Friday, September 10, 2010

Chapter 6 - Ranch


Subject: Exploding Banks

Look, exploding banks are not in the bunny contract, on the grounds of being nasty, untidy and probably flammable. Evacuate the area immediately and do not do anything sensible like investigate further. Except I’m sure I’m probably too late. Do you have an identification of the buttons yet? How much phosphorus is needed on cloth to cause that kind of a fire and detonation? Are you really talking about splashes? Jacob comments that there is no phosphorus available to obtain by yak train or we’d do some experiments and help you out. It would make a change from unpacking equipment and trying to teach the tourists to use crampons. 

I’ll see your chronic alcoholic and raise you the Pink Peril, who fancies himself in a down suit and wanders around in it at base camp at risk of overheating. I’m resisting the urge to tackle him and sit on his chest, repeating slowly and clearly ‘this is a sub tropical area’. It’s a ridiculous mixture between boiling hot and freezing cold here. The ground is ice, we’re camped on a bloody glacier, I watched the cook deep freeze chicken legs yesterday by burying the crate of them in the ground, but once the sun’s full on us it’s scorching hot. We’re all going to leave with piles and sunburn. Everyone walks around in hats and sunglasses and a particularly hard look this season seems to be to have white streaks and splodges of sun barrier on your face like you’ve escaped from a Comanche war council. Sorry. The politicking around here is driving me insane.



“Man, it’s quiet in here in the mornings.”

Mason sat back, having polished off an amount of bacon, eggs and toast that suggested he was definitely feeling better. He’d lost a few pounds in the last couple of days and it showed in his face, but he was a broad man by build, and he still looked prepared at any moment to take off on a Harley Davidson. Now that he had moved past his original hostility and was getting over the shock of the withdrawal, a large and rather jocular presence was starting to emerge.

“Don’t you guys even have a radio or something?”

“Record player,” Riley nodded at the very elderly one that resided next door in an alcove of the family room. “Beautiful sound quality but it takes forever to set up and the collection of 78s is pretty old.”

“Don’t talk with your mouth full.” Paul said from force of habit. “What do you usually like to listen to, Mason?”

“Screw and Smash,” Mason said in one of his deep drawls, and laughed. “The good stuff. Presley. Bo Diddley. Hendrix. The Stones. Have the radio on all the time I can, helps me think. Best music ever played. Are we movin’ out?” he added jocularly to Jasper as Jasper got up, deepening his voice. “Git along there little dogie, we got man’s work to do.”

“Plate in the sink please.” Paul reminded him. Mason put the plate in the sink, clicking his fingers in a loud, brisk rhythm as he sang in a mock bass,

“Ya load sixteen tons and whadda ya get? Another day older and deeper in debt....”

He took a Stetson from the hooks by the door and put it on, tugging the brim down and slightly to one side at Paul in a John Wayne style that made Paul laugh and Mason grinned, stooping to pull his boots on. He wasn’t expert at it yet, it still took him a minute and he had to lean against the doorframe to do it.

“Riley, I want the corral cleaned out this morning.” Flynn finished the last of his toast and got up, taking his plate to the sink. He picked up a pen while he was at the counter and Dale saw him write something on the back of his wrist. “And I need the rail at the front repaired, I saw yesterday it was starting to come loose.”

“Sure.” Riley snagged a last stray piece of bacon from the dish and got up, good naturedly dodging around Flynn. “I still need to finish clipping hooves at some point, I only got half way through the shires and two year olds yesterday.”

“Get the rail done first, we don’t need half the riding horses loose in the yard.”

Mason headed noisily down the steps still singing something about St Peter and the Company Store, and Flynn paused with his hands on Paul’s shoulders, giving Dale a look which reminded him he was still sitting on a distinctly tender backside this morning.

“Finish what’s on that plate, I’m watching.”

“I am too.” Paul sat back to drink his tea. “I’ll leave you all a cold lunch on the table, I have no idea what time we’ll be back from Jackson, it depends on how interested we get.”

“Ok for cash?”

“Yes thanks.” Paul raised his voice to reach Riley who was disappearing out of the door.
“ If there’s any letters to go or anything you want us to shop, for leave me a list!”

“Wall Street Journal and the New York times!” Mason called from the yard.

“Not a chance!” Paul called back cheerfully, and Dale heard Mason laugh.

Dale finished the contents of his plate and Paul took it from him, getting up.

“Well done. I’ll rinse the dishes and put something out for lunch, and we’ll get going.”

“There’s a few bits I need to do too.”

Dale snagged a jacket from the back of the door and pulled his boots on, half an eye on Riley who was re stacking tools in the shed in pursuit of the one he wanted. He’d laid the heap of tools waiting to be re stacked at the stable doorway and slightly in the way of Mason, who was sweeping out the stables again. It was the same job he’d been half heartedly working on yesterday afternoon: Jasper didn’t give up easily, and it was a job that any of them could have done in fifteen minutes without difficulty. The man was half heartedly scooting the broom against the floor here and there as though just holding the broom was exhausting, more often wandering to the doorway and looking around, or watching what other people were doing. Dale went into the barn to get the buckets for filling the water trough, hearing Mason’s voice behind him.

“Hey, those hoes or whatever are in my way,”

“Sorry. Only for a minute, I need something at the back.” Riley called back from inside the shed. Mason gave him a glance, sweeping hay dust out of the doorway.

“Well they’ll need to be gone by the time I get to that bit, ok?”

“Can do.”

Dale filled both buckets and tipped one into the low trough the dogs used, then took the other to start filling the large stable trough. He was re filling the buckets from the tap, which was a splashy job that usually involved wet feet, when he heard Mason’s voice again.

“Hey Riley? I’m supposed to brush this floor in here with some kind of detergent when the dust’s off of it?”

“Yeah, it’s in here on the shelf. You want about three capfuls in a bucket of water.”

“Well if you can set that up for me it would be great? I’m gonna be needing it when I’m done with the sweeping.”

