Bustin' Broncs and Other Critters
The little girl stomped angrily across the floor of the front porch and hopped
down to the dusty ground two steps below. With determined strides, the girl
angled across the hard, dirt packed yard to the corral beside the huge horse
barn. She climbed up to the top of the six-foot high wooden fence to perch on
the very top rail. Placing one booted foot on the inside of the fence and the
other on the outside, she straddled the thick board without too much trouble
balancing that high above the ground. Propping her trembling chin in her hand,
she gazed out across the backs of the newly rounded up wild horses that milled
uncertainly within the corral. One particular tobiano paint caught her eye and
she slowly raised her head as her deep blue eyes followed the filly around the
“He’s mean,” Angelina muttered beneath her breath as she continued to watch the
small horse moving on the periphery of the herd of fifteen horses. “I know I
could train ‘em, just like he can.” Her lower lip protruded in a full-out pout
and Angelina finally dropped her eyes from the paint filly to look down at the
dusty ground beneath her. “It ain’t fair.”
“What ain’t fair?”
Jelly Hoskins gravely voice startled Angelina. She jerked her head up as soon as
he spoke and would have tumbled headfirst into the corral of restless horses, if
not for Jelly’s quick thinking and swift hands grabbing her around the waist.
“Hey, there, Pipsqueak! Whaddya think yer a’doin’?” He groused as he pulled the
resisting child from the fence rail and set her on her feet in front of him,
both hands on her small shoulders as he knew from past experience how fast the
little girl could run. “Now, what’s this about fair?”
“Nothin’, Jelly. It ain’t nothin’,” Angelina muttered in frustration at having
been caught, again, near the horses that her father had implicitly told her to
keep away from. She dropped her eyes and her head followed suit, until all Jelly
saw was the dark brunet head, the curls waving softly in the hot, sultry breeze.
“It have somethin’ to do with yer pa not wantin’ ya to get near them horses,
girl?” Jelly demanded with a gentle shake of his hands on her shoulders. His
old, weary eyes darted away from the top of Angelina’s head to see the wild-eyed
look in most of the horse’s eyes. “Honey, them horses would just as soon stomp
ya in the ground as look at ya.” Slipping his right hand away from Angelina’s
shoulder, Jelly placed two gnarled fingers beneath her trembling chin and lifted
her head until she could look at him. “Yer daddy’s right, sweetheart. Until he
can get some of the wild worked outta ‘em, you ain’t got no right even sittin’
up there on that fence.”
“Why’s everybody always pickin’ on me?” The girl spat as she wrenched herself
out of Jelly’s grasp and took off across the yard to disappear into the dark
coolness of the barn.
“Does seem that way, don’t it, darlin’?” Jelly murmured as he swept his cap from
atop his nearly bald head and scratched at the fringe of white hair remaining
over his left ear.
“What seems that way, Jelly?” Johnny Lancer asked quietly, a broad smile
covering his face as his blue eyes sparkled with laughter at catching the old
handyman talking to himself again.
Jumping in fright at being caught unaware, Jelly took his cap and slapped Johnny
on the shoulder a couple of times, suppressing the grin when Johnny cringed
fearfully and threw his hands up as if to ward off the harsh blows. They both
knew that the old man wouldn’t hurt a flea, but appearances were everything.
“DADBURN IT, JOHNNY LANCER!” Jelly yelped as he dropped the hand wielding his
cap to his side and glared at his friend. “You ain’t got no right sneakin’ up on
a body like that. Ya hear me? Give a whistle next time, boy!”
Johnny’s smile, if possible, grew broader as he moved forward and dropped a
companionable arm over Jelly’s thin shoulders and gave the old man a gentle,
loving squeeze. “Ah, come on, Jelly. You know your hearin’ is goin’. Why I’d
have to shoot my pistol as a warnin’ in order for you to hear, which would bring
half the ranch hands and Murdoch runnin’ to see what all the fracas was about.”
Shaking his head sadly, Johnny reached up with his hand and gently ruffled the
fringe of white hair running around the back of Jelly’s head. “You’d better put
that cap back on, old man, or else you’ll be askin’ Maria for some of her aloe
As nimbly as a gazelle, Johnny quickly danced out of Jelly’s reach, his laughter
ringing out when the hat-weapon came up and swatted at him again.
“Ah, get on outta here, ya danged laughin’ hyena,” Jelly grumbled, completely
forgetting about Angelina and her near tumble into the corral of wild horses.
“Ain’t ya got nothin’ better to do than harass me?”
“Now, since you put it that way,” Johnny drawled out slowly, the sparkles in his
eyes glittering more with good humor. “I’m gonna start workin’ on those ponies
there.” He threw a thumb over his shoulder to indicate the horses shifting
nervously in the corral, every eye on the two men on the other side of the
“Well, then what’re ya doin’ pesterin’ me?” Jelly snapped as he stomped off
toward the barn trying to remember why he was headed that way in the first
Johnny’s smile quickly faded as he watched his friend disappear into the
darkness of the barn. Jelly was getting on in years and Johnny had discovered
that the old man was getting very forgetful in his old age. It wasn’t that big
of an issue, but Johnny was concerned nonetheless.
Dropping his chin to his chest, Johnny hooked his thumbs in the waistband of his
pants and stared down at the dust beneath his boots and noted the small boot
prints leading toward the barn, Jelly’s boots overlaying them. Suspicion sent
Johnny forward as he tracked the smaller set of prints.
Upon entering the barn, the tracks became harder to follow due to the darkness
within and the churned up ground inside.
“Angelina?” Johnny called out, his voice reaching into the dark recesses of the
barn with no problem. “I’m giving you to the count of three to get out here.”
