Montana Sky

by Rick Beck

Chapter 5

Cruelest Cut of All

Taz came riding up to the back porch on the fly. Kicking his leg over the saddle horn, he hit the ground running as he let Cyclone's reins hang down to the ground where she then stood. Several cowboys, seeing Taz open the gate, walked toward him as he leaped up the back steps, crossed the porch and charged into the house.

"General! General, we got trouble," Taz yelled, as he moved toward Gen. Walker's office.

"Calm down, Taz. You're getting mud on Kathleen's floor," the general said, his glasses down on his nose and the paper in his hand.

"They cut the fence. They're taking some of your cows. I think they're heading toward the highway. We might be able to intercept them if we go by road," Taz said excitedly.

"Okay, let me get my boots on. Get Rowdy and four of the men. Have them get rifles from the supply room. Bring around two jeeps and two Walkie-Talkies, one for each jeep. I'll be right there. Thanks, son. We'll make a cowboy out of you yet."

In five minutes two jeeps were turning onto the main road on two wheels as they headed for the highway that crossed east to west above the mesa, eight miles from the fence line.

When they got to the turnout close to where the cattle would have to be driven, they found all the evidence they needed to conclude that rustlers were at work.

The general stood in the middle of the large dirt area big enough to pull a pretty good size truck off the road. The tracks indicated the cattle had been driven to that spot but no tracks explained where they went from there. They'd been loaded onto a truck along with the horses and riders who were responsible for the theft.

"Okay, Rowdy, you go east at top speed. That's the most likely direction. It intersects with the interstate fifteen miles east of this point. Once you get there if you haven't caught them, turn around and come on back. We'll have to figure out our next move. There will be a hundred trucks out on the Interstate.

"We'll take the westerly direction just in case they have a camp in the hills somewhere to hide out until things cool off. Taz, you come with me. We have enough rifles for everyone. You give us a call if you find anything, Rowdy, and we'll do the same," the general said.

The jeeps were fast in getting back into motion. The one good thing about having soldiers as your cowboys, they knew how to follow orders. The only other escape route would have taken the truck in front of the ranch entrance, and somehow the general doubted 'these birds are that bold', probably knowing they were messing with the United States Army in cowboy boots.

By the time everyone was back at the ranch, they'd concluded that the truck had made it to the Interstate and there was no way to identify it from any other truck. The mud from the latest round of rain made it clear what had been done, but it was too muddy to be able to identify any tire tracks or hoof prints for later consideration.

Once he got back to the ranch, Taz gathered Cyclone's reins and guided her into the barn, putting her into an empty stall. He wiped her down, brushing her fondly before getting her some oats from the bag the general kept for General Grant, his horse.

"You remember the first day you saw her, Sarge?" Rowdy asked.

"Yeah, I remember. You fell for it didn't you? You really thought I was a tenderfoot."

"Yeah, I fell for it all right. I never seen no cowboy greener 'an you, Sarge. You turned out okay, you know? You take care of your horse and to me that's the mark of a man. Show me a soldier who does that and takes care of his weapon, and I'll show you prime fighting material."

"I suppose, Rowdy. I do what needs doing."

"You be careful up there, cowboy. Those rustlers'll kill you soon as look at you, you get in their way. Rustling cattle is big prison time in Montana. They won't go easy."

"I take a lot a killin' to get me good and dead," Taz said.

"You might want to think of having a couple other boys up there until we get them birds. Might come in handy."

"Nah, they'd get in my way. I got my work to do. Won't the general move the rest of the herd down to the meadow to keep a closer eye on them?"

"No, siree. He'll leave them right where they are. Bait. He wants those cowboys, and they won't dare come too close to the house. Everyone knows who lives here. They're bold bastards thinking he's going to tolerate them thieving his cattle. Bold dumb cowboys we're dealing with, but that makes them dangerous."

"I'll keep an eye out," Taz said. "What time's supper?"

"About an hour. Give your horse time to rest. Come on over to the bunkhouse and we'll deal you into the game."

"Nah, I think I'll go bother the general. He seems to be getting too used to all this soft living."

"Suit yourself, cowboy. You know where we are if you need us. I'll be sending boys to ride fence twice a day here on out, so don't get nervous if you see a couple of cowboys riding toward you inside the fence line."

"Tell them to memorize my face and not be taking any shots at me, while I'm riding fence."

"Hell, everyone knows you, Sarge. No one's going to take no shots at you. You might want to pick up a couple of six shooters from the general. Wouldn't hurt to be armed now that we know someone is stealing the cattle."

"Yeah, I'll give that some thought. I like something a mite more substantial. Might shoot myself with a pistol."

Rowdy turned and walked away as Taz dug one more handful of oats out of the canvas bag, holding them out for Cyclone to nibble.

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