Johnny picked up the mare’s hoof and his nose was immediately assaulted with the telltale fetor that defined thrush of the mare’s sole.
“Whew!” he breathed, wrinkling his nose as he turned his head aside in a vain effort to avoid the stench. “Hand me that 'magic salve', will ya?” Johnny began to pick at the diseased frog with his belt knife while brother Scott retrieved the requested medicine from the barn shelf.
“‘Magic salve’?” The lean and lanky blond unscrewed the cap and looked curiously at the concoction. He jerked back in shock and quickly held the jar at arm's length. “I don’t know which stinks more, the disease or the cure!”
“It’s like fightin’ fire with fire, all right.” Johnny grunted as the mare shifted her weight, obviously getting tired of this attention. “Jelly’s outdone himself with this stuff, that’s for sure.”
Scott offered the open jar to his brother and averted his head in an attempt to add as much distance as possible from the offending clash of smells. Johnny dropped the knife, reluctant to put it back in its sheath at the moment, and scooped out a glob of the salve with his fingertips. “Lordy, I hope this don’t leave blisters on my fingers!” he complained as his eyes began to water. Johnny packed the rotted hoof with the dark brown substance and hurriedly dropped the mare’s leg.
The older Lancer’s voice was muffled from burying his nose into his shoulder as he held the elixir. “Just be sure you wash your hands real well before you touch your face or I’m sure you’ll be very sorry. You done?”
“Yup!” Scott quickly resealed the jar as Johnny caught himself from wiping his fingers on his pants. “Don’t know which is worse – smellin’ that stuff or gettin’ soaked with castor oil while drenchin’ ‘em.”
Scott turned back from replacing the jar on the shelf and sauntered back to his brother. “I’d call it a draw. I still have oil stains on my shirt!” He pointed to a miniscule little dot on the crisply ironed sleeve of his otherwise immaculate beige shirt.
Johnny glanced at the spot as he pulled a bandanna from a pocket and rolled his eyes. “Oh, come on. That ain’t nothin’.”
“I know! It’s terrible to ruin a perfectly good piece of clothing.” The transplanted Bostonian brushed off imaginary dust from the sleeve.
Johnny raised a brow and paused for a second from wiping the brown goo from his fingernails. “I didn’t agree with ya, I said it ain’t nothin’.”
“Yes, I know. You employed a double negative, which is the same as an affirmative.”
Johnny’s blue eyes narrowed, then he picked up his knife and carefully cleaned the blade with the same cloth as he gave his older brother a stony stare that made Scott pause.
“What?” Scott said defensively, putting his hands firmly on his hips. “It’s true!”
Finally, Johnny nodded shortly, balled the smelly, sticky bandanna in one hand and shifted his eyes to the mare as he walked casually past his brother to the barn door.
Feeling justified in his statement, Scott dropped his arms and decided to change the subject. “We still on for some trout fishing on Sat . . . HEY!”
His question was abruptly interrupted as his lightning fast brother managed to stuff the balled, smelly cloth down the back of his shirt then beat feet toward the hacienda. Turning in a tight circle, it took a few seconds for the now swearing blond to pull the odiferous bandanna out and dash from the barn in hot pursuit.
Scott caught up with his chortling brother in the kitchen where Maria was just finishing an animated tirade about running into the house.
“What was that for?” Scott yelled. “You ruined my shirt!”
Maria threw up her hands in exasperation then recoiled from the taller Lancer as the odor hit her nose.
“How could I ruin what was already ruined?” Johnny yelled back.
Before Scott could rebut, the towering form of their father darkened the kitchen doorway. Maria, holding her nose, scooted around the large man and fled. “What’s going on in here?” he bellowed. Then a strange look crossed his face as he sniffed the air. He turned his attention to his older son, scowling. “What’s that stench?”
“Jelly’s hoof salve,” Johnny answered brightly with a just-as-bright smile.
“And he got it on my shirt!” Scott added loudly.
“What?” Confused, Murdoch turned his eyes to his younger son and unconsciously put a hand over his nose.
“It was an accident,” Johnny said unconvincingly.
“Ha!” Scott yelled, turning to his father. “You know his propensity for action without thought!”
Johnny’s darkened eyes narrowed again and bored into his brother’s smoky blues. “Are you TRYIN' to sound like a jackass or does it come naturally?” he asked flatly.
Scott opened his mouth for what looked to be a boisterous reply, but was stopped short by their father.
“BOYS!” Murdoch barked. “I’m not getting in the middle of this.” He threw up his arms; much like the small Mexican woman did moments before and started backing out of the kitchen. “Fight your own battles, but when in the house, it will be done QUIETLY! Understand?” One hand returned to cover his nose.
The two brothers glared angrily at each other, nodded, and mumbled matching “yessirs”.
“And Scott, get cleaned up.” With one final disgusted wave of his hand, the patriarch made a fast exit.
Now alone in the kitchen, neither brother dropped their glare but Johnny’s nose twitched slightly. Then, although he tried to fight it, one side of his mouth curled into a grin followed by a snicker that seasoned his words. “And woowee, do you ever stink!”
With an indignant snort, Scott grabbed the closest weapon – a skillet – and raised it menacingly. Out of habit, Johnny’s hand brushed his holster as his eyes widened in surprise, but he stayed his hand and managed to duck out of the kitchen and out of the range of fire. He snickered again when he heard the pan slam back down onto the stovetop.
