Animals on Call. (chapters 1 -5)

Introduction – This book has nothing to do with Dementia or Care giving. I’m writing it for my daughter who is a biologist for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. One day she came home from work with ninety nine ticks on her clothes. I told her that she needed some trained opossums to sweep the field and get rid of the ticks before she went in there.

This book is just for fun and, with the exception of a few facts about opossums and ticks, the entire book is made up. I’m writing to lighten your load and make you smile. If it does that then it has accomplished its purpose.

CHAPTER ONE- The Proposal

I run a little acting business. You might say I’m the coach, manager, agent  and cheerleader for the actors I work with. You probably have never heard of me, but I’ll bet you would recognize the actors I represent from various movies, television programs, advertisements and theater productions they’ve starred in. My name is Frederick James, I’m forty something, with brown frumpy hair, not quite six foot tall, and  people say I bear a strong resemblance to Michael J. Fox. My job is training animals for shows, movies, and television. My business, Animals on Call, is located in California’s Yorba Linda area. Animals on Call operates from my ranch, not a big ranch, eight-hundred acres. Close enough to  Hollywood to  be  known and close enough to the ocean to be fun. 


Right now the  problem is that there’s a real drought in animal movies. For a while the rage was dogs, they were in every movie and television program that had families and kids. Everything from Rinn Tinn Tinn, Lassie, Benjie, Eddie, the list goes on and on. Now, forgetaboutit, you could have the most brilliant dog in acting history, but she will be lucky to be doing Kennel Ration commercials.  Acting has always been that way, one day  you’re hot and in demand and the next, no one remembers your name.  Therein lies my problem. Every animal on the ranch  continues to eat and needs tender loving care, whether money is coming in or not. Right now money was only going out of my account. This is why we also board horses, teach people how to ride and, at times, have even sunk so low as to do pony rides at county fairs. 

It was a normal day,  the morning  chores had been done and I was at my desk deciding which bills to pay and which ones to let slide.  Suddenly the door burst open and two men in  military uniforms walked into my office. 

  I stood up and introduced myself, “Good afternoon, I’m Frederick James.” 

“I’m Lieutenant Baker and this is Sergeant Smith.”

We shook hands, “What can l help you with?” 

“Please have a seat.” I said, gesturing to a set of chairs.

“No thanks Mr. James, Do you by chance have a conference room where we could speak in private?”


“Please, this way,” I led them through the door to the right of my office. It  used to be a conference room but now it was more a storage area of props, posters, boxes of…I’m not sure…stuff from the glory days.


I went to the back of the room, opened the refrigerator door, and said, “Care for a drink? We have beer, Diet Coke, ginger ale, and water.”


The Lieutenant said“ No thanks, but help yourself .”

“I’ll have a Diet Coke.” the Sergeant responded.

I handed the Sergeant a Diet and grabbed an Amber Bock for myself, twisted the cap off and tossed it into one of the many boxes sitting next to the wall.

 “Please have a seat.” I said.

We all took a seat and the Lieutenant pulled his briefcase up on the table and opened it. 

“I took a slug of my beer and said, “Nothing like a cold drink on a hot day.

Ignoring my remark the Lieutenant asked, “Is it okay if I call you Jimmy?”

“My name is Frederick James,”I answered, “But I’ve been called Fred, Freddie, James, Jimmy, Jim, and even Rick. Having two first names is confusing but as long as the check is good I don’t really care what  you call me.”

Not even a smile. Both of the army men sat there with such blank expressions on their faces. I was tempted to wave my hand in front of their eyes and ask, “Hello? Anybody in there?” I thought better of it and instead asked, “So, Gentlemen, what can I do for you?”

“Before we get into that, let me give you the backstory.” Lieutenant Baker said. “Is that okay with you Jimmy?” 

“Hey, whatever you want to do is fine with me,” I said. 

“We’re from Fort Hunter Liggett,” He said, “I hear you’re the best of the best when it comes to training animals. At least that’s what Colonel Potter believes. He feels that if you can train an opossum you could train anything. Potter was at his granddaughter’s birthday party and saw the children’s movie, “Petie the Petrified Possum.” Old Potter got so excited he made the entire staff watch it. That was some funny stuff.  The way Petie would faint every time he got scared. ” 

“How in the world did you get the possum to go into a dead faint like that??” Sergeant Smith asked. 

“It’s just what they naturally do…” I started to say.

“I SALUTE YOU JIMMY!!” Lieutenant Baker loudly exclaimed as he stood up and saluted.

“Thanks, but I’m not sure what I’ve done…”

“What you’ve done is give Old man Potter hope for a holistic solution to a huge problem that he inherited from the previous administration. 