He said it casually, the politely draped kind of order that execs made to secretaries and admin staff all the time. Dale knew it well; he had heard it many times in many offices without ever thinking twice about it, but hearing it addressed to Riley was something quite different, and he found himself turning off the taps and setting the buckets down with a quiet clank on the earth yard. Mason was leaning on his broom again in the doorway of the stables when Dale leaned on the doorpost in front of him, speaking quite gently.

“Mason? Riley isn’t a P.A. and he’s not here to work for you, so please don’t use that tone with him. If you need materials, you can put your broom down and go and get them.”

“Hey,” Mason said sharply, straightening up and standing square which put him a good half head taller than Dale, “Look. Give me a real job worth doing instead of janitor stuff and I’ll-”

“Would you employ an executive who couldn’t do the most basic, menial job in the corporate better than the man already doing it?” Dale waited, watching the man for an answer. “Or one who didn’t have the skill to work out what that man did, what was necessary about it, how to do it properly, and then inspire that man to do it like he could? What basic skills should a good exec have? If an exec can’t do a simple task himself, properly, why should he be trusted with tasks that a corporate’s basing its life on?”

Jasper was watching from the corral. Mason had moved a little, his back was up against the doorway, and he clearly didn’t intend to say anything. A little irritated at his refusal to respond, Dale let it go and went back to carry on filling the buckets. The splashing of water into the buckets seemed a good deal louder than it had before. Dale turned the tap down for a moment, checking the bucket was still intact, then looked up. The yard was very quiet. Several horses were looking over the fence, stock still, ears forward. Mason must have retreated into the stable as there was no sign of him. Riley very softly re stacked the last couple of tools in the shed with his shoulders shaking, and a moment later paused by the tap with a look that said he was trying hard not to laugh.

“Uh, we usually try not to make the C.E.O.s cry?”

“What?” Dale straightened up, a little confused. “I only said-”

“Only? You know Flynn and I pull that kind of thing on clients to see what they’ll do if they think they can figure out who the subordinates are around here?”

“I-” Dale began, and the information sank in. “Oh.”

“Yeah.” Riley gave him a wicked look, eyes still laughing. “But thanks for the Knight in Shining Armour bit all the same.”

Damn. Do you ever pay any attention to what’s going on, Aden?
Dale returned the buckets to their place, uneasily aware that Mason had still not emerged from the stable, but Paul came down into the yard and waved the keys at him before he’d reached a decision about what to do.

“Ready? Let’s get going, it’s a long drive.”

“There’s probably something I need to-” Dale broke off, not sure how to explain it, and Jasper came unhurriedly across from the corral, getting between him and the stable.

“You go and don’t worry about it, Mason will be fine.”

“Why wouldn’t he be?” Paul looked towards the stables where there was still no sign of Mason.

“Dale just scared the pants off him.” Riley said cheerfully, coming back from the tool shed with one of the large shovels. Dale gave him a half annoyed look.

“That wasn’t what I meant to-”

“No,” Riley agreed, putting the shovel blade on the ground and leaning on the handle, “You just did your whole quiet, highly scary leaning forward with the laser eyes bit and explained to him that you didn’t like anything at all about his attitude. Mason wet himself on the spot.”

“He did not.”

Riley laughed, and Paul put his hand through Dale’s arm.

“Come on.”

“Let it go.” Paul said as he turned the jeep out under the big wooden sign and turned onto the road towards Jackson.

It wasn’t an easy instruction to accept as it ought to be accepted; without arguing or resisting it.

“I’m trying. I should have realised.”

“It won’t do Mason any harm.” Paul said calmly, as though it was normal for people to go around the ranch terrifying clients. If anything, his tolerance made it worse; Dale had heard no few clear home truths from Flynn in particular in his first weeks on the ranch, but unless he pushed them, they’d been patient and friendly just like they were being with Mason, and encouraged him to figure out and ask for himself where he was going wrong. No one had ever pinned him up against a doorway and informed him he was an idiot.

Which you probably deserved a lot more than Mason does. Idiot.
“Stop.” Paul put a hand across on his knee and patted firmly. “You’ve got the experience to know exactly what he needs to hear, and the whole idea is that CEOs aren’t any anyone special when they’re here with us. Did you pick up those buttons?”

“Yes.” Dale dug a hand into his pocket to find the several small buttons with the 17 on them, sealed in an envelope. “And the copy of the train robbery article.”


The road was empty ahead of them as it had been almost every one of the few times Dale had been on it. Open, green pasture land was flashing past beyond the fence, the very furthest west part of the ranch. Paul drove, relaxed with one hand on the wheel and one on his lap in a way that reminded Dale of the way Flynn rode. He was a good driver and a calm one.

“Do you have any ideas about the buttons?”

“No?” Dale glanced up at him. “Why?”

“You sometimes do.”

Riley had said something very similar by the river, and the phrase was like a jab in the ribs. Dale stared at his hands in his lap, abruptly hot and cold again with the memory of standing on the bank, trying –

- to do something that hadn’t worked at all, and was probably a stupid thing to have tried to do.

Paul glanced across at him, face very gentle.

“I actually meant that with all the reading and the general knowledge you have you often know all kinds of interesting facts and bits of information. But yes, that too. Riley said you had a try up by the river at seeing what might be there.”

There was still no way to cogently answer that without sounding a complete fool.

“Why is that such an awful thing to say?” Paul said even more gently.

It was very difficult to explain. Paul reached across his lap for his hand. He had very competent hands, Paul. They always touched you as though he knew exactly what he was doing, and his grasp was warm, kind and familiar, and as difficult to resist as his tone. His fingers wrapped around Dale’s and squeezed, firmly.

“Dale, listen to me. I know you, so I’m never going to think badly of you. With us, in your own home, it is perfectly ok to act on or try things out just because you have a feeling about them. I won’t have to see hard facts proved before I can understand.”

