Andrew Jackson looked up from the newspaper he had been reading at the patio table that was set comfortably in the shade of the new umbrella canopy on the lawn in front of the Jackson house. A hot summer sun beat down on the grass around him, shadowed only occasionally by one of the few clouds that drifted across the sky. For the last few minutes Andrew had been looking up occasionally, watching his son Randy, who was walking through the pasture toward the yard. Randy appeared to be walking more briskly than usual, and with a distinct purpose.
As he approached the yard Randy disappeared for a minute behind the machine shed, and when he reappeared around the corner of the shed and headed across the yard, Andrew folded the paper and laid it on the table.
“What’s up?” Andrew leaned back in his chair as Randy took a seat across the table. “You don’t look happy.”
“We lost a calf,” said Randy abruptly.
Andrew raised his eyebrows and leaned forward. “You sure?” he said. “It’s not just sleeping somewhere in the deep grass?”
“Oh, I’m sure,” said Randy. “I wouldn’t say it if I wasn’t sure. The mother is wandering around bawling and it’s obvious looking at the udder that the calf hasn’t been feeding for a while.” He paused. “And the rest of the cows are spooked. That old brindle was crazy. For a second I thought she was going to come at me when I got too close.”
“Huh.” Andrew settled thoughtfully back into his chair. “What the heck?” he said.
“Well, it ain’t coyotes,” said Randy, quite obviously upset. “Coyotes wouldn’t have taken the carcass. They would have just eaten what they wanted right where it lay. I swear, it’s that damn cougar they saw in Plum Coulee last year.”
“Easy, son,” said Andrew. “It’s not the end of the world.” He paused. “Bill Nickel saw a pair of wolves 40 miles north of here during the winter. Could have been wolves, no?”
“Same deal,” said Randy. “Wolves wouldn’t have taken the carcass away.”
“Or it could have been rustlers,” said Andrew.
“Uh-uh.” Randy sounded pretty sure of himself. “The cows wouldn’t have been that spooked if it was humans.”
Andrew thought it over for a minute. “That summer I worked at the Douglas ranch in B. C., when I was 19, we lost a couple of calves to mountain lions. Never thought I’d see it happen here. Although I’ll tell you the truth, I think there must be some other explanation.”
Randy looked discouraged. “What difference does it make in the end?” he said. “How are we supposed to stay afloat if, besides the crappy weather and the lousy crops and the low cattle prices, on top of everything else, we have calves disappearing? Especially considering the extra capital we’re going to need in the next few years.”
Andrew looked surprised. “Extra capital?” he said. “For what?”
“You haven’t figured it out?” said Randy. “Brady’s gonna want to buy the body shop. John Prentiss only offered him the job working there because John wants to retire and he needs to find somebody to buy the shop from him in a year or two. And he likes Brady because Brady used to help him out sometimes when Brady was still in school. Plus, John probably thinks the Jacksons have money because, well, frankly, we look like we might.”
“Wow.” Andrew was taken aback. “Well, we can’t afford to lose any more calves then, can we?” he said. “So we sure as heck need to figure out how we lost this one.”
He got up, walked over to the house and opened the front door. “Jennifer!” he yelled through the doorway and a second later, Jennifer popped into view.
“I need you to saddle up the horses,” said Andrew. “We’re going hunting.”
“I’ll get my boots!” Jennifer half-turned away, then stopped. “Hunting what?”
“Calf,” said Andrew. “Or maybe cougar.” Jennifer’s eyes widened. “I’ll be right out!”
she said and raced back into the house. Andrew walked back to the table. “Jenn
and I will ride the fence and see what we can find. If something dragged the calf off there’s got to be a trail to follow. Meantime, you better get on the phone and see if someone has a calf we can buy, see if the cow will take to a replacement. Call Grant. If he doesn’t have one he’ll probably know someone who does.” He looked around as Jennifer dashed out of the house in the direction of the corral where the horses were penned. Andrew stood. “Randy?” he said.
“Yeah, Dad?” said Randy.
Andrew smiled. “Relax, son,” he said. “It’s a calf and a body shop. Trust me. We’ll work it out.”
Randy got up. “We better get hunting,” he said and headed toward the house.
“Good luck,” said Andrew.
Randy stopped and turned around. “You too, Dad,” he said, and then smiled suddenly. “At least Jenn’s having fun.”
“As always,” said Andrew.