“Luke, you once said that my horse ‘Red’ was my best friend and only companion in my early years. You were right, thank you for all that you have done for me.” ~Chet Duke
By: Chet Duke.
Dedicated to Luke Duke & Sarah Stodola.
“Alllll right Chet Duke! Pull it on over! I mean…. khee… ooo….git. Stop! Just stop!” Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane hollered into the cone shaped megaphone.
The young Duke astride the galloping Thoroughbred horse didn’t slow down though, he glanced over his shoulder at the police car and veered off into a big field. Frustrated Rosco followed, bottoming out his patrol car and tearing through the waist high hay. The tall reddish colored horse galloped mightily through the field, ears laid back in a all business sort of way. The big animal could understand his masters need to escape and found great pleasure in pleasing the young renegade Duke.
Grass flew over the hood of the Plymouth Furry and the sheriff turned the wipers on to brush it away as they crossed the field. Nearing the other side of the field Chet guided his horse to the slow running creek and they plunged into the water fearlessly. Man and animal working together as one, they galloped up the opposite bank and into the woods. Weaving and springing over the dangerous floor of the forest, branches and leaves whipped at them but they didn’t slow. The tank like patrol car was less fortunate and was forced to stop just inside the thick growth of trees, unable to go any further.
Rosco angrily got out of his car and stood in the open door watching as the outlaw horse and rider disappeared. There was no way of catching them now, it would be impossible to drive his car into the woods and it was impossible to catch the lightening quick horse on foot. The stolen goods were lost forever to a no good low down Duke. It was not a good day to be Boss or Sheriff of Hazzard County, Rosco looked to the heavens and stuttered a apology removing his hat.
“I’m sorry little fat buddy, I tried the best I can, it just ain’t no use. Git… Chet Duke’s a career criminal. But I’ll git him… I’ll git him.” The Sheriff placed his hat back on and got into his car and drove back to town.
Chet and his horse galloped until they felt a safe distance away, deep in the heart of the thick forest. Grinning widely in pride and pleasure of a job well done Chet lowered the reins and rubbed his horse rewardingly on the neck.
“Wahoo, we did it boy! That was a nice piece of running Hoss!” The red horse perked his ears and bobbed his head in reply to his master, nickering as he picked his way through the forest. “Back to the hide out Red, we gotta see what kinda goods we got this go round.” The horse paused and turned its head to sniff at the burlap sack hanging from the side of the saddle, packed tightly with stolen goods.
It was nearing dark when Chet rode into the dusty streets of the abandoned ghost town, known to all the locals as the “Sleepy City.” The one hundred year old town sat empty and tumble weeds rolled across the only street in the entire town. All of the buildings still stood tall but heavily weathered and ragged from age and torment from the seasons.
Chet dismounted his horse at the half broken down hitching rail in front of the Hotel and removed the saddle from Red’s back. The horse poked his muzzle at the sack of goods as Chet laid his saddle down on the board walk. He chuckled watching the horse nip at the bag eagerly.
“You ol’ slick, your smarter then a red tail. You know theres something in there for you, there always is.” Chet spoke aloud to his horse and stroked the animals thick and strong neck.
Red nickered and nudged Chet against his chest with his broad head and nipped at the bag again hurrying his master on.
“Ok, ok don’t get your tail in a not.” Red nipped his sleeve then flicking his ears in a playful manner. Chet laughed and ruffled up the geldings long mane.
He pressed his saddle back and untethered the sake from it and opened the bag. His horse continued to nudge him knowing darn well there was a treat somewhere in that bag. Chet dug into the bag and produced a large and thick, rich orange carrot. Quickly and gently he removed the bridle from his companions head, relieving the horse from the bit. Before he could even get the bridle out of the way the eager horse gobbled up the big carrot, munching it down and chewing it.
Chet chuckled and scratched his horse between the ears and continued rummaging through the bag, taking a look at all the other items he managed to steal from market. Mostly objects that would serve as dinner or pay for his and his horses meal the next day.
Once he was pleased with everything he evaluated in the sack he pressed it aside and made his way to the old livery stable down the street. Red followed knowing he’d get a scoop of sweet feed for dinner then be free to graze on lush meadow grass for the rest of the evening. A good days work was always rewarded by Chet with a healthy feeding, a rub down, possibly a few treats and all the freedom he could get.
Morning came with the birds chirping and the sun shining brightly into the room of the ancient Hotel in the Sleepy City where Chet hid out. It had been the same place he’d managed to stay and live ever since his return to Hazzard. Here was the only place he felt safe, far away from the people of Hazzard and far away from his kin who he despised.
Chet yawned and stretched, rubbing his mismatched eyes he glanced around the room a moment. Allowing himself time to arise from his sleep he eventually made his way down stairs to the small kitchen to make some coffee as he did every morning. Then it was on to the old livery to feed his horse some breakfast and maybe ride into town to see if Cooter Davenport, the town mechanic had any work for him.
