Burl Langston leaned against the cedar post. Behind him, a few longhorns mulled about. On the other side of the fence, clouds of dust hung over the plains like soiled cotton as countless shorthorns spilled onto a patch of alfalfa. Burl’s toothpick splintered, so he spit out the pieces. He had plans today, like every day, but a seething anger pulled him here on yet another morning.
Three months ago, Pat Dade had moved next door. He bought Emmett’s old hog farm and converted it to a competing cattle ranch. Burl had only met the man last month after Dade’s little boy hopped his fence. If it weren’t for Burl’s quick thinking, the kid would have lost his life to an angry steer. When he’d taken the boy back, that sonofabitch Pat had opened the door covered in paint-splattered overalls, offering only a dazed thanks as he pulled his son inside, and shut the door in Burl’s face.
What Burl wouldn’t have done to get Emmett back. His old neighbor had been glum when he came to say goodbye, but Burl knew it was airs given the monster of a Winnebago he had seen idling outside the front gate.
Burl was pulled away from his daydream at Tad’s shout. The ranch hand waved him down from the back of the house.
“Got Casey on the phone!”
Burl had barely grabbed the handset when Casey let loose.
“I’m sorry, Burl, but we’ve got to part ways next month.”
Burl gritted his teeth, eyeing the cattle out the kitchen window.
“Now, Casey, you got to give me a chance to set things straight. I’ve always done right by you.”
“I feel horrible about this,” Casey replied without pause. “Best I can do is warn you.”
“I’m struggling,” he continued. “I almost had to let three of my top guys go yesterday, wasn’t for Dade. He offered—”
Burl slammed the phone on the receiver. A pinching sensation crept up his jaw.
There was a knock at the front door, followed by a squeak from its hinges. Tad was speaking with someone. A few seconds later, he poked his head in.
“I’m busy,” Burl said.
He was ready to call Casey back and give him whatever he asked. He’d pencil through the books, find a way to make it work.
His stomach dropped. Storming toward the front room, Burl’s boots hit the floor like they were hammering nails. Dade stood just outside the door with a ridiculous smile. He held a large framed painting in his hands–a beautiful landscape of the surrounding hills.
“Hope you appreciate art.”
Burl tilted his head. Blood left his knuckles.
“What’s this about?” he asked.
“You saved my boy’s life. Mine as well. I bought a tiny place just off Matham Road, opening a studio. Come by any time.”
He thrust the painting into Burl’s hands.
“By the way, the deed to the ranch is clipped to the back. Take care of yourself.”