Fire Down the Valley Ch. 05

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Warren Savage only visited the Hayden saloon and required Cal’s services one more time during Cal’s temporary work there. He was a bit more demanding and rough on the repeat than the first time, and Cal sensed that this was something that would build in intensity until something gave—probably Cal’s life. He knew that law was so raw out here on the edges of civilization and Savage was so powerful here that he could get away with murder if he wanted to. Thus, although the totality of the taking attracted Cal on some level, and he was forced to say it was what he wanted, which only egged the man on, he was relieved that he was only at the Hayden saloon temporarily and thus didn’t have to worry—much—about where it was going.

Despite Levi’s advice to neither become attached to any of his customers nor to give his favors away for free, Cal met Frank more frequently. Never in the saloon again, but three times, in the morning, across the Yampa on land of the Double O ranch. They met in a lean-to in a gully Cal could get to on foot that was there as an emergency shelter in case one of the men was out on the range in the winter and was overtaken by a storm before he could get to one of the more permanent buildings scattered about the ranch.

Whoever got there first stripped and lay on blankets under the low, sloping roof of the lean-to. They would embrace and kiss and grope each other as soon as they met, making full use of every minute available to them. Whoever had arrived first would start off on the bottom. The first time Cal arrived first and Frank, stripping off outside the lean-to, came down between Cal’s spread legs and lifted his knees with his own knees. He leaned over Cal’s body, his hands around Cal’s neck, his thumbs stroking under Cal’s chin, and his forehead plastered against Cal’s forehead, the two of them locking eyes to fully capture the effect of the coupling on each other. Cal’s hands moved between their bellies, and he stroked both cocks together as they engorged. Then he rolled his pelvis up and guided Frank into him, giving a little cry at the thickness and strength of him—and then at the length of him as Frank pressed in and in and in. He stroked slowly at first, and Cal moaned deeply, a sound that was cut off by Frank’s lips finding his.

Innnn, and outtt, slowly at first. Then increasing in speed and intensity. Cal grabbed Frank’s buttocks and dug into the flesh with his nails as Frank pounded him, both of them lost in the fuck.

The second time Frank was there first and Cal straddled his pelvis and rode the cock.

The third time Cal almost left before Frank finally arrived, thinking that perhaps he had the date or time wrong. And when Frank did arrive, he seemed disconcerted and he fucked Cal roughly, in a more primeval, businesslike way like their first copulation rather than like the previous two hot, and almost romantic, couplings in the lean-to.

“Is something wrong, Frank?” Cal asked. He felt he knew what it was. Cal’s time at the saloon was coming to an end. Frank would be wondering where, if anywhere, the two went from there in what could become more than casual fucking.

He was completely surprised and dismayed by the answer, which wasn’t something he’d been prepared to hear. Once hearing it, though, he knew that he’d been stupid and shouldn’t be surprised.

“I’ve seen Andy Reeder from up at the lumber mill on Hahn’s Peak. You know Andy Reeder, don’t you?”

“Oh,” was all Cal could say. Yes, he certainly knew Andy Reeder. He knew him from Milo Mather’s mill; they had worked side by side on more than one occasion. And he’d seen Reeder just two days previously—in the Hayden saloon. Like the other mill workers, Reeder had left the mountainside until tensions between the cattlemen and the sheep men and homesteaders settled down. Reeder had seen Cal in the saloon, and he’d found out what Cal was doing in the saloon.

For the life of him, however, Cal had not imagined that Frank and Andy Reeder would ever meet up and, even if they did, that they would have a reason to discover that they both knew Cal. Now he could see that that had just been wishful thinking.

“Reeder tells me you live in the Slater Creek valley—that you are a sheepman.”

“I live there, yes. And I live on a sheep ranch, yes, although we’re switching to farming. But I was adopted. I have no stake in the sheep; I’m just living with an old man there who is no threat to the cattlemen. I doubt he’ll have an opportunity to be a threat to anyone very long.”

“I can’t be consorting with no sheepman,” Frank said. “If Savage found out, I’d be a dead man. So would you. This has got to be the end.”

Cal processed this and sat on it for a minute, but then he answered, with a sigh. “It would have been the end, or close to it anyway, Frank, wouldn’t it? I finish in Hayden and go back to the valley in a couple of days.”

“They won’t let you back in the valley.”