He grabbed a few dollars from the stack of stolen goods and made his way down to the old stables with his coffee still in hand. Usually the gelding waited for him behind the barn in the shade, Chet’s brow creased in concern as he didn’t see his companion at the back of the barn. His cup of coffee was quickly discarded and he began calling the horse.
It wasn’t like Red to wander off, he always stayed near to the little abandoned town and had for the last two years. Chet whistled and called for his horse.
“RED! Come boy! Red where are ya! REEEED!!!” He whistled again, but there was still no sign of the gelding.
Chet looked around be coming more frantic now, something had to be wrong. He began looking around the old town, doing his best to look around and peek into every building. Anywhere the big horse could have wiggled its way into. But there was no trace of him, no trampled grass or hoof prints in the red Georgian dirt. Nothing…
Feeling lost, alone and with his heart racing in his chest Chet set out on foot with only his lariat in hand. Walking back through the woods on the same deer run trail that he and his horse had ridden in on the night before. But all of the hoof prints faced the same direction and were cold and wind torn from the evening.
“RED! RED!” He whistled more, his dark eyes searching thoroughly.
The sun was getting higher in the sky by the time he walked back to the empty town, not owning a car that ran yet he had relied on his horse for his means of transportation almost always. Quickly he grabbed some more cash from the loot sack and set out for town to ask around and see if anyone had seen his companion.
First he knocked on the doors of all the surrounding farm houses. Each farmer or there family leerily replied with a quick no and closed the door on him. Most of the locals knew him as a cold hearted outlaw and many feared him. He was the tainted son of Bo Duke ruined by a cruel child hood, none of them wanted anything to do with him and most would cross the street to avoid having to meet those near black mismatched eyes.
But even the scared faces of the Hazzard farmers and neighbors couldn’t slow Chet’s search for his companion. He just had to find that horse. Soon he found himself wandering into down town Hazzard and stepping onto the concrete side walk as he neared the square. His first stop of course would be at Cooters garage, one of the few people he often confided in.
Chet entered the open bay where of course Cooter was ducked under the hood of a car, grease covering nearly every square inch of the mechanic. His arms elbow deep in the half torn apart guts of the cars engine.
“Cooter?” Chet asked as he approached the car.
“Yeah?” Cooter looked up, then smiled. “G’morning Chet.”
“Cooter! Have you seen Red? My horse, have you seen my horse?” Chet couldn’t help but let his voice betray him, laced with fear for his steeds well fair.
Cooter Davenports brow wrinkled in concern and he straitened up from leaning over the car. Looking at the young cowboy Duke as he wiped his hands on a rag.
“No Chet I haven’t seen him. How longs he been missing?”
“I don’t know, I got up this morning and went out to feed him and he wasn’t there. He wasn’t anywhere he usually is.”
Cooter could hear the fear in the young Duke’s voice, it wasn’t something the hardened cowboy usually let on. He placed his greasy hand on Chet’s shoulder and squeezed it firmly.
“Relax, I’ll give a holler on my CB for everyone I know to keep a look out for him and have them call me should they spot him anywhere.”
Chet nodded and swallowed. “Thank Cooter.” He left the garage and ventured across the square to the café.
At the café’ he asked everyone he could, even the waitress to see if she had heard anything about a loose horse. They all gave the same negative reply and Chet found himself back out on the side walk asking every soul in sight.
As he passed the small bakery on the corner of the avenue he spotted his cousin Daisy Duke coming out of small dress shop. Quickly Chet jogged to catch up with her and then slowed as he came to her side.
“Daisy?…. Daisy I gotta ask ya something!” Chet said gently grabbing her arm.
She whirled around to face him and her face lit up in fear. Daisy Duke backed away from Chet clutching her shopping bag.
“Chet! Please… don’t hurt me… let go. Please…” She pleaded him, fear heavily striking her aged but still gorgeous face.
Chet quickly let go and raised his hands chest high in a surrendering manner. He backed up a few steps and removed his hat running his fingers through his messy short black hair.
“Daisy… I wont hurt you. I just need to ask you something.” His face creased and he pleaded with her. “Just listen to me…” Chet frowned. ” Please.”
Daisy Dukes lovely face mildly lightened as the younger outlaw Duke pleaded to her, she’d never known him to say please. And the look on his face made her relax a little, he looked… he looked scared she thought silently to herself.
“Okay… what is it Chet?” She asked nervously watching him.
He lowered his hands and sighed. “Have you seen my horse Daisy? You know the reddish…. chestnut colored one, the Thoroughbred I always ride all over.”
She half rolled her eyes and shook her head. “No I haven’t seen your horse or any horses except farmer Brawns.” Daisy raised her brow alittle. “Is that it? Thats all you wanted to ask me?” She looked astonished that Chet, a hardened criminal was seemingly frantic over a horse.
