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AUDRY10 hurt her when she found out



Chapter 10 - Horses

A tale of Romance by The Star*

Jack Gentry was pissed off. He was drunk, too. It was not a good
combination. He'd stayed sober all winter, after his second session in the
Schick center last fall. But his woman, Robin, was off in Denver to a
horse show and Gerry let him run up to Warm Springs for a couple of days
with his family.

On the way back to the ranch, he'd had to change a tire. It was hot,
sweaty work, in the high country of the eastern slopes of the Cascades.
Then a little further, his old pickup had overheated and he'd hauled water
in a small jar from a creek 50 yards down a steep embankment.

When he got to Sisters, he was mad at the world. He stopped for gas and
went into the little convenience store that was part of the gas station.
When he paid for the gas, he paid for a six-pack of Blitz, too.

By the time he got to the ranch, he'd downed three bottles and took the
other three into the mobile home he lived in with Robin.

He drank the other beers while watching a basketball game on his TV.
Then he was mad because he didn't buy enough beer while he was in Sisters
and there wasn't anything to drink in the house.

He didn't realize it, but he was reeling some and his speech was
slurred. Thinking maybe Mary had a bottle he could 'borrow', he walked
across to her trailer.

"Hey, Jack," Mary said, when she opened her door to his knock.

"Hey, Mary. You got a beer or two you'd let me have?"

"Jack, you know I don't. And you better not let anyone see you like
this," her sharp eyes took in his condition. "Go home and get a good rest,
Jack. Robin will be back tomorrow."

"Shit! I'll go see if Gerry has a bottle."

"You better not, Jack."

"I'm all growed up, Mary. I'm OK."

"You're shooting yourself in the foot, Jack."

"Screw off, woman!" he muttered, turning away.

Mary heard him and almost wept. She knew how much Robin loved the man.
And how much it would hurt her when she found out he'd been drinking again.
She would find out. Jack was too stupid to go home and go to bed.

Jack walked down the lane to Gerry's house. Gerry lived in the house
mom and dad shared until mom left the ranch for good last year. Gerry's
old mobile was pretty beat up and he asked if he and his wife, Alice, could
move into the house. It made sense. It was a lot better to have someone
live there than to leave it vacant, and Alice was a good housekeeper. We
junked the mobile.

Gerry had been with the Steeles all of his adult life and had been
foreman for years. Not that it was a big deal--Uncle Rick ran the cattle
operation and was his own cow boss, really. But Gerry was in charge when
Rick was gone and knew as much about the ranch as anybody. Small as the
permanent crew was, everybody did what was needed, without a lot of concern
over whose job it was, or need to get permission.

Gerry knew all about Jack and his battle with alcohol.

When Jack appeared at his door, wanting a bottle, he knew there was
going to be trouble.

"Jack, you know damn well I'm not going to give you a drink. In fact,
we'll talk first thing in the morning. For now, you get home and get to

"I'm not a kid you can order around like that, Gerry."

"You are when you act like this. Get home, Jack!"

Turning, Jack said, "Fuck you."

Gerry ignored it, but didn't forget.

When he got to the barn, Jack forgot why he was wandering around. He
was cold and tired, so he found a pile of straw and lay down for a short

Just as the sky started to change from black to gray, he awoke, stiff,
and with chattering teeth. His head hurt and his mouth tasted like mice
had nested in it.

Stumbling to his house, he saw that the lights were still on, and the
door was open--as he had left it. One of the dogs had wandered in and
eaten the burritos he'd set out for his dinner. The dog had also left a
deposit on the kitchen floor.

No longer drunk, but hung over and mad, Jack threw the plate with the
burrito remains on the floor with the dog crap, shattering it. Slamming
the door, he went to his bed, where he collapsed without undressing.

Audry, Robin and I got back to the ranch in the middle of the morning,
pulling our big horse trailer.

The kids all came running to greet us and for a bit there was the usual
cheerful mass confusion as we unloaded the horses and hugged the kids.

With the horses in their paddock, Robin grabbed her bag and walked to
her house. The scene that greeted her in her kitchen told its tale, with
half-eaten burrito, broken plate and dog poop on the floor--and beer
bottles on the counter.

Marching into the bedroom, she grabbed the snoring Jack by an ear and
twisted. As soon as his eyes opened, she started screeching at him.

"You bastard! You just have to mess up a good thing, don't you? We
have it made here, and you... you *fuckup!*... you have to mess it up.
Well, you can do it on your own. Get out of here! Go sleep in the
bunkhouse, asshole!"

As she was berating him, she was marching him down the hall, and out the
door. The door was slammed at his back and he heard the sound of the bolt
going home. They never locked the house! The locks just came with the
manufactured home. He sure didn't have a key.

Sheepishly, he walked over to the barn and got his tack. Then he roped
and saddled a horse. He was supposed to be checking a section of the north
range--he'd best get on with it.

He'd forgotten all about the previous evening and that Gerry wanted to
see him that morning.

Gerry didn't forget. He made a point of telling Rick about the
evening's activity.

Mary saw Robin's tirade, from the training ring, and hurried over to
Robin's house as soon as Jack was gone.

"Robin?" she called, at the locked door.

"What!?" was the snapped reply. The door didn't open, like it always

"Can we talk?" Mary asked, gently.

"Oh, I suppose." Robin slowly opened the door, to admit her friend.

"God, what a mess!" Mary said, seeing the kitchen floor.

"Yeah. Damnit! ... We had it so good here."

"Robin, you still do."

"No. Rick will fire Jack for sure. He's been through the Schick
program twice already. And I'll have to go with him... Damn! Damn!

"Robin. Slow down! First, you don't have to go with him. Second, how
do you know Rick will fire him? Maybe he'll make him do the detox program

"Mary, I have to go with him because I love him. That's why."

"Girl, you're thinking with your snatch, not your head. If you love
him, you'll make him shape up. If you go with him, he'll never make it.
And you know that for a fact. So quit kidding yourself. He's got to
square himself away. You can't do it for him. And you only make it easier
for him to stay messed up, if you go with him and support him 'while he's
out of work'."

"I dunno, Mary..."

"Well, I do! I'm right. You know damn well I'm right. Admit it!"

"Yeah. I guess..." Robin turned to her friend and wailed, "Why, Mary?
Why did he have to drink again? We've never had such a good thing as we do

Holding her weeping friend, the mountainous Indian woman said, "I think
it is a demon in him. So many of our people have the problem. Right now,
Robin, you have to be strong and brave--for Jack and for yourself. You
can't give in."

"I know you're right. But Mary," she wailed in pain, "it hurts so

"I know, honey. I know."

Soon, Mary and Robin came to see us. We got Rick and Gerry in the
meeting, too. Our consensus, after a lot of arguing and discussing, was
that, if Jack would leave for the Schick center--and check himself in, and
do the program again, as earnestly as he could--we'd keep his job for him.
Robin insisted that he'd have to live in the bunkhouse with the other
hands. She was putting him on her own probation.

If Jack refused, he'd be fired. If there was any trouble with him, we'd
turn the problem over to the tribe.

I called Gary Butler. Gary said he'd be down to the ranch as soon as he
could get there.

That night, when Jack rode in, he found his house locked and his things
piled on the porch, with a note that he could spend the night in the
bunkhouse--and that Rick wanted to see him first thing in the morning.

Jack began to understand that maybe he was in trouble.

