(from May 6, 2012) Down on the Mink Ranch: “Mink Rancher! Tell us the story of the fair Empress Marie over yonder in France!”

The wagonmaster kicked the dead lynx carcass with his worn boot and said, “You saved us, Mink Rancher. We’re mighty lucky you were riding by.”

Other dead lynxes were spread out among the cacti and boulders. Mink Rancher had shot a least a dozen that had encircled the terrfied pioneers.

“Only good lynx is a dead lynx,” said Mink Rancher, putting his rifle back in the saddle bag. “They’re always raising hell with the minks. You folks shouldn’t a tried to to cross Iguana Gulch. It ain’t safe out here.”

“We’re lost,” responded the wagonmaster. “We’re low on water, low on food.”

Where are you bound?”

“Utah.”

The Mink Rancher climbed back on his horse. He paused thoughtfully. ”Seems I knew a minx from Salt Lake City back in the days of old when they were minin for gold… Then y’all better follow me back to the Mink Ranch where you can rest up and have a decent meal. I’ll get you on a safe path & ride with you for a while in the mornin.”

“Mink Rancher! Mink Rancher!” A young boy broke through the crowd and clutched one of Mink Rancher’s shiny snakeskin boots. “Will you tell us about the fair Empress Marie over yonder in France?”

“Sure pardner,” said Mink Rancher, scooping the boy up and onto the saddle. “You can ride with me, and I’ll tell the tale of my friend Empress Marie. She always manages to get herself in a fine pickle.”

“Mink Rancher, are you going to shoot it out with The G-Man?”

“I reckon not, son,” replied Mink Rancher. “Me and the G-Man ain’t no sideshow act shootin’ it out on some deserted movie lot out California way. He don’t want it and neither do I.”

“But he stole the Empress Marie’s heart and left you to die up there in the Badlands!”

Young pardner,” said Mink Rancher, scanning the Iguana Gulch terrain with his sharp-shooter eyes. “These things happen when you take to the trail with a stranger. One must always be prepared to accept the consequences of one’s actions someone once told me. It’s true I pulled the Empress out of many a pickle. But don’t no one owe me for any little good I mighta done them. There’s plenty put a price on my head for the things I done bad. Now at the ranch I want you to meet The Minxus Kid. I think you’ll get along right good.”

“The Minxus Kid! The real Minx Kid?”

“Yip, the one and only Minxus Kid, although some of us call him Dw.”

Mink Rancher’s horse left dust hanging in the dead air of the gulch, the wagon train not far behind as they wound their way to the Mink Ranch.

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