Illustration in production, check back for the full comic.
The dust from the horse streamed out behind in a little cloud with eddies that curled nicely in the bright desert sun. There he was, riding across the sagebrush, on a palomino with a cowboy hat so white you couldn’t look right at it.
That’s quite a man, thought Shauna, he’s no Roy Rogers, not that I care if he has an airplane. But I sure think I’ll ride after him and see what stuff he is made of.
Shauna was riding a quarter horse, piebald and spunky as they come. She was no slouch in the western wear department either. She had on a wide brimmed (got to keep her porcelain complexion!) red hat, yellow and white western shirt, yellow gloves with fringe on them, and to complete the ensemble: jeans and black and white cowhide chaps. She had on quite the rodeo getup.
She was catching up. He looked back, saw her, tugged on the reins a bit and the palomino effortlessly ran a good deal faster. The horse was not in a gallop, no, but it was at least in a canter.
Shauna urged her horse Spicy into a gallop. She knew the smaller horse needed to move at the faster gait in order to have any chance of catching up. And then she was catching up mostly because the rider had not sped up any more.
On they went over the prairie, his speed teasing her, as his horse was capable of leaving them in the dust in the wink of an eye. Spicy was game, she was as spirited as her owner, and didn’t need much encouragement to run like the wind.
Just as Spicy was about to be able to nip at the Palomino’s tail she stumbled on a prairie dog hole and took a dangerous tumble. Shauna was thrown, as who wouldn’t be, at that speed?
It turned into a face plant, with Shauna getting her face, mouth and nose full of the dustiest dirt this side of the Pecos. When she could see again and she had spit out the worst of the mouth sand, she looked into the bluest eyes she had ever seen.
“Shauna, Shauna!” Kitty waved her hands in from of Shauna’s face. “Are you OK?”
Shauna shook it off, although that was hard because, whoa Nellie, that stranger’s eyes had bored right into her soul.
“Sometimes I worry about you, girl. The lights are on but there’s nobody home. What if it happens when you’re driving somewhere?”
“Don’t you worry about me, Kitty. There’s plenty of electricity in this house to run every light the house has.”
“Huh?” said Kitty. “Sometimes Shauna…”
“We left the office. We’re here having a drink after work. Shouldn’t I be able to relax and think about nothing?”
“You might be going down that rabbit hole a little too far,” finished Kitty.
Later that night as she was bedding down, the western scene reappeared in all the detail and immediacy that had been interrupted in the bar.
“Hey there little lady, now that you seem to be OK, I’m going to tend to your horse.”
“I don’t need a man to manage my Spicy.”
“Whoa little filly, I didn’t mean no harm in it. Name’s Dallas. Might I make your acquaintance?”
“I’m Shauna and I’m not a filly for your information.” Shauna whistled and Spicy was upon them like a shot.
“I do apologize ma’am. I meant no disrespect but any rider that’s thrown for whatever reason, will often accept a fellow cowboy’s hand. I’ll let you choose, though.”
“If you put it thataway, I’ll be happy to accept your hand Mr. Dallas.”
And the two of them off rode side by side.
A week later, Kitty was looking at Shauna funny again. Kitty knew that Shauna didn’t try hard to attract men with her looks, or any other way for that matter. She couldn’t afford to space out at the thought of a blind date.
“Shauna, I said his name was Dallas. I know it is kind of a funny name but…Are you OK? You wouldn’t turn down a blind date just because of his name?”
“Does he have blue eyes?”
“Uh yes. And I mean like Paul Newman in that movie. Is that OK?”
“Awesome. When can we get together?”
“Whoa cowgirl. I’ll let him know, but let me tell you something. For a first get-to-know-you, it’s not a date, go somewhere public, Sal’s diner on Eighty Third – whatever and if you want I’ll give you a call – you can say it’s your Mom or your Aunt and you’ve got to go.” Kitty looked as concerned as she always did when it came to this mousy, frizzy space cadet.
“An escape hatch. You want me to do that?” Kitty continued.
“Thanks, Kitty. I’ll pick up the phone and let you know everything is sooooo right.”
“Whoa. At least you agreed. That’s progress towards sanity, I guess.”
Their first meeting went like this:
“Hi I’m Dallas. Are you Shauna?”
Be still my heart, thought Shauna.
