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Carson Sneaks a Peek

Curiosity had often drawn Carson Rachild into unusual situations. Like now, she reflected, remembering the conversation with Chandler Thornton and Napoleon Forest.

“If you’re going to be out counting coyotes, see if you can learn something about what’s going on with Craig Schumflatt,” Chandler had said.

“We heard he was having an important powwow of some kind,” Napoleon had drawled in a bogus Texas accent. “See what you can find out, but don’t take any chances. I hear those boys play rough games.”

The long shadows of late afternoon spread purple streaks across the dry landscape northwest of Sonora. Carson Rachild pulled the wide brim of her hat lower and slowly crawled over the hot, bare rock to the rim of the gulch. About a hundred yards behind her, Willis, her sorrel pack pony, grazed in a patch of green grass near a spring-fed pond. Twenty feet below her, the antics of a roadrunner were causing a commotion in a clump of thorny brush. A brood of unhappy titmice chattered and fussed; low in the sky, a turkey buzzard sailed in their direction, drawn by the possibility of an easy meal. Further down the eroded cut, a lean gray fox watched the proceedings and wondered how it would profit from the outburst. Perhaps something would run his way; a careless jack rabbit came to mind. Carson’s digital camera quietly recorded the scene.

At the bottom of the slope, the gulch ended by spreading a fan of loose gravel and stunted cedar seedlings across a narrow valley occupied by a dry wash. On the other side of the wash, a vertical cliff over a hundred feet high protected the northern borders of the Schumflatt Ranch. Carson shifted her position into something more comfortable and raised stabilized binoculars to her eyes. Napoleon Forest’s military-issue, optical instrument was superb. The hunter’s campsite zoomed into the foreground. She was careful to keep her silhouette low. Although she had permission from the Fish and Game Department to do wildlife sampling in the area, she didn’t want to arouse any interest in the group of men who were unloading gear from the back of two camouflaged Hummers. After all, she wasn’t in the area where she had received permission from the ranch manager to look for evidence of the coyotes that were always taking the blame for the loss of rancher’s cattle.

Careless shouts drifted to her in the light breeze, though it was too far for her to distinguish any words. One group of men appeared to be erecting tents and dragging dead logs and brush into piles for a camp fire. Others were extracting six packs of beer from a stack of ice chests and distributing the cans to a group of men who were standing around under a shelter. Schumflatt’s wealthy contributors. The ones that don’t show up on the list.

“I wonder what they are here for?” she spoke softly to herself. She shifted her elbows to bet a better grip on the binoculars. A pebble came loose and rolled over the edge, clattering down the slope, noisy in the stillness of the afternoon. The fox’s ears perked up, and the road runner paused.

A recently erected barbed wire fence stretched across the dry wash just upstream from the campsite. Carson thought about it. Maybe they were here for a wild pig hunt. She’d seen plenty of signs of the scruffy peccary. In the morning they’d probably drive up the valley, forcing the pigs to flee ahead of them. Once they had them boxed in at the top of the wash, they’d be easy to kill.

She brought her binoculars back to the group under the canvas shelter and racked up the zoom control to maximum. The image wavered for a moment until the gyroscopic controls settled down.

Carson recognized the Free Range Party’s candidate, Craig Schumflatt, standing at the center of a semicircle of six men. The candidate was dressed in pressed jeans, a long sleeve denim shirt, and a leather vest that sported an automatic weapon of some sort in a hostler slung at one side. He was waving his arms enthusiastically, occasionally pointing up the valley, apparently lecturing the men on something exciting that was going to happen.

To his left, Carson recognized the slender, bony frame of Slim Gardner, a wealthy west Texas landowner and a big player in the gas fields near Midland. A dark-skinned man she didn’t recognize, an Arab perhaps, separated Gardner from Dexter Dillon, an aircraft parts manufacturer from Dallas who was often in the news as the sponsor of a successful NASCAR racing team.

The next person was something of a surprise. Gill Coppers, a Conservative Congressman and a staunch Republican known for his independent voting record, emptied his beer and tossed the can on the ground. A young man dressed in western gear hurried up with a fresh beverage and bent to retrieve the empty. Coppers pulled the tab on the new can. He was clearly high on alcohol and laughing at something that Schumflatt was saying.

Next in line, the powerful Houston attorney, Lucas Bramley,  recoiled  from Coppers, brushing at the front of his denim jacket. Carson supposed that Coppers had sprayed some beer in the attorney’s direction. Whatever it was that Craig was saying seemed of little interest to the lawyer, who soon turned away and strolled towards the rounded boulders at the edge of the wash. Carson muttered an expletive as Bramley unzipped, hauled himself out, and urinated on a patch of bare sand.

The last man was turned with his back to Carson, but she recognized him anyway. His mane of flowing, shoulder-length white hair and tweed coat would make him stand out in any company. His name was Al Loping, head of one of the powerful agricultural conglomerates. She remembered someone saying that Loping, one way or another, controlled most of Texas north of Lubbock.

Carson was puzzled. She couldn’t think of anything that these men had in common other than wealth and power. What common interests brought them together with Schumflatt and his Free Range Party?

She scooted back from the crest of rock and retraced her steps to Willis, who by this time had eaten his way into a patch of prickly pear. She coaxed him out of the tangle and hung her equipment bag on the side opposite her old 30-30 in its leather saddle holster. Willis reached around with his ears back and nibbled at her camera bag, thinking she might have an apple for him.

Time to get on back to her pickup truck and horse trailer waiting for her at the end of the road near Black Top Mesa, Carson thought. She decided she would take the shorter route over the ridge to the south which would cut off a couple of miles. She didn’t want to get caught on the trail after dark.

Please Note: This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental__L.C. Frenzel

One Response to “Carson Sneaks a Peek”

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