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     The Deputy Sheriff instructed her to stay in her own vehicle while he cautiously approached and knocked on the door.  The old farmhouse was practically derelict with a sagging front porch, peeling paint and shutters askew.  There was an ancient tractor in the front yard with flattened tires, and junk was scattered everywhere.  The Deputy knew that an eccentric old man lived here, and that in the past he had been a source of trouble.  After several attempts at the door there was still no response.  Finally he walked back to his cruiser and engaged the siren.  It emitted a yelp-yelp-yelp followed by a screeching wail, and seconds later a disheveled looking man came rushing from the side of the house. With a scowl he said, “What the hell do you want?” The Deputy said, “Good morning Mr. Kozlowski, we’re here because there was a complaint filed about two distressed donkeys.”  The man said, “I ain’t got no donkeys.”  Just then there was a distinctive “hee-haw” braying, a sound which called his claim into question.  

     The Deputy and the woman walked around to the back, and in a decrepit old barn they found two donkeys housed in separate stalls.  They were both tethered and stood in stale straw covered with excrement.  Timmy and Teddy were inseparable companions, and the only redeeming aspect of their miserable imprisonment was that they could look at one another through the bars of the stall.  Both had been starved, and the bones along the ridge of their backs stood out in stark relief.  Dull eyed and depressed, flies buzzed all around while they stood there in hopelessness.  Timmy had severe laminitis in his front hooves, and supported most of his weight on his rear legs.  When the woman approached, she spoke soothing words to the suffering creature.  It was one of the worst cases of abuse she had ever seen.  When the donkeys were set loose into the yard, they immediately went to one another and snuggled neck to neck.

     Her name was Emma McManus, and she had arrived there that morning in a Chevy Colorado pick-up truck pulling a double horse trailer.  Emma was the owner and manager of ‘The Sanctuary,’ a safe place for abused, neglected and unwanted donkeys.  Situated on 160 acres, the former farm property was now home to over one hundred donkeys.  She had given Timmy and Teddy fresh water, but Timmy was in so much pain that he was unable to walk up the ramp into the trailer.  Emma gave him an injection of pain medication and waited for it to take effect.  Meantime, the old man had to be constrained by the Deputy as he shouted out all forms of profanity.  In spite of his bluster, the two donkeys would soon begin a new life at The Sanctuary where they would hopefully regain their health with the help of the veterinarian, a farrier and the dedicated care of the staff.

      The idea for The Sanctuary had begun as a vague idea in Emma’s mind after she was introduced to her first donkey at a friend’s horse farm.  Always a lover of animals, she absolutely adored this donkey who had been acquired to provide companionship for the woman’s favourite horse.  Aside from being extremely cute, she discovered that donkeys were smart, friendly, and affectionate.  She knew there were upwards of fifty-million donkeys worldwide, and that like other domestic animals, countless numbers were neglected or abused.  A few years later, when her personal circumstances unexpectedly changed, a number of possibilities opened up to her.  This change came in the form of a very substantial inheritance left to her by a favourite uncle.  She used some of the money to buy an abandoned farm, and The Sanctuary became a reality.

     Emma had married her college sweetheart in her early twenties, and in hindsight it had been an impulsive decision.  They were both too young and the marriage lasted for less than a year.  Later, on the strength of her bachelor’s degree, she was hired in an administrative capacity by the American Cancer Foundation.  She liked the idea of working in support of such a worthwhile organization, but the work was monotonous and it didn’t seem to offer any avenue for personal growth.  Then, at the age of twenty-five, her life changed when her uncle Fred passed away.  Both she and her brother Richard became the beneficiaries of a very substantial amount of money.  Richard was dedicated to his career in the military, and simply put his inheritance into blue chip investments.  Emma found a perfect farm for sale in Dunn County, North Dakota along the Knife River.  She restored the house and barn, built stables and soon began to accept donkeys in need of refuge.   

     Emma finally secured Timmy and Teddy in the trailer, and after thanking the Deputy for his help, began driving back to The Sanctuary.  She was greeted in the front seat by Deuce, her English springer spaniel.  The dog derived his name from being the second pick of the litter.  But, in Emma’s opinion she had lucked out with her choice.  Deuce had been her constant companion for over the past eight years, and he got along wonderfully with the donkeys.  As she drove, Emma reflected on the past decade.  It seemed like such a whirlwind, but so much had been accomplished.  Sometimes she felt a little lonely, and wished she had a special person in her life.  But, she was much too busy to dwell on it for long.  And although some of her friends questioned her choices, Emma was a strong believer in the Oscar Wilde quotation:  ‘Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.’

     She pulled up in front of the stables and one of the volunteers came out to greet her.  It was always exciting when they introduced new animals to The Sanctuary.  The young man helped her lead Timmy and Teddy from the trailer, and then he led them into the stable and housed them in a clean stall together.  The vet was expected within the hour, and then the process of nurturing the abused animals back to health would begin.  As Emma and Deuce walked up to the main residence, she thought about the unusual visits she had received over the past several weeks.  The most recent was from a man in an expensive looking suit who had made a generous offer to buy The Sanctuary.  He said that a group of investors wanted to acquire properties in the area to establish a large cattle ranch.  She told him she wasn’t interested in selling.  He left saying, “I hope you’ll seriously consider the offer.”


     A motorcade of three black Land Rover Defenders raced along Colfax Avenue in Denver, Colorado.  Many pedestrians stared curiously and wondered, is that the Governor, or maybe even the Vice President? But, it remained a mystery.  There was no seal of office emblazoned on the door panels, nor were there any pennants fluttering to give a clue as to the identity of the passengers.  The vehicles turned onto 17th Street and minutes later entered the underground parking garage at the Republic Plaza Tower.  Once inside they parked in a segregated area that was screened from public view.  Several men quickly exited the lead and rear vehicles and established a secure perimeter.  A man seated in the middle Defender rushed around to open the opposite rear door, but before he could reach it, a tall white haired man  stepped out and walked briskly towards the elevator.

     The man’s personal bodyguard and his executive assistant joined him as they were whisked up to the penthouse suite on the 56th floor.  His name was Xavier Philip Magnuson, and he was often referred to surreptitiously by his staff as Mr. X.  In his younger days, a prominent magazine editor had once dubbed him The Blue Eyed Sheik, to acknowledge his influence in an otherwise Saudi dominated oil industry.  Now a multi-billionaire and in his seventy-eighth year, he still controlled Monterra Oil as Chairman Emeritus.  Although he left the day-to-day operational decisions to the current President, everyone knew who pulled the strings from behind the curtain.  Magnuson had just flown in from Tokyo where he had been negotiating with the Chairman of the Chinese National Energy Commission on behalf of the Japanese.

