Chapter Five – Back in the saddle

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, cacti, 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 here 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 I figured you’re not getting any loving.”

“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 blog or 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.” and 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 and 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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