Here are the first pages of my new book. It's the title I'm struggling with...
The Water Lawyer
The Road Lawyer
Lawyer Up, Cowboy Down
The Raindance Lawyer
Sun Down Lawyer
Red Lawyer 101
The Water Lawyer
The Road Lawyer
Lawyer Up, Cowboy Down
The Raindance Lawyer
Sun Down Lawyer
Red Lawyer 101
He had never seen the man standing on his cabin porch before. Of that he was certain. Tom Palmer was older than most men but he still had good eyes and a sharp mind. He didn’t recognize the man’s car either. Looked like a rental. The stranger was one of the biggest and fittest men Tom had ever seen. Just as noticeable was the man’s short-cropped bush of bright orange and red hair, cold steel eyes and thick bulging cheeks that gave him the stiff appearance of an enormous shop window mannequin.
“You say you saw a shotgun of mine for sale? Posted down at the bait shop?” Tom Palmer asked.
“That’s what brought me up here,” said the calm stranger. His eyes seemed to be poking around the property, looking for other things besides a rifle.
“I’d remember if I wanted to sell a gun of mine,” Tom said, scratching the week-old gray stubble on his chin.
“Maybe your son then?”
“He doesn’t sell anything of mine without my say-so. That’s how it’s always been.”
“I’ll be darned,” said the big man lightly, “I must have been mistaken then.”
Tom Palmer’s eyes squinted at him. “Seems a fact.”
The man turned as if to leave then wheeled around on his heels. “You even own one?” he said. “A rifle?”
“Of course I got me a rifle,” Tom Palmer said irritably. “You don’t live in these mountains without one. I got backyard bears and mountain lions. They sure as hell ain’t pets.”
“Logical.” The big redhead’s eyes roamed the property again. “Good spread you got. Nice and private, tucked away in these woods. No clutter about. Man and nature, nature and man. Looks like you got a nice and tidy simple life, Tom Palmer.”
“I do. A man my age has to keep things simple.”
“But you’re willing to piss it away,” the big man said meanly.
“You heard me, Tom.”
Tom Palmer was perturbed now. “Mister, I don’t much appreciate your tone. You got a hiccup in you I don’t understand. I suggest you leave.”
“I’ll be going soon enough,” the big man said patiently. “You get lonely? Being out here all by yourself?”
“I get visitors from time to time. Folks I know that know me.”
“But not today.” The big man seemed to smile. “I know all about you, Tom Palmer.”
“That a fact?”
“It is. You started on the Kansas flats. Joined the Army when you were still a kid. You did your basic training here in Colorado. Came back from Korea, dug roots and stayed in these mountains. I know you, Tom Palmer. You raised and sold horses and cows. You grew alfalfa and hay. You even raised a proud brood of new Palmers. Everybody in this county knows you and you know everybody. Am I correct?”
“You did too much research for a man saying he just wants to buy a rifle. You got other business, I suspect. You a damned realtor?”
“No,” the big man smile malignantly. “You might wish I was.”
“And why’s that?”
The man ignored the question. “Seen your river coming in. What’s it called?”
“The Frying Pan,” Tom said.
“And you fish it.”
The big man poked his head inside the cabin and stared at a work table. “Looks like you make your own dry flies.”
“Rainbow? Steelhead? Brown?”
“A fly for every fish the river provides.”
“I don’t like fish,” said the big man, He pinched his nose with a pair of thick fingers and grinned. “They smell funny.”
Tom didn’t answer. He watched the man taking in the rest of the cabin, saw his eyebrows rise at the sight of the shotgun hanging above the fireplace.
“That’s a good rifle you got up there, Tom. Nice and shiny.”
The man stooped under the six foot door, crossed the threshold of the cabin and stepped inside.
“Now you hold up...” Tom said, following the stranger inside. “I didn’t invite you in my home.”
The big man moved like a sulking panther to the fireplace mantel. He lifted the rifle from the wall. “I’ll bet this bad boy is loaded. Am I correct?”
“A bear don’t wait for you to grab your box of shells.” Tom felt his left knee twitching, a sure sign that he had real trouble in front of him.
“Oh yes, the ranching life...” the redheaded man grunted as he held the shotgun out, examining the bluish barrel. “Would you say you lived a full and prosperous life, Tom?”
“Been long enough.”
