels?" They were hopeless and just hung there, without answering. Mrs.
Olsen was cursing mom and all of us in a continual monotone.

mom slapped her, to get her attention, and held her by the hair, so
she'd have to look into mom's ghastly face. "I have special plans for you.
You're going to pay us back a bit for the loss you've caused us. The only
thing you have is your body..." mom gave her an evil grin, face to face.
"So I've sold it." She paused while Mrs. Olsen gasped.

"We'll clean you up. Then you'll be fed a drug that makes you very
docile... similar to what your son here used on my husband. You won't be
able to do anything but what your keeper suggests you do. You will take a
nice, long ride on a nice, big airplane--to an island near Malaysia, where
you'll spend your days doing what you do best: fucking people. I'm sure
you'll do it very well. If you don't please the customers, you'll be
beaten and starved until you learn to please them. They're really happy to
get big Anglo women, with big boobs like yours. Of course, you'll contract
AIDS within a few months. You probably won't die of it, though--syphilis
or malnutrition will probably get you first. But you won't care. Several
months on the drug will make you want to do anything at all that's
suggested to you. Oh, how do you like being fucked in the ass? They
really like that, in that part of the world..."

With a shriek of despair, the woman screamed that we'd never do that.

"I'm tired of her squeaky, shrieky voice, Rob. Do something about it."

I hit her across the throat. Hard. It didn't crush her larynx, but
made her voice croaky for a while--when she was able to make any sound at

Then she was sodomized as brutally as possible.

Finally, with a groan of rage, she succumbed to the first of many
injections she'd receive. She'd be aware of what was going on around her
and being done to her; and even be able to participate. She'd just be
unable to do anything but what her handler told her to do.

Turning to the men, mom said, "I'd really prefer to keep you alive, as
aware vegetables, to let you feel daily the torture I feel, without my
husband. But my family and our friends can't take the chance that you'd
ever be able to tell someone about us. I'm afraid we can't afford to keep
you alive."

They started to scream, beg and protest. mom cut them off.

"Not to worry. You'll take a long time, dying. My Apache friends say
they don't know why people die from the little arrows. Some claim it's
loss of blood. Others say no; it's dehydration through the burned skin.
Everyone agrees it's pretty painful. Enjoy yourselves, boys. You've
earned it."

Their screams of protest changed as new fire arrows pierced their skin.
This time, the Indians tried to hit their balls. They were close. And
they only shot an arrow every half hour or so. To the Apache, keeping a
subject alive was an art--as was inflicting maximum pain while doing it.

That evening, Hazel dropped in, with Rick and Elin. When Olsen saw her,
through his pain, he thought they'd been rescued. "Mrs. Lemmer! Thank
God you're here! Get us out of here. Tell these people we'll go away and
never come near the Steeles again. Please."

She walked up to him and yanked a barbed arrow from his flesh, twisting
as she pulled. "My family name, asshole, is Steele," she hissed. "Martin
was my son. I'm going to sit here a while, and enjoy a cold drink, and
watch you two die like the shit-eating dogs you are..."

As soon as she moved out of the way, each captive received another fire
arrow, to the accompaniment of fresh screams from throats raw from yelling.
Grandma sat in a chair placed conveniently for her--where she could view
the two men and they could see her. The Indians were in shadow--so that
they couldn't tell when a new arrow would hit them.

"You might be interested to know that the family has foreclosed on what
few assets you had. It's all ours, now. We found your cash, too, and we
thank you very much... No stash for starting over for you. No starting
over for you at all. And your wife is probably in Hawaii--her plane needs
the fueling stop. She'll be in asia before morning. Her last words to me,
before she boarded the plane, were that she hoped you rot... and abject
groveling to not send her to Asia. Nice family, you Olsens. Too bad there
aren't more of you."

After two more days, the Apaches tired of the sport. They cut off the
younger Olsen's genitals and stuffed them in his mouth. With his nose
ruined, he choked to death on his own cock.