Lieutenant Baker moved to the chair next to me, sat down, put his hand on my shoulder and quietly said, “What I’m about to tell you cannot be repeated outside this room. Understand?”

I nodded the affirmative. 

In fact,” he continued, “if you didn’t have a Tier 4 security clearance, we couldn’t even discuss this with you. “

“Wait a minute! There’s obviously been some mistake,” I said. “You’ve got the wrong guy, I’ve never been in the service and I don’t have ANY LEVEL of security clearance.”

They both burst out laughing. I had the feeling I was about to hear the punch line from some kind of practical joke.

Lieutenant Baker held out his hand and the Sergeant handed him some papers from his briefcase.

“This was so important to the Old Man that we fast-tracked your security clearance.” he said, handing me an envelope made out to Frederick James.  While I opened the envelope, and looked over my security clearance papers, he continued with his explanation. 

“Jimmy, have you ever heard of  Lyme disease?”

“Yeah, people all over the country get it from tick bites.” I said.

“That’s right! But what most people don’t know is that the disease was developed in one of our labs in Northern Connecticut. The idea was to develop a disease, not to kill, but to weaken enemy soldiers. And, this is the brilliant part, this disease would come from infected ticks. It was so simple,” He said, “All we had to do was fly over enemy combatants and drop a few million infected ticks into their camp. We would give the ticks a few days to do their work and sweep in and take the area away from men who were too sick to fight.”

“If this was a military idea, how has it spread to the civilian populations?” I asked.

“Those ticks are not as easy to control as we thought. We figured an infected tick hitched a ride out of the lab and the rest is history.” he answered. 

“We can’t let our troops get infected,” he continued, “and we used to think that, before we sent our troops in, we would simply spray the area with insecticide, killing every tick that crawled.”

“So, why not just stick with the original plan?” I asked. “I mean it sounds like a good idea to me.”

“Two words. Agent Orange. The Pentagon is looking for other ways to kill  the ticks: holistic, natural, Non Chemical  ways.”

“Let me paint a picture for you.” Sergeant Smith said, staring off into space, his hand moving across his line of vision. “The ticks have done their worst to the enemy combatants, who are lying in their bunks, too sick and weak to pick up a gun. The moment is right  to attack but we know that the ticks are still there. Under cover of darkness a few trucks pull close to the front lines. Cages in the back of the trucks carry the one animal that loves to eat ticks, opossum. The order is given, cage doors fly open and  out come the possums. They run through the fields, into the enemy camp, and, when the ticks are gone, circle back to the trucks. When they return we know, without a doubt, that the area is safe for our troops to move in.” 

“Wait a minute!” I said. “Are you saying you want ME to  train  opossums to sweep a field clean of ticks and when they’re finished to return to the trucks?”

“BINGO!” Baker yelled, “We’ve seen what you did with Petie the Possum in that movie. If you can  train one Possum, we believe, you can train many more.”

“And teach our troops how to train them as well.” Sergeant Smith added

Lieutenant Baker reached into his briefcase and pulled out a stack of papers. Handing me the top six sheets he said, “Here’s the proposal in writing with a budget, and expectations. If you agree  to everything in the document, sign it and we will be on our way.” 

I scanned the documents. My eyes quickly found the amount that I would be guaranteed and the bonus if we succeeded in a certain amount of time. All I had to do was sign the paper and I wouldn’t have to even think about doing pony rides at the county fair for a few years down the road. This was too good to pass up and yet….Training Petie Possum to run around in front of a camera, and faint on cue, was simple compared to what they were asking me to do. 

“This is a big commitment.” I said. “Do I have to decide right now? Could you give me a few days to go over the proposal and get back with you?”

“How about I give you a call tomorrow at Seventeen Hundred hours?” Lieutenant Baker said. “That gives you a little more than twenty four hours.”

“Yeah, that should be fine.” I responded.

Baker and Smith stood up, and Baker closed his briefcase. I followed suit and opened the door. I reached out to shake Lieutenant Baker’s hand. He pulled me close, patted me on the back and said, “This is a proud moment for you, Jimmy. Your country is counting on you.”

I watched as they drove off, feeling nervous, concerned, I’m not sure what the feeling was. But it wasn’t even close to being proud.


Chapter two In the Valley of Decisions

I sat at my desk mulling the whole idea over in my mind. “Could it be done??” I asked myself.  “Training one opossum to do tricks was one thing. Training fifteen to twenty to act as a unit, that’s something else altogether.”  

Some animals are not real trainable, it’s not that they’re stupid, in fact just the opposite. I needed them to learn, perform, they couldn’t care less. They have survived, as a species without our help, for a few million years. 

