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A Montana Mystery Featuring Gabriel Du Pré
By Peter Bowen
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1998 Peter Bowen
All rights reserved.
"I thought that Le Doux Springs was on state land," said Du Pré.
Bart had a map spread out on the dining table. He was drinking tea from a glass in a silver holder with a handle like a beer mug.
"Everybody did," said Bart. "But the survey was wrong and the original homestead took in the springs. So they've got it."
Du Pré looked out the window toward the Wolf Mountains.
Long time ago we come down here, hunt the buffalo, camp at Le Doux Springs. Lots of them wild plums there, for the pemmican. Women, they pick the plums while we go hunt them buffalo, drive them into a corral, kill them, butcher them out.
I know twelve songs got Le Doux Springs in them. God damn.
The water came up out of the ground in a meadow, three large pools fifty feet apart, thousands and thousands of gallons a minute. Snows melted long ago up in the Wolfs and flowing underground a long way till they came up.
Beautiful place, big meadow with a lot of water, flowers, thick grass, the creek cut down through the silt left by beaver dams twelve feet thick. Walls of soil and the creek cut through to the yellow clay that got wet and then wouldn't let any water through it.
Clean water, very cold. Lot of watercress. Little brook trout in the weeds, darting out to grab food. Catch dozens in an hour. Fry them up, eat them bones and all.
"So," said Bart, "they own the water and they want to shunt it into some big ponds. Really big ponds. Me, I get to dig those ponds."
"Shit," said Du Pré. "This is not right."
The family that owned the ranch had hung on, even set up to handle a few dudes. But the parents died and the kids didn't want to live there and so the ranch had been sold.
To a Japanese company that was going to raise fish with the cool clear clean water. Pen-raised trout.
"I tried to buy the place when I found out it was for sale," said Bart. "I offered them twice what it's worth. No dice. They aren't raising trout for market there, I can tell you that. What they paid for it they can't make it back doing that."
"OK," said Du Pré. He took out his tobacco pouch and he rolled a smoke. He lit it.
"It's going to be a resort," said Bart. "There's a couple others in the Rockies. They raise giant trout for Japanese fly fishermen to catch and get mounted and ship home."
"In these ponds," said Du Pré.
"Which I am going to dig," said Bart.
"OK," said Du Pré.
It was late March and the wind was raw and the land looked barren and dead.
"The West is gone, Du Pré," said Bart. "It'll be a theme park. This is the only thing in the Wolfs now. You want to see utter destruction, go look at a ski hill. That's the end."
Du Pré nodded.
Long damn way from where we were. Long damn way.
"You drive my Rover tomorrow?" said Bart. "Maybe help me set up?"
Du Pré nodded.
"We go and make a joke out of Le Doux Springs," said Du Pré, "I help you you bet."
"Thing that I don't get," said Bart, "is that there isn't anything else around here. Nothing. No big airport. No town bigger than Cooper. Eastern Montana, a whole lot of nothing. No restaurants, no ski hill, no golf course."
"Yah," said Du Pré, "maybe we build a golf course, out back here."
"You aren't getting it," said Bart. He sighed. He put his glass of tea down.
"Golf course," said Du Pré.
"There isn't any reason for them to be building this resort here," said Bart. "None of it makes any sense. So, I want to know why they are building it anyway."
"I meet you, the bar," said Du Pré. "I maybe have a drink, we talk about your golf course here."
Bootheels on the deck outside. Booger Tom. The old cowboy opened the door and he stepped in, shivering. He was wearing a Hudson's Bay Company blanket coat that had once been cream with black stripes. The coat was patched and no longer cream- colored. A dark and rubbled gray with black stripes.
"Damn wind," said Booger Tom.
Du Pré shrugged.
Next he will say only a stupid son of a bitch will live here, Montana.
"Only a stupid son of a bitch would live here in Montana," said Booger Tom.
"Yes," said Bart and Du Pré.
Booger Tom stomped over to the table and he looked down at the map.
"Le Doux Springs," said Tom. "Heard there was some Nip company gonna dig it up and make trout ponds."
"I am going to dig it up," said Bart, "for the Nip company."
"We could put a golf course out back here," said Booger Tom, "have the caddies all dressed like sheepherders. You know, a little class."
"We were going to the bar," said Bart.
"So was I," said Booger Tom. "I hate to drink alone."
Bart and Du Pré and Tom went out and they got into Bart's Rover. Du Pré's old police cruiser was in Toussaint, getting some belts changed and new tires put on.
"A golf course," said Booger Tom. "We could have a bunch of cutting horses, too."
"Christ," said Bart.
He drove down the road that wound along the bench toward Toussaint.
A bald eagle sat on a deer carcass, so stuffed with meat it couldn't fly. It flapped its wings and tried to take off.
"Downright noble," said Booger Tom. "I like a country has that for the national bird."
The eagle ran a few feet flapping its wings and it fell on its face.
"Makes ya proud to be an American," said Bart. "Really does."
"Golf course," said Booger Tom. "Jesus."
