God Must Be a Cowboy at Heart
HARD RIDE TO CORA
The early 1880's see Wyoming as an evolving region, and evolving with it is Mick Swinney, a young Irish cowboy. Set about his duties while on the trail one day, Mick awakes to a spooky feeling; a feeling that has mixed signals when tragedy strikes the B Bar O Ranch. Both he and the foreman have sent for help, but, when it arrives, it comes in a greater number than either expected. With it comes more than a couple of surprises - including more trouble. But he has pledges to keep, and a promising future just ahead, if he survives it all. So Mick deals with the threat the only way he knows how.... head on with a Colt in his hand.
Mick started the process of waking up, slowly stretching out while still in his sougan, getting both mind and muscle ready for the day ahead. He cracked an eye toward the eastern skyline to see that the sun was, like himself, just beginning to show some signs of life. He loved this time of day, that brief period when the creatures of the night were bedding down, and the day critters were just waking up, that short moment when time almost seemed to stand still, and the world was silent. His father had called it the only true moment of peace in all of eternity, and, though it had taken him years to grasp the full meaning, he now fully understood. Trouble had visited him only a few times during his twenty-eight years, but often enough for him to really appreciate this quiet time.
The first squawk of a camp robber signaled him that it was time to get a move on, that this all too short moment of respite was at an end for another day. After he crawled out of his warm, comfortable bedroll, he poked a couple of sticks into the leftover coals of last night's campfire, gave it a couple of long, slow breaths and was rewarded with glowing embers he had hoped for. He added a few more sticks, which resulted in a growing flame. Enough fire for him to slide the pot of coffee he had prepared the night before over onto the edge of a flat rock that jutted into the fire bed. Right where it needed to be to draw in the heat required to make the morning's dark brew.
Another minute saw him shaking out his boots, slipping them on, then standing to stretch his six foot frame to its fullest. His strawberry roan, came into sight from under the aspen stand where he had been grazing, looking for his morning ration of oats. He walked right up to the saddle and tack lying on the ground, then looked over at Mick as if to say, "You're not ready?" He couldn't help but chuckle at the look he got from the geld. Many was the time his friend had brought a smile to the young Irishman's face. From the day his shaky legs had lifted him up to stand at his mother's side for the first time, searching for the meal he knew was there, to the time he lifted Shorty Briscoe up by the seat of the britches, and dropped him in the water tank. "Quite a horse," he said to no one in particular, it was always a good day when your mount was more ready to get going than you were. "Yeah, Rusty, it's gonna be a damn fine day."
He leaned over, picked up the end of his bedroll and gave it a sturdy shake, all in one motion, to remove as much dirt and frost as he could, then rolled it as tight as possible and tied it with a pair of leather thongs. Next, he stepped to the fire bed, laid the skillet on the edge of the same flat rock as the coffee pot, waited a few minutes for it to heat up, then tossed in several thick slices of salt pork. Satisfied that it would cook quickly, he walked over to the tack, then picked up the feedbag, reached inside it for a small sack of oats, then poured a generous amount into the bottom of the bag. The horse lowered his head to allow him to slip the strap over his neck, but, before he could fasten it in place, Rusty had found the bottom and was busy chomping away at his breakfast. "Easy, boy. You act like you ain't ate in a week, an' you an' me both know better, don't we?
He rubbed the roan's neck a couple of times, gave him a gentle pat on the shoulder and, smelling the pork, realized that he was pretty hungry, too. "There's somethin' 'bout this high country air that makes a fella hungry, ain't there, ol' friend. Not that we need any help gettin' to it when it's time ta eat," he mused aloud as he turned, walking toward the campfire and his own chow.
Once back at the fire, he slid the skillet back from the fire, then turned the meat with his belt knife. Satisfied it was cooking just right, he moved it back closer to the flames. Picking up his tin cup, then the pot, he poured the steaming brew slowly, trying not to get too many grounds. He took a few sips waiting for the pork to finish cooking, then decided it would just have to be done enough, he was well past being ready to eat. He pulled the skillet to him, then stabbed a piece of meat with his knife, feeding it, bite by bite, into his mouth. Even though it was hot enough to burn his lips, he continued devouring it piece after piece, taking a sip of coffee to wash each morsel down, until the skillet was empty. He poured a second cup of coffee, then leaned back against his bedroll, rolled and lit his first quirley of the day. That's when it started creeping in, the eerie feeling that he was being watched.
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