“I got out of the valley when they weren’t letting anyone in or out. I’ll get back in. I can’t just leave the casino oyna old man there.”

“What’s the name of this ranch you live on?”

“Round and about it’s known as Heaven; but it says Paradise on the signpost. But it’s neither, Frank. As soon as the old man can be convinced to leave or . . . or dies . . . I’ll be moving on. Maybe into Hayden.”

“To be a fuck doxy?”

“Maybe and maybe not. That’s how you found me, Frank. That’s how you’ve used me. Does it matter so much now?”

Where was this coming from, Cal wondered. Frank had always been so impersonal about their fucking, giving the impression that he was just taking his pleasure on Cal’s body—for free now. Cal was getting what he wanted out of the coupling, and it’s true that he was having feelings for Frank. But Frank hadn’t shown any indication that it was more than just a good fuck for him.

Frank didn’t say anything. He just moved away from Cal and reached for his trousers and shirt.

“Or does what matter is that I live with the sheepmen? Would it make it even worse if you knew that before that I lived with the Arapaho? That I was raised by them? That I’m no better than a half-breed. You’re a half-breed, Frank. How do people look at you? As who you are, inside, or do they only think of you as a half-breed?”

“I don’t think there’s any more to say,” Frank said angrily, as, standing outside the lean-to, he buttoned up the fly of his trousers.

The last time Cal would see that lovely horse-hung cock. The last time he’d feel it inside him. Nothing else was said. Frank turned and strode toward his horse. Cal watched him go, his heart sinking. The man was magnificent, even from the back. Back in the saloon that first time they’d fucked, Cal had fantasized on what Frank looked like naked. Now he knew, and the reality was much more arousing than the fantasy had been. But now it was over.

After he’d had time to be angry and sad and to mourn the loss, Cal gave a sigh and became resolved to how this had turned out. It would have only been a matter of days before they had parted anyway. He would have hoped that it wouldn’t be because Frank had learned of the great divide between them—something that was larger than either one of them; something that, Cal believed, was silly nonsense.

But maybe a sudden, sharp break like this was for the best. Levi Yost had been right. There was nothing but folly in having feelings for men who bought your tail for their personal release. He turned his eyes to the south, toward Hahn’s Peak. Three more days and he’d be moving out in that direction again. He missed Ilesh. Perhaps he’d take an extra day or two. Linger at the timberline above the mill, spend a day or two with Ilesh before returning to the drudgery and frustration of Heaven.

* * * *

The break with Frank wasn’t as clean as he had tried to establish. At the end of Cal’s stint in Levi Yost’s saloon in Hayden, Frank dogged Cal’s trail all the way back to the southern slope of Hahn’s Peak, where Cal picked up the Arapaho mountain trail that would permit him to bypass the cattlemen’s blockade of the southern end of the Slater Creek valley. Frank had hung back far enough to think he wasn’t observed by Cal, but Cal was aware of him—and was inwardly glad for the protective gesture. When he was close to the mountain, though, Cal evaded Frank as best he could. Frank was with the cattlemen. Cal didn’t want to reveal to the cattlemen where the Arapaho trail started.

Also from the moment that Cal felt he had lost contact with Frank, though, he started to ache for him. But that was working to a dull ache. Just another disappointment to add to the others in his life.

Cal camped out for two days where the Arapaho trail branched off at the Hahn’s Peak upper timberline to drop down from the western slope to the wider logging trail leading out of Milo Mather’s lumber mill. He was waiting for Ilesh, who had told him to come to this point if he needed the Arapaho brave. Cal felt he needed Ilesh badly—to help him recenter himself if nothing else. He had fallen for Frank. He was able to admit that to himself after the break. It isn’t what he wanted. It was as much a disaster for him to fall for a cattleman as it was to Frank to fall for a man living on a sheep ranch. And then, as another reason to camp a few days before returning to Heaven, there were the bruises and welts that Cal had to nurse and endure from his second visitation from Warren Savage.

Added to this was how, despite the roughness of Savage’s fucking, Cal was increasingly aroused by the man. This was not the sort of domination that Cal wanted to fall under, but he could see that it could happen—that he could succumb to the sexuality of the man even while Savage was beating him.

