It was mid summer on the high plateau. The days were long and the heat was relentless. It disappeared with the setting sun leaving the nights bitter cold.
And so it was on this summer night. Matthew Condie sat close to the fire. He was lost in his thoughts. The chill of the evening was creeping in bringing Matthew back to reality. A few glowing embers were all that remained of the once roaring flames. He stoked the fire and added a log to revive it.
He was considering spending another night. One thin blanket on hard ground was not much comfort to a man camped out in the deserts’ night air. It was nothing like the soft bed and feather pillow he was used to.
Tonight was a moonless night. The sky above held a million silver stars lighting up the heavens. It more than made up for the loss. To Mathew, a star filled night was a sight to behold. Like a million shimmering diamonds strewn upon a black satin cloth.
When Mathew was a young boy he would gaze upon these very stars with his father. He could still hear the whisper of his voice as they sat with their eyes transfixed on the beauty of the night.
“Matthew”, came the hushed sound of the big man’s voice. “Do you realize what we’re looking at? That my boy is the wealth of heaven. Since the very beginning of time itself, men have had the privilege of gazing upon its’ beauty from afar. But those who know the truth of God will someday be partakers in this wealth. Here’s the thing Matthew. If you want to share this wealth along with the one who created it, you have to stake your heavenly claim while you’re still here in this world.”
Matthew never took to religion the way his father did.
He learned to read from the Good Book when he was younger and he did have a basic understanding of the concept of God. But it was his father who had the deeper knowledge of spiritual matters. Matthew found the book’s stories to be entertaining at best. He loved his father. He just didn’t share his spiritual convictions.
Tonight, as Matthew gazed upon this heavenly delight, things were different. He was alone. Camped out on a cold, moonless night and he was missing his father terribly.
Matthew fought back tears of sorrow. Once he regained his composure, he took a deep breath and scolded himself for his weakness.
“OK, that’s it. I’ve been out here long enough.”
“I’m tired of thinking about pa. Yes, I miss him. I know I’ll never see him again, but what I really need to do is to get the heck out of this desert and get on with my life. He’s gone and it’s high time I got over it.”
By this time it was too dark to head back. He reluctantly spent the night crouched by the fire. In the morning he saddled up and headed home.
Mathew’s father was known as a man larger than life. His name was Richard, Richard K. Condie. A cattleman from the day he was born. He owned the biggest spread in Wyoming. He kept a heavy finger on the pulse of local politics. Most recently, he was instrumental in an ongoing deal to bring the Union Pacific railroad to this growing little town he called home.
On the surface it was easy to see the commerce created by the new railroad would have a tremendous impact on the local economy. But a deeper look exposed the real reason Richard Condie worked so hard at bringing the railroad to town. Truth is, the railroad would be instrumental for the stockyard he was planning. It would have a tremendous impact on his cattle business and the value of his real estate holdings. It was an ambitious plan that would greatly increase his already enormous wealth.
The unfortunate thing for Richard Condie was that even with all his wealth and power, even when the things he did were good for the people and the town of Landau, he couldn’t change the fact that he was not respected by the honest, hard working folks who lived there.
Richard Condie ran the town. Most people who lived in Landau knew it and resented that fact. They didn’t like the idea of one man having so much power and influence over their lives.
The very power and wealth he had accumulated and used for the benefit of the town was seen as nothing more than a tool. One used by a man consumed by greed. A man who wanted to gain even more power and wealth. This is how they saw it pure and simple. Any good thing that happened to the town or its citizens was seen only as a by-product of his ruthless dealings.
To Richard Condie, his life wasn’t about doing good deeds. It wasn’t even about power or money. It never was. Those were the end results of a much more complex and sophisticated game he played. One of accumulation through manipulation.
Richard Condie was indeed a master manipulator. He thrived on it. It was what he lived for. Unfortunately for Richard Condie, it’s the very thing that eventually got him killed.
When Matthew heard about the death of his father he was devastated.
After the funeral he rode off to the high plateau. To the spot where he and his father would go to star gaze.