Two weeks later, after a couple of real dates, as she was bedding down, a line of cowgirls danced their way across the prairie. They sang this song:
“I’m not a saint, no I ain’t / And I’ll never be / Till me, me and Dee / Are as real, are as real as we! /It’s life and it is strife! I’m his wife / That I’ll never lose.”
Kick up those knees girls! The chorus goes:
“Seeeeeeeee / Now you seeeeee / Me and Deeeeee / I won’t fleeeeee / This I know.”
A few months later Dallas said, “Are you sure you want me to wear a cowboy hat to the wedding, dear?”
“I know it is silly and maybe you shouldn’t but –“
“It is bad enough that I have to wear one – you know – sometimes – in bed.”
“Well OK one out of two isn’t so bad I suppose.”
They married and had a happy life together; the kids came along in time, were cute for a while, were holy terrors for a while and then like sand through the hourglass, Dallas and Shauna found themselves alone together again.
This transition hit Dallas pretty hard. He started asking himself questions like: What if I got a tattoo? What do I really want out of life? Could I be happier? Is this all there is? These were crazy questions that seemed to revolve around failure of one kind or another.
They were at breakfast. Dallas was reading the newspaper and letting Shauna in on some of the funny or tragic bits he came across. As he was reading, the paper faded out and Shauna found herself on a wagon. The horses were moseying along at a slow pace, but then the wagon was loaded with everything they needed to live and homestead on the land the government was giving out to pioneers. Spicy and the Palomino were tied to the back of the wagon.
Dallas said, “You know honey, I heard the strangest tale back at the last watering hole. You know, from the scout who was there. It seems there’s a lady bounty hunter in these parts. He said she sure was purty. Don’t that beat all? No only a lady bounty hunter but purty to boot? She was the one that caught the Dalton gang all by her lonesome. And she did it this away: She pretended to be a bawdy woman, but she had both a pistol and a rifle in her skirts! And she pulled it on them boys!”
“Oh you rascal Dallas. No woman ought to put herself in such a position – not for any reason. I’ll bet it is not true and you men just made it up because it tickles you. In the wrong way I might add.”
“Now, now little fill-“
Shauna’s look stopped him dead in his tracks. If looks could kill, he’d at least be limping after that one. Why had he told her that? What else was he trying to say?
Dallas the cowboy slowly faded into Dallas the office manager.
“They Laughed When I Said To Bribe Me – But When I Got Paid, They Begged Me For My Secret!” read Dallas. “That’s a real website. About how to get bribes. What a world, what a world we live in. It makes me want to get away. Far away.”
“How would you do that Dallas?” asked Shauna.
“Well you know, we’re kind of footloose and fancy free –“
“Except for going to work – what do you get? Another day older –“
“But look at all the vacation time, we’ve got saved up, I’ll bet you have six months if you have a day.”
“True, but they need me there, the place’d fall apart without me. Remember when I got sick?”
“Well, you might be surprised how good people do when they don’t have a choice in the matter. You know: Let’s get us an RV. So when we’re really retired, we can winter in Arizona and summer in Montana.
If we have one now, we can get used to it, like a maiden voyage kinda like a shake down cruise.” said Dallas.
“Dallas Howard, how in the world are we going to afford an RV?” said Shauna. “You think we are made of money, now that the kids are gone?”
“No honey, but where there’s a will there’s a way.”
“Where there’s a will there’s a way.” whispered Dallas as they bedded down in the back of the wagon. Both their rifles were cocked and ready, as this was unexplored territory. Dangerous to be here, but it would have been just as dangerous to have stayed back East.
As Shauna fell asleep, thoughts of the lady bounty hunter drifted through her head. I can’t let him go astray – I got to keep that man close any way I can, she concluded. He might will something, but she was not going to let it happen, sure as tootin.
Next week, Shauna sat at her desk. So many thoughts were going through her mind that she couldn’t concentrate on work. So she just sat and stared at her screen but was not doing any work – just staring.
After a while she had this: Dallas seemed like he was unhappy or unsettled or agitated. Did he have a roving eye? They say men his age do that kind of thing. Was it that RV thing? Yup.
Finally she had something to focus on. Craigslist->RV+camp. $70,000? Better adjust the filter. Low to high, just junk, trolling for who knows what. OK now that’s something that might work – jeez $30k for something that won’t break down on the way out of town. $50k is starting to look nice and possible.
Why? Why am I doing this? Do I doubt him? thought Shauna. Dallas? Who’s been true and helpful all these years? But I can’t deny that this anxiety is not going away. Not going away. Not going away.