In the morning, Rick met with Jack. Gary sat in on the meeting. Jack
insisted that he was OK. He'd had a couple of beers, but he wouldn't do it
again. Rick repeated the conditions--go to Schick, or leave the ranch.

Gary tried to talk some sense into him, but Jack just got mad, and told
everybody to go fuck themselves--"And tell that to my bitch wife, too!"

A half-hour later, he'd thrown his things in his old pickup and was off
the ranch.

Audry had gone to Robin and was doing her best to console her. It was
very hard to let her husband drive off without saying goodbye. Hell, it
was hard to keep from jumping in the truck alongside him!

Jack returned to the reservation, to the shack he'd lived in as a young man, behind his mother's old, beat-up trailer. He drank until he had no
money left. Then he tried to find work, to make some money to drink some
more. The classic alcoholic pattern.

Gary sent one of Jack's school friends who worked for the tribal council
out to try to get him into a detox program. Jack insisted he was OK and
didn't appreciate the 'help' he was getting from the tribe.

The only meals he got were when his mother fed him. That was mostly
only once a day.

~~ * * * * * ~~

At the ranch, Robin was hurting. Her problem was that she loved her
husband deeply, and wanted to spend her life with him. While he was away,
she worried about what he was doing and if he was eating and if he was even
going to survive.

Except for an occasional phone call from Gary or one of our other
friends from the reservation, we had no news at all. Jack never contacted
anyone at the ranch.

Naturally, Robin's work suffered. She wasn't nearly as sharp as she had
been, either training the horses, or improving her own riding skills. We
all noticed it right away, but gave her space to work it out.

Mary and Robin often ate together. It was just as easy to cook for two
as for one, and they liked the same kinds of food. Mary, in spite of her
size, didn't eat any more than Robin. Her size was a function of
metabolism and a minor thyroid condition.

One evening, a month after Jack left, Mary decided it was time for some
straight talk.

"Robin, enough is enough! You've got to quit spending your time--and
all your energy--worrying about Jack, and concentrate on what's going on
around you. We all love you. And we all care about you and what you're
going through. But enough, already! How long do you think Audry and Rob
will cover for you?"

Robin studied the remains of her dinner intently, but didn't say

"Honey," Mary said, "Jack is your man. He's a good man, if he's not
drinking. But drinking, he's just another drunken Indian. The man you
love doesn't exist right now. Maybe he never will again. But if you go to
him, all you'll do is help him keep drinking."

Robin still didn't say a word.

"I know... If you go to him, you'll get laid. And he'll probably do a
pretty good job of it. But Robin, there's all your life, besides what
happens in bed. You have to accept that he'll either come back, strong and
proud--and sober--or you'll have to find another man somewhere."

"No, Mary," Robin said, her voice just above a whisper. "I don't accept
that. I won't accept that. Jack is my husband, 'till death us do part'."

"Robin, dear girl. I love you like a sister--better than most sisters.
Please. Believe me. If you go back to Jack, before he comes back to you,
you will destroy him. He will take that as an endorsement of what he's
doing. If you make him come to you, clean and sober, you'll both live.
Otherwise, the Jack you love is dead now."

"I don't believe that, Mary."

"Believe it, my dear friend. It's true. Talk to Gary. He's been there
and back. Or talk to Mary Butler. She's walked in your sandals, for

Robin had to believe Mary meant what she'd said. They were like
sisters. She knew Mary loved her and really cared. So, a few days later,
she drove up to Warm Springs and found Mary Butler hanging laundry on the
line in her back yard.

"Hi, Mary. I thought Gary bought you a new washer and dryer?"

"He did. But clothes dried on a line smell better! Have you ever
noticed? And they wear longer too... What brings you up here?"

"Well... I wanted to talk to you."

Mary nodded and motioned toward a bench under the only tree in their

"Truth? I hoped to run into Jack. To see him. To see how he looks.
If he's OK... Mary, it's driving me crazy not knowing what's going on with

Mary put a hand on her arm.

"I know, dear. It's the hardest thing you'll ever do, probably. I can
tell you what I've heard. He's not doing well at all. He's still living
behind his mother's. Other than a little day labor, when he's sober, he
can't get any work. He drinks up whatever money he manages to find. He's
not eating regularly or even washing very often."

Robin put her face in her hands and wept, softly but bitterly.

"Robin, you know that he has to go through this. If you get into it, he
won't ever get better."

"That's what people tell me. But, my God, Mary! He's my husband! How
can I stand by and see him kill himself?"

"Only with great discipline and courage, Robin. Prayer helps, too. I
can tell you that his only chance is to cure himself, or at least, ask for
help. But if you interfere at this stage, he will kill himself for

"That's a crap-shoot, Mary."

"It sure is. And it's not easy for any of us. I've been there."

"I heard that. Could you tell me how you coped?"

Mary smiled with sympathy. "About like you. I fretted and fussed and
wore myself ragged. I had three kids at home, too... Robin, I have to
tell you, the only way I got through it was to never lose faith. I had
faith in God and faith in Gary. I prayed daily for him. And I turned him
over to God to deal with him and the demon in him. I don't know what your
religion is, or even if you have one. All I can tell you is what worked
for me."

Robin nodded. She wasn't being preached at by some 'Jesus freak'.

"Once I realized that he was in God's hands and that I was completely
unable to save him--indeed, that I could kill him, but I could not save
him--I finally felt a sense of peace about him. I didn't know if he'd live
or die--literally. I had no idea if he'd ever come back to me, except
maybe to beg for money to buy another jug. But I knew that I had done
everything I could, and I kept on praying for him every day. Often several
times a day... Robin, I had to understand that that was the only thing I
could do for him. Once I understood that, I did all I could, as well as I

"The other thing I could and did do, was love him and care for his

Robin nodded. She was not hearing what she wanted to hear. She wanted
to hear how Mary Butler had gotten her husband, Gary, off of alcohol and
back to being a good husband. Mary was telling her she had to give it up,
and trust God!

"But Mary, what can I do?" she pleaded.

"I just told you... Robin, did you know that it was four years before
Gary sobered up and came home?"

"Oh, God!" Robin wailed. "I'm going crazy now. I can't take it that

"Robin, you can if you have to. That's one of the things women do. We
wait for our men. It doesn't matter if they're off hunting bear, or away
at war... Maybe it would help you to think of Jack in that way. He's
away, fighting a war. His war isn't against the Japs, Nazis or Viet Cong.
He's fighting the demon in himself. But the war is just as real."

Robin was beginning to see it. But it was hard. Real hard! She said
as much.

"Of course it is. A man couldn't do it. Only a woman, with a woman's
faith, and a woman's strength, and a woman's patience, can do it. And not
every woman can do it. A teaser, or a stupid, selfish bitch who demands
what she wants when she wants it, can't do it. But a real woman, mature and sure of herself, can do it if she wants it badly enough."

Robin closed her eyes and shuddered.

"Yeah. I can do it. I have no choice... But, damn, Mary! It's hard!"

"Yeah, dear. It is hard. But it's the only way... You might try the
prayer part of it, too."

"I'll think on that," Robin said, rising. "Thanks for your time. And
for your advice. I know I dug up some of your old pain, too. Thanks for
sharing with me."

"Any time, Robin. Come see me again, soon. Call me any time."

Subdued--she was in for a long period of trouble--Robin drove back to
her home at the ranch.

Audry and I were just leaving the training ring when she arrived. We
walked over to her house and greeted her when she got out of her little
car. She was obviously not a happy woman.

