(The story until now: Two separate accidents have resulted in two Maderans being taken to the hospital emergency room, where they are joined by ever-busy Father Bob, a local priest. The two victims, Roxanne and Rogelio, remain either comatose or delirious. Meanwhile, Roxanne’s friend, Olga Waring, finds herself having to care for Roxanne’s bulldog, Russet.)
Before Olga and Roxanne met at the Caffeine Den, before Rogelio Cortez climbed behind the wheel of his newly purchased car and before Father Bob said morning Mass, Roger Lodge stood at his office drinking coffee from a plastic cup that he had poured from a stainless steel Thermos. His office was the tailgate of his pickup, which was parked next to the milking parlor of his dairy, about seven miles west of Madera and across the road from a big almond orchard.
Roger was getting ready to organize the morning milking of his herd of Holstein cattle — about 600 cows. The milkers would be showing up soon to move the cattle into the barn, clean their udders, hook them to the milking machines, run the milking machines, feed the cattle after they had been milked and clean up. The same routine would be carried out by another shift of three men twelve hours later, and twelve hours after that and twelve hours after that, just as it had for years since before Roger Lodge was born when his father had owned the dairy.This pattern would continue for years to come, hopefully when his kids owned it and were making payments to him just as he was making them to his own father.
Roger could have been sitting in the heated and airconditioned office inside the milking barn, but in there, he couldn’t enjoy the sunrise, see his breath, smell the crisp air or reflect on the fact that he had the best life he ever could have made for himself. He was married to a good woman, Luanne, who was a great cook, didn’t mind getting her hands dirty, and was still a “great looker,” as he was fond of telling her (and she was fond of hearing) with short-cropped blonde hair, rosy cheeks and a ready grin which showed her recently whitened teeth. People all over Madera were getting their teeth whitened these days, but not Roger Lodge. As far as he was concerned, his teeth were white enough. The Lodges had two daughters and two sons. He had enough money to pay his bills and make his payments to the bank, which in the past few years had financed an expansion of the milking barn, the purchase of new milking equipment, a new tractor and the office pickup, which was a two-year-old, bright-red Dodge Ram.
An open briefcase was on the tailgate next to him, and it contained printouts of the milking records of his herd. When the milkers showed up, he would go over some notes he had made about some cows he thought might be having problems. Their milk production was down. Was it time to pull them out of the milk line to check them over? Perhaps change their feed? ...