Working Title: Saddle Tramp

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The Prodigal comes back, but not home.
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First Chapter
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Opening of Chapter One (Rough Draft)

I dumped my saddle on the rough board floor at Chuck McCain's feet. Obvious neglect from a hard working broom showed as dust from feed, hay and the Panhandle prairie filled the air. The livery owner stopped the harness repair job and looked up from his seat on the hay bale. The cloud began to clear as the evening breeze moved it out to the stable.

"There she is," I said. I couldn't hide the edge on my voice. This hurt deeper than just my pride. "She's a good saddle. Made in Waco by Padget. You won't ride on better."

I was embarrassed. I hadn't bothered to clean up the tooling on the fenders and skirts. “You can see she has good leather work. That's real artwork. A little bit of elbow grease and you got a saddle someone will pay good money for.” I was working him all I could.

“What are those little holes on cantle? It looks like something is missing,” That was why Chuck was so good trading horses. He didn't miss much. If he was buying, he didn't miss anything.

“Well, it used to have some silver work on it, but you know, that don't help you catch a steer.” I didn't need to tell him that I sold the silver last year, a month before the old woman settled up with all of us. “I gotta say, though, there was a Saturday evening at the Paseo in San Antonio where I looked pretty sharp riding Samson. We caught a few eyes. Yea, this is a good saddle. It's worth more than 2 bucks.”

“Look boy, I know times are tough for you else you wouldn't be selling your saddle, but I got no special use for a show saddle that's got no show left. Someone wants one of those, they'll go to Waco themselves. Here in Wheeler County, all we need are good cow saddles you can sit in all day and all night. I'm not making you sell, so either take your money or take your saddle. You choose. I don't have any more time to talk.”

“You gonna at least look it over first?” I asked. “Maybe you're missing something.”

Chuck looked down at the pile of leather at his feet. He gave it a push with his foot and rolled it over to check the tree. "I don't see nothing wrong, but I don't see nothing special, either. You heard my price. That's top dollar. I got too many now as it is.”

Wheeler County, Texas is big cow country. There's lots of cowboy jobs here. But there are also too many hands to fill them. Probably once a month some hard luck cowboy wanders in to sell some gear. If they are at the end of the trail, all they have left is their saddle. I've seen those same cowboys, dad calls them “corn squeezers,” take their last silver dollar and buy a bottle instead of trying to get out of their mess.

That not going to happen to me. I'll get a job, any job I can find, right here in Mobeetie. I'll make enough to buy my saddle back, get me a good cow horse and get out of town. I'll put some miles behind me and the cap rock and go to Wyoming, maybe Montana. There's talk its good cow country. I plan on starting my own spread. I'll run my ranch the right way, no fences and no farmers.

“She may look a little tough, but she can take it,” I promised. “My daddy paid good money for that saddle. That the best you can do?”

“If you want a better price, take it to the guy he bought it from. Like I said, I got a dozen saddles over there. Any one of them is as good as yours. Take your pick.”

I knew it wasn't the truth. Wasn't any of them a real Padget. But right now I didn't have it in me to argue. Boy, would daddy be surprised to hear that? Seems like all we ever did was argue. Well, I did the arguing. He'd always smile and say, “ No.”

“I reckon I'll take what you're paying,” I said, staring at my boots. They'll be the next if things don't turn around soon.

I slid the four half dollars off the counter into my hand, turned and headed for the door and the dusty street. I don't even want to think what daddy would say if he knew what I just did. As I walked out the door, I heard my 16th birthday gift join the rest of the hard-luck stories.

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