     The oil baron walked into his private dining room and a white jacketed Filipino steward materialized to offer him a Belvedere martini, garnished with an onion.  Magnuson lit a cigar and gazed through the window at the Front Range, that section of the Rocky Mountains closest to Denver.  Years earlier, Monterra Oil had purchased the entire top floor of the Republic Plaza, which was the tallest building in the city and offered magnificent views of the mountains.  Outside of Magnuson’s personal suite of offices, which included a gym, spa, living quarters and a dining room, it was a beehive of activity as the executive team monitored the day-to-day activity of the international oil markets.  Today he was lunching with the company president Jack Havinshaw.  It would be just the two of them, as they had a sensitive matter to discuss and Magnuson wanted to keep it as hush-hush as possible.

     When Jack Havinshaw entered the foyer to the dining room he was confronted by Magnuson’s bodyguard Helmut Ahlbrecht, a former operator in the German Spezialkrafte.  A man of few words, he dispossessed Havinshaw of his cellphone and ran a security wand over his body to ensure that he carried no metal objects or wore any electronic devices.  Havinshaw was offended by this treatment, but had become used to it.  He knew that Mr. X had a lot of enemies and was paranoid about security.  Finally, he joined Magnuson and was offered his usual whiskey and soda by the steward.  They dined on Duck a’ l’Orange accompanied by a crisp Chateau d’Yquem.  Afterwards, coffee was served in the adjacent sitting area which featured buttery leather club chairs.

     Jack Havinshaw had been working for Monterra Oil since he graduated from college with a PhD in petroleum geology.  Magnuson had recognized Jack’s talent early on and had taken him under his wing.  Now, at age forty-six he was at the pinnacle of a successful career, and enjoyed his mentor’s full confidence.  They chatted over coffee until finally Magnuson said, “Fill me in on the North Dakota situation.” Jack replied, “Sir, we have discretely acquired a majority of the properties in the target area.”  He added, “A couple of the holdouts are considering generous offers, and I’m confident that we can finalize the purchases very soon.  However, there is one parcel of land, right at the epicenter of the project, where the owner has firmly refused to sell at any price.” Magnuson asked, “Does the owner have any idea of what lies under the ground?”

     Havinshaw went on to explain that the holdout, a young woman, had owned the property for about ten years, and had converted the 160 acres into a donkey sanctuary.  He was almost certain that she was unaware of the oil deposits beneath her property.  It was simply that the sanctuary was her whole life, and she wasn’t prepared to sell.  Jack explained that they had checked into her background searching for vulnerabilities, but found nothing of consequence.  She didn’t even have a mortgage on the property.  The woman was thirty-seven years of age, a college graduate and currently unattached.  Apparently a past marriage had ended some years ago, and now she committed all of her time and energy to the donkey sanctuary.  Jack added, “I even made a personal visit and extended an extremely generous offer, but regrettably she turned it down.”

     Magnuson frowned and said, “This simply won’t do.”  He added, “This property is critical to the success of the project, and we’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars in profits!” He suggested that Jack go back again with a larger offer, even to the extent of buying her another property somewhere with all of the amenities to continue her work.  Tell her that we’ll move the donkeys, the whole kit and caboodle at our expense.  Jack said, “I’ll fly up there and make the offer tomorrow, but what if she still refuses?”  Magnuson looked at him sternly and said, “Jack, make this happen!  I don’t care what you have to do, but just make it happen!” Havinshaw knew they had played hardball with obstinate competitors in the past, but this innocent woman didn’t seem to fit into that category.  Just to be sure he asked, “Sir, to what length should we take this?”  Magnuson glared at him and replied, “Do anything and everything necessary to get it done!” Then he asked, “Are we quite clear on this?”  Havinshaw nodded and said, “Perfectly clear, Sir.”


     It would not be an exaggeration to say that The Sanctuary was somewhat isolated.  It was located five miles from the town of Manning, which had the distinction of being the county seat of Dunn County.  The population of the town had been recorded as fifty-six people during the most recent census.  The larger town of Dickinson with a population of twenty-six thousand was situated twenty-five miles to the south.  The area around The Sanctuary was largely made up of small farms, and the people in this tight knit community all knew each other and were quick to lend a helping hand.  So, it didn’t take long for the word to get around that many of them were selling to a big conglomerate.  When Havinshaw’s helicopter landed in front of Emma’s house for a second visit, it was not a surprise to her. 

     Emma thought the man was quite handsome, and wished they were meeting under different circumstances.  None the less, she was curious about what he had to say and invited him into the house for coffee.  The Deuce didn’t seem to take to him and shied away when the man tried to pet him.  Hmm. Interesting.  As they sipped coffee, Havinshaw was persuasive and made a compelling offer that was almost too good to true.  Emma wondered, what is this really all about?  He cited the fact that virtually all of her neighbors had agreed to sell.  Then he offered her a $50,000 signing bonus if she would commit today.  When she still wouldn’t agree, he offered to buy her another farm in any location of her choice, where she could continue her work. When she firmly and finally declined, he gave her a hard look and said, “You may regret this decision.”

     As she watched the helicopter lift off, Emma felt a shiver run down her spine.  Before he left, Havinshaw wrote his mobile number on a piece of paper and handed it to her.  He said, “When you change your mind, call me at this number.” Then he abruptly stood up and walked out the door.  Emma thought, was that a threat?  Feeling disconcerted, Emma pointed her cellphone and photographed Havinshaw as he entered the departing helicopter, and also captured the tail numbers on the aircraft.  When he had left, she went out to the stables to check on Timmy and Teddy.  The vet and the farrier were both working on Timmy’s front hoofs. The vet said, “Emma, you rescued this pair just in the nick of time.”  The farrier added, “A few more days and it might have been too late.”

     Emma saddled her horse and rode off to do a perimeter check of the fences.  The Deuce ran along beside them, as this was one of his favorite activities.  The entire 160 acres wasn’t fenced in, but there were a number of pastures enclosed where the donkeys could wander and graze.  Caring for over one hundred of these animals was a labor intensive undertaking.  There wasn’t any way she could do it by herself.   To assist, Emma employed a woman named Sally, who was a full time ranch hand.  Also, there was an older couple named John and Meredith who lived with her in the main house.  The man was a jack of all trades who did maintenance work and looked after the vehicles.  His wife cared for the house and did all the cooking.  The vet and the farrier both came out from Dickinson two days a week.  There was also a part time secretary who look after the bills and banking and ordering of supplies.  Then there were several local young people who volunteered to help on an occasional basis.