After watching his son strangle, the older Olsen hanged himself, slowly.
They'd but a noose around his neck, high enough that he could get a breath
if he stayed on tip-toe. He was too tired after his ordeal to maintain the
position very long.

The bodies were dumped under a railroad trestle in an out of the way
spot. A couple of boys, out with their dogs for a 'hunting trip' came
across them. Various predators had been there first, but enough remained
to determine they'd died hard.

The Valkenbergs knew they were in trouble.

~~ * * * * * ~~

With dad gone and mom working on her project, the horse training side of
the ranch fell to Audry and me. We knew an awful lot about training horse and rider for top-level competition, but had left the early training to
mom. And we'd never considered the problem of matching a rider with the
right horse--a gift of mom's that was a large part of our business. People
knew she wouldn't let them buy a horse that was wrong for them.

Dad, besides helping mom with the hands-on part of the horse training,
had kept track of the top show and jumping horses in the country--and much
of the world. He knew their bloodlines, their value, and when a horse might become available. He also was a genius at maximizing stud fees for
our stallions. They weren't Kentucky Derby winners, but they did command
significant fees and provided a good fraction of our cash income--or good
foals when we were paid 'in kind'. Suddenly, we had to fill those holes in
the family business.

Audry and I were forced to spend much less time working with our own
horses and instead work with the colts, to break them to ride and train
them to jump; weeding out those that wouldn't make it as we went.

My evenings were spent trying to make sense of dad's computer database,
where he'd tracked all the horses he was interested in.

"Damn, Audry," I complained one night at dinner. "I never realized how
much work the folks were doing every day."

"Well, they weren't trying to stay in training for events, like we are.
But yeah, they worked pretty hard..." She smiled, then said, softly, "You
know, Rob, they were doing exactly what they wanted to be doing? They
threw themselves into their work because they loved it."

"Yeah. But it sure makes a tough act to follow."

"We don't have to follow it, if we don't want to. There's plenty of
money. And the ranch makes enough on the cows to support everybody. We
could fold up the horse business and just keep our own jumpers."

"Well, much as I prefer riding on a western saddle, I think I like
horses better than cows... What would you like?"

"You know me, Rob. I love having babies. After that, riding in
competition is my passion."

"But what about the other part of the horse business?"

"I like it. Maybe we can streamline, or delegate some of it. Zach's
almost old enough to help--and it's time to start training him and Moira
both to ride in serious competition."

"Shawna?" Our Indian 'nanny' was fixing a bottle for Julie.

"Yes, Audry?"

"When you finish that, why don't you sit down and finish your own

"Julie fusses when she isn't fed right away."

"I'll feed her... Do you think anybody in the tribe knows horses well
enough to learn dressage and jumping? We think we're going to hire some
help with training the colts."

"I'm sure there is someone. But you should ask Tom about that. He's
still down at the dig. Why don't you call him?"

"Excellent suggestion!" I said, and picked up the phone.

The prior fall, we strung power and phone lines into the 'camp' area, by
the entrance to the little canyon. The tribe had erected a low-slung lodge
for the permanent workers at the site and 'strongback' frames for tents for
the transients. The building blended right into the scenery--you had to be
almost on top of it before you saw it. It made sense to us and made a
happier crew on the 'dig'.

The archeologist they'd hired was an eastern man who had excellent
credentials, and a reputation as a superior scientist and teacher--and as a
human being of integrity. He fell in love with the beauty of the place as
soon as he saw it and asked Tom if he could negotiate a long-term contract
for the dig.

Tom, who had taken on the role of the Tribes' man on the scene and also
their liaison with us, liked the man. He wouldn't commit on the spot. But
he said that when they reviewed the first year's work, they would also
review his status.

Dr. Allenby and his wife, Nancy, had a small apartment in the building.
Tom also had a room and a tiny office there. The rest of the facility was
devoted to kitchen and eating areas--as well as a large scientific area,
where finds could be cleaned and sorted, photographed, and so on.

When he came on the line, Tom asked when we were coming out next. "Been
a few weeks since we saw you, Rob," he laughed. He might be old, but he
was spry. "Better yet, send Audry and you stay home with the kids."

