“I never have liked suddenly.” This came out of the blue and vibrated in our ears as utter nonsense. Which pretty much describes the conversational style of Whit Morrisan. “Nope, never liked her, but I remember the day I knew I had had absolutely enough suddenlys to last me a lifetime,” Whit said. Whit was a lanky, gray headed liar of the champion category. When primed with a couple of beers or a bottomless shot glass, you didn’t need O’Reilly or Hannity or any other of those reality TV shows.
Forsham could see that we had primed the pump, so to speak, and came around the bar and went over and flicked off the TV he had hanging up in the corner above the jukebox.
Whit lifted his bottle to show it was empty, so Forsham brought another one and set it on the bar.
Whit took a draw from it, as if testing to make sure it was the real thing. He pursed up his lips and nodded at Forsham and winked.
“You might think,” he went on, “That I am referring to that old Appaloosa mare I had who went by the moniker of Suddenly. But you would be mostly wrong.”
I have known Whit for most of his fifty-nine years and in all that time, I do not believe I ever made the acquaintance of a horse, Appaloosa or Thoroughbred, by the name of Suddenly. From the grins one everybody else’s faces, it appeared that they too had never known “Suddenly.”
“Not that she didn’t give me plenty of reason,” Whit went on, apparently unaware of our skepticism. “But she was an ace roping horse and sometimes you just have to put up with finickiness from a friend who knows her business. You all remember how at the rodeos all the old boys wanted to rope on her. She loved nothing better than hearing those calves bawl and watching them flop at the end of a rope.
“Besides, as most of you remember, if you could get through a morning ride without being dispossessed of your saddle seat by her spook-lunges away from shadows, rocks, stray dogs, ground squirrels, and what not, you would pretty much survive the rest of the day. She was predictable that way. Afternoons she was placid and docile and not prone to sudden moves. She wasn’t a morning person, that’s for sure.
“Which is why when, apropos to nothing what-some-ever, that grizzly bear came out of the timber straight at us at 90 mile an hour, I did not really blame ole Suddenly for her instant avoidance. Although it damned near left me absenting my saddle and alone in the path of the beast. You cannot blame someone—man, beast or morning person—for going with self preservation rather than being dinner.”
Whit paused and took a long drag on his Montana Liar’s Special Brew. There were four of us and Frosham leaning against the bar waiting to see how he’d salvage this lie. There wasn’t a sound in that bar except the fan squeaking and the hum of the cooler under the bar.
“You all remember Ole Vern Parls?” Whit said. He looked around waiting for our impatient nods. We didn’t really care for this detour. We were waiting for the grizzly bear. But one thing we all knew is that you could not hurry Whit Morrisan when he started a serious plot.
“Well, Ole Vern was the best roper this side of Livingston, maybe Denver.”
The Vern Parls we all knew succumbed to a wasted liver about 15 years ago, and sat a saddle like a limp sack of spuds. But Whit continued. “If I was working cattle and needed a rope hand, I made sure I had plenty of Old Mine Sarsaparilla, that being the imbibe of preference for Ole Vern Parls, in the cooler.” (O! Right!, thinks I.) “And I made sure not to saddle up Suddenly for my horse de jour. Vern had his own rope pony, of course.” (Vern Parls didn’t have a pot to piss in, let alone a prime rope pony) “But if Suddenly was at hand, she was who he liked to work on. He knew ropes, he knew roping, and he knew rope ponies. And to him Suddenly—morning or afternoon, by the way—was the horse to be on if you were after catching any animal what-so-ever.”
None of us dared roll our eyes so Whit could see it.
“Anyway, as I was saying, this grizzly bear had appeared and was making an instant nuisance of itself, and Suddenly was pretty much in control of our escape. Which as you know is not a safe situation. We were lucky that Lost Mine Cliff was still more than a mile off. We were not so lucky that Suddenly was on a flat-out run for its fatal edges—and he was not even headed for Suicide Trail, which might be chance of an escape, but for the very edge of the canyon drop. We were not in a good place and we were headed for worse.
“That’s when I remembered what ole Vern Parls told me about Suddenly. ‘If you are ever in a fix,’ he told me, ‘on this horse, all you need to do is unlatch your rope. You will have her attention immediately.’”
Whit tilted his bottle of Liar’s Brew and dried it out. He lifted it toward Forsham, who tossed the empty into the bin beneath the bar and dragged another out of the cooler. He set it down in front of Whit, who again tested it and nodded at Forsham.
“Anyway, I remembered what Ole Vern told me and jerked that lariat loose and started to shake out a loop.” Whit stopped. He shook his head.
“It seems,” he went on, “that either Ole Vern didn’t know Suddenly as well as he pretended or he was lying. All shaking the loop out did was make Suddenly double down on flat-out fast for Lost Cliff edges.”
Then Whit just sat. He ran his thumb across the Liar’s Brew label. He scratched his jaw and then he lifted the bottle and took a long pull from it.
Finally Forsham took the bait. “Well?” he said.
“Well what?” Whit said.
“Well, you are sitting here healthy as any drunk can be. Your horse ain’t, and you are not wearing a grizzly bear vest. So. Well?”
Whit nodded. “Yes sir, this is true, though I take offense to the word ‘drunk.’ I am just too few of your fine brews past sober is all.”
Forsham leaned down into the cooler and lifted another bottle, unscrewed the top and set it in front of the half-full one Whit already had in front of him.
“As I was saying,” Whit said. “I was in a fix because of a skittish horse and a grizzly bear, and this fix was complicated by a lie an old roper told me.
“Anyway, you all know that old lone dead tree that’s up there about a hundred yards from the edge of Lost Cliff Canyon? It is told they hung a few horse thieves from it back before our time.” We all nodded in unison, although I for one knew of no such tree. There may have been one, but I have ridden that range and do not recall it.
“Well, as circumstance would have it, Suddenly was headed right past it. I had my lariat already shook out, and there was this stout knob of a limb jointed off that huge old trunk. There was a spark in my head that said, ‘rope that branch and leave Suddenly to his devices.’ It was a cruel thought. But one I have yet to repent of.”
“As you all know, I am not much of a roper.” (This was true, but we were struck by his modesty on the matter.) “But I had to give it a try.” Whit stopped again, pulled the first bottle dry and drew a good fulsome drink from the other.
“As you would expect, my loop missed that branch,” he said.
Whit stopped again. We waited. Finally Forsham lifted another brew from the cooler and put it on the bar in front of the old liar.
“Well” Whit went on, as if he had never stopped, “as you might expect quick thinking saved me. I still had three or four loops of that rope in my left hand and so when we went by, I lifted up and snagged those loops over the branch, and shook my feet loose from the stirrups.”
“There I hung, and as the bear came through he hit my dangling feet. This swung me up and I did a loop-de-loop over the branch.
“I whipped around that branch and there I hung. I dangled and watched. The bear was still heavy on Suddenly. I saw that Suddenly had suddenly recognized her mistake and was skidding ass down like any good rope pony to hold off going over into Lost Cliff Canyon. But before she could rearrange her direction that old bear hit her and both of them went over. I could hear that horse screaming for a full minute, with the bear howling after her. Then whump. Whump. And suddenly, nothing.
“And that was the end of Suddenly.
“I hate to say good riddance, but by this time I had had just about enough of suddenlys, whether happenstances like bears spooking a jittery horse or the horse herself.
“No sir, I have had enough of suddenly.”