Chet nodded and sighed hanging his head. He placed his hat back on and turned to walk away. “Yes… I’m….sorry.” Frowning he walked away leaving her alone as he knew she wished he would.
He made his way back to the garage and sat down on the stool near the bench. Chet rested his elbows on his knees and put his face in his hands. Cooter glanced over his shoulder having seen Chet walk behind him as he came in.
“Sorry cowboy… no one on the net has seen ol’ Red either. But don’t give up, he’ll turn up.” Cooter said confidently.
Chet only nodded, feeling so alone and empty with out Red. He looked up at Cooter and sighed heavily. “Can I barrow a car or your toe truck Cooter?”
The mechanic nodded. “Sure, I still have the Buick out back. It might crank for you, keys are in it.”
Chet nodded and took a deep breath as he started back out into the world. As instructed he went around back of the garage and found the old Buick sitting there. It was the car he’d arrived in town driving, the old vehicle was right down wore out and badly rusted. But with a little luck it would take him around town and back again, and hopefully help him find Red.
He got in and as luck would have it the car started up on its fourth crank and Chet slammed the old rusted door and pulled out from behind the garage. He paused at the curb wondering where to go first, possibly Red had gone to seek other horses. So maybe if he asked people who had horses he might find his own.
With his mind made up and a few small horse farms in mind he drove out of town and made his way down the back roads of Hazzard. His first stop was a farm that bred and raised draft horses for farm work, the ornery old farmer nearly shot Chet’s hat off with a shot gun. His next stop was alittle safer but just as uneventful, the farmer hadn’t seen hide nor’ hair of the Thoroughbred.
Getting even more worried and desperate Chet found himself driving out to his parents farm, he didn’t know what he’d do when he got there. Nervously Chet lit a cigarette and smoked as he drove to his parents newer farm house. As he pulled down into the drive way he slowed with hesitance and looked around the farm yard. Glancing into the Dukes pastures to see if that familiar fiery red horse stood out there, but he did not see any horse that resembled his own.
He parked next to the General Lee and got out of his car just as his father, Bo Duke stepped out onto the porch. The elder man had heard the sound of tires on dirt through the open kitchen window paused for a moment, the screen door in hand, before he let it click shut and his shoulders set with a quiet sigh. He took a step forward… then another, and rested his hands on the porch railing, his dark blue eyes narrowed with distrust and perhaps a few degrees cooler as they rested on Chet. Angry. He was silent.
Chet watched as his father stood at the railing, his own dark eyes glanced over the features of the elder blond haired Duke man. Cautiously he stood by the open drivers door of the beat up old Buick and gazed a moment. He took a deep breath summoning the natural grit furrowing his brow at the older man as he moved forward and stood by the fender.
“Knock off the nasty look old man…” Chet sneered, it would be too harsh to say he hated his father, but he strongly disliked him. “Im here on business only.”
Bo’s left eyebrow twitched up at the use of the words “Old man” but he let it pass for the moment. “And what business is that?” he asked, settling his side against one of the posts that held the porch roof, his arms folding over his chest.
“My horse is missing, the chestnut Thoroughbred I ride all the time. I awoke this morning and he was gone. I’d hoped maybe he’d gone off to seek other horses, but none of the surrounding farmers have seen him. Have you?” Chet asked, his _expression staying cool and his voice strong and insensitive.
He leaned against the front of the car having no intention of moving forward near the porch that his father stood on. His mismatched eyes portrayed his alertness and his own distrust between the two men.
Chet had an uncanny way of bringing trouble on his heels, whether or not he caused it intentionally – though Bo often wondered if it was all intentional… part of some scheme to lash back at him for things that had held both men grieving for years. What had been his guilt had festered into anger in the younger man. And what sooner place to look for his horse but to think that his father stole it from him. He understood now. Bo’s lips tightened, the severity of that _expression hiding the flicker of pain that passed behind his dark blue eyes. “I ain’t got him if that’s what you’re askin’. He’d have to reason to come over here.”
The young cowboy watched as the older Dukes eyes iced over in assumption. Chet could read the words in Bo’s eyes, after all he was his father by blood and even through there disdain for each other they were strongly connected. Chet grumbled and rolled his eyes in annoyance.
“I didn’t say he was! Damnit! Listen to me you stubborn old man! ” Chet’s anger rose and his eyes flashed in a lethal warning at Bo. “I asked if he was here! I didn’t say anything about you taken him or steelin’ him. You couldn’t if you tried!”
Bo’s jaw tightened, his cheek twitching with the effort to quell the indignation and anger flickering in the dark blue gaze, and the flicker of inward pain. He closed his fists… flexed his fingers, released the tension in his hand, and then, finally, let out a sigh. “Fine. I ain’t seen your horse. If I had I’dve called you,” he said simply.