     The following night was when the harassment began.  It was about 2 a.m. when Emma was awakened by a loud noise and the glass in her bedroom window shattered.  It was a gunshot.  Totally shocked, she wasn’t sure what to do.  Out in the hallway she ran into John who had also heard the noise.  There was no cell service this far from the major center, so she maintained a landline.  When Emma picked up the phone, the line was dead.  Really worried now she thought, what on earth is going on? Suddenly there was a rap on the door, and her heart skipped a beat.  But, it was just Sally who was wondering what had happened.  Emma pulled her inside, and flipped off the outside light.  Uncertain what to do next, she worried about the animals who were vulnerable out in the stable.  She reached for the Winchester 30-30 which hung over the back door, and jacked a round into the chamber.

     As Emma ran towards the stables she was exposed by the night light which shone from over the entrance.  Another shot rang out, and the bullet punched a hole in the door just as she pulled it open.  Once inside, her heart was hammering and she felt a fear like she had never experienced before.  She turned off the light and just stood there in the dark.  There would be no further disturbance that night, and in the morning she drove to the Sheriff’s office in Dickinson.  The Sheriff took her report and seemed puzzled over what had happened.  They both wondered if maybe the people from the conglomerate were somehow behind this intimidation.  The Sheriff said he would send his Deputy out to park in the driveway that night to deter any further intrusion.  Deputy Dennis Gaines was the same man who had assisted with Timmy and Teddy.  He was delighted at the prospect of seeing Emma again.

     When Emma returned she was met by Sally, who informed her that much of the wire in the south pasture had been cut.  She was on her way there now to begin repairs.  The bigger problem was that several of the Donkeys had wandered through the opening and were now on the loose.  Emma told her to saddle two horses and they would ride out together to round up the wayward animals.  She would ask John do the repairs on the fence.  But, first she had some calls to make.  Emma drove into the small town of Manning five miles away and made three calls.  The first was the telephone company to arrange a repair of the phone line.  Next she called the administration at Fort Liberty, North Carolina and inquired about how she could reach her bother Richard.  Finally, she called the number on the piece of paper that Jack Havinshaw had given her.  When she asked him if new anything about last night’s events he said emphatically, “I don’t know what you’re talking about!”


     Richard McManus was a Delta Force operator with the rank of Sergeant-major.  Formerly a member of the elite 75th Ranger Regiment, he was an expert at undertaking hostage rescues, prisoner snatches and high value target strikes.  He and his team had just been extracted from a middle-eastern country and were now aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower.  They had been deployed for several months, and were due now for rotation back to the States.   McManus was summoned by the ship’s Chief Mate and told that an urgent message had been received from one of his family members.  He knew that it had to be from his big sister Emma, and that she would never attempt to contact him on the job unless it was important.  He was given a secure line to use, but for some reason the call wouldn’t go through.

     As McManus arranged for expedited travel back to the U.S., a man with a sniper rifle was positioning himself in a copse of trees 800 yards from Emma’s house.  He was currently going by the name of Harrison, but this was just one of many appellations he had used.  Formally a member of the 1st Marine Corps Raider Battalion, he had been unceremoniously discharged after a vicious bar fight in which he had almost killed a civilian.  Since then, he had offered his services as a hired gun, drawing on his special opts military experience.  He had adopted a persona based on Richard Boone’s character Paladin in the 1960’s TV series, Have Gun – Will Travel.  Whenever he was under stress or had to make a quick decision, he would recite WWPD.  This was short for, what would Paladin do?  Dressed in a camouflaged ghillie suite, he was virtually invisible to any observers as he adjusted his scope.

     Harrison had been instructed to create mayhem at the donkey sanctuary.  Just mayhem, but no killing unless otherwise told to do so.  He was on a very large retainer from an anonymous employer who had approached him through the dark web.  The cash was delivered by courier along with instructions and a note which promised to double the fee if he was able to deliver the desired result.  Last night he had cut the wire around one of the pastures.  He had briefly considered cutting the throats of a few donkeys, but then he thought, WWPD?  Paladin would never harm a helpless animal.  Later he watched the peepshow as the attractive woman undressed for bed.  From a quarter mile he could count the freckles on her nose with his high powered scope.  At 2 a.m. he fired a round through her window.  Minutes later the woman ran across the yard to the stable, and he put a bullet through the door a few inches above her head.

     Now it looked as though she had been in touch with the law.   No big surprize there.  The cop had been parked in the driveway for hours, and it looked like he might stay there for the whole night.  Harrison phoned the sheriff’s office in Dickinson and falsely reported a terrible car accident on highway 22, just south of Manning.  A few minutes later the police car backed out and raced off.  All the lights were off in the house as he stealthily approached, and then shattered the light over the stable with an air pistol.  He was surprized when Sally came through the door, and he spontaneously struck her with a powerful blow.  Harrison moved swiftly to where the Chevy Colorado was parked and reached beneath to attach an explosive charge to the gas tank.  A dog started barking as he left the yard and began to jog back to his hidey-hole.  Seconds later he punched an app on his cell phone and triggered an explosion that turned the pick-up truck into an inferno.

     There was mayhem in the yard in front of Emma’s house.  With the dawn, the burning truck was still throwing off dark smoke, and the blinking lights of the Deputy’s patrol car and those of the EMS vehicle combined to create an eerie atmosphere.  Two medics were rendering aid to Sally as they all stood back at a respectable distance.  She had apparently suffered a concussion and was in serious condition.  As the medics were preparing to shift her onto a stretcher, the Deputy was apologizing to Emma for the umpteenth time for being lured from his post.  He had awakened the Sheriff earlier, and the man was now on his way along with two additional deputies and a tracking dog.  When they arrived they would find no evidence of the perpetrator.  Harrison was three miles away sleeping in his van, which was parked inside the barn of an abandoned farm.

