chapter 29

The Story of a Dead Cow

    "That cow was already dead the first time I ever saw her," I said.

    "Well, she wern't dead yesterday, and that's when you started flying off

this here airstrip," Dealin' Don insisted. "And now she's dead."

    "Well, so what," I said. "The world is full of things that weren't dead

yesterday, and are dead today. Does that make it all my fault?

    "Well, I'm not saying it's your fault. I'm just saying that that cow wasn't

dead yesterday before you got here, and today, after you got here, she's

dead," replied Dealin' Don.

    "Well, I can't help that," I said. "It ain't my fault, and I'm not gonna pay

for no damn dead cow just because she showed up dead right here where

I'm trying to park my airplane."

    "Well, the reason that cow got dead in the first place, was that you left

your mixing rig right here overnight where she could lick it. One lick on

that stinking mixing rig of yours would kill anything that ever walked. It's

a wonder that anything can stay alive around that mixing rig. You'd have

been dead yourself years ago except you're too damn hard-headed to die

like any ordinary person," said Dealin' Don.

    "Well, I don't give a damn just how hard-headed you think I am," I said.

"At least I got sense enough to keep my cows off some crop-duster strip

where they're bound to lick some poison and get dead."

    "You don't have any cows," said Dealin' Don.

    "Well, that's something else I got better sense than, somebody dumb

enough to be in the cow business," I replied.

    "Yeah, and you think being a crop-duster is all that smart," asked

Dealin' Don?

    "Well, I'm not saying I'm smart," I replied. "I'm just saying that, if I did

own some cows, I'd have better sense than to let them wander around all

over some crop-duster's airstrip."

    "Well, it don't make any difference how smart you are. That's cow's

dead, and somebody's gonna have to pay for her," insisted Dealin' Don.

    "Well, it's not gonna be me," I said.

    "Well, I'm sure as hell not gonna pay for her. She's dead. She's on your

airstrip. She got dead from licking your mixing rig. As far as I'm

concerned, she's your cow," argued Dealin' Don.

    "My airstrip", I wanted to know? "Since when has this got to be my


    "Well, it got to be your airstrip the minute you landed on it. When

you're gone, it won't be your's anymore," explained Dealin' Don. "But right

now it's your airstrip. And that's your dead cow. She's laying dead right

square in front of your mixing rig. Any fool can see that it's your fault she

got dead. That's your dead cow, and she's gonna cost you five hundred


    "Five hundred dollars," I exploded! "It'll be a cold day in hell when I give

five hundred dollars for a dead cow!"

    "Well, that's what the rancher wants for her. He says she was one of his

best cows," said Dealin' Don.

    "Yeah, sure. That's what he says now," I replied. "Now that she's dead.

Well, I ain't no damn fool. There's not a cow in Zavalla County worth five

hundred dollars. Especially that one. Why, she was all but half dead before

she ever wandered across my airstrip."

    "Well, he says she's worth five hundred dollars. He's mad as hell too.

Says she was one of his best cows," repeated Dealin' Don.

    "Well, she ain't one of his best cows no more," I said. "She weren't

worth a penny more than two seventy five when she got here, and now

she's dead." To emphasize my point I kicked the dead cow in the rear end

two or three times. Dealin' Don didn't seem to want to argue with we

about that, so I figured I'd just press home my advantage.

    "Look at this old bag of bones," I argued, kicking her two or three more

times. "You trying to tell me this old wreck of a cow was ever worth five

hundred dollars any day of her life? You must think I'm nuts. You think I

don't know anything about cows? Hell, I know all kinds of stuff about cows!

I know better'n to try to make a living raising the damn things! I know

that! And I know a little bit about what cows are worth. Even when cattle

prices were good, which they ain't been in years, this old bag-of-bones

weren't anywhere near worth five hundred dollars. Why this old girl was

probably walking around down in this country when Santa Anna first

showed up this side of the river. Why, I bet you ten bucks she don't have

a tooth in her head." Here, I walked around by the cow's head and pressed

down her lower lip with the toe of my boot. She had a mouth-full of teeth.

    "Well, anyway," I continued, "this old wreck of a cow ain't worth no

where near five hundred dollars, even if she weren't dead. And she's


    "Yeah, well, I can't help that," said Dealin' Don. "He says she's worth

five hundred dollars, and that's how much money he wants for her. If he

don't get his money, he's gonna kick you off this airstrip, and you ain't got

any other airstrip to operate off of for forty miles. Now, you're just gonna

have to cough up the money or you're gonna be out of business in this

part of the country. Besides, if the word gets around that you go around

killing cows, you're gonna be out of business anywhere people own cows!"

    "Well," I said. "This country's full of cows. I can't go around watching

every one of them."

    "Well," said Dealin' Don "I'm not saying you ought to go around

watching every one of them. I'm just saying you should have been

watching that one."

    "Well, I am watching that one," I argued. "I've been watching her for

the better part of the last hour and a half, and she's dead! Deader'n hell.

Been dead all morning. I can tell. From clear over here! I know that much

about cows. Been dead ever since I got here. She was already dead the

first time I ever saw her!"

    "Well," said Dealin' Don. "You should have been watching her

yesterday, when you got here. She weren't dead then."

    "Well," I argued. "It's not my job to go around watching every cow in

the state of Texas. How about that rancher? How about him? Lookin' after

cows is his job, not mine. Where was he yesterday? If that were such an

all-fired expensive cow, how come he wasn't out here looking after her?"

    "Well, it don't make any difference where that rancher was yesterday,"

explained Dealin' Don. "You're operating off his land. And now he wants

five hundred dollars for that dead cow."

    "Well, it ain't my fault, and that's all there is to it," I said. "And I'll be

damned if I'm gonna let some tight-eyed old rancher hook me for five

hundred dollars just because one of his skinny, wore-out old cows comes

wandering along and licks my mixing rig. I wasn't born yesterday, or last

week either. If that old goat wants to kick me off this rutty old airstrip, I'll

just move over and fly off the highway. That'll make a whole lot better

airstrip anyway."

    "Don't be a jackass about this," pleaded Dealin' Don. "It's not just a

matter of using this airstrip. That guy's our customer. He's our customer!

He's the guy who pays our bills! We get him mad at us, first thing you

know we got everybody mad at us. That's just the way it is. This guy's our

customer. Can't you understand that? We got to keep him happy! We start

getting our customers mad, first thing you know we're out of business."

    "Yeah, well," I wanted to know, "if he's our customer, how come that

ain't our dead cow?"

    "Because we didn't kill that cow," Dealin' Don explained patiently. "You

killed that cow."

    "I didn't kill that cow," I hollered. "That damn cow was already dead

first thing when I showed up here this morning! She was already dead,

laying right square here where I'm trying to park my airplane, deader'n

hell! She was already dead the first time I ever saw her!"

    "Well, she sure as hell wasn't dead when you got here yesterday,"

Dealin' Don hollered back! "You just need to stop acting like a jackass and

cough up that five hundred dollars before you and me both get run out of

this country!"

    "You can just go to hell," I hollered back! "You can just go to hell, and

tell that son-of-a-bitch of a rancher that he can go to hell with you! I'll be

damned if I'll pay five hundred dollars for some wore-out old bag-of-bones

dead cow!"

    That afternoon I looped a chain around the rear legs of that dead cow

and drug her off about a mile from the end of my airstrip.

    By dark, that tight-eyed old rancher had his five hundred dollars. Me

and Dealin' Don split it, fifty-fifty.




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