“Now it wasn’t hard to give me simple strait answer was it!” Chet snapped quickly. The lethal look in his eyes and _expression on his face slowly dwindled down to a simmer once again.
Slowly the ever hard appearance on his face melted into that of worry, Red was the only thing that meant anything in his life. And he was lost, out of sight and there seemed to be no trace of the horse at all. Chet’s face creased into worry and he lowered his eyes, not wanting his father to see the concern and worry written plainly there.
“Then don’t act like I did somethin’ wrong! For all your fightin’ ya coulda learned at least to say ‘please!’.” Bo’s shoulders slumped with the last words, and lips tightened together into a pained line as he made a slight turn away, still not quite willing to take his eyes off the young man. Still… He was silent for a long moment, then his chin lifted… then he glanced back, noting the shift in Chet’s manner.
Chet raised his eyes again and glared back at his father, but the usual fierce fight in his dark eyes was barely a raising of his hackles. The coldness was defeated strongly by his worry, any other day he would have stood and shouted back at his father. But with his worry for Red on his mind he only pressed his lips and slowly turned away towards the drivers door of his car. For the first time, he’d let it go, there was no room for a fight with his steed missing.
The blond elder Duke closed his eyes and breathed out another sigh of frustration, burying his face briefly in his hand. Then he looked out, and shook his head, taking the last steps off the porch and away from the house toward the car, knowing full well that a switch of gears and twitch of the foot and the car could crush him under its wheels… but he took the chance, leaning into the driver’s side window. “Listen.. Chet…”
Bo glanced down and back. “I’ll keep the word out on the CB. Maybe somebody will’ve seen him.”
The young Duke looked up from sitting in the drivers seat, startled to see his father looming over him suddenly. His chest heaved a deep breath and he relaxed, though his eyes reflected caution as always and his back sat strait in the seat in alertness. He blinked his mismatched eyes and the pressure on his pressed lips lightened. Chet couldn’t help but be surprised that his father would also keep the word out on the CB.
With a nod he replied in a softer, appreciative voice. “Thanks….Cooter’s doing the same.” He gazed at his father a long moment then put the key into the ignition and the car rumbled to life. Chet sighed deeply, somewhere deep inside he fought back the longing to be with his kin. But his stubborn outlaw pride wouldn’t let go of his past or his present for that matter.
Bo Duke shook his head as he watched the dust fly, and breathed a prayer. He wanted so desperately to reach out a hand, even if the gap between them seemed so far but… it was so dang hard to keep reaching when his every olive branch was tread upon. “God, help him..”
Chet drove away from the Duke farm and headed to Luke’s place. Luke Duke lived in the old farm house where he, Daisy and Bo had been raised under the tender eye of there uncle Jesse Duke. Chet snorted, some good the old man had done them, Bo had still not saved him from his terrible childhood. It was his fault that he was and outlaw.
Chet drove out to the rickety old farm house where Luke lived, but there was no car in the drive. Which probably indicated that the older Duke man was not there. He parked his car near the barn and got out, he thoroughly looked around as he had done at his parents place.
Cautiously he mingled towards the corral of horses that belonged to Luke Duke, his mismatched half blind eyes looked over each horse in the pasture. But again Red was not among the fine animals that Luke owned. Chet glanced around and made his way timidly into the barn to see if Red had by chance been caught and put in one of Luke’s stall.
From the entrance the barn appeared empty, just inside was a few staked hay bales for that days feeding and a few buckets. Chet looked into the first stall and then the next, his trained ears keeping full alert and his senses on high caution. But as he had expected, each stall was empty, all the horses were out to graze and his was not one of them.
With a heavy sigh he started out of the barn and just as he came to the first stall the hair on the back of his neck prickled and a pulse of warning went down his spine. Suddenly a bale of hay dropped right in front of him and he was lightly showered with dust and strands of loose hay. Chet stepped back and looked up.
From above appeared the displeased, dark blue eyes of Luke Duke glaring at him. Luke pushed another bale of hay over the side and it landed beside the one before it. This time Chet saw the bale coming and stepped back further out of the way . He glared back, his own dark eyes set in anger as he looked up at his uncle.
“HEY!” Chet snapped at Luke and the older Duke furrowed his strong brow in suspicion.
“What in the hell are you doing here?!” Luke fired back.
Luke Duke mounted the latter up into the hay loft and climbed down swiftly with haste until his aged boots touched the dirt floor and he turned to face Chet. Chet stepped back placing his right hand behind his back and resting his palm against the .45 caliber pistol that bulged at the back of his belt, tucked in under his sky blue wrangler shirt.
He knew what Luke was capable of, he’d heard the stories of him being a veteran of the war in Vietnam and many a bar room brawls had proved he was more then capable of holding his own. His unforgiving blue eyes bore at the young renegade Duke. He watched Chet like a hawk and his hearty jaw line tightened and creased with age as the cowboys hand went behind his back. Luke bared his teeth in a grudging manner, daring the young Duke to draw the gun on him if he had the guts.