Matthew needed some time to be alone and think. That was close to a week ago. And now, grieving time was over. Mathew knew what he had to do. At first light he saddled up and headed back to the ranch. It was his now. His father had left him everything.
Once back at the ranch he called for Jack Martin, the ranch foreman.
As Jack entered Matthew’s office he was met with a welcome smile and a firm handshake. Matthew looked Jack square in the eye and let him know he was done grieving and it was time to get down to business.
Matthew needed answers and Jack was the one who could provide them.
Jack was glad to see Matthew take hold of the reins. He took his usual seat in the padded leather chair that sat in front of Richard’s desk.
“What do you know about my fathers death?” Asked Matthew. “You were his closest and most trusted friend. What have you heard?”
“Well, first off it’s good to have you back. I was beginning to wonder how long you were planning on letting this place run on it’s own. Where the heck did you ride off to? You were beginning to worry me some.”
Matt leaned back against the edge of his father’s desk right in front of the chair Jack was sitting in. He was in charge now. He understood the business of running the ranch and he was well aware of all the dealings his father was involved in. At the moment he wasn’t interested in idle chitchat. Matt gave him the short answer.
“I needed to get away and think a few things through. I knew the ranch was in good hands. You didn’t answer my question. What have you heard?”
Jack sat tall in the chair as Matthew towered over him. He was beginning to understand the position he now found himself in. Matthew was no longer the son of his boss. Matt was his boss. Jack knew Matt meant business so he dispensed with the small talk and told him exactly what he knew.
“Mackie Littleton disrupted a deal your father was about to sign off on. A deal with the U.P. to run a spur onto the back section of the property.”
Matthew began to relax some. “I knew about the spur but I didn’t know about Mackie. The idea of turning a portion of the ranch into a commercial stockyard and shipping cattle back East by rail was my father’s idea from the beginning. His whole purpose for bringing the rail-head to town in the first place was to do this very thing.”
Matthew walked around the desk and sat down in his fathers’ chair. It felt comfortable to him.
“So what about Mackie?”
Jack felt a little more at ease with the desk now between him and Matt.
“Mackie must have somehow gotten wind of what your father was up to. He tried to come in on the backside of the deal at the last minute. He offered the U.P. something that made them think twice about your fathers offer. It basically stalled the negotiations. Your father found out and was furious.
“We rode over to Mackies’ place one night. I held back from the house a short distance. Your father continued on up to the porch where Mackie and two of his hired men were settin’. Your father confronted him and they ended up getting into a serious argument. I was too far away to hear exactly what was being said but I know it wasn’t pleasant.
“Mackie unholstered his pistol but the two men with him restrained him. I stepped out with my rifle where it could be seen. Mackie ordered us off the property before he changed his mind and shot both of us on the spot.
“As we rode back to the ranch your father confided in me. He had told Mackie not to get in his way of this deal or he would ruin him for sure. You know how hard your father worked on this deal. He had called in more than a few political favors to get the rail-head to town. A spur onto the property was crucial for his plan to work. There was no way he was going to let that good for nothin’ Mackie Littleton snatch the pen right out of his hand like that.
The next day I found your father down by the barn. Three bullets in a man’s chest is no accident and the sheriff seems to be taking his sweet time about looking into the matter.”
Unfortunately for Matthew, he had wasted precious time grieving. He only hoped it wasn’t too late to save this deal. If Mackie Littleton was responsible for his fathers death, he wouldn’t think twice about carrying out his fathers threat to ruin him. Mackie Littleton would be hung for murder but not before he saw his life’s work reduced to nothing.
The following day Matthew rode into town and wired Adam Walker. Adam was the U.P. representative handling the contract negotiations with Condie Enterprises. He explained his situation and expressed his desire to continue with the negotiations he and his father had started. His answer came back almost immediately.
