dontravis.com blog post #369
|Courtesy of publicdomaininvectors.org|
Last week, Forrest De la Roche decided he wanted Austin Andino, and he’s accustomed to getting what he wants. But the power was on the other side this time. Austin is his rescuer. So what does De la Roche do? He puts his mind to work on the problem. As we pick up the story, they’re in Austin’s cabin with the storm still raging outside.
Austin was in the small kitchen tossing steaks into a pan when De la Roche returned to the common room. “Hungry?”
“Famished. I had breakfast in Farmington, but didn’t take the time for lunch.”
“Hope you like beef.” Austin threw him a smile. “It’s sort of required around here.”
“Sounds great. Can I help? I toss a mean salad.”
“Have at it. Dig out what you need from the fridge.”
Preparation of the meal was passed in comfortable silence. De la Roche initiated conversation as they ate.
“You live here year-round?” he asked. Knowledge was power.
“I ship my cattle down and sell them in late October or early November. Have a little place outside of Albuquerque where I stay until the following spring when I buy some more stock and haul them up. Open up the cabin and live here the rest of the year.”
“Sort of a solitary life, isn’t it?”
The handsome man smiled. “Yeah, but I like it. I go overboard socializing during the winter and early spring, so I’m ready for a little solitude by the time I get back up here.”
“Any family?” the businessman inquired.
“Older sister and her family keep up the house in town while I’m gone. Other than that, just a couple of aunts and uncles. You?”
The bittersweet reminder of Elaine Madison De la Roche took him off for a moment. Beautiful, poised Elaine. They’d been married for twenty years when she caught him with their Filipino houseboy and used that to squeeze an additional twenty-five million dollars out of him during the divorce. Belatedly, he answered Austin’s question.
“An ex-wife, a really cool daughter who’s getting married for the second time next month, and two grandchildren.”
“Thought a gorgeous wife was required for a man in your position.”
He speared a piece of rare steak. “I’ve spent most of my life confounding the conventions. Maybe someday, but I’m not interested in complicating my life with a woman right at the moment. Why aren’t you married?” he shot back.
“Almost was,” Austin answered with a slight frown. “Got real serious with a girl my senior year at New Mexico State. She was a rancher’s daughter, so she knew what she’d be getting into. Went at it hot and heavy for awhile, but when we graduated, we sorta lost interest. I started riding for an outfit up north, and you can’t raise a family on a cowpoke’s wages. I bought a few head and ran them on a permit while I was cowboying for the Rocking Z, but it was slow going. While she was waiting around, somebody else came along. Never got serious over another one after that.”
“That’s surprising,” he opened his gambit.
“How come?” Austin asked.
“Guy who looks like you, built like you oughta have women hanging all over him.”
The young man grinned. “I didn’t say there weren’t any women. Just said there wasn’t a wife.” Once again, Austin turned it back on him. “Nobody in the wings for you?”
“Plenty of prospects. Lots of them willing and anxious to be Mrs. ConstructCo International, but I’m not so sure they’d be marrying me.”
Austin grinned again. “That’s not a problem for me. The Circle-A brand doesn’t attract a lot of fortune-hunters.”
“You’re something of a mystery to me,” De la Roche said slowly. “And I usually figure out people pretty quickly.”
“Let me tell you what I see. I see a young man hiding out up in the mountains caretaking a few head of cattle. Now this man is educated, physically healthy, well-built, and handsome as all get out. He has the strength and vigor to do about anything he wants. He owns a hundred acres in the middle of beautiful mountains not far off a major road. Right so far?”
Austin colored slightly. “Don’t know about the handsome part, but reasonably accurate. So what’s the mystery?”
“Where’s the ambition? Develop this property, sell it, and get something bigger. If ranching is your thing, this ought to be a down payment on a pretty good spread.”
Austin took his time answering. “If I ever sold this place it would be to somebody like me or to the Forest Service so that it would never be developed.”
“Ah, a Green,” De la Roche interrupted.
The young man thought it over. “Yeah, I guess. I love the mountains, Mr. De la Roche—”
“I wanted something I could do that would keep me in the mountains, so I started running cattle. They only allow a limited number of domestic animals in the Forest, so I ran on my own place until I could get limited grazing rights. I’m ambitious, Mr…uh, Forrest. But my ambitions lie in a certain direction. I’ll grow, but I’ll grow at the pace these mountains will let me. Does that make sense?”
“Perfect sense,” he replied. “Austin, I know squat about cattle ranching, but there are always ways to do things more efficiently. Describe your routine to me.”
For the next thirty minutes, De la Roche listened carefully as the young cowpoke laid out his operation.
“So the key to immediately increasing your herd is to get more production out of the hundred acres,” he said slowly.
“Not possible without overgrazing. I’m careful about that. In the long run you come out ahead by grazing light and allowing the land to sustain itself.”
“I can see that, but I recently read an article about something called ‘small-unit grazing.’ If I recall correctly, it consists of small pastures and rotating the cattle often. Is fencing expensive?”
“Not the way I do it,” the young man said thoughtfully. “I string it myself. I might be able to run a few more head, but that would be all.”
“A few more head? Ten percent more? Twenty?”
“Ten or fifteen.”
“Ten percent a year represents quite a gain in most businesses. I’d kill for a ten percent increase in some of my divisions.”
“I’ll think about it,” the young cowman agreed. “Right now, the whole hundred acres is under one fence. It would cut up into about four natural pastures, I think. It would mean handling the cattle more often, but maybe it’s worth a try.”
“Good!” De la Roche said, confident that their relationship had changed subtly. “Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to turn in and get some rest. It’s been sort of a hard day.”
“It’s my bedtime anyway,” Austin answered, rising from the table. “I get up early. I’ll try not to disturb you.”
“I’d like to go with you on your rounds tomorrow,” De la Roche said quickly. “There’s another bag I need to get from the Volvo. And frankly, I’m curious over what makes up a cowman’s day.”
“Work,” the young man responded immediately. “But I’ll make sure you’re up. The company will be welcome.”
As De la Roche turned back the covers in his tiny bedroom, the rain, which had hadn’t realized had stopped, began again. Still semi-aroused, De la Roche went to sleep to the monotonous, lulling sound of falling water.
He heard Austin before his half-closed door swung back. Backlit by the log fire, the young man appeared naked until he moved, revealing white jockey shorts. De la Roche’s first thought was that the beautiful cowboy was coming to him, but then the deep voice roused him sufficiently to realize that it was time to get up. Stimulated by his imagination, he had no trouble coming awake. He sat up to watch the graceful, near-naked figure stride manfully to the bathroom. It was still pitch-black outside.
Has De la Roche managed to shift things slightly in his favor with his suggestion for improving Austin’s output? Did the fact the young cowboy came to wake him up while nearly naked mean anything, or was it simply his casual attitude about his body? Maybe Chapter 4 will tell us.
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