Chet took a breath and pressed back the urge to fight the challenge behind his uncles eyes. He’d read it many times before, like looking at letters in black and white on the yellowed pages of a book. Luke was one person among his father who showed no fear but strength against him, and they met him at every turn to try and kick him back where they thought he belonged.
“Dun start with me Luke…. I know what this looks like but your wrong.” Chet said looking into the older Dukes eyes, trying his damndest to make him see the truth. “My horse is missing, I thought maybe he’d come up this way to be with your horses. Hoped maybe you’d stalled him somehow in your barn.”
Luke listened and watched Chet’s _expression and the look in his own eyes, somehow he could see and understand that the young Duke cowboy was telling the truth. He shook his head in reply, he’d not seen any loose horses.
“Your Thoroughbred …” Luke shook his head again. “I haven’t seen him and I didn’t see him on my way into town this morning. Sorry.”
Chet couldn’t help but let his shoulders sag, his hands relaxing to his sides and his face creasing into defeat. Luke’s place had been his last hope, he’d all but searched every farm and barn in Hazzard County, every field and pasture with no luck. Wordlessly he nodded is head and let his head hang, lowering his worried eyes from the older Dukes.
The only thing that meant anything to him in his life was missing, and seemed to be no where in sight. He’d searched everywhere with out a trace of his friend, his companion…what now. What now… Chet thought to himself as he slowly and seemingly dragging his feet walked out of Luke’s barn. With his shoulders slumped he took his hat off and fanned himself with it against the heat of the mid afternoon.
Luke watched him, his eyes widening slightly in surprise. Was he seeing things, were his aged eyes playing tricks on him. Or had he just witnessed the looked of defeat, the look of fear and the _expression of a broken heart in the hardened young outlaw. Luke blinked his eyes and swallowed moistening his lips as his eyes still watched Chet walking away. The usually strait and determined tenseness in the cowboys now slumped back was gone, if he’d been a canteen of water he felt he could have heard the echo of emptiness in Chet.
Luke started forward now, feeling somewhat guilty for swinging the broom handle at Chet, the boy was just looking for his horse. But still he’d been trespassing, Luke sighed and called out to Chet before he could get into his car.
Chet looked up just as he was about to get into the drivers seat and replied in a low, drawn out voice. “Yeah?”
Luke moistened his lips again not exactly sure what to say. “Where can I get a hold of you, if I see your horse?”
“Leave a message with Cooter and I’ll contact ya, I’m check in with him every hour or so.” He sat paused before sitting down in the drivers seat.
“Alright.” The older Duke nodded and leaned his back against the siding door at the front of th old barn.
“Thanks…” Chet replied and swallowed as he got in the Buick and drove away.
“Sure…” Luke nodded and watched him go.
The dark blue eyes watched until the rear of the once navy blue Buick disappeared. Luke shook his head, he could hardly believe what he had seen in the younger Dukes eyes, never before had he. Chet was so hardened, things usually didn’t seem to phase him, his respect and value of life was so much less then most people. But only moments ago Luke had witnessed the expressiveness on Chet’s face that spelt so clearly feelings that he had never displayed before. The young man had genuinely looked scared and frantic over the disappearance of his horse. Not a human being, but a horse.
Chet drove away getting back on the main road until he felt he was far enough away from the Duke farm to feel he was free of those dark blue eyes. He pulled over and just sat there in the car, his heart bled and his eyes burned as if he were going to cry. It had been many years since he’d allowed himself to cry. No matter the pain or misery he suffered he’d faced it head on and taken the blows like a man, even if he hadn’t been.
But now as he sat there in that empty old car, he couldn’t hold back the swell of tears in his eyes. A couple heavy droplets escaped and ran down his cheeks. The one thing in the world that meant the most to him, his only friend, the only being he ever trusted was gone. Red was not only a horse, he had proved to be a loyal and faithful friend, he’d saved Chet many times in life and death situations. Never once did he stop and think as a human would, never did he let Chet down or stab him in the back the moment he turned around. That horse had given himself to Chet and Chet had done the same in return.
The young man wiped his eyes and started the car again, a determined _expression returning to his face with a renewed strength. He’d find Red if it was the last thing he ever did. As he pulled away from the grass he found himself pondering where to search next, he’d looked in all the obvious places.
“Hmmm…” Chet thought.
He drove to the Boars Nest and parked among other cars in the parking lot, it appeared to be a busy evening. Chet narrowed his eyes at the prospect of it being a busy night, inside the Boars Nest people mingled thickly around the room. There was no better way in Hazzard to catch up on some gossip then to have a beer at the Boars Nest. Not only Hazzard folk managed to find there way to watering hole, but so did many people from other counties.