A coyote ran up out of a draw.
Bart slammed on the brakes and Du Pré jumped out, grabbing the rifle clipped to the back of the front seat. He swung the gun up to his shoulder and aimed and fired and the coyote leaped up and fell. It flopped a minute and then it lay still.
Du Pré stepped through the fence and he walked quickly over to the coyote. He stood looking at it a moment and then he poked the open yellow eye with the end of the gun barrel.
"Good shot," said Bart.
Du Pré felt the coyote's belly.
"She just have pups," he said. "They die, too."
Du Pré dragged the carcass up toward the road. The underfur was already slipping and the pelt was worthless.
Shoot you two weeks ago, I keep your hide.
Bart helped Du Pré hang the coyote on the fence.
"This do any good?" said Bart.
Du Pré shrugged. He'd been hanging coyotes on fences all his life.
They got back in the Rover.
"God damn," said Booger Tom, squinting off across the road, "there's another one."
Du Pré scrambled out again. The coyote was three hundred yards away, dodging in and out of patches of sagebrush. Du Pré looked through the telescopic sight awhile. He dropped the gun from his shoulder.
"Lost him," he said.
Bart and Booger Tom and Du Pré stared hard.
A flicker of movement, once, between a sagebrush and a flat yellow-gray rock.
Du Pré put the crosshairs on the rock and he swung them slowly to the right.
The coyote was behind the sagebrush. Du Pré aimed at where the coyote's chest should be and he squeezed the trigger.
He put the crosshairs back on the rock and he swung them to the right again.
Du Pré opened the bolt of the rifle and he handed it to Bart and he crawled through the barbed-wire fence and Bart gave him the gun and Du Pré walked up the sloping hill toward the rock. He racked another shell into the chamber and he checked the safety.
Bart followed, jogging a little to catch up.
Du Pré got to the rock and he went through the sagebrush. Spatters of blood, new and red, on the ground.
Du Pré followed the blood trail.
The coyote lay fifty yards away, on its stomach, head between its paws. The wind ruffled the yellow-brown fur.
Du Pré waited. The coyote didn't move.
He aimed carefully and fired once more. The coyote jumped when the bullet hit and then it stretched out and went limp.
They walked back down to the fenceline and Bart went through and Du Pré handed him the rifle.
"Get him?" said Booger Tom.
"Yah," said Du Pré.
"Don't get two shots like that very much," said Booger Tom.
Du Pré nodded.
No, you don't.CHAPTER 2
Susan Klein looked up briefly from a book when Du Pré and Bart and Booger Tom came in. She finished whatever chapter she was reading, her lips moving, savoring the words. She closed the book and moved off to the kitchen and the grill hissed as the patties of meat landed on it.
She came back out.
"I want a grilled cheese sandwich," said Bart.
"Life," said Susan Klein, "has disappointments."
She drew a beer for Booger Tom and a ginger ale for Bart and she filled a tall glass with ice and poured it half full of bourbon for Du Pré. She topped off the glass with water. She put the drinks in front of them and she went back to the kitchen.
"A golf course," said Booger Tom. "Damn, why didn't I think of it before?"
"Yah," said Du Pré, "the cutting horses can eat that grass short around them holes they knock the balls into."
"Fuck you both," said Bart.
The police scanner above the cash register crackled and Susan Klein came out and listened to the dispatcher's voice and the officers checking in. Nothing much going on.
"You hear about the storm?" said Susan Klein, looking at Du Pré.
Du Pré shrugged.
"Freak storm out of the Arctic," she said. "Be here tonight, maybe three feet of snow. A lot of warm wet air coming up from the south."
"Good," said Bart, "we can't move the equipment tomorrow."
Susan Klein came out of the kitchen with three platters of cheeseburgers and fries. She slid them in front of each man.
"I want a grilled cheese sandwich," said Bart.
"Eat your cheeseburger, you guinea prick," said Susan Klein. "Some news about the snow, eh?"
March. The worst blizzards of the year were in March. Not every year, or very often, but when they came they came hard. Deer and elk died because they were weak from the winter. Cattle were calving and it made new calves prone to pneumonia.
This is the dead time, Du Pré thought, when the animals die and the grass is not up yet and it is getting warmer and there is mud. I don't like March.
"Le Doux Springs," said Booger Tom. "I used to camp there. Get down on them creekbanks and there's lots of buffalo bones. Burned ones. Lots of spear points and scrapers."
Maybe twenty miles from the big buffalo jump, Du Pré thought, good place to camp. Run a few hundred buffalo over the cliff there it stink pretty good a few days. Stink for a long time.
"Du Pré," said Bart, "let's move the stuff now. Right now. It gets muddy it'll be hell moving Popsicle."
Du Pré nodded.
They finished their burgers and drinks and they went out and got in the Rover and headed back to Bart's ranch, up on the benchlands that lapped against the Wolf Mountains.
Bart fired up the big Peterbilt tractor that pulled the lowboy trailer his dragline, Popsicle, sat on. The trailer had twenty tires on it. The dragline weighed thirty tons.