For some reason, that went very, very deep.

Paul said nothing more but went on holding his hand and glancing frequently across to him, his thumb rubbing slowly and steadily over Dale’s knuckles. That little touch was shockingly comforting, and until this moment Dale hadn’t realised it was something he wanted comfort about.

“Sometimes,” Dale said eventually, “I do some very stupid things.”That wasn’t exactly what he meant, but it was the only thing he could think of. Paul was making a shattering gesture of trust in him and it was painful.

“Sometimes, so do I.” Paul said candidly. “I’ve never yet met a person who doesn’t. I’m not sure I’d like him if I did.” He paused for a moment and then said more gently and pointedly, “You also know your instincts are good. Professionally and personally. I know they’re good, I’ve seen you act on them at times with some amazing results. So what’s blown your confidence honey? Are you really only going to try it if you can get it right every single time?”

Looked at from that point of view there was an immense- Dale swallowed, and forced himself to stop thinking it and say it out loud, irritated that it was still a deliberate effort sometimes to remember.

“That sounds so childish. As if I can’t get it right I won’t take the risk and do it at all.”

“I’m not sure it’s that black and white, or that petty.” Paul said mildly. “Particularly if you’re someone who doesn’t like unknown quantities and worries about them.”

He squeezed Dale’s hand again and let go, and grimaced as he shifted his weight, digging for the pocket of his jacket.

“Who on earth has shoved what in here now? It’s like a bran tub with nasty surprises whenever you pick a jacket in this house.”

He was struggling to reach whatever it was. Dale reached over to help him, opened the pocket and dug out the items Paul was half sitting on. They all ended up carrying bizarre things in their pockets; it was a hazard of sharing jackets for the work they did; pockets could carry anything from stones removed from a paddock to a piece of wire or a bottle top unsafe to leave where it was found. There was a half open packet of the polos that Riley called lifesavers that they fed the horses as treats, and a couple of items muddled up with a clean handkerchief; a couple of old and rusty little keys on a plain metal key ring, and a small wooden object, like a circular wooden ball with a dowel emerging from it. The wood was worn and faded.

“That’s a door handle.” Dale turned it over in his palm.

“What from?” Paul glanced over at it. Dale checked the dowel at the end.

“Something with a square fitting, probably a cupboard or locker, too small for a full sized door. The keys wouldn’t match any locks we’ve got in the house, they both look like something picked up in the bunkhouse. Or the garage.”

There was a lot of anonymous junk up there, bits belonging to various members of the family, some of it stored there, some of it left over, the flotsam and jetsam of the family’s life.

“Better keep hold of it, if we throw it away it’ll probably turn out to be something vital.” Paul said dryly. “Tell me about the train track you saw at Three Traders? Riley said you were talking about compound engines and what they could pull, you’ve obviously read about them?”

“There was a steam museum near my prep school.” Dale idly twisted the handkerchief around the items. “I think the principle was that you kept kids busy, especially on weekends when they were mostly likely to get homesick. They took us out a lot on weekends, we visited all kinds of things, and the steam museum was a favourite so I spent a lot of time walking around it and reading the notices and materials there.”

There was a slightly unusual smell in the car. Dale glanced out of the window which was still showing miles of open pasture land and increasing amounts of woodland, then looked for any car fresheners , although they didn’t seem the kind of thing Flynn or Paul would bother with in the four by fours. There was nothing in sight.

“What?” Paul said mildly. Dale hesitated, then cautiously raised the handkerchief closer to his face. It actually wasn’t the handkerchief. For some bizarre reason it was the keys.

“The keys smell of lavender. Not scent either, the actual herb.”

“If they’re making you uncomfortable I’ll put them in the glove compartment?” Paul offered. Dale shook his head.

“No – it’s odd but it’s actually quite nice. The only lavender I’ve seen anywhere on the ranch is the pot of it on the porch, and that’s not in flower.”

“I suppose they could smell of worse things.” Paul said optimistically. “Where else did you visit with the school?”

“The natural history museum in London, the dinosaurs generally got a good reaction. Zoos. Hampton Court maze.”

“I can’t imagine you running around a maze.”

“I liked the house better.” Dale admitted. “And the river. This is what the lavender smell is, the keys have got soap on them.”

“Have they?” Paul glanced down at the rusted keys Dale was gently scraping a fingernail over.

“Mmn. Dried on, something very soft like shaving soap. Did anyone ever have a terrier dog at the ranch?”

He had no idea why that came out, but Paul didn’t seem surprised.

“No, that was James and Niall’s dog, I’ve seen photos of it but that was years before my time. It visited when they did but apparently it always had to stay on a leash, it got very over excited about the sheep. The lavender shaving soap was James’ too, he liked it and always used it until they stopped making that brand, which would have been in the late ‘60s. Get him onto the subject of canned shaving foam and he’ll rant for hours. That’s the key to James’s dresser in his room.”

There was a long moment while Dale stared at the keys in his hand, shaken and touched in equal quantities.

“I must have seen the photograph of the dog somewhere.” he said a little thickly. “It’s probably one of the ones in Philip’s room.”

“Very possibly, I don’t remember.” Paul said calmly. “But I haven’t noticed the smell of the soap around those keys, and I can’t see or feel soap on them. That doesn’t mean it isn’t there, maybe I just haven’t noticed.” he added as Dale opened his mouth to protest, “You notice detail a lot more than I do, but those are two very personal things to James that you came straight up with, without any clues from me. Darling, does it really matter how you pick this kind of thing up? Why worry about it? The fact is that when you’re interested and not worrying about it, you just naturally do. When I thought about it,” he added after a minute when Dale didn’t reply, “I’ve been watching you do it ever since I’ve known you. You love to touch photographs. You don’t want to just look at them, you want to hold them. You’ll often run your hand over things when you’re looking at them.”

