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  • Karen Baney

The Resourceful Stockman (Colter Sons Book 4) - Chapters 1 & 2


Chapter 1

Deacon


I’m Deacon Colter, number four out of five Colter sons. In some ways, I’m the spitting image of my papa. I have his same brown hair and his same brown eyes. Same build. It’s like looking into a mirror and seeing myself at sixty. He’s still a pretty handsome fella, especially in Mama’s eyes.

Around my twenty-fourth birthday, I accepted that I’m completely different from my brothers. James is a successful entrepreneur at the railroad. Sam is smart and finally, after six years, has become a skilled rancher, more so than I ever expected. Boone is still wild and crazy, even after the birth of his son. Preston, well, he’s the drifter of the family, and no one knows what he’s up to.

Me? I am the most resourceful of us brothers. My gut instincts have never failed me. When I look at something, I immediately see the details and parts. Like my sister-in-law’s typewriter. When I look at it, I see things that others don’t. A tweak here or there would make it considerably more efficient.

With such skills, it might seem odd that I became a veterinarian. Yet, there are a lot of similarities between figuring out how an animal works versus figuring out how machinery works. There are certain rules and laws of God’s nature that apply to animals. Others miss subtle signs that are clues to the animal’s health, but I see them clearly.

After apprenticing under my mentor, Ray Sawyer, for several years, I became the staff veterinarian for the Prescott Stockyards. I preferred working directly with the animals and limiting my interaction with people. Animals don’t get upset when I needed to stack hay bales perfectly symmetrical. Never offended a cow if I told it one of its eyes was slightly bigger than the other.

Because I notice things that others don’t, I often find myself in awkward situations with people. Things that are out of place compel me to organize them logically. If a woman has a freckle an inch below the corner of her left eye, or if one side of her mouth tilts down more than the other, I notice it. Unfortunately, that trait rubs most people the wrong way.

The only person who knows the full extent of my secret is my best friend, Grady Thatcher. When his parents were murdered six years ago, he came to live with us at Colter Ranch because his older sister, Ellie Mae, married Sam. We became instant friends. As my roommate under my parents’ roof, he quickly noticed my odd behavior. I hid it well from my family, but I never could hide it from Grady. The thing was, it didn’t bother him. He accepted me as I am. He even helped me try to control it.

Since no woman would ever want a man as odd as me, I resolved myself to the life of a bachelor. At least that was my plan until I met the perfectly organized and resplendent Lilian Harper.


Grady


And my name is Grady Thatcher. Like Deacon said, I am not one of the Colter sons. From the day I moved to Colter Ranch, they made me feel like part of the family.

Like Deacon, I am a veterinarian, also mentored by Ray Sawyer after Deacon took the job at the stockyards. My love for animals started on my family’s farm outside of Chino Valley. I grew up around horses, a milk cow, barn cats, and even a dog when I was a little boy.

Even though I learned to laugh again at the ranch, my family’s farm and my parents’ murder were never far from my mind. After six long years, there was still no justice for their deaths. I witnessed the whole thing. The man who shot my mama—it seared his face into my memory. I didn’t let it get me down most days. Still, that man must pay for what he did.

Little did I know, one day I’d meet him face to face, and I’d have to make the toughest decision of my life. Nothing could have prepared me for that.



“I’m fixing this.”
My jaw tightened. Sometimes Deacon was his own worst enemy. She would have received any other word besides “fix” better.

Chapter 2

Prescott, Arizona Territory

January 23, 1893


Deacon


My day started like most Mondays. Grady and I joined my family for breakfast at my brother’s house promptly at seven o’clock. Then we saddled our horses and rode to town. While Grady continued to the veterinary clinic, I veered toward the stockyards on Sergeant, my blood bay gelding.

When I arrived at the stockyards, I stabled Sergeant before I entered my office. I flipped through the paperwork for the newly arrived cattle. One group of thirty head needed inspection.

I donned my lab coat and grabbed my bag. Then I entered the corral, where we isolated new cattle from the other livestock. Because they were Polled Shorthorns, I carefully checked them for any signs of fever ticks.

After an hour, I examined the paperwork more closely. I compared the brands and bill of sales with the brands on the cattle. The paperwork claimed the brand was an I Bar 8. I wasn’t familiar with that brand, so I scrutinized it.

Something looked unusual with the eight. It wasn’t a normal eight that narrows in the center. Instead, the right side appeared smooth, like a nine. And the “I” looked like they branded it over a “T”.

Brand burners.

My stomach tightened. The more I studied the brands, the more I knew the original brand was T Bar 9, a brand that belonged to Jack Thompson. Each animal had slight variations of the smoothness on the right side of the eight. Sometimes, the bottom line of the “I” was not perfectly perpendicular to the center line of the “I”.

I sighed as I headed back to my office to read through the paperwork in more detail. The bill of sale claimed the owner purchased the cattle from a B. Irving. Even though the address was in Yavapai County, I didn’t recognize the name. The initials on the paperwork showed that my coworker, Bart Mason, received the cattle at the stockyard.

Once I set the paperwork aside, I returned to finish the health examination of the cattle. A few hours made no difference in determining who burned the brand.

By two o’clock, I wrapped up my assessment. The cattle were healthy and free from ticks and disease. I signed the appropriate section of the paperwork. Then I took the paper-work to my boss, Derek Gardner.

