Have you ever wondered what became of the Champion family and the Yellow Rose after the 22nd and final episode? Well, this is one possibility…. I live in Northern Ireland and I'm afraid I don't speak "West Texan" or Spanish and resorted to an online translator, so if I've gotten anything wrong, please let me know….
Disclaimer - I don't own The Yellow Rose or any of the characters, I just borrowed them for a little while. The song at the end - "Mama's Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys." was written by Ed and Patsy Bruce. Thank you Willie Nelson, for singing my favourite version of it.
The Yellow Rose
This Land Is My Land
The Yellow Rose Ranch,
Southwest of San Antonio, Texas
Even though he was acting like he had to spend every single minute of every single day atoning for his actions, Colleen gladly took up Whit's offer to help LC with the washing up and she fled the kitchen with it's subdued atmosphere and long faces. She stepped outside, into the darkness. There was no moon tonight - it was hidden by clouds - but she knew every step as she walked the familiar path down to the back paddock. She leaned against the fence, her chin resting on her arm and listened to the silence, allowing it to calm her and comfort her as it always had done - at least it had until two weeks ago when Jed Fargo had kidnapped her and tried to kill Chance. She forced the memory away.
The air was heavy with the memory of the danger and the death he had brought with him and it seemed that his ghost still haunted the Yellow Rose ranch and the people who lived on her.
Roy was uneasily silent and morose, and worrying about his son, Whit.
Luther and Hoyt - their usual banter had disappeared somewhere and the two old cowboys sat together at the dinner table eating quietly; a vital part of the family though not of it.
Quisto - well at least he, with a little help from LC, constantly tried to lighten the mood, with jokes and funny stories. Right now he was quietly strumming his old Spanish guitar and, in his so easy to listen to voice, was teaching LC the words to an old Mexican ballad.
Colleen smiled as she listened to her daughter joining in. Her voice was crystal clear and beautiful even when she stumbled over the unfamiliar Spanish words while Quisto patiently taught his little sister to sing in his native language.
Whit was still in shock, and unable to move forward from that moment when he'd pulled the trigger. He was pale and his eyes were haunted. Nothing, and no one seemed able to console him.
Only time would do that, if it were even possible.
And Chance. Where was he inside his own head with all of this? Beating himself up? Probably. Hating himself? Of course. Reaching out to his family? No. That wasn't his way.
And me, she thought. Where am I?
"A penny for 'em?" a soft warm, familiar voice drawled.
"That all? From a rich oil baron? Just a penny?" Colleen smiled in the darkness.
"Well, I was gonna give you the moon but I cain't find her tonight. So I figured I'd find you instead and give you this."
He turned her around in his arms and kissed her softly on the lips. Colleen put her arms around his neck and pressed tightly against him and the comfort he gave her, and returned the kiss.
"Wanna get a bed roll and go make out down by the creek?"
"Sure cowboy, but . . . . " Colleen sighed. It was always down by the creek or up in the hay loft, or in the back seat of his pick-up, or up against the old oak tree.
Now that old oak tree had sure been fun and she still had a bruise on her shoulder from that particular night. With Chance it was likely to be anywhere. Anywhere except in her bed.
"But what?" Chance asked.
"Never mind. Go git a blanket."
"Something on your mind, little brother?" Roy asked as Quisto walked into the room and picked up the cue from the pool table. "Other than a game, that is?"
"What you said yesterday evening about running Chance off the ranch? Were you serious? I mean, come on Roy. He's our brother."
"You think I haven't thought of that? And I never said that. I never once said we should run him off. All I said was . . . . . ."
"No. Not in so many words but you meant it though."
Quisto raised an eyebrow. "It's just semantics Roy."
Roy rubbed his brow and threw down the pencil he was holding.
"Y'know, this is all we do these days, counting and accounting, paying bills and checking how many millions of dollars we're worth. Sometimes I miss the old days Quisto. When we were struggling to pay the bills and working from dawn to dusk just to put food on the table. And now, here we are rich old Texas oil men and, y'know there's just no fun in it any more. I'm a rancher Quisto and what I really want to do is spend my days roping and branding and working the land. All day long. Not doing this!"
Quisto grinned. "Well we could just mosey on down to the Buckskin. I'm sure we could find us a couple'a sweet young fillies who'd love to be roped and branded, and worked on. All night long!"
Roy laughed. "It's tempting. Boy, it sure is tempting."
"But?" Quisto asked.
"But." Roy answered.
"We can't run him off Roy. He's our brother. You know we can't take that away. And for what he done, well he's paid all his dues. He did his time and he did hard time at that. He deserves this because, like it or not Roy, it's his birthright too. Just like it's yours and mine and LC's."
"I didn't say it wasn't."
"You're implying it brother."
"No." Roy shook his head. "It's not that."
"Then what? What Roy?"
"How many more Jed Fargos are gonna show up on our door? How many more who'll try to kidnap Colleen to get back at Chance for something. Or hurt LC?"
"Roy," Quisto shook his head. "We cain't judge him on Fargo. And besides, he's safe here. We're safe. Here on the Rose."
"Are we?" Roy looked at his brother. "Are we really safe? What happens next time? What if someone else shows up next week with an axe to grind? And the next week? And the week after that? It's like he's walked a one-way street all the way from Huntsville prison to the front door of the Rose."
"Madre de Dios! Once don't make a trend Roy."
"I know that. God-dammit I know that, but when I look at Whit and LC and, and I just . . . . "
"Just what Roy?" Quisto asked.
"I just feel that if Chance weren't here it would be a whole lot safer."
"Safer? Or easier?"
Roy's eyes narrowed. "What exactly do you mean there, Quisto?
"I mean him and Colleen."
"You think that's it? You think I'm jealous of him and Colleen?"
"Well it has crossed my mind a couple a times," Quisto shrugged. "You used to have a thing for her."
"Don't go there brother. Do not go there." Roy's voice was mean.
Quisto held up his hands. "I'm sorry."
"I can tell you here and now that there's nothing between me and Colleen. Never was, never will be."
"Okay. I'm sorry amigo," Quisto said. "But I won't back you Roy. Not on this. Chance is our brother. And rightly or wrongly he's our blood and this is his home. Just like it's yours. And just like it's mine." Quisto looked at him. "Ain't it?"
Roy frowned. "What is that supposed to mean?"
"I hate myself for saying this Roy, but I can't help but think that maybe one of these days you'll think the same about me, and try to run me off too." Quisto glared at him, his blue eyes turning hard.
"Quisto, no!" Roy shook his head and reached out to his brother.
Quisto backed away, unable to surrender. All his life he'd never been completely confident of the legitimacy of his claim to his share in the Rose, despite his blood right and his father's will and Roy's insistence that he was part of the family. Sometimes, even after all these years he still felt as though he didn't belong and as the half-breed illegitimate son of Wade Champion his claim on his share wasn't valid. The lawyer in him told him otherwise, but sometimes, at times like this, his Mexican blood cried out that he was deluding himself that he could be a rich ranchero.
"I don't wanna hear it Roy!" he waved him away and turned his back, and walked out of the room, leaving his brother standing alone.
Colleen sighed contentedly as Chance nuzzled her neck and tightened his arms around her. This was the only place in the world she wanted to be. Out here under the night, on the land she loved, and in the arms of the man she loved.
Or in her warm, comfortable bed.
Instead of lying here on the hard ground.
But oh no, Mr. Stubborn, on the pretence of it being more romantic, insisted on this. His refusal to share her bed annoyed her - it was a refusal to commit to her. He'd make love to her every night under the stars and he'd tell her that he loved her, but climb into her bed? Oh no. Not into the bed she once shared with his daddy. And that was the crux of it.
A rock was sticking into her hip and she shifted an inch to the right, wriggling off it. Chance had fallen asleep and was snoring lightly but his arms tightened around her, acknowledging her movement. His skin was warm against hers and his arms were strong and she tried to count her blessings but the dammed rock was still digging into her hip-bone!
"What's bugging you sweetheart?" Chance asked sleepily, her movements disturbing him.
"I can't git myself comfortable. Why can't we go back up to the ranch house and sleep in my bed? Properly? Like normal folks? Or even in your bed?"
"Don't think old Luther and Hoyt would take too kindly to seeing you crawl into the bunkhouse and into my bed wearing nothing but this old horse blanket," Chance chuckled. "Then again, maybe they just might."
"And why is it that you still insist on sleeping there? You belong in the ranch with the rest of your family. And with me."
Chance sat up, pulling away from her. "And that is something I gotta talk to you about, sweetheart."
But the blanket had fallen away from her and he felt the warmth of her and so he reached for her again.
"I guess it can wait until tomorrow," he drawled.
"Quisto can you drive me into school today? Please?" LC looked at her brother, a pleading smile on her face.
He was about to tell her that he had things to do but the way she looked at him so pointedly stopped him and he realised she had an ulterior motive. "You usually go with Whit," he reminded her.
"He left real early, and so did Roy. Chance is busy and mom is too. Can you Quisto, please?"
