A sudden lightning storm the night before had stampeded the cattle on the east range. Calico had spent the entire day with the hands, rounding up as many strays as they could find. Ten were still unaccounted for, and the rest of the hands he'd ridden out with that morning had camped out in the area, and would find the strays the next day.
Calico bedded his horse and entered the bunkhouse just after dark to find Sven, the cook, muttering and cursing over a burnt dinner of beef and beans. Dinner finished, Calico went over to the ranch house to check in with Uncle Dan, the owner of the ranch and Calico's unofficial guardian since Calico was twelve.
There were no lights in the house, which told Calico he would find Uncle Dan in the ranch office, a small shed-like building a few dozen feet from the main house. Dan Overholt, at sixty-five, was still a man to be reckoned with, though his massive frame had begun to settle around his middle. He was totally bald in the center of his head, but his sunburned scalp was surrounded by a wild shock of thick white hair. When Calico was a boy, he'd always thought it looked like mashed potatoes around a steak. Uncle Dan was seated, feet up on the battered table that served as his desk, reading a letter, as Calico entered. Dan looked up, grunted a greeting, and laid the letter aside to light up a huge warped cigar.
"Get 'em all?" he asked, after first blowing an enormous cloud of smoke into the room.
"All but ten, 's far as we can tell. Tim and the boys camped out up near the ridge. They'll find 'em in the morning."
Dan merely shifted his cigar from one corner of his mouth to the other and nodded. He motioned Calico to a chair, then picked up the letter. "You know I had a brother," he said, removing the cigar from his mouth and staring at the glowing end, as if talking to it rather than to Calico. It was a habit he had, Calico knew, whenever he had something really serious to talk about.
"I heared you mention him, once or twice," Calico allowed noncommittally.
"Yeah. Well, we never did get along all that good. He married a rich-type woman when we was barely more than kids, and she and me didn't get on no way. So I came out West and he stayed in
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