One time, when married to my first ex-wife, I managed to get talked out of the cowboying line of work for a short time. My father-in-law at the time was the head chef in a casino, and he talked me into being a cook. Needless to say, I wasn’t happy with the new profession, but it didn’t last long.
About three weeks on the new job, I received a phone call at work from a woman wanting me to run her Quarter-Horse operation. It seems she tracked me down by asking a big-name California trainer if he knew of anyone reputable who could run her operation and start her colts. He had just gotten a filly in for training that I had put a thirty-day start on and was impressed with what she knew, so he gave her the name of the filly’s owners so she could track me down. I was talking to her on the phone while another cook filled in for me. Now because my father-in-law was my boss, I couldn’t just up and quit. He really didn’t like me back then anyways. But I also couldn’t afford to pass up an opportunity to run an operation that ran over forty mares and three studs, so I compromised. I worked the horses from six a.m. to four p.m. and cooked from four-thirty p.m. to twelve-thirty in the morning.
The situation at the Hanging D was anything but normal. I had a good idea of what I was up against, but I thought I could work my way around things. Listing the things wrong with this outfit can’t be done in order of importance. I don’t know whether it was more important that the owner’s deceased husband had used the ranch as drug storage for the Mafia, or that she had a Mafia contract out on her, or that she was twenty years older than I was and was a nymphomaniac who semi-sexpected the help to “work overtime”, or that she had a bisexual opera singer for a boyfriend. Oh, did I forget to mention that the man I was replacing had quit after seven years and had stolen several horses, in addition to all of the horse’s registration papers?
The drug storage part of the operation was actually pretty interesting, especially as the program was no longer in action. There was a small cinderblock building used as a granary which doubled as dope storage. It only had one door, and when it was filled with grain, it appeared to be full of grain. However, a block wall divided the building in half so that it was, in reality, only half full with grain. When it was time to receive several bales of marijuana, two helicopters would fly in. The first would hook on to the roof and lift it off. The second would lower a palate of dope bales into the building, the roof would be placed back on and they would fly off. When it was time to transport the dope off the ranch, the roof would be lifted off, bales winched into the helicopter, and off they would fly.
Like I say, I was glad this part of the ranch operations was defunct, but the mob connections had not been severed quite as cleanly as one would have hoped. There was allegedly a contract out for a hit on the owner, Gwen. There really wasn’t any doubt in my mind about the validity of the allegations either. The place was being watched from the top of a nearby hill. Of course we were watching them as well. Each day, at precisely eight a.m., four p.m. and midnight, we would see one vehicle drive up the road to the top of he hill, and another one would come down. Gwen even had a sophisticated scrambling system on her phones and would often talk in French, Spanish, Greek, or Latin when she was on the phone. Of course we kept loaded guns about the place in case of emergency. Because the last employee had stolen all of the horses. registration papers, one of my first priorities was straightening out that mess. The office was conveniently located in the main house, so I’d work horses until ten o’clock and then do my bookwork. Gwen would come into the office wearing her negligee to see if I “needed” anything. As if this weren’t enough of an invitation, she also wanted to be around when I was hand-breeding the mares. Of course she always showed up wearing nothing but her negligee and made sure that she was standing with the sun behind her. She was more than twenty years older than I was and at least fifty pounds overweight so it wasn’t hard for me to play stupid to her advances. It made me shudder at times, but if I could hold out long enough, this job would be a good way to build a reputation in the horse business. The shuddering got a little more violent when her bisexual, opera singer boyfriend was at the ranch. At those times I not only had Gwen to contend with, but Oscar and his boyfriend as well. But relief was just around the corner.
Gwen also had several hundred acres of farm ground and was looking to expand the
farming end of things as well as get into the cattle business. It just happened that I had a friend who was out of work and could fit the bill. The only problem was that he was married
and had a couple of kids. Before I told Gwen about him, I sat down with Brad and Terry to
explain the situation. They decided that they wanted to try it so I told Gwen, and they moved
onto the ranch the following week.
Brad was fresh meat for Gwen, and she started turning her advances towards him, with Oscar right beside her. The “war” broke out after Brad had been there for about a week. Gwen had decided to run to town for the afternoon, basically to give Oscar and Felix some time to themselves. I had quit the cooking job by this time so I was home sitting down to dinner when she returned with a tail.She was flying down the dirt road at around seventy miles an hour, honking the horn, with another car right on her bumper.
Everyone figured the hit men were making their move. She flew by the house as if she were going to the barn, and then she locked up the brakes and did a U-turn around her tail that would have made a Hollywood stunt driver jealous. As her tail flew by, Oscar fired three quick shots from his .357 Magnum, and they headed to the dead end at the barn.
Tossing the 12-gauge (loaded with double ought buckshot) to my wife, I told her to just
shoot before the door was all the way open unless she was sure it was me, grabbed the 30-30 and headed for the barn.
Gwen was in her house armed to the teeth with another 12-gauge and a 44 Magnum, and she was a dead shot with either. At the barn, Brad, Oscar, Felix and I decided on a plan of action. I was to sneak around the far side of the barn and creep up on the car from the irrigation ditch. Brad was gong to make his way up to a dump truck above the car so he could give us some light. Oscar and Felix were going to slip down the side of the barn, and we’d have them pinned down. When I got into position, I gave the predetermined signal for lights by giving two short whistles. Brad remembered and turned on the lights. Oscar and Felix, however, decided I was the bad guy and trained their guns in my direction. It was probably a good thing I was concealed by the ditch, or they would have shot me.
The occupants of the car were long gone, having escaped through the alfalfa field before we were in position. As it turned out, they were a couple of old friends of Gwen’s who were in town. They didn’t know about the contract on her and had decided to follow her home when they spotted her coming back from town.
When we checked the car, we discovered that Oscar had hit the passenger door all three times. It was really a stroke of luck no one was injured (or killed) because all three shots went completely through the passenger door and lodged in the driver-side door. Needless to say, Gwen’s friends called to see if it was all right to come back out and get their car.
It wasn’t long after that I decided the chances of getting killed outweighed the possibility of building up a reputation, and I quit and went back to working cows.
This story is an excerpt from my book A Million to One Odds (Times Five) available through amazon.