Audry just wrapped her arms around her and they shared a good cry.

A mere man, I got out of there.

We had Robin join us for dinner. After the kids were all in bed, Robin
told us--including Shawna--about her visit. She told us what she'd learned
about Jack's condition and what Mary had advised her.

Robin held us as a last hope that there was an easier way. She saw in
our faces that we were bleeding for her, but that we agreed with Mary.

This time, when she broke down and wept again, we all just gathered
around and held her.

In the morning, Robin was the first in the training ring. Her hair was
neatly held behind her ears with combs and her face was clean and serene.
Only if you knew her real well, could you tell that her eyes were puffy
from crying.

She gave us a cheery "Good morning!" as we joined her in the ring. "I
thought I'd work Windy this morning. Would you coach me, Rob?"

"Happy to," I responded. It still grated slightly, that she'd
appropriated Windy for her own. That she was right made it even worse. I
didn't have my own competition mount. (I'd been riding whatever horse we
wanted to sell into the high-end market. There was always some wannabe--or
even an occasional good rider--who would buy one, seeing what I did with
them in the competitions.) When she'd been working Windy for an hour, I
called a break. Over coffee, I mentioned that, damnit, I needed my own

Robin laughed gaily. It was the first honest laugh we'd heard from her
in weeks. "I think you're just ticked off because none of Sam's colts are
as good as Sam."

"Maybe. But considering the mares we bred him to, we should have done

Another gay peal of laughter. "Have you looked at the two-year-olds?
Merlin is a promising colt if I ever saw one."

I did a double-take. I hadn't paid any attention to the horses that
young, except for keeping in mind my impressions of them, for marketing
purposes. Mary, then Robin, and finally Audry worked with the young horses.

Merlin was about two-thirds Appaloosa, the other third mostly Morgan.
There was a bit of Arab in there, somewhere, too. He was growing into a
fine, big horse--well-proportioned and clean-limbed.

I probably thought about it all of five seconds, while Robin looked on
with amusement.

"Think I'll go throw a saddle on that colt," I said, as I jumped down
from the fence where we were drinking our coffee.

Fifteen minutes later, I knew I'd found a very good horse. Merlin tried
to do everything I asked of him. He needed a lot of schooling, and he was
still growing and filling out. But he did the basic dressage the way Mary
had taught him. Jumping, he was exuberant. If anything, he had Sam's old problem of jumping too high. But in Merlin's case, it was not to look
around while he was up there, but for the pure joy of it.

Riding over to Robin--she was on one of the colts, training him in basic
jumping--I growled, "You know, Robin, you really piss me off at times."

She just grinned, knowing what was coming.

"You're a witch. You magic horses into being what a rider needs. Then
you come on all innocent and tell a guy to try a horse he's looked at a
hundred times--and the beast is suddenly just right!"

Again, that gay laughter. "Up yours, Rob. If you paid attention to the
horses, instead of that computer program of yours, you'd know when the good
ones are coming along."

Still on Merlin, I rode into the barn and threw my roping saddle on him.
Then I rode over to the house and hitched him to the rail. Inside, I
grabbed my saddlebags and bedroll. "I'm going for a ride," I announced
loudly to anybody there. "Anybody want to come along better be ready in
about five minutes."

That produced a scurry of activity as my two oldest ran for their
bedrolls and a change of clothes, then out to the corral to catch and
saddle their own horses. Audry came from the nursery, where she'd been
helping Julie clean up her room.

"Can I come too?" she asked.

"Sure. I want to give a horse a hard run. I'd love to have you, to
keep an eye on the kids, until they catch up. I don't want them running
their horses in the ground."

Audry understood immediately. "Give me fifteen minutes." I looked
pained. "For me. I'm worth it!"

I had to agree, though I looked at my watch very ostentatiously. As she
passed me, she slugged me in the arm.

"One night, or two?" she asked.


"OK." She'd bring enough food for all of us for two days.

We were pretty efficient. In minutes we were on the trail. Audry, the
kids and me. All of us rode our 'show' horses, and I rode Merlin. As soon
as we were away from the main ranch, I asked Audry to restrain the kids. I
wanted to camp at the little meadow near the Indian archeological site.
We'd meet there. Maybe we'd visit the dig tomorrow. But today, I wanted
to see how far Merlin could run.

Some horses need other horses pushing them to make them run. Not this
one. As soon as I loosened the reins, gave him a heel and said, "Come on,
boy," he was off. And he ran like a thoroughbred. Except he didn't stop!
I let him go, not urging him on, but not giving him any body language to
slow him, either. He ran hard a good three miles, then slowed to a fast
canter. Apparently, he could keep that up all day, because he ran another
three miles to the meadow before I reined him in.

He was sweaty, but not lathered, and, though glad of a blow, could have
run some more.

He'd do. Not even Sam ever gave me a run like that!

Since we'd come so far, we cantered over to the Indian site, just for a
quick look around. I knew Audry would follow my tracks if I wasn't at the
meadow when she got there.

When I got to the archeology compound, no one was there, though a couple
of jeeps were sitting in the parking area. So I rode Merlin through the
narrow, zigzag entrance to the little box canyon.

There must have been a dozen people there. old Tom, tribal elder and
good friend, saw me riding up.

"Yo, Rob! You're just in time!"

"For what? You gonna have a party?"

"We just might. We found a grave. It's old...real old...and not like
anything I've ever seen."

Joining the crowd around the trench, I watched in fascination, as the
grave was meticulously uncovered. Part of the fascination was with the
amount of dirt removed in a short time, without hurrying the process, or
neglecting to record every detail.

The pictures and descriptions have been covered in exhaustive detail in
_National Geographic_, as well as popular news magazines, so I won't bore
you with an amateur recital here.

They later proved that the site was not a 'graveyard' per se.
Apparently, a young woman had given birth while camped there and she and
her baby had died in the process. It seemed they had been wrapped in some
sort of shroud, but that had mostly decomposed. All that really remained
were the skeletons and the artifacts placed beside them.

What fascinated me most was a pair of little figurines. They were not
the primitive baked mud idols so often found all over the world. They were
ceramic, but more sophisticated than any native art from the northwest I'd
ever seen. After a lot of debate and at least two learned journal
articles, the consensus was that they were some kind of 'totems' or icons.
Personally, I think they were toys for a child--maybe traded from one tribe
to another until they ended up here.

At any rate, the discovery of the gravesite, from a race no one knew
anything about, gave new impetus to academic and government attempts to
take over the site--with every excuse from 'protecting' it to making sure
it was studied 'properly'. Most attempts were thinly camouflaged attempts
to steal it from us and from the tribes.

Our answer to that was political. George, it turned out, was a friend
of our state's junior Senator, through mutual friends in Washington. We
invited the Senator and his wife to the ranch--George and Hazel entertained
them, having the most lavish facilities--and took them to the site to see
for themselves. We pointed out that we were a working ranch and did quite
well, through our hard work and canny ability to market our products at
good prices.

We made the point that making the little canyon a tourist site, or
opening it up to government supervision, would ruin a large part of the
ranch for the uses we had for it; in turn, reducing our income and
diminishing what the family had built over the years.

Finally, we made the point that it was _our_ land. Our family had owned
it in clear title for a hundred years. Anything we found on it was ours.
Further, we had contracted with the Indians to supervise the site, both for
scientific and cultural purposes. Nothing was done without respect for the
'old ones'. The spirits of the place were placated. And native Americans
all over the country looked to the site as an example of how this kind of
thing should be done.