     News of what had happened travelled fast, and the results for Emma were devastating.  The first blow came when the vet announced that he would no longer make his twice weekly visits.  Then John and Meredith, shaken by events, decided to take a break and visit their son in Bismarck.  Sally was still in bad shape and remained in hospital under observation.  Finally, all of the volunteers who customarily helped out had stopped coming around.  Emma was left to handle everything by herself, and it was a daunting prospect.  One bright spot was when the handsome Deputy, Dennis Gaines, offered to help out on his days off.  Emma had taken a shine to him, although he was half a dozen years younger.  But she thought, whose counting? A few days later her brother Richard arrived, and all of her worries evaporated.  He said, “Don’t worry Sis, we’ll get this sorted out.”

     Harrison had decided to lay low for a few days and let the dust settle.  He was reasonably well provisioned and had lots of reading material.   His employer had communicated again through the dark web and instructed him to keep up the pressure, but not to inflict any more physical injuries.  They suggested that a fire in the stable might be a logical next step.  Harrison wondered, WWPD?  No, Paladin wouldn’t torch a stable full of innocent animals.  He’d have to think of something else.  Tonight at dusk he would return to scout the place out, and maybe get another peek at that good looking woman.  His biggest concern was the bloody dog.  This time he would take a tranquilizer gun as a precaution.  Unbeknownst to Harrison, during his two day absence Richard McManus had arrived on the scene.  The dog would now prove to be the least of his worries.


     Xavier Philip Magnuson was smoking a cigar in his office when Jack Havinshaw knocked on the door.  Mr. X said, “Jack, how do you explain this shit show up in North Dakota?”  Havinshaw responded, “Our man on the ground has unfortunately drawn a lot of unwanted attention, and the woman has proven to be quite intractable.” He explained that upon further investigation it had been determined that she had a very substantial portfolio of investments, and that money was not a motivator for her. Magnuson snarled, “So what is the solution?”  Havinshaw replied, “We have to threaten the thing she loves most, the donkeys.”  The oil baron said, “Jack, just get the job done!”  Then he stared at his minion and asked pointedly, “Is there any possibility of this blowing back on us?”  Jack said confidently, “Not a chance, sir.”

     The oil deposits in North Dakota are part of the Bakken Formation, which constitutes one of the largest concentrations of oil and natural gas reserves in the United States.  Bakken is part of the larger Williston Basin which according to estimates contains up to 7.4 billion barrels of recoverable oil.  A year ago, Monterra Oil had been given the opportunity to utilize the latest infrared imaging technology aboard the NASA polar-orbiting satellite.  Existing known deposits were clearly delineated, but a new area lit up like a Roman candle.  Upon further investigation, the epicentre of the newly discovered deposit was found to be at a 160 acre farm near the Knife River.  Mr. X immediately began to act on this proprietary information.  He purchased a farm in the immediate area and began some innocuous drilling under the guise of looking for water.

     When core samples confirmed the legitimacy of the deposits, Monterra began to buy up every property in the area.  The purchases were made in the name of Northland Ranching Enterprises.  The story they told was that the company wanted to establish a large cattle ranch similar to the King Ranch in Texas.  The name Northland, of course, was just a front for Monterra Oil, which was hidden behind an intricate web of numbered companies.  To make Northland appear legitimate, an extensive internet site had been developed giving it an inspired but totally false history.  It was made to appear even more impressive with representation by a top legal firm, Cohen, Gottlieb and Horowitz, who were pleased to act on behalf of the dubious shell company, while racking up fees at $1,160 per hour.  All payments to purchase the properties were made by the law firm, who received wire transfers from an untraceable off shore account.

     As much as Magnuson had tried to keep the new project under wraps, it hadn’t escaped the notice of fellow oil baron T.E. Oliphant.  He was the chairman of Regal Petroleum, a major player in the Bakken Formation and one that dwarfed the size of Monterra Oil.  Oliphant’s personal fortune exceeded that of Magnuson’s by a very large margin, and he was said to rank among the top twenty wealthiest men in the world.  His corporate spies had given him an early heads up on his competitor’s plans, and he had been working feverishly behind the scenes to acquire the shares and proxies needed to mount a hostile bid to take over Magnuson’s company.  He knew that control of Monterra would include ownership of Northland Ranching which now owned most of the land containing the newly found reserves.  He was aware that there was one critical holdout, however he had a plan on how to acquire that property.

     Jack Havinshaw had been very careful when he approached Emma McManus.  He used a false name and the cell number he had given her was to an untraceable burner phone.  He even went so far as to rent a commercial helicopter and pilot for his visits, rather than using the company aircraft.  Jack was also at arms-length with Cohen, Gottlieb and Horowitz.  All arrangements with the legal firm had been conducted through a third party.  There was nothing at all to connect him with Northland Ranching Enterprises.  Havinshaw was certain that he had covered his tracks, but he didn’t take into account facial recognition technology or the likelihood that he would be contending with the resources of an operator from Delta Force.  He smiled when the burner phone buzzed, thinking that woman was finally ready to capitulate.  When he picked up, a man spoke to him, “Hello Jack, I’ll be seeing you soon.”

     Richard McManus had called in some favors to track down the oilman, but for now he would put off any contact with Havinshaw, while he dealt with whoever was terrorizing his sister at The Sanctuary.  That night he was positioned half a mile from the house, a virtual ghost using PSV-14 night vision goggles.  He sat perfectly still for several hours until he finally detected some movement.  A man finally materialised, and advanced cautiously into a wooded area nearby to set up an observation post.  It was Harrison, and he had no sense that he himself was being watched.  He was adjusting the focus of his holographic optical scope on the upper bedroom window, when he felt a razor sharp knife pressed against his throat.  His last thought was, WWPD?  But, Paladin didn’t answer.

     The next day Richard located the man’s van which was parked nearby in a deserted barn.  He could tell from the equipment he possessed that he was former military, possibly special forces.  He wished he had a chance to question the man, but he knew from experience that in combat the tables could turn pretty quick.  When it was time for action, always be brutally decisive.  Richard drove the van to The Sanctuary and loaded the man’s body in the back.  After dark, he travelled to a secluded area about ten miles away and rolled the vehicle into the Knife River.  He jogged back and informed his sister that the immediate threat had been eliminated.   The following morning, yet another helicopter landed in the front yard.  An elderly man disembarked and he slowly walked up to the front door.  Emma looked at Richard with a confused look and thought, now what?  When she opened the door the man smiled and said, “Hello, my name is T.E. Oliphant.”