To prepare myself for the clutter and chaos of his office, I took a deep breath. Disorganization and disorder bothered me. Even though it was not normal to be disturbed by such a scene, the anxiety built inside me, anyway. As I rolled my shoulders in circles, I knocked twice on his door.

“Deacon,” he greeted me as I stepped into his office.

My eyes quickly cataloged the chaos, which made my skin crawl. I shook off the thoughts and handed him the paper-work while I shared my suspicions about the brand.

“It looks like Jack Thompson’s brand underneath and that someone burned over it.”

“Let’s look.”

As he stepped into the hallway, I was relieved to leave his office.

Before I finished showing him the brands, my mentor, Ray Sawyer, entered the corral along with Grady. I brought them up to speed on my discovery.

Grady crouched down to eye level with the brand. He ran his fingers over the smooth side of the eight.

“Feels like more hair overgrowth by the smooth side,” he said.

“Yup,” I said.

“Same with the upper line of the ‘I’.”

“I thought the same.”

“Think you are spot on,” Grady confirmed.

Ray took a quick look and agreed. Though I appreciated their support, Derek believed me without hearing their thoughts.

“Can you report this to the livestock inspection office?” Derek asked.

“Sure thing.”

As I walked back to my office, Ray and Grady followed me. I set my bag in its proper place as I hung my lab coat on the hook on the back of the door. Then I grabbed my jacket and the paperwork before I turned my attention to my guests.

“What brings you by?” I asked.

“Let’s talk while we walk,” Ray suggested.

I held the door open for them and we headed toward the livestock inspection office.

“Ray is leaving Prescott,” Grady said. “He has a proposal for us we should consider.”

I nodded.

“It’s been my pleasure to have mentored both of you over the years. Deacon, you have a keen eye for anything suspicious, like with that brand. That was one of the best brand forgeries I’ve seen yet, but you figured it out immediately.”

“Thank you.”

“And Grady, your skill at detecting early signs of illness, especially in livestock, is superb.”

I stopped for a moment to study Ray. Usually, the compliments flowed right before he asked us to do something unpleasant, like mucking stalls.

Ray laughed. “Don’t worry, what I’m about to suggest is something very good, a unique opportunity I believe you are both perfectly suited for.”

“Go on.”

“I have been appointed the Veterinarian General of the Territory to oversee more changes in the Sanitary and Livestock Commission. Since we are on our way to the livestock inspection office, I know you are already familiar with the work done on behalf of the committee.”

I nodded.

“Well, we are hiring several new full-time livestock inspectors. We need two more here in Yavapai County.”

“And?”

Grady sighed dramatically. “And he wants us to apply for those openings!”

My chest tightened and I clenched my jaw. Patterns and routines comforted and calmed me. I arrived at the office at five ‘til eight every morning. I took lunch at precisely noon. Ellie Mae served supper at six. I wore a blue or a white button-down shirt every day with my denim pants. I thrived in a predictable life. That’s why I lived at the ranch instead of in town. The ranch was familiar and scheduled. The same day after day, year after year.

“It will be great, Deacon. We will travel all over the county. We’ll meet new people and we’ll be active participants in stopping livestock theft.”

Grady’s list of positives caused my throat to constrict. Yet, I understood his motivation. He wanted to help stop rustlers. Rustlers like the ones that murdered his parents.

I sighed as the hair on the back of my neck stood on end. “I don’t know.”

Ray said, “Just go talk to Perry Quinn. He’s the new Super-visor of Livestock Inspection. Listen to his vision. If you don’t like it, then don’t take the job.”

“Please, Deacon, you know what this would mean to me,” Grady implored.

I did. I also knew no one else would watch his back like me. As my mouth went dry, I resolved to battle the demons inside of me in order to support my best friend. He needed that job as much as I needed uniformity.

“Alright. I suppose we can talk to him while I’m there to report the brand violation.”

Grady grinned from ear to ear.


Grady


I expected to go through a much longer list of arguments to convince Deacon to apply for the job. It surprised me he capitulated so quickly. Certainly, he understood the job would be completely unpredictable and devoid of structure. Unlike most people, Deacon required predictability and structure. Without it, he’d struggle inside, where no one could see. I felt humbled that he would sacrifice them for a friend, for me.

As we entered the livestock inspection office, Ray said his farewells to us.

The building was not very large. An open lobby area held four chairs along one wall. Above the chairs was a map of the entire county. On the opposite wall hung drawings of registered brands for cattle, horses, and sheep. Across from the entrance behind a desk, a painting hung on the wall. There were several bookshelves near the desk.

As Deacon set his paperwork on the top of a short bookshelf, I held back a groan. He started removing the sketches of the brands from the wall. It was futile to hope he would leave the brands in the order they hung.

“Deacon, please stop. They may have a reason they hang the brands that way.”

“It makes no sense. A person could not memorize them or spot the subtle differences. There’s a better way.”

The door to an adjoining office opened and a young woman with strawberry blond hair and light blue eyes walked toward the desk. She stopped short when she saw Deacon. As a frown creased her forehead, I wanted to melt into the floorboards.

“What do you think you are doing?” she asked as she propped her hands on her hips.

“I’m fixing this.”

My jaw tightened. Sometimes Deacon was his own worst enemy. She would have received any other word besides “fix” better.

“There is nothing to fix, Mister. I organized them by the date registered.”

“I know.”

Fire burned in her eyes, spurring me to do something before I lost the best opportunity to find my parents’ killers.





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