Face and BA would of been 21/22, Hannibal 35 and Murdock about 28 in 1972.
Kelly was not happy as she rode across the ranch, she had been full of enthusiasm when she started this adventure. Kelly had decided she needed to see the world before starting university the following year and being a woman on her own was not gong to stop her. A country girl from England, Kelly had secured a job on the ranch in Lompoc. Her excitement at being told by the agent employing her she would be working for an undisclosed movie star had quickly faded. Soon after arrival she had found herself in the company of eight other students, all wanting to live the dream, yet they were left alone to manage the thousand acre ranch. Apart from the weekly arrival of the store truck with supplies and wages they never actually saw anyone. Over the first three weeks all the other staff had left, Kelly had waved good bye to the last girl the day before when she caught a lift on the store truck. Determined to not give up on her American dream Kelly wondered if she could just stay there on her own for the summer. She decided the agent probably only wanted people living there, the cattle and horses pretty much looked after themselves. Kelly worked out she would earn enough over the summer to at least visit New York to see if she could pick up work there even if she did not end up staying as long as she had planned. Feeling slightly cheerier with her plan, she reached the far fence by late morning and started to track along its epic expanse, checking for weak areas or gaps.
In the desolate open pasture sat below the forest edge she saw the problem long before she reached the young steer. The distraught animal had his horns firmly tangled in the wire, it briefly trashed its legs weakly as she approached. Jumping off the pinto she had affectionately named Fred Kelly quickly got to work. She bound the animals legs close to its hooves and tied a rag around his head sealing off the trapped animals sight so it calmed. She then returned to her saddle bags and pulled out the wire cutters. Kelly quickly found she did not have the strength to cut the wire. She battled for an hour until her hands were red and bruised. Sitting dejectedly beside the subdued animal she had her lunch and some water while crying silent tears. It would take her the rest of the day to ride back to the ranch and call the neighbours to help, even if they agreed they would not reach the steer until tomorrow afternoon, Kelly knew this young animal could not survive out here that long. She would not accept this option, she would not conform to being a feeble female. Her energy restored by her self pitying lunch she tried again but her hands would not meet the strength of her internal determination. Kelly tried using her knees on the wire cutters, quickly realising her jeans offered no protection. She searched around for stones to create a lever, yet nothing she tried helped. Four hours and endless frustrated tears she realised she would have to leave the steer to its fate, cursing to herself she did not have a gun to at least put the poor animal out of its misery. She half smiled to herself, even if she did have a gun she had no clue how to use one and would probably end up shooting herself. In frustration she threw her head back and screamed only stopping to listen to the sound of her anger echoing around the pasture and forest. Fred, her horse, suddenly looked towards the forest, Kelly quickly started scanning to see what had alerted the horse's sharper senses. Out of the corner of her eye Kelly saw movement in the distance through the surrounding tree line. She instinctively reached for Fred's reins wondering if they have wolves and bears in this part of America, wishing she had done more research on wildlife before crossing the Atlantic. She breathed a sign of relief when she realised it was three men. She climbed on to Fred for safety and looked with surprise at what Kelly could only describe as some sort of wild men approached her.
Did they have tramps in America or should she call them hobos? She thought to herself. As they got closer she could see it was two white men and a black man who had obviously once been a mountain of a man but it was as if someone had sucked half his insides out as his skin and tatty clothes hung off his broad shoulders. She rode towards the men noting their faces were obscured by untidy beards, their clothes pretty threadbare and what was left of their shoes were bound to their feet with string.
Well if they try and attack me I think Fred can move faster than them to get away, Kelly reasoned with herself, pulling her horse up about twenty foot from the men.
"Howdy Miss" one of the white guys drawled "you got a spot of bother" he continued waving towards the bound and blindfolded steer.
"Yep, can't cut him free" she replied calmly.
