Daws Roberts and his four Guardians killed their bikes. Sneering once at Mike seated there behind the patrol car, Daws said, “Got a call from my brother, Sheriff Baxster. Fortunately, he survived this wreck and managed to get to a farm house over this hill here to call in for help. Since you’re here, and those ambulances are heading back to Crete, it appears his phone call saved the day, so to speak. Cal was even thoughtful enough to call Grady’s tow service. He’ll be along shortly to haul that bus out of Miller’s Pond for you.”
He slipped his kick stand down, climbed off his bike, and added, “Cal claims the Indian was swerving all over the road, Sheriff. Sounds to me like he’d been drinking–”
“Oh, hell, too!” burst from Rain’s lips. “It was Cal who swerved over in front of–”
“Rain?” came from Mike, slightly above a whisper.
“Quiet,” said Doug, reaching down to squeeze Rain’s knee with a vise-like grip. “Close your mouth. Now!”
Rain winched at the strong grip on his right knee, yet managed to offer Mike a look of defiance. “But that just ain’t true,” he com-plained. “It wasn’t Ben’s fault at all. It was–”
Doug released his knee, swung his arm up, and caught Rain with a swift, backhand to the side of his head. “This really isn’t any of our business, Rain. So shut your mouth. Got it?”
His ears still ringing from the sudden blow to his left temple, Rain glared in anger at his brother, then slowly wiped tears from his eyes. “Yeah,” he said, gritting his teeth as he held up his hand glistening with tears to make sure Mike seen them. “Got it.”
Mike sat there on his hog, clearly understanding why Rain displayed his tears. A look of shame passed over his bearded features, and was quickly replaced by a look of red-hot anger. “You and I are having a talk later, Rain,” he said, firmly, a definite threat in his eyes.
Baxster walked over to Doug’s Harley, looking at Rain. “Besides,” he said, “how am I supposed to believe anything you say now about this crash? You lied to me. You claimed you didn’t know who the biker was the bike belonged to. Can’t rely on you now for an eye-witness, can I?”
It was then that Daws and his four scruffy-looking Guardians focused their attention on Ben Long Soldier leaning against the patrol car. “Should be ashamed of yourself, Chief,” Daws said, snorting in disgust. “Not a lot of folks around here take to kindly to a drunken Indian putting their kids at such risk. I assume those ambulances had hurt kids in them, and I’d say you’ve got a lot to answer for.”
Rain badly wanted to speak up in Ben’s defense, but already he was regretting the fact that he had so boldly defied Mike by gesturing at him with his tear-streaked hand. He knew he was in for a couple of punches to his chest or upper arms that would leave painful bruises on him for the next several weeks. He had no doubt that Mike would deal with him later. And so, he kept his mouth shut, while Daws spoke to Baxster, urging him to arrest Ben Long Soldier for driving while intoxicated.
Baxster stood there, looking uncertain. It was obvious, however, that the words spoken so heatedly by Daws were slowly tipping the scales on the matter. Ben peered at the bus in the middle of Miller’s Pond, remaining calm as if Daws wasn’t digging a deep hole to push him into.
Rain had known Ben Long Soldier ever since he’s started school in Crete back in first grade. He knew him as the first friendly Indian he had ever met, for Ben had such a way about him that he put him at ease with his warm smile and his often soft-spoken words.
When the Lakota was not driving the school bus for the Crete district, he worked as a wrangler for local rancher Bud Ellis, who owned a horse ranch just west of the small town of Sprague. The past two summers, Rain and Chris had been hired by Bud, a rough-spoken, rawboned rancher who was gruff as hell and hard as nails. The tall, skinny older man was not a nice guy to work for, but Rain and Chris put up with the cantankerous old coot, mainly because they had the chance to see the magic of Ben Long Soldier in action.
Ben had spent all of his life around horses back on the reservation where he was born. He had learned the secret on how to work with some of the most wild, unruly horses, taught to him by his grand-father, a holy man of the Lakota at Pine Ridge, South Dakota.
Ben Long Soldier was a horse whisperer, and for the herds of wild horses Ben Ellis brought to his ranch, Ben was the “last step” they took before being put down with a bullet to the head, if they reached the point of being unbreakable. His success rate for the three-hundred horses purchased by Ben for the past two years had been phenomenal. And Rain and Chris had been included in the “whisper sessions,” fascinated with Ben’s ability to soothe, correct, and tame each horse who passed through Bud’s corral.
That the Lakota man took the time to share his secrets with the two brothers was considered an honor to them.
To sit there now and listen while Daws Roberts lied and convinced Sheriff Baxster that the bus crash had been due to the fact that Ben had been drinking, was causing Rain much distress.
