Damoran Yarrow

So you want to know how Wheat came by that name, do you? Well, I'll tell you. No, I'm not worried that he'll find out I told you. It's not something he's ashamed of. On the contrary.

It was back in the old days at Devil's Hole, when Big Jim Santana was leading the gang. Big Jim had put the word out that he was looking for men, and one day this fellow rode in, dusty and saddle sore, big man but skinny as a rail. Lobo'd been first lookout, so he'd brought the fellow in, blindfolded and with his hands tied per usual procedure. When he took the blindfold off the newcomer looked all around the Hole like he was memorizing where everything was, then swung his eyes round to take in the men, real deliberate. Those eyes were hungry, I thought.

"Name's Bert Carlson," he said, and the voice came out parched sounding. "Hear you're looking for men."

"That I am," Big Jim said, coming forward to untie Carlson's hands. "Can't say I know you, though." He offered the newcomer his hand, and they shook.

"I know him," said Bronco, also stepping forward. "That ain't a man. That's a wheat farmer." Bronco was good in a fight, and he got that way by getting plenty of practice.

"You got a problem with that?" Carlson asked, dismounting.

"Yeah, I got a problem with that." Bronco's eyes were getting that squinty look they got when he was getting ready to call somebody out. "Big Jim here is looking for men who know how to ride, shoot, handle themselves. How you learn any of that wheat farming?" He said it like it was one step down from shit hauling. The rest of the men were standing aside, giving the two some room. They'd seen this routine before when Bronco took a dislike to someone.

"Bronco Larsen, am I right?" The newcomer unbuckled his gunbelt and handed it to Big Jim, he being the closest.

"That's right, Wheat," came the reply. Bronco also shed his hardware, and knotted up his fists.

"You got that name busting broncos, right?"

Bronco only nodded, and started his little dance, trying to maneuver Carlson into standing with the sun in his eyes, but the bigger man was having none of it.

"Well, I'll tell you something, Bronco," Carlson went on. "You can break a horse. Daresay you've broken a lot of 'em, in fact. But ain't nobody can break a wheat field. These hands have hauled off rocks bigger than your head, dug in manure, plowed, planted, reaped. But there was nothing - nothing - any of us farmers could do when the drought came and the crops failed." He waited for Bronco to take the first swing, blocked it with his longer arm. His own fist connected with Bronco's gut, then he followed it up with a one-two punch to the jaw. Bronco slid to the ground while Carlson stood over him, huffing. "Ain't nothing stronger than a wheat field," he said softly, "and don't you forget that."

Big Jim extended his hand to the newcomer again. "Welcome to Devil's Hole, Wheat," he said. "You'll be bunking in cabin three, just as soon as we move out Mr. Larsen's things."

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