“That it was, Tom. And you were a man who never laid down, a hero to the people, the rancher with the heart of gold and silver.”
“I got my convictions.”
“Con-vict-ions,” said the big man. He twirled the heavy rifle around, both hands on the thick barrel now. “Too bad about your Con-vict-ions, because that’s what killed you, Tom.”
“What in the hell are you talkin’...”
The big man swung the rifle like a baseball bat into the skull of Tom Palmer. It sounded like an axe slicing through soft wood into a hard cutting block. The old man collapsed in a heap to the floor. It was a simple, quick death. An easy kill.
The redheaded killer stepped outside the cabin, patiently listening to the small sounds of nature buzzing and chirping in the forest. As he had planned, the old man’s death went unnoticed. He stepped back in the cabin and effortlessly picked up Tom Palmer’s limp body.
“Good old Tom. How he loved to fish.”
Matt Wolfe leaned into the bucking chute and slapped the flat braided rope. “This is a big piece of beef,” he grinned. “You got eight seconds in you?”
Cal Rutherford spit a wad of chew on the big bull’s head. “On a bull named Sunflower? Just open the gate and watch me fly!”
“Sunflower isn’t your typical flower,” grinned Matt. “He’s never been rid.”
Cal Rutherford winked at Matt. “I rode Glenda for an hour last night. This bull ain’t any big deal.”
Cal raised his right arm in the air and nodded he was ready. A bullfighter dressed as a rodeo clown yanked on a rope and the gate flung open wide. Sunflower shot out of the chute like a demon. The bull took five strides with twitching turning angry muscles before poor Cal was tossed into the dirt like a rag doll. Rodeo clowns ran in and rescued him. After the bull was secured and chased out of the arena, Cal picked up his hat, dusted himself off and dragged himself out of the arena.
“Three seconds,” howled Matt Wolfe from his seat on a top rail.
Cal smiled up at him. “Kiss my cowboy ass, Rabbit. I fell off intentional. What you doin’ here anyways? Ain’t you supposed to be up in Wyoming at that fancy law school of yours?”
“Finished it up, just took my bars.”
“Shoot,” smiled Cal. “Now what you gonna do? Personal injury lawsuits? You gonna sue stock contractors for makin’ mean bulls?”
“Wasn’t that kind of law I studied.”
Cal climbed the fence, joining Matt on the rail. They were small, compact young men, powerfully built for bull riding. Both wore Resistol hats, Justin boots and Wrangler jeans with silver cowboy belt buckles around their waists.
“DUI’s then? For all your Indian friends? You’ll make a fortune, being a half breed and all.”
“No, that won’t get it.”
Cal spit in the dirt. “Well, it’s a fact your bull riding days are over. How’s the back?”
“They put rebar up you?”
“Titanium. I’m worth a million dollars now.”
Cal slapped Matt on the back, nearly knocking him off the rail. “Well, you was one tough son of a bitch when you competed. Keep your buckles shined. You earned ‘em.”
They watched as another angry bull blasted from the gate, kicking and spinning. It tossed off its rider like a pesky fly.
“Five seconds,” Cal announced. “Jimmy Jack’s out of the money like me. He drew Dandy Dan. They don’t make ‘em any meaner.”
Matt nudged Cal in the side. “Except your gal Glenda.”
Cal leaned his hat back on his head. “I’m tamin’ the savage out of her, one day at a time. Is Colby here?”
“She’s running barrels.”
“Now, if you ever wanna switch, Matt, you just let me know. If anybody can tame Colby Palmer it would be me.”
Matt laughed. “That’ll be the day. Colby and me? We have what’s called an extraordinary alliance.”
“Shoot, listen to you, sounding like a lawyer already. You’ll do good with it, Matt. You always had a taste for the big talk.”
“Much obliged, Cal.” Matt drew his legs over the backside of the rail and dropped to the ground. “I best check on her.”
“You best. Remember to keep that injun temperature down.”
“That’s a myth, Cal. Everything about Indians is a myth. Don’t you know that by now?”
Cal laughed, slapping his chaps. “See you after the show for a few cold ones.”
Matt left the small arena and walked to the grassy paddock, admiring the tall mountains all around. Trucks and trailers were parked eschew in all directions. He liked Colorado - most of it, anyway. He loved his rodeos just as much. The cowboy life had been good to him, gave him a college scholarship and helped pay for his law degree. He pulled off his black cowboy hat and fanned his thick black hair. It was a hot, dry day. Typical for mid-summer.
