We did have to be careful. Even after dad died we stuck to that rule. At least I did. I sometimes wasn't so sure about Paul. Especially with Victoria. I thought it was funny, her trying to get him to notice her and his acting no different with her than he'd done with the other female guests. But when she came back again unescorted just after the rush season closed, I knew that wasn't the end of it.
There weren't a lot of people here at all, and it seemed everywhere you looked he was showing her How-To-Do-Everything-Under-The-Sun.
Next thing you know, Victoria left her big city modeling job and came out to the mountains where she got a job as a ski instructor at the resort not too far from us.
After that, she was always around.
She came frequently to Sky High. Our hired people got to know her pretty well. Our maid and cook is Dinah Bradbury. She's an older women, very efficient, who minds her own business and cooks more than adequately. She's been with us many years, living here at the ranch. We always paid her year-round wages, unlike some of the hands.
During the season we sometimes hired extra help, who would be terminated when winter came. It's easy enough to hire people who know a lot about horses--but not so easy to get people who actually know how to work and are willing to put forth any effort. Bud Kingery is the one hand who stays year round. He's not married and is older, does his work well and never complains when some guest does something stupid that might cause him extra work. He'll laugh at a good joke, and I guess is about as easy-going as they come.
Not so with Rhodes. He was the first to arrive that year. We had his reservations. I picked him up at the bus depot. Most people come by plane, not the bus. Some even drive out. I knew he was different when I met him at the depot. He was a goodlooking man in a firm, quiet way, with stern lines around his mouth and eyes. He had brown hair and green eyes and seemed distant, not too friendly. He didn't flirt with me, even with his eyes, like most men do when they meet me.
He wasn't wearing any ring. He just appeared without much fuss. Even on the long drive up the mountain road he didn't say much. I tried the usual conversation designed to find out how guests will react and handle horses. Most will immediately tell you one of two things: how great they can ride, or how they've never been on a horse in their life. When I asked him if he'd done any riding, he said "Some.", and looked down the canyon on his side of the road. He wouldn't volunteer anything. All I knew was what he'd written on his reservation application. His name was Jim Richard Rhodes, he was thirty-one years old, coming alone, and at that time giving an address from a small town in Virginia. He spoke slightly with a soft southern accent, but not overly so, in fact, just traces, round and smoothed and polished, not that irritating twangy drawl so many southerners affect. I felt myself attracted to him. It isn't often you find an attractive man who isn't going around announcing one way or another how he is God's Gift.
Jim Rhodes just didn't seem to care. When we arrived at the ranch, instead of asking to be shown to his quarters, he asked if he could first see the horses.
He seemed partial to black horses. I could sense right off that he had a way with them. You can tell just by watching a person and how a horse reacts to him just how well he knows anything at all.
This man did. Those horses accepted him right off the bat. I'd stayed only a moment to judge this reaction, then went in and carried his bag up to his room. Most people brought two or three suitcases apiece, as though they expected to winter over.
His one struck me as a little strange, but then, so did he. Attractive, but strange.
Maybe he was some murderer--a fugitive from justice! I laughed when the thought crossed my mind.
I didn't laugh later, though, because the subject of murder turned out not to be so funny.
One more thing about Jim Rhodes: he turned out to be so good around horses my brother offered him a job for the season. At first he said no, but then changed his mind and accepted.
I sure was liking that man.
We had a total of ten guests for that first two week period, not counting Jim Rhodes after he went to work for us, and not counting Bob Dixon, who came late.
Madge Boom I liked. She was a fat, good-natured school teacher from Duluth, Minnesota. She'd grown up on a farm and had lived in the city ever since, never getting back to country life. She was still a young woman in her late twenties, and blushed a little whenever Paul flattered her lightly.
The old couple-- the Lightfoots, Della and Oscar--had seen the horse and buggy days and had been married for fifty years, both still acting young and energetic. They'd married at fifteen, she said...which "folks did in those days".
We even had horses to suit them. On a dude ranch you have to have quiet, dependable horses for older and younger people and those who don't know how to ride. Then you have to have a few with spirit for the good riders.
One couple I found hard to like (but didn't show it) was Joe Strong and his wife Eva. Strong was that typical military man with the typical military mind--all authority, all business, all black or all white, no in between. People like that are hindered by themselves. He was a Sergeant of the highest degree and felt that entitled him to V.I.P. service. At Sky High, all guests are treated with equal courtesy and friendliness. We had to be careful with people like this, that we didn't offend him, yet that we maintained our own dignity and authority. Over the years you become adept at dealing with almost every type of person. In that light, he was not that much of a problem.
They were a very tense couple: She was one of those little, compact hundred-pound women who had everything in the right places. They always seemed on the verge of arguing with one another, yet they didn't, at least not publicly. Neither one of them seemed too interested in horses, nor in the other activities we provided. They seemed to like to just sit around to see which one could get the best of the other.
We had really hit the jackpot this season, it was beginning to look like. If the Strongs weren't peculiar enough, Ralph Tully would have won my vote: an animalistic, hairy man whose obvious interest centered on the two teenage girls, best friends, who'd come up together from Washington State to spend their first season on a dude ranch.
We had suspicions, and really had to keep an eye on that situation. We tried to prevent circumstances where he'd be alone with them. Somehow we had a feeling about him and didn't want trouble. His interest didn't stop with Sherri Hilliard and Patty Vickers. Any female seemed to suit him fine. He even tried his beady little eyes on me, but I, being practiced in the art of warding off wolves, managed to dissuade him artfully enough............
to be continued........