Dak sat staring at The Panther, his sport touring motorcycle, as he drank his morning coffee. He loved cool spring mornings with the Dogwoods in bloom. He still had a chunk of money left from his reward for catching the fugitive up in the forest. However, he didn't have enough to take the long trip he dreamed of. "Looks like it's time to find a job," he sighed.
A good place to start looking would be the barber shop since he needed a haircut anyway. Nothing much happened in town that Bud didn't know about. He finished his coffee and rode into Mt. View.
"Well, well," Bud said, "look who wandered in off the street. Where ya been, Dak?"
"Over in Tennessee," Dak said, "ridin' the Tail of the Dragon on my new bike."
"I've heard of that stretch of road. Did ya set a record?"
"A record speeding ticket," Dak said.
"You'd probably of done better if ya hadn't been totin so much hair. Sit
yourself up here and let me chop some of it off."
Dak sat down and Bud went to work.
"I need to find some work," Dak said. "I want to take a long road trip and I need to make some money. Anybody been askin' around for workers?"
"As a matter of fact, Jacoby was in here just this mornin' talking about
needin' a ranch hand or two."
Jacoby has a couple thousand acres spread east of town where he keeps a herd of pure bred Charolais beef cattle. Dak figured Dr. Zuk would be better transportation than Panther for ranch work so he got the Suzuki out of the storage shed and rode on over to Jacoby's.
"Sure I'll hire ya," Jocoby said," fifteen hundred bucks a month plus board and room. Move your stuff into the bunk house over the weekend and be ready for work early Monday morning."
As Dak hauled his stuff into the bunk house he was greeted with a cheery "hola. You must be the new ranch hand."
"Sure am. Dak's my name. I live up the road a few miles."
"I'm Albert. Came from Mexico."
"Pleased to meet you. Which bunk is mine?"
"I don't care. Mine's the one under the window in case I need to make a quick exit. Immigration people ya know."
Dak chose the bunk across the room from Albert and got his stuff put away.
Both the guys were up before daybreak Monday morning and off to the ranch house for breakfast at six. They sat down to a real ranch breakfast: biscuits and gravy, fried taters, ham, sausage, eggs, milk, and hot coffee.
"Well boys," Jacoby said as he ate. "There's a lot of fence that needs repairing over on the backside of my property. It's got to be fixed before I can run the cows on that piece and I want to move them over there in a couple of weeks. You'll find tools in the tool shed, along with several spools of barbed wire. There's a four wheeler with a trailer for haulin your stuff. Albert knows where it is. Penny, my wife, will have your lunch ready about ten so one of you can run back and pick it up and I'll see you back here for supper at five."
Albert and Dak finished eating and while Albert hooked up the four wheeler and trailer, Dak went over to the bunk house to get some bug spray.
They loaded on the tools and wire and then Dak handed Albert the bug spray. "Here, you'd better spray down or you'll be eaten up with chiggers by the time we get back."
"Chiggers don't bite Mexicans," Albert replied. "They won't run the risk of being deported with us when we get caught. Even chiggers don't want to live in Mexico."
They took a trail through the woods and it wasn't long before they came to a stretch of fence that was down. "Looks like we should have brought some fence posts with us," Albert said.
"Sure thing," Dak replied. "Why don't you take the rig back and get some and I'll start tearing out this section we need to replace."
Albert drove off and Dak started pulling staples from the downed fence posts that held the barbed wire in place. As he worked he heard something stumbling around in the woods. He stopped to listen. There shouldn't be any cows over here or people. He could tell from the sound it had to be something big.
Dak set his staple puller down and starting walking quietly through the woods toward the noise. He could hear an occasional breaking twig or snapping branch. As he came into a small clearing, he was face to face with a huge sow black bear. "Oh, big mamma," Dak quietly whistled through clenched teeth. Both he and the bear froze for a few seconds and then the bear lopped off through the woods.
"What brings her over here?" Dak thought. "I think I'll follow her a ways." He hadn't followed Big Mamma long before his question was answered. They came upon another clearing and from his hide out in the brush Dak could see Big Mamma's pair of year old cubs feasting on the dead carcass of a young Charolais heifer.