Chet pushed his way in between the men at the bar and a blond haired waitress brought him a beer immediately. She had never ID’d him, he looked as old as the other men standing at the bar and she just slid a beer to him and took his money without a second thought. Chet sipped his drink and leaned against the bar casually.
He listened closely to all the voices around him, slowly separating each conversation and picking up on them. Most of the chatter panned out to be about local farming, what the rains had brought and how the crops were doing. One group of men appeared to be chicken farmers and were trying to bargain there way into each others pockets, trading roosters, hens and chicks.
Chet sighed and gulped down his drink, nothing seemed to be leading him anywhere at the moment, but it was early yet. The sun had just settled behind the mountains and the sky was beginning to twinkle with bright stars scattering everywhere. Before he knew it, two hours had rolled by and the men sitting and standing at the bar had entirely changed shifts. It seemed as though a new group was moving in as the later evening hours rolled by.
More beer was served to Chet and the new comers on either side of him, he recognized a pair of farm boys on his right. But two his left were a trio of strangers who seemed heavily interested in the beer. In a matter of minutes six or more empty mugs were being replaced by fresh mugs of golden beer. Chet’s demeanor didn’t change however, he still casually sipped his beer and turned his ear to listen in on there conversation.
Finally his patience paid off, one of the three heavy drinkers in the trio snickered to his friend beside him. The beer making him come out quite louder then hushed, but he didn’t seem to care. Like many men among him the loud mouth was much bolder with the amount of alcohol in his system.
“I got me $500.00 to bet on a horse my pals got running in a race this weekend! And I’ll bet my money against anyones that this horse can whip the hide off anyone else!” The drunk blurted out and slammed his fist down on the bar for emphasis.
His friends broke into laughter and another hollered back with excitement. “Thats a lot of money on a tenderfoot you ain’t never seen run before Fred! Ya sure that nag’s got everything Jude says he does?”
“Sure and more! You doubtin me you little weasel?”
The other mans eyes widened and he shook his head. “Never… just askin. That chestnut seemed awfully skittish and high strung to even set foot on a track, thats all I meant by it. Sheesh.”
The other man grunted and smirked feeling bigger as any bully would. Chet’s brow flicked, his dark eyebrows raising for a split second at what he heard. He sipped his drink and continued to listen. Unfortunately the conversation turned to the money that each of the three men were going to bet on the wild chestnut race horse that they continued to rave about. The more he listened the more Chet became sure that the horse was his very own Red.
After nearly forty-five minutes of listening to them rant and argue about how much they were going to bet on the horse Chet turned to face them. He cleared his throat and tapped the loud mouth on the shoulder in a friendly manner.
“Excuse me friend, I couldn’t help but over hear ya’ll talking about a race. Where’d ya say it was gonna be held? I’d like to lay me down some bets on this fine animal you speak of.” Chet smirked, his dark eyes laced in a crude vileness.
The drunk man shifted to look at Chet and heavily snorted. “Go to hell kid, I ain’t tellin you a damned.” He bellowed and his friends broke into mocking laughter.
Chet chuckled along, his _expression turning more cold by the second. “Thats so nice of you, really I’m lookin to up my losses. Which track?”
“Have you got cotton in your ears plow boy I said get lost kid!” The drunk snapped again and shoved Chet back with his hand.
Chet quickly snagged his hand and twisted it around his back, he brought his knee up hammering the bigger man in the center of his gut. The big drunk doubled over with a heavy cough and Chet grabbed the back of his head by the hair and drove his face into the edge of the bar. Chet’s teeth bared and his eyes blazed with fierce anger as the mans face exploded in a sea of red.
Unmercifully Chet continued to hold onto the drunks hair as his knees folded and he dropped to them on the plank floor. The music in the room came to a squealing stop and the room hushed with the sudden occurrence at the bar. People standing near or around Chet and the drunk scattered taking shelter near tables and walls. The blond haired waitress stood behind the bar, her eyes widened in terror as she stood frozen in her tracks watching the drunken mans face drip blood onto the floor.
Through his own enraged panting breath hissing between his teeth Chet tightened his fist around the mans hair causing the him to yelp. His friends stood a few feet away, looking shocked and dumb struck.
“I’ll ask you again… and your answer may determined weather you walk out of here… by your own power tonight… or by mine.” Chet’s voice was a lethal snarl as he spoke directly into the bleeding mans face. “I’ll ask you again… what gawddamned track is this horse running on?!!”
“CHALKTAW!!! CHALKTAW!! ARGH LET GO!!” The drunk yelp and whimpered.
“Your sure?” Chet snapped yanking the wounded mans head back.
With a heavy intake of breath Chet released the bloodied man and he collapsed to the floor in a heap. The young Dukes eyes glared at the drunks friends daring them to come forward and try there luck against him. But not a soul dared, all the locals knew him and wouldn’t chance there luck even in the name of justice and those who weren’t locals had seen enough to be intimidated.
