Wendell Dobbs loped the big sorrel gelding past the herd of black baldies grazing on the south range of the Bar 7 ranch. He was on windmill duty. The scarcity of surface water meant the ranch relied on six deep water wells to water the livestock. Windmills drove the pumps that siphoned the water from the Ogallala Aquifer. As the most recent hire and low man on the totem pole, once a week the ranch foreman dispatched Wendell to check all six wells to make sure the windmills and associated equipment was in good working order, keeping the galvanized stock tanks filled for the cattle.
A mile after he had passed the herd, Wendell turned the horse due south and dropped into the caldera. He could already see the sunlight glinting off the turning wheel atop the windmill tower. But, he still had to ride the rest of the way to check the pump and water level in the stock tank. A few minutes later, Wendell pulled the sorrel up next to the tower. He dismounted, and ground-tied the horse.
He walked to the tank and looked inside. There Wendell found a problem. Floating sand sagebrush covered the surface of the water in the tank. Wendell pulled off his Stetson and scratched his head as he surveyed the unusual sight. From time to time, the near ever present West Texas wind deposited a dry sagebrush or two inside one of the stock tanks. But, he had never seen a tank filled with sagebrush before.
Wendell reached over the lip of the tank. He grabbed two handfuls of the soggy vegetation and pitched it onto the ground. He took a good ten minutes to clear it all from the tank. The water was dark and murky. It didn’t look appetizing to Wendell, but he had no idea how the cows would feel about drinking it. As he stared down at the cloudy water he debated whether to empty the tank and refill it with fresh water. That’s when he noticed something just below the surface of the murky water.
Thinking it was more water-logged sagebrush, Wendell swore under his breath. He unbuttoned his shirt sleeve and rolled it up past his bicep. Then he plunged his hand into the water. It surprised him when his hand contacted something that felt like fabric. Then his fingers touched what he realized was a rope. Wendell grabbed hold of the rope and gave it a tug. The face of a Hispanic man, eyes open, broke the surface of the water and stared at him.
Wendell sputtered, ”Aah... What the…”
He let go of the rope and stumbled backwards away from the tank. He got his feet tangled up and sat down hard on his butt. Getting shakily to his feet, Wendell took a few cautious steps back toward the tank until he could see inside it. The face had disappeared beneath the surface of the dark water. Wendell Dobb’s mother had raised no ignorant children. He wasn’t about to have no truck with a dead body. Retreating a comfortable distance from the stock tank, he wiped his wet hand off on his Wranglers. Then he pulled out his mobile phone and called the county sheriff.
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