"I sure can, sweetpea," he told her. "But just make sure you're ready by the time I finish this here cup of coffee." Quisto poured himself another cup as LC ran off to get ready.
Something was bothering her he realised, and he had a fair idea what it was. The same thing that was bothering her was bothering them all to different degrees and for different reasons. It was the same thing that had made him snap at Roy last evening, saying things he didn't mean but sometimes felt. He wished that he could take back the words he had said but then another part of him realised that it was something Roy had needed to hear, especially in relation to his change of attitude towards Chance.
Justified maybe, but right, no. It wasn't right and even though Roy hadn't come right out and said he wanted Chance gone from the ranch and their lives, he implied it with his carefully worded comment about how bad stuff had seemed to follow Chance all the way from Huntsville to the Rose.
Quisto knew his brother well, and well enough to know that he was genuine in his concern for the people and property under his care, but a very small part of him doubted Roy's motives.
It was an insecure and often selfish part of him that he tried his best to keep buried and away from the light of day, but no matter how well he kept it buried, it occasionally rose to the surface and tormented him.
Today Chance. Tomorrow him. Maybe. He refused to let the thought materialise and grow and fester into something that it probably wasn't.
He drained his cup and yelled for LC to hurry up. "If you don't want to walk all the way to school today, that is."
"Can I drive?" LC asked as they walked toward the pick-up.
Quisto burst out laughing. "No, you cannot drive!"
"Aw please Quisto. Just until we get to the road. Whit lets me. He. . . . ."
"He's gonna be in a whole mess of trouble if your mama hears about that." Quisto told her.
"He's been teaching me. He said that he learned to drive when he was ten and I'm nearly thirteen and . . . ."
"And you're still way too young to be driving, even on the ranch. Now git in 'less you want to walk to school."
LC knew better than to argue and so she climbed into the passenger seat beside her brother. She smiled at him as he started the engine.
"Driving!" he shook his head and laughed. "You want to git me into trouble with your mama?"
"No. I just thought I'd ask." she said.
"What else is on your mind that you want to ask me?" Quisto said, giving her the opening.
"Nothing," she shrugged.
"Nothing? A long sad face and then deliberately asking me to drive you to school? That sure ain't nothing?"
"I got an A+ in Spanish yesterday."
"Now that is something!"
"But I didn't tell anyone that my big brother was half Mexican."
Quisto stared at her in mock horror. "You ashamed of me or something, little sis?"
"Of course not!" LC was horrified at the thought, then she realised he was only messing with her, like he often did. She grinned. "I just didn't want my teacher or anybody to know it was easy only because I have you to help me."
Quisto laughed, then his face grew serious. "And what else do you want my help with?"
"Nothing," she shrugged.
"Come on LC, something's bugging you. What is it honey?"
She looked at him for a moment, her face serious, as though she was trying to come to some momentous decision. And then it all came spilling out. "Everyone is acting so strange Quisto. I hate it. Whit hardly speaks to me and Roy is always angry. And it feels like there's a storm on the horizon and you can feel it in the air, and you know it's coming but you can't stop it, and it frightens me Quisto. It really frightens me."
"Hey, come here LC," he put his arm around her as she shuffled over towards him. He concentrated on the road as he drove but kept his arm around her, and planted a kiss on the top of her head.
"It'll be okay, honey. I know sometimes it seems like it's all getting real crazy, but thing's will work out in the end."
"Are you sure?" She looked up at him, wanting to believe him.
"Course I'm sure," Quisto told her, though he didn't feel sure at all. Not by a long shot.
"Are you shore you counted 'em correctly?" Hoyt Coryell asked.
Luther Dillard looked indignant. "Of course I did! I counted them there steers three times and I still say there's five of them critters that's a gone a missing. I'm one hundred percent shore."
"One hundred percent?" Hoyt asked.
Luther opened his mouth to agree, thought about it and then closed it again. "Well maybe ninety-nine percent." he admitted.
"Ninety-nine percent shore or ninety-nine percent unshore?"
"Maybe we should count them agin."
"Yeah, maybe we should at that, a fore we go making wild accusations. And maybe I should do the countin' this time."
The two old cowboys rode off towards the small herd of young steers that were grazing nearby. They should have numbered fifty, and they probably still numbered fifty Hoyt reckoned, but since several had gone missing over the past couple of weeks, checking them once again was the most sensible thing to do. He'd count them himself this time. Just to be sure.
Colleen was sitting out on the back porch when Quisto returned home. She saw him and waved. He went out to join her.
"I been thinking that maybe we should put a pool out here."
"A pool? As in a swimming pool?"
"Yeah, why not? I think it'd be great. It'd be fun."
"Yeah, it would," Quisto agreed.
Colleen grinned. "Then I could learn to swim."
"You can't swim?"
Quisto burst out laughing "Course I can swim! I'm a wetback, ain't I? I learned to swim across the Rio Grande a'fore I could walk! Had too. How else was I gonna get across into the good old U.S of A?"
"That is so not true Quisto Champion! I know for a fact that Wade came and got you and drove you home in his truck when you were what, five or six?"
"I was five when papa brought me here," Quisto said.
Colleen nodded. "I can't swim. But even if ah didn't ever learn ah could sit by the pool all day sipping an old pina colada and jes acting like the rich Texas lady that ah am."
Quisto laughed. "You are in a good mood today, pretty lady."
Colleen smiled. "I think Chance is gonna ask me to marry him. Ain't that something?"
Quisto could feel the tectonic plates shifting beneath his feet, and the storm that LC had predicted came just that little bit closer, and if it couldn't be prevented, it would soon engulf them all. On the other hand, if Colleen and Chance were married, it would cement Chance's position in the family and on the ranch.
He knew he should tell Colleen about what LC had said on the drive into school that morning and what Roy had said, or had hinted at, the other evening. But he couldn't. She was happy today and she'd had more than her fair share of unhappiness and fear in the past while, they all had, and he just couldn't bring himself to say anything that would burst her bubble.
There'd be plenty of time for that later, and besides, this was between Roy and Chance.
"Yeah, that sure would be something all right," he agreed.
He looked across the enclosed space and imagined a swimming pool instead of the sun-burned grass. He pictured a paved patio and some seats and a barbeque. It looked good, and they could afford . . . . hell, they could afford a half a dozen swimming pools now if they wanted.
The more he thought about it the more he liked the idea. He'd mention it to Roy in the next day or two.
"Forty-two, forty-three, forty-four." Hoyt had counted the steers three times now and they were, without a doubt, six short. Not five like Luther had told him that very morning.
"Five or six. Ain't gonna make no difference if it's five or six or even seven because we's still missing steers," Luther told him. "And if you add them to the ones missing last week and the day before yesterday, then it's adding up to a whole lot of missing steers."
"Well, we oughta take us a look around anyhow, in case they jest a wandered off somewhere."
Hoyt climbed back onto his horse and the two old cowboys headed off into the distance in search of the missing cattle.
Roy Champion and his son Whit, walked into the dimly lit bar. It was still early in the afternoon and only a few customers graced the Buckskin. Two of them sat at opposite ends of the bar, their heads down, and they clutched their beers like lifelines. A cowboy that Roy knew nodded to him before returning to his game of pool, wincing as his opponent potted another ball and he saw his ten dollar bet vanishing before his eyes. The jukebox was playing a Waylon Jennings song as Roy ordered a beer and motioned to his son if he wanted one.
"No thanks," Whit mumbled.
"Don't tell me now that you've turned eighteen and can legally have a drink in here you've gone tee-total, cause that sure ain't in the family genetics. And you sure as hell tried to buy enough beer when you weren't legal!"
Whit laughed. "Well, okay then, since it's a family tradition and we wouldn't want to break with family tradition."
"Never said drinking beer, or whiskey or tequila was a family tradition son, but it's a good way to unwind after a long day."
"Or a week. Or a month." Whit took a long drink of the cold beer. It tasted good.
Roy studied his son. Most people remarked on the startling likeness between them. The blond hair and the blue eyes, and he didn't doubt what most people saw, and most times he saw it too. But every now and then, in a certain light, or a certain way Whit tilted his head or frowned at something, all that Roy could see in his son was Marlene.
"What?" Whit asked as he caught Roy's stare.
Roy shook his head and smiled. "Sometimes you remind me of your mother."
"And is that a good thing or a bad thing?" Whit asked.
"It's mostly good son. You've inherited both my handsome looks and your mama's handsome looks and it's little wonder you got all the girls a'running after you."
Whit laughed, then he remembered Barbara Sue and the sadness came over him again.
Roy put his arm around his son's shoulders. "It's hard son. I know that. It ain't gonna get any easier overnight either. You'll be grieving for her for a while. But you will get over it. You gotta trust me on that son, you will get over it."
Whit didn't look convinced and pulled away from his father's embrace. "It ain't just Barbara Sue dad. It's Jed Fargo. I keep seeing his face. Hell, I can't hardly remember what Barbara Sue's face looked like but I can see Fargo's as clear as day. That look in his eye when I pulled the trigger. I see it every waking moment dad. God-dammit, I even dream about it! And in the dream, I miss and he kills Chance and shoots Colleen and then turns on you and me."
