The shadows were growing long, and Abe Willers was tired and even grumpier than when they’d started out.
“Say, boy, how much farther we got?”
Pete bristled but shook it off. He slowed his horse and fell in beside the fat businessman. Pete had seen the likes of Willers before.
“Well, sir,” Pete said, “once we clear that ridge there, it’s another half hour down to Snake Root Ranch. Should be there in an hour, maybe a little more.”
The older man huffed. “Well, this man Jackson didn’t tell me it was so far out here in the telegram he sent. My back can’t take this kind of jostling for this many hours on end. It’s inhumane!”
“It’s a rough ride, sir,” Pete said, even though he considered a pretty smooth trip. He hoped for Willers’ sake the easterner knew how to delegate and didn’t plan to run the ranch himself. He wouldn’t last a week.
“Say, boy,” Willers began again. “You know much about the fellas who run Snake Boot? I been looking at old man Franklin’s books — such as they are — and that payroll of his seems a might bloated to me.”
“Yeah … for instance, what do you know about Jackson? Looks like he hasn’t been there long, and seems like Carson been on the ranch forever. Do we really need two ranch hands?”
Pete frowned. Snake Boot was the leanest ranch in that half of the state, and that’s one of the reasons it was so profitable. And why a tight-fist like Willers would have been interested in the first place. The fat man was trouble, and he was like as not to run the place into the ground.
He also seemed to have a faulty memory.
“It’s a big ranch, sir,” Pete answered. “Two men ain’t much.”
Willers thought for awhile. “Well, I reckon we can get by with one motivated man. Carson’s not likely to find much work at his age, so seems to me we can cut his salary in half. And Jackson … well, young men are ambitious, always looking for more. He’ll have to go.”
Pete squinted, keeping his gaze on the horizon. “You’re going to regret that decision, sir, if you stick with it.”
Willers guffawed. “Is that so?! Now, why don’t you enlighten me about how some boy sent to lead me to my new ranch knows anything about my business, son. I’m all ears!” He roared with laughter.
Pete kept his eyes straight forward and spoke in an even voice.
“Well, we got a ways to go yet, and the way I see it, you ain’t taken much note of how we got here. With all due respect, I doubt you could get back to the train station alone before the wolves got you.”
Willers stopped giggling and rode in silence for a few moments. “What’s your point, son?” The businessman’s voice was more serious now.
“Well, my point is … you didn’t seem to take heed of my introduction back at the station.”
Pete pulled to a stop, and Willers’ horse pulled alongside.
The younger man turned to the older.
“So, allow me to reintroduce myself.” Pete extended a hand. “Name’s Pete Jackson.”
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