The ranch house and outbuildings finally came into sight after the road veered off onto higher ground. Gil and Maureen exchanged cautious looks. It was not much of a house, just a fortresslike main room of stacked stone to which a long, peaked-roof wing appeared to have been more or less randomly appended. A man stood on the porch, watching the truck drive up. At his feet sat an unlikely ranch dog, a chubby, gray-muzzled dachshund. As the car approached, the man climbed stiffly down the stairs and walked out to the edge of a parched circle of grass that marked the end of the caliche drive. He stood there bareheaded, his hands stashed in the back pockets of his trousers, his head cocked, staring at the approaching vehicle as if awaiting not a pair of invited visitors but some dreaded decree of fate.
Gil stepped out of the car and said hello and offered his hand. Lamar Clayton took it and looked back at Gil with an assessing stare and a faint smile that could have been either an expression of welcome or the manifestation of a private judgment. Gil decided he was a decade or so older than himself, a quiet old man with an air of grave self-possession, the tough skin of his face marked by a network of wrinkles and deep vertical creases.
His expression brightened as he greeted Gil’s daughter, but he did not have much to say to her besides hello. Maybe the self-possession was just shyness, Gil thought, the evasive, deflective manner of an old rancher unused to being around women. Nevertheless, there was something commanding about his stillness, his patient assumption that it should be others who speak first and say the most. “Ernest treat you folks all right?” Clayton said, with a sly glance at his hired man, who was already hauling their luggage into the house.
“We were in excellent hands,” Gil replied. “And we’ve arrived at a beautiful place.”
“Oh, I don’t know about beautiful,” Clayton said, “but I ain’t got tired of