Roy put his hand on his son's arm. "It will get better," he told him. "It'll take some time and you'll have bad dreams for a while. But you did what you had to do Whit. Sure, you took another man's life and that is something you are gonna have to live with for the rest of your life, but alongside that you have to remember how many lives you saved when you pulled that trigger. Just keep that in mind and you'll be okay."
Whit looked doubtful and his eyes pleaded with him and Roy had never felt so helpless in his life. Yet, the fault didn't lie with him, nor did it lie with Whit. Chance had brought this to their door. Unwittingly yes, but he had still brought it to them.
"You blame Chance, don't you?" Whit read his mind. "And you think we'd all be a whole lot safer if Chance had never showed up at the Rose."
"I didn't say that, son."
"You didn't need to dad. I can see it all over your face. It's crossed my mind too, a couple a times."
"Quisto disagrees," Roy told him.
"And I disagree with Quisto," Roy continued. "Him and me had almost the exact same conversation yesterday and he seems to think that I want to run Chance off the ranch."
"Hell no!" Roy exclaimed. "I don't want to run Chance off the ranch."
"How do you feel about Chance dad?"
"It's hard to explain Whit. I'm glad he's here. I'm glad he's my brother."
"But it's difficult for me to feel the same way about him as I do about Quisto. Quisto was five and I was seven when daddy brought him to the Rose and told me he was my half-brother. Him and me grew up together. We played together and we fought side by side when some kid at school called Quisto a wetback and an illegal, and worse names than that. And even as we grew up and went to different colleges and then I married your mama and was away from home for a while, Quisto and me were still brothers. Still friends. We had all those years to grow up together that Chance didn't have with us, and that's what's different between Chance and me, and Quisto and me. Quisto probably feels the same about him."
"But you'd still be happier if he was gone?"
"No! Dammit, why is everybody thinking that's what I want?"
"Well, it's more or less what you're saying, dad."
Roy shook his head. "Well, it ain't what I mean."
"Then maybe you should learn to explain yourself better." With a grin, Whit lifted the bottle in a toast and drained the last of the beer from it.
Roy laughed. "Okay. Plain speaking from now on. And it's your turn to buy the beer."
"We'd best be telling Roy or Chance about this afore we do anything else." Luther said as they watched from the ridge.
Hoyt agreed and they carefully edged back towards their horses and headed back towards the Yellow Rose where they found Chance and told him about their encounter.
"There's a group of about thirty or forty Shawnee camped by the North Creek. We think it's them that stole them steers."
"You think? Did you see any cattle with Yellow Rose brands?"
"Saw some cattle but couldn't tell for sure if they belonged to the Rose."
Chance sighed. He'd needed to talk to Colleen but North Creek was a good half days ride there and back. He had to confirm what Luther and Hoyt had seen before telling Roy and Quisto.
"I'll go and take a look myself. Don't mention this to anyone until we're sure," Chance told them, "If it's what you say it is, it jest might git messy."
He turned his horse around and headed off in the direction of North Creek.
"Where's he going?" Colleen asked, as she shielded her eyes from the glare of the sun with her hand and she watched Chance riding off.
"We been missing some steers Colleen, and when me and Luther went a lookin' fer them we found us a bunch of Shawnee up at North Creek, so we figured that they done stole the steers. Now Chance wants to go and check up on them afore he tells Roy."
"Are you sure they were Shawnee?" Colleen asked with a frown.
"Well, no I'm not a hundred percent sure, not even ninety-nine percent sure, but they sure did look like they is Shawnee." Hoyt admitted.
"And you can tell they're Shawnee from. . . . how much of a distance?" Colleen looked at him in mock admiration.
"They's definitely Indians," Luther spoke up in his defence. "No doubt about that."
"I don't doubt you guys," Colleen reassured them. "But let's just wait and see who they are and what they're doing there before we come to any conclusions."
"Which is exactly what I told him," Hoyt frowned at Luther. "Don't go jumping to no conclusions."
"You did not!" Luther replied.
"Ah did so!" Hoyt shot back.
They argued back and forth like this as they unsaddled their horses and continued with their other chores.
"Si su cliente está dispuesto a comprometer, después podemos alcanzar un acuerdo." Quisto was talking the phone when Roy and Whit walked in. They found Colleen and LC setting the table for supper but there was no sign of Chance anywhere.
"Eso es bueno le agradece mucho. Le hablaré mañana, mi amigo," Quisto hung up the telephone and rubbed his hands together, pleased with the progress he had made.
"Everything okay, little brother?" Roy asked him.
"Si," Quisto replied. "Yeah. Just a case I been involved in. They've been draggin' their heels a while now but I think I've gotten somewhere with them, at last."
"Where's Chance?" Roy asked.
"He ain't back from North Creek yet," Luther told him.
Quisto and Roy both frowned.
"What's he doing over there?" Roy asked,
"We might jes have us an injun problem on the Rose," Luther explained.
"What kind of an Indian problem?" Quisto's face grew serious.
"A coupla steers went missing and we was looking around for them and we done come across a group of maybe fifty Shawnee, parked down by the North Creek." Hoyt told him.
"We tole Chance about it, and he said he'd go an' take a look. He ain't back yet." Luther cut in.
"A couple of steers? Well, that don't sound like no big deal." Quisto said.
"A couple yesterday an' a couple last week, an' the week afore that, soon adds up to more'n a couple." Hoyt replied.
Just then Chance walked in and approached the table.
"Where've you been?" Roy asked. "We were beginning to worry."
"Horse threw a shoe a mile or so back. Had to walk her home." Chance replied as Colleen greeted him with a kiss.
"Missed ya, cowboy," she told him.
"I'm here now darling," he replied, his arm encircling her waist as he returned the kiss.
"What's this about Indians up at North Creek who've been stealing our steers?" Roy asked as Chance extricated himself from Coleen's arms and sat down at the table and helped himself to some dinner.
"Saw a bunch camped up there. Cain't say fer sure if they've stole our steers cause I didn't see any cattle, but there is a bunch of them. Maybe fifty or so."
"Well, are they Shawnee?" Roy asked.
"Can't rightly say fer sure since they weren't wearing no tribal costumes or regalia. Most I saw 'em wearing was jeans and t-shirts, but I'm guessing they are."
"Why are they here?" LC asked.
"Could be them Shawnee got wind of that there court case up in Austin concernin' that old treaty that's come to light and they've decided to act on it and steal some land." Luther told her.
"But they have a right to it, don't they?" LC said.
"Yes they do in theory. But we have a more valid right because this is our land. Land we've worked for and died for. We've looked after it and invested in it. This is our land now." Roy told her.
"Yeah that's right. It's our land now. Won by our daddy on a bet." Quisto reminded them all.
Roy's eyes narrowed. "What exactly do you mean by that Quisto?"
"I'm just saying we have to look into it afore we can do anything about it," Quisto responded, not willing to get into an argument about old rights and wrongs. An argument that could easily run into the small hours without ever coming to a resolution.
"Well, the rights and wrongs of how our daddy got this ranch aside, what do we do about it?" Roy asked,
"Nothing yet," Quisto replied.
"Nothing? Just let them steal our land and our cattle? Don't we have any rights to protect what's ours?"
"Hold on there Roy. Don't go getting all riled up about it just yet," Quisto held up his hands in a gesture of peace to his brother. "Let me go up to Austin tomorrow and check out the details of this old treaty and it's validity."
"And in the meantime they carry on stealing our cattle?" Roy didn't like the idea of not doing anything.
"If they are stealing our cattle then they'll be dealt with appropriately," Quisto said. "Within the law. And by the law. Right now, it's the land I'm more concerned about."
Roy frowned. "Why?"
Quisto ran his hands through his collar-length hair and frowned in concentration. "I'm business lawyer but this . . . . this . . . . is something I'm not as clued up on as I'd like to be. I'm gonna see if I can get an appointment with Judge Carson tomorrow and find out exactly where we stand on the . . . . ."
"Lyle Carson?" Roy asked.
"He used to be an old friend of our daddy. They went back a good ways if I remember."
"That's good," Quisto said. "I can maybe work that to our advantage. I'm supposed to be in court first thing in the morning. If I can get an adjournment, and speak to Judge Carson . . . he's an expert on early Texan history and Indian laws . . . . before I go up to Austin, hell maybe I won't have to go up there, but. . . . ." He stopped and looked at his family gathered around the dinner table. He pointed his finger at Roy then Chance and then Whit. "I don't want none of you going near them Indians until I get back. Is that clear? Roy? Whit? Chance? I mean it. And Luther, that goes for you and Hoyt as well. Don't you two go getting any ideas about goin' up near there. You understand me?"
They all reluctantly nodded in agreement. LC frowned. "Quisto? What if they are stealing our cattle because they are hungry?"
"It don't give 'em the right to steal what's ours LC," Roy told her.