It was that little smile that did it. Just that small look, something so classically Paul that was loving and concerned, and meant only for him, and which went with these so gently offered items as if this was something normal to be shared between them. Something Paul had thought about for him, and quietly planned for with trust, with understanding. In his own and completely different way, Paul could make you feel as amazingly safe as Flynn and Jasper could, and very loved.

And there in the car, in one rush, Dale found himself almost involuntarily pouring out to Paul everything about Mustang Hill. All of it, including the parts he’d never said aloud before because they were only half formed thoughts and ideas, almost too abstract to translate to words that anyone else could make sense of. The dreams and nightmares that had woken the house up night after night for a few horrible days, the odds and ends of impressions, the wandering through Philip and David’s room and running his hand over their clothes in the closet without understanding why but following an impulse and a feeling of what he had to do. It probably came out jumbled, confused and completely incoherent, but Paul seemed to follow it and to sincerely care about hearing it. He didn’t interrupt, just occasionally asked questions or made sounds of interest or comprehension, and he went on driving through the miles of deep green forest road on the high ground that led to Jackson.


The museum curator remembered them, was clearly having a tedious day with few other visitors to the museum, and was delighted to get out everything he had on the local towns and town newspapers and to look with them for any mention of Three Traders. He took the buttons from Dale with immediate interest, taking one out and holding it up to the light.

“This is unmistakeable. I’ve never known any to be found in Wyoming state before, but I’ve seen plenty of them, this is from a War of Independence British infantryman’s coat. The number of the regiment was always stamped on every button. Give me a few minutes and I’ll look up what I can find about the regiment.”

“You have something in the museum about it?” Paul said, surprised. The man smiled at him, heading for his office.

“No actually, but Google is a wonderful thing.”

It was a deeply peaceful thing to be here in amongst these archives with Paul who enjoyed and respected the relics of information here, and radiated that respect in every part of how he read and touched. If you knew him, it was in his hands and the gentleness in his fingers, the way his eyes warmed and responded to what he was reading, and the bend of his head which Dale saw in him when he read or was writing. It was the first time Dale ever remembered really sharing research with anyone on anything – he had always worked alone, fast, uncomfortably aware that others struggled to keep up with him and too quickly became intimidated - and while he’d found it easy to be fascinated by information on a vast range of topics and loved the fast reeling away and sorting of information, it was different to do this with information that held a powerful emotional bond. Places and a past he really cared about, and in the company of someone he loved and who was visibly having fun. At times it was hard to keep his mind on what he was doing and not to just watch Paul. With white cotton gloves on to protect the delicate pages of the newspapers and documents, Dale gently turned one after another over, skimming them for any mention of Three Traders, and it was a while before Paul made an exclamation and brought a page around the table to show him.

“Look at this. It’s from the Jackson town newspaper about the train robbery at Three Traders, Cheyenne police involved, no mention of what the goods were that were stolen, only that the men involved got clean away, and again it was down to the apparition of the drummer boy stopping the train-”

“Drummer boy?” Dale looked up sharply, a bell ringing at the back of his memory. Paul paused, startled.

“Yes, the drummer boy - known to haunt Dead Man’s Hill at Three Traders, but guess who’s in the picture?”

Dale followed Paul’s gloved finger and picked out the man standing to the side of a small crowd around a steam train, hatless, hair wild, taller than most of the men around him, and with his jacket open.

It was David.


They ate in a diner not far from the museum while they talked through and processed what they had found; a respite from several hours of reading and photocopying and transcribing information that had filled quite a bit of the notepad Paul brought with them that left them both a little stiff and cold from the rather chilly research room. It had been difficult at times to stay focused on just Three Traders, the first hand information the museum owned included some journals, some letters and some odds and ends of papers from various settlements and Dale found himself as fascinated by those as by the specific Three Traders information as it filled in so much colour and comprehension of what life in this area had been like when the town was alive. By the time they left the museum for the second time in mid afternoon they had a cardboard crate of photocopies and a timeline which Dale had added to as they talked while they did the grocery shopping and made the drive home. Paul took the grocery bags into the kitchen and Dale carried the crate of papers through to the family room from the garage, adding it to the neat stacks of papers on the hearth. The raised voices in the yard through the open kitchen door caught his attention and he followed Paul through the kitchen doorway in time to see Mason fling the broom down in front of the stables, shout a mouthful of obscenities at Jasper, and stalk out into the pasture.

“So we’ve got to that bit.” Paul said mildly, hanging his jacket up. “I’m going to put the kettle on. Go and ask Jasper if he wants a cup of tea, love?”

Snickers and Leo were missing from the corral. Jasper, taking little notice of the large man stomping out into the open ground of the pasture beyond the gates, was continuing to creosote the barn, and gave Dale his usual slow smile that lit his dark eyes, and Dale swallowed on an irrational but acutely familiar swell of emotion that had to do with that less than 24 hours ago this man had spanked him so soundly that he could still feel it, and that thinking of it actually led to wanting to be as close to him as possible. It was an irrationality he’d gotten used to around Flynn and Jasper.


“Hello. Did you find anything interesting?”

“What’s wrong with Mason?” Resisting a very unhelpful urge to hug a man with a brushful of creosote, Dale looked a little apprehensively out into the pasture. “Please tell me I didn’t set this off this morning by-”

Accidentally terrifying him; yes. How are you going to word that one, Aden?“No.” Jasper said firmly. “You’re not personally responsible for anything that goes wrong around here. This is about me wanting him to do a chore he doesn’t like, he’s fine. Did you find anything interesting at the museum?”

“A whole crate of it.” Dale returned the smile at Jasper’s rolled eyes and nodded at the creosote. “Do you want a hand? Paul said do you want a drink or something to eat?”

“Tea would be good.” Jasper said calmly, “Thank you, and I’d appreciate the hand.”