"In your dreams, Tom! Hey, what I called about: Audry and I can't
handle training all the colts we got. And the crop of new foals is really
big. We want to hire one or two really good trainers, to work with us,
training the next generation of show horses. Shawna suggested you might
know of somebody suitable up at Warm Springs?"

"Damn you, Rob! I've got a job I really like right now. And I'm the
best guy around for what you need. I'd love to work with your horses."

"You old fart! An hour in the ring with one of our colts and you'd be
fanning yourself with your hat and trying to catch your breath the rest of
the day."

Tom laughed. "OK. Ya got me... Seriously, I think your best bet would
be Robin Gentry. Her Indian name is Robin Two-mothers... don't ask.
She's married--her husband is an OK horseman and good with cattle. You'd
have to hire the pair, to get her. And that would mean a place to live and
all that."

"We can work that out if we need to. I'll check with Rick, to make sure
he can use another hand. Any other names jump to mind, Tom?"

"Mary Whitefeather. She's almost as good as Robin. She's a widow.
Grown children. You won't have her riding much. Probably weighs 300
pounds. But I swear she talks to horses. They love her and will do
anything their little horsy brains can think of to please her."

"I think we'll see about getting both of them. Thanks, Tom."

"Any time. Come by to see us, Rob. We're beginning to feel like you
don't love us any more down here."

"Yeah, right. OK, I'll make a point of it. See you soon, and thanks
again, Tom."

That night, we talked with mom on the phone. She was staying with a
cousin in New Orleans, tracing the most recent activities of the

When we outlined what we wanted to do, in terms of hiring additional
help with the horses, mom was enthusiastic. "I know Mary. She's magical.
Get her by all means, if you can. I don't know Robin, but if Tom thinks
she's even better than Mary, go for it! Tell Rick he needs another hand,
anyway, just to help keep an eye on the herd. We still have enemies."

"OK, mom. We'll get right on it... Now, how are things going?"

mom outlined what she was up to and her plans. They involved heavy
humiliation, before she took her final revenge.

The next day, Audry took the kids and Shawna, who wanted to visit
friends, up to Warm Springs.

Robin Gentry was easy to find, since she was working as a receptionist
at the resort. After Gary had greeted Audry, his daughter, and all the
kids, he let Audry talk to Robin, while he caught up on our lives through
the kids.

"Robin, I don't know if you know me..." Audry started.

"Oh sure I do. You're one of us, remember? That celebration was so
unique, I'll never forget it--or you. How can I help you?"

"Easy to answer: Move to our ranch and work with our horses."


"Tom Shaliko said you were the best around. We need help training the
yearlings and colts. Rob and I still want to compete a few more
years--actually we need to, to keep the value of the horses up--and we
can't take on all the work mom and dad used to do. We talked to Tom about
the problem and he said you were the best he could think of."

Robin's eyes were big and round and shining. "Oh my! That would be my
dream, to work horses like yours. My friend, Alice, brought home one of
your 'culls' after that problem you had a few years ago. That 'cull' was
the finest horse I've ever ridden. I'd love to do it..." Her enthusiasm
dropped like a balloon with the air let out. "I'm sorry. I forgot..."

"What, Robin?"

"My husband. He's out of work right now. But he has a problem..."


"Yeah. It's like a demon. He can't seem to get rid of it."

"Has he had any help?"

"The tribe has offered to send him to a Schick center. He won't go."

"How about this? We'll tell him that there will be a good riding job
for him at the ranch, as soon as he satisfactorily completes the Schick
program. And he'll have to attend AA regularly after that. No slacking,
or he's out on his butt."

"Maybe. I'll have to arrange for you to talk to him... He wouldn't be
working for you?"

"No, he'd be working for Rick and for Gerry, our foreman. But I'm an
owner. He has to treat the ladies of the ranch respectfully, like a
western man should." Audry knew the proud Indian would not work for a
female boss. "Tell you what: I'll get Mary Butler to invite you two for
dinner. I can meet him there. And Gary can lay down the law to him."