     Oliphant had a pleasant grandfatherly appearance which belied his rapacious, hard charging nature.  His theory of nice guys finish last had paid off well, as he made his billions in the rough and tumble oil business.  He was also confident in his ability to read people at first glance.  When he met Emma and Richard he instinctively knew that they were no fools.  And there was something about the young man that gave him serious pause.  He decided to cut the bullshit and simply tell them the truth.  Oliphant told them who he was, and why he was there.  He explained that it was his competitor at Monterra Oil who had bought up all the land around The Sanctuary, and that they were probably responsible for the recent acts of intimidation.  He pointed the finger at Mr. X, and surmised that it was his point man Jack Havinshaw who had come to visit her.

     The oilman explained that acquiring Emma’s land was critically important to developing the reserves, and that he had a plan that she would find intriguing.  Emma said to him, “I have no intention of selling.”  She added, “I don’t care how much money you offer.”  Oliphant told her that he understood her feelings on the matter, but urged her to listen to his idea and try to keep an open mind.  He said, “In any case, the whole thing depends on whether I can acquire control of Monterra oil.”  He opened up his laptop and asked them to watch a short video.  It was an overview of a beautiful horse ranch that had been filmed by a drone.  There was a substantial main house and several out buildings including a large barn, bunkhouse and extensive stables.  The lush partially wooded property extended along a river, and there was a view of the mountains in the distance.

     The ranch was located three hundred miles to the south, just outside of Rapid City, South Dakota.  It was almost twice the size of The Sanctuary, and had a gorgeous view of the Black Hills.  Oliphant told them that it was his personal horse ranch, and that he was prepared to swap properties with Emma and would also arrange the logistics to establish a new donkey sanctuary.  In addition, he would give her a small percentage interest in the new oil field that could result in an income of several hundred thousand dollars a year.  The alternative was to stay where she was, but he explained that the property would be isolated and surrounded by busy, disruptive development and it would lose its distinctive character.  He went on to say. “If I could confidently inform investors that I had an option on your property, it might convince a few holdouts to give me the proxies needed to complete the deal.”

     Richard asked him, “How close are you right now to assuming control?” Oliphant said, “Very close, but most of the remaining shares are privately held by Monterra executives.  Jack Havinshaw is the largest by far with about fifteen percent of the company.”  Richard asked, “Would his shares be enough to give you a majority?”  The oilman said, “Yes, but there is zero chance of him selling his shares or giving me his proxy.” Richard responded, “Maybe I could have a talk with him. I was planning to pay him a visit anyway.” Oliphant gave him a strange look and asked, “Did you ever find out who was causing all the commotion around here?”  Emma hesitated and replied, “We don’t think he’ll be a problem anymore!”  The old man raised his eyebrows and asked, “Richard, I understand that you serve in the military.  In what branch of the service are you affiliated?” Richard replied, “Sorry sir, but that information is need-to-know only.”

     After Oliphant’s helicopter lifted off, the two siblings sat down at the kitchen table for a serious discussion.  Richard said that he had no skin in the game, and the decision was strictly hers to make.  The oilman had made a favorable impression with both of them.  He had said that he really wanted to get this deal done, but it wasn’t a make or break situation.  He added that Magnuson had been a thorn in his side for years, and as much as anything this would be an opportunity to deal him a crushing blow.  After repeating again how extremely beneficial this would be for her, Oliphant gave Emma twenty-four hours to make a decision.  If the answer was no, he promised she wouldn’t hear from him again.  Finally he said, “Emma, I know we have just met, but if we do this I promise that I will look out for your best interests.”  Just ask around he added, “Anyone in the oil industry will tell you that you can accept T.E. Oliphant’s word as gospel.”

     Emma was conflicted by the proposal in front of her.  On the one hand it was always comfortable to stay with the status quo, but she could see in this case where there would be a big advantage to making a change.  The property Oliphant had shown them was absolutely breathtaking, and it was close to a major urban center where she could draw on human and logistical resources.  She had always dreamed of expanding The Sanctuary and taking a more comprehensive approach to public awareness, fund raising and creating an outreach to offer selective adoption of some of the rehabilitated animals.  With an expanded facility and the projected cash flow from the oil reserves, all of this would be possible.  It could be a wonderful opportunity.  She was also beginning to realize that the isolation of her facility without any neighbors was less than ideal.

     After discussing all of this with Richard, she finally made a decision and called Oliphant that evening.  The next day Dennis Gaines came by to lend a hand.  There was so much work to do! Just feeding and watering the animals and cleaning out the stalls took most of the day.  Without Dennis’s help she didn’t know what she would have done.  Richard had pitched in for a while, but then he left on what called an important mission.  Emma had been terribly disappointed by the behavior of her staff and the volunteers, who left her hanging at the first hint of trouble.  Still, she decided she must call them and beg them to return.  She and Dennis were in the barn at the end of the day checking on Timmy and Teddy.  Dennis was stroking Timmy’s head and whispering in his ear.  Turning suddenly, he took Emma in his arms and gave her a lingering kiss.


     Jack Havinshaw lived in a luxurious suite at the Modera LoHi apartment complex on 16th Street.  It was here that he entertained an endless parade of young men who shared his sexual proclivities.  He had taken great pains to keep his private life separate from his high profile position in the macho oil industry.  So far, he was certain that his secret life remained in violate.  This night he was sipping bourbon on the rocks, while puzzling over the disappearance of the hired muscle that he had engaged to harass the woman at the donkey sanctuary.  The man had gone off the grid two days ago, and he had been unable to contact him since.  Meantime, Mr. X had been clamoring for answers, and Jack was at his wits end.  He had also been quite disconcerted when a strange man had called on the burner phone using the number that he had given exclusively to Emma McManus.  The man had actually sounded threatening.

     Jack decided to take a shower and as he stood under the rejuvenating hot water, he temporarily forgot his troubles.  Finally he stepped out and put on a robe.  When he walked over to the wet bar to refresh his drink, Jack was shocked to find a tough looking man sitting in his living room.  The man said, “Don’t make a fucking move or I’ll blow out your kneecap.”  Then he brandished a wicked looking pistol that appeared to have a silencer attached to the end.  Jack sucked in a deep breath and then gasped, “Who are you, what do you want?” There was a long silence, broken when Jack frantically whispered, “Are you here to rob me?”  In a chilling voice the man replied, “No, Mr. Havinshaw, I’m here to kill you.”  Jack exclaimed, “But why?  Who are you?  What have I done?”  The Delta Force operator replied, “You’ve messed with the wrong family.”