Dale passed the message back to Paul and changed into the stained jeans and shirt he kept for the more filthy work around the ranch, particularly painting and creosoting, and collected a second tin of creosote, gloves and a brush from the shed. Jasper had covered the whole of one wall and was working neatly and steadily from the ladder he had leaned against the front of the barn. Dale started work on the lower half of the wall and door below Jasper, breathing the strong smell of the creosote over the usual smell of fresh grass and horses in the yard. It reminded him again, as any practical work did, how much he loved this kind of work; there was a stability and a reality in it that could be found nowhere else. Whenever he worked like this, especially with one of the others, he was often hit with that deep and abiding sense of calm.

It was a warm day, the sun was drying the creosote quickly as he painted it in steady up and down strokes, and beyond the yard the grass was rapidly greening up and recovering in the pastures from the months of snow and rain. the man still stomping about beyond the fence was up to his knees in it. He wasn’t going very far. For the first time Dale really appreciated what an ideal place the ranch was for a client. Miles from the one road – and having arrived by air, Dale had had no idea where the road was for some months when he first came here – and surrounded by miles of open pasture, there were no walls or barriers in sight but a man stood in those pastures had nowhere to go. There was no possibility of walking away from his problems or escaping them. The breeze and open land and distance swallowed up sound, all they heard was an occasional faint and wordless shout from Mason, who appeared to be largely shouting to himself.

Paul brought a couple of mugs of tea out and Jasper climbed down the ladder and put his brush down to take it.


“How long has this been going on?” Paul nodded at Mason, and Jasper swallowed tea.

“Since about ten am, when he really lost interest in sweeping the stables. This is the third walk out. I hear you brought back yet more paper?”

“All of it fascinating stuff, we’ll show you later.” Paul handed the other mug to Dale. “Is there anything you need me to do? I feel like making chili for dinner, I’m going to get that started but I’ve probably got an hour after that?”

“We’re all set, thanks. The other two said they’d be back around five, they were going out to look at the horses when they’d done the other stock.” Jasper took another long draught from his mug, stood it on the ladder, and as Paul headed backwards the kitchen, Jasper walked unhurriedly out into the pasture.

Mason didn’t move away from him, but he didn’t appear to be heading back to work either. Jasper crouched for a while in the grass near him, calmly picking and shredding a stalk between his hands and apparently they had some kind of conversation, but it was about twenty minutes before Jasper straightened up and he and Mason came back to the yard. Mason looked hot and sullen, and he avoided Dale’s eye.

“I’m still done with the sweeping. It’s tedious, I’m no good at tedious. I’m a guy who needs stimulation.”

“I need the stables swept.” Jasper finished the rest of his tea and picked up his brush. “Let me know when you’re done and I’ll come check it.”

“I’d do it better if I weren’t so damn hungry.” Mason said sourly. “Who can work when they’re hungry?”

“Around here, if you don’t work, you don’t eat.” Jasper moved the ladder to the next clear stretch and climbed it, resuming work.

So obviously Mason hadn’t yet earned lunch. And it was now past four pm. Dale discreetly glanced at his watch and went on creosoting.

“This is against the law, you can’t with hold food.” Mason said bitterly, kicking the wall of the barn. It wasn’t a hard kick, it was nearer a sulky bang with one booted foot as he passed it. “I want to be here, right? I know I’ve got some problems, I’m doing my best to try and help myself here. I’m trying to be ‘respectful’ whatever the hell that is and all that jazz, I just need a little understanding, you know what I mean?

Dale recognised the tactic with a sensation like a thump to his stomach. He’d often done the same himself in much more unobtrusive form, and Flynn always dropped on it like a lead weight. It looked like a concession, a hint at what they wanted parcelled up in the language you thought they wanted to hear, and the self interested aim was to buy yourself some time. Make them reduce a little of the pressure they were putting on you, without you actually having to give them an inch. The gaucheness of it was almost insulting. Flynn and Jasper worked with CEOs here, professional salesmen and negotiators; they were attuned to that kind of bullshit when it was done far more professionally, and if Mason expected them to swallow so ham-fisted a gambit he had another think coming.

“I’m not with holding food, Mason, I’m letting you know what you need to do first.” Jasper said without looking round. “You can get finished with the sweeping and go get lunch any time you want.”

Mason rolled his eyes. There was almost an adolescent slump to his shoulders and his arms were folded with his hands on his big biceps. “Look, I did the damn sweeping. I’ve done nothing but damn sweeping and shifting rocks since I first got here. I swept yesterday, I swept again today, so give me something worth doing or let it go.”

“You didn’t sweep the way I showed you and the way I want it swept.” Jasper said calmly. “Keep at it.”

“You’re hard.” Mason protested. “You’re a hard man, you know that?”

“I know I want that stable swept.”

Mason produced another obscenity and walked slowly back to the broom. There was maybe five minutes while he stood there and there were a few huffs and groans that were so blatant and so childish that Dale found himself close to wincing. To be dumped here from a corporate world felt like being dumped on Mars. You had no resources that worked, nothing to fall back on, with all the very worst, least mature parts of you laid bare for everyone to see. Jasper calmly went on creosoting. The broom was picked up, there were a few desultory sweeps. Another pause and another longer huff.

“Look; guess I could do this bit. Just this bit, right? And then I’ll do whatever you want, so long as it’s something different.”

Jasper didn’t react. Mason leaned on the broom and glared at him. There was a few more moments silence, then some steady muttering and huffing and a few sharp sounds that suggested the broom was getting rammed against things. It escalated over several minutes, ending with a crash as the broom was hurled down, and Mason’s voice raised, bellowing loud enough that the horses in the corral lifted their heads to look.

“I’m done, you got that? You can stick your broom, I give up. I’m not doing it, you can go to hell.”

He kicked something else on the way past – still not particularly hard – and Dale saw from the side of his vision that he stalked past them and out into the pasture again.

“Four.” Jasper said mildly, dipping his brush in the creosote.

The standoff was still continuing by late afternoon while Flynn and Riley unsaddled, groomed and turned out their horses, and while they, Dale, and finally Jasper, came in and showered and changed clothes. Flynn went outside and sat on the porch while Jasper showered, and Dale heard Flynn’s reply to some gambit of Mason’s, calm but definitely firm.

