Douglas & McIntyre
Lightning

Book details:

March 2010
ISBN 978-1-55365-537-4
Paperback - Trade
5" x 7"
480 pages
Fiction
$19.95 CAD

Douglas & McIntyre

Lightning

Excerpt / Additional Content

from

“Dillon, Montana"

Stepping over bodies and through the dusty streams of light, Doc Windham made his way to the stove and felt its side. There were still hot coals in the bottom, and when he threw in a handful of kindling, it flamed. Though not the frigid mornings of a month ago, this wasn’t springtime either. It was that time of advent when summer’s wages are a distant memory and spring round-up but a prediction, a time when Doc and his wintering partners, Dog Eye and Lippy, along with all the other out-of-work cowboys on the Beaverhead, had begun to starve. If a prairie chicken or a rabbit did not die on your bullet each day, you ate beans or went hungry.

The problems of this season had been forecast in the fall, when Doc and his partners were let go by Poindexter and Orr, the biggest ranch in the region. Laid off, there was nothing for the cowboys to do except head for town, and because the P & O surrounded the town of Dillon, that meant Dillon. Or rather they had come to this deserted soddy on Dillon’s outskirts, and moved in before they know its story: how the squatter who built it had gone broke and hanged himself from the first tree in any direction tall enough to get him off the ground.

As winter came on strong, they had learned to get out and clean the roof, lest the weight of the snow push the sods between the pole beams some night and crush them. If the form of falling weather was rain, it arrived inside as a dark slurry that they dodged with their plates of beans and cups of coffee. The soddy’s purpose was to retain heat through the coldest hour, and theirs had done so, barely.

Doc pushed more deadwood into the stove and closed the door. Through several holes in the rotten metal, he could see the dancing yellow. On the stove-top was the coffee can. Doc threw in the last of the grounds.

While he waited for the coffee to boil, Doc considered his companions by the yellowy light. Lippy Mann, twenty-one and keen as scissors, was sitting up in his blankets now, raking at his curly mop of blond hair. Not one to lie in bed full of woe, Lippy rose and pulled on his clothes, snapped his suspenders, which he liked to wear tight. As far as Doc could remember, Lippy had not spoken in two days. That was his nature: to be quiet and quieter. During times of adversity, he was all but wordless.

Dog Eye French, a skinny Texan of twenty-five, was another matter. He was never quiet if awake and had been tiresome through complaint for months. At present, he was stretched luxuriantly from wall to wall, probably only pretending to sleep, which he would do sometimes for an hour, waiting to make sure all the work was done.

By nature, Doc was the most talkative of the three but did not believe in bellyaching. Not doing so when times were hard was an enjoyable challenge. At thirty-seven, Doc was old for a cowboy, but he believed experience had given him a resource of philosophy most cowboys lacked. For example, in the present instance, Doc looked beyond the hungry moment and saw spring. Come spring, ranchers hired round-up crews. It was inevitable. A law. If the Bible had been written in Montana, it would be a biblical law.

While the stove smoked out its many holes and the coffee can began to rattle, Doc thought more about the spring round-up. He thought in particular about Poindexter and Orr, who had reliably hired him in the past. He wondered, as he had almost every day this cold winter, why the P & O foreman had passed on him and his partners in the fall.

Doc turned his gaze on Dog Eye, who was finally sitting up. He stared at him cruelly while the noise in the can escalated. Dog Eye, who got his name from having eyes sad as a hound’s, looked very much like a hound this morning upon seeing Doc’s expression.

“Dog Eye, let’s go over this again, before I bow down to Poindexter and Orr’s cow boss. What did you do to annoy the man?”

The hound’s eyes looked away.

“I did nothing. If you don’t believe me, don’t.”

Doc was about to argue when it occurred to him that Dog Eye was correct. Doc was being annoying and unfair, just the way Dog Eye was most days and would become again as soon as he was awake enough. Even though Lippy never spoke, Doc knew his thoughts and they were tiresome too. All three of them had spent too long in this soddy staring at the oil-can stove, wondering if this was the day its side would fall off, arguing whose turn it was to fiddle with the coffee-can stovepipe collars when they began to smoke.

Too long around their rude table by the light of a homely bitch lamp, playing poker and three-card monte and stook and rummy and whatever else anyone could remember. They had chased bills and coins around the table’s crooked surface until, by virtue of trips to town for flour and beans and never enough whisky, the pile of money had all but disappeared.

And the only relief from these tiresome rituals was to go to town again.

The true measure of today’s desperation was that Lippy agreed to come when Doc proposed it. Lippy Mann, who hated town because he hated to be seen.