Incident in San Francisco (Chapter 1, page 2 of 6)


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Chapter 1

As always when he sat on a hilltop, Monty let his gaze slowly sweep the entire panorama. It was partly force of habit as a rancher, checking the landscape to see if anything out of the ordinary was going on. Were there any trespassers' vehicles visible, any signs of smoke from a fire, any coyotes stalking calves, any wild boar in the cultivated fields? The specific dangers changed with the seasons - fire in the summer, flood in the winter, cows having trouble calving in the fall, and poachers in all seasons. He didn't need field glasses: this was his world, and his life had been spent here with those great distances always in view. Although his eyesight tested just in the normal range, years of experience gave him abilities which would seem superhuman to a city dweller. A small brownish dot on a hill a mile away could be readily identified as a large jackrabbit, a young deer, or a coyote. To someone unaccustomed to this world, if the tiny, distant dot could be located at all there would be no way to guess whether it was a stone, a bush, or an animal: certainly, no novice would hazard a guess as to what kind of animal it was.

Beyond the pragmatic purpose of his observation of the scene was another wholly impractical reason. Monty just plain loved this ranch, and he never tired of taking in its views. He knew that a lot of city folk considered the country to be just something they had to drive through to get to another city, and thought that it all looked the same. A buddy who had worked as a guide on a dude ranch had told him a story which illustrated that perfectly, although neither of them could quite believe that it could have happened.

A middle-aged matron from Chicago, a friend of the family who owned the dude ranch, had come out for a week. She preferred the afternoon bridge games in the air-conditioned ranch house, the cocktail hour around the pool, the wonderful dinners, and after-dinner drinks on the patio as the evening cooled down from the hundred-degree temperatures of the summer days. But she wanted to experience the West, and so had gamely gone along on a trail ride for an hour or two every morning. The guide knew she was a friend of his employer and went out of his way to make her rides enjoyable, taking her down along the river under the leafy cottonwoods once, high along a ridge where you could see for forty miles in any direction another time, along the tractor trail which skirted the hayfields another day.

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