Chet left the Boars Nest, the room nearly silent as he walked out except for a few hushed voices. He got into his car and drove back to the Sleepy City to pack a travel bag and get the rest of the money he’d stolen, among supplies he’d need.
The next morning found Chet asleep in the back seat of the Buick parked just off the main road of Chickasaw County. As the sun came up and birds began chirping loudly Chet stirred from his slumber and began stretching and yawning. At the intersection of the main road was a list of road signs indicating what was in each direction.
Chet followed the road signs to the horse track, but it was still very early in the morning and only a few trainers and horse owners mingled around. The horse track was smogged over with a heavy misty fog that seemed to stand over the dirt track like a foreboding shadow. Young horses took there early morning work outs on the track, there trainers and owners standing near the railing watching.
Although it was very early Chet got out of his car, leaving it parked in the lot and approached the railing casually. He leaned against the railing as if he were only another spectator interested in watching a particular horses morning work out. His mismatched eyes squinted as he scanned the track looking for his horse, but not a single animal was big enough, long enough or fast enough to be his own. He turned to a older grey haired man on his left also standing at the railing and watching the horses.
“Excuse me, what time is the first race of the day?”
The older man didn’t even glance at Chet, he looked down at his wrist watch and replied flatly. “11:30 am is the first race.”
Chet nodded and walked away, he had plenty of time. For the next hour and a half Chet drove into town and got some coffee and breakfast to hold him over until lunch. Then he mingled back to the track and quickly acquired a listings booklet of all the horses that were to be entered in that days races. He took a seat as close to the tracks starting gates as possible and carefully looked over the book.
His eyes skimmed every horses name in every race. There was no telling what kind of ridiculous name Red might be racing under, and it would have to be a lower class race in order for his forged registration papers to get by. Chewing on the end of his bale point pen Chet circled two names, the first was the name of a horse in the second race of the day. The name was obscene and seemed very suspicious, the horses number was 16.
“Q-tip..” Chet mumbled the obscene name to himself.
Then he turned the page to the fourth race of the day and read the names. Immediately the name of the horse who would be running in the 8th shoot caught his eye.
“Big Red…” Chet double circled the name and underlined it. He was ready to bet his money on the horse being his own.
The day wore on, the first race came and went, it was a cheap claims race meant to sell off uneventful horses. The second race was also a lost cause in the search for Red, the poor horse running in number 16 was a young high strung colt who appeared to simply be poorly named. Chet had sat watching the horse who appeared to not have been of poor breeding by all means.
Sporting long legs and a long sleek body, barely two years old and badly frightened by all the noise and other horses. The bay colt loaded in the shoot and immediately dropped down and back out under the bar, leaving his rider on the ground in the shoot. The colt was quickly scratched from the race and led off the track. The race was ran and over with in minutes, as was the third race.
Chets back straitened with interest after a short intermission, the fourth race was about to get under way the post parade had begun. He leaned forward watching the horses as they were led out of the alley by lead ponies. His breath caught in his throat and his heart hammered against his chest as his own chestnut gelding was lead from the alley. Chets eyes widened and he rouse from his seat and strut down the length of the railing to get closer to the shoots.
He stood by the waist high fencing and watched as the horses were led around and warmed up. As they came closer a cruel grin curled Chets lips and his dark eyes narrowed. Red had been his companion since the once abused Thoroughbred had been stolen by him from a race track much like this one at the young age of 2 years. It was surprising the jockey was even able to sit aboard the fiery colored gelding.
At the horses came near the fence Chet let out a two keyed whistle and called out his horses name. “RED!” Immediately the gelding flattened his ears back against his neck taking his master voice as a warning. He reared strait for the sky, yanking the lead from the rider of the lead ponies grasp while his jockey held on tightly. As Red’s hooves touched back down on the soft dirt track he lowered his head and arched his withers springing into a enraged and reckless bucking spree.
The other horses from the track squealed, startled by the geldings sudden out burst. On Red’s third lunging buck the jockey was knocked over his shoulder and thrown to the ground. Chet watched waiting for his horse to be free of hands, then he called to him again with a whistle and familiar voice.
“Come Red!” Chet ran for the railing gate and quickly unlatched it and swung it open. Obediently and glade to be free of the jockey Red dashed for the open gate. As he came galloping towards the young Duke boy, Chet ran from the gate and his horse galloped up beside him for a split second in time and Chet vaulted onto his back. He grabbed up the racing reins and turned his horse towards the wide opening field at the back of the track.
“GET HIM! GET HIM! HE’S STEALING MY HORSE!!” A man form the track shouted, a few of the lead pony riders passed there reins over to guards standing on the track and galloped after Chet. The shouting man grabbed one of the extra lead ponies at the fence and climbed onto the horses back, followed by other men who worked for him. They all lit out after Chet and Red who were nearly to the tree line.