Du Pré started the diesel dump truck that pulled the backhoe on its trailer.
Booger Tom sat on the hood of the Rover, drinking out of a plastic flask and smoking a cigar he'd grabbed on the way out of the bar.
Du Pré left first, driving down to the county road and turning right to head west. The dump truck was new and it drove easily. He got it up to fifty on the gravel road and when he looked back Booger Tom was there and Bart had yet to wallow down and make the turn. The road had a big turnout directly across from Bart's gate so he could swing out onto the road.
Du Pré got his tobacco pouch out and he rolled a smoke and wished that he'd brought his flask, which was in his cruiser back in Toussaint.
He slowed and braked and stopped.
Booger Tom drove up and he handed the plastic flask he had been drinking from out of the window Du Pré had a snort. He looked at Booger Tom.
"Keep it," said the old cowboy, "there's a roadhouse a half hour up. I'll stop. You keep going. We won't get back until midnight anyway."
Booger Tom drove past and Du Pré started the big dump truck up to speed. There were more dials on the dashboard than Du Pré cared to know about.
He drove for ten miles and then turned onto a good two-lane blacktop road which wound around and caught the highway that went northwest of the Wolf Mountains.
Du Pré held it to sixty-five. The backhoe jumped a little too much if he was going any faster.
I am in my damn cruiser I come up this road a hundred and ten, Du Pré thought, this pretty good road.
Du Pré looked off northwest and he saw a black line on the horizon, faint as a crayon streak and far away.
Damn Alberta Clipper.
There was a box of tapes on the seat. Du Pré held up some and he found a Balfa Brothers tape and he jammed it into the deck and listened to the Cajun music.
Du Pré drove. The light was good but it would be dark in a couple of hours.
I hope we got that damn dragline parked the right place before it is dark, Du Pré thought, not much fun to move it in the night, there.
Good fiddling that.
Du Pré hummed along with the music. He had some whiskey.
The roadhouse lights shone up ahead on the right. Just a log saloon with a big parking lot, a place to drink and eat, one gas pump out front and inside a few staples on shelves in a room off the main area.
Du Pré pulled past the roadhouse and he parked the big dump truck out of the way near the fence, so he wouldn't have to turn going out onto the road.
He dropped to the ground from the step on the fender and he walked toward the roadhouse. Bart's Rover was parked out front.
There were half a dozen pickups rowed in front.
Du Pré pushed the solid plank door and he went in.
Some ranch couples sat at the bar drinking and a couple of cowboys were shooting pool. Booger Tom was down at the end of the bar, a new bottle of whisky sitting in front of him. He had a drink, one with ice.
Du Pré ordered a double ditch from the young woman behind the bar and he rolled a cigarette and lit it.
"Figure half an hour 'fore he catches up," said Booger Tom. "That rig is a bastard on the gravel."
The jukebox was set low and a country tune wailed.
They finished their drinks and went out and Du Pré pulled out on the highway and looked in the rearview mirror and there was Bart, the yellow running lights on top of the cab of the Peterbilt winked a couple of times.
Du Pré got up to sixty-five and held it there, and the Rover shot past, waddling a little. Booger Tom did not like or understand power steering and Du Pré grinned.
Air pretty blue in that Rover, there.
He turned off east on the road to Le Doux Springs. The road was badly potholed and one spot had water standing over the road. Du Pré inched through it, but the roadbed was sound underneath. He drove on and when he got to the gate that led up to the springs he stopped and waited until he could see Bart turn off the highway five miles away.
The ranch road was even worse, the new owners hadn't done any work on it and the old ones probably couldn't afford to.
Du Pré topped a hill and he looked down and saw the little valley that ran back to the mountain and the buildings. They were empty and deserted, not a soul in the house or bunkhouse or barns or sheds. The windmill's vane was broken and the wheel jigged from side to side.
Booger Tom had opened the gate that crossed the road that led up to the springs a half mile away. Du Pré pulled through and he got down, leaving the big diesel running.
"Damn shame," said Booger Tom, "they sold the damn stock, too. Not a fresh cow turd, or a horse apple. Wonder how long the place has sat empty?"
Du Pré shook his head.
They smoked and waited and then Bart's huge tractor-trailer ground up over the hill and moved down toward the ranch.
Bart drove through the gate and up into the pasture and he pulled the huge tractor- trailer around in a wide circle and parked it. The dragline could crawl the last two hundred yards on its steel tracks.
The light was failing.
Du Pré pulled the dump truck and backhoe far out of the way and he shut off the engine and locked the cab up and walked back to the Rover, which Booger Tom had driven up close.
They went back past the deserted ranch. The original cabin was in the backyard of the main house.
"Homesteaded in eighteen eighty-one," said Bart.
Du Pré looked at the ranch house.
Children once play there, he thought.
In the little corral, there must have been ponies.
Excerpted from Thunder Horse by Peter Bowen. Copyright © 1998 Peter Bowen. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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