“MATTHEW, SO SORRY TO HEAR ABOUT RICHARD. YOUR FATHER WAS A GOOD MAN. UNFORTUNATELY, WE HAVE RECENTLY COMPLETED NEGOTIATIONS WITH A CLOSE NEIGHBOR OF YOURS. A MISTER MACKIE LITTLETON. HE WILL BE ARRIVING IN TOWN TOMORROW TO FINALIZE THE AGREEMENT. BUT IN ALL FAIRNESS TO YOU AND YOUR FATHER, AND AS AN ACT OF GOOD FAITH, I WOULD BE WILLING TO LOOK AT ONE FINAL OFFER FROM YOU IF YOU SO DESIRE. I’LL NEED TO HEAR BACK FROM YOU DIRECTLY.”
Matthews’ reply was to the point. “Adam, Thank you for the opportunity to continue where my father left off. I think it is important for you to know that Mr. Littleton is a prime suspect in the murder of my father. Due to his sudden departure from town he is currently beyond the reach of the local sheriff handling this case. I would be extremely grateful if you would consider delaying the signing of your contract with Mr. Littleton until this matter can be resolved. If in fact Mr. Littleton is found innocent I will not stand in the way of your contract with him.”
The reply from Adam Walker was just one word.
Matthew had played his last card. He had better be right or there would be hell to pay from Mackie Littleton.
Matthew knew Mackie would be back in two days and without a doubt he would be furious. He needed to work fast. If Mackie was responsible for the murder of his father, he needed a way to expose him. Matthew needed to be sure Mackie was arrested the moment he stepped off the train. The best way to do that was through the two men who were with Mackie on the night his father and Jack confronted him.
Jack was familiar with these two men. They had worked together in the past and he remembered them as fairly decent boys. Mathew gave Jack orders to head over to the Littleton ranch and convince the two men to meet with him. To discuss a business proposition.
The following day Jack showed the two men into Matthews’s office.
“Have a seat boys. Thanks for coming by. I’ll get right to the point. Jack here tells me you boys are a couple of the best hands around. The Condie ranch is looking for good men like the two of you, and I’m willing to pay you top dollar if you come work for me. In fact, I’ll double your current wages if you say yes right now. I’ll treat you right and feed you well. In return I do expect an honest days work from you as well as your loyalty.
“You’ll have to forgive me for the amount of time I’m giving you to think this over but time is something I’m very short of at the moment. I’m afraid I’m going to need an answer from you before your boss gets back. In fact, I’m going to need an answer from you before you leave here today.
“Your boss is due back in town tomorrow and here’s where your loyalty to the Condie brand would come into play. I need you boys to tell me what you know about Mackies’ part in the death of my father.
“Jack here tells me the two of you stopped him from putting a bullet in my father on the night he confronted Mackie. I appreciate that. It shows me you two are honest men and even though you may know something about my fathers death I believe you had nothing to do with it.”
At this point the older of the two men stood up and leaned over the desk towards Matthew. His reply showed his anger. “Is that what this is all about? You want information? Do you really think we can be bought? Why you’re no different than your old man! He thought he could buy anybody or anything he wanted with his money. I’m afraid it’ll take more than your money to gain our loyalty. I think we’ve heard just about enough.”
They both got up to leave.
Matthew was a lot like his father in many ways but this was not one of them. Richard Condie had little patience for people who disagreed with his way of thinking and more than likely would have sent these two on their way. But Matthew was a patient man and was more than willing to work things out.
“As a matter of fact, no, I don’t think I can buy your loyalty with money. I believe you’re both intelligent men who understand loyalty is something that needs to be earned. Sit back down boys and hear me out.
“I also believe the two of you want to do the right thing. I’m sure neither one of you wants to rot in jail for another mans crime. If you know Mackie Littleton the way I think you know him, you best realize that could very easily be the way things turn out. So I’ll ask you again. Do you know anything about the death of my father? I suggest you come clean and tell me what I need to know. I guarantee you I’ll make it worth your while.”
The younger of the two men couldn’t sit quiet any longer. The thought of going to jail at his young age was too much.