The Senator agreed--with energetic urging from his wife. He became a
steadfast ally in Washington. When his office sent a strongly worded
letter to some agency that was giving us grief, they tended to back off.

~~ * * * * * ~~

Audry and the kids found me there, and gazed at the skeletons the team
was uncovering. The kids thought it was 'cool' and weren't frightened by
the ancient remains.

We were invited to have lunch with the crew, which we did gladly. Dr.
Ralph Allenby and his wife, Nancy, were especially cordial, while some of
the young people, doing the 'grunt work' of the dig, contested to see which
could spoil the kids most.

Tom sat at our table. Ralph, it turns out, hated his name. "Please,
call me 'Al' or 'Doc'. I really hate 'Ralph'. It sounds like someone
throwing up."

"You got it, Doc. So. What is this thing you found? Tom tells me it's
not like anything he's seen or heard of. But have you?"

"Not exactly. I think this grave is quite old.--We'll arrange carbon
dating soon.--I see some similarities with the old people of the southwest,
the Anasazi--but they never got this far north, as far as we know. And
this isn't the same, just some similarities. Also, I think this was a
'sudden' burial. I think that this place was a campsite--maybe for
hundreds of years--but not a homesite, if you get the difference."

"You're saying that you think these people would have buried this body
differently--maybe more elaborately--it they'd been at home instead of on
the trail?"

"Exactly. I wouldn't write it up that way, with what we know. We don't
even have the bones out of the ground yet. This is just what my instinct
is telling me."

Tom nodded. "I agree. There are no spirits lingering here. Those
people are long departed. We will respect the bones, but disturbing them
won't disturb any spirits."

"Al?" Audry asked. "Does your idea that this was just a convenient
camping spot make the site less valuable--than if it were a home?"

"Not at all. We have a lot to learn here. This is the only site of
these people I know of. The more we find, the better picture we can form
of who they were and where they were going... No, this site is very

Nancy entered the conversation. "We're so thrilled, personally, that
the tribes chose us to supervise this dig. Doing it this way, we can take
our time and do it right. With Al and me in charge, on a long-term
contract, we have continuity and a consistent approach. If we were here on
a university-sponsored expedition, we'd have been 'bumped' by some tenured
professor long ago. And we'd have to publish monographs about every little
thing--even if much of it would be, of necessity, pure speculation."

"Yeah!" Al rushed in, eagerly. "The way you guys set it up, you and the
tribes are in complete control. We are the professional directors, but
under contract to the tribes. Specifically, the council of elders. So as
long as Tom's happy, we're OK. Rob, this is every archeologist's dream!"

Audry's chiming laugh filled the small hall. "I'm so glad you approve.
When we set things up this way, it was a way for us to get the site off our
hands, without ruining the ranch. Our tribal brothers see it as a great
favor. We see their taking care of it as a great favor."

"None of us," I added, "wanted to see any government agency getting into
it. And we didn't want a university, either. University politics are the
worst!" Everybody agreed on that.

"Tom, I'm going to fish a bit in the morning, down in the creek. You'd
be welcome, if you want a break for a day or so."

"Thanks, Rob. I'll stay around here. I want to do a blessing when the
graves are completely uncovered and the bones removed. Maybe next time."

"You old fraud. You're getting all wrapped up in this archeology
business yourself."

Tom grinned. "Maybe. But you can't prove it. Anyway, finding
something really interesting at my age is quite an achievement."

"And more power to you, my friend," I said, clasping his shoulder as we
went to rescue the crew from our kids.

In the meadow we made our camp and I showed the kids some 'woods' tricks
I'd learned over the years. They're never too young to learn and they are
bright kids. They enjoyed finding out more about living in the wild.
There is no need to be uncomfortable in the woods or mountains, with some
very rare exceptions.

After supper, when the kids crashed, Audry and I cuddled a bit, watching
the fire and the stars, before turning in ourselves.

"So, Rob. How do you like the horse?"

I grinned. "You know I was a little pissed off when Robin swiped Windy.
Oh, I know she's right and he's much better teamed with her than he was
with me. But I think Merlin may give me everything Sam did. He's got a
lot of bottom. And he's not the goof-off Sam is. He's not as big, but he
might just have more stamina. We won't know until he stops growing. I
think he'll be a more elegant horse than Sam. Maybe I'll give you more
trouble in the arena events..."

Audry grinned back, then kissed me. That caused a break in the
conversation, while I kissed her back, thoroughly.

"Won't it be something? You, me, George, and Robin, all competing? I
can't wait for nationals."

"Don't forget that Zach and Moira will be at nationals too, in the
junior division."

"Yeah. And they'll be moving up as soon as they're old enough. I
thought I'd retire from competition about that time. But Merlin makes me
want to stay in it for a while."

"We still have to see if he will really work out. He's an awfully young horse."

"He'll work out. I can tell already. I got a feeling you'll beat me
this year--and probably Robin will, too. But next year, look out. Rob's

Audry just kissed me. She was glad I felt that way. I'd been coasting
for the last three years or so. On the other hand, she wasn't about to
admit I was superior to her in any of the arena events.

One kiss led to another. That led to wonderful things...

In the morning we packed our bedding and saddled up right after
breakfast. I wanted to see if Merlin would run all the way back to the
house, after the hard run the day before. Audry would take it slower with
the kids and point out animals and plants to them along the way.

I'm glad we ran back.

Rick was out overnight, too, and right after daylight, Jack returned to
the ranch.

He'd demanded that Robin let him in, then, when she did, demanded that
she pack and leave with him.

Although she wasn't big or strong enough to fight him physically, Robin
had other weapons and plenty of intelligence to use them.

She removed most of her clothing, revealing a superior body.

"Jack," she said, when she had his attention. "Look at me. Look how
I'm shaped. I'm not some fat old cow of a squaw, with most of my teeth
missing. I'm a built babe and you know it. And, Jack, I'm real good in
bed. You know that, too. This is all yours, Jack. Nobody else gets any.
It's all yours. But you have to be clean and sober, Jack. That's the only
condition. You have to be straight."

"Ah, bullshit, Robin!" he spat. "Get your clothes on and grab your
things. We're leaving."

"No, Jack. I'm not going anywhere. This is home. I'll wait for you.
But you have to want me enough--respect me enough--to be sober. Until
then, I don't know you."

When she turned to walk away, Jack grabbed an arm and swung her to face
him, his other arm slapping her full in the face, so strongly it left a
bruise. Robin didn't try to fight him, or even defend herself. She just
dropped to the floor and sobbed. Jack was in no condition to know, but she
was sobbing more in sorrow for him, than in anger.

As I rode in--Merlin still had run in him when we arrived--I spotted
Jack's pickup by their house. We trotted over the asphalt and I hitched
Merlin to the gate. I hoped Jack had stopped to tell us he was going to
the Schick center again. Instead I found him standing over a near-naked
Robin, swearing like a trooper. He didn't hit her while I saw him, but the
bruise on her face was starting to show.

"Hi, Jack. How are you?" I asked, trying to defuse the situation.

"Leaving, as soon as this bitch is ready to go."

"Jack, maybe you're leaving. But I think it is up to Robin whether she
goes with you," I answered as mildly as I could.

"Butt out, Rob!" Jack flared. I could see that he was looking for an
excuse to lash out--with fists or with words.

"Can't do that, Jack," I said. "Robin's a friend and this is my ranch.
I have a stake in this."