I pulled out a legal pad and started to write a few ideas down.

  1. How many opossums will I need? (This is an important question since you couldn’t just walk down to the pet store and pick up a few. They were wild animals and to be legal, they had to be rescue animals, and whenever possible, returned to nature.) 
  2. Ticks  – where do I purchase some for training purposes and food? 
  3. Staff – Do all the training myself or bring other people in with me?
  4.  Talk to Angelina (My daughter who fell in love with Petie and will probably not like the idea of his being drafted into the army.)
  5. Steps to a final decision
    1. Call staff Meeting
      1. Give overview of objective
      2. Who will be involved?
      3. Discuss budget
      4. Time 
      5. Construction of…

I was just about to write, obstacle course, when Maria walked through the door. 

Maria and her husband Pedro were the managers of the ranch. They have forgotten more than I would ever know about running a ranch. They are big picture people, absolutely nothing gets past Maria. I, on the other hand, have a pretty narrow focus. I can train, and take care of, animals or make sure the bills were paid and ranch maintenance kept up, but not both at the same time. Because of my inability to multitask, the ranch was falling down around my ears. Then, Maria and Pedro came looking for a job. We agreed to a ninety day test to see how well we could work together. Ninety days has grown into eleven years and we haven’t looked back. They’ve been with me through good times and bad, times of prosperity and times of poverty. Without them I would have lost the ranch and been in an efficiency apartment down on Palm Drive. When my marriage was falling apart, they became like a mom and dad to me and helped me make it  through another day. I guess you could say, we’ve become family.

What did those two “Army” men want?” Maria asked, making the quotation sign with her fingers when she said, “Army.” ”I saw them leaving and wondered, “what kind of movie are they shooting and why are they wearing their costumes?” I’m hoping it’s a big budget film with lots of horses, like the old westerns where the cavalry,” She held up her air trumpet and said, “DO da da DOOO, “rides in and saves the day.”

“You have good eyes,” I said,”Those guys did have on military uniforms. And you’re correct in that this is indeed a Big Budget Project, with deep pockets backing the entire thing,”

 “WHOO HOO!!!” she shouted, pumping her arm in the air like a hockey player who has just scored a goal.

Don’t get too excited, we don’t have the job yet.” I said.

“What were those two guys doing here,” she asked, “getting estimates?”

“No, no, no, it’s nothing like that.” I said. “In fact they wanted me to sign the contract today. I wasn’t sure we could do the job so I asked for time to talk with the staff and see what they think.”

“Well,” She said, “I can tell you what I think right now. We need money, and you let those  guys leave without a signed contract? The Staff will stand with you and you should know by now that we will do whatever IT TAKES to get the job done, and you let those two military men walk out the door without a signed contract. Not only that! You say the contract includes lots of money and the backer has really deep pockets! And still you let them walk out the door without a signed contract!!! What’s the matter with you today? Have you gone,  Loco en de la Cabeza….”

It’s never a good sign when Maria lapses into Spanish. It meant that she was beyond upset and thinks you have done one of the stupidest, most ignorant, and foolish things you could possibly ever do. Maria was walking around the room but since I only speak enough Spanish to get in trouble, I had no idea what she was saying. Okay, you’re right, I have a good idea what she was saying. Probably something about my I.Q. Maybe something about my parents not being married, but I know she didn’t insult my mother because she never said …”Hijo de un perro hembra.”

I tried to get her attention. “Maria.” she continued to rant.

“MAria.” Hadn’t heard me yet.


“WHAT??!!!” She stopped pacing and turned to face me. 

“I don’t understand your being so upset. I didn’t say, “No” to their wonderful offer. I asked for twenty-four hours to think about it. The Lieutenant promised to call me tomorrow at Seventeen-hundred hours and get my final answer.” 

“Come on Federico, we both know that Animals on Call is two inches away from going under. Why do you think I have been going to Mass everyday?”

I didn’t say anything so she continued. 

“I go to the holy place so I can pray to our Lord Jesus to help us. Not only that but I also pray to the Blessed Mother asking her to intercede for  us. That is why I am so upset. I pray and pray, many times a day, I’m praying. My heart is so heavy….and today two Army men came in  with a large budget, deep pocket movie…That looks like an answer to prayer to me. Federico, where is your faith? Don’t you believe that God answers prayers?”

“Maria, I know you are a true believer but it all seems like a bunch of mumbo jumbo to me. If it works for you fine,  but if this God of yours is so great why does he ignore every prayer I have ever said. You believe in God, I believe in facts, science, what I can see, hear, touch and feel. In fact, let me be honest here, i see you Christians pray and pray and whenever some coincidental thing comes along you scream, “Hallelujah!! God answers prayer! Sorry Maria, I just don’t buy it”. 

