Eli's a bareback bronc rider--or at least, it's what he's trying to be. His luck's been bad lately, and he's still hidden in the shadow of his famous father, Levi. Don't you know it--now he's drawn the bronc that sent him to the hospital only a year earlier.
All bets are on Crazy Eight to send him back in traction. In the next eight seconds, Eli will have to prove he's got it together this time. That the son is as good as his dad.
Just a measley eight seconds . . .
Ride 'Em Tough!
"Next up, folks, is our young Oklahoma cowboy, Eli Hale, who's drawn Crazy Eight for the third time in his short career. We all know what happened some months ago on his second ride! Only one has ever had a qualifying ride on this horse, and there's few-- well, there's almost no one bettin' that the son will outride the father here today! As we saw ten minutes ago, his Dad, Levi Hale, earned a 92 on Hurricane Hattie. And there's three others with scores in the high eighties . . . On deck is Tad Morris from Houston, Texas. Tad'll be riding an ornery bay called Sunfisher."
As the announcer introduced him, Eli wiped his sweaty palms on his faded jeans, then eased himself onto the tall, restive, buckskin bronc, and began to wrap the rope tightly about his fist. Ike, one of the chute men hollered up to him. "Eli! You're pain-free right now, but you ain't a-gonna be in about three seconds! Me, I got a bet Crazy Eight breaks your other arm 'n' leg, boy!"
The taunt stuck in Eli's craw, doing nothing to ease the tension that squeezed his guts, and put the Mojave Desert between his teeth. He hadn't enough spit now to wet a gnat. But the sweat of his brow and his palms might've filled a horse trough . . . .
No memory had he of that last ride . . . So quick and so brutal had it been, he never woke up until the day after it happened. He'd ridden his way-- disregarding all advice from every bronc rider who'd ever drawn Crazy Eight-- including his father's-- the only man to tenaciously hold his seat on the brute for the eternity of eight seconds-- and he'd lost . . . again . . . Truth was . . . he never listened to anyone's talk about any of the broncs. Wasn't a need for a soul to tell him anything! He was the son of a great bronc rider-- who was a Natural himself . . . .
T'was only natural Eli'd ended up, time after time, face first in the dust. Only-- for once, he'd been able to wallow in his shame and humiliation alone. Alone, and in traction.
"T'ain't nothin' against y' boy! Odds're in the bronc's favor, is all!" Pete, Ike's partner, informed him. "Your daddy's gonna win this event again, boy! You're still sittin' in the shade of his branches! Will be forever if you ain't decided to learn an'thing from him!"
We'll see about that! Eli thought with his usual defiance. I'll show 'em what!
About then, Crazy Eight decided to show him what. Took the combined efforts of everyone present in that narrow pen to keep the buckskin's hooves on the ground. He didn't care a bucketful of horse hocky about waiting for the spaciousness of the arena to dump his rider. Dump him, and dump him now was his motto!
Yep, when it came to Crazy Eight, all bets were on the horse no matter who the rider was! Even the famous Levi Joseph Hale.
Eli's smile was tight, therefore, and his eyes grimly determined. Briefly, he recalled his father's terse instructions to him before he left to join the rest of the Hale family in the stands.
"You don't go in there thinking about th' other times, son! You just pay attention to this ride-- that's all! Stay focused! Y'don't, you're done! Get up 'are, and believe you're the burr in Becki's pony tails! You listen to me, now, boy!" His dad'd gripped his shoulder, met his eyes straightly, "Y'ain't gonna be sittin' on the bottom long, if you'd just learn to take some advice from them that's been there! Ride this horse like I told you, and I promise you'll score– you'll start makin' a name for yourself!"
Well, he was up here . . . Did he really believe he could stick to this animal like those dang burrs stuck in his sister's hair? Naturally, he wanted to-- but just at the moment he was torn between a grim determination of showing the world he was his father's son, and the belief that the best he could realistically hope for was walking away from this on his own two feet.
Eli checked his grip on the rope in his left hand one more time, and drew a deep breath. Letting it out, he nodded to the chute men.
The big gate swung open.
The buckskin exploded out into the arena. Kicking up clouds of choking dust, he unleashed his anger in a furious bone-jarring, tooth-rattling attempt to dump his rider.
Almost from the start it was evident that this outcome could be different. Eli rode with a style and poise he'd lacked before-- before he'd swallowed his pride . . . grudgingly admitting even a "natural" took advice from his more experienced peers from time to time.
"Will y'look at that boy ride! He's riding "kick for jump" like I ain't never seen him do before!" The announcer's excited voice crackled over the PA system. "Hell, if he ain't the stamp and that bronc's a love letter . . . !"
Or a burr, clinging stubbornly to the long blonde pony tails of a small girl.
Crazy Eight had sensed the determination in his rider right from the moment Eli'd mounted. This understanding seemed to feed his raging purpose, for he tucked his roman nose low and tight, and reached his back hooves for the wide blue sky.
Suddenly, the gelding pitched into a series of mad spins, circling away from Eli's rein hand-- swapped ends, and did it all over again-- the move that had caught him napping both times previous. Thrown into the spin, Eli shoved more weight into the off stirrup, managed to right himself, and continue the rhythmic drumming of the horse's flanks and sides.
With his right arm out behind him, way clear of the saddle horn, Eli demonstrated that, for this moment anyway, he was in command. A ripple of suspenseful wonder stirred through the grandstand. This time he was riding tough in his best effort to win the judges cherished points, the chance at the big money.
Yet more importantly . . .
"Dang, folks-- I ain't believin' this! This lad could prove he's his father's son yet!"
"Only three seconds left, folks! If he gets dumped now, he's still stayed on longer than anybody else, 'cept his daddy . . ."
Concentrate! Don't let this fool nag surprise you! Sail air today; eat dust again, and you might as well just pack it all in!
Just one second more . . .
In the grandstands, tense as a wound spring, the crowd, as if one, held its breath.
The buzzer sounded like a million angry bees penetrating his numbed brain. A horseman pulled up beside the still raging bronc, and grasped the rope. "Eli! You can let go now! Hey! You did it, Eli! Bail out now!"
Bail out now! How does a burr let go of a pony tail? With encouragement from the outrider, Eli kicked free of the stirrups and vaulted off, landing on his feet, a little dazed but elated.
"Now he's got the hang of it, he don't wanna get off! Brilliant ride, Eli! You're the man! See if the judges feel the same way . . ."
The PA went silent several suspenseful moments, then the microphone boomed with the announcer's thrilling bulletin.
"He's done it–- Eli's tied his daddy! A true branch of a strong tree . . . .! Hahahaha! Hey Ike, you and Pete there--don't you go hidin' behind them gates! Dig into your pockets, boys! You owe me substantial!"