The dust was thick in the still morning air.
“There were at least thirty of them, Mr. Fangioli,” the rider said through the bandanna covering his nose and mouth.
The tall, hard looking man known as “Wildman” put his hand to his hat brim and peered through the dust. The rider sat silent in his saddle. He knew Wildman would have more questions.
And he did, “What direction did they take?”
“How many head did we have on this range?”
“One hunert twenty seven, by my count yesterday. Some good looking cows amongst too. All carrying the XXXX brand.”
“Did I count them sir?”
Wildman held his impatience with the nervous cowboy, “No, what time was the attack?”
“Just a’fore sunup, sir. Stan was on watch. They shot him out of the saddle. Don’t know if it was the bullet that kilt him. His body was pert near unrecognizable when we found him. There was nothin’ we could do for ‘im.”
“I know son,” Wildman consoled the young cowboy. “You and Bill take the body back to the ranch. Have Smithy make a proper marker. We’ll have a service tonight.”
“Yes sir, Mr. Fangioli,” the rider said as a tear made a plain track down his dust caked face gathering with the others that collected in his bandanna. “Mr. Fangioli?”
“What is it son?”
“Shouldn’t we be riding after them?”
“Don’t worry boy, we’ll ride when the time is right. Take care of Stan now. Not much we can do even if we could catch up with them – thirty against the five of us. Our time will come, I promise you. We will ride with all the men and a good plan and we’ll pay them back tenfold for what they did here today.”
Cicero Fangioli watched the young rider and Bill wrap Stan’s body in his bedroll and lash him over the saddle of his horse. The two other cowboys, that were riding a loop looking for sign, now headed back to him for direction. Fangioli silently cursed himself for sending five young boys out to this range.