 “Well, Mr. Science, did you see the two actors? Did you hear the offer they made? Did you touch the contract spelling out their offer? And do you see that their offer is what I have been praying for? You can say “coincidence” all you want, but here’s what I have experienced, when I pray coincidences happen and when I don’t pray they don’t happen.”

“Do you want to know why we might get this gig?” I asked. “Those men saw the movie with Pepie in it and they were so impressed with his performance that they concluded when it comes to training animals I’m among the best of the best. I’m not sure where your God fits into all of this, but I know when I work really hard deals come to me, and when I don’t they don’t.”

Maria pulled a small medallion out of her pocket, handed it to me and said, “This is a medallion of Saint Jude. I always ask St.  Jude to pray for us and especially for you. Do you know why I ask for St. Jude’s intercession?”

“No,  not really,” I answered.

“Because he is the Saint of the impossible, and sometimes you’re SO impossible.” 

“Ha, ha, Very funny. Here you can have your lucky charm back.”

She made the sign of the cross and murmured something in Spanish, 

“I’m sorry Maria, I don’t mean to be disrespectful. You know I love you. I really do know that without you and Pedro this place would have gone out of business  years ago. If prayer helps you with all you do, Great, keep it up.”

Things went from angry to awkward really fast. Neither one of us knew what to say or do next. So, I kept talking. 

“Before you came in I was planning on having a staff meeting either later today or first thing tomorrow. I want to explain what the contract expects of us. Yes it is a lot of money being offered, but we will earn every penny.  Once you have all the facts I think you will understand my hesitancy to say yes to this offer. You know everything that happens on this ranch and all of the staff commitments. What is the best time for a staff meeting?”

“Let me see…” Maria pulled a small day-Timer out of her back pocket.

“Tomorrow Morning is Not possible.  We have a group from the Senior’s Center coming to ride horses and I’m going to need every one who can help onboard with that group. Tonights not good either, so it looks like the best time for our meeting would be in about two hours. Does that work for you?” 

“The sooner the better.” I said “I’ll sleep better tonight if everything is decided”.

“I’ll spread the word and see you back here at Four.”

The only trouble with only two hours to prepare for the meeting was I had to make the case without giving away any Top Secret facts to those who would be helping me. Maria was on to something calling these men actors. A movie makes the whole idea of training a herd, flock, gaggle, what do you call a bunch of Opossums when they get together? They really don’t seem to like one another. I mean, we’ve all seen flocks of geese, herds of deer, schools of fish, but has anyone ever seen more than two opossums together at a time? And when you do see one, they’re either pretending to be dead or acting like they feel threatened and trying to bite you. That’s it! They must be known as a congress of Opossums.

Chapter Three – The Meeting

 Our meeting was held in the conference room. Everyone grabbed something to drink out of the fridge. Anything else they needed, pens, paper, napkins, cups, were on the table.

“I’m sure with the way news travels around here you are all aware of why this meeting has been called.” I said. “Anyone have any questions or need something clarified before we start?”

“Has this meeting been called to decide whether or not Tina is going to be allowed to enter into a cross-species marriage with her favorite horse, Horse’s Hinney?” Sam asked.

Everyone laughed except Tina who said, “Sam! Should I marry you or my favorite horse? Either way I would be married to a Horse’s ass.”

Now everyone was howling, except Sam, who knew he had been bested.”

I held up both of my arms and said, “Okay, okay, let’s get through this meeting and then you can one-up each other with insults.”

Animals on call exist to train animals that act in movies and television.” I said. “We’ve been asked by the two “Army” Personnel that were here earlier to train some specific animals who will be in a war movie. Any ideas of what kind of animals they want us to train?”

Sam said, “Probably the usual military types. YOU know horses, dogs, or even pigeons.”

“You’re not thinking outside the box.” I said.”Let me give you some hints and see if you can guess.”

I went over to the white board, picked up a black marker and quickly drew a map showing the American army camp, the enemy camp, and I threw in a river and a bunch of trees for good measure. 

“Okay,” I said, “the stage is set. Let me tell you the plot.”

“A drone, flying at night, below radar, on a secret mission,  leaves the American camp. The drone is carrying hundreds of thousands of infected ticks. These ticks are on the way to invade the enemy camp.”

”That is so Gross! Ugh! Yuck, I hate ticks.” Maria said. 

I grabbed a Red Marker and started making dots all over the enemies camp. “The ticks are dropped into the enemy camp.” I said, “Once there, they do what ticks always do, look for dinner. However,  and this is the really important part, when these ticks bite they not only take your blood, they give you a disease in return.”