“I’m not out here to chat, Mason. I’m just here until Jasper gets back.”

That elicited a lot more heavy sighing, arguing, swearing, and finally walk out number five. Flynn didn’t follow him, and went on sitting on the porch until Jasper came back, a plate of chili and cornbread in hand.

The others were completely unruffled. Dale, sitting eating chili- which had been a new experience since coming to the ranch and definitely a good one – was aware that Paul, Flynn, Riley and Jasper, were all genuinely and cheerfully relaxed as they always were in the evening, unfazed by the large man throwing a tantrum in the pasture. And that was all it was in this house; just someone pitching a fit. Dale, who had many times seen Riley shout with an lot more purpose and energy than Mason was using, and who had seen the others react calmly to his own more undignified outbursts as well as to the frequently challenging behaviour of horses, bullocks and sheep, could understand that this was no cause for concern around here. What he noticed more was that while there was a faint amusement among the others, such as Jasper’s keeping count of the stomp offs, there was something affectionate in it. They weren’t taking it too seriously, but there was no belittling either, even among themselves when they were out of Mason’s earshot. No joking, no laughing about it, and a lot of understanding.

“He’s done this a few times today.” Jasper said from the doorway where he was sitting in a porch chair, eating and watching Mason several hundred yards away in the pasture. “Worked himself up by focusing on the negatives. It’s a steady rumbling rather than an explosion, he’s having trouble getting the emotion to go anywhere.”

“Needs the heavy physical work.” Flynn said cryptically. “Once he’s actually got to the point of accepting taking a job on and finishing it he’ll find it easier.”

“The heavy work is what we find tends to get clients talking.” Paul said to Dale. “Not just the burning off of caffeine and whatever else is messing up their systems, the physical discomfort of it tends to free up emotion. Which sounds mean but it’s effective.”

“It’s normal work we do all the time, we’re not exactly asking them to do something difficult.” Riley added. “Although it’s usually tough on someone who’s used to sitting behind a desk all day.”

“You wouldn’t let me work on anything at all for weeks.” Dale pointed out. Flynn’s eyes glinted at him, a quick and warm smile that didn’t go near his mouth.

“Yes, but what made you really, seriously physically uncomfortable was sitting still and doing nothing. That was what got you to the point of wanting to talk.”

“You came to us with stage four licked.” Paul agreed. “You could have graduated on day one if we’d just been going on final outcomes. It was stage one and two you really struggled on.”

“Which we don’t talk about with the clients.” Dale sat back with the last piece of cornbread in his fingers, which was still warm and quite possibly addictive.

“The stages?” Paul shook his head. “No. That’s information for us, not them. We’re working with people who do protocols for a living, you can imagine the rest.”

“If you’d shown me a protocol, I’d have studied it, aced it and left without ever learning anything.” Dale said honestly. Flynn gave him a steady look over a fork full of chili.

“You wouldn’t, because I wouldn’t have let you. But that’s the reason, yes.”


“You know me well.” Flynn’s leg wound companionably around Dale’s under the table and Dale finished the corn bread, piece by piece with his elbows on the table, still breathing the fragrance from the large pan of left over chili in front of him.

He had seen a lot of the paperwork for the ranch clients and Flynn had offered to talk him through it several times, long before Mason was discussed as a possible client, but it was still difficult to look detachedly at a process he had been part of. He hadn’t realised until he saw the paperwork that the ranch even worked with clients by stages, although looking back he could clearly identify those stages in his own time as a client. Had he known at the time that a linear protocol was involved then he certainly would have focused on internalising and taking control of the process, memorised the desired outcomes, manufactured them, passed the test and moved on, probably with all real learning successfully avoided. Not having access to information, having to rely on someone else to know what he needed to do and when he was ready for more, and having to deal with all the emotion that dredged up in him; hard at the time, that had played a vital part in what the ranch had most changed for him.

Stage one, the stage that Mason was engaged in now, was what Paul referred to as settling in, and the aims were the most simple of any of the four stages; to work through the physical changes involved in what was effectively a simple detox process; to take part in daily hard physical exercise- and at this stage when the client was based at the house with their mentor doing yard work, that was simply the daily hiking around the pastures and paddocks with the usual loads of water, bales, bags, shovelling, sweeping, digging, lifting and toting; to be able to accept the strong boundaries of the simple routine and follow the house rules; to be able to follow instructions and complete simple tasks; to deal with their initial feelings about why they were at the ranch; and to show a want to move on in the process. How long each stage took depended entirely on the client.

“Some clients can do this part in about a week,” Flynn said, helping himself to more corn bread. “That’s the minimum before I’d trust they’d really got to where we needed to be. Others can need three or four weeks. The average is around ten days. Don’t start comparing that to your experience, no two people ever come here in the same circumstances. The ones who do it in a week aren’t doing better than the ones that take a month. I’d rather someone took a month at this stage and really got something out of it than aced it in a few days and learned nothing.”

“And if you move someone on to the next stage and they don’t cope, you go back to this stage?” Dale said, reflecting again on his own experience. “Or at least back to the previous stage.”

“Less responsibility, simpler choices, sometimes they need to go back and get clearer about what they learned. Sometimes we move them on because they looked or sounded like they were ready, but they actually weren’t. Occasionally we use it in the same way as a demotion if it’s deserved. Makes the point that privileges have to be earned.” Flynn glanced again through the doorway to the pasture where Mason was still standing by himself in the middle of miles of open grass. “We’re working with successful, competent and powerful people who are used to being in control and knowing how to get what they want. Sometimes you have to push hard to get the problems to show themselves.”

“Which is the other point of stage one.” Riley commented. “Knocks all the boundaries down.”