Spicy was stepping carefully. There were small madrone bushes, other spiky plants, trailing dead vines and other dangerous vegetation. Shauna was not anxious – cowgirls don’t do that, but she was wary, or maybe alert. Shauna thought she was close to where that lady bounty hunter was staying over the summer. She needed to know a few things, but what did she think she was going to do? Call that hussy out and tell her to stay away from ‘my Dallas’? And get shot dead for being an interloper? Bake the hussy a cake?
The wagon had busted about 50 miles back and there was no fixing it. Dallas had ridden ahead to the next town to see what kind of help they could get. What if the lady bounty hunter was in town? Shauna hadn’t thought of that and it made her more anxio- she meant wary.
Maybe if she rode back to the last town, she could get some help there?
“If I’m riding, I’m doing something.” she said out loud to herself.
Shauna was sneaking out of work again. This was the second interview and she was pretty sure they would make her an offer. It was perfect – something she had experience with – something she could do in her sleep, but something, those years of accounting experience, this startup desperately needed, and it was part time, mostly online, check, check, check!
In the conference room where the interview took place, she faced a committee of three, Riley, whom she had talked to before and two young women. Riley was actually middle aged, unusual for a startup. He was clean cut, wore business attire, even a tie. Unusual choice for this tee shirt and hoodie crowd, where the impulse to fit into a casual look would have been tempting. Maybe Italian ancestry, with thick black slicked back hair. He was in Finance, and he would be working part time just like Shauna.
Riley did most of the talking until the blonde one on the left spoke up:
“You’ll be working for me, but Riley is local and I’m based in Mountain View, so Riley will be doing most of your supervision. Are you OK with that division?”
“Yes,” said Shauna. “What you want from me, is similar to what I’ve done at other companies and in fact is what I’ll be doing nine to five.”
“Yeah. We wanted to talk about that.” said Riley.
“We’ll be looking for a more of a commitment once the company is up and running. Same for me. Once we have revenue coming in there’ll be a lot more for a bookkeeper to do. We’ll be expecting you to transition to full time here.”
“OK.” said Shauna but in her mind she crossed her fingers – once she had made enough for an RV, she was blowing this Popsicle Stand.
“Well, welcome aboard to Civil Normal Solutions dot com.” said the blonde.
What was her name? Shauna tried to pull it in – Oh yeah – Willow!
“Thanks, Willow.” Shauna was glad she wouldn’t have too much to do with Willow, look at those legs sticking out of that short skirt. Now that she thought of it, Willow reminded her of a younger Sarah Palin. She had that same self-satisfied look, that same pulled together combined with a ‘maybe I’m hot, but you’ll never find out’ vibe.
“To turn back to a previous, you’ll be very lightly supervised. We’re counting on everybody pulling the oars together so to speak, without too much yelling and beating drums to keep the ship moving forward. As fast as we can, because we are burning though our venture capital, just like any other startup.” said Sarah, oops, Shauna really meant “Willow”.
“Sure, count on me to row right smartly!” Shauna finished with a smile.
Riley smiled back and ended the meeting by giving Shauna the pile of Human Resources papers that she had to fill out.
Dallas was managing by walking around.
“Hey Fred, how’s the Taneja account? Keeping up with them?”
He walked a little further down the hallway, stuck his head in the door and said bashfully “How did the test come out?”
Eve wanted him to care more, but…She said “You don’t have to worry anymore – I’m not pregnant. You’re not going to be a father again, after all.”
“Well I’m relieved. How about you? Whacha say we celebrate a little?”
Riley and Willow were just ahead of her in the town. Weren’t they cute promenading in city duds? But how did she know their names? This fact kinda puzzled her. Her train of thought was interrupted when Willow looked at her and said “Do you really think it is right for you to go around covered in dust? Couldn’t you possibly clean up at least a little bit? Womenfolk are talking about you.”
Shauna slapped her hat on her thigh. She said “Well Missy, I’m looking for a wagon, and when me and my Dallas get to the homestead, I’ll be right turned out. Know where there’s a wagon for sale? Cheap?”
Shauna had the whole routine worked out. She would get on her home computer and use the web browser to log into Civil Normal Solutions. When she was working on Civ Normal business, she kept another tab open right next to the portal to Civ Norm (internal.civ.norm.com). In that tab would be a social network called Pinterest. Ninety two percent of the content on this site are posted by women. Dallas would not be interested in that at all. When Dallas would walk by, she would quickly switch and appear to be wasting another idle evening on Pinterest – there sure were a lot of Western themed pages!