He looked over at Mike Shade, who sat there coldly staring back at him. He then shifted his gaze to Denny, the only one who some-times foolishly argued with Mike or called shit on his decisions and rulings. Hoping to gain his support, so that he could speak up on behalf of Ben, Rain groaned inwardly when Denny simply shrugged and pointed a finger at the wrecked bus out in the middle of Miller’s Pond, as if saying, “It got there somehow now, didn’t it?”
He finally leaned forward and whispered in Doug’s ear, “It was all Cal’s fault, I swear. Cal even had a bottle on him.”
Doug silenced him with a stern look, and Rain just then realized that Cal had thrown that bottle through the bus window. His stomach churned as he thought of the assumption this would lead to once Baxster examined the bus. Despite his fear that Mike would severely punish him later, words tumbled around inside his head as he worked up the nerve to speak them.
“Time for you, ratty asses to be crawling back to your rat holes,” Daws said, offering the three Outlaws a wicked smile and making a shooing motion with one hand.
“Git along little doggies,” he chuckled, though it came out less than humorous.
Mike and Doug exchanged an unreadable look, but Denny who hated being intimidated, snapped, “Go to hell, Daws!”
Mike warned, “Denny? Button it up!”
“Why?” Denny demanded, trailers of his long black hair sliding over his slender shoulders in the spring breezes wafting off the nearby pasture. “We don’t have to bow to him! We’ve been jumping through his hoops ever since he made his threat to make ‘that one phone call.’ Let’s just quit shitting around and call him on it, Mike!”
“Dennis,” Doug spoke his name, turning his stern gaze on him.
Rain quickly looked from Doug to Dennis and then over at Mike. Something was up here, and he was now more than curious as to what had made Daws think he could show such disrespect to the president of the Outlaws. He also wondered why Denny was so agitated and what made him go boldly where no man had gone before by mouthing off so rudely to Mike Shade.
I’m not the only one who is going to get an ass-kicking later, he thought, watching Denny return Mike’s glare with one of his own.
Daws caused all three of the Outlaws to look over at him as he said, “Better put a muzzle on your mongrel, Shade. One more yap or bark from him and I will . . .”
He mimicked holding a phone up to his ear, and grinned at Mike.
It was then that Grady Granger came barreling down the highway in his tow truck. A second deputy drove up behind Grady in a large white van to haul the rest of the students home in. While Baxster herded the kids past Daws and his Guardians, Grady drove his tow truck to a dirt driveway leading into the pasture. Tall, skinny Grady, dressed in his blue overalls, his shaggy red hair sticking out from under his Dekalb hat in all directions, climbed out and unfastened the barbed wire fence preventing him from driving on into the pasture.
He whistled a tuneless song as he worked the kinks out of the wire, and as he turned back to his truck, he waved at those occupying the roadway near Baxster’s cruiser. Rain found the gesture to be bizarre, because no one was certain who Grady was waving at. Daws and his Guardians simply stared silently at the beaming tow truck driver, while Mike, Doug and Denny exchanged curious glances, wondering if one of them should just get it over with and wave back.
“Just get your ass in there!” snapped Baxster as he noticed Grady grinning like a loon and waving up at the road, “And get that damned bus out of there, Grady!”
“Right, Sheriff,” Grady said, still grinning goofily.
He waved at up at the roadway again, and this time, Rain saw Ben Long Soldier give Grady a silent nod. He was quite surprised at what Grady then said, “Ben, my boy, you shouldn’t drink and drive. Now look what you went and done! Now I gotta fish your ol’ bus out Miller’s Pond, and that is not gonna be no easy job!”
As Grady climbed back in his truck and proceeded down the dirt track leading into the pasture, Mike said, “Let’s go. Your Pops is gonna wanna know about Chris. The sooner we tell him, the better.”
Doug and Mike both kicked over their bikes, but Denny sat there, staring holes in Daws.
“Dennis?” Doug shouted over the roar of his Harley. “Get your damned bike started, or you’re gonna find yourself alone and on your own!”
Snorting in disgust, Denny leaped up high and came down, his right foot landing on the pedal of his kick starter. His bike thundered to life. He shook his head at Daws and continued to sneer at him as he joined Mike and Doug wheeling their bikes around and shooting on down the roadway toward Sprague. Rain glanced back to offer Ben Long Soldier an apologetic look.
I wanted to tell Baxster, he thought, about that bottle that Cal threw, but I didn’t get the chance.
Doug opened his throttle then and took them soaring to keep up with Mike Shade speeding down the highway