Wednesday, July 16, 2014


This is the third and last episode in the saga of Cornerstone Ranch; unless inspiration takes me back there again at some point. Thank you for reading! I’d love to hear from you. (If you need to get caught up before reading this, see Part One and Part Two)

Lips set in a smile of smug satisfaction, Clayton caressed the ledger’s leather cover. Things were looking mighty good here at Cornerstone Ranch. Lush pastureland sustained ever-increasing herds of cattle and flocks of sheep. Along with a creek running through the 100,000 acres, good fortune had led Clayton to dig water wells in just the right spots. Even in the dry California summer nobody went thirsty.
The Cornerstone Ranch foreman chuckled as he anticipated an entertaining evening later at the saloon in Dry Gulp.

That town’s gonna have to change its name one of these here days, he mused. Ain’t no way none of us is goin’ thirsty no how.
Everyone there knows they owe their success to me and my boys out here on the ranch. We bring ‘em all the business they can handle.

All the same, a small shudder rose from some locked down place in his middle when he looked out the window. The weeping willow at the edge of the gully whispered an oft-repeated accusation. Murderer.

Clayton flapped his hat at the window dismissively. Ain’t nothin’ but the breeze in that durn tree.  He sauntered out of the ranch house and saddled his horse. Time to survey the little kingdom he considered his own. It had been many years since Cornerstone’s owner, a gentleman who lived on the eastern coast, had visited. All the time and effort Clayton had put in gave him cause to believe he was more owner than Mr. Eastern Fancy Pants would ever be.
Clayton spit a stream of tobacco juice onto the corral’s hard packed dirt. 

It’d be a blue moon that’d see Mr. Fancy Pants settin’ foot here again. To top if off, them ‘messages’ I sent by way of Mr. Fancy Pants’ agents as well as that son of his, oughta be enough to scare those fancy pants right offa him. He’ll stay away for good.

That consarned son of his shoulda never left home. I told him to skedaddle before he ended up gettin’ tangled in my rope. I was just protectin’ what’s rightly mine! Ain’t nobody gonna take it from me!

The weeping willow stirred again and a shiver went up Clayton’s spine. He spurred his horse out onto the range and left the willow far behind. 

Squinting his eyes against the glare of the midday sun, Clayton peered across the high chaparral. Was that a plume of smoke he saw just beyond the ridge leading to Santiago Peak? He removed his hat and wiped the sweat off his face with the red bandana he wore around his neck. 

Nah, must’ve been a cloud of deerflies. It’s gone now.

Fire was an ever-present threat at this time of year. He was real strict with his cowhands about leaving fires unattended or tossing smoldering cigarette butts. To be on the safe side, he’d send Little George out to investigate.

After dinner Clayton put on a clean shirt.  “Hey, Willy,” he called to his lead ranch hand, “I’m headed into town. You’re in charge. Most of the boys are goin’ with me.”


“Okay, boss,” Willy’s bushy eyebrows waggled up and down as he pictured the fun they’d be having. Then he remembered something, “Oh, hey, boss. Little George ain’t come back yet from scoutin’ out that bit o’ smoke ya seen. Ya reckon he’s alright?”

“Shucks! You know the man’s part Juaneno Indian,” Clayton rolled his eyes. “Every so often he takes it into his head he’s gotta observe some ceremony to the moon or somethin’. Nah, I ain’t worried ‘bout him.”

With that Clayton and the boys, whooping and hollering, galloped off to town.

Several hours later, bleary-eyed, they let their horses navigate through deep midnight shadows. Slim and Whit’s harmonizing about not being buried ‘neath the western skies on the lone prairie prompted Clayton’s gaze upward. He let out a gasp. “What in tarnation is that?”

“Why, that’s a blue moon,” Slim replied, his higher education kicking in. “And I believe I smell smoke, through which we are viewing that celestial orb.”

Fear surged through Clayton, dispelling the whiskey-induced stupor. Little George! Fire!

As they passed the weeping willow and neared the ranch, complete soberness hit. A horse-drawn buggy waited at the gate, a tall immaculately dressed figure alongside. In a long line to either side, mounted soldiers stood firm, fire reflecting in their drawn sabers.


“Boss,” Slim said, “It appears Mr. Eastern Fancy Pants has returned and intends to avenge his heir with flame and sword."

Slim reined in his horse and doffed his hat. “Adios, Clayton, adios.”