The battle over the stables was still going on when the clock in the family room struck nine pm. Jasper was still sitting out on the porch, not doing anything but not obviously paying attention to Mason either, relaxed in one of the porch chairs. They’d heard bits of negotiation, argument and protest from the yard. Dale, involved with Paul in laying out and cross referencing the new museum found materials to the newspapers and the other materials they already had, which covered the hearth and most of the floor, looked up at another particularly emphatic curse from the yard.

“How long will Jasper let this go on?”

“As long as Mason wants to.” Paul said comfortably. “Most of them usually figure out once it gets dark that we mean what we say.”

It was the precedent that Mason was investing in; not the task itself. Dale understood it well. This was about setting the terms of engagement, and any CEO at this kind of level had a lot of experience in establishing his advantage from the start. The difference was that your clients and colleagues never held this kind of control over the most basic and essential of your wants and needs to the extent that they had you cornered. ‘Do this now and my way or you don’t get lunch’ wasn’t too real a threat in most board rooms.

Flynn, who had disappeared upstairs for a few minutes, had reappeared with a piece of paper, and Dale sat back on the floor to see the sheet as Flynn took the armchair near him. The first words on it matched the scrawled ‘16 tons’ in biro on the back of Flynn’s wrist.

“He’s telling us a lot about himself. We’re seeing a lot of bargaining. Negotiating. He’s showing attachment to Jas and he’s trying to wear Jas down into doing things on his terms, but he wants to do it without damaging their relationship, and he’s acknowledging that Jasper’s the one who can say yes or no. There’s a lot of bids for guilt, empathy: ‘You’re hard’. ‘I need understanding’, and a lot of attention seeking; he likes social contact, and he doesn’t like to be away from other people, even if it’s just inside an open doorway with a broom with someone else across the yard. Which I’m guessing is something you don’t have to do much if you’re the boss.”

He looked at Dale who gave him a nod, reflecting on any number of men he had known who had worked like that.

“Especially if you work in a consultative style. I’ve known plenty of C.E.O.s at that level who had an entourage and a ‘life and soul of the party’’ mode of working.”

“That fits Mason, he draws people into him and he’s got a lot of charm.” Paul paper clipped another set of photocopies together and found a spare patch of floor to put them on. “Big man, big presence, big personality.”

“What were you looking for?” Dale nodded towards the paper Flynn was folding, and Flynn turned it to show him.

“The song Mason was singing this morning. I was interested in why he was thinking of that particular one.”

The verses roughly circled in ball point stood out in the print-out of lyrics.

I was born one morning it was drizzling rainfighting and trouble are my middle name
I was raised in a cane-brake by an old mama lioncan't no high-toned woman make me walk no line

If you see me coming, better step asideA lot of men didn't, a lot of men died
One fist of iron, the other of steelIf the right one don't get you, then the left one will

“I can see why he identifies with it.” Flynn said as Dale passed the print out to Paul’s outstretched hand. “Goes with the leather biker persona. Tough image, likes to think of himself as a man’s man. Get out of my way, I’m dangerous.”

“The body language looks adolescent to me if you watch him arguing with Jas.” Dale glanced back to Flynn whose eyebrows rose with interest and Dale saw him nod slowly.

“Teenaged boys tend to be good at acting that role and they’re attracted to it: hard man, undefeatable. Although that song’s got a solid undertone of despair and responsibility.”

Riley came to sit with Paul to take the print out, and Paul would have picked up another wedge of paper but for Riley sliding under his arm and occupying it. Paul sat back against the couch and hugged him.

“What is all this stuff?” Riley asked from under his arm. “What did you find in the museum archives?”

“How long have you got?” Paul leaned over without letting him go to retrieve the notebook. “The buttons you found are from a British Infantry uniform coat – which is why the material was red - from the time of the War of Independence. 17th Regiment of Foot, also known as the Royal Leicestershire Regiment, and they were apparently at the Battle of Princeton, Boston and Nova Scotia. They were never at any time in Wyoming. But that actually means nothing at all because we’re only talking about one coat from the regiment and how that ended up in Three Traders, and it could easily have come with the infantryman’s grandson or descendents or pretty much anybody in a wagon, on a train, through a pawn shop- there must have been plenty of these bits and pieces kicking around the states in the nineteenth century.”

“So what would an infantry jacket have to do with a match seller?” Riley scanned down the pages of the notebook with interest. “The guy was selling matches in a hundred plus year old jacket from the wrong side because he was cold? That’s probably how he died. Lynched from that tree one July 4th.”

“Did you ever hear,” Dale said slowly, “An urban myth I suppose you could call it? About a drummer boy?”

Flynn looked down at him with an eyebrow raised.

“I wondered why you hooked on to that?” Paul said with interest. “No, I never heard anything about it, but we did see in the Jackson paper – this one, Flynn, recognise anyone in that picture? – that the ghost seen at Three Traders was of a drummer boy.”

“It’s a British story that I’ve come across a few times in different contexts.” Dale sat back against Flynn’s armchair as he thought, shifting by habit until he was against Flynn’s leg. “A ghost of a drummer boy, seen at night, drumming silently as he passes by. I know it was a myth as far back as Victorian times, so we’re probably talking the ghost in uniform being from the Regency British Army if not earlier.”

“Which works with the uniform we found?” Riley said hopefully. “That kind of period?”

“Definitely. But the story is that there is no ghost. It was just a strategy used by smugglers to frighten people away from the paths where they were working. There’s at least one story I’ve heard where smugglers supposedly painted a boy in soldiers’ uniform with phosphorus.”

“Oh brilliant.” Riley said with satisfaction. “The jacket.”

“Painted head to foot,” Dale went on, “so as he walked in the dark he’d glow, and he walked with a muffled drum at a distance, such as on castle battlements or up on a cliff, which must have been pretty distracting for anyone in the area. In another story I’ve heard, the boy died of phosphorus poisoning and his ghost was then seen to walk for real. The ghost of a smuggler’s boy painted with phosphorus and acting the part of a drummer boy.”