     Jack quickly realized what this was all about.  He said, “No please, I was just following orders.”  McManus replied, “That was Adolph Eichmann’s defence too.”  Havinshaw begged, “Please don’t kill me, I would never have hurt her.  I was offering her an excellent opportunity.”  The soldier replied, “Sorry, but you’re a dead man.”  He added, “You can join the guy who you sent to terrorize my sister.”  Jack burst into tears and got down on his knees.  He cried, “Please, I’ll give you money.  I’ll do anything!”  Richard walked over and put the pistol to the man’s head.  Jack sobbed, “No, please don’t kill me, I’ll do anything.”  The man was completely broken.  Richard grabbed him by the hair and forced the end of the pistol into his mouth.  Finally he said, “Maybe there is something you can do.”

     The following afternoon a disgruntled Mr. X was smoking a cigar with his feet up on his desk.  Having made a decision, he picked up the intercom and summoned his bodyguard Helmut Ahlbrecht.  The former German Spezialkrafte operator entered the room and stood to attention.  Magnuson invited the man to sit and then launched into an explanation of the problem he was having in dealing with Emma McManus.  He said that Jack Havinshaw had been handling the matter and had hired some professional tough guy to intimidate the woman, but somehow he had lost track of the man.  Now the clock was running out, and it was time to play hard ball.  “Helmut, I want you to handle this.  Take the Lear up to North Dakota tomorrow.”  He added, “Listen carefully, here’s exactly what I want you to do.”

     While Mr. X was plotting to gain control of The Sanctuary, Emma had already entered into an agreement with T.E. Oliphant.  His lawyer had arrived with the paperwork, and cautioned that she might wish to obtain independent legal advice before signing.  Emma read through the two page document and found that it was easy enough to understand.  It offered a sixty day option to acquire Emma’s property in a direct exchange for Oliphant’s ranch.  It also included language specifying logistical support to transport the donkeys, and provided her revenue participation in the proposed oilfield when it was developed.  The closing date on the transaction would occur thirty days after the option was exercised.  Oliphant had made it clear to her, that the arrangement was contingent on his gaining majority control of Monterra Oil.

~                    ~                    ~

     Helmut Ahlbrecht landed at the Dickinson North Dakota Airport in the Monterra corporate jet.  Accompanying him were two of his boss’s security men, carrying assorted weapons and military gear.  They picked up a rental SUV, and then drove north towards Manning.  Forty minutes later they parked in the garage of one of the recently acquired farms, just a mile down the road from The Sanctuary.  Albrecht had been informed that Emma McManus’s brother was a hard-ass military type, and that he had possibly eliminated Jack Havinshaw’s hired gunman.  He had also scared the wits out of poor Jack, by threatening his life.  Mr. X thought the brother had too much influence over his sister and was a major threat to his master plan.  His instructions were simple.  He said, “Kill the man, and leave no evidence behind.”

    Ahlbrecht and his men waited until two a.m. to put their plan into action.  One man remained behind with the SUV and was instructed to pick up the others when summoned.  As a precaution, the licence plates on the vehicle were removed.  The second man would make his way to the rear of Emma’s bunkhouse with a five gallon container of gasoline and an explosive charge.  He was to set the structure on fire at precisely six a.m.  Ahlbrecht himself established a firing position with an unobstructed view of the house.  He was using a McMillan TAC-338 sniper rifle with a Leupold Mark 5 scope, and he was an exceptionally accomplished shooter.  At six a.m. the bunkhouse was set ablaze accompanied by the loud crump of an explosion.  Less than a minute later a man darted from the house with a pistol in his hand.  Ahlbrecht shot him through the forehead and immediately withdrew towards the pick-up point.


     As Deputy Dennis Gaines rushed out the front door, Richard McManus cautiously slipped through the bulkhead hatchway leading from the cellar.  When he heard the rifle shot, he immediately surmised what had happened.  Avoiding the area that was awash with light by the flames, the Delta Force operator kept to the shadows as he moved towards the roadway.  Just then a dark colored SUV pulled up with its lights turned off.  When two figures ran towards the vehicle, he fired several shots from his Heckler & Koch 9 mm pistol.  Both men appeared to have been hit, but one man managed to pull the other into the back seat.  As the vehicle raced off, Richard emptied the balance of his 15-round magazine and stitched a line of bullet holes across the rear window.  Returning to the house he found his sister sobbing over the body of Dennis Gaines, a man who had taken a bullet that was meant for him.

     At sunrise the bunkhouse was still afire, as Richard made an effort to hose it down with a garden hose.  The building was totally gutted and it was just a lucky break the flames hadn’t spread to the barn or stables.  The donkeys could smell the smoke and were kicking up a fuss, but at least they were out of harm’s way.  Richard had covered Dennis’s body with a blanket, and Emma finally gathered herself together sufficiently to call the Sheriff’s department in Dickinson.  Before any units arrived he would have to gather up his brass casings to avoid leaving any evidence of his involvement.  It was abundantly clear to him that Jack Havinshaw had reneged on his promise, and reported the other night’s traumatic encounter with Richard to his boss.  The proxy he had been forced to sign was now worthless.  Richard knew that the only way to end this campaign of aggression against his sister, was to chop off the head of the snake.

     Emma was in total shock over Dennis Gaines senseless murder.  They had begun to develop warm feelings towards each other, and now this budding relationship had violently ended.  She felt terrible guilt, thinking that everything that had happened was the result of her stubborn refusal to sell the property, even when offered twice its value.  Now Dennis was dead, and all of her staff and volunteers had left.  She thought, how long can I continue to run The Sanctuary by myself? Even the veterinarian had refused to visit, and given what had happened she doubted that John and Meredith would return.  Richard’s presence was temporary, and soon he too would have to leave.  Emma looked to where Dennis’s body was covered, and choked up again.  She wondered, who would give the terrible news to his mother? 

     Shocking news of a similar nature had been received by Mr. X.  His man Ahlbrecht had been struck in the neck by a well-placed bullet from Richard McManus’s pistol, and although aided into the backseat of the SUV by his henchman, he had bled-out as they drove off to make their escape.  The second man had only been slightly wounded, but had the misfortune to catch another bullet when the Delta Force operator emptied his pistol into the fleeing vehicle’s rear window.  Thirty minutes later when the driver pulled up to the tarmac at the Dickenson Airport, the co-pilot had assisted him in loading two bodies aboard the Lear Jet.  The shot-up bloodstained rental SUV, the flight plan, and some telling CTV footage all pointed an incriminating finger.  The North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) would be quick to connect the dots.