Quisto smiled at her. "If they are hungry little sister, then I will help them. You know I will."
He kissed the top of her head and gave Roy and Chance a look that told them to let him deal with the situation. He could see the reluctance in their eyes and knew he had to act quickly. He took a deep breath. The next couple of days were gonna be interesting.
"Just let me look into the validity of this treaty first, and when we know where we stand then we'll be in a position to know what to do."
"Need to talk to you, Colleen," Chance put his arms around her waist and kissed the back of her neck.
It was late and everyone had retired for the night, except for him and Colleen. He knew she'd been waiting for this time when they could be alone together.
"Mmmmm, that kinda talk I like," she replied.
"I'm serious," he said.
"So am I cowboy," she whispered and turned around in his arms.
Chance pulled away from her and poured himself another drink. He took a sip and allowed the strong whiskey time to work it's magic.
He looked at her, his brown eyes serious. "I love you Colleen with all my heart, but I'm leaving."
"I'm leaving the Rose."
"In the morning. First thing."
She ran her fingers through her long blonde hair and glared at him. "Why?"
"I have to darling," he told her.
"No you don't! You don't have to go and leave. This is your home, Chance. This ranch - it's a part of you whether you like it or not. It's your birthright and you belong here with me and LC. On the Yellow Rose."
"I know that. And I'll always call it home. But that don't change the fact that I'm leaving her, and you."
"Is it something I said? Something I done wrong?"
"It ain't you honey."
"Then what is it?"
"It's a whole lotta things Colleen. Things I can't hardy explain, but things I know in my heart, and my heart is what's telling me that leaving is the right thing to do."
"How can it be right? This is your home. You love me. How can it be right for you to leave?" Tears filled her eyes and spilled over, running down her cheeks. Chance reached out to catch one and wipe it away but she struck his arm away.
"It's because I love you that I have to go. It ain't forever Colleen. I will come back to you. You have to trust me on that."
"You'll break LC's heart as well as mine. She loves you too."
"I know that." He sighed and reached for her hand and pulled her towards him. She struggled in his arms but he held her tightly. "Look at me Colleen."
She met his eyes and studied his face. He was so much like his father. She saw Wade's strength and passion in this man and as she had once loved Wade Champion, she now loved his son as much, if not more.
"Don't go," she begged. "Stay with me Chance."
He kissed her forehead. "I have to. You know I do."
"No. I don't. Tell me why. If you can."
"I brought a whole heap of trouble with me when I came to the Rose. Trouble I thought I'd left a long ways behind me. I brought it here and people I loved nearly died because of it. I got put in Huntsville prison because I killed a man, and that action caused young Whit to have to kill a man. What I did was wrong and I paid the price for it, but because of me Whit has to live with what he done."
"Fargo? But that's behind us now. He's dead. He cain't hurt us any more."
"There'll be other Jed Fargos Colleen."
"You don't know that. And besides, we licked one. We can lick the next one that comes along."
Colleen went on. "Then there's this Indian problem. Roy will be needing you here, by his side. He needs you too, Chance."
"Roy don't need me for that. Besides, Quisto's a fine lawyer, as fine as they come. He'll know what to do."
Colleen took a deep breath. She knew in her heart that there was nothing she could do, other than hogtie him, that would keep him with her. She knew she'd have to let him go if she wanted him to return. Whatever demons chased him, he'd have to outrun them first before he would come back and settle down here on this ranch with her, and be able to call it home. But the thought that she was losing him hurt her like crazy.
Still half asleep, Quisto drove the 4x4 in silence for a good few miles as they headed towards San Antonio. They'd left before six, before anyone was up and around, and Chance had been glad of the opportunity to leave without saying his goodbyes. Telling Colleen had been hard enough and he doubted he could have faced LC's tears. He felt like a thief stealing away before his crime could be discovered, but he knew it was better this way. Least ways it was easier than having to do a whole lot of explaining and listening to their arguments for him to stay.
"I can understand your reasons," Quisto finally spoke.
"It don't make it right, but I can understand why you're doing it."
Chance sighed. "My reasons don't make it any feel any easier though."
Quisto nodded. "I will miss you brother."
"Appreciate it." Chance told him. "You're a good man compadre. Look after 'em for me."
"Colleen and LC?"
"And the rest of them. And yourself."
"Goes without saying," Quisto promised.
Quisto pulled into the bus depot parking lot and killed the engine. He looked at Chance and offered his hand.
"Chance. I am honoured to know you and call you my brother. Va con Dios, mi hermano. Vuelto a nosotros pronto."
"I will come back amigo. Soon. I surely will."
They shook hands and Chance climbed out of the vehicle and lifted his bag from the rear seat.
"Aiy, aiy, aiy," Quisto shook his head and muttered to himself as he watched Chance walk away. A lot of people on the Rose would be grieving for him, Colleen and LC most of all. He glanced at his watch. By now they'd be up and about and they'd be starting to figure out that Chance was gone. Colleen probably would have told them and he wondered if LC, and more importantly Colleen, were okay.
When the tall cowboy he called his brother was out of sight Quisto started the engine and drove off. He had a lot of work to do this morning.
Hoyt led the dun coloured mare out of the corral and tied her up to the hitching post beside the barn. Luther had the new shoe ready and as always approached her cautiously.
"She's an ornery old gal," he remarked as he lifted her leg onto his knee and prepared her hoof for the new shoe.
"Yep. She shore is. But she jest needs someone to talk nice to her," Hoyt explained as he held her muzzle and calmed her with soft, soothing whispered words while Luther nailed on the new horseshoe.
"Ah think Roy is fixing to pay them injuns a visit," Luther said.
"Quisto tole him to wait 'til he got back from up in San Antonio," Hoyt replied.
"Don't think old Roy is in a mood to wait fer anything." Luther shook his head. "Maybe we should pay them a visit first and save Roy the trouble."
Hoyt stopped stroking the mare's neck and stared at his old friend, long and hard. "What?"
"Pay 'em a nice friendly visit."
"I've heard some dumb ideas in my lifetime but if that ain't the dumbest I don't know what is. And if you want to go off chasing injuns then that's your prerogative but it sure ain't mine." Hoyt told him.
"I was just a'saying."
"I don't care what you were just saying. It's a dumb idea and if Roy heard you saying it then he'd probably run you off the ranch. Didn't you hear what old Quisto said to all of us last night at supper? About not going anywhere's near them until he gits back?" Hoyt shook his head in disgust.
Luther was silent, knowing Hoyt was right. For once.
"And another thing, them injuns might be dangerous." Hoyt said.
"Well they might," he paused and thought about it. "If they can steal our cattle, there's no knowing what other criminal activities they might be up to, and if they catch us, they mightn't take too kindly to us nosing in their business."
"And that is exactly why nobody should go near them."
The two old cowboys jumped in surprise at Roy's voice as he walked up behind them.
"Ah now Roy, we wasn't going to do anything foolish like that. Were we Hoyt?"
Hoyt nodded vigorously in agreement. "Course not."
Roy grinned. "Oh sure you wasn't! Hell, boys I wanna go, but for once I'm gonna do what my little brother advises me to do. And that is wait until he gets back. And you two are gonna do the same. Understand?"
"Sure thing boss."
"I mean it," Roy warned them.
While it wasn't in his nature to wait, he saw the sense in Quisto's words and he was relieved to see that the two old cowboys agreed with him.
Quisto took five minutes out of his busy day to eat a sandwich and drink a coffee for lunch before his meeting with Judge Carson in San Antonio. Depending on what Carson had to say, he might not yet have to go on up to Austin and could be back at the Rose by this evening or tomorrow morning. He hoped that would be the case as he was worried about Roy and his famous impatience, and he was also worried about Colleen. She'd be missing Chance. Of that he was sure.
"Judge Carson will see you now, Mr. Champion," the secretary told him. She was all business now but half an hour earlier, after he'd given her his most charming smile, he'd asked her for a date the next time he was in town and she'd been more than willing to write down her telephone number.
"Any time handsome," she said with a smile as she handed him the folded piece of paper with her name and number and the words "Call me real soon!" written on it.
"Thank you ma'am," Quisto glanced at the note. A mischievous grin spread across his face. "Oh I surely will."
He tipped his hat to her as he rapped gently on the door before walking in.
Judge Carson was speaking on the telephone when Quisto entered his office, but paused long enough to allow the secretary to introduce him by name. The elderly white-haired man nodded and pointed to the chair opposite his desk, motioning Quisto to sit down.
Quisto removed his stetson and sat down. He waited patiently for the conversation to end.
"Mr. Champion?" the judge peered closely at him over the top of his glasses. "Now I used to know a Wade Champion, and I know he'd a son named Roy. But you sure as hell ain't Roy Champion?"
"No, your honour. I'm Quisto - I mean Ramon - Champion. I'm Roy's half-brother."
"Yeah," the judge continued to look him over. "I've heard a lot about you boy. You're the half-breed, ain't you? Your mama was from Mexico, wasn't she?"