"No way. This is between her and me."

"Jack, come outside a minute and talk to me."

"Butt out, I said."

"Jack, what difference does a minute make? Come outside a minute."

I don't know why, but he came. Once we were on the little patch of
grass Robin had planted, I said, "Jack, you know if you force it, she'll
leave you. If you let her be, she'll stand by you until you decide what
you want. Then she'll decide what she wants. She won't make any hasty
choices unless you force her... But Jack, I know this woman. If you force
her, you've lost her."

"Oh fuck you, Rob. She's my wife. She goes with me."

"Only if she wants to, Jack."

When he turned to the house, he found the door closed and locked. And
Gerry and another hand were coming across the open area toward us.

Robin was in an open window.

"Jack, I'll go with you, if that's what you want. But not until you're
sober and clean. Jack...? Please? Please go to the Schick center again?
I really want my husband back. Please do it. For me... For US."

Cursing, Jack saw that he was thwarted, and climbed into his pickup.
He'd have left a strip of rubber, but all his truck could manage was a
noxious cloud of blue exhaust, as he clattered off to the county road.

When he was gone, Robin, fully dressed, came out. "Mary warned me it
would be like this." Robin started to cry. "She... she also... warned
me..." she sobbed, "that if I went back to him... before he's sober... it
will... kill him."

Her sobs turned to a wail. "It's killing ME!"

Mary Whitefeather hurried over from the training ring. She gathered
Robin to her copious bosom and held her, crooning to her, until Robin had
herself back under control.

"Thank you, Mary. I'll be OK now. Thanks, Rob. You too, Gerry. It
hurts, you know?"

"Yeah, Robin. I know," I said. She didn't know about the years of hell
Audry had put me through when we were teens. "I do know. All I can say
is, we're all here for you. We all care."

"Thanks. I'll be out in a bit. OK?"

"Sure, Robin. Take your time."

An hour later, Audry and the kids came trotting in. I was in the
training ring, watching Mary and Robin work with the colts, taking notes
and exchanging an occasional comment about a horse, or suggestion or
question about technique. The kids swarmed me, with tales of all the
marvels their mom had pointed out on the way home. Then they went in to
tell Robin and Mary all about what they saw on their ride.

I told Audry about Jack's visit and how it had gone. Her instinct was
to go comfort Robin.

"No, babe, leave her be. She's working and comfortable with it. Maybe
you could talk to your mom about how the two of you could make it easier
for her. Maybe you could call Mary Butler, too. See if she has any
advice. And Gary needs to be told."

"I suppose... No. You're right."

Jack left the high country. Next we heard of him, he'd been driving a
log truck over in the coast range, but was fired. Later we learned he'd
entered an alcohol program run by the Grand Ronde tribes. Apparently they
came down on him even harder than Gary had, when he'd applied to the tribes
for benefits. But this time, something or someone made him listen.

He worked at it.

We learned this from Gary, who had been called by one of the people at
Grand Ronde, to verify that Jack was a member of the Warm Springs tribes.
Gary arranged to get periodic reports on Jack.

Robin was delighted. She knew it might be only a phase. But Jack had
made a step, anyway.

George and Grandma Hazel flew out to spend a week with us. Since the
qualifying competitions were almost upon us, George wanted to know which
horse I was riding this year. He knew I'd been riding whatever we most
wanted to sell for big dollars.

"Got my own horse this year, George," I said smugly. "He's only a
two-year-old, but I think he'll do even better than Sam."

"This I gotta see!" George and Hazel said together.

"Right this way folks. Step right over here." I was hamming it up,
having fun with it. They caught the big grins on Audry's and Robin's
faces, too. So they knew something was afoot.

When we came around a barn to the paddock where Merlin was, he didn't
look like much. The stupid horse had just taken a nice roll. But instead
of doing it in the dust, he'd gotten into the mud from the overflow of his
water trough.

George laughed--more at my consternation than the sorry-looking horse.

I thought fast, then asked Hazel to hold his head. I'd give him a quick
bath. In a minute, I was hosing him off. Then Hazel led him around the
paddock at a trot a couple times, to help him dry off. She timed it so
that when he shook, George got well-sprinkled.

When he looked at him cleaned up, George was impressed that Merlin was a
good-looking horse. He was obviously questioning if he had what it takes
at our level. Merlin was a just a colt, after all.

"Had him in competition yet?"

"A couple local things. Audry and Robin both beat me."

Grandma and George both knew that didn't mean anything. Audry and Robin
had been beating me since Robin swiped Windy. George understood the hope I
had for Merlin. He chuckled and asked how much more I thought he would

"Not much. He'll fill out and I expect his bones will thicken a bit,
too. There's a lot of Appaloosa in him, as you see. He's got a fine
personality and wonderful heart. That's over half the battle right there."

George had to agree with that.

Robin strolled over and, when George asked, said, "You know, George,
just like Ginger suits you, Merlin suits Rob." A little bit of a sly grin
caressed the corners of her mouth. "And Windy suits me."

"Robin, if I didn't think you'd sue me for harassment or something, I'd
spank you for that," I said with a grin.

"Ah, Rob," she drawled, "you'd have to catch me first."

Hazel gave a guffaw at that. "Good shot, girl. He had that one coming.
He likes to bitch about Windy. He knows he was just fooling around with
the horse anyway."

One of the Indian girls who helped us when we had the problem with
Schwartz brought us a lovely mare for breeding to Windy. The mare was the
offspring of the mare we'd given her in return for her help that summer and
an Appaloosa a neighbor at the reservation owned. She felt that Windy's
strong Appaloosa strain would be reinforced.

All of us were really taken with the mare and truthfully wished she were
part of the ranch herd. Since the girl couldn't afford our normal stud fee, we made a deal. She'd breed the mare twice. She'd keep the first
foal; we'd get the second.

Erin was becoming a very good rider and little Julie got her first
horse. Zach and Moira were accomplished equestrians at the junior level.

One afternoon, I mentioned to Robin and Audry, as we shared a coffee
break on the top rail of the training ring (The fence of the ring has a
flat top, a 2x12 bench, all the way around, so a person can stand or sit in
comfort while observing the training in the ring.) that we needed to find
suitable competition mounts for the two older kids soon.

Audry giggled. Robin was more polite and only grinned. They'd already
taken care of it.

"For this year," Audry informed me, "Zach will ride Sheik and Moira will
be on Blue."

"Isn't Sheik too much for him?"

"Not now," Robin snickered. "We gelded him."

"Oh, yeah... I saw that come through in the notes I entered in the
database. Well, he wouldn't have brought any stud fees anyway."

"He'll be a good horse for Zach for a year or two. Then we'll sell

"I thought we were going to breed Blue this year?"

"We were, until Mary mentioned that she was really catching on in her
training. Robin worked with her on dressage and Mary was right--as always.
The horse was a slow starter, but has caught on fantastically. She'll be
good for Moira and Moira for her."

So, at the regional competition, we were all on horses we liked and
thought would do well.

Western Regionals was a very interesting meet for us. That year it was
in San Francisco, so we hired a large horse van to truck the animals down,
and drove ourselves.

Uncle Rick and Aunt Elin drove a car with Robin and Zach riding along.
Audry and I drove the motorhome, with Mary and the girls as passengers.
Lunch was in a park along the road and Robin and Zach rode the rest of the
way in the big coach. We made it in one day, but it was a long, tiring
day. We were all glad to pull into the motel, grab a quick dinner, and go
to bed.