“And a drummer boy ghost at Three Traders?” Riley said, grinning at him. “Appearing regularly on Dead Man’s Hill in bad weather? Right where the train can be most relied on to struggle or stop? That’s a scam by the train robbers. If the jacket got stashed on our land, then they were probably hiding out on or crossing over our land.”

“It’s possibly worse than that.” Flynn had his eye on Paul and he handed the paper with the picture in it down to Riley. “Look. David’s in that picture, he was there and he knew about this. If this is a British ghost story, he may well have known it. With the jacket being found on our land, I’d like to know just how he was involved?”

“You mean can I see David involved in a train robbery?” Paul said warily.

“Well you knew him best.” Riley lowered the picture to look at him, finger on the image of David. “Could you?”

“Unfortunately?” Paul hesitated, and winced. “....Yes, I probably can.”


Subject: Large Historical Mess

My sympathies regarding the Pink Peril. The client is engaged in battle with Jasper over the stables. It’s now ten minutes to ten pm and Jasper is still sitting on the porch waiting. I have no idea how long this is going to go on for, but no one else appears to be particularly concerned. 

I enclose an attachment of the paperwork needed for tax and to set up book keeping arrangements, and I draw your attention to page 2, paragraphs 4, 5 and 7b codicil 4.

How is the crampon tuition going?

We may have unintentionally caused a problem with the historical research. The buttons are from a 17th Infantry British Regiment coat, the Royal Leicestershires, from the War of Independence. We’ve got various theories for how this got to Three Traders, but the evidence (see enclosed, notes, timeline and the copy of the newspaper articles, Jake may find the picture interesting) suggests that it may have been coated with phosphorus for a man to play ghost in the dark in bad weather to stop the train in order for it to be robbed.

The picture in the newspaper appears to contain David as a local grouped around the robbed train, the jacket is on our land, the coated phosphorus army jacket is an old British smuggler’s trick if you’ve heard the stories. I’d like to find out what the trains through Three Traders heading west would have been carrying. The mine was no longer producing gold by 1928, just coal. I’m supposing that most cargo would have been shop good from the eastern cities going out to the small west towns like Three Traders.


Subject: Cargo

Jake’s immediate response to:

Would David have been involved in a train robbery?

Er, the guy was a pirate.

~ * ~

Copyright Rolf and Ranger 2015


Snarks said...

Sigh. The end. Will you guys still be posting to this site or do you have others as well?
I love the Fab Five of the Falls... will there be more soon? I'd love to see how Jasper deals with
Mason. LOL
I do love your stories. I hope to see more soon.

Ranger said...

You can find chapters through to 14 in the files of the Falls Chance Group, if you don't mind drafts - they're not the final versions, but they're something to read, and we post quite regularly there.

You'd be very welcome!

Snarks said...

Thank you! Barring operator error I'll be there asap. :D Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

Finished reading this far! You write so well and it's a joy to read. Thank you so much for posting these!

Ranger said...

Thank you Northernveil :)

Sally said...

YAY! i didn't realize you had more chapters elsewhere. i'm very excited! in fact, i think this is my 3rd time through reading the series. i've been waiting patiently for new chapters, reading some of the other stories from this site. but this is really my favorite :)

Ranger said...

Come on over and join the group, the more the merrier!

Katlee85 said...

I just ADORE this whole series. I applied to join the group, just waiting for approval.

Ranger said...

Thank you Katlee!

Kerri said...

My friend recommended this series to me and I'm so glad she did! I'm normally skeptical of some books I've read online, finding it hard to get into the characters.

But once I started reading, I was hooked. I started just over a week ago and now have joined your Yahoo group and read the most recent chapters on there I believe (I think I got to 14). I had two long, transatlantic plane journeys in that time and Three Traders and Mustang Hill kept me sane during those times. It's also helped me be more at peace with my own anxiety at times and through reading Dale's troubles, reminded me to breathe. Thank you for letting me lose myself in these!

Ranger said...

Hi Kerri

Thank you! It's great you're enjoying them and we're very touched they've been helpful to you too. Welcome to the group! A lot more chapters yet to come :)

Anonymous said...

This is an amazing series and hope you plan on continuing as I am enjoying Dale's growth and gaining insight into himself.

Ranger said...

Thank you Greg! If you'd like to read more, please come join the yahoo group where you can read the next chapters in draft form. currently up to chapter 15.

kireru said...

I just read through all your stories and I really enjoyed them! Will be joining the yahoo group to read more :)

Ranger said...

Come on over, we'll be glad to see you!

Ranger said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I just wanted to let you know how much I have loved reading these books and they are the first that I reviewed on my LiveJournal account. Thank you so much for writing them.

Ranger said...

Thank you Live-2-Read, and thank you for such a warm review! We're delighted you're enjoying the stories and hope you continue to do so :)

Liz Lilies said...

R & R,

I must say this is probably the best series I've read, truly insightful in lots of history, psychology and the dynamisms of consensual discipline relationships.

Would join the group ASAP. Keep up the good work.

Ashley Patzwald said...

I can't seem to find your group on yahoo, and i really want to join!!!!

Ranger said...

The Falls Chance group can be found at:

Everyone welcome, we're up to chapter 23 in the files there!

Cat said...

I love your writing, your stories, your characters. i am completly immersed in these stories and the development of Dale. I'm going to join the group to keep reading. Thanks, you are an amazing writer.

jen vieira pinto said...

This series is amazing. I am thoroughly enjoying the characters and the ups and downs they go through.

Will you no longer be posting on this site? Are the rest of the chapters only going to be on yahoo?

I would love to see a separate story about Jake and Tom from when they met for the first time and how they got together. I love them both and I'd love to know more about them and see a more in depth look at their relationship.

sabrina145 said...

this is an amazing read and i love the story and your writing style , i really enjoyed reading the series and finished it in less than a week and now i'm submitting my request to join the group on yahoo

AAZ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.