(* Photo taken at Hovander Homestead Park, Ferndale, Washington)
(** Photo taken at Cramer's Farm, an event venue in Northwest Washington State)
(*** Photo taken at Lynden Pioneer Museum, Lynden, Washington)

Monday, July 7, 2014

Part Two of the Cornerstone Trilogy

Another piece of my creative fiction for your entertainment and contemplation. (See SNEAK PREVIEW for Part One in this little saga)


I pondered what the old bartender had told me as the whiskey settled in my stomach. Clearly he had no idea who he was talking to, or he wouldn’t have divulged his dilemma.

You see, I’m a reporter for the Los Angeles Observer, and I was in Dry Gulp investigating a crime. All right, I’m a cub reporter and I was there on vacation at my employer’s suggestion. Okay, okay! He chased me out of town after I got fresh with his daughter, Matilda, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.

Anyway, a couple weeks prior, my resource at the telegraph office had tipped me off. Two gentlemen, both sporting black eyes and numerous bruises, and one with his arm in a sling, sent a telegram addressed to a renowned franchiser back east. Said they’d been assaulted by the cowboys at that Cornerstone Ranch of his, and what did he want them to do now.

I made the acquaintance once of some cowboys from that Ranch at a certain establishment down by the docks. They seemed to have plenty of money to throw around. And they relieved me of my wad. I’m no great shakes at poker, but I think they cheated. I’d sure like to see them get their comeuppance.

My banishment resulting from my little escapade with Matilda, had maybe put me where using my expert investigative skills, I could get back into her daddy’s good graces. I envisioned the headlines.

Cub Reporter Uncovers Plot 
to Take Over Back East Franchiser’s Ranch; 
Murder and Mayhem Averted Just in Time!

Great care must be taken. No accusations of yellow journalism for me. It might boost newspaper circulation but let Hearst and Pulitzer settle that score without my help. As a professional, I intend to always proceed with ethics. My stories will have pathos, human interest, and be sympathetic to the underdog, whenever I find one and it doesn’t bite me first. And my stories will always be entirely verifiable.

I started the process immediately by interviewing the bartender.

“Sir,” I said, in my best professional manner, “those two gentlemen you mentioned, why were they here and why did they get manhandled?”

“I guess they wuz here ta c’llect the income fer the ranch’s real boss. But Clay’s set on keepin’ it fer hisself.”

“Clay, the ranch foreman? What’s he got against his boss?”

“I dunno, young feller,” the barkeep replied. “But I shore hope the boss don’t send his son out here like I heard he wuz. I jest know they’re gonna kill ‘im.”

“Will you inform the local law enforcement agency?” 

The old man’s eyebrows cinched, “The who?”

“Uh, the sheriff, sir,” I said, arching my own.

“Well, now, I jest don’t rightly know. Granted, my life ain’t that important, but ‘tis mine an’ I’d like ta keep it fer a spell. My wife an’ little girl prob’ly be happy ‘bout that too. Clay made it crystal clear he’d come a-gunnin’ fer me if I messed with his business.”

Like cotton on a spindle, my brain was already busily spinning words together.

The sound of boots pounding on the boardwalk interrupted my thoughts and a man burst through the doors.

“Hangin’,” he gasped. “Weepin’ willa’ tree—the gully—Clay and his men! Hurry, mebbe we can stop ‘em!”

I grabbed my pencil and my composition book and rushed out with the rest of the crowd.

But we were too late. A grotesque shadow down the gully matched the figure suspended on a rope. The lynch mob was nowhere to be seen. The whiskey I’d so recently enjoyed threatened to unman me but I had a job to do.

“Sheriff, what’s next?” I somberly asked the lawman as he turned his horse towards town.

“I figger they’ve skedaddled back to the ranch,” he said. “I shore ain’t goin’ after ‘em alone. Reckon I’ll round up a posse. Gotta send someone down to Los Angeles too.” He shook his head, “We need us a telegraph office up here.”

While some men took the body down, I sketched a picture of the scene. I felt sure it would have a prominent spot on the front page of the Observer when I got back to Los Angeles. I was confident my boss would assign me the follow up on this story. Would the murderers be brought to justice? Would the owner of the Cornerstone Ranch come to avenge his son’s death? I hoped I’d get to interview this influential man. It’d be this journalist’s highest achievement.

(*Photo taken at Cramer’s Farm, an event venue in Northwest Washington state)

(**Photo taken at Lynden Pioneer Museum, located in Northwest Washington state)