Blood Money

by Holly

Chapter 1

THE drought that had plagued the Wyoming Territory came to a abrupt end with almost continual rain for three days. As Jess had predicted, the Sherman land known as the Lower Basin quickly flooded, and he and Slim had a hard time rescuing stranded cattle and horses from the quagmire. But even the rain didn't bring relief from the oppressive heat.

Bone tired after hours in the saddle, Slim still found it impossible to sleep. After tossing and turning for a while, he got up and made his way through the dark house, treading carefully so as not to wake the rest of the household. Once outside, he found Jess sitting on the porch, sipping a cup of water.

"Hi Slim. You couldn't sleep either?"

"No. It's like a bake house in there."

"Yeah, I know."

Both men sat quietly, listening to the night sounds, distant thunder a constant backdrop. After a while Slim said, "This weather sure has hurt us."

Jess looked across at his boss seeing, even in the half light, the worry lines that creased his forehead. "How bad?"

"Well, we lost nigh on thirty head of cattle to the drought, four horses just went missin', and the cattle we have left are so darn thin we'll be lucky to get what we paid for them. It's bad all right."

Jess pulled a face. "Well, most of the spreads around here are in the same hole, Slim."

Jess stopped tilting his chair back, and sat upright, blue eyes narrowed. "Iffen you like, Slim, I can forgo my wages for a while."

Slim sighed, "Jess, even with that, it would be too little, too late. Nice to offer, but it really won't help us. Besides I already owe you for last week."

Silence resumed for a while, then... "Maybe we could sell that lumber the storms brought down?" Jess suggested.

"No good. I already asked around town. No one really needs it, and even if they did, they probably wouldn't buy it right now. Money's tight all over."

"It sure is," Jess agreed. "Slim, you know a lot of important people around here. Surely one of them could help, at least for the short term?"

"Go cap in hand?" Slim snapped, angrily. "No way will I beg for money! Especially from my friends!"

"But if it means losin' the ranch..."

"I won't do that. Somehow I'll find a way," but he did not sound confident.

"Well, I guess you will if you feel that strong about it." Jess tried to sound more positive than he felt, but as their eyes met, both men knew the odds were against them.


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Chapter 2