Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Chapter Seven and a Half: The Race Continued

A cold breeze freshened just as Kay approached the starting line. Hoot had stripped down to a pair of gym shorts and stood shivering as Soloman Diggle announced his name with the bull horn. The introductions were brief but both Kay and Hoot recieved applause from the miners, ranchers, and homesteaders gathered under the stoic oak. Kay simply nodded his head as his name was announced. Somehow the day had gotten away from him. He still couldn't quite believe that he was the one on Miguel's mare, Gracie. Kay thought it ironic that he would have Grace on his side in all of this.

"Good luck, Jonesy."

Kay looked down off the beautiful chestnut beast to see Hoot extending his hand, a curious grin on his face. Kay reached down and took Hoot's hand in a firm handshake. "Good luck to you, too, Hoot," he murmured. Kay then watched as Hoot extended the same courtesy to Joe. As the big Indian and the athletic daredevil-to-be grasped hands, Hoot looked straight up into Kay's eyes and winked. Kay wanted to wink back. He wanted desperately to let Hoot know that the race was securely his, but he couldn't. Not after what Chuck had said. There was just too much to consider. Kay's eyes fell to the saddlehorn to avoid the awkwardness he felt.

"Are the contestants ready?" boomed the sniveling carcass of Soloman Diggle, who now stood perched on the second rung of the aspen corral.

Kay's eyes rose and he reluctantly nodded. Hoot nodded, too, but with more enthusiasm than Kay had hoped for.

"Then take your marks..."

Kay dug his toes into the stirrups and nudged Gracie to the line.

"Get set..."

A quick glance over his shoulder at the big Indian behind him on the mare.

"Go!"

Kay kicked the flanks of the speedy mare and she sprang forward just like he knew she would. An enthusiastic cheer erupted from the haggard crowd, but Kay kept his eyes on the mare and the road ahead. He refused to even look in Chuck's direction. Still, he could feel the piercing heat of his stare. It haunted him already.

After a dozen or so strides, Gracie pinned her ears back and started to extend, eating up the grass in front of her. Even with both Joe and Kay aboard she flew across the meadow and began the long steady climb up to Harding Junction. Kay breathed a sigh of relief when the road narrowed and Lucy's faded into the leaves and branches of the quakies. He was happy to have all of those people behind him, if only for a little while.

After a mile or so, Kay eased Gracie into an easy gallop. Win or lose he couldn't afford to burn her up. Miguel would never forgive him for that. As she settled in, Kay noticed that Joe hadn't said a thing since the beginning of the race. Kay turned his body just slightly to get a look at the big Indian. Joe's face revealed nothing. He held on tightly; nothing more, nothing less.

"You okay, Chief?" Kay yelled, as he ducked beneath a small branch.

The branch slapped Joe in the face. "Yeah, if you'd keep us out of the trees," he scolded. Kay laughed but he could tell that Joe wasn't in the mood for talk.

The two men continued riding in silence past the turnoff to McGill's Mine and over Hansen's Creek. Kay knew that Harding Junction lay just a few hundred yards ahead of him on the left. He loosened the reins a little as Gracie's breathing became more labored and she tugged at the bit. Kay eased her even more as he sensed her discomfort.

"We're getting close, Jonesy," Joe hollered, sensing his part in the fiasco was about complete.

Kay flattened into a tuck before he spotted the pudgy figure of Judge Henry Dugan leaning against his black 1924 Model T Ford. He again looked over his shoulder at Joe. "I thought you said you walked up here with the Judge."

Caught in a lie, Joe just shrugged his shoulders and patted Kay on his. Kay pulled hard on Gracie's reins and brought her to a standstill right in front of the Judge. Without wasting any time at all, Joe jumped off the sturdy mare and slapped her on the rump. He then looked up at Kay. "Jonesy, I didn't hear what Chuck told ya, but I know Chuck. He threatened ya, didn't he?"

Kay averted his eyes and stared again at the saddlehorn, refusing to say anything.

"I figured as much," said Joe. "Listen, Jonesy, you gotta do what ya gotta do. Hoot'll understand. Really, he will."