But Ilesh didn’t appear. The Arapaho brave had been so insistent that he would be here if Cal needed him that Cal hadn’t even considered that it wouldn’t happen. But why had he counted on that, Cal thought—just because Ilesh had been so positive and Cal hadn’t ever known him to canlı casino fail in what he wanted to do? Ilesh was a hunted man, continually on the move. There was no reason Cal should expect the brave to know that Cal was waiting for him there. And Cal couldn’t afford to wait for another day.

His heart was heavy as he pushed the mule to descend to the logging trail and then north to the lumber mill camp. Being alone as he had been for four days on the trail now, he had the time to think on whether what he’d had to do, to give of himself, in the Hayden saloon was worth what he had received. He was coming home with more cash than he’d ever seen before in his life, that was for sure. But what was it for? It was to rebuild a shed to please his adoptive father, to allow him to live the false hope that life in the valley wasn’t irrevocably changing—when, in fact, it was ending for sheepmen like Old Henry. And until the mill was back in operation, the shed couldn’t be rebuilt anyway. Was that worth what Cal had put himself through?

Other than that he had enjoyed being fucked, of course, having men wanting to be inside him. Even knowing that they were willing to pay for it had a little thrill of its own. He could do this, what Samuel was doing, more than just occasionally, he thought. It was another option for him. And he didn’t have many options in life.

By the time he was riding into the lumber mill camp, he had decided that, yes, it was worth it. Henry and Lizbeth had taken him in and given him everything they could in life. What was happening in the valley was going to happen no matter what; it was bigger than any of them. Cal had to just keep on being a son to Henry as long as he could. The big issues would just have to take care of themselves.

For now, Cal had a new problem, a new concern. The mill camp was truly deserted this time. Not even Hiram was there, and it didn’t look like anyone had been there for several days. All of the perishable supplies in the kitchen had gone bad and had not been removed. He already had been disturbed before he got to this point, however. Next to the logging trail as it entered the camp was the camp’s graveyard. Fatal accidents were an occupational hazard in a logging and lumber mill operation, men working here didn’t tend to have family nearby, and the mill was isolated from most of the civilized world. So, it was natural that there would be a graveyard near the camp. But it wasn’t natural that there should be a freshly dug grave—dug sometime while Cal was on his journey to and back from Hayden—there. And yet, there was a freshly dug grave. And it didn’t have an improvised wooden cross stuck in it as there would normally be.

So, Cal was steeled against some tragic mishap when he rode into the deserted camp.

There wasn’t anything here for him other than supplies, so Cal didn’t dawdle. He picked out the biggest logging dray that he was confident the mule could pull with a load in it. On this he loaded lumber still around in the mill yard that he thought could be used to start the building of the shed at Heaven. He would settle with Milo Mather later; he did have an order in for the planks and their mutual trust would make this an easy transaction. On top of this he loaded all of the nonperishable foodstuffs that he could find in the camp’s kitchen. He left a note for Hiram to that effect in case the man was just away from the camp. Hiram wasn’t very mobile, though, so Cal didn’t think there was much of a chance that Hiram had strayed from the camp on his own. Chances were good that he’d come to his senses and somehow gotten down to one of the ranches in the valley—or that someone down there had come for him and convinced him to leave the camp.

That was if the freshly dug grave wasn’t his. And if it was his, who had dug his grave?

The answers, Cal, hoped were waiting for him down in the valley. If anyone would know what had happened, it would be Mrs. Thornton, at the schoolhouse where this path from the mountain joined with the valley road. The school—and Mrs. Thornton—were where all the news of the valley gathered.

Cal’s first stop in the valley would be the schoolhouse anyway to leave off the nonperishable provisions he was bringing from the mill camp.

* * * *

Nobody told Cal that they knew anything about what had happened up at Milo Mather’s mill in the past two weeks. Hiram either didn’t come down into the valley or he didn’t linger around the school house of any of the places to the north of that up to Heaven long enough for anyone to mark his presence. As soon as he guided the dray into the homestead compound, Cal went up to the graveyard and buried the money he’d gotten in Hayden between the graves of Lizbeth and one of her young girls.

“Glad to see you giving your respects up on the hill first thing when you get back,” Old Henry said, who had come out to the front porch when Cal returned to the house. “Looks like you got enough money for the lumber for the shed, though it looks like the shed will need a mite more than kaçak casino that.”

“It’s all the mule could manage, Pa. Yes, I got enough laid by for the shed lumber. I got enough poles to frame the shed out, and, when I’ve used these planks to start the siding, I’ll go back to the mill for more.” Henry was already half way in his own fantasy world. Cal saw no reason to disturb his thoughts further on how things really stood around here.

