Dev Summers buckled on his chaps and pulled the deerskin glove onto his riding hand, cinching it tight at the wrist. He blocked out the din of the rodeo, of everything except the sound of the announcer's baritone voice coming from the loudspeakers, smoothly playing to the audience.
"Ladies and gentlemen, our next cowboy has been riding rough stock since he was old enough to walk. Five-time Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association's World Champion, and four-time Professional Bull Rider World Champion, Dev Summers is the only man to have ever ridden the notorious Satan 101--a big, rank old bull that's been named the PBR's Bucking Bull of the Year for three consecutive years.
"Early last year in Montana, though, Old Satan got even with our cowboy and nearly ended his career. But you can't hold a good man down. Dev's back in the running, and, as luck would have it, he's drawn into another go-round with Satan."
A hush fell over the crowd as they realized this could be the ride of the night, maybe even a ride that would go down in the annuls of rodeo history. But what most of them didn't know was that Satan 101 had turned killer.
Nobody had wanted to ride him since April when Tim Roberts, a guy with whom Dev must have logged a million miles over the last twenty years, had run out of luck up at the Nampa Classic in Idaho. The bull had turned on him with the same vicious intent he'd laid out for Dev last year at the NILE Invitational in Billings, Montana. While all the cowboys had helplessly huddled in shock around Tim, the bull rider had died in Dev's arms before the Justin Sportsmedicine Team could reach him.
Tim's death had left a pall hanging over the bull riders. Every cowboy who'd drawn Satan since April had learned how to pray--and how to mean every word of it. Many had been hurt bad enough to be knocked out of the competition. Others had barely escaped injury. No one had ridden him.
The beast was at this moment trying to hook every cowboy within reach of his deadly horns, effectively sweeping them off the sides of the chute like dust from a doorframe before completing his customary exhibition and dropping to all fours, ready to fulfill the announcer's rhetoric.
Dev removed his Resistol hat to mop the sweat from his brow with his shirt sleeve. With a foot on either side of the metal chute, he eased out over the brindle's wide back, reminding himself that he could beat Satan. He'd done it once; he could do it again. All he had to do was focus and not think about what the animal was capable of doing. His entire career--maybe his entire life--would ultimately be measured by this one ride. The announcer's glowing words made him sound so indestructible, but the announcer wasn't close enough to smell his fear.
Satan felt Dev's pant legs brush his hide, and he reared again, forcing Dev to scramble to safety. Along with his other injuries, Dev had pulled his groin muscles last week, and it was there he felt the strain from his hasty retreat. He was tired of always fighting the pain, riding it out, sucking it up, swallowing it down. He was thirty-five--too old for this shit. He hurt everywhere, and he was sick of it. Damned sick of it. There was no longer a thrill to dally with death. He’d accomplished all he’d set out to do in the sport and then some. There were no more mountains to climb--except maybe to ride Satan one last time.
Walk away, man, while you still can. You've been wanting to for a long time. He heard Tim's voice in his mind, as if he were standing right there next to him. And maybe he was.
Don't worry, old buddy. Win or lose, live or die, this is going to be my last ride.