     The BCI had been called in because a South Dakota law enforcement officer had been murdered.  The two investigators had parked in Emma’s front yard alongside vehicles from the Sheriff’s Department, the coroner and a funeral coach.  The Sheriff explained to the BCI men about the intimidation that had been brought to bear to force Emma to sell her property.  The proposed buyer was Northland Ranching Enterprises, but he was certain that company was just a front for Monterra Oil.  The Sheriff said he had set up a roadblock on highway 24 south towards Dickenson, but somehow the killer slipped through the net.  He told the investigators about a call he had received just moments earlier from the airport.  Apparently a shot-up vehicle and been abandoned near the runway, after two shrouded objects were loaded aboard a Lear jet.  The name emblazoned on the departing aircraft was Monterra Oil.

     Richard was driving south in light traffic when he was stopped at the roadblock.  He opened his window when two Deputies approached, one with his rifle at the ready.  He smiled and said he was on leave from Fort Liberty and that he was a U.S. Army Ranger.  He flipped open his I.D., and after the briefest of scrutiny the Deputy waived him through.  Richard was on his way to Denver for the second time in a week.  He thought it best to disappear from Emma’s property before the Sheriff arrived, to avoid being implicated in the investigation.  Besides, there were people he had to see, and this time he wouldn’t be offering second chances.  The senseless murder of Dennis Gaines and the trauma caused to his sister went well beyond the pale, and now someone was going to pay.  It was a nine hour drive to Denver, plenty of time for Richard to consider his strategy.

     When the Colorado State BCI came calling on Monterra Oil in Denver, Xavier Philip Magnuson was unavailable to speak with them.  The Chairman Emeritus was said to be retired and currently vacationing in Paris, France.  The two investigators met with the company President, Jack Havinshaw who disavowed of any knowledge of Northland Ranching Enterprises.  He admitted that the company jet had flown to Dickenson the previous day to accommodate a Herr Helmut Ahlbrecht, a friend and former business associate of Mr. Magnuson.  Havinshaw had no information about the man’s current whereabouts.  When the investigators requested permission to inspect the Lear jet, they were told that it had already left on a flight to Venezuela.  The inquiry had just hit a stone wall.


     The Delta operator was about half way to Denver when the ring tone on his cellphone broke the silence.  He answered with a terse, “McManus,” and was surprised to find T.E. Oliphant on the line.  The billionaire had been in touch with Emma after hearing about the shooting and murder at The Sanctuary.  She explained to him what had happened and passed on her brother’s cell number.  Oliphant said, “Richard, I’ve convinced Jack Havinshaw to sell me his shares.  I made him a financial offer he couldn’t refuse, along with the promise of a senior position in the merged entity.”  He went on, “So, I don’t want anything happening to him, if you get my drift.  Mr. X is a different proposition.”  Richard responded, “This is pretty murky warfare.  It’s getting hard to know who the enemy is.” Oliphant chuckled, and then gave him the name of a man who could help him penetrate Mr. X’s security.

     Richard met Luis Ramirez at the Manila Bay Restaurant in downtown Denver.  Ramirez had been Mr. X’s steward for several years, but also served as a spy for T.E. Oliphant and was adept at funneling useful information to his secret sponsor.  He had been instructed by Oliphant to assist Richard in gaining access to the penthouse of the Republic Plaza Tower.  This was no simple thing, given the security protocols that were in place.  The first line of security was a man posted in the parking garage, who guarded the only access to the express elevator.  When Mr. X was in residence, the elevator car remained stationed on the 56th floor as an added measure of caution.  There was also a CTV camera inside the elevator, one of many that were monitored from a room in the Monterra offices. Finally, two men stood guard in the foyer between the elevator and the Chairman’s private suite.  Both were heavily armed.

     Ramirez suggested that Richard meet him outside of the Republic Plaza at five-thirty a.m., which was his usual arrival time.  After he swiped them into the underground, he would summon the elevator, and if Richard could neutralize the guard they could ascend together.  Ramirez said he could disable the camera, but in any case the security team would probably be functioning at a low ebb at that hour.  Once they reached the 56th floor, it would be all up to Richard to continue the breach.  He mentioned that Mr. X would already be astir and sitting in the lounge just off the dining room waiting for his morning coffee.  He also cautioned that the door leading to Mr. X’s suite of rooms would be locked.  Usually the Bosses personal bodyguard would open the door for him, but he had been strangely absent.  Ramirez said he would enter through the main office area, but that wasn’t an option for Richard as there would be a throng of Monterra employees.

     Richard McManus parked his car about one mile from the Republic Plaza Tower and walked to the rendezvous point where he slipped into the front seat of Luis Ramirez’s Honda Accord.  He wore a baseball cap and a Covid-19 mask which wasn’t an unusual sight in downtown Denver.  Slung over his shoulder was a small backpack which contained some of the tools of his trade.  If the authorities back at Fort Liberty knew he had taken weapons and explosives off base, they’d probably hang him out to dry.  But after initially speaking with his sister, he was certain that some of these items would come in handy.  Besides he thought, the motto of the Delta Force is ‘Without Equal,’ it wasn’t we follow the rules.  Ramirez drove them `into the underground and entered the private parking area.  When they got out of the car, the guard approached and said, “Luis, who’s this guy?”

     Richard kicked the unsuspecting guard in the knee and then struck him on the temple with his fist.  The man collapsed to the ground and Richard quickly secured his wrists and ankles with zip ties.  Meantime, Ramirez pushed the button to summon the elevator, as was his custom every morning.  When the door opened, he stepped inside and reached up to disable the dome camera with a can of black spray paint.  With a whoosh the elevator door closed and the two men rapidly ascended to the 56th floor.  When the door opened Richard tossed a M84 flash bang grenade into the foyer.  It exploded with an intensely loud bang and a blinding flash that totally disoriented the two men who were standing guard.  Richard entered the foyer and shot both of the men with his 9 mm pistol.  Then Ramirez pointed to Mr. X’s door.  Richard stepped up and slapped an explosive device over the keypad.  When the door blew open, the Delta man swiftly entered the room.

     Xavier Philip Magnuson stood there with a pearl handled revolver in his hand, and he managed to get off a wild shot before Richard knocked the weapon from the old man’s hand.  Mr. X had been stunned by the rapid intensity of the assault on his well defended lair.  Now, he stood there in his silk bathrobe, quaking with fear.  Richard gave him a hard stare and said, “So, You’re the man who’s responsible for terrorizing my sister.”  Mr. X gasped out, “No, you don’t understand what’s going on!” Richard raised his pistol and said, “Here’s what I understand.”  Just then a shot rang out and Richard felt a sharp pain in his back.  As he spun around and fired, he took another bullet to his chest.  Momentarily stunned, he looked across the room as the Filipino steward slumped to the floor.  He fired an insurance bullet into the twitching body, and then turned again to face the oil magnet.