Unfortunately for Shauna, she had fallen into an all too common startup trap. Willow kept asking for more and more of her time. Shauna was even logging onto civnorm when she was at her day job. And they weren’t even paying her on time. Every month she got more share options in civnorm instead of all her salary in cash money. Not fair!
Shauna was working at her second job – civnorm.com, when she got an instant message on the page – Skype me: Riley.
She opened the Skype video call window and Riley was on, telling her more and more about some useless information, when Dallas walked in. Shauna was shocked and thought shit! He was supposed to be gone tonight.
“Who is that?” Dallas asked.
Shauna clicked on the X to kill the window. She’d tell Riley that the skype had dropped.
“Oh Dallas, you know how those ads pop up with a video already going and they expect you to watch it all the way through before the good stuff starts?”
“They told me about it at work, said that we should look it over, there might be something we could learn from them.”
Dallas heard the edge to her tone that said ‘lying to you’ as clear as if was written right there on civnorm.com in a popup. This popup would not be closed as easily as that skype session.
“Well don’t you work too hard.” he said.
“Thanks dear,” she said and the edge, the adrenaline, and a sense of relief that was not really convincing were painfully obvious.
In reference to: the Skype reveal, Dallas had witnessed enough of it to be more than suspicious. He couldn’t hear that much, but it was obvious that Skype Head and Shauna knew a lot about each other. He had called Shauna at work several times and had been told she had taken a vacation day. And not told him? What was she hiding? Later, while at work, Dallas looked up civnorm.com and there in the ‘About Us’ page was Riley. That was him. Work related my ass, he thought. I was supposed to be the bad one.
Shauna knew she had not been convincing for a New York second, in reference to: the skype reveal. She had to quit civnorm, but she didn’t have the money for the RV, or actually anything substantial at all, yet. It was bad and getting worse. She was painfully aware that this anxiety was not going away. Not going away. Not going away.
There she was on civnorm when the instant message came across that all the rest of the part timers had been let go except her. Riley was gone, uh-oh that meant she was going to hear a lot more from Willow. This was bad, but maybe there were some better alternatives. A choice had to be made. As that thought occurred to Shauna, she wondered where the hell that idea came from. Then she noticed an account on civnorm that had not been touched for the whole time she had been working. It had fifty thousand dollars in it. They did owe her much more than she had been paid. Those stock options they were giving her would soon be worthless.
Shauna initiated a funds transfer.
Shauna and Spicy had left the town behind. She needed some breathing room, some space, some air to clear her head. Once she was on a rise she started to feel better. A view of the horizon in every direction could do that for a girl. So what was that dust cloud she saw a ways off? The stagecoach of course. There would be rich people, city slickers in it. They came out West for adventure didn’t they? Maybe she could show them some.
As she rode up to the stage, she found a pistol in her hand. Huh. How about that? Next thing she knew she had shot a couple of bullets in the air. The stage stopped.
“I wouldn’t reach for that shotgun if’n I was you,” she said.
The shotgun hit the dirt. The stagecoach guard had not expected this from a woman. On the back of the stage was a chest – the mining company payroll – she didn’t need it all, no, she would not be greedy.
”Open it up fellers.”
“You’re makin’ a big mistake little Missie, there’s law in this territory, you won’t get far.”
“I can tell you don’t know me and my Spicy.”
“That’s as may be.”
Shauna shot the lock off the chest. She grabbed a good size bagful of gold twenty dollar coins. Plenty.
She looked in the stage and whoa. Willow was in the stage and now she was the one doing the talking. At first she didn’t understand what Willow was saying. It was coming out something like:
“Embezzled…stupid…thought we wouldn’t see something that obvious…”
What Willow was saying didn’t make any sense. It was all back East talk Shauna guessed. What was “embezzled”?
“You cheated on me and then you stole so you could run away with him. I don’t recognize you anymore. I’m not paying the restitution or the original. Here’s the card from my lawyer – anything you want to say, you say to her.” It was the last thing she would ever hear from Dallas.
She watched as the lady bounty hunter and Dallas rode off into the sunset. At least she still had Spicy. They didn’t get her horse.
She knew she would never be able to rely on anyone else ever again.