By the time Dwayne located Billy Mangum and his fencing crew, it was almost noon. High, wispy cirrus clouds were smeared across the sky like thin white paint. The weather didn't seem to know what it wanted to do. For weeks, Northern Arizona had been on the edge of several fast-moving fronts, bringing little precipitation and highs in the middle seventies and lows in the high thirties. All in all, a summerlike October, with winter staying two hundred miles north, near Salt Lake City. Dwayne honked his horn at the four cowboys just breaking for lunch. They all waved back, their faces streaked with sweat and dirt. Each one wore a battered Stetson. A stoop-shouldered man in his early fifties broke away from the group, lunch pail in hand. He shuffled along the dirt road with a bowlegged stiffness that looked almost painful.
Dwayne steered his Ford Ranger into a wide pullout and shut it off. He was suddenly glad he had decided to stop on his way out of town to pick up a ham & cheese sandwich. He was famished after no breakfast. He got out of his truck and hailed the approaching rancher. "How goes it, Billy? I see you got the boys there working their asses off."
"Ain't nothing but an honest day's work, lad. Course, to a pampered government pup like yourself, it probably looks like something special," replied Billy as he spit in the dirt.
Billy Mangum smiled a gap-toothed smile and placed his lunch box in the bed of Dwayne's truck. He took off his hat and wiped his brow with a blue bandana. His snow white hair was cut military-short and his forehead was deeply creased. He was the last of a dying breed. Billy had spent his entire life running cattle on the Arizona Strip, as his daddy had done before him. He didn't know any other kind of life. He had never held another job. Billy knew how to fix any engine ever built. He could construct a ranch house big enough to hold a Mormon family of twenty and had a deep contempt for book learning. He had barely gotten out of high school. Billy thought he knew everything that was important to know. He was king of his world, and he loved to let everyone else know what was wrong with theirs, and usually in the foulest of terms.
Billy Mangum was what known as a Jack Mormon. He liked to drink liquor, smoke cigarettes, and swear like the devil himself. Jack Mormons comprised about a third of any small Mormon town. If pressed, they'd admit to believing in the Mormon gods and general principles, but they never went to church and they thought their neighbors were nothing more than simple-minded hypocrites. The average Jack was indifferent to religion or politics. But some of them – Billy's Uncle Loomis for instance – had been so cocky and inspired, they splintered apart from their orthodox cousins and founded their own towns. They declared themselves prophets and practiced polygamy. Jacks were the black sheep of the close-knit Mormon family, but they were tolerated oddities, like some genetic mutation in the pure racial strain in which the Mormons ultimately believed. Jack Mormons had one thing in common with one another: they didn't give a damn what anybody else thought. A very little bit of Billy Mangum could go a long, long way.
"Let's eat some lunch, old timer, and you can tell me all about your fence problems." Dwayne flipped down the tailgate of his truck and took a seat.
Billy stuck an unfiltered Camel in his mouth and struck a kitchen match off his zipper. He blew a thick cloud of smoke up at the sky and joined Dwayne on the tailgate.
"Sheee-it, there ain't much to tell, Dwayne. It's the same as the time before, and all the times before that. The bastards cut the fence and then hightailed it out of here like chickenshits – probably some of them environmental assholes who get their kicks sticking it to a rancher."
Billy unwrapped the tin foil around a large roast beef sandwich and began to eat hungrily, staring off at the brightly colored plateaus rising in the north.
"Were there any tracks?"
"Oh, you bet your ass," chuckled Billy. "Tracks on top of tracks on top of tracks. Hell, these folks ain't dumb. The place where they decided to cut the fence was right next to the goddamn road and there's been plenty of traffic since then. So there ain't nothing to go on. You gotta catch the sonsabitches doing it, Dwayne. And there ain't much chance of that unless you camp out here with the cows. I mean, they don't just slice some fence to slice some fence. They purposely want to set the cows free."
"Well it wouldn't be any fun if the cows weren't there, Billy."
"Ah, yep, if they want to play the game that way, then that's the way we'll play it. Either me or one of my boys is gonna be camped out here with the herd until we move 'em off the mountain in another three weeks or so. And if we see somebody fucking around with our cattle, they're gonna find out that the way we play it is with a 30-06 slug right up the ass."