I kicked at a rock, pushing it toward the fence line I was walking with my oldest brother, Austin. It was a habit. I was always clearing the pasture of rocks. It seemed like they grew overnight.
Kicking rocks out of the way made me feel like I was doing something productive. My big brother was droning on about how I needed to shape up. Same lecture, different day. I was bored. I was sick of hearing it. Again. It made me feel like the same boy that got sent home from school for fighting. I supposed in some ways, it was exactly like that. Nothing had changed all that much since grade school.
“I didn’t do anything,” I said with a sigh. “Not really. I mean, shit happens. I’m not sure why everyone is freaking out. It wasn’t even really a fight. We threw a few punches. Big deal.”
We stopped at a section with the top string of barbed wire down. We both put on our gloves to protect our hands from the sharp talons on the wire meant to keep the cattle in and predators out. Austin stretched while I nailed the wire to the wood fencepost.
“This whole area is going to have to be redone,” he said.
I cried a little on the inside. “Why not just replace the rotten posts?”
“Because then we’ll just have to come out here and keep fixing the other ones,” he said with exasperation. “Do it right the first time or keep doing it.”
“You sound like Pop,” I muttered.
We finished fixing the line and continued on our way. Patches of snow still covered the ground in areas across the pasture. It was spring in Cheyenne, a time of year I loved. To me, spring was officially the start of a new year.
“Seriously, Cash,” Austin continued. “I can’t keep bailing you out. I don’t care if it’s just pulling you from the drunk tank. If you keep going down this road, you’re going to end up in actual jail. Wearing the orange jumpsuit and sleeping on a crappy cot with even worse food. You’re thirty-three. It’s time to grow the fuck up. Pop isn’t going to say it to you because he’s just accepted that you’re going to be locked up every other weekend. I’m not. I refuse to accept it. I refuse to keep tolerating it. I’m done.”
“It wasn’t as bad as you are making it out to be,” I said with a sigh. “I had a little too much to drink. I didn’t hurt anyone.”
“Carla is going to ban you from the bar,” he warned. “By the way, she says you owe her three-hundred bucks for a new table.”
“I fell,” I argued. “It was an accident.”
“You fell after you were pushed after you pushed a drunk cowboy,” he clarified.
“Still, it was an accident. I didn’t set out to smash the table. Hell, I didn’t even set out to fight.”
He gave me a dry look. “You wake up every damn morning and choose violence.”
We stopped to tighten another string of wire. This was my punishment for going out drinking—again. After taking care of the area, we walked back to the Gator and tossed our tools in the back. Austin started it up and we drove us farther down the fence line. The ranch we all lived and worked on was two-hundred acres. It took every one of my seven siblings and parents to keep the thing running. And that was bare bones.
“There.” I pointed to a downed fence.
Once again, we hopped out, grabbed the tools, and got busy fixing the fence after a long winter. It was the same thing every year. Hell, every month we were running fence lines to make sure none were brought down by an act of God or a stupid animal that got tangled in the barbed wire.
“You know—” Austin started.
“I know,” I said. “I get it. I’m turning over a new leaf. No more fighting. No more rowdy nights in town.”
“If there was an inheritance coming your way, you would have blown through it with all the bail money,” he muttered.
I grinned and adjusted my hat on my head. “Guess it’s a good thing the ranch is flat broke.”
“That’s not funny.”
“It is a little bit,” I said. “I mean, we’re busting our asses for what? What happens when we can’t pay the taxes this fall?”
“That’s not an option,” Austin growled. “I’m not about to lose this ranch. Not a single acre.”
“Alright, alright,” I said, knowing when I needed to back down.
Austin was the oldest and would inherit the ranch. We would all share it, but it would be his to run. It was a pride thing. He had been groomed to inherit from his first breath. There was no jealousy between us. We all did our own thing on the side, except Austin. He lived and breathed the ranch. He was the one that got up at the crack of dawn and worked until long after dusk.
I had my pigeons. Bowie had everything. Shane and Heath had a carpentry business on the side. The girls did their thing. We all had little side gigs that helped bring in money while allowing us to spread our wings a bit. But not Austin. He was all about the ranch.
“Where is Bowie?” Austin asked as if he had been reading my mind.
“Barn, I think,” I answered. “Said he was building a ladder or something.”
“Building a ladder?” He looked suspicious. “We have at least ten ladders.”
“It’s a Bowie ladder,” I said.
He groaned and punched the gas, bouncing the Gator across the lumpy pasture. I held on to keep from bouncing out of the UTV. We were within twenty feet of the barn when we heard a boom followed by a poof of smoke rolling out of the barn.
“Shit,” Austin cursed and hit the brakes hard enough to nearly send me flying through the windshield.
We both hopped out of the UTV and raced for the barn that was thankfully not housing any animals. It was mostly just junk and some hay. And Bowie’s office of sorts. It was his workshop. The place my older brother by two years invented things. He dreamed of being Thomas Edison or something along those lines.
Bowie came out of the barn, waving a hand in front of his face blackened with soot. “Damn,” he said before flashing a grin that looked extra-white against his lips covered in black dust.
“What the hell, Bowie?” Austin growled. “Is there a fire in there?”
“Nah,” Bowie said and used the back of his arm to wipe his face. It only smeared the soot into his black hair that was just a little too long.
“What happened?” I asked. “I thought you were making a ladder.”
“I was,” Bowie said.
“What kind of ladder explodes?” Austin asked.