Of course, Rick and I made sure the horses were OK before we hit the

Mary and Robin were the primary coaches for the kids. Audry and I
worked with them at home, but they felt that in the competitions the Indian
ladies gave them advice that worked better than what we told them.

No matter. They both qualified for nationals.

So did Audry, Robin and I. Although we had expected it, I really didn't
like coming in third to them.

And then Robin and Windy beat me in the three-day. That was too much!

The next month, Merlin and I worked at least three hours a day. Many
days, more than that. We probably wouldn't win at nationals, but we'd be
respectable--and serve notice about what we'd do next year.

And that was about right.

The kids surprised us. Moira won the junior dressage and was second in
jumping. Zach had a bit of trouble with Sheik, and was second and third.
It was OK. We'd sell the horse and find him something better. Zach was
disappointed, but philosophical about it. He knew that Sheik was a
'one-year' horse for him.

The arena events were a four-way dogfight. George decided--Hazel read
him from the book--that he was finally too old and too busy to spend the
time conditioning himself and his horse for the 3-day. He and Ginger
concentrated on the arena events.

Robin and Audry were their usual superb selves. And their horses had
never been better. Merlin was still learning, though his rider was
certainly a veteran.

Merlin and I were fourth in both events. George won one and Robin the
other. Audry was second both times.

In the 3-day, Merlin and I were second in dressage, first in the
endurance phase, but second on the jumps. Robin beat me again.

But, this time, it was very close--only a few points separated us at the

Of course, we had a great time with George and Hazel. Tongue in cheek,
George remarked, "I'll have to change my name to Steele to get any

Hazel consoled him, which is what he was after. She pointed out that
she'd changed her name from Steele to Lemmer. "Make me change again,
buster, and you're cut off."

Elin and Audry both laughed long at that. The very idea of our
insatiable Hazel cutting George off was ludicrous. Hazel got the joke
after a couple of seconds and joined the hearty laughter.

Riding home, I let Mary drive the big motorhome for a while. I was
tired. So was Robin, though she was 'up' from her two wins.

"Rob, I don't know how to thank you and Audry. Working with your horses
is a real dream come true. I never thought I'd work with horses like
these. And, to be able to ride them in competition! Wow! It's a real
rush, to work with them this way."

Audry smiled at our friend. Robin continued, "Above all, to ride
Windy... You guys are so generous to me... Yes, even you, Rob, even
though you bitch about it. You know you'd just find something else to
bitch about if it wasn't Windy."

"Well, you know, Robin, he's yours."


"Sure. He's your horse. You can sell him or trade him. Whatever.
He's yours. If the ranch handles his stud service, we want a third. But
if you want to do it yourself, it's all yours."

Robin cried. After a bit, when she was down to an occasional hiccup,
she said, "Damn you, Rob! You've made me so beholden to you guys... Work
I love, national recognition and the opportunity of a lifetime, a new home
that's better than any place I've ever lived, and now this: The horse of my

Crying again, she grabbed me and Moira, who was sitting on her other
side, and just bawled.

Mary asked if there was a problem. Maybe she should pull over?

I assured her it was OK. Robin was just extra happy and her emotions
were a little close to the surface after the week of competition.

Moira looked at her seriously and asked, "Why are you sad, Robin?"

"I'm not sad, little friend. I'm so happy, I have to cry. I only wish
Jack was here to share this."

I don't know why, but somehow I heard myself say, "Have faith, Robin.
Someday he will be here to share this."

~~ * * * * * ~~

Before we knew it, the fall holidays were on us and the kids were
bringing home some really awful handcrafted seasonal items they'd made in
school--which we treasure still.

We were looking hard for a horse for Zach. Sheik was OK, but not what
he really needed. Besides, I had a buyer lined up for him. Moira would
ride a different horse every year, as she grew in both size and ability.

Thanksgiving was planned as a big family and ranch event. George and
Hazel were going to fly out and the celebration would be in their
house--since they were the only ones with a room big enough for all of us.
There would be Gerry and Alice and one of our hands (the other was joining
his parents in Redmond), Uncle Rick and Aunt Elin, George and Hazel, Mary,
Robin, us, and our four children. (Shawna offered to stay, to help out.
Audry probed just a bit, and discovered that she really wanted to spend a
couple of days at home. Her brother would be there, on leave from the
Marines. We sent her with our blessings and greetings to all of her

We invited the crew from the archeological site--but only Tom came. The
others said it would be a family event of their own, in the lodge at the

An hour before dinner, a new pickup truck drove into the headquarters
and pulled up by Robin's door. Jack got out.

A different Jack than we'd seen in a long time.

He was clean and wearing new clothing. Even his fingernails were clean
and trimmed. His hair was cut. He looked great. From a distance, you
could tell he was 'clean', up close, you were sure.

Robin could tell. She came running from the house with a squeal and
threw herself on him, nearly knocking him to the ground.

Mary was nearby and walked over. She looked closely at Jack's face,
then pounded him on the back.

"We're having dinner at Hazel's. I'll have them save you some, whenever
you get there," she said, as she walked over to our house.

I was entertaining the kids while the women were over at Grandma's,
getting the dinner ready. Mary told me Jack was back, and was clean, and
we shouldn't maybe expect them to be on time for dinner? I laughed and
gathered up the kids for the walk to George's 'cabin'.

Since everybody on the ranch would be there, dinner was a community
effort. Everyone was excited about Jack. Hazel wisely delayed dinner an
extra half-hour and her instinct was rewarded when they strolled, hand in
hand, to George's big 'cabin' just as we were starting to sit down.

Robin's lips were swollen and, though her hair was combed, it was not
its usual neat package. Her makeup was a dash of lipstick.

Jack was a bit mussed, too.

They looked radiant. So we beamed at them and made a place for them at
the table.

That Thanksgiving, we had a lot to be thankful for. Both horses and
cattle were very profitable. The weather had been good. We were all in
good health. We all missed mom and dad--though mom called from Florida to
tell us she loved us.

After we all made it through the 'first plate'--the ladies were sort of
picking at food and the guys were just starting to load up for
seconds--Jack asked for our attention.

"First, I'm more thankful than anybody. To begin with, I have this
wonderful lady who stood by me. And who, despite all that I do to her,
still loves me somehow."

As an aside, he said, "I love you too, Robin...

"Anyway, I've had some pretty extensive alcohol treatment through the
tribes at Grand Ronde. Their approach is different from Schick--more
directed at the problems Indians face. I think--I pray--that this time, it
took. I can watch you drink wine here tonight and it doesn't bother me."

We applauded that.

"While I was at Grand Ronde, I worked at the casino there. Just for
something to do, I invented my own personal gambling strategy. I put a
small part of my pay aside for 'gambling money.' And half of whatever I won
I put into savings. When I ran out of money, I was done gambling until
next payday.

"I can't claim a lot of skill, but I did get real lucky a couple times.
So I managed to save some real money... The pickup is paid for and the

"When the alcohol counselors at Grand Ronde decided I was clean, they
called Gary, and sent me home. I spent a couple of days with Gary before I
came on down here... He's satisfied that I'm as clean as we get. He had
some real good advice and told me some more about his own experience.

"It's a dirty trick, dropping in on you all like this, but I just had to
surprise Robin."

The look in her eyes said she was happy that he had.

"I have to say a couple other things...