Robin smiled, shyly, but genuinely. This might be a way out of the
nightmare she saw enveloping her and her husband, as alcohol addiction
claimed him more and more.

Gary had to make a few calls to find Mary Whitefeather. She was at her
house, but she didn't have a phone, so he had to find a neighbor who was
home and who could see if Mary was home.

Audry drove out to her house, a typical establishment, for the back
parts of the reservation--a run-down, small mobile home, surrounded by bare
earth and the remains of a couple of rusted-out cars. One beat-up but
serviceable pickup truck was parked by the door.

When she knocked, a huge woman, whose smile threatened to cut her face
in two, warmly welcomed Audry.

"I know who you are. Come in. Come in!" Shooing a couple of cats out
the door and dumping a pile of newspaper off a chair and onto the floor,
she made a place for Audry to sit. "It's so nice of you to come see me.
Can I get you some coffee?"

That was traditional, so Audry thanked her and said she'd love a cup.

After the coffee was prepared, poured, sipped, and commented upon, Mary
asked, "What brings you out here to see me?"

"Mary, Tom recommended you. We need help with our foals and yearlings.
I'm told that you are the best there is. You know we're not training range
ponies, but show horses--jumpers. Would you be interested?"

"Sure. I'm just sitting around here, most of the time. Something
regular--with a regular paycheck--would be a good deal. I love horses.
You know that--Tom told you. Most of what little I make comes from working
with a neighbor's animal now and then."

"How did you get into horses, Mary?"

"Well, we always had them around, when I was growing up. I wanted to be
a nurse, but couldn't afford the schooling. I did a couple of years, after
high school, but had to give it up. Veterinary was just as bad. We
couldn't afford it and the tribe didn't have the money to send kids off to
school, like they do now. So I took an interest in horses and never looked

"Would living on the ranch, instead of the reservation, be a problem?"

"Not at all. I like new places."

Audry grinned at the friendly Indian woman.

"When can you start?"


"How about, you drive down on Monday? We'll show you around and you can
talk to Rob and Adoré--'Dory'--Rob's mom, if she's back on the ranch. We
all have to agree. And then we'll need to figure out where you'd live, and
so on."

"Won't I just bring my trailer?"

"You can, if you'd like. Come on down, first. We need to make sure the
rest of the mob will be happy with you, too. And we all want to watch you
with a horse."

Mary smiled, broadly. "Sounds like fun. I'll be down Monday morning."

Gary called his wife and arranged to have Robin Gentry and her husband
Jack over for dinner.

After dinner, the kids ran off to play and the adults moved into the
living room of Mary's immaculate house.

Jack started, before Gary or Audry could. "I heard you offered Robin a
job. She don't need it. She's got a good enough job now, at the resort."

Audry started to reply, but Gary got in first.

"Jack, she doesn't have a good enough job. She's a good receptionist,
but she's dying inside. Robin's bored out of her mind."

"Well, she's a woman. She can do what she has to do. What she's told."

"Jack, she's your wife. Don't you care that she's happy?"

"Women don't have to be happy. They only have to have a man to take
care of them and tell them what to do."

Gently, Gary asked, "And just how are you taking care of her, Jack?"

"We're doing OK. I'll get another job real soon. Meanwhile, we're
getting by."

"On what Robin makes! Seems to me, Jack, that the woman is taking care
of you, not the other way around."

"We're OK. Leave us alone!"

"No way, Jack!" Gary came back. Not angry, but very strong. "You can
crawl into a bottle, if you want. The tribe has offered to help you
several times. But you need to know that we're not such a wealthy
community, like the Grande Ronde tribes for instance, that we can support
your indulgence. Robin's been offered an excellent job--something she
loves and she excels at. And you've been offered a good job, too. But
there are some strings. You've got to go through the Schick program--and
complete it successfully, not just put in your time there. Then you've got
to do your work and do it well. Again, you can't just slide by. Finally,
you've got to stay sober for five years."

"And if I tell you to shove it up your ass?"