“The ladder didn’t explode,” Bowie said. “I mean it did, but that wasn’t supposed to happen.”
“In what world does a ladder explode?” Austin asked again. “A ladder is a very non-exploding object.”
“It was the motor,” Bowie said.
“Motor?” I repeated.
“It’s a remote-control ladder,” Bowie said, grinning as if it were the most obvious thing.
“How do you get a remote anything to blow up?” Austin asked. He held up his hand. “Never mind. I don’t want to know.”
“It’s going to work,” Bowie insisted.
Austin let out an exasperated sigh. “Clean it up,” he said. “I’m going to town.”
He walked away. I looked at Bowie and shook my head. “Do I even want to know? Is it a rocket ladder?”
“Come see,” he said with a laugh. “It’s going to work. I’ve got to make some tweaks, but it will work.”
I followed him into the barn that was way too old to be housing anything flammable. A table was along one side. It was covered with all kinds of stuff I couldn’t identify. Lawnmower and tractor guts were stacked up in one of the empty stalls. It was a mess, but it was Bowie’s mess.
“What blew up?” I asked.
He picked up a cartridge of sorts. “Wired it wrong,” he said. “I wasn’t sure how much force I would need with a person on the ladder. If you climb on, then I can play with it and figure out how much power I need.”
The sad part to that statement was the fact he thought it sounded reasonable. “Bowie, I’m not about to become a human cannonball on your potentially explosive ladder.”
“The ladder didn’t explode,” he reasoned.
“That would be a hell no,” I said. “Not a chance.”
“You’ll be fine,” he insisted.
I shook my head. “Fuck that. You always say I’ll be fine and then I end up in the emergency room with Mom and Dad pissed at me for being stupid. You don’t get in trouble, I do. It took me a couple decades, but I’ve learned not to be your guinea pig.”
He continued to try and coerce me. “I’ll spread some hay on the ground.”
I shook my head. “Never going to happen.”
“I need one of those crash-test dummies,” he mumbled under his breath.
“Yes, you do,” I agreed. “I’m not it.”
He chuckled and picked up remnants of his motor. “That’s debatable.”
“Funny. Why am I cleaning up? I didn’t do this. I need to go feed my babies.”
“Pigeons,” he said. “Most people shoo pigeons away. It’s like keeping mice for pets. It’s weird. It makes no sense.”
“My pigeons are exceptional,” I argued.
“They’re birds,” he said. “They eat and shit.”
“They’re going to bring in some serious cash,” I said. “I just have to figure out how to market them.”
“They are birds. Annoying birds. How do you plan on using them to make money? Are you going to start selling them for meat?”
I almost puked. “No! What the hell?”
He laughed and walked across the barn. He knew that was a sensitive subject. I followed behind him. “I’m serious,” I told him. “I think I can charge three hundred bucks a pop.”
“No one is going to pay you that much money to watch your birds fly.”
“Bet me,” I said. “I need to put together a cool ad. I’m going to find Flint. I bet he knows how to make one of those websites.”
Our younger brother was kind of a nerd. He did the bookkeeping for the family ranch. He was pretty good with computers and stuff. Out of all of us, he was the most tech savvy. We all had our strengths. We all brought a little something different to the table. Even if it wasn’t much, it was something.
“Do you really think people will want to pay?” Bowie asked again. “I’m being serious.”
“Yes,” I said. “The white pigeons can be passed off as doves. It’s a thing. People like to release doves at weddings and even funerals. Doves don’t come back and will just go off and die. My pigeons will come home. It’s ethical and humane. It’s the best of both worlds.”
“I hope it works for you,” he said. “You’ve certainly put in enough time and money to train those birds.”
“It’ll work,” I said. “It has to. I need to go work with them. You good here?”
“I’m fine,” he said with a hint of disappointment.
“Hey, you’ll get it,” I assured him. “Just maybe cut back on the force.”
“Wouldn’t it be cool, though?” he asked.
“A remote-control ladder,” he said. “Like you’re doing something and you need to go up a little higher, and you just push a button. Or you’re finished working and want to get down. Instead of climbing down, you push a button and lower the ladder.”
“Couldn’t you just use a winch?” I asked.
“Yes. Same concept, but mine will be better.”
“Sounds like a good idea,” I told him. “I wish you lots of luck. Try not to blow anything up.”
“You sure you don’t want to help me out?” he called out as I walked out of the barn.
“No! I like my parts right where God put them. I’m not riding your rocket ladder.”
I left him in the barn, hoping like hell he didn’t blow himself up. He was the brother I was closest to. We had a strange bond. We were probably the least alike out of all of my brothers. We all kind of had our pair, except Austin. I supposed Austin was kind of everyone’s pair. He was the guy we all looked to when we needed help.
My father’s loud booming voice carried across the property. “Cash!”
I stopped immediately because that was what we had been taught from the day we were born. We were all grown, but that didn’t mean we didn’t listen and obey our parents. I had a feeling I was in trouble. Probably because I usually was. It was no secret I was the troublemaker in the family. I owned it.
“What’s up?” I shouted back. He was standing outside the large three-bay shop that housed the tractor and some of the other equipment we used on the ranch. I knew what that meant. I wasn’t going to be working with the pigeons anytime soon.
He waved his hand, gesturing for me to get my ass to where he stood. It wasn’t an ask. It wasn’t a suggestion. It was run your ass to me this minute. I did as I was told.