     Mr. X was aghast at the swift reversal of circumstances and couldn’t quite compute what had just happened.  Ramirez had shot this guy twice.  His mind raced, how is he still standing?   The oil man was unaware that he was up against a Delta Force operator, and that Richard was wearing both hard and soft body armour.  The two bullets would leave nasty bruises, but in no way would they impede him physically.  The man raised his pistol once again, and Mr. X extended his palms and croaked, “Wait, Oliphant was the one who arranged this.  Ramirez was his man.  He’s been a spy in my household.” He blustered on, “Oliphant, Havinshaw and me have all agreed to work together on the new oil field, and your sister will come out of this well rewarded.”  Richard’s pistol didn’t waiver as Mr. X begged for his life.  The billionaire said, “Please, you don’t have to ….!”  But, the pistol coughed twice and cut short his plea.


     A major newspaper in the mile-high city opined that the recent surge of violence in Denver was the result of a turf war between competing oil companies.  It was revealed that the dispute centered over control of a massive new oil field that had recently been discovered in North Dakota.  Prominent among the dead were oil magnets Xavier Philip Magnuson and T.E. Oliphant.  Also mentioned was Jack Havinshaw, the President of Monterra Oil.  It was reported that all three men had been executed gangland style and that several security personnel had also been killed.  In the wake of the violence, a shareholder’s meeting of Monterra Oil and Regal Petroleum had been held, and a resolution was passed to merge the two companies.  The newly appointed President Howard Whitlock had no comment to make on the wild speculation in the press.

     One of T.E. Oliphant’s last official acts was to formally exercise his option to buy Emma’s 160 acres.  His control of that strategically located property finally convinced Jack Havinshaw to come on board and give Oliphant a proxy to vote his shares.  The magnet now had majority voting control and could proceed with his plan to merge the two companies.  Mr. X, seeing the writing on the wall, reluctantly acquiesced and decided to accept the inevitable.  A date was set for a joint director’s meeting to formalize the arrangement.  Jack would be nominated as President of the newly merged firm, with Oliphant and Mr. X serving as Co-Chairmen.  All three of the men expressed concern that Emma McManus’s brother was a continuing risk to their plans.  A strategy was hatched among them to deal with the problem.

     Emma wasn’t completely surprised by the killings of the oil executives.  She knew that Richard had sought revenge for the murder of Deputy Dennis Gains, and for the way these men had terrorized her and the employees of The Sanctuary.  He had admitted nothing of his involvement to her, and provided no details saying that she wouldn’t have to perjure herself if ever questioned by the authorities.  All he would say was, “It’s even more complicated that you can possibly imagine.”  In light of this, Emma wondered about the status of the option T.E. Oliphant had exercised on her property.  Before his death she had been formally notified by Oliphant’s lawyer of the implementation of the agreement.  But now she wondered if the arrangement was still binding.  The answer to that question came in the form of a visit from Howard Whitlock, the new CEO of Regal Petroleum.

     Whitlock was the grandson and only surviving member of the late T.E. Oliphant’s family.  He had been groomed by the oil magnet for several years and had served in a number of increasingly important positions within Regal Petroleum.  As sole beneficiary to his grandfather’s estate he had come into possession of an immense fortune, while also assuming control of the company.  Pulling into Emma’s driveway in a dusty Jeep, none of the trappings of this new found wealth was on display.  When he stepped out of the vehicle the Deuce barked and rushed up to him.  Emma watched from the doorway as the man went down on one knee to greet the dog, whose wagging tail indicated warm acceptance.  Then he walked up to the porch and said, “Hello Emma, my name is Howard Whitlock.  It seems that we are in business together.”

      Emma wasn’t sure at first what his position was with Regal Petroleum, but when he explained why he had come to visit, she invited him in for coffee.  First, he wanted to assure her that the agreement she had made with his grandfather was still valid.  Then they spent the next hour talking about the South Dakota ranch and Emma’s plans for the future.  Howard asked if she would give him a tour around The Sanctuary to see the donkeys.  He was aghast when he saw the burned out bunkhouse and Emma told him the story about the night of the murder.  He also noted the burned out hulk of her Chevy pick-up. Then, when she introduced him to Timmy and Teddy and explained the details of their rescue, he just shook his head and gave her an admiring look.

     Back inside, Howard handed her an envelope.  He said that he had analyzed the existing arrangement and felt that it was perhaps a little one sided, particularly as her income participation probably wouldn’t begin for several years.  And now with an understanding of her current circumstances and how she had been abandoned by the employees and volunteers, he promised to have a transition team in place within 48 hours to assist with the care of the animals, and to organize all the details of their transfer to the ranch in South Dakota.  He would also arrange for the services of a veterinarian until such time as she could make arrangements at the new location.  After he left, Emma opened the envelope and was shocked to find a cheque for five million dollars.

     The next several days were a whirlwind of activity as several men and woman arrived, as Howard had promised.  They found housing at the Marriott in Dickinson and commuted each morning to assist in the care of the donkeys and to arrange the logistics of her move to South Dakota.  In the meantime, Emma had arranged for the purchase of a new truck, and was pleased when Sally was recovered sufficiently to return to work.  She would join Emma in making the transition to the new sanctuary, as would John and Meredith who had sheepishly agreed to return.  Representatives of the Bureau of Investigation had come by to question her about the identity of a mystery gunman.  They still hadn’t connected her brother to recent events, and Richard had disappeared once again into the shadowy world of black opts.

     Howard called Emma towards the end of the week and offered to give her a personal tour of the ranch in South Dakota.  He said that he had been going there since he was a kid, and was quite familiar with the property.  They agreed to meet in Dickinson on Saturday morning and fly directly to the ranch, which had its own airstrip.  Emma was totally astonished by the stunning beauty of the house and surrounding acreage.  At one point Howard teasingly asked Emma if he could continue to board his horse at the ranch.  Later, he asked if she would like to join him for dinner at Delmonico’s in Rapid City.  She smiled and asked. “Would it be business or pleasure?” Howard responded, “Strictly pleasure on my part!”  Emma thought to herself, he is a few years younger, but who’s counting.


By Michael Barlett


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