"Yes I am. And yes she was, your honour." Quisto's eyes narrowed slightly at the obvious racial slur but he kept his face impassive. There was more he wanted to say but he held his tongue. Reluctantly.
The judge watched him, gauging his reaction, and seemed pleased with the result. He nodded to himself.
"Well, what can I do for you, Mr. Champion?" he asked.
Quisto leaned forward in his seat and explained the situation; from the moment Hoyt and Luther had discovered the missing cattle, to Chance finding the Indians camped on Yellow Rose land. "And now, well we're concerned about the validity of any rights to the land that they may have, or believe they have. Especially when you consider the recent court case up in Austin over the treaty that is claimed gives a lot of land in this area back to various tribes. Or at least to the descendents of the tribes who once lived in this area."
Judge Carson sat back in his leather-bound chair. He nodded a couple of times. "I knew your daddy. Long time ago."
Quisto nodded. "Yeah. Roy told me that you did, your honour."
"Yeah, your daddy and me went way back. We were younger than you are now. Hell, back to when we was kids. Then when old Wade won. . . . I mean "acquired" that ranch of his - the Yellow Rose - he asked me to draw up the title deeds. He wanted me to make sure they were drawn up real tight and legal just in case anyone had a mind to try and win it back. If you get my meaning."
"I do your honour. I surely do."
"I hear you're a lawyer yourself?"
"That is correct."
"And I also hear that you're a dammed good lawyer, Ramon."
"Thank you, your honour," Quisto smiled. "Ah . . . .I go by my nickname - Quisto."
The old man took a deep breath. "So what exactly do you want me to do about this here situation, Quisto?"
"At the moment nothing. All I need right now is some good sound advice on how we can best resolve this. To the benefit and well-being of all concerned." Quisto said, remembering his promise to LC.
"When I heard you wanted to see me and why, I took the liberty of getting a copy of the treaty and the papers relevant to it faxed over to me. Figured you'd want me to expedite it real fast. So I did just that and I've had me a real good read through it."
Quisto leaned forward in his seat. "And what do you think, your honour?"
The old man scratched his head and chuckled. "I think you and your brother Roy might just have an injun problem on your ranch, son."
Quisto checked his watch. The judge had taken the best part of three hours discussing the treaty and the points of law that had arisen and what they could and couldn't do about it and then he insisted on taking him to dinner, where he'd spent another couple of hours listening to the old man reminiscing about the good old days and the good old boys, including his father, Wade.
Some of it he found interesting, and some of it he already knew. And some of it he didn't need to hear. He didn't particularly need or want to hear all about Wade's infamous romantic liaisons - he was the product of one such liaison - so he drank his bourbon and smiled and nodded when it was appropriate to do so, and asked all the right questions when they needed to be asked, but all the while his mind was back at home on the Yellow Rose.
The steak and the bourbon had been good though, but now it was late and he'd drunk too much to even attempt the long drive back to the ranch, so he checked into the nearest and most comfortable hotel he could find, and his plan for the rest of the evening was to call up a certain good looking young secretary by the name of Tammy-Lee and see if she'd be interested in spending the rest of the evening with him.
But first he had to call home.
"Tell Roy I'll be home by late morning," Quisto said into the telephone. "And make sure he doesn't go haring off up anywhere near North Creek 'til I get back. Tell him that as soon as I get home, him and me'll go up there together. I mean it Colleen, don't you go letting him go there, ya hear me. Nail him to the floor if you have to."
"Yeah, I'll make sure at least he stays with me," she replied and he could hear the sigh in her voice.
"You okay?" Quisto asked, wincing as he realised what he'd just said to her.
"No," she told him.
"Colleen . . . ."
"I know," she sighed. "I just miss him so much, damn him."
"I do not know what to say that'll make you feel better darlin' but I do know that Chance was feeling pretty bad about leaving."
"He didn't have to leave," Colleen said.
"In his own mind he did," Quisto told her. "He will come back. I think he just needs some time to sort himself out, but I know in my heart that he will come back to you. Su corazón está aquí, con usted y con la Rose."
"And my heart is with him. Wherever he is," Colleen sighed. "It ain't just me, Quisto. He's broke LC's heart too."
"Where is she? Do you want me to talk to her?"
"No, she's asleep. Finally. She cried until there were no tears left. Didn't Chance realise that if he left he'd leave a whole lot of hurt behind him? Didn't he care?"
"He cared Colleen, and his leaving is hurting all of us."
"I know that. I hate him for what he's done."
"Now you know that ain't true," Quisto told her.
"Yeah, you're right. But I wish I hated him."
"Hey, go git some sleep yourself, girl. Thing's always look brighter in the morning. Least ways they're supposed to. I'll see you tomorrow, Colleen. Adios."
"Okay. Thanks Quisto. Bye." Colleen hung up the phone and lifted the glass of whiskey to her lips. She looked up at the portrait of her dead husband on the wall above the fireplace and raised her glass in a toast. "Your eldest son's more like you than I thought Wade. He left me too." She drained the glass as her tears began to fall again.
"Y'know, it'd be a whole lot easier just to drive over," Roy muttered as he tightened the girth and led his horse out. "But no, we have to go on horseback and create a good appearance and make it look like we're friendly!"
"We are friendly Roy," Quisto told him trying not to laugh.
"We can be just as friendly in a comfortable pick-up."
"Yeah I know we can," Quisto said and started laughing. "We're doing it this way because I need to talk to you, but mostly because I need the fresh air."
His laughter was infectious and soon Roy caught it too. "Yeah, you do look like you been kicked by a mule and then run over by a freight train. Are you sure you can even git up on that horse? Want me to help you?"
"Nope. I think I can manage," Quisto swung his leg over the horse and settled into the saddle as a wave of dizziness spread over him. He closed his eyes for a moment until it passed then shook his head, trying to clear it. The headache was still there, and was likely to remain for a few hours, but he knew the fresh air would help. He turned the paint horse around and nudged him forward with a click of his teeth. With Roy beside him, the two brothers headed off in the direction of North Creek.
"So, talk." Roy said after they'd travelled about a mile.
Quisto yawned, he'd been yawning and trying to stay awake for the last ten minutes. "About what?"
Roy looked at him. "Did you get any sleep at all last night?"
Quisto grinned. "No."
"She was that good, huh?" Roy asked.
"Hell yeah," Quisto told him, still grinning. "And some more."
"She musta been a hell of a lady," Roy remarked. "Cause I know how much you like your sleep."
"I can tell ya that she weren't no lady, Roy. She was so good 'cause she was so bad," Quisto drawled, still grinning from ear to ear at the memory of the night before. "Real bad."
Roy laughed and shook his head. "But this ain't what you wanted to talk about, is it?"
Quisto looked blank for a moment. "Yeah, the land treaty."
"What about it?" Roy's voice grew serious. His concern for the Rose, the two hundred thousand acres of land under his feet that he loved with a passion sometimes overshadowed everything in his life. It was probably what caused the end of his marriage, but that didn't matter because other than Whit, his marriage had been a waste of time. And other than Whit, the Rose was the most important part of his life. It fell to him to safeguard her, to protect her and to love her. And the people on her.
"It's tricky Roy," Quisto picked his words carefully. "It seems that they may have a valid claim and we …"
"We made this land what it is," Roy said.
"Yeah we did. But that's not what I'm saying. They're arguing that their claim is historical. They see it as the theft of their historical original ownership. And they want it back. What we and every other Texan made of the land is irrelevant in their eyes. They say their claim goes back generations and they want back what was taken from them."
"We didn't exactly take it from them," Roy said.
Quisto laughed. "No, that's right, you stole it from Mexico."
"Yeah, but you stole it from the Indians first." Roy replied.
"That we did." Quisto admitted. "But it don't matter Roy who stole what from who. We can start with our daddy winning it on a bet from Jeb Hollister and go back to his daddy and grand-daddy and then we can go all the way back to the Alamo and the battle of San Jacinto and further than that. . . . . . . way back to when the conquistadores landed but y'know Roy, sometimes there comes a time when we have to stop arguing about who's right and who's wrong and right the wrong. And before you hit me, I'm not saying we have to give it back. It don't mean it ain't ours, but we still have to find a way to right the wrong."
"And how exactly do you propose we do that?" Roy asked.
"We don't fight it," Quisto said, his voice almost a whisper.
"What?" Roy frowned and glanced at his brother. "You saying we should just lie down and roll over? You're making it very hard for me to keep from hitting you brother."
"What I'm saying is if we fight it we could end up in a legal action that'll drag on for years. Sure we can afford it now, but if a hold is put on the land then we cain't do anything with it or to it. What happens to our oil then Roy? What if they start claiming it's their oil? Right now, they're up at North Creek but what if they take a look at all the Rose acres and our oil well, and decide they want a piece of that too?"
"We fight them Quisto," Roy said. "We fight them."
"And then the well gets shut down and placed on hold until the courts and the lawyers decide who has the right to everything. And in the meantime we go under."
"I won't let that happen."