"Then the tribe will give you basic support, like we do for everybody.
You can drink yourself to death, for all we care."

"What about Robin?"

"That's up to her. If she wants to stay with you, that's her decision.
But the elders will back her 100%, under our customs, if she divorces you
and moves to the ranch to take this job. And if she does and you try to
interfere, the elders will banish you."

Jack looked hard at his wife. "Would you really do that?"

"Yes, Jack. I would. I love you. But I can't fight the demon that is
taking you over. And I don't want it taking me over, too. I'll leave you,
first. I don't want to watch you pour yourself into your grave."

Turning to Audry, he asked, "So, tell me about this job."

"For Robin, or for you?"

"For me. I know what Robin can do."

"It's a cowhand job. We have a foreman and two hands, now. My dad runs
the cattle operation and helps with the horses. He's the cowboss. My
husband, Rob, and I run the horse part of the operation. Like any ranch,
everybody does what he sees needs doing.

"We provide horses and jeeps and pay minimum wage, full medical, and
found. We have our own gardens and pens, so everybody eats pretty well."

"How long does the minimum wage last?"

"You have to understand that we're really paying a lot more than that,
since living expenses are mostly covered. You don't have to pay for
housing, heat or lights. Phone, if you want one, would be your expense.
Most of your food would be provided. And our medical plan has a small
deductible, which we also pick up. So your take-home pay is pretty much
free and clear...

"Understand this, though. We will not tolerate you falling off the
wagon. We serve alcohol to our guests in our house. We serve alcohol to
our guests and our hands at parties and holidays. Jack, you can never take
a drink again. If you do, you're gone. And as far as we are concerned,
our deal with you is entirely separate from our deal with Robin. You will
have to sign an employment contract. It will contain a clause stating that
you will not use non-prescription drugs or alcohol in any form, or at any
time--excepting only aspirin and over-the-counter cold remedies. Violation
of that clause will be cause for immediate dismissal--and immediate removal
from the ranch. And, Jack, we will have the right to require blood and
urine tests at any time, for any reason or none at all."

When Audry finished, Gary looked at the younger Indian with compassion.
He'd been through this himself.

"Jack," he said, "you know I've been here before. This is by far the
best offer you're going to get. You will not find other work soon, like
you said earlier. No one will have you. You're erratic and don't even
show up half the time. When you do show up, you're usually half-blasted.
These people are offering honest work at better pay than you could get
anywhere else. They have a condition. But it is a reasonable condition
and one that you need to meet anyway, for your own survival.

"Jack... This is your last chance. This is the only rescue rope you're
going to get. You'd better grab it."

It was an obvious struggle--his pride was offended. And he was very
touchy. Still, he was coming to recognize that he had a problem--and that
Robin would not put up with him forever. Several of the logging outfits
were hiring, but he couldn't get on... Yes, he had a problem.

"OK. I'll do the Schick program," he said, grudgingly.

Robin squeezed his hand, in appreciation, but Gary wouldn't let it rest.
"You'll not only do the program, you'll do it eagerly. Jack, you've got to
want to be sober, more than anything! Don't you see? This is your only
hope to keep Robin! This is your only hope to keep your pride-your
manhood! ... Jack, if you blow this, you'll be just another drunken
Indian, for the whites to laugh at--and to spoil what the rest of us work
hard to erase."

"I said, I'd do it!" Jack said, hurt. "I'll do what you say. And I'll
try. OK?"

Robin nodded. That was as good as they were going to get.

Audry smiled and said, "Great. As soon as you finish Schick, come to
the ranch. We'll have your job waiting for you."

Robin said, "I'll be there, too."

~~ * * * * * ~~

The next two months were surreal. Robin and Mary joined us, Mary
bringing her old trailer to live in, even though we offered something
newer. We bought a manufactured home for Robin and Jack, and put in septic
system and utility hookups for both of our new helpers.

mom spent most of that time with us, teaching Robin and Mary what the
horses had to learn. Audry and I spent hours in the saddle, on our
competition mounts and on horses we expected to sell to top riders,
demonstrating the nuances of dressage and show jumping.