"Rick. I'd like that riding job again." Rick nodded. Gerry too. "And
I've never taken Robin on a proper vacation. We've gone camping a few
times, but that was what I wanted to do, not something for her. I really
want to take her on a trip--see some sights neither of us has ever seen...
There's a Caribbean cruise coming up that is totally non-alcoholic. I'd
like us to go on that. Could I go on the payroll after we get back? And
could you spare Robin?"

Of course we could and we offered congratulations and encouragement.

Tom had been quietly observing Jack--being very familiar with the
effects of alcohol on Indian men. His old face finally relaxed into a
broad grin. He was satisfied that Jack had licked his addiction.

Ten days before Christmas, they returned to the ranch. It's hard to say
if an Indian is tanned, but they sure looked rested and happy--and very
much in love. They tracked each other around a room they were in--or
around the paddock or barn if they were outside. And they were constantly
reaching out to touch the other.

Robin talked to Audry about children. Since an Olympic year was coming
up, Audry suggested she stay on birth control until summer. Unless she had
really bad morning sickness, being in the early stages of pregnancy
wouldn't bother her riding.

The women grinned at each other. Good friends, happy for Robin's good

That winter I worked much more than our normal winter schedule with
Merlin. I'd have preferred to give him another year, but with the Olympics
coming, I didn't have a year. Fortunately for us both, he enjoyed the work
and paid attention. He'd learned the basics solidly from Mary and Robin. I
had to teach him the fine points and work on rapport between horse and

He was very strong, with exceptional stamina. Though not as big as Sam,
he would be, I thought, a better horse overall. He sure did a better job
in dressage.

So, right after Easter, no one was happier to see the first warm days of
spring than Merlin and I. When I saw the forecast, I announced that, in
the morning, I was going for a ride. Everyone knew that meant an overnight
expedition on horseback and clamored to be included--even little Julie
demanded to come along. (Shawna said she'd had to stay home last year to
babysit. She wanted some saddle time of her own.)

Mary was just too large to ride, but she'd take a pickup, carry our food
and camping gear, and meet us at the meadow where I wanted to spend the
night. We'd have lunch at the Indian site with the archeological team and
check a few fences and pastures along the way.

Starting out, I let Merlin run hard for a couple miles, then cantered
another mile before turning him around to canter back to the others. It
wasn't very far, since all of their horses wanted to run a bit, too. With
that out of our systems, we walked and trotted, taking note of winter
damage to fences and watering areas. We weren't in any hurry. The ride
was the event, the destination merely an excuse.

Arriving at our meadow in mid-afternoon, we set up camp rapidly--using
tents, since the nights were still pretty cold up where we live. Mary
insisted she'd cook dinner and the kids took off to explore the area. Zach
was responsible for Erin and Moira was made responsible for Julie. They
were not only to keep them from harm, but to show them things and teach
them what they knew about the area.

Just as the shadows started to cover the meadow, Jack came riding in.
He'd been out checking fences the past two days and learned of our
expedition when he'd called in to Gerry. We made him welcome. Audry
teased that maybe Robin should move her tent to the other side of the
meadow, if things were going to be noisy that night.

Robin bounced a pinecone off Audry's head for that, but then tugged her
man to his feet, made him carry everything to a secluded spot she selected,
and set up their tent there.

When they got back to the fire, I said, "Sure glad you suggested that,
Audry. It wouldn't do to have the kids awake all night."

I ducked my pinecone.--The second one, from Jack, got me.

At nationals, we all qualified for the Olympics. Merlin and I surprised
a number of people by winning the jumping competition as well as the 3-day.
Robin beat Audry on the jumps, too. In fact, Audry was fourth, after
George. George won dressage, followed by Audry, Robin and me.

I was surprised when the national officers asked us to join them. They
wanted me on the board and Audry on the competition committee. Mary was
asked to become a judge, her superior knowledge of what was going on with
horse and rider in a ring becoming recognized.

Robin wasn't ignored. She was asked to judge, too. That was hard,
since she competed in three events. But she agreed to do some judging when
it didn't conflict.

All of us would be welcome to judge any horse shows we weren't competing
in... The problem with that was that we were busy people and travel from
Steele ranch to a show was a hassle. Unless we were competing, it was
seldom worth the effort.

One advantage was that Mary would be an Olympic judge. Wistfully, the
board said they'd make any of the others of us Olympic judges, too, just as
soon as we weren't competing in the Olympics any more.

We agreed to serve, but with the stipulation that we wouldn't have to
travel at our own expense to frequent meetings. We'd do as much as
possible by phone, FAX and e-mail.

Nationally sanctioned events paid judges, or at the least paid their
expenses. Same for board meetings. Just to keep everyone honest, if we
were going to an event as competitors, we'd pay our own way. Only
additional expenses directly caused by our work for the national body would
be reimbursed.

We liked it. We all agreed. (The next year we were inundated with
requests to judge competitions--especially for juniors.)

That fall, we had to hire four temporary hands to help with roundup and
other fall tasks on the ranch. The whole family would go to the Olympics,
as well as Jack and Robin, Shawna, and Mary. Rick and Elin wanted to come
with us, but felt that it would be better if they stayed home to keep an
eye on things. Little Julie stayed with them, to everyone's relief. (A
wonderful little girl and a complete joy, she was truly a 'piece of work',
and could be quite difficult at times. It was better not to have that
concern at an Olympics.)

With three of us competing, we had a full load in the airplane. Jack
came along as 'groom,' as did Gerry and Alice. We'd arranged a pretty nice
trailer at the stable area for them. It was lots better than what most
grooms got! Of course, Robin spent most of her time there, and all of her
nights. Jack got to spend time in the Olympic village with Robin, too.
They both enjoyed their first Olympics to the max.

It was necessary for someone to 'babysit' the horses. George brought a
couple of his grooms, who helped a lot. The main thing was to keep
strangers away from our horses.

During the 'parade of athletes' in the opening ceremonies, we had quite
a contingent, since Mary and Hazel were judges, and joined us. Once again,
we gathered some nice tv coverage and did our best to promote our
sport--and Steele Ranch horses.

I didn't qualify for the dressage finals, but George won with Ginger and
Robin took the silver. Audry just missed bronze.

Merlin was awesome in the jumping competition. He was better than Sam
on any but his best days. Our first run demoralized the
competition--except Audry who was determined to medal.

After the first run, I was in the lead, with Robin, George and Audry
within a few points of each other. The rest of the field was somewhere
behind. Audry had a stern talk with Clay before they rode the second
round. She rode clean and in very good time. Robin followed and also rode
clean, but finished a second behind her. George must have had a bad day.
Ginger clipped a rail, dropping him to third, with me still to ride.

Merlin had a marvelous run and I had another gold! Audry settled for
the silver gracefully--if someone had to beat her, she'd rather it was me.

Robin was thrilled with her bronze. Her first Olympics and two medals!
And she was riding in the team 3-day, too.

A rider from Virginia was the other US competitor in the individual
3-day. He was a good friend of the Parmentiers and a nice enough guy. His
horse wasn't up to Merlin's level, but was a good mount. He was seeded in
the middle of the pack, while I was the favorite.

After the arena events, we all had a day off, so we strolled around the
village, talking to other athletes, and took in a basketball game when the
US team played. We knew about half the guys already--and all of them by
sight. One NBA superstar who was smarter than anyone gave him credit for
had been studying. "Hey, Rob!" he called when we came into the arena seats
reserved for competitors, "can we borrow Merlin tomorrow? We have the
Italians and they're going to be tough. He jumps higher than any of us."
We shared a good laugh and watched the current version of the 'dream team'
demolish their opponent. In the morning, the dressage stage of the team
3-day was scheduled. Robin would be competing on Windy and we hoped she'd
win this stage outright.