Hannibal and the others were well aware of the problem, they had been watching Kelly for the last four hours from the cover of the trees. Face noted Kelly's calm tone was not backed up by the tears of frustration they had been watching or the streaks of clean on her cheeks where the tears had fallen. May be Hannibal had been right and this kid was only 13 or 14 years old, he mulled, though Face had seen the swell of her breasts under her grubby white T-shirt and the curve of her hips in her tight jeans. He decided she could be anywhere between 14 and 25 and was quite attractive in a rustic dirty way.
"English" Face said as a statement.
"No shit Sherlock" Kelly quipped back.
Face smiled at this feisty girl, Kelly could not help notice how devastatingly stunning that smile was despite the tatty beard. Her thoughts returned to the guy who drawled at her first. His grey and blond beard was so impressive he could of had small animals living in his facial hair. Wondering to herself what animals in the area could live in a beard like his, cursing inwardly again for her lack of local knowledge. Kelly was startled back in to the present by the sudden emergence of the black guy next to her and Fred, he had approached so quickly and quietly she was shocked to see him standing there. He held his hand up to towards her and in a low voice said "wire cutters."
A little taken back she stood in her stirrups, fumbled in her back pocket and handed them over. The black guy moved to the steer and quickly clipped the wire, freeing the animal in seconds. Kelly forgetting her advantage and safety of staying on the horse swung down next to the steer and quickly checked him over before removing the ropes and blindfold. The steer staggered a few steps then gambled off in to the pasture. Kelly turned back to the men and found they were repairing the cut fence in the same simple ease the black guy had freed the trapped animal.
"Thank you, I really don't know what to say other than thank you, I thought he would die. I tried but I couldn't do what you three have done so easily. What can I do to say thank you? You are like some sort of heros right now." Kelly gushed forgetting about the fact a young woman standing with the three wild men of America in the middle of no where was probably at high risk. "Wh….wh…what's your names?" Kelly asked tentatively wondering to herself if hobos had names.
"I'm Hannibal, this is Faceman and your wire cutting hero is BA." Hannibal replied fixing this young girl with his strong blue eyes. Kelly, not willing to be intimidated met his gaze confidently as she responded
"What are you doing out here?" Her eyes scanning up and down Hannibal's appearance quizzing him.
"Looking for ranch work with board and lodgings. Lost our truck ride and made a mistake thinking we could go it on foot. You got any food kid?" Hannibal replied.
Kelly reached in Fred's saddle bag handing over the cheese, bread and chocolate she still had, along with a flask of tepid tea. She watched the men eagerly devour her offerings as she considered an idea. They seemed harmless and obviously kind as they had come to her aid and they could be her ticket to staying on the ranch and not having to go home.
"Look guys" Kelly interrupted their meal "I'm out here working this ranch but the rest of the ranch hands have all quit. The owner is away for the summer so it's just me, a thousand acres and a few hundred horses and cattle. No one seems to care about leaving me in this crap, I don't have any authority but also no boss either so if you are serious about looking for work I think I can offer you something. You'll have to cope with no civilisation or people to speak to other than each other." Kelly paused looking the three men up and down again thinking civilisation and these men did not go well together anyway "but the gig is yours if you want it."
"How far are we from Los Angeles?" Asked the guy with the stunning smile who Kelly remembered was called Faceman
"Couple of hours by truck and yes we do have transport…." Kelly tailed off thinking damn they would just rob the truck now, what an idiotic thing to say.
"We get use of the truck and one day off a week." Hannibal stated rather than asked.
"And a wage?" Face continued with at least it sounding like a question.
"The agent is paying for nine staff, wages come in once a week on the store truck, if you take the job we just split the money four ways." Kelly suggested hopefully.
By now in her mind they had stolen the truck, a weeks worth of wages and she had been sacked. Pulling herself out of her day dream she gave another inward shudder. Kelly knew she was a good judge of character and though she doubted these guys story they seemed decent people and she was touched by their generous help, she had nothing to trust but her gut instinct and her gut was telling her these men were ok.