From time to time, we--mom--got reports from various sources about the
Valkenbergs. They'd moved to New Orleans, where their patrician ways and
lavish lifestyle gained them a provisional toehold in 'society'.

Audry and I concentrated on learning those things we didn't already know
about the business of show horses.

Mary Whitefeather turned out to be as gifted as we'd been told. She was
fabulous at gentling--she hated the term 'breaking'--foals and yearlings to
the point they were willing to be ridden. And she had an instinctive
feeling for a horse that was 'unhappy' with its condition or circumstance.
This translated to her being even better than mom at matching a horse and

Robin was, as Tom predicted, even better than Mary. She could make a
horse do anything! Over and over again. Once she knew what was needed in
dressage and jumping, she seemed to have a magic ability to convey that to
the horse.

For Audry and me, it was a very different thing. We were used to mom telling us what was wrong and expecting us, the rider, to correct the
problem. Robin corrected the problem with the horse.

Robin, 5' 5", and a perfect size 6, was an excellent rider, though
unschooled. She did some of her work on her feet, leading the horses
around the ring. But most was done in the saddle.

"I really find western rigs more comfortable..." she said wryly, after
climbing off a horse with an English saddle on it.

"Who doesn't?" I asked, grinning in agreement.

Audry and I decided that we'd nominate Robin to compete in the next
regional competition. We were nearing retirement--I was starting to get a
bit worn out training for 3-day events. Our kids were just beginning. We
needed someone to carry the ranch 'colors' and keep us in the spotlight.
If we could make it work, that someone would be Robin.

Jack arrived, fresh from the Schick detox center in Portland. He
cheerfully signed the employment contract and settled in to his work as a
cowhand... After he and Robin stayed out of sight for a couple of days.
Robin had been able to see him only two weekends and then only for about an
hour. Those visits had not been pleasant for her, as Jack had been
suffering withdrawal.

We sold six horses for competition and another eight as
steeplechase--foxhunting horses for riders who only competed occasionally,
but wanted good mounts for their hunt club outings.

By the end of the summer, I had learned all I was going to of dad's
computer database. I knew how to track specific horses and how to judge
relative merit, based on the information a computer screen gave. I was
quite good at determining what any given horse was worth, in the markets in
the US and Europe. Asia? Forget it! NObody understood the asian market
for show horses. The ranch enjoyed an excellent year. The horses had done
better than ever, and Uncle Rick made an outstanding profit with the
cattle. The new bull he'd bought a few years before made a big difference
in the value of the young bulls and cows we were breeding.

Not counting Hazel, who had married more money than we wanted to think
about, we were very well off.

Robin had chosen a horse as her own competition mount.

It was my Windy.

She said she fit the horse better than I did and she and the horse would
both do better with her up, than with me.

Although I muttered a lot... OK, Audry is right... I bitched about it
for days... she was right. Windy seemed five years younger with Robin on
him. He was to her what Sam had been to me.

I didn't compete that year.

At Nationals, Audry won jumping and Robin won dressage. Each girl was a
close second to the other. A fact we all celebrated.

Including Jack, who fell off the wagon, when someone offered him a glass
of champagne.

I'd talked with the director of the Schick center in Portland. He said
that a percentage of graduates did that. If they returned to the center,
it could normally be corrected and reinforced so that their chances of
falling off again were reduced. He also said that Indians were especially
difficult in this respect.

Our flight took us to Portland, where we had to change planes for the
short flight to Bend. A Schick Center car met the plane. Jack was
determined that he wasn't going back there. It was a one-time thing, he
said, to celebrate Robin's win.

I had to remind him of his contract.

"Jack, you got drunk. I can fire you now or you can get in that car.
It's your choice."

He got in the car--a very unhappy man.

As the year drew into autumn and winter, we had to agree that, though
we'd suffered a grievous loss, we'd made a good start on our revenge and
had made the transition to the younger generation in the business
successfully. Business--was good.

* Business is the eighth 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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