“You mean like Lyme disease?” asked Sam.

“Exactly, but much worse and quicker,” I said, “Within two days everyone in the enemy camp has multiple tick bites, and are really, really, sick, not dying mind you, just too sick with fever, vomiting, and dyharria, to fight.  This should make it easy for our guys to move in and win the battle. “

“Can anyone guess why we don’t just send our guys in?” I asked.

Sam, looking all excited said, “Because we don’t want to run in there and have to clean up all the shit and puke?” 

Tina groaned and said, “That’s not a job I would want.”

Everyone started chattering about how gross it would be to have to clean up such a mess and I could tell I was quickly losing control.

“GOOD ANSWER SAM, BUT NO.” I shouted. “Anyone else care to venture a guess??”

Maria stood up and said, “Because the ticks are still there and our troops could get bitten and be as sick as the enemy.”

“YES!” I shouted, “Someone give Maria a gold star”. 

“Now, for reasons i cannot go into there is no insecticide or repellent that will kill or even slow these  ticks down,”

“What are these…Zombie Ticks?” Jose asked. 

“I Guess you could say that.” I responded, “So the Army needs a way to clear out the ticks before the American troops move in and that is where we come in, It’s also why I haven’t signed the contract yet.”

I Picked up a green marker and drew an arrow from the American to the Enemy camp. 

“Our job, if I sign the contract, is to train an animal to run in before the troops and eat all the ticks.  They will be transported by truck as close to the enemy camp as they can safely be done, dropped off and they will go into and all around the enemy camp having a regular TIck fest. Now, after the ticks are gone our well trained critters will run back to the trucks as a signal for our troops that it is safe to proceed.”

“To sum it up,” 

I held up one finger and said, “One. We will be training a pack of four legged animals.”

“How many is a pack?” Sam interrupted. “A pack of cigarettes is twenty cigarettes, a pack of beer is six, how many of these things, um, animals, is a pack.”

“I wasn’t thinking about an exact number,” I said, “I just meant more than a few and less than fifty.”

Holding Up two fingers,  I continued,

“Two. These animals eat more than just tics, but on average, one will eat 5,000 tics a year.”

“Three. These animals are about the size of a large cat.”

“Chickens!!” Tina yelled. “My Aunt in upstate New York had a problem with ticks and she got chickens to eat them.”

“He said four legs,” Sam said, “Have you ever seen a chicken with four legs?”

“Oh yeah. Guess I forgot about the four legs.” Tina said, her face turning red.

“That’s all right Tina,” I said, “at least you’re thinking about it. “

Sam rolled his eyes and said,  “You call that thinking? That blonde hair is no lie. “

Tina pushed her chair back, stood up and said,  “What is that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing much, “Sam said,  “Everyone else is thinking Anteaters, armadillos, or weasels and you yell “Chickens!”

She slugged Sam in the shoulder and said, “Sometimes you can be a real JERK”

She sat back down and with a poutie voice said, “Anyway I only said chickens because of my Aunt . Really, this is going to sound like one of your blonde jokes, but I was thinking about opossums. “

“What did you say?” I  asked. 

“I said opossums.”

“Tina, you’re right! Opossums is the correct answer. ” I said. 

I quickly pulled the movie flyer for, Petie the Petrified Possum from under my seat and held it up for everyone to see.

“We’ve been here before,”I said, “and, I might add, it’s because of our success with the Petie movie that this new job has landed in our laps.”

I put on my biggest smile and tried to sound enthusiastic. “What do you think? Are you with me?” 

“I think I like Tina’s Chicken idea better. ” Sam groaned. 

Chapter Four- The answer is…

I woke  up the next day feeling  tired and run-down, Didn’t sleep well last night. Something Tina said was niggling in my mind. She said her aunt bought chickens to help get rid of ticks. Her comment made me wonder, Besides opossums, what birds, animals, or insects could be used to get rid of ticks. Further, what could we use, besides insecticides, to protect our troops who are called on to  go into a tick-infested area?

I walked downstairs, went into the kitchen, which is across the foyer from my office and conference room. My private living quarters are upstairs from the public area. The building used to be the  ranch house, but we needed office and meeting space, and didn’t have the money to build a separate building. When Shirley, my ex wife, and I first moved into the ranch house we knew it was just a matter of time before we hit it big and would have the funds to build a huge office complex. A lot has happened since those early days. About two years after the birth of our daughter, Shirley decided I was not her soul mate after all and left me for another love. When the laws were changed, my ex and her soul mate, Theressa, were immediately married. By the time the lawyers were finished, Shirley had the money, and I had the land. My lawyer said I was fortunate that she allowed me to keep the Ranch. Fortunate or not, we took a huge financial hit, from which Animals on Call still hasn’t fully recovered.

