The ad read: “Pups, Border Collie. Out of working parents. Imported grandfather.” The address was unclear but across the Palmer divide; sprawling, arid, short grass—Tucker remembered.
That night he dialed the number.
“Do the parents work cattle?” It had never before mattered.
“The mother can…”
Tucker heard the close clatter of plates and chewing. Suppertime. “You want me to call back?”
“You are eating.”
“Jack. The dad, has never seen a cow. Woolies think he has the plague.”
He never before cared. “How many are there, and what kind of coat?”
“Damn fashionable.” The man’s mouth cleared but he took another bite and was hard to follow, “Harum washalous—same outfit on every day—los chaloose, shinazz—”
The phone dimmed, as though something had stretched the distant lines, then crackled and came sharply back.
“Hell of a fashion statement. There are eight. Them damn burrs fall out pretty good.”
Never before an issue.
“How far from Marshal are you?”
“People here know good dogs. These are damn good dogs. Two is picked. Jack has some tan, some might get some tan. Otherwise black and white.”
“Where are you?”
“Seventy-two miles east a town, then a few other turns.”
“Too far out for it to rain, not far enough the wind don’t blow.” He had a smaller mouthful but the wires began to sag and sing. “You need a crackerjack dog—you better get here soon. Just put the ad out. The lady has a fancy history; her dad is from Scotland. A bunch of ranchers out of Stapleton kicked in big money and had him shipped here. Biggest border I ever seen.”
Tucker sat blinking.
The man stopped his eating.
“How many boy and girl?”
A vacillating hum and whistle came from the receiver, a chop chop and squeal from the earpiece, refined interruption.
“All male and just two little jugs. One’s been picked.”
“Chiowizzitsifty—They’d be more but I have another litter coming.”
Tucker strained to hear. He leaned back and his chair made a sound like a foretelling chuckle. “Too fancy for me. I’m just a farmer, with a few cows—”
“Hell,” the man challenged. “You got stock, one a these will do the work of three hired men, three riders. And they don’t complain. They want to work and know a lot better… How far do you think you’d get with a hired human?”
Tucker bent forward to the desk, the chair repeated its creak, and Alice came to listen; the blood from Scotland had a bit of a hook in it. He thought of cool green and cloudy weather: small flocks of sheep: people and animals with their feet in the grass. Alice nodded.
“I will swing by tomorrow.”
“It’d have to be early too wet to farm but I got things to do.” After many repeats for the drawn and careening connection, Tucker drew a doubtful map leading further to the north and east than he had ever been. With a nervous finger Alice traced the instruction.
“You have me lost.”
“We will have to leave in the pitch dark of the morning.”
Now that they had decided, they each felt a mild undoing, a scant urgency tugging at the last of their evening.
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