He noticed a man leaning against a shiny Toyota Tundra, sipping on bottled water. Even at a distance, Matt could tell the fellow didn’t fit in. He was wearing Levis, not Wranglers. His cowboy hat was Australian, a Snowy River. His shirt was a white Polo, offset by a thin black bolo tie. Matt guessed him to be a big city corporate type from Vail or Aspen, playing cowboy for the afternoon while his trophy wife attended a yoga seminar at one of the nearby resorts. He looked to be in his late forties. The man nodded at Matt as he strolled by, acting familiar. Matt gave the city slicker a nod back.
Colby Palmer was kicking a bale of hay off the back of her beat-up Ford pickup ahead. She looked fine in her tight-fitting jeans and yoked shirt, a tussle of blonde hair spilling out from under her sweat-brimmed straw hat.
“How goes it?” Colby asked him.
“Cal Rutherford took a header. Looks like the bulls won the day. You need a hand?”
“I got it,” Colby said, jumping off the tailgate to the dirt.
She grabbed the bale by its nylon binds and lifted it, leveraging its weight with a solid, strong thigh as she carried it over to her horse. Colby pulled a small flip knife from her pocket and cut loose the strings binding the hay.
“Phil Farrell stopped by. He trimmed Granny’s hooves for me. Phil thinks she should run barefoot for a few months. You know how farriers are. He thinks he’s a regular vet.”
“Phil’s always been square by me.”
Colby broke off a chunk of hay and rubbed it at her horse’s muzzle. Granny opened her long mouth and grabbed onto the hay for a long chew.
“You take your draw yet?” Matt asked.
“I’m dead last.”
Matt tried to sound reassuring. “Well, let’s hope they rake the course before your ride.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Colby said, rubbing her horse’s ear. “Granny’s ready to run, whatever the footing.” She handed her horse another tuft of hay, noticing the city slicker walking towards them. “Looks like we have company.”
Matt turned and saw the weekend cowboy.
“Such a beautiful animal!” the man said to Colby. “Mind if I pet your horse?”
“Go ahead,” Colby said. “She gets a little jumpy, though.”
“What’s her name?”
“Like the apple! I love apples! Hello, Granny. My name is Robert.”
The man reached for the horse’s face with an open hand and Granny reared back.
“She doesn’t take to strangers,” Colby said. “Reach your hand out, with the palm up, let her smell you first, see if you likes you.”
“Uh-oh,” the man laughed as he followed her instructions. “This won’t be good. I’m a lawyer.”
“And you don’t pet a horse,” Colby said. “You pat it, then scratch it.”
The man followed her instructions, stroking Granny’s neck. “I think she likes me.” He glanced at Matt. “I know you. University of Wyoming Men’s Rodeo Team. Am I correct?”
“You’re Matt Wolfe.”
Matt gave Colby a surprised look. “That’s me.”
“And you just graduated. Law school, am I right?”
Matt gave Colby a second look. “That’s right.”
“You had quite a bull riding career! At last year’s College National Finals Rodeo you set a new record.”
“It won’t last,” Matt said modestly.
“My employer is most interested in meeting you, Mr. Wolfe. In fact, that’s why I’m here. I’m Robert Durnell. You’ve heard of my firm? Wallace, Haskell and Edwards?”
“Sure. Big deal out of Denver.”
“The biggest deal in the state.”
“Why are you interested in me? I don’t even know if I passed the Colorado bar yet.”
“Don’t be modest, Matt. You had a 4.0 average. You received the Order of the Coif. Your Latin honors with your Juris Doctor were Summa cum laude. What am I missing?”
“What’s missing,” Matt said, “is why you’re talking to me.”
“I’m just a messenger,” Durnell said. “Mr. Wallace wishes to meet you personally.”
“Mr. Wallace? As in Jerry Wallace?”
“The rootin’ tootin’ pistol shootin’ high falutin’ lone ranger lawyer of the west?” Colby said in a sing song manner.
“How did you know that?” Matt asked.
“I read about him in People magazine. I figured since you’re going to be a lawyer, I’d better familiarize myself.”
“I figure you for an eastern lawyer,” Matt said. “It’s the get-up.”
“Guilty as charged,” smiled Durnell. “I’m a Yale man. Grew up in New York.”
