Ma was pleasantly surprised by this activity. She'd come out to do the feeding herself, and here it was being done, Mookie with a bottle of formula in each hand, double-teaming the cow-lets. Mookie had decided that while most baby animals were cute, calves were low on the scale. That and the fantastic beef she'd been eating, dishes that would go for $65 in snazzy restaurants, would have her spoiled for life. She would not become a vegetarian, thank you.
She was finishing up nursing two tiny calves when the three ranch hands arrived, Mark, Jeff, and James. "H'lo," she greeted them.
"So we heard your scared of guns," one of them said. She never got their names straight. To her, they were a small polyglot of undersize, underage machismo.
She laughed and said, "Scared of them? I've dealt with too many to be scared. I just don't like them. I understand their purpose as a tool, but beyond that.... No, I don't like them."
"So you'd probably piss yourself if someone pointed one at you," said another of the three.
"I'll probably take it away from them," Mookie replied quietly.
The closest one swung his rifle down and pointed it at her belly. While he was doing that, she was unhooking her whip from her belt. When he leveled the rifle, Mookie shot the whip out, gave it a twist, and yanked hard. The rifle now laid at Mookie's feet.
The other two reached for their straps at their shoulders, only to find themselves dancing around grunting in pain, sucking their thumbs. One angrily tried again, only to lose several layers of skin.
I never run out of ammo," said Mookie. "I could stand here taking your hands down to the bone if I wanted. Do you really want to play this game, or just say one of you tripped and dropped his rifle, and skinned his knuckles at the same time. It's a story I'm happy with."
"Suits me, too," came Chet's voice as he emerged from around the side of the nursery. "Unless you all want your father and your boss --- my Pappy --- to hear about how you've been threatening a ranch guest with a rifle. Not to mention the cleaning that rifle is gonna need before it's usable because you had to prove you're a tough guy to a woman. And have I mentioned our policy we have around her about pointing firearms at other human beings? As in, you never do it, for any reason?"
There was a sale on "Abashed," and they were buying in bulk.
"Oh, and one one last thing, boys. If you're gonna read dirty magazines when you're supposed to be riding herd, do me a favor and take 'em home with you in the morning. It's appreciated. Better yet, don't have 'em here at all, it'll be one less reason for me to fire you, and I've been building a pile of reasons why I don't need you. Am I clear on this? We'll hit the bell for dinner, boys."
Walking back around the shed to wash the bottles, Chet said,"Woman, you are about as tough as nails."
"I learned running away only gets you shot in the ass. So I don't."
Walking past the grain feed shed is when she heard the grunt.
She stuck her head in and saw Roger, face-down on the floor. Her first thought was he was drunk.... But the movements were all wrong. It was like he couldn't get his limbs to move correctly, they were out of sync with each other. That, and you'd be able to smell someone crawling drunk. They give off fumes.
"Roger! It's me, Mookie! Can you understand me? What happened to you?!"
"Hit me... inna head..... with a shovel. She took.....keys....wallet..."
A few minutes later they had Roger on a sofa and an ambulance on its way. Ma was building a small mountain of beef (what else?) sandwiches and a large bowl of potato salad using leftover potatoes from a couple days earlier. The hands would get fed, along with anyone else in the house
"Did she say anything?" asked Mookie.
"She hated her life.... Was gonna go west to build a real life." Mookie was seriously concerned about Roger's concussion. His speech had improved, but his eyes wanted to move independently of each other, like fish in two bowls.
"Should we try to go after her?" asked Mookie. "You're sick of hearing me say it, but I feel like this is my fault, that she would never have tried to---- "
"Brianna has wanted to leave for a couple years now, head for Reno or Sacramento or the Bay Area. Lord, but you should have heard the screaming fits that girl could throw. I thought she'd be better --- these were tantrums you expect from a four year old --- because she would be going off to college, wherever she wanted, she's got quite a college fund built up. We thought she'd be happy at college, bein' in an open atmosphere, no cows...."
"Wish I could sit down and talk to her," said Mookie. "I can tell her what life is like as a runaway. Every ugly thing you can think of, I've seen. I preferred being a thief to being a whore, but you're still neck deep in the shit as a runaway. And I'd been pretty much raised around criminals, so I knew what I was doing. I don't think that girl could lift a Snickers Bar from a gas station, much less bluff a cashier into giving up the contents of a register tray with a pipe in her pocket."
"Wait a minute.... " Chet got up, walked to the back of the house, and returned shaking his head sadly. "She won't need to bluff. Pappy's pistol is gone."
"When will Brianna be home?" asked Roger. "Gotta have words with that girl."
Mookie and Chet looked at each other. Roger seemed to be not quite there. Fluid on the brain, and how much, was a heavy concern.
After several millenia, the ambulance arrived. Roger didn't want to go. He wanted to wait for his daughter. Chet and Mookie explained what was going on, he certainly had fluid on his brain, would move from lucid to confused one minute to the next, and would need to get to the hospital on the double if he was going to remain whole, maintaining his faculties.