Dak made his way back to where he'd been working. Albert was already there with the fence posts. "Where ya been?" Albert asked.
"Looks like we've got some cattle rustlers at work," Dak answered. "I just stumbled across a family of bears feasting on one of the boss' young heifers."
While eating supper that evening, Dak told Jacoby about the bears. "It figgers," Jacoby mutter. "The Game and Fish people want to rebuild the black bear population in Arkansas. We told 'em the bears wouldn't work well with all the cattle in these parts, but they had to do it anyway. I guess we'd better go bear huntin tonight."
"It would wind us all up in jail and Albert back in Mexico," Dak said. "Let me call Uncle Jim. He's the game and fish guy up in the forest. Let's see what he suggests."
"I suppose, but something has to be done before I lose any more stock."
After supper, Dak rode over to Jim's place and explained the situation to his uncle. "It's a problem for state officers since it's over at Jacoby's place. But we work together on the bear population project. Tell Jacoby we'll be over tomorrow to see if we can come up with a plan for trapping and moving them."
Jim and two state officers drove into Jacoby's yard as the guys were getting ready to head to work on the fence. "Follow us," Dak said. "We'll show you where they are feeding."
The bears weren't around when the men arrived but quite a bit of the carcass was still uneaten. The officers studied the scene for awhile. "It appears the bears have been hanging around here for some time, but they didn't kill the heifer. See that broken bone. It was broken by a bullet. You can also see a hole where a bullet exited that piece of hide over there," Jim said. "The bears were just opportunists. Mostly they don't kill their own meat. They prefer it several days old. But, now that they've tasted prime beef they might want some more, so we'll try to trap 'em and move 'em somewhere else, but I'd say Jacoby has a human rustler problem."
"We've got a road kill deer over at the station we can use for bait," Jim told the Game and Fish guys. "Plus we've got one trap. You guys get a couple more traps and we'll meet back here about one o'clock."
Dak and Albert went back to their fencing. "How do they trap 'em?," Albert asked.
"The traps are just big cages with spring loaded doors. They'll put a chunk of the deer carcass in each one. When the bear goes into the cage to get the meat, the door springs shut, trapping the bear. Then they tranquilize them and haul them off to another part of the state."
The guys finished the section of fence they were working on and moved on, looking for the next break. For the rest of the morning they mostly found loose wires that needed to be pulled tight or staples that had come loose. Shortly after lunch, they heard the Game and Fish truck coming through the woods. They quit work to go watch the officers set the traps.
"Come by here in the morning and you should find your bears," one of the officers said. "That deer has been dead for several days and the bears should smell him pretty good. They're still hanging around and they'll be after this meat."
After the officers set their traps and left, Dak and Albert returned to the fence line. They had gone about a quarter mile when they came to a place where the barbed wire had obviously been cut and tracks from off the road vehicles ran in several directions. "Looks like where our rustlers operate," Dak said. "We'll tell Jacoby about this tonight and see what he wants us to do."
"Give me a day or two to decide what to do" Jacoby said as the guys discussed their find at supper. "First, though, I'd better report your findings to the sheriff."
The next morning, Dak and Albert headed to work on the four wheeler. "Let's go by the bear traps and see what's going on," Albert suggested. As they neared the traps they could hear a lot of breaking branches and loud snarls and growls. When they came into the clearing they saw they were in big trouble. The two cubs were trapped in cages, but Big Mamma was loose and mad. She had tipped the cages over trying to free her cubs and now was crazy with rage, she had torn up most of the small trees within thirty yards of the cages.
When she spotted the four wheeler she charged straight at it. Dak was driving. He swerved to avoid a deadly collision with the crazed bear and raced down the forest trail at full throttle. He didn't see a hole in the trail in time to avoid it and he and Albert were both thrown from the machine in different directions. The four wheeler landed on its side with the engine still running.
The roar of the engine and the spinning tires held the bear's attention while the boys fled the scene on foot. As Dak looked back, the bear was ripping the machine apart. The engine had stopped and the bear had ripped the seat to shreds, broken the plastic body parts and bitten holes in the tires.