I put a pot of coffee on. Poured a bowl of Grape nuts, added half a banana, and some milk. Grabbed a spoon and sat at the breakfast bar. The kitchen was open to the staff. They had places to put their personal things,and communal areas that were first come first served.  Then there was the, touch this and die, section where my personal things were kept.

I opened my Day Timer and checked the calendar. Let’s see, 

10 AM – Group from the Senior Center,

1:30 – Maria

3:00 – Lisa Stone – Attorney

I forgot to enter the call from Lieutenant Baker who said he would call me at,…what did he say? I really need to write things down ….Seems to  me that he said he would call at twenty-seven hundred hours. What the hell does that mean?  What time is twenty seven hundred hours? Lets see, twelve noon must be twelve hundred hours , Hmmm….subtract twelve from Twenty Seven and that gives me fifteen. So, if  Twelve noon is Twelve-hundred hours… add fifteen to that and it will be THREE AM?!!

Shit! That can’t be right. Somethings wrong somewhere.

I picked up my phone and googled twenty seven hundred hours, and read,

0027, MILITARY TIME (zero- zero- two-seven hours) zero-zero-two-seven hours, zero zero twenty-seven hours Military Time. conversion of…12:27 AM using 12-hour  clock notation, 00:27…Delta Time Zone, D, UTC+4, 0427 A.M., 04:27.

That’s as clear as mud, 

I clicked on the listing and a chart came up showing the time from 00:27 to 23:27. The chart said that 00:27 was 12:27 AM and 23:27 was 11:27 PM. I had a feeling that the real time he said he would call was Seventeen hundred hours, which, by running my finger down the chart meant that he would be calling around 5:00 PM. 

It was Six Thirty which gave me plenty of time to do a quick research on Ticks and all that loved to eat them, and to go over the contract with my lawyer.

I put my bowl in the sink, refilled my coffee mug, grabbed a cookie out of the communal cookie box.  Went out on the front porch and sat on the swing. There’s nothing better than sitting out here, with a cup of coffee as the world is waking up watching the sun come up over the hills. It’s peaceful and quiet ,the birds are waking up and singing a good morning song. Somewhere a rooster crows and all of nature seems to be shaking off the sleep and slowly coming around to face the new day.

I saw the lights go on in Pedro and Maria’s kitchen.  What used to be the bunk house, for ranch hands, became their house.  You wouldn’t believe the way they fixed the place up or what a dump it was when Shirley and I bought it. 

I drank the last bit of coffee, went back into the kitchen and refilled the mug, walked across to my office and fired up the computer.  

I Googled Ticks and was awarded with pictures and descriptions of the different types of ticks. I thought a tick was a tick but, no, there are  many types and varieties of ticks, some more dangerous to humans than others. The types of ticks include, but are not limited to: deer ticks, dog ticks, wood ticks, lone star ticks, black legged ticks, asian ticks, chicken coop ticks, and the dreaded Tick Tock, clock ticks . 

Two hours later I knew more than I ever wanted to about ticks, their enemies, and natural protection for the troops going into harm’s way. Of course I realize that the military already knew all that I had just learned and more. The good thing, for me, was that I had the answer to my question about only training opossums.

Chapter Five – The Wild West

After reading more information about ticks than one person should have to endure, I decided enough was enough. It wouldn’t be long before the group from the Senior’s Center pulled in and I was thinking that a nice quiet ride across the ranch would be just what the doctor ordered. 

Maria and Pedro had come up with a number of different packages for tourists and other people who wanted a taste of cowboy hospitality.  The Senior group had opted for the Number 2 Round Up Special.  This included a horse or buggy ride out to the chuck wagon, where there would be lunch and entertainment. Following lunch you could ride out to the creek and back to the stables or hang out by the chuck wagon and play cards. One thing you can be sure of with an older group was, while it might not be an exciting time  it would be nice. And quiet

I walked out the front door and started across the parking area towards the stables.  Just then Sam pulled into the yard in his Ford Ranger. While that old truck of his had seen better days, you wouldn’t say it was rusty, or dented up. Sam loved to drive his truck cross country and between the sand, bushes, trees, cactus, and mud, the paint job had taken a real beating. The front fenders looked sandblasted while the doors gave the appearance of having been attacked by vandals with sandpaper. 

“Good morning Sam.” I said as he got out of his truck.  

“Hey Fred, how ya doing?” He said, jogging up beside me. “I hope Maria has some strong coffee made. I overslept and didn’t have time to brew any.” 