"You just hired the team, Boss" Hannibal responded while stretching out a chapped, dried hand, fixing the girl with his eyes and smiling, revealing even white teeth through his beard. Kelly shook his hand feeling the firm hold, trying not to wince at the grip on her bruised hand from the previous fruitless battle with the wire cutters.
"Kelly, I mean my name is Kelly, wow I've never hired anyone before. Are you sure? Are you just going to run out on me like the others? It's not easy….." her ramblings were brought to a close as Face put his hand reassuringly on her shoulder showing another perfect pearly white smile.
"We ain't running out on you little sister, I mean Boss" BA spoke quietly while Face nodded in agreement. Kelly forced herself not to blush as she thought she could drown in the eyes of this Faceman even if the rest of his appearance resembled the walking dead.
"Best start back for the ranch then otherwise we will be out here in the dark." Kelly said as she remounted Fred.
"Alright Boss" Hannibal replied as the three men fell in beside the girl and her horse.
They made their way back to the main ranch in silence, reaching the buildings just before six. Kelly tied Fred to a rail and showed the men the bunk house, communal kitchen, wash room with dubious shower and mentioned there were clothes and boots in the bunk house. Then left them to themselves as she sorted Fred out. She busied herself feeding the farm dogs and horses corralled near by, collecting eggs from the chicken house and was only reminded about her new staff when the alluring smell of bacon and potatoes wafted towards her a couple of hours later. Food, god she was hungry she best wash up and go get something to eat she thought suddenly feeling shattered. Kelly dunked her hands in a near by water trough and headed for the kitchen. Opening the door she involuntary gasped and stood wide eyed at the sight. All three men where now washed and clean shaven, dressed like proper cowboys in jeans and checked shirts. BA and Face sat at the table playing cards while Hannibal looked up from the stove.
"Perfect timing ki…Boss, grab a pew, foods up" he said, eyes glinting and with a cigar hanging out the corner of his broad smile. Kelly could not think of a thing to say as she followed his direction and sat next to BA while a plate of food was placed in front of her.
It was Face who broke the silence "How has a beautiful English rose got herself abandoned out in the middle of no where?" looking up at Kelly while continuing to shovel food in his mouth making it clear it had been some time since any of them had a decent meal.
Rather than being embarrassed by the compliment Kelly just scoffed at the question and met Face's gaze. "Very dirty wilted rose right now." she chuckled sarcastically "Probably the same way three wild men rocked up on this ranch. Though you all look far less intimidating without the " she trailed off as she rubbed her hand over her chin "now I feel underdressed for dinner." Kelly said with a grin. "Compliments to the chef. You lot best not run out on me if you not only save trapped animals, damsels in distress and can cook, all in the space of an afternoon." The men started laughing as they fell in to an easy conversation about nothing in particular. For a couple of hours after eating the guys taught Kelly how to play a simple card game.
"Time to turn in" Hannibal stated "and Boss you look like you need a shower" he added smiling. "Whats the plan for tomorrow, Boss?"
Kelly rocked back on her chair thinking for a moment. "Got to sort the animals down here, then check the east side of the property."she paused "Can any of you ride?" She was met by three blank looks. "Guess we best get you fixed up with horses." She stood up raising an eye brow as she continued "So riding lessons all round then. See you at 6.30 for breakfast and we'll get started." She then walked out the kitchen towards the female bunk house over the stables.
Kelly was surprised to find the dubious shower now suddenly spewed out gallons of hot water with about twice the power it had yesterday. May be I've crossed to the dark side and I'm hallucinating about these men or may be they are angels, especially if they can fix the shower. She smiled to herself just enjoying the sensation of the water. As she came out the washroom she noticed Hannibal walking round the perimeter of the main ranch cigar still firmly in his mouth. She slipped out behind him wondering what he was doing, before crashing out on her bed. An hour later she looked out the window of her room above the stables and saw Hannibal had been replaced by BA who was just walking around. Odd, may be, but who cares these guys may just make her American dream reality, if they want to waste valuable sleep time walking around that is their choice, she thought as she fell in to a deep sleep.