She did, but it was much closer than we'd hoped. Not because Robin
messed up, but because a horse from Germany was especially good.

I spent a couple of hours on Merlin... a little dressage and a little
jumping and a two-mile canter. Just to stay loose and focused.

The next day was the speed and endurance test. A couple of the
obstacles were especially wicked that year. We toured the course and
practiced on it. Windy would handle it fine. But Audry and I were quite
worried about a couple of the horses other competitors on the US team were
riding. We didn't think they'd have the energy to clear the obstacles
cleanly the second time over them.

We were right. Robin and Windy tore up the course and were far in the
lead at the end of the day. But one of the other horses barely made it.
His rider didn't know if he could do the jumps the next day.

On the strength of Robin's scores, the US team was in third, but needed
a decent performance on the jumps to hang on to a medal.

They didn't get it. The tired horse didn't balk, but knocked off rails
on two gates. The US team finished fifth.

Robin was philosophical. "Well, maybe next time I'll qualify for the
individual 3-day. Two medals isn't bad for my first games."

Then it was my turn. Merlin was OK in dressage, ending up sixth. Then
he demolished the cross-country course. At the end of the day, he was 12
minutes ahead of the Argentine rider who'd won dressage and 16 minutes
ahead of the Englishman.

Jumping was easy, since we didn't need a fantastic time. I just put him
to it and let him flow around the course. The gold was in the bag.

I had my perfect horse. And he had at least 10 more good years of
competition in him, with luck and care. (Later, the equestrian press
commented on the 'dynasty' the Steele Ranch was creating. They didn't miss
Merlin's young age--or that Zach and Moira were showing promise as
competition riders, with Erin ready to start competing next year. We
thought it was neat. No trash talk or even glowering looks. We
intimidated by excellence.)

After the games, we were invited to the White House--we took the whole
family for that, as well as the crew. They'd earned it. Jack was

Audry and I were asked to appear on 'Oprah'. We suggested to Oprah's
producers that maybe it would be better to send a crew to the ranch, to
film us there. They did, but also had us fly to Chicago, to be in the
studio when the show was aired. The 'theme' was an all-American family,
from a ranch out in the sticks, who were world-class athletes. That we
trained world-class horses was mentioned, but wasn't the focus.

mom came up from Miami for the show and we had a wonderful reunion. She
talked about being raised with show horses and hunters and then marrying
into a family that raised horses.

Audry and I have a substantial collection of Olympic medals in our
trophy case. These were shown and commented on.

Then Robin was introduced. She was a real star, her exotic beauty
glowing with pregnancy. She talked about how she loved horses and loved
working with them. How we'd found her on the reservation working as a
receptionist at the resort. And how we'd given her a dream job and made
her into an Olympic medallist. The pictures of Robin and Jack, hand in
hand in the Olympic village, in cowboy clothes, were priceless.

"I understand you have some big friends, too?" Oprah asked.

"You could say that," Audry smiled. "A couple of them are over seven
feet tall."

"Well, let's meet one," she said and brought out the Chicago Bulls'
reigning superstar, to wild applause. We all got big hugs. Robin's hug
was more careful, but heartfelt.

He told the story about how we'd become friends with the 'dream team'
years ago. How we'd continued the friendship over the years, adding new
friends, but trying to stay in touch with those who had retired from
competition, too.

Oprah brought out that we were expected to attend NBA games at any city
we might visit, as guests of the players--usually of both teams.

"I hear you were in town last night and didn't come by..." the black
giant rumbled at Audry.

"Well, we flew in yesterday afternoon and with the kids and mom arriving
from Miami... You know how that can go."

"Yeah. But we're playing again tomorrow night and we'll expect you."

I had to look at Oprah. We were her guests. She caught my question and
grinned. "I'm sure the Steele's will be proud to stay an extra day so they
can go to the game," she said.

Robin asked, "Can Jack come, too?"

"He'd be a fool to let you alone with a bunch like us. He'd better

The show moved on to the future of our 'dynasty.' The audience met Zach,
Moira, and Erin. Then Julie was introduced and placed in my lap. Film of
the kids working in the practice ring and competing at the Junior Nationals
was shown. Ending with gasps and applause when they saw Moira on Sam,
doing a full jump set without hitting a gate. The huge horse with the
little girl up and full-sized competition gates made quite a picture. Of
course, I could see a lot of flaws--Sam still liked to gawk when he was at
the apex of a jump, for example. But Moira had taken the course at a
canter and done it clean. To the audience, it looked really good.

Oprah talked to the kids a bit. "Moira, that was pretty impressive." A
still of Moira on Sam, taking a tall gate was on the big screen behind
them. "Do you think you're about ready to beat your dad or mom?"

"Oh, no. They're lots better than I am. Zach is better--and Erin is
almost as good as he is."

"Well, let's see Erin at work."

We watched Erin take the same jumps on Shannon--who still had all his
elegance and form. Erin took the set a bit faster, too, and her form in
the saddle was cleaner than Moira's.

Watching her take the highest jump in the set, Oprah put a hand over her
mouth, which was open in amazement.

"Erin, honey, walk over here by me, so we can see you," she asked.

When Erin did, everyone could see that this was a little girl. She
couldn't mount a full-sized horse by herself.

After the show, we made arrangements to attend the basketball game and
had a few minutes to chat with Oprah before she left.

"You should come visit us," Audry said. "We all work so hard, we don't
travel much. And we love the ranch more than anywhere else we've ever
been. But we love company, too. I think you'd like it there."

"I'm sure I would. But I work hard, too, as you know. We'll see."

"If you're worried about comfort, we'd have grandma put you up in the
summer cottage."


"Well, she prefers that we call her 'Hazel', but she's my grandma. You
might know her husband, George. The other Olympian?"

"George? I remember that in my notes, but didn't know you were
related--I'd have tried harder to get him on the show. He said he was
busy. My friend says he's not only busy, but very choosy about his social

"Yeah. He's a good guy though. Once Hazel got her hooks in him, she
never let go. I never saw anyone go down so hard, so fast."

Audry chipped in, "And the really funny thing was, she had no idea he
was rich. She just liked him--and lusted after his body."

"Wait a minute... I know a George who's into horses. Lives on Long
Island..." We just grinned. She knew him.

"George Lemmer. Investment banker. HE'S your... what?...

"Yep. But we don't dare call him that. He's just George. We're real
proud to have him in the family. He's a good man... He'd have to be, to
make Hazel monogamous!"

"Hazel Lemmer is your GRANDMOTHER? That's just not possible! Why,
she's old enough to be your mother, maybe..?"

We grinned. We'd heard this before. "Maybe she was a child bride?"

Oprah laughed. "OK. You got me."

That summer, Hazel invited Oprah and her friend out to the ranch. We
were happy when she accepted the invitation. Just to make things
interesting, Audry invited a couple of basketball players and I called a
gymnast we felt especially close to. married now, she brought her husband
and new baby. They all came and we had a wonderful couple of weeks.

So now, besides watching the Bulls if we're in Chicago, we have to visit
the set of the talk show, too.

* 'Horses' is the tenth 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.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is the last of this part of the Audry series. I
hope there will be more. There will definitely be a "prequel" about Rob's
and Audry's parents.


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