Knowing that they were well ahead of the other riders Chet drew Red to a quick stop just into the cover of the forest. Quickly he unfastened the small racing saddle from Red’s back and let it drop to the ground, sliding more comfortably on the geldings bare back. He turned his horse and rode deeper into the woods until he came into the thick pines, the riders were gaining on him and Red was showing signs of fatigue from lack of proper care.
Quickly Chet dismounted and let Red’s reins drop to the ground, he climbed a tall thickly branched pine tree near his horse and stood out on a branch protected by the cover of the pine needles. There he patiently waited, watching as the first of the men on the lead pony rode into the forest and came into view. Another came right behind and they slowed as they approached Red who perked his ears and slyly backed away. Each time one of the men would reach for his reins the gelding would step just out of there reach.
Suddenly Chet dropped down from the branch of the tree knocking both men from the backs of there horse. He was on his feet in seconds sending his fists flying, the first man never had the chance to even rise to his feet before being knocked unconscious by a brutal kick to the head by Chet. The second man was more fortunate and managed to pound Chet a healthy punch to the ribs before the Duke boy could throw him down and bloody his face, pummeling the man into unconsciousness.
As Chet rose, his fists bloody and stepped away from the unconscious body a brute force from behind him slammed him to the ground. The man that had stolen Red rammed Chet from behind with the lead pony throwing the Duke boy down on the ground and stunning him. The frightened lead pony was then forced forward by its rider, shaking and scared the horse tried to step around Chet as he withered in attempt to regain his senses. The terror stricken pony stepped over him then was brutally spurred in its flank and yanked by the mouth into turning and stepping a hoof down on Chets left leg.
Chet cried out as the horse stepped on him, hearing his master yelp in pain Red came forward, ears laid back and teeth bared. He struck out bitting the rider on the leg and nipping the scared pony on the shoulder. The pony squealed and shied away from the angry Thoroughbred, its rider taken off guard by the sudden move slide from the saddle and fell to the ground.
Although in terrible pain with his leg Chet pressed himself to his feet and called his horse back to him. Red came and Chet vaulted onto his back quickly and cantered the horse away from the man. The angry man that had stolen Red drew himself to his knees and yanked a gun from his pocket and recklessly fired at Chet and the escaping gelding.
BANG BANG BANG BANG!!!
The bullets sprayed all around Chet and Red, the well trained horse lowered its head and continued running. A hot piece of lead suddenly tore into the back of Chet’s shoulder and he yelled in pain. His hands released the reins and he wrapped his arms around his horses neck leaning low over Red’s wither as they galloped over the hill and disappeared.
Red continued to run until he was lathered and huffing in need of air, his mouth frothed around the bit. Chet sat up on his back, they were now many miles away from the track and well out of harms way. He slowed the gelding down to a slow trot, slowly cooling the horse down from its long run as they passed through a sparse field lined with round bales of hay.
On the edge of the field was a slow running creek, Chet reined up there and let Red drink thirstily. He slide from his horses back to tend the bleeding wound in his shoulder with the cool water, tearing his shirt and using it for bandages. His leg did not seem to be broken but very badly bruised.
A small rickety abandoned barn in the corner of the field would serve as there housing for the evening. There they would be safe and well hidden, the ride back to Hazzard would be long the next day, but it didn’t matter, Chet had his faithful friend back.
***TWO DAYS LATER***
The sun was setting over the meadow behind the hundred year old abandoned ghost town known as the Sleep City. The yellow sphere was settling behind the far away mountains and its last orange rays were decorating the sky.
A lone cowboy in a black Stetson stood in the tall grass of the beautiful meadow, accompanied by his horse. Chet stood beside Red stroking the grazing horses neck fondly as he watched him munch on the lush green grass. Two days had gone by and the gelding seemed to have recovered from his escape from the race track, Chet also had begun healing.
He laid his arm over the tall horses back and leaned his cheek against the animals warm furry back. Chet couldn’t help but feel happy, his only real friend, his trusted companion and comrade was now back safely at his side. Through all the pains and hard feelings between him and his family, all the terror he’d been through returning to Hazzard and learning to live again. Red was there, like a brother, like kin.
“You’re my only real friend Red…” Chet spoke to the horse in a soft voice, sliding his arm up Red’s back and slinging it around his thick neck in a hug. “Were in it for life…” He smiled and patted his horse on the next.
Chet turned his eyes back up to look back at the setting sun as he stood beside his horse, his best friend. Standing together as the sun crept down and settled for the even, bringing on the fresh ness of the evening air. The waif of a new day to come and new adventures that the cowboy and his horse would share together, as companions, comrades and most important of all best friends for life.
“Ah. *looking up with a reassuring smile* He just needs his horse looked after is all. His only real friend I think.”…. Luke Duke 4/13/1005
***Note*** Special thanks to Maryanne Stodola and her muse Bo Robert Duke for helping me along with this story. Thank you.