"Neither will I Roy," Quisto told him. "But we cain't stop it if they go ahead through the courts. That's why we need to figure something out . . . . . something that'll protect us and keep them happy."
"I don't know yet. I won't make presumptions until I've heard both sides. Judge Carson told me that we. . . . ."
"Spoken like a true money-grabbing lawyer," Roy remarked.
"What?" Quisto pulled up hard on the reins and turned the gelding around to face his brother. "What did you say?"
"I'm saying what side are you on Quisto? The Indians, Mexico, us, or just you?"
Quisto shook his head. "No, no, no!"
He glared at Roy. His eyes were mean and angry. The whole history of Texas and Mexico and their different cultures now stood between their own personal history as brothers.
Roy recognised the look in Quisto's eyes. It wasn't something he wanted to mess with. Not usually. Ever since they were kids he'd learned early that when Quisto got that look, and directed it at him, he usually ended up with a black eye and a sore jaw.
"You want to git down off that horse and say that again?" Quisto asked.
"Nope. But I want to know who's side you are on?"
"I am on our side. I'm on the Rose's side. I love this ranch and all it stands for as much as you but probably in a different way. Because when my mama died and I was a kid all alone, what would my life have become if our papa hadn't found me and brought me here? What Roy?"
"I . . . . you. . . . "
"I'd have been a wetback. An illegal. Sneaking in from Mexico across that river and trying to find me a life. Maybe I'd a been a drug-runner. Who knows? It ain't something that I like to dwell on too much. But what I do every single day of my life is count my blessings and appreciate how fortunate I am that I have this life here. That I have a family I love and who love me. Every single day Roy, agradezco el Madonna bendecido por lo que tengo! Yes that's right, every day I thank the blessed Madonna for what I have! Because I am so very grateful Roy, and so very proud to be a part of all this. But I can never, ever forget the price that was paid for it. It's a part of me. My blood. My history. And as much as I love all of this - my life and my family - I cannot forget that there are always people who ain't as fortunate or as blessed as I am. And I have to help them if I can. I have to Roy."
Roy nodded. "I know that Quisto. I figure I know you well enough to know that, brother."
"And what?" Roy asked.
"And do you still want me to get off my horse and knock some sense into you? 'Cause Roy, I don't want to because I got a hellish bad hangover and I don't think I'd git you with the first swing. On a normal day yes, but the way I'm feelin' right now…"
Quisto grinned and shrugged his shoulders in a gesture of reconciliation.
Roy caught the gesture and accepted it. He laughed. "You saying you'd beat me?"
"Always have brother," Quisto grinned.
"Okay I'll concede victory to you this one time, seeing as how you look like you'd probably die if I hit you, and then I'd have to drag your worthless body all the way home but I still think you couldn't beat me even if I was already unconscious!"
Colleen walked out behind the bunkhouse and found Luther and Hoyt cleaning tack. "Hey guys," she said.
"Hey Colleen," Luther smiled up at her. "What can we do for you?"
"Seen LC anywhere?" she asked.
"Saw her sitting down by the creek over yonder about half an hour ago. She looked kinda sad." Hoyt told her.
Where me and Chance made love, Colleen thought. "Would you do me a real big favour Hoyt? Run and git her and keep her with you for the rest of the day. Give her some chores to do. Anything that'll take her mind off him leaving us."
She turned and walked quickly away, hiding the tears that filled her eyes and threatened to spill over.
Luther and Hoyt glanced at each other.
"Seems like young LC ain't the only one who needs her mind taking off Chance McKenzie," Luther remarked.
"Yeah, well we cain't help Colleen but we sure as heck can help the little 'un," Hoyt said as he got to his feet. "I'll go git her."
"What'll we do?" Luther asked, worry written all over his face. Baby-sitting a sick cow or horse was easy, but a little girl with a broken heart was beyond his abilities.
"We'll think a something," Hoyt told him as he walked off to find LC.
Colleen kicked off her boots and lay down on the bed, pulling the covers up over her head and curling up in a ball. She wanted to fall asleep and wake up to find it had all been a bad dream. She wanted to wake up and find Chance in the kitchen drinking endless cups of coffee and watching her walk by with that secret smile of his, the one he kept just for her.
"You bastard!" she cursed him into her pillow.
She loved him and she hated him and she wanted him back in her arms. His promise that he would come back meant nothing to her. His words were just that - words. Meaningless until he walked back in through the door. And she didn't know when, if ever, he would do that. And until he did, the pain she was feeling would never go away.
She wanted to die. This hurt was as bad as it had been the day Wade had died. Back then, she thought she'd never get over losing him. Until Chance McKenzie had walked into her life. She'd found another Wade - his son - almost the living image of him and then she had to go and fall in love with him. And now he'd left her too.
Her tears started again, and she cursed him again for making her feel this way. For making her still love him.
"LC," Hoyt called out her name. "LC, where are you honey?"
"Over here Hoyt," she replied.
Hoyt followed her voice and found her sitting by the water's edge. He sat down beside her on the old tree stump.
"Catch any fish today?" he asked.
She looked up at the old cowboy. "There ain't any fish in here. Are there?"
"Don't think so," he peered into the water. "There might be one or two little tiddlers but they ain't worth the trouble catching. 'Sides, you ain't got a fishing pole. So how's you gonna catch them without one?"
"I wasn't fishing," she told him.
"Oh, and jest what were you a'doing?"
"Just sitting here thinking. About Chance."
Hoyt was lost for words. But LC wasn't.
"Why'd he leave?" she asked. "I thought he loved it here. He told me he did."
"I think he had some unfinished business somewhere. Maybe." Hoyt told her.
LC looked at the old cowboy she'd known all her life. She wanted to believe him, but his words didn't ring true.
"He didn't even say goodbye."
"Maybe that's because it was a'hurtin' him to say goodbye," he told her.
"Mom's crying all the time and I'm worried about Roy and Quisto. They took off this morning and what if they don't come back? Just like Chance."
Hoyt shook his head. "Roy and Quisto are paying them injuns a friendly visit. They'll be back this evening, or perhaps in the morning."
"But if they find our cattle they'll get into a fight with the Indians and what'll happen then?"
"Now, don't you go worrying about old Roy and Quisto. They just want to say hello to them, all neighbourly and friendly-like. They ain't gonna fight with them. But right now I need you to help me stop a fight that's happening right here on the Rose."
"What? Who's fighting?"
"Why Luther 'n me. We cain't decide on a name for that new foal that was born this morning, so we decided that the best thing to do, to stop us fighting each other was for you to take a look at her and see if you can think up a good name. A'fore old Luther shoots me and gives her the silly name he's chosen."
"What does he want to call her?"
"Best you don't know so you'll be all impartial like. But you have to pick a name real quick a'fore he does."
LC got to her feet. "Let's go then."
"Woah! Take a look at this!" Quisto reined in his horse and beckoned for Roy to halt.
They dismounted and looked down from the ridge overlooking the camp. Below them, they could see, scattered over an area of about a hundred square feet a selection of trailers and tents and various pick-ups and old cars, and even one or two motorcycles. There was no obvious signs of any heightened or organised activity - just people hanging around. Some in groups, some on their own. They watched for a few moments.
What struck both Roy and Quisto immediately was the air of semi-permanence about the place. A long table had been set out under a shady canopy and there were long bench seats on either side. A larger tent was close by and there were large portable cooking stoves, a tank that looked like it held drinking water and an open trailer that held foodstuffs. There were even a few chickens running around. Along with a couple of dogs and about six or seven horses in a small makeshift corral.
The brothers looked at each other.
"What do you make of it?" Roy asked.
"Cain't say for sure from this distance," Quisto replied. "We probably need to get closer and take a real look."
"Dunno if that's a good idea Quisto. See that guy over by the red pick-up? And the other one over to the left? I can't be completely certain but it looks like they're carrying rifles."
Quisto cursed under his breath. "Ah no. Esto no es bueno. Not good at all."
"What do you want to do?"
Quisto looked at him. "Well, we could just go down there and talk to them?"
Roy shook his head "Unarmed? I told ya I shoulda brought the carbine."
"Jesus Roy! It's nineteen eighty-four. It ain't the Wild West!
"Well, it ain't our decision anymore. I think they've seen us and it looks like the welcoming party is about to get started."
"What about Chance?" LC asked as she leaned against the fence and watched the newly born filly skip around after her mother.
"What about him?" Hoyt frowned.
"We could call the foal Chance."
Luther and Hoyt glanced at each other.
"Oh no honey. We cain't do that," Luther told her.
"Because Chance is a name you'd give to a colt. This here little baby is a filly. You have to pick a girl's name," Luther said.
"Okay then, what about . . . . . ." LC concentrated for a moment or two. "What about Indian Girl? Indy for short?"
Luther and Hoyt smiled and nodded.
"That sure is a pretty name. Look at the way she's a noddin' her head and stampin' her hoof. I think she's real pleased with that name," Luther told her with a smile.
LC grinned and turned back to watch the dancing little foal who did seem to be pleased with her new name.