And he did what he could to continue to let Henry drift along.

Cal was out nailing boards to the corner posts of the shed he’d sunk in the ground when three riders trotted up to the front of the house. Cal recognized cattlemen when he saw them and made it to the front of the porch by the time Henry had come out of the house. Henry was carrying his rifle. Cal hadn’t thought to keep his with him by the shed. He moved quickly to stand between Henry and the mounted men.

“You Cal Cowden?” One of the riders asked Cal as he came around the corner of the house.

“That’s me,” Cal answered.

“We’ve come to fetch you. Mr.—”

“Can we discuss this off a bit?” Cal asked, giving a gesture toward the old man on the porch in a way that only the riders saw him. “Don’t want to be making anything out of this that isn’t necessary.”

The cowboy gave him a hard look and then shrugged and said. “Yeah, I guess so. We were told not to put any holes in you. Way we heard it, you’re the one with a hole to be plugged.” Both of the men sitting on horses behind him gave a snort. Both had their hands on their holstered rifles, though, and Cal didn’t doubt that one or both could get off a shot before Henry could get his rifle lifted and pointed.

So, this was what this was about, Cal thought. No killing needed to happen today if he kept his wits about him and didn’t fight the inevitable. “Just some men from Hayden, Pa,” he turned to Henry and said. “Something about the job there, I think. I’ll talk to them.”

When they’d pulled off a bit, the lead cowboy said, “Mr. Savage sent us to bring you back to the Double O. He wasn’t pleased when you wasn’t at the saloon the last time he visited. So, he thinks you should be at the ranch now.”

“I was only at Yost’s temporarily,” Cal said. “He’d have known that if he’d asked Levi Yost.”

“Well, Yost didn’t tell him, and Mr. Savage isn’t happy. He wants you to visit him at the ranch.”

“I have work to do here . . . and how did you know to find me here?”

“Frank Barlow told us he’d heard you came from a ranch named Heaven in the valley. He didn’t tell us it would be a sheep ranch. But I guess we could figure that out for ourselves. And maybe Mr. Savage don’t care. Maybe you could make it worth our whiles not to tell him.”

The men were looking at Cal with faces full of speculation. He didn’t know whether it was money or tail they were after, but he figured he’d find out soon enough.

“Frank? He’s not with you.”

“Said he wouldn’t come. Said he didn’t feel well yesterday morning, so we came without him. You gonna give us shit about this? We could shoot the old man and burn the place and you’d still have to come with us.”

“You plan on doing that anyway, the way I hear it,” Cal said.

“Not today. Not if you come with us quiet like. And if you make sure that old man doesn’t do anything stupid.”

Cal turned toward the porch. “There’s some more construction needs done in Hayden, Pa. I need to go help with that. The shed’ll have to wait.”

“You’ll have to take the mule again if you have to leave right away, then,” Henry answered. “John and Harv have the horses out at the other end of the spread.”

“That’ll be fine. I don’t think I’ll be gone long,” Cal said. Let the old man live his illusions as long as he could, Cal thought. For Cal, though, he didn’t think he’d ever be back here again. Or still be living for long, if it came to that. Especially now that Warren Savage knew he was from the sheep folks.

It was a two-day trip back down the valley and onto the Double O ranch since all Cal had to ride was a mule. When they stopped for the night, Cal found out it wasn’t money that would buy these cowboys’ silence about finding him on a sheep ranch. Each of the men had him in succession bent over a saddle by the fire and in more than one round through the night.

“Are all the hands at the ranch this randy for other men?” Cal asked one of them.

“Not all—but all who volunteered to come bring you back. It’s what we was told we could have if we did.”

* * * *

Warren Savage took Cal immediately from astride his mule to his bedroom in the big house when they arrived at the Double O ranch and kept him there through to the next morning. Cal had seen Frank from a distance when they’d ridden up to the house, but Frank, looking miserable, just turned and walked unsteadily off. Cal didn’t see much of anyone for the next three days. He was kept in a small bedroom in the ranch house with a serving girl tending to his welts and bruises.

Savage had indeed been angry Cal had been taken from under his nose at the Hayden saloon and he also had a much larger collection of toys in the ranch house than were kept in the big room on the second-floor, front of the Hayden saloon.

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