All of the emotions of the morning threatened to overwhelm Kay as he sat uncomfortably atop Gracie. He wanted to cry, but he wasn't the type to ever do that in front of another man, so he just stared emotionless at the saddlehorn. His thoughts turned to Dorothy and his boys. They would be at the finish line, cheering on Hoot and cursing his competitor, oblivious of their father and husband's complicated involvement. "I don't know, Joe," he managed to whisper. " I just don't know."

Joe shook his head. "Well, you better be off, old boy."

Kay kicked Gracie softly in the flanks and turned her on a dime. "Thanks, Joe."

* * * *

Hoot could feel the hot, burning sensation rising in the back of his throat. To the best of his knowledge, he wasn't quite finished with the second mile, but already his legs had lost their bounce and he struggled to keep his mind off the pain he was feeling all over. Truth be told, he was thankful the rest of the trek was downhill. Just keep moving, he told himself. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

The worst of it all was the dust. Every few seconds another truck loaded with miners or Mexicans passed him on the road and a dusting of fine granite and sandstone would billow out from beneath the tires. He had choked a number of times already but he couldn't help but wonder just how big the crowd in Pagosa would be. It had to be getting big. He had counted nearly fifteen trucks loaded to the gills with soot-covered men as they passed him on their way down to the finish line. He hadn't counted his pa, though. In the back of his mind, he knew the old man would be passing soon. That's all right, Hoot thought. This is my day.

Sure enough, after he ran past the tiny grist mill at the entrance to the draw that lead up to Lucy's, Hoot heard the familiar toot of his father's car horn.

"Looking good there, Hoot," shouted Chuck as a cloud of dust floated into his son's reddening face. Hoot didn't respond. He only gritted his teeth and picked up his pace, leaving the black sedan momentarily in his wake. "You better watch out, though. Jonesy'll be coming along any second."

Hoot knew that Kay wouldn't be able to catch up with him that quickly, but his curiosity got the better of him and he sneaked a peek back up the hill. Nothing. From the inside of the car, Chuck erupted in laughter and nearly drove off the road. He honked his horn again and sped off down the hill, passing Hoot like he was standing still.

Embarrassed by his own father, Hoot spat into the manzanita at the side of the road and wiped the dust-caked sweat from his forehead before it dripped into his eyes. Despite the pain in his legs, Hoot again sped up, his chest heaving with each tortured breath. He was happy, though, that Jonesy was the one riding Miguel's horse. Hoot figured he'd caught a break with that one. Jonesy wanted him to win.

One foot in front of the other. One foot...

* * * *

"He's what?" cried Dorothy Jones, hardly believing what she had just heard.

"He's the one riding against Hoot in the race," came the reply from the calloused old miner Dorothy had recognized as a regular up at Lucy's.

Dorothy thanked the miner with a tip of her bonnet and turned to gauge where her children had escaped to. Norman was busy playing tag, Max and Corry were making there way down the embankment to throw rocks in the river, and Lindsey was gnawing on a cookie in the perambulator at her side. A lot more interested than she had been five minutes earlier, Dorothy turned to focusd her energies on finding a good place to watch the festivities. She spotted a small grass-covered berm in the sun about a block down from the courthouse.

"C'mon boys," she shouted at Max and Corry, who were trying to smash small fish with big rocks. "We have to go watch Hoot and the horses in the race. Daddy's gonna ride one of the horses."

The boys threw a couple more rocks and branches into the river, but they eventually scrambled up the embankment and were soon nipping at Dorothy's heels.

"Daddy's gonna ride one of the horses?" asked Max.

"I thought you said he was gonna meet us here," added Corry, not quite putting the pieces together.

Dorothy hadn't pieced everything together yet, either, so she just shrugged her shoulders. "I guess he'll explain when he gets here, won't he?"

"When are they comin'?" asked Max, sitting himself Indian-style on the berm.

At that moment, Dorothy noticed Chuck Peterson crossing the boulevard in front of the courthouse. He tugged at the tape that formed the finish line and muttered something to a small, nebbish character with spectacles. Even from that distance, Dorothy found Chuck's demeanor to be stand-offish. "It should be anytime now," she responded. "Look there's Hoot's daddy. He was with them when they left so they can't be that far behind."