Roy and Quisto rode cautiously down the steep hill towards the camp. The closer they came the more people noticed them and stopped what they were doing to watch the two cowboys making their descent.
"Are you as nervous as I am?" Quisto asked quietly.
"Yeah. Probably more so," Roy replied. "Least you kinda look like one of them, I don't."
Quisto suppressed a laugh. "I think my baby blue eyes might give me away."
"Yep. There's that," Roy nodded.
"Just keep walking slowly. No sudden movements and keep a friendly smile on our faces."
"And that'll work?"
"Well if it don't," Quisto looked at his brother and grinned, "we'll find out which of our horses is the fastest at running back home!"
"Oh boy," Roy muttered. He swallowed hard and nudged his horse forward again and they slowly walked the last few yards to the edge of the camp.
An old guy stepped forward as if to greet them. Or maybe kill them. Neither Roy and Quisto were exactly sure what he had in mind.
The two Champion brothers looked him up and down as he did the same to them. His tanned, wrinkled face made his age indeterminable, but he had to be at least in his sixties if not more. He had long grey hair and he was wearing jeans and a t-shirt with a faded picture of Willie Nelson printed on the front. His eyes were hidden behind what looked like police department issue sunglasses.
He stepped forward as they reined in their horses a yard or so from him. A kid about LC's age, maybe a year or two older, and a girl about Whit's age stood a few steps behind the old man.
"Howdy," Roy said.
"Buenos Dias," Quisto followed up.
"I'm Roy Champion and this here's my brother Quisto. This land you're camped on, well, it's part of a ranch we own, called the Yellow Rose."
"The Yellow Rose of Texas." The old guy nodded thoughtfully. "Now, that's a real pretty name for a ranch."
"Yeah, well it's a real pretty ranch," Roy couldn't think of anything else to say.
At this comment from his brother, Quisto's shoulders began shaking with muted laughter. He was having trouble keeping himself in the saddle.
The old Indian snorted with laughter. "Never heard of a spread of land in this part of West Texas being described as pretty before. Sounds a bit gay to me. Are you?"
"No!" Roy looked aghast.
This finished Quisto and he doubled up with laughter.
The old guy looked at him. "You'd better git off that horse a'fore you fall off it son."
"And you are?" Roy fought to keep his own face straight.
"Well, I'm real tempted to tell y'all that I'm Big Chief Red Cloud and this here's my grandson Running Bear and my granddaughter Little White Dove, like the song, but it looks like young Quisto there might bust a gut laughing too hard."
Roy turned around and looked at his brother. Quisto had managed to get down off his horse and was now leaning against it's flank, using the horse to keep himself upright and his arms were folded in front of him. His hands were pressed tightly against his ribcage and his eyes were streaming with tears of laughter.
The trouble with Quisto, Roy knew only too well, was once he started laughing at something, getting him stopped was next door to impossible. Shooting him might work, but then Roy remembered he'd left his rifle back at the ranch house.
Roy tried to glare at him but that only made him worse.
The old Indian stood there grinning at them from behind his sunglasses.
"Well, other than entertainin' y'all, what can I do fer you?" he asked.
Roy knew he was on his own at this point so he got down off his horse, stepped forward and held out his hand. "Just here to be neighbourly and say howdy."
The old man removed his sunglasses and reached for Roy's hand. "My name's William Redfern. My friends call me Bill. And these two young'uns are my grandson Billy and my granddaughter Katherine - or Kate as she prefers to be called."
The two youngsters stepped forward and nodded their greeting.
Quisto finally got a hold of himself and stepped up beside Roy.
"You're all Indians?" he asked.
"Well I am - all Indian. But these two here are half-breeds. A bit like you son," he said deliberately misinterpreting Quisto's question as he noticed Quisto's blue eyes and noticed Quisto glancing at the blue eyes and obvious mixed-blood appearance of his two grandchildren standing on either side of him.
"That wasn't what I. . . ."
"So what brings you to West Texas, Mr. Redfern?" Roy cut in.
"That's a long story, Mr. Champion."
"We'd sure like to hear it," Quisto said.
"I bet you would," Bill replied. "Well, It's getting late and you boys look as though you've had a long hard ride out here to meet us. What say we all have us a bite to eat and maybe a cold beer or two and I'll tell y'all my story."
"We would like that very much," Quisto smiled. "Wouldn't we Roy?"
"We sure would," Roy replied.
"Young Billy here'll take your horses, cool 'em off and give 'em some food and water, and we'll go get us some dinner. Tonight's Tex-Mex night and my niece is cooking up some chilli. She makes a real good chilli." He told them.
The kid seemed eager to please his grandfather and took the horses, leading them down to a shaded corral. The old man nodded at him approvingly and motioned to Roy and Quisto to follow him down into the camp.
Colleen stood in the doorway looking out into the darkness in the direction that Roy and Quisto had taken earlier that day. It was late and there was no sign of them returning.
"You're worried about them?" Whit asked as he stepped outside and stood alongside her.
Colleen shrugged. "Not really. It's a good ways away and they probably won't come home until tomorrow."
"Tomorrow?" Whit sounded surprised "Why?"
"Cause I know those two well enough to get a feeling there'll probably be beer involved."
She turned and walked back indoors leaving Whit standing there.
"Another beer Roy?" the old man asked, taking a bottle out of the cooler. He popped the cap and reached it to him.
"Sounds good to me," Roy took it willingly and handed back his empty bottle.
"What about you Quisto?" Bill asked.
"Nope. I'm good," Quisto had only taken a mouthful or two.
"Keepin' your head clear?" Bill asked with a shrewd look.
Quisto smiled, reading the meaning behind the old man's question. "Had too much yesterday night and I need to pace myself for a little while. Gimme another half hour or so."
"Well, you know where it is." He pointed to the cooler.
Roy took a long swallow and leaned back against the fallen tree. They were seated around a campfire behind a trailer that, from the little he could see through the open door, looked comfortable and clean. The food had been about the most delicious chilli he'd tasted this side of Del Rio and he was relaxed, well fed and content. The beer was also going down very well.
He glanced over at Quisto who looked equally content in the warm glow of the fire - nursing his beer and picking off some of the label with his fingernail.
Quisto gave him a very faint, almost imperceptible nod of his head then leaned back and closed his eyes, telling him without words to start the conversation. They had planned that strategy earlier.
"You were saying you have a story to tell us," Roy said after a moment's thought. "Sitting here, around the campfire with good food in our bellies and cold beer to drink - for which we both thank you kindly - seems to me like the perfect time and place for a good story. Whaddya say Bill?"
Quisto smiled in the darkness. Good opening move brother, he thought.
Colleen wondered where Chance was tonight. What was he doing and was he thinking about her? He should have been with Roy and Quisto. She hadn't said anything to Whit but she was more than a little concerned about them. If they were coming home tonight, they should have been back by now.
But there was nothing she could do about it, other than leave some supper for them to heat up when they did come home.
She did exactly that and went to bed, knowing that sleep would be a long time coming.
"I was a cop up in a middling sized town up near Albuquerque for thirty years. My own father had been a reservation cop all his life and . . . . in fact he died on duty. Keeled over after beating the crap out of a kid that he'd caught selling heroin to some younger kids. Probably a good thing he died when he did cause he'd a finished up in prison after the hiding he gave that kid. Anyways, he didn't want me growing up on the reservation, so he sent me to
regular school with the Anglo kids. And I was assimilated. I became a white Indian. I'll tell you, that weren't no picnic. . . ."
"You're preachin' to the choir here, amigo," Quisto said behind closed eyes.
"Yeah, you being half-Mexican, I guess you went through the same thing?" Bill asked.
"I did," Quisto told him. "But it helped that I had my big brother here to watch my back for me." He opened his eyes briefly and looked at Roy.
"There's just the pair of you?" Bill asked.
Roy laughed. "Nope. There's a few more of us, but that's a long story too. One that'll keep for another time."
The old man took a long swallow of his beer and stared into the fire.
"Like I was saying," he continued. "I wasn't raised on no reservation. I had a good education and I'd seen life on the other side so I joined the local police department and served for thirty years. Then I put in my papers, cashed in my pension and walked away. Never looked back. Not once. My son, the daddy of them two kids you met, was a cop too."
He paused and his shining eyes reflected the firelight.
"He was killed one day, two months before I retired. And not just him. . . . . his wife, their mother. . . . she was killed alongside him. He weren't even on duty. The two of them were killed by a kid dealing heroin who 'jacked their car and when my boy tried to stop him he shot them both at point blank range. Killed the both of them instantly. And 'course I'd always known it deep down, but it made me stop and realise that life on the outside was just as bad as it was on the reservation. And I looked at my two grandkids who weren't no more than babies and a'course their mama's family didn't want nothing to do with them because they never forgave her for marrying an injun and havin' two half-breed kids, so it were left to me to raise 'em and I had me all of this pension money and nothin' other than the kids and me to spend it on, and so I decided that there had to be a better way. Not just for my own grandkids but for other kids who end up outside the reservations and find themselves lost, and I decided I was gonna do something about it. And . . . ."
