Jumpity Jesse Jones never understood how, through what complex machinations, he had been brought onto a pirate ship to begin with. His banker, Mr. Horg Willow, was responsible, he knew, and there was some mention about “reallocating assets” and “upsizing cost differentials,” but these were alien concepts to a simple cowboy man. Jesse only spoke Cowboy, and occasionally just Cow, but never Banker-ese. As a matter of fact, Jesse couldn’t remember why a cowboy needed a banker to begin with. Cowboys were paid in chaw, which they could keep in their pockets or saddle bags.
Sitting up in the crow’s nest, Jesse Jones sipped poke-an-beans from his cactus-styled coffee mug. Then he leaned back and kicked up his feet. At least life was comfortable on the ship, if a little saltier than he was used to. There were sea-birds and sea-fish jumping above the water, and Jesse was always being rocked to sleep by the rhythmic movements of the boat. Jesse was halfway into a nap when he heard an Oklahoma-styled duster brewing on the deck below.
“Get your snake-skinned ass down here before I grind it into horse paste!” bellowed the scrawny, bespectacled banker below. His face was red, either from anger or Caribbean heat, Jesse couldn’t tell which. For some unfathomable reason the banker wore black three-piece suits while out on the ocean. Jesse just didn’t understand of anything where bankers were concerned.
“Pardon?” Jesse tipped his hat off his eyes and spat a wad of tobacco over the deck towards the sea, where a shark lifted out of the water to catch it in its mouth. Only a skilled cowboy can chew tobacco while eating poke-an-beans.
“Get down here! I didn’t bring you aboard this boat so you could tan your face!”
Jesse swung one leg over the side of the crow’s nest, then the next. As he hauled himself down the ropes, he said “I’ve never quite understood just why you brought me along on this here floating cork, pardner. Whyn’t you explain it to me one more time?”
“We’re here for cattle-ranging, you buffoon!”
“Cattle? Here?” Jesse looked around at the expanse of water surrounding the boat on all sides.
“Yes, cattle! Sea-cows, of course!”
“Sea-cows! Manatees! They’re an untapped resource, and they’re supposed to be around here somewhere!”
“I s’pose.” Jesse didn’t know much about marine biology. “How’m I supposed to herd these sea-cows?”
“What, and you’re asking me? You’re the cattle expert! Did you, or did you not, put ’10 years ranging experience’ on your resume?” The banker was livid, squinting at Jesse with all the inchoate rage of a hungry badger.
Jesse thought a moment. “Should I, um, maybe bait them to the surface? I need to see ‘em before I can really range ‘em.” Jesse was trying to divert the topic to something familiar.
“Bait? Manatees? Like, with food?” asked Mr. Willow.
“Yeah, they’re sea-cows. They must eat sea-grass.”
“Do we have any sea-grass?”
“Hmm...” The hold was filled with the only two things Cowboy Men need to survive: tobacco and poke-an-beans. “How will we know them when we sea them? Do they look like fish?”
Here was Mr. Willow’s chance to show his knowledge. “Fish? Faugh! Sea-cows are mammals! They will, therefore, have mammaries!”
“Tits. Teats. They’d have some sort of lumpy milk sacks dangling from their bodies,” said Mr. Willow with an air of triumph.
“Fish with tits? I’m not sure, do you really think we could make money from something like that?”
Mr. Willow snapped back with renewed fury, “Yes I do! Whatever these sea-cows look like they must surely taste great, or if they don’t then we’ll hype the market to make manatees seem like the next great American meat!”
“I prefer steak myself,” was Jesse’s uncertain response.
“And now you will eat sea-steak, or so help me God, I’ll find myself another cow-poke!”
That idea sounded just fine to Jesse, who was thinking more and more about how great a sleep under the stars by a roaring fire would be. Could you have a roaring fire on a boat? The idea didn’t seem to hold water. As much as he wanted to return to land, however, Jumpity Jesse felt that he shouldn’t betray the trust of this tiny, quivering banker. Jesse didn’t want to leave the man on this boat in the middle of the sea, so he made a proposal.
“Perhaps we should just take this show back on the land. You and me, ranging the type of cows I know how to handle. I could always use another cattle hand,” offered Jesse.
Mr. Willow shook his head, “Have you forgotten already, Jesse? The reason we came out here, the reason why no cowboy is safe on dry land?”
Jesse had forgotten.
There was a long, uncomfortable pause.
“Clowns.” The word just seemed to hang in the air, moving no more than two inches from where Jesse’s lips had formed it.
“The rodeo clowns. They were going to corner the bull market! No one could rustle bulls better than those rodeo clowns--I know! I saw them with my own eyes!--and with all the bulls under their control, what future would cowboys have with cows? Huh?” The truth was out, and there was no going back. Mr. Horg Willow was thrashing his arms about like a small, looney bird trying to take to the air.
“I think you might be confused, pardner.”
“Don’t you pardner me! I’ve funded this entire operation! I’ve delivered you from the clowns! Or would you rather like to put on floppy shoes and grease paint every morning, despairing in the knowledge that you once had an opportunity to create a whole new market for cowboys everywhere!”
“Ranging sea-cows. Right.” There was only so much Jesse could take. “I think you might be confused as to just what a rodeo clown is.”
But Horg was in a whole different world at this point. “Clowns! Clowns! Freaky, awful, honking clowns! Everywhere I go, anything I try to invest in, the clowns are already there! They beat me to theater! They beat me to fast food! They beat me to real estate! I swear, and now they’ve beaten me to agriculture!”
“Now calm down, there,” said Jesse. The banker’s thrashing and raving was at such a pitch that the cowboy feared for the safety of either himself or his... friend? partner? It didn’t matter, Jumpity Jesse did his best to restrain the small man.
Mr. Willow was strong for his size, however, and wrestled away, cursing and spitting violent oaths against clowns and cowboys alike. Too late, Jesse called out for Horg to hold still, and the banker stomped on a large, slippery wad of cowboy chaw. Mr. Willow slipped and slid and hurtled straight over the side of the boat, directly into the jaws of a waiting shark.
“You know,” Jesse said to eaten friend, “if there really were sea-cows around here, I don’y know how they’d survive with so many sea-bears around to eat them.”