The guys limped and ran their way back to the ranch house to get out of the enraged bear's territory. Dak called his Uncle Jim on the phone. "Uncle Jim, you've got a problem at the bear traps. The two cubs are in their cages, but the sow is enraged and running loose."
"I'll get the Game and Fish officers and we'll be right out."
Dak and Albert decided to stay out of the woods until the Jim arrived. He showed up along with the Game and Fish officers mid-morning. "Did you bring a tranquilizer gun?" Dak asked.
"Sure did, along with a 30-06 in case we need to kill her," Jim replied. "Let's all ride out there in the Game and Fish suburban."
As they approached the clearing with the traps, Big Mamma was resting near the cubs' cages and the guys could see the wrecked four wheeler up ahead. As they approached, the sow got up and again went into a rage.
She charged the suburban, hitting the front fender from the side with her shoulder. The impact put and huge dent in the fender and knocked the front of the truck a good ten feet off the trail.
Jim quickly loaded a tranquilizer dart in the gun and shot for the bear's hind quarter. He missed his shot, reloaded and shot again. The explosion in the enclosed vehicle sent sharp pains through the guys' ear drums. The second shot hit the bear. She ran a few steps, stumbled and fell to the ground.
The guys sat quietly for a while to give the tranquillizer time to take full effect. Jim loaded the 30-06 for backup and they all got out of the truck. As they approached the dozing hulk, she let out a snarl and staggered to her feet. Though she was in a bit of a stupor, the shot was too weak to keep her down.
Dak turned to jump clear of the old sleepy sow. As he did, she grabbed him by the coat with her mouth and tossed him in the air. He landed with a bone crushing thud ten feet away where he lay dead still, hoping Big Mamma would turn toward someone else. When he opened an eye to look, the bear was charging him. He screamed at the bear just as he heard the shot from Jim's rifle.
The bear staggered and fell dead, her body pinning Dak's legs to the ground. The fellows pulled Dak from under the bear and he slowly got up. Pain racked his chest, indicating a couple of broken ribs. Other than a few cuts and bruises, there didn't seem to be any other damage.
"I sure do hate to lose a sow from our bear project," Jim said, "but I'd hate even more to lose a good nephew." He then turned to the Game and Fish officers. "I guess we'd better get a truck up here to haul the cubs and Big Mamma's carcass out of here."
With that, Dak and Albert went back to the ranch house and got Jacoby's old Farmall Cub to tow their trailer and got back to work.
As they gathered for dinner that evening, Jacoby commented, "From the looks of the four wheeler, I'd say you boys had a little bear trouble today."
"A little," Dak replied. The pain from broken ribs kept his breathing shallow and his answers short. "But, the bears are gone now."
"So I hear. Well, I'll take the four wheeler into the shop tomorrow. A couple of new tires and a few new plastic body parts and she'll look a little better. I don't think anything mechanical was damaged. But, we've still got the problem that started all this."
"You mean the rustlers?" Albert asked.
"That's right. I talked to the sheriff today and he's going to keep an eye out for any unusual shipments of cattle or sale of meat. However, he's not going to put any resources into investigating it."
"Because, it's probably just some local helping himself to some free meat. Besides, I donated a lot of money to his competition last go around."
"Ya, but his competition was your cousin. You had to donate to him to keep peace in the family," Dak said.
"Maybe it would help if you could establish the cows were illegal immigrants," Albert joked.
"Good idea," Jacoby laughed, "but I think they've all got green cards. I've got a couple thousand acres, much of it woodland and grazing acreage. That's three square miles. Starting tomorrow, I want you guys to walk every foot of it, lookin for evidence of rustling. If the heifer the bears were feeding on was an isolated incident, we're not going to waste any more time on it. It might have just been a novice hunter mistaking the heifer for a deer. But if it is more than that, we'll have to do something."
"It could be the rustlers dumped the carcass where we found it to draw the bears away from where they were working," Albert suggested.
The next morning Jacoby gave the guys a GPS and the various coordinates for his property. "The cattle are currently over in section three, so let's check it out first," Dak said.
It was a couple miles through the woods over to section three and Dak and Albert rode to it on Dr. Zuk. The guys decided they would separate by ten yards and walk back and forth across the section until they had covered it all. About ten o'clock, Albert took a break while Dak rode back to the ranch house to fetch their lunch.