“Well, if she hasn’t, there’s coffee in the kitchen and some No bakes too.” I said. 

“No bakes are good,” He said, “but a couple of Boston Creams would really hit the spot.”

Walking through the double doors we could hear voices coming from the break room. We entered and Sam made a beeline for the coffee pot and poured himself a large mug full. He lifted the lid of the donut box. A smile crossed his face as he brought out a Boston Cream and took a huge bite. “Today’s going to be a great day in paradise. ” he said.

Maria was going over something with a couple of the musicians. I waited until they turned to walk away and asked, “Do you mind if I ride out with you today?”

“Not at all,” She said.  “In fact you can help me out with one of the guests.”

“What’s up? Are you expecting some sort of trouble?”

“No, no, nothing like that. Do you remember last year when the Senior Center Group came out there was a man, Richard Jones, who claimed to be an actor who had worked with John Wayne?”

“Do you mean Dick Jones?”

“One and the same.”

“I’ve known Dickie for years, I think he actually did know John Wayne, but his memories are a lot more glorious than the days he remembers.”

“So you agree that he is a glory seeking, braggart, who will tell all kinds of lies to impress the gullible?”

“Let’s just say Ole Dickie has been known to fabricate the truth.”

 “Come to think of it, you weren’t here last year. Your friend Dickie was wound up. He went up on the stage and demanded to sing ALL of his favorite cowboy songs. I was pretty sure he was drunk or stoned, not sure which.  That happened after he attempted to take over the trail ride and caused a lot of confusion.  He has a lot of fun but makes it unpleasant for other people.”

“He loves being the center of attention,” I said.

“Please, take him under your arms and keep him out of everyone’s way, “

“What do you suggest I do?”

“I don’t know. Make him feel like a big shot, give him a guided tour of the place, take him down to the creek and go skinny dipping. I don ‘t really care. Just keep him out of my hair.”

“Don’t worry’ I will treat him like a skunk at a picnic.”

“What does that mean?”

“When you see a skunk at a picnic you do whatever it takes to  make sure he doesn’t raise a stink.”

“You do that and I will appreciate it very much.”

I left the break room and went into the stables to get Chica bonita ready for our morning ride. 

The bus from the Senior Center  pulled in a little after ten. It stopped in front of the stables and Maria jumped  on board, clipboard at the ready and I was right behind her. She gave everyone a warm welcome, introduced me as the owner and premier animal trainer, and was going down the list to  make sure everyone was assigned a place on a buggy or was riding a horse. 

“Mr. and Mrs. Polaski, I have you in the buggy I’ll be driving.”

“Richard Jones, I have you listed as riding a horse,..”

Dick stood up, dressed like he was ready for a remake of Bonanza, “That’s right Sweetheart, and I hope to God you’ve given me a  better  horse to ride than  that Nag I was on  last time I was here. Like the Duke always said, “A cowboy is no better than the horse that is underneath him.”

“We have you on a feisty horse named Diablos. I’m sure you will be satisfied with him.”

“Great!! I’ve been riding for quite a few years, and if i don’t say so myself, I’m pretty damn good in the saddle. The horse you gave me last year would have been fine for some little girl…. “

“Excuse me Mr. Jones, I see you have a couple of pistols in your belt, I’m afraid you’ll have to leave those on the Bus or put them in  a locker.”

“Now just a minute Pilgrim. Your boss Freddie and I went over this three or four years ago. These are the Pistols that the Duke used in Rio Bravos and gave to me after the filming. Freddie said I could wear them on the ranch as long as I promised that the guns were diabled and couldn’t shoot or they were loaded with blanks.”

He looked at me, pulled the  pistols out of their holsters’ and said, “Here  Freddie, you can examine them again. But I swear to God that they’re exactly the same as you saw them the last time.” 

“That’s fine Dick, Put the guns away.  I trust you…they’re just for show.”

He tipped his hat, “appreciate it.” and started to sit down.

“Come on Dick, Diablos is waiting for you. Let’s get out of Maria’s hair and I’ll show you around the homestead.”

“That’s what I like about  you Freddie, You treat us Stars like we should be treated.” He glared at Maria and said, “With RESPECT.”

We climbed off the bus and started towards where our horses were waiting. “You’ve been  on this ranch so many times, I’m sure you know your way around? Would you like to take the lead?” 

“Yeah…, yeah…., Thanks. There’s a quiet place down  by the creek that I especially like. It has an almost Cathedral feeling to it…holy somehow. Follow me and I’ll show you what I mean.”

We rode out towards the creek and Dick started singing, “Back in the Saddle again, Out where the injuns your friend, where the vegetables are green,and you can pee right in the stream,  back in  the  saddle again” 

“When do you open in Vegas?”