“I have no desire to go to jail for something another man did. I’ll tell you what you want to know. Yes, Mackie did it all right. He shot your father. He wanted us to do it but no man can pay me enough to kill another man. So here’s the deal. You need us to point the finger at Mackie Littleton. As God is my witness, neither one of us will breath a word of this until we know it’ll be worth our while.”
That was exactly what Matthew wanted to hear. He got up from his chair and walked around his desk. He then laid out his offer.
“Fair enough,” he replied. “I’ll make this short and to the point. I know for a fact that Mackie owes plenty on his place. I also know he doesn’t trust anyone to run the day-to-day operations other than himself. This lack of trust is his weak point. If he’s out of the picture for more than a month, things will start to go bad for him. If he lands in jail his operation will quickly come to a standstill.
“I’m sure you boys don’t want to be part of an outfit on the verge of collapse do you? Cuz’ that’s exactly what will happen. If he’s out of the picture and not around to run the outfit, the bills don’t get paid.
“Now the creditors will still want their money. So the first thing they’ll do is clean out his bank account. After that they’ll sell off his cattle. I can tell you right now, whatever the price might be, those cattle will be sold to me. Mackie Littleton will know I bought em’. With no cattle there’s no income. With no money in the bank and no money coming in, the hired hands won’t get paid. Most won’t stick around. They’ll head out in search for other work. I’ll hire em’, but at the same wages they get now. But remember my offer. If you boys come to work for me right now, you’ll be paid double what I pay them.
“With no money in the bank, no cattle, no income and no help, the bank has no choice but to foreclose on him. His ranch will be put up for sale to pay off the creditors. I plan to buy it.
“So you see, everything that now belongs to Mackie Littleton will move over to my side of the fence. And for your help in putting Mackie behind bars, I’ll not only double your current wage, I’ll give each of you your choice of a full section of his land. And to top it off I’ll give each of you ten percent of his cattle. You know this is a good deal. So what do you say?”
The two men discussed the offer among themselves and came to the conclusion that this was an opportunity they couldn’t pass up. The older of the two spoke up. “OK, for double our wages, a full section of land and ten percent of Littleton’s cattle we’ll do it. We’ll tell you and the sheriff exactly what you want to know about Mackie Littleton.”
The following day Mackie Littleton stepped off the train and was promptly arrested for the murder of Richard Condie. The trial was short and Mackie Littleton was sentenced to hang. All went just as Matthew Condie predicted. Everything Mackie Littleton owned became the property of Condie Enterprises. Matthew and the U.P. finalized their agreement and the spur was built. Condie enterprises began shipping cattle North into Canada and East of the mighty Mississippi. Cattle operations near and far drove their herds to the Condie stockyards. It became the largest cattle business in the state of Wyoming. The town of Landau continued to grow and Condie Enterprises made a lot of men rich.
Mackie Littleton was eventually hung, but not until after he saw his life’s work fall into the hands of Matthew Condie.
These days every now and again. When the sun hangs low in the Western sky. Matthew Condie will make his way up to the high plateau and watch the daylight slowly fade. As the sky darkens and the glory of a million shimmering stars can be seen strewn across the heavens like diamonds on a black satin cloth, Matthew Condie will sit upon his horse and gaze at the wonder of it all. He’ll recall those familiar stories his father used to tell about the ‘Wealth of Heaven.’ It’s in those moments of quiet reflection Matthew Condie has come to realize just how insightful his father really was.
Even though he was a wealthy man, Richard K. Condie didn’t do what he did for the money. He knew where true wealth could be found. He could see it, but as long as he lived it would be just beyond his grasp.
“Look up son,” his father would say. “What do you see? Those aren’t just stars. That… that my boy, is the wealth of heaven.”
In those still, silent moments on the high plateau, Mathew Condie finally understood just what it was his father was trying to tell him. It was in those quiet moments Matthew Condie grew to understand the meaning of true wealth and where it could be found. And that he was more like his father than he had ever realized.
© Copyright 2023 by Scott A. Gese All Rights Reserved.
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