The morning dawned as Kelly woke to the cockerel shouting to the world. She flexed her sore hands as she remembered yesterday's events. Well best find out if the truck has been stolen she thought as she pulled on her jeans and a clean T-shirt, scrapping her long blond hair in to a high pony tail she emerged from the stables. First she sighed with relief to see the pickup truck and van still parked in the main garage then she scanned around. It was only just gone 6 yet she could see the corralled horses had several piles of hay, the dogs were lazing in the first warmth of the sun obviously well fed and relaxed, she even noted the rail which had been broken on the fence near the stables had been fixed. Again the smell of food drew her towards the kitchen, she entered to see the three men tucking in to pancakes. All three briefly rose slightly from their seats on seeing Kelly as Hannibal waved towards a fourth plate warming on the stove piled with more pancakes. Kelly grabbed the plate and started eating before she had even sat down.
"Well I'm going to get fat at this rate" she mumbled through a mouthful of food.
"A soldier marches on their stomach" Hannibal said lightly. Kelly noticed an uncomfortable stare from Face towards the older man. Kelly chose to ignore the slight tension.
"I never meant for you to do the chores before breakfast, thanks for sorting the shower and corral rail too" she said.
"No problem….Boss" BA shyly replied. Kelly smiled warmly towards him in true appreciation.
Face, having finished his food, lent back on his chair "There is nothing this man can't fix" enthusiastically thumping the black guy on the back.
"Only after you have acquired the stuff I need" BA replied.
Kelly looked between the men and could clearly see they had been together a long time and had an unspoken connection. Thinking about Hannibal's soldier comment she formulated these where ex military men. She of course knew about Vietnam, the British press had been scathing as to what the Americans had been doing there. She was also painfully aware of the stories about horror, high fatalities and the screwed up men who having survived had returned shells of their former self. She decided that must be the case with these men and resolved not to ask them about it as she had an idea it was not something they would want to talk about. Kelly knew she could be wrong but it kind of all fitted together nicely and it was none of her business anyway.
"Boss" Hannibal interrupted her thoughts "what next?"
"First, stop calling me Boss it ridiculous, I mean come on, my name is just Kelly"
"Ok Just Kelly, what would you like us to do next?" Face paused with a mischievous glint in his blue eyes " Boss" he added with a dazzling smile.
He really is handsome, and certainly knows it, bet he's a right player with woman falling at his feet Kelly considered before speaking. Carefully not responding directly to this good looking man sat opposite her. "Well as you are bona fide cowboys now let's find out what your riding skills are like." Kelly who had grown up around horses was totally unaware of the amused look between Face and Hannibal as her statement could be misconstructed to have a different meaning. "Have any of you ridden before?" She asked.
Face could not resist the humorous opportunity "Plenty of riding experience, Boss, not so much on horseback mind you."
Despite Kelly obviously being younger than the three men she was not that easily thrown. "Come on guys" she addressed them as they chuckled to each other "We are on a ranch full of animals, if everything I say has an innuendo it's going to get tiresome bloody quickly" she said with raised eye brows as she confidently looked each man in the eye.
Face was impressed by this feisty English kid, she obviously did not suffer fools easily and did not seem remotely intimidated by the three grown mens inside joke. She was either very naïve or astute, he would decide over the next few days.
"Thanks for breakfast, I don't expect you to do all the cooking, but I warn you I can just about fry an egg and open a tin of beans and that's it when it's my turn." Kelly said.
"I like beans and egg" Hannibal said around another cigar. "I did some horseback riding as a kid. Face what about you?"
"Yep, long time ago though" Face replied as he turned his gaze to BA who was looking at his now empty plate "BA?" He questioned.
"No horses in the city" BA said still staring at his plate.
"Well I'll meet you three by the corral in forty five minutes" Kelly said. "Thanks again for breakfast" she said towards Hannibal as he seemed to be the self appointed cook.