“Joke all you want Freddie boy, but I remember when singing cowboys were all the rage. I came west in the hopes of becoming a singing star like Gene Audrey and Roy  Rogers.”

“Where did you grow up?”

“Pecos,… Illinois.”

“?Pecos, Illinois!!??” I  laughed “That explains why you played a cowboy instead of working as a cowboy. “

“I would rather be a cowboy in a movie any day. Real cowboys work hard in the hot sun and sleep alone on the  hard ground. Movie cowboys play all day in the hot sun and at night sleep with a pretty woman on a soft bed.”

“It’s a rough life but someone has to do it. “

“Those days are over for me. Now I get to  go around bragging about the good old days. People tell me I should write a book. “

“Are you going to put your memories in a book?”

“Probably not.  But it might be fun.  I could tell the whole truth about the  Duke.  I was his stunt double in a couple of movies, which means if he was afraid of getting hurt I got to  do the stunt. People don’t think of Big John Wayne as being afraid of anything, but I can tell you, without any hesitation, that Snakes made  him scream like a little girl.”

“Was  that the time you guys put a rattlesnake in his bed and he came to bed pretty drunk?”

The trail took a turn around some large trees and down a hill. The creek was widest down there and made a pond which was framed in by the rock cliffs. The trees filtered the sunlight and lowered the temperature by a good ten degrees. I had to agree with Dick this spot was almost magical. Dick rode Diablo into the water and slid off his saddle.

Dick pulled a flask out of his back pocket, took a hit, and handed it to me.

“You dating anyone yet? I can see you’re still as skinny as ever so ifigued you’re not getting any.”

“I’m not ready for a new relationship yet?”

“Some guys never are, and others are and just don’t know it. But let the right woman come along  and BAM!! Everything falls into place and they’re singing, “Back in the saddle again…”

“I doubt that will ever happen to me.”

“Do you remember old George Jeffries? Remember how he would do the litany, I’ll never fall in love again. Couldn’t  trust any woman, I would be waiting for the other shoe to drop and I just couldn’t stand the pain. I saw him at WalMart last week and  he was with a woman and  seemed so happy. They were living together and were engaged. He’ll probably be inviting everyone from the group to the wedding.”

“George is a good man. He deserves to be happy”

“Yeah …well, so do you. If you’re not going to find happiness in another woman, maybe you should write a book to help other people in the same situation. Helping others brings great healing to the one doing the blessing,”

“I’m not at that place yet either. What good would it do to write about the pain of losing the best thing that ever happened to me without an ending, or an answer, or hope?”

“You used to write great Newsletter Articles for our group.  Guys still quote you. My favorite was, How to lose weight divorce style. You said you lost fifty pounds of ugly fat and one hundred and twenty   pounds of a beautiful wife. You were funny as hell one minute and made us cry the next. You know, If you[re up for some freelance work, I could use a few good articles.”

“Thanks. I’ll think about it. Really….It just got to the place where I was saying the same thing over and over. ” 

I glanced at my watch, “We’d better get to the Chuck Wagon. Don’t want to miss lunch.”

Dick jumped back into his saddle and said, “Last one there buys the beer!” He galloped off.

I was quickly after him but couldn’t seem to catch  up. Diablos was such a strong, fast horse. We came into view of the Camp, I could see the chuck wagon and to the right of that the barn with the corral. None of the other guests had arrived yet and we would be the first ones in the camp for lunch. Suddenly, Dick started pointing and yelling, I couldn’t quite make out what he was saying. 

I got closer and realized that DIck was screaming, “Black mamba, Black Mamba. Black Mamba!!!” He  pulled one of the pistols out of the holsters and began shooting towards the snake. His so-called blanks were drilling holes in the side of the chuck wagon, and finally hit the black mamba which was actually the hose for the  propane tank that was  under the wagon,  With a mighty roar the propane tank exploded and fiery splinters of the chuck wagon flew in every direction.

The explosion spooked Diablo, who reared back and then took off in a dead heat for parts unknown. I started after them, knowing how difficult it can be to stop a panicked horse. Dick seemed to be holding his own until Diablo went over the fence instead of around it. Things seemed to go in slow motion, as I watched Diablo go to the left and Dick to the right. My first thought was, Oh God, let Dick be alright. 

Just then the buggy Maria was driving pulled into camp. Ribs, fries, beans, coleslaw, hot dogs and buns began falling from the sky. From the back of the carriage, Mrs. Polaski said, “Isn’t this exciting? It’s just like that movie, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.” 

“YEAH, real exciting.” Her husband responded,”but they could have waited til we got here before serving it.”

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