"Mama, I see him!" shouted Corry from atop the berm. "He's over there."

Dorothy stood on her tip-toes. Sure enough, Hoot Peterson had just broken from the cover of the aspens and scrub oak that blanketed the road to the West and was hoofing it toward Hot Springs Boulevard and the finish line. He looked every bit a beaten man, but Dorothy was surprised to see him still keeping a healthy pace.

"Do you see Daddy on top of the horse, yet?" Dorothy asked.

"Not yet, Mama. Daddy's gonna lose if he don't hurry," continued Corry.

"He's a good man, your pa. If he knows what's good for him, he'll let ol' Hoot win just this once."

"Why, Mama?"

"Well, Corry, honey, this race means a lot more to Hoot than it does to Daddy."

"So you want Daddy to lose it?"

"Just this once, honey," Dorothy insisted as she backed onto the berm to get a better view. With almost three-quarters of a mile left for Hoot, the victory seemed secure, but just then a holler went up from the hundreds of Mexicans at the finish line. Dorothy again stood on her tiptoes. A little higher on the hill, a puff of dust signaled the impending arrival of the horse and its rider.

"C'mon, Hoot!" she screamed without a second thought. "C'mon!"

As Hoot turned onto Hot Springs Boulevard, Dorothy could see him beginning to languish. His shoulders slumped and he peaked over his shoulder twice that Dorothy could tell, but he kept running. If anything, his speed increased.

An agonizing two minutes passed as Hoot rambled down the boulevard, his lead dwindling with each and every step. Kay and the big horse eventually made the turn on to Hot Springs Boulevard as well, and set their sights on Hoot. Dorothy was surprised, however, to see Kay in a tuck with a serious but somber look on his face. Is he really thinking of winning this thing, she thought.

"You're almost there, Hoot," Dorothy encouraged. "Keep going! He's right behind you!"

As Hoot passed Dorothy and her four boys, Dorothy took in the whole scene. It was chaotic. Miners, Mexicans, sheepherders, ranchers, and even housewives and children all lined the Boulevard shouting and cheering. Showers of confetti poured from the second floor windows of the courthouse and the bank. The drunks had ambled out from behind the saloons and boarding houses to get a view of the action, and the bookies were grasping anxiously to their wads of cash. Dorothy even caught a glimpse of heavy-set chap she recognized as Cole McBride.

She turned back just in time to see her husband bearing down on Hoot. The horse, awash in frothy white slobber and soaked in sweat, galloped like a soaring Pegasus with her lightning bolts. Dorothy couldn't watch. Conflicted and confused, she buried her head in her hands and listened for the reaction of the crowd. It seemed like forever before another titanic cheer exploded from the finish line.

"Mama, Mama," cried Norman, who had escaped to get a better view of the finish. "He did it! He did it! Hoot beat the horse! He beat him by a couple of feet is all. It was so close."

"And your Dad, how's he doing?"

"I don't know. He looked pretty upset but he shook Hoot's hand and patted him on the back. He was a pretty good sport from what I could tell."

"Yes, he was." Dorothy chuckled to herself, gathered her littlest one, and hollered to the others still playing on the berm, "C'mon, boys, let's go give Daddy a great big hug."

* * * *

5 Comments:

Blogger Better Safe Than Sorry said...

and now what???
btw, merry christmas! and thanks

10:03 AM  
Blogger Better Safe Than Sorry said...

soooooooooooooo, it's been a while. anything happening over here?

5:41 PM  
Blogger Better Safe Than Sorry said...

seriously, are you going to finish this thing or not?
hello?????????????????

5:34 PM  
Blogger Better Safe Than Sorry said...

do you not check on this blog at all? cuz i can start to leave you a message each and every day until you do, you'll go to check in a couple of months from now and see you have all these comments, and it will be just me, trying to get you to finish that book. you owe me an ending, hello??????????

3:54 PM  
Blogger Better Safe Than Sorry said...

actually, i don't even remember what happened at the beginning anymore?

3:24 AM  

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