He stopped and looked at Roy and then at Quisto.
"And that's why I'm sittin' here with a cold beer. . . .and speakin' of which . . . .I think I'll have me another. . . ."
Roy reached him one out of the cool box.
"Thank you. Yeah, that's why I'm a sittin' here with a cold beer and a warm fire, tellin' y'all my story."
Roy and Quisto stared at the old man, neither of them able to speak.
"Course there's a whole lot more finer details to it, like the funerals and all, and bringing up 'em two kids - grieving for their mama and daddy - on my own and grieving myself for my own son and daughter-in-law but you got the bones of it. I expect you'd like to hear the rest of it, but it's late and I'm all talked out. You can stay . . . . bunk down here if you've a mind, or you can head on home to that ranch y'all own, the one with the real pretty name. I'll leave it up to you. I'm going to bed."
He abruptly got up and finished his beer then turned around and looked at Roy.
"And I forgot to tell you earlier that there's about fifteen head of cattle with a real pretty brand on 'em grazing nearby. Now that I think about it, the shape kinda puts me in mind of a yellow rose so I'm guessing they belong to y'all. We found 'em trapped in a pass about a mile west of here, half-starved and with hardly any water, so we been lookin' after 'em for you."
He nodded to Roy and then to Quisto and walked off. A little unsteadily.
"What were they like? Did they have tepees and stuff? Come on Roy! Quisto! Tell me!" LC hadn't stopped asking about the Indians all morning.
"Tell you what honey," Roy put his arm around her. "Me and Quisto are going over there tomorrow and we'll take you along with us. How's about that?"
"That'd be so neat Roy! Thank you!" LC hugged Roy and screamed with delight in his ear.
"In the meantime, don't you have things to do?" he asked.
"Not really," she told him.
"Well, I bet you can go find something to do, cause me and Roy here have some stuff of our own to do." Quisto told her.
"I got the payrolls to do for a start little sister," he said. "If I don't pay the hands their wages this month they ain't gonna work for us no more, and then you'd have to do it all yourself. You like that idea? You want to go out there and work the ranch and maintain that old oil well that's got your name on it?"
"No," she replied.
"Then you git, and let me git on with my work."
Reluctantly she left them to it.
"I think our little sister is gonna be a might disappointed," Roy said after she was out of earshot.
"Why?" Quisto frowned.
"She's expecting pow-wows and peace pipes and rain dances and all that traditional stuff. These folks're more like hippies."
"Well, she is called Love Child and if they're hippies then she oughta fit right in," Quisto grinned.
"Oh yeah, there is that," Roy laughed.
Roy found his son in the kitchen rooting around in the refrigerator. "Didn't you get enough to eat at suppertime?" he asked.
Whit shrugged. "Just looking to see what there is. Ain't much. Wanna beer?"
Whit threw him a can and took one for himself, popping it open and taking a drink. He cast a glance at his father to see if he was going to object and when Roy opened his own can he relaxed and took another mouthful.
"Are you gonna let them Indians stay on the Rose, dad?"
"Haven't decided either way yet," Roy told him.
"What does Quisto think?" Whit asked.
Roy took a deep breath. "Well, you know what Quisto's like son. Always wantin' to save the world and help everybody."
"You don't agree with him?"
Roy shook his head. "I didn't say that."
"No, not in so many words. What were we talkin' about the other day? Something about plain speakin' from now on? Didn't you say you ought to consider trying it sometime?" Whit grinned and finished his beer and left Roy to his.
"You about done yet?" Roy asked as he walked into the office and found Quisto sitting in front of the big desk with a pencil in his mouth and some twenty dollar bills in his hand that he was counting.
"Un momento, por favor," Quisto mumbled and continued counting out the cash. When he'd finished he put the money into an envelope, wrote a name on the front of it and then sealed it up. He placed it with the other envelopes he'd already filled and sealed and then placed all of them inside the safe that sat in the corner of the room. He closed the door and spun the combination dial, checking it was locked. He sat down again at his desk, put his feet up on the edge of it, tilted his chair back onto two legs and folded his hands behind his head.
"I've already done the cheques and that's the last of the cash wages. All ready for payday." His eyes narrowed as he looked at his brother. "What's on your mind Roy?"
Roy chewed his bottom lip thoughtfully and sat down on the other chair nearby. "What do you make of that old coot Bill and them Indians? Think they're genuine?"
"I already checked him out and he is who he says he is, so yeah, I think he's genuine."
"I do too," Roy told him. "What his niece said a'fore we left, about what he was doing. . . ."
"Teaching all 'em kids the old ways? Their history and their heritage? Giving them their pride back - in themselves and who they are? And teaching 'em how to live off the land and appreciate that hard work has it's own rewards? All that?"
"Yeah. I think he's got a hard task in front of him but his heart's in the right place and I think he's right in what he's doing."
Quisto's eyes widened in surprise, then he grinned. "It's the niece, ain't it? Yeah, she's a real good lookin' woman all right. And oh mama, can she cook up a mean chilli? She'd be what, thirty? Thirty-five? She'd be right about my age . . . ." Quisto noticed the look in Roy's eye that told him Roy was interested in her. "I mean your age, wouldn't she?"
Roy laughed. "No, it ain't the niece. Well okay, maybe it is the niece. A bit. But y'know, I looked at Whit and LC this evening, and I thought about you and me and how privileged we all are. . . ."
"It weren't always that way for us Roy. . . . . more so for me and Chance," Quisto told him.
"I know. I know." He stood up and paced the room a couple of times then stopped and looked at Quisto. "But I got me thinkin' that maybe we should do what you suggested and lease them a couple a hundred acres up around North Creek, and maybe put up some proper cabins and some kind of basic infrastructure to make it more liveable for them and maybe. . . ."
Quisto slammed the front legs of his chair back down hard on the floor. "Am I hearing you correctly mano? You're mouth's working but the words coming out of it are sounding more like the words that'd oughta be coming outta mine?"
"No, you're hearing me correctly Quisto. I think you're right on this. If we compromise and give 'em this there'll be no need for any court actions that'll tie us up for years. But I also think we should do it because it's the right thing to do. Right the wrong like you said."
Quisto jumped to his feet and let out a yell. "Oh sweet Madre de Dios! How I wish I could record this moment for all of posterity! Yeah!"
He slapped Roy on the back and hugged him.
"You'll need to do up the paperwork - all legal and proper like."
"Yeah, I'll get right on it in first thing Monday morning. I can have it lodged in the court records by Wednesday - Thursday at the latest, and ratified within the next couple a weeks. I'll make sure I do it as quickly as possible a'fore you go changin' your mind!" Quisto grinned.
"Of course we'll have to work out some sort of payment plan. Rent and all . . . . and you'll need to. . . . . "
"One dollar!" Quisto yelled. "One dollar a year! Payable on every first day of January!"
"We sure as hell don't need the money Roy," Quisto told him. "But they do."
"Okay." Roy agreed.
Quisto punched the air in delighted victory. "And some cattle! And some supplies! And we'll need to git 'em a decent generator 'cause they need electricity. . . . . that old genny they're using, I took a look at it and it's just about ready to die on 'em. They'll need all these things to git 'em started! Hellfire! They're gonna need a whole heap of stuff and more! And of course, we'll have to give 'em . . . ."
"Woah!" Roy held up his hand. "Maybe it's best you quit while you're ahead brother."
"Si, si, si," Quisto was still yelling as he went to tell the rest of the family the good news, leaving Roy standing there wondering just how much he'd been played.
He found Colleen sitting out on the back porch, all alone in the chill of the evening. He stood behind her and strummed his guitar and very, very softly began to sing . . . .
"Mama's don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys.
Don't let 'em pick guitars and drive them old trucks.
Make 'em be doctors and lawyers and such.
Mama's don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys.
They'll never stay home and they're always alone.
Even with someone they love.
Cowboys ain't easy to love and they're harder to hold. . "
"If your tryin' to serenade me," she cut him off in mid-verse. "You sure as heck picked the wrong song, Quisto."
He stopped singing and laughed then sat down beside her. He set his guitar down carefully and pulled the brightly patterned blanket he was wearing off his shoulders and placed it around her.
She snuggled into it, leaning into his side.
"First chance I git on Monday darlin' I'm gonna get a contractor in to start building you that swimming pool you wanted."
"You're gonna have to teach me to swim," she told him.
"Nah. It'll be more fun watching you splashing around like a drowning puppy. 'Cause I'm getting real sick and tired of watching you wallowing in your own misery!"
Colleen laughed. Then she leaned her head on his shoulder. "Gracias, Quisto."
"For making me laugh again. For making me realise that I have you and Roy and LC and the Yellow Rose. And y'know, that'll do me just fine until Chance comes back home."
Quisto put his arm around her and held her close to him. He knew she was strong and she'd soon be over the worst of her heartache. She'd be okay now until Chance came back home again. They all would.
He kissed the top of her head. "De nada."
A. Sheridan September 2011