"Well Albert, what do you think of Arkansas ranching?" Dak asked as he took a bite off one of the chicken legs in the lunch box.
"I don't know. Hiking up and down these ridges and hollows is wearing me out. And, in Mexico we'd be riding a horse not a four wheeler or a motorcycle."
"Ya, but you have to feed that horse even when you don't ride her. I guess we'd better get back to our job."
Aside from the up hill, down hill the forest was easy to walk through. The trees were mostly hardwood with a few pines mixed in. There wasn't much underbrush. It was mid-afternoon when the guys came across their first real find.
"Look up that hollow," Albert said. "See where it ends in a sort of a box canyon? Someone has put a log fence across this end of it."
The guys walked up to check it out. Not only was there a fence, but there was a loading chute made of fairly fresh cut logs, and five cows were lying among the trees peacefully chewing their cuds. "I'd say someone is going make a haul out of here soon," Dak said. "Let's mark this spot on our GPS and stake it out tonight."
The guys told Jacoby about their find as they at supper that evening. "I think we'd better stake that site out the next few nights and see what we can find out," Jacoby said. "Did you bring a rifle with you, Dak."
"No, but I'll run home and get it along with my night vision goggles and meet you back at the bunk house at dark. As it grows dark, don't turn any lights on so your eyes can adjust naturally to the night."
Dak rode Dr. Zuk home to get his stuff and was back at the ranch as the sun was setting. "Let's quietly walk over there as it gets dark so we don't mess up our night vision," Dak suggested. "Be sure you have the GPS," he said to Albert.
The guys established an observation post on the ridge above the makeshift corral and settled for a long wait. It was a clear night with a three quarter moon. A screech owl occasionally ripped up the silence and the crickets and katydids kept a chirpy rhythm going.
About midnight another sound could be heard in the distance. "What's that?" Albert asked.
"Don't know," Jacoby answered.
"Sounds like a truck winding and whining its way in our direction," Dak said.
It wasn't long before the guys could see headlights twisting and turning among the trees as the truck slowly worked its way to the corral and came to a stop. The driver then backed up to the crude loading ramp they had constructed.
"It looks like they're here for business," Jacoby said. "Let's let 'em get the cattle loaded before we make our move. That way we have good evidence about their intentions."
The driver turned the truck off and three men got out. They rounded up the five cows, herding them toward the loading chute with sticks and broken branches. After much yelling, swearing and running around the corral, they had all five cows in the back of the truck. By that time Jacoby and the guys had slipped up beside the truck, concealed by brush and the dark.
"Okay fellows," Jacoby said in a calm voice. "Put your hands above your heads now. We've got you covered."
As he was speaking, the driver of the truck jumped behind the steerin wheel and fired up the engine. As he hit low gear and began to drive away, Dak jumped into the passenger side and tried to turn the ignition key to off. The driver was a big fellow, six two or three and at least 250 pounds. He grabbed and twisted Dak's arm. Pain shot to his brain, forcing him to drop the arm. He quickly scooted against the door, turned so his feet were on the seat and begin kicking the driver repeatedly, distracting him. While trying to fend off the kicks, the driver lost control of the truck and crashed grill first into a tree. The driver quickly shifted in reverse to back away, but the crash had split open the radiator and spilled all the coolant. The truck engine overheated and froze up.
The driver jumped from the truck and starting to run with Dak right on his trail when they both heard the report of a rifle and heard a bullet slightly overhead parting the leaves and the air. The man turned and walked toward Dak with his hands overhead. Albert had the other men tied up. He then tied up the driver. As he did so, Jacoby got on his cell phone with the Sheriff.
"I've got three rustlers tied up out here in the woods and I need a deputy to arrest them."
"I'll see that one gets right out there. Have one of your men meet him at the house to show him the way."
"I'll do that Sheriff."
The deputy soon arrived and arrested the three rustlers. The next morning the boys slept in but were back at work by the afternoon. Dak continued to work on the ranch until the fall. By then he had enough money to take his trip. He just hoped he could talk his friend Albert into going with him.