CUTS NO SLACK
A Reed Haddok Westerm
Rolled up in my blanket against the chill as my fire died down, my mind drifted back to those days along the Brazos. There had been a part of me that few folks had ever seen.
My name is Reed Haddok, but maw and paw had taken to calling me Bud from before I could remember. So, Bud Haddok was who I was. My grandpaw, Reedus Haddok, who had been a blacksmith and metal man back east in Tennessee, was where I got my name. I don't know where my folks got Bud.
My paw used to say as I was growing up, "Bud, I'd better not ever catch you causing trouble to no man, woman, or kid. If I ever do, I'll tan your hide. But if trouble ever comes your way, you don't cut it no slack." My paw was a rough and tumble fighter and the word was that he could pretty well hold his own. He taught me to feint with the left and throw the right. He taught me to throw a hip roll and stomp a man's foot. Over and over he told me, "When you throw a punch, roll your shoulder and punch through what you are trying to hit." He taught me that gettin knocked down was the easiest thing about fighting, but gettin back up was the hardest. He would say, "Just keep gettin up til you see quit in his eyes." We went at it enough up til I was about sixteen and then of a sudden paw stopped teaching me. He said he saw something in my eyes that made him a little nervous. I think it was the day I rolled him pretty hard and he got up slow. I found myself at the edge of hurting him real bad. He was the first to see that part of me.
The second time that part of me rose up was in the fall of my sixteenth year. I was six feet two and weighed about one hundred eighty-five pounds. The years of cuttin wood, throwin cows, building dams, and hard work of the ranch left me what paw called mostly muscle and gristle. Paw had been gone about two weeks on one of his see the world trips and me and Tess was taking care of the chores. I was down by the pole corral fixin a gate when I heard horses coming. I turned and before I could move toward my rifle that was leaning against the barn three men rode right up to where I was standing. Their horses carried the Lazy L brand and I knew they were from the outfit west of the Brazos. Our place lay east of the Brazos and that old river served as a pretty good fence although we had to keep check on our stock and run them back across when they rambled over on Lazy L land. I didn't know these fellers. The one sittin right above me, lookin down on me, was the one who spoke.
"That old brindle bull of yours crossed over onto Lazy L land and got in a fight with Mr. Larkin's best bull. He horned our bull pretty good and he might die from it. We rode over here to tell you that I shot and killed your bull and we are going to shoot any more of your stock that crosses the Brazos."
Now they seemed pretty sure of themselves. I thought I saw one of them smile a bit when they spoke of killing old Brindle. Well, I felt it rising. While that feller was finishing his words, in one swift movement, I reached up with my left hand and jerked him out of the saddle. He fell right on his head and I pulled my knife from my belt and reached and got a handful of his hair. By the time their horses settled down from the commotion and they got their guns out, I had that knife against the throat of their pal and I said calmly, as if I didn't have a care in the world, "This knife is razor sharp and it will cut clean through his neck with one pull."
The feller I was holding was out cold from the fall, but the other two looked like they thought they were still in control of things. I moved that knife ever so gently toward me and a thin line of blood started seeping down his throat. One of them said, "Wait a minute kid. Don't kill him. Give him to us and we'll hightail it out of here."
I had not moved. I looked at them for a few seconds and saw the quit come into their eyes. I then spoke quietly, "If you had told me my bull was over there, I would have driven him back. I can't keep two bulls from fighting. If my bull had caused you damage, I would have stood for it. You two ride out of here and be back by dark with a bull to replace mine or I'm gonna cut his throat." They started to talk again and I just drew that knife a little more across his throat. They whirled and rode out of there like the devil was after them.
I drug the man over by the fence and tied his hands to a post. I fetched a bucket of water and doused him with it. He began to move and moan a little. I wet a rag and washed the blood off his neck. I had not cut him deep, but a scratch there will bleed real good. It looked worse than it was. The thing that kind of bothered me was I knew I would have cut his throat if I had to.
I got back to work and had to listen to that gent cuss me, beg me, and a few times he got so worked up he cried. Tess had seen the whole thing from the house and I learned later she had a rifle on them and swore she could have handled the other two if she needed to. She said to me, "Bud, are you crazy? You must be, takin on three armed men with a knife."
"It seems like they took me on. If I had cut'em some slack, they'd be runnin all over us."
I told her to stay in the house and give me some cover if I needed it. I took my rifle and walked over to the shade of a liveoak and set down to wait. It was gettin late in the afternoon when I heard them comin. I eased to my feet and walked over to where the feller was tied to the fence. By this time he was babbling and looked a mess.
Eight riders crossed the river with two of them half pulling and half being pulled by a big old longhorn bull. The man in front pulled up short and said, "I'm Cyrus Larkin." He said it like it ought to mean something to me. I just stood there with that rifle pointed right at his cowhand, who at the time was begging his boss to cut him loose.
Larkin spoke again, "I don't hold to my men shooting your bull. They didn't do that on my orders. They will work for the price of this bull I'm bringing you and believe me, it will take them a while to pay for it."
I still had not said a word. The hammer on my rifle was eared back and my finger rested tightly on the trigger. Finally, I said, "Put the bull in the corral and cut your man loose." As they started to move, I decided to tell them where we stood. "We take care of our place and our stock. We don't aim to cause trouble for nobody. But if you or anybody else brings trouble to us, you'll get all you want and then some."
Larkin spoke, "I check you folks out every now and then. You got a small spread, but you run it real good. You take care of your stock in the winter and you are producing some good steers."
Just as I was about to relax in all his honey-drippin words he went and stepped over the line again.
"There's no telling what you folks could do if that no-account daddy of yours would stay around and help you."
My trigger finger tightened on that rifle and I swung it swiftly til it was pointed right at his belly. "Mr Larkin, my paw taught me everything I know from cows to fighting. He ain't no-account. If I ever hear you say that about him agin, I'll find you and I'll kill you."
"I'm sorry son. Accept my apology. I had no call to talk about your paw like that." He looked at this sixteen year old kid with amazement for a spell. Then he said, "I'd be kinda proud to know I had a son like you."
I noticed a smile on his face as he motioned his men to put the bull in the corral and to cut their pal loose. They put him on his horse and rode out slowly. I watched them til they crossed the Brazos.
Tess walked down to where I was standing and after a few minutes of silence, we walked over to the corral.
"He's a fine bull," she said.
"Yep! I guess he'll do."
As we turned to walk back to the house I noticed she was looking at me like something was wrong with me.
About a month later paw rode in and wouldn't you know, the first thing he noticed was that new longhorn bull.
"Where'd you git him?"
"I made a trade," I said and walked away. That night after I went to bed I heard him ask Tess about the bull. Being the woman she is, she told him the whole story. Every now and then paw would chuckle lowly and say "You don't mean it?" or "Did he really do that?" After the talk kind of died down and the room had been quiet a spell, I heard paw say, "The boy's got it in him alright. I've seen it. When he gets like that, the feller bringin trouble better look out."