These guys are very prompt, Kelly thought, as they arrived at the corral exactly forty five minutes later. The morning was filled with enough laughing between the men it was verging on hysterical as Kelly instructed the men on how to catch a horse, showed them the saddling up process and finally had all three mounted on the three quietest horses on the ranch. Most of the horses were scared of BA so he spent a lot of time just trying to get near them, Face was chatting to the horses as if they understood him as he tried to reason with the bemused animals while Hannibal at least seemed to have a better idea and was soon mounted on a grey mare Kelly had named Priscilla. She had no idea if any of the horses had names as that information had never been provided by the agent employing her. BA looked very wobbly on his mount Black Jack and Face, annoyingly, looked totally at ease astride Smoky. Kelly had quietly put a leather strap round each horses neck and explained if they lost their balance each man was to hold the strap and not use the reins to stop them falling off. BA had his strap very firmly gripped.
"Not scared are you" Kelly teased.
"BA ain't scared of nothing" he replied through gritted teeth.
More laughter as Kelly got them to move.
"Think of the reins as a joy stick, forward means go, backwards means stop finally left and right is obvious" Kelly instructed. "Now move with the horses movement, relax your hips and pelvis, go with the horse." She glared in a good humoured way towards Face waiting for a quick innuendo response. He caught her eye and smiled but said nothing as he was still concentrating on not toppling off his mount.
In the safety of one of the empty corrals Kelly had them shut their eyes as the horses filed round one behind each other. She asked them to feel the movement of their horses. She stayed on the ground moving between each man correcting their position and reminding them to keep breathing. She then ran beside them one at a time as they got each horse in to jog. After another hour she let them break in to a lope round the corral. Despite all the banter between the men at this new activity Kelly was finally satisfied all three were relatively safe on their mounts she suggested a break to gather some tools and food before they set off to the east side of the ranch. There was a lot of groaning as they dismounted and Kelly chuckled as she watched the men walk stiffly, legs askew like three John Wayne's back towards their bunk house.
"Hannibal, what the hell are we doing?"Face grimaced once out of ear shot of Kelly.
"Look kid this is the perfect place to regroup and lay low, no one is going to think about looking for us here. Plus if you work your magic on the girl I'm sure she'll hand you the truck keys so you can drive in to LA to go see Murdock at the V.A. if we play our cards right we can each spend our days off with him."
"She isn't going to be a push over" Face snapped back feeling rather sore by the mornings activities.
"You can get anything you want Lieutenant, were you not the best officer in the US Army at acquiring anything for nothing" Hannibal challenged, as he slung his arm over the younger mans shoulders.
It was BA who secured the truck keys. Instead of going back to the bunkhouse Kelly saw him by the truck, bonnet open.
"You're welcome to use the truck as you want" Kelly said as she joined his side. "It comes with the ranch, but I can't guarantee how reliable it is. I haven't dare even start it, let alone drive it as firstly you all drive on the wrong side of the road and I only learnt to drive just before I came out here."
"It's alright little sister, I'll teach you" BA said as he shut the bonnet and wiped his oily hands on his jeans. "It won't hurt nearly as much as your horseback riding" he giggled with a surprising high pitch considering his previous gruff voice.
Face and Hannibal prepared themselves for another onslaught of discomfort dreading getting back on a horse so soon, they came outside to find BA in the passenger side of the pickup truck as Kelly drove round at speed shrieking and laughing as she followed BA's calm instructions performing spins and racing off from a standing start, wheels screaming with a hand break turn before she reached the next fence. Kelly skidded to a halt next to the bemused pair, Hannibal was leaning casually against a fence and Face sat languishing on the top rail smiling at her obvious enjoyment.
"Look guys, you don't need to ride out to the east pasture, I'll go on my own. I don't think any of you look like your butts would take another few hours in the saddle. I'm sure you'll find stuff to do round here or just chill out" Kelly beamed out the open truck window.