Johnny stuck his head in the great room. Murdoch sat at his desk with a pained expression, rubbing his temples with his finger tips. Johnny’s grin grew a little as he wondered if he and Scott were the reason for the pain.
“Murdoch? You all right?” he asked lightly.
“Once I simply abrogate all hope for a quiet household and have one less stressor, I’ll be fine,” he said wearily.
Johnny’s eyes narrowed and his grin faded. “You, too?” he said accusingly.
Murdoch stopped the massage as a puzzled expression replaced the pained one. “Me too, what?” he asked, clearly perplexed.
"Never mind," Johnny said, shaking his head. A motion outside the window behind his father caught his attention. "Jelly 'n Teresa are back," he noted. "I'll help unload." 'At least I'll understand 'em when they talk,' he thought morosely as he pushed off the wall and headed to the front door.
Thumbs hooked in his gun belt and chewing on a piece of grass he'd plucked from the courtyard, Johnny sauntered into the barn yard and waited for the wagon. A low nicker made him smile and look up. Barranca regarded him from the adjoining pasture. Johnny turned and rested his forearms on a corral rail. Leaning on his arms, he plucked the grass from his mouth. "Hey compadre! How's the clover over there, huh? Mucho dulce?" Toying thoughtfully with the strand of grass, he added, "How come I can understand you and you don't even speak human?" he asked.
The palomino's ears twitched and his nostrils rippled in a quiet reply. Johnny chuckled. "I hear ya, boy!" The horse shook his head then refocused his attention to the approaching wagon. Johnny pushed off the fence and stepped up to help Teresa down before the wheels stopped rolling.
"Oh, Johnny, you should see the new things at Baldemoros'!" she gushed.
"Yeah? Like what?" he asked with a crooked grin. Johnny heard Jelly snort and looked up to see the grizzled curmudgeon roll his eyes in exasperation.
Teresa noticed, too. "Oh, just ignore him," she said sharply. When her feet hit the ground, she quickly turned to get something from the wagon. "Look at this!" she said happily, holding up what looked like a small, but ordinary, carpet bag.
Johnny hesitated, debating how he should react. "Um . . . going somewhere?" he asked cautiously.
"Johnny! No! This is for everyday use, like a purse. But look at the pattern! Isn't it clever?" She held the bag aloft and openly admired it.
Clever? A carpet bag? Johnny's eyes turned to the bag in an effort to find something extraordinary about it.
Teresa turned to him, aghast. "Don't you see it? Look! All those horizontal lines are really tiny, hand stitched dragonflies! Look closer!" She held the patterned bag up to Johnny's face. He tilted his head and looked closer.
"Oh, I see. Yeah - I see the wings. . . "
His lack of enthusiasm was noticed and the young girl harrumphed and clutched the bag protectively to her chest. "I know Maria will appreciate it," she pouted as she stomped to the house.
Johnny sighed. 'Another one I don't understand. She's a woman, though, so it's understandable.' He grinned at his own mental play on words and turned to help Jelly unload the wagon.
"Women," Jelly huffed unknowingly in sync with Johnny's thoughts. "That bag's so small it's about as useful as a yoke on a barn cat. Ugly, too! She's been goin' on about it since we left town. Calls it 'art'."
Johnny's mood lifted with the old man's tirade and he was about to fire back a smart retort to really get Jelly going when a loud shriek erupted from the house followed by Teresa's now bulgy 'art' arcing through the air from the open front door. The bag landed in the dirt with a plop, teetered for a moment, then flopped over on its side.
Momentarily shocked and mesmerized, the two men's spell was broken by the loud voices of Teresa chastising and Scott repeatedly apologizing. The two observers looked at each other questioningly and then Jelly said, "Too bad that old bag don't fly like them bugs all over it." They both burst out laughing.
The bag lay on the ground, a small poof of dust settling forlornly around it. Scott, shirtless, scampered from the house and plucked it from its repose. He quickly dusted it off then reached inside and pulled out his ruined, rumpled beige shirt.
"It was by the door like it was getting thrown away! I said I was sorry!" Scott repeated. Teresa stormed from the house and stopped a few feet from him, hands firmly on her hips, glaring at him. "Look! It's just a little dirt!" He gave the bag a little shake and a small plume of dust rose from it.
"Let me have that!" the miffed girl snapped, snatching the bag from his grip. Scott stepped back and out of striking range.
Jelly leaned in to Johnny, both somewhat under control of their laughter, and whispered, "Looks like your brother may get smacked upside the head with that piece 'a art." They both tried in vain to stop another round of snickers but that fight was lost when Teresa shrieked again and threw the bag at Scott.
"IT STILL STINKS!" she yelled.
Scott ducked instinctively but managed to snare the bag in midair. Quickly, he reached inside and yanked out the offensive bandanna. Clutching it tightly, he turned his attention to Johnny and glared.
"I hope you're happy, brother, because you managed to ruin three things today! And it's not even noon!" He shook the ruined shirt, the smelly bandanna and the dusty bag in Johnny's direction.
Johnny wiped his eyes and managed to say between gasps of air, "I sure don't know about that, Boston, but I do finally see that you were right after all - that little ol' spot on your shirt ain't nothin' after all!"