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Kate teased apart the broadsheets of the local paper and carefully covered the top of her kitchen table. She took out her supplies—cleaning rod, brass brushes, patches, soft rags, and gun oil. Her rifles didn’t need to be cleaned. She never put one back in the rack dirty. She needed something to do with her hands.
Under her breath she muttered, “You shoot it, you clean it.” Just one of dozens of her Daddy’s rules that had, over time, become engrained habits of mind for her. Kate ran a few hundred acres down the same road from the place where she grew up. Her spread was tiny in comparison, but the land belonged to her, bought and paid for with money she made herself and nothing beholding to Langston Lockwood.
The day she put up the sign on the front gate, “K-Bar Three, Katherine Lockwood, Owner,” her father drove up in a cloud of yellow caliche dust.
“You could have worked for me,” he growled without preamble. “The Rocking L not good enough for you?”
“The old home place is plenty good,” she said, climbing down off the ladder. “I just didn’t like your offer. I might have worked with you Daddy, but I sure as hell wasn’t gonna work for you.”
“Don’t you get on your high horse with me, girl,” he said, spitting tobacco juice in the soft dirt between them. “You don’t know a damn thing about running a ranch.”
“The hell I don’t,” she said, her temper flaring. “You taught me everything you know, and I learned it all. I’m just not good enough to help you run the place now because I’m not your son.”
“Keep talking like that and you won’t be my daughter much longer neither.”
The two stood glaring at each other under the hot afternoon sun, mirror images of pure stubbornness. Finally Langston Lockwood blinked. With begrudging appreciation he said, “You never would back down from me, Sister, not even when you was little. Don’t you know you’re supposed to be scared of me?”
“Day late and a dollar short for that, Daddy.”
“Fine,” he said, tugging his hat brim lower over his eyes. “Go ahead and run this little pissant place, but don’t come hollering to me when you go belly up.”
But she didn’t go belly up. When her sheep and goats began to command higher prices than her father’s livestock in the auction ring, men Langston’s age started saying she was just a chip off the old block—words she never heard from the old block himself no matter how much she secretly longed for his approval.
They passed each other on the country road, occasionally spoke over a fence line, and in general maintained a tenuous relationship. They cussed each other too much for anyone to ever call them “civil.”
Still, it counted for more than what her sisters had with the irascible old coot. So, when the sheriff stood on her front porch twisting his hat in his hands and said, “Kate, I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but Langston killed himself last night,” real tears came to her eyes.
She didn’t let them fall. She asked for details with a steady voice even though she continued to stare at the rough planks under her feet. Then Sheriff Harper said, almost as an afterthought, “Sure was a beautiful Stetson he had on. Damn shame.”
Kate’s head snapped up and her voice was sharp. “What are you talking about, Lester?”
“We found his hat there in the . . . well, it was . . . the hole was in . . .”
“He didn’t kill himself,” she said with complete conviction.
“The gun was in his hand, Kate,” the Sheriff said, his face mournful and sympathetic. “The only prints in the barn were from his boots. Doc Granger says the angle of the shot is consistent with suicide. I know it’s hard to accept . . .”
“If he had his hat on,” she said through clenched teeth, “he did not pull that trigger himself.”