"That's not going to happen, Boss" Hannibal firmly replied "It's not safe for a kid to be riding out alone. If it's as far as we found you yesterday you're several hours from back up."
"What, you're not worried I may just go and pick up three random unshaven wild men from the East pasture. I mean how would I cope? Little girl all on her own out in the wilderness" Kelly retorted with a grin.
She saw Hannibal bristle slightly at her teasing but held his gaze. Damn kid, he was used to dealing with overly confident young men but he had not had to deal with a girl before and it was clear she was not going to follow his instructions, in fact she had the mischievous look of a child who would do the exact opposite of anything he said just for the sake of it. He sighed inwardly as he considered his options.
"Well have it your way then, you'll just have to come all the way back here if you have another fence problem" he replied, turning away as he lite his cigar.
Face watched the interaction with amusement seeing his CO uncomfortable and then smoothly change his tactics to meet the opposition, he glanced at Kelly still hanging out the drivers window, her furrowed brow gave away her thoughts as she considered the older mans sensible appraisal.
Rather like a sullen child, complete with her lower lip thrust out Kelly admitted defeat. "Ok I guess it does make sense if one of you comes with me. You know just in case I need wire cutting again."
Hannibal turned to see the petulant childlike expression smiling at his victory, he nodded to Face "You go kid."
Face was not impressed and went to protest but met a steely glare from Hannibal which he knew no sticking his lower lip out was going to change. Face slipped off the top rail of the fence muttering "Come on then Boss let's get this over with."
"I am not dragging anyone out for a four hour ride if they don't want to come" Kelly firmly said losing her stroppy look and meeting Hannibal's gaze head on unblinkingly. Hannibal wanted Face with the girl so he could cast his spell and get her wrapped round his little finger but the confidence Kelly gave him he knew she would not budge a second time.
"Right, well I like that grey, Cilla you called her? It looks like it's you and me Boss" Hannibal's eyes twinkled at this feisty kid. If she had been a man he bet she would have been a good solider.
An hour later Kelly and Hannibal headed out to the east with a third pony carrying rather a lot of tools and equipment that Kelly would of never have thought of but Hannibal insisted was necessary, just incase. She also noted he now had found the guns on the ranch and a shot gun was slung on to the pack pony and he had a hand gun of some sort tucked in the back of his jeans. Face smirked up at his colonel and sincerely wished him luck as he could see Kelly took no prisoners.
Hannibal rode out side by side with Kelly, he was quietly impressed by this kid as they went in amicable silence. He wanted to find out her story but that would involve a two way conversation which meant she would be asking him about his background. Hannibal was not ready to reveal anything and without discussing a back story with his men he did not want to risk a being caught out. So they remain silent as Kelly navigated across the epic ranch with surprising ease considering she said she had only arrived three weeks ago. Hannibal comment on her ability to cross the ranch.
"It's easy, I just ride out in the right direction and the horse I'm on knows when we turn for home how to get back. I trust their instincts far more than my own." Kelly said with a pause "In fact I trust them more than most people" Hannibal just raised an enquiring eye brow towards her so Kelly continued. "Well look at you guys, Fred seemed to think you were ok as you stumbled out the forest and that young steer was just grateful you came to save him from my rubbish attempt to help."
She obviously was impetuous but also had far more common sense than most kids her age, may be that is where her confidence came from Hannibal considered, it took guts to arrive alone in a different country and believe in herself enough to not quit at the first hurdle. Hannibal could feel he was going to like this kid but also he felt she needed to be protected against the world so her simple beliefs and feisty attitude would not be crushed.
Finally Hannibal asked "How old are you Kelly?"
Kelly was taken back by the first use of her name so replied straight away "19 sir."
"And your folks don't mind you being thousands of miles away on your own?"
"Do yours?" Kelly laughed back.
Realising the conversation was finished Hannibal did not reply, instead concentrated on balancing on the moving horse while trying to light another cigar.