“What brought you west?”
“Money. Do you like money, Mr. Wolfe?”
“Not sure yet. I never had any.”
Durnell smiled. “Did you know Mr. Wallace was a Wyoming graduate?”
“Sure. His name is on half the buildings.”
“Endowments, Mr. Wolfe. Mr. Wallace is a philanthropist.”
A pair of cowgirls passed by, leading their horses. “We have the ring,” one of them called to Colby.
A curiosity struck Matt. He asked Durnell, “What made you look for me here? I don’t ride anymore.”
“A good lawyer is like a good detective,” Durnell said. “My assistant made some calls to the school. They said you had a girlfriend that does barrel racing.” He smiled at Colby. “You’re Colby Palmer, I take it?”
“She better be or I’m in a whole lot of trouble,” Matt laughed.
Durnell smiled again. “After the rodeo, Mr. Wolfe? Dinner with Mr. Wallace?”
“Maybe,” Matt said.
Durnell gave Granny Smith a few light slaps on her withers before sauntering away to watch the next event.
“That was weird,” Matt said to Colby.
“Not really,” Colby said. She tossed a saddle pad on Granny’s back. “After all, you are best in class.”
She turned to pick up her racing saddle. Matt pressed her against Granny, locking her in with his arms extended. He nudged his face forward, fighting for a kiss.
“Best in class, huh?”
Colby found a little room between them and put a finger over his lips. “Easy, cowboy. Keep your pistol in your pocket. I have to ride.”
Matt released her and stepped in front of Granny Smith. “Does she know I love her?” he asked the horse.
Colby shook her head as she tossed a lightweight saddle on the mare. “Granny knows,” she said softly. She dropped the stirrups on either side of Granny and cinched her up. “Hand me that bit?” Colby asked.
Matt handed her a long shanked bit and stepped back to admire horse and rider as they prepared. Colby slipped the bit in Granny’s mouth and ran the reins back, looping them over the saddle horn. Granny Smith stood patiently, her breathing more pronounced. She was as eager to race as Colby, and like Colby, she had the confidence to win.
Colby could have been a rodeo queen when she was younger - Miss Rodeo America or Miss Rodeo USA, but after her share of Little Britches events, she avoided the spotlight, opting for a college degree in large animal veterinary medicine. Like Matt, she was best in class.
Matt climbed to the top bleacher of the small arena for a better view of the race. He could see Colby on the far side, lining up with the competition in the alley behind the starting gate. Matt knew most of the barrel racers on a first name basis. Some of the racers came from as far as Gillette and Sheridan, Wyoming. He recognized a few from Lamar and nearby Carbondale.
Barrel racing was an expensive sport. Granny Smith cost Colby well over fifty thousand dollars. She was a good investment. Granny was well-bred, intelligent, athletic and driven, just like her owner.
By the time Colby and Granny Smith took the starting gate, the time to beat was established: eleven seconds.
Colby led Granny to the red line, waited for her signal, broke the electronic eye at the starting gate and raced towards the first barrel, hugging it as she circled. After the turn, Granny Smith dug her hooves in, lowered her head and sped towards the second barrel. Horse and rider executed another perfect turn and raced to the third barrel. After the final barrel turn on the cloverleaf, Colby nudged Granny with her knees and they headed for home across the finish line, setting the day’s record for the event - 9.5 seconds.
Colby was in the money - fifty dollars – less than it cost to drive to the small town of Eagle, Colorado.
Matt stood up and stretched his legs. He noticed Durnell below. The big city attorney was proudly clapping for Colby. Matt would sure miss his rodeos, the people, the animals, and the camaraderie.
What the hell was I thinking wanting to be a lawyer? Matt asked himself. He knew the answer that was tucked away with his pride. Neither white nor Indian.
He could have been a small time rancher like his father, but Matt Wolfe needed to test himself against a bigger universe – the real world of men who carved out their own destinies and found their true character. Not an easy task for a half-breed who grew up on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation outside the small town of Ignacio, Colorado.
Matt Wolfe was half white, half Indian, trying to keep his feet on a ground that straddled two realities. That was why he chose a school in Wyoming, far from the prying eyes and bitter doubters that promised him he would never make a life for himself beyond the historical status quo assigned to him back home on the reservation.
Neither white nor Indian.
Matthew Wolfe thought his bucking days were over but he was wrong. They were just getting started.