The driver got the idea and used his sirens and gas pedal for what they were meant for. "In the hands of God and medical science. Chet, will you pray with me?"
Chet looked surprised.. "I didn't know you were a believer," he said.
"I am, in my own way. I believe in God, and that Christ was put here to provide the salvation of mankind, that he is our savior. Beyond that, we'll have a lot of arguing. Will you pray with me?"
"Sure Mookie, absolutely."
Mookie said, "Lord, I have a double for you tonight. One of your children, Roger, is suffering from a serious head wound. It may take more than our science to make him well, it may take your intervention, Lord, to make him well and keep him whole. We need your unending strength and wisdom to make Roger whole and healthy.
"Also Lord, we seek a lost child of yours, a young girl named Brianna, who wants to escape her troubles by running from them. You know how crappy that works, so we wish to find her and bring her home, where she is loved and will be safe. Until we find her, hold her in your hands and keep her from the evils of the world. You know I've seen 'em, and how much they suck, so please spare her of the agonies and bring her back to us. In Jesus' name we pray, amen."
"Just.... Never heard anyone use the word 'suck' in a prayer before."
Mookie said, "It's not the words, it's the message. The Lord hears, and understands."
An idea struck Mookie. I know you've got CB radios in the 350 and 150 Fords. Does Roger have one in his Chevy?"
"Of course. Around here, CBs are practically the equivalent to phones. When we're working wide range, we need 'em to communicate."
"Why don't we try reaching Brianna on her CB? We'd be able to tell where she is, if she lets on. I could try to get her to talk."
Chet rubbed his face. "CBs have a limited range. Even as slow as that girl drives, she's on the far side of Salt Lake by now. Unless...."
"From the top of the pass above Salt lake, we'd have a good range. We stop at the top of the pass and try to break in on channel 12, which is the frequency our family uses. And if we take the 350, we can fuel up both tanks and we'd have a range of nearly six hundred miles. We could catch her, maybe."
Mookie was confused. "Both tanks?"
Chet explained, "That big 350 has two fuel tanks, and each one is about twenty-eight gallons. You can cover some distance with that much gas."
"They ought to build more cars like that."
Chet said, "They'd need to be strong. Think about the weight of all that fuel."
"I see your point. How about I wrap up some sandwiches and brew a thermos of coffee?"
I'll grab my tape case so we have music to listen to."
With trepidation in her voice, Mookie asked, "Umm....What kind of music....?"
"Well, I've got about a half-dozen of the London Underground compilations, Art of Noise, some acid house comps a friend made, early Ministry, Cabaret Voltaire.... Got some punk rock stuff in there too, if that interests you," he said with a snide grin.
"So you're a raging techno fan."
"Pretty much, yeah. Can't stand country music." Chet smiled. "That's what you were expecting, wasn't it?"
"I think I just learned one of those lessons about not judging a book by its cover."
"Well, UCLA had a couple good techno and electronica programs on the campus station, plus there were always raves happening somewhere. I've been a techno fan since I knew it existed, when I was eighteen. Roger, he's the full-blown cowboy. We hate riding anywhere together, 'cos we fight about the music constantly."
"I think you gave me an embolism. You'd better kiss me to cure it."
Chet held Mookie by the waist, tilted his head up, and cured her embolism.
Ma was not comfortable with the idea: a high-speed run across the desert at night trying to seek out a single pickup truck driven by a girl who was acting demonstrably unstable and violent. And there were no pickles for the sandwiches, there was that to be considered.
Chet and Mookie promised caution, in many ways, on their part. Brianna having Pappy's gun concerned them both, and kept that fact from Ma. In the meantime, they considered the amount of driving to be done and wished for a second thermos.
As it was, they loaded in the cooler full of food, the thermos, the case of cassettes, made sure Mookie's whip was on her belt, and headed out. They fueled in town and hit the freeway.
After nearly an hour, they pulled over at Mountain Dell golf course to try the CB.
"Brianna, you out there, girl?"called Mookie. "Brianna, it's me, Mookie, the weird girl from the ranch.. Talk to me, girlfriend."
After five seconds a washed up voice came through. "Is that really you, Mookie?"
"Yeah, it's me, burn marks and all!"
"How'd you get through to me?"
"I'm on the roof with a lotta coathangers!"
" C'mon, you're at the summit."
"Okay, you caught me out. Look, we really need you to come home."
"That is not my home! I will never return there!"
"Will you at least stop someplace, like a restaurant, and talk with me? It's cool if you don't want to talk with Chet."
A voice that had shifted to pure anger said, "I'll just be wasting time. Besides, won't you two be too busy fucking!?"
"I don't know what to say to that, Brianna."
"Don't try." her voice yelled
"Brianna, I have a question only you can answer, and I'm hoping you will.... Brianna, why did you sabotage my car? Please, please tell me. I still wanna be your friend, I just wanna know why."
The start of a scream came over the speaker, then was cut off as Brianna lifted her thumb off the mike switch. They were left with dead air.