His eyes adjusted quickly to the darkness, Johnny searched the interior, though
he didn’t move closer. It was a power play, one that he wasn’t going to lose.
There was no movement, not even a swish of a horse’s tail to indicate that
another soul was in the barn, but Johnny knew better.
A tiny sound, that of a wisp of straw against denim, caught his straining ear
and Johnny suppressed the smile that tugged at a corner of his lip.
“All right! All right! I’m comin’! I’m comin’!”
Looking like a prisoner being led to the gallows, Angelina’s little face
appeared at the top of the ladder leading into the loft, her expression dour and
hangdog as she carefully climbed down each rung. When her booted feet touched
the floor of the barn, she turned to confront Johnny.
“I didn’t do nothin’!” She exclaimed vehemently, though her eyes wouldn’t
connect with the man standing with his arms crossed over his chest and barring
the entrance. “Don’t care what Jelly told ya. I didn’t do it.”
“Over here, Lina,” Johnny demanded, his eyes narrowed now at finding out that
Jelly had omitted telling him something that had obviously occurred, something
possibly dangerous enough that Angelina felt she had to lie. Pointing a finger
to the space directly in front of him, Johnny waited a bit impatiently for the
girl to comply. “And Jelly didn’t say anything to me.”
Walking slowly down the aisle to come to a stop where indicated, Angelina kept
her head down and her eyes averted, knowing that she was in big trouble now that
she realized she had stuck her foot in her mouth. When Johnny didn’t say
anything after several moments, Angelina slowly raised her head to look up at
him and unbidden tears filled her eyes as soon as she saw the disappointment on
“You care to tell me what’s goin’ on, Lina?” He asked quietly, his blue eyes
studying the girl closely, as if to assure himself that she had come to no harm.
“No, Papa,” Angelina muttered with a shake of her head of curls, her blue eyes,
identical to her father’s, solemn and tear filled. “I really wouldn’t care to
He had to bite the inside of his cheek to hold the laughter at bay, but knew
that his eyes had to be reflecting it. Where’s that Johnny Madrid mask when I
need it, he thought to himself as he raised his eyes to look up at the tall
ceiling above them in order to keep his little daughter from seeing that he was
about to lose it.
“Well, whether you care to or not, young lady, you will tell me what happened,”
Johnny told her grimly, having found the Madrid mask buried somewhere in the
deep recesses of his mind and quickly cloaking himself with its protection from
this little girl’s wiles.
“I-I didn’t mean t-to, Papa,” Angelina stammered out, never before having to
face her father when he was so mad. Her body began to tremble and one lone tear
trailed over the bounds of her lashes and streaked down her dusty cheek. “I-I’m
sorry, Papa. I-I won’t do it again.”
It was more than Johnny Lancer could stand, much less Johnny Madrid. Dropping to
one knee, Johnny held open his arms and grunted slightly when his daughter
launched her little body against his chest, her small arms practically
strangling him in the process of holding on tight around his neck. Hugging her
close, Johnny gained his feet and moved to a stack of hay bales against the wall
and sat down with Angelina clinging to him like a monkey.
Smoothing his hand down the back of her head and fingering the end of the long
braided ponytail hanging down her back, Johnny breathed in the sweet scent of
innocent youth that clung to her. Cuddling her close, he nuzzled the riot of
curls that had escaped the bonds of her braid and kissed the top of her head as
she wrapped her legs around his waist as if she would never let go.
“Lina,” he murmured softly in her ear when it appeared that the little girl was
drifting off to sleep in his arms. “Honey, look at me.” He waited for a few
seconds and then was rewarded with a glimpse of the same color blue eyes that
stared back at him every morning in his mirror. “You know that you should never
tell a lie. That one lie just leads to another and another, and then you have a
hard time figuring out which lie you told to whom.”
“Yes, Papa,” Angelina agreed, her voice shaky with the knowledge that she had
disappointed her father, the man that she loved above all others. “I’m sorry.”
“Tell me what you’re sorry about, Lina,” he coaxed, and though he was fairly
certain what her confession would be, he was still shocked by her admission.
“I-I climbed up on the corral fence and nearly fell in,” she said miserably
ashamed, though she bravely maintained eye contact with her father.
“Oh, honey,” Johnny cried out, his mind envisioning his little girl’s body being
trampled beneath the hooves of the wild horses and tears filled his eyes at the
thought. Dragging her close in a tight embrace at what could have been, his
breath accelerated until he sounded as if he had raced from Morro Coyo to
Lancer. Dropping his forehead down onto Angelina’s small shoulder, he couldn’t
seem to shake that image of her falling beneath the hooves of those horses from
his mind. It was several minutes later that he realized his daughter was
struggling in his arms and calling desperately out to him.
“PAPA! You’re squashin’ me! I can’t breathe!” She pushed against his chest with
her small hands and he finally realized how close he was holding her, trying to
protect her from those images in his mind.
“Lo siento, querida mia,” Johnny whispered as he relaxed his hold and held her
loosely on his lap.
Squirming around a bit, Angelina finally settled back against Johnny’s chest,
her small head fitting neatly beneath his chin as she hugged his arms around her
small waist, her legs hanging down on either side of her father’s.
“Papa?” Her voice was soft, curious.
“Yes?” Johnny answered just as softly, his chin propped gently atop her head as
he reveled in the closeness.
“I love you, Papa,” Angelina told him as she tugged his arms closer around her
little body, her own arms wrapping over them as far as she could reach.
A sudden lump in Johnny’s throat prevented him from answering right away, and he
had to swallow convulsively in order to rid his throat of the lump that seemed
lodged there indefinitely. Finally he was able to draw in a breath and answer
“I love you more, Lina, ‘cause I’m bigger.”
She sighed contentedly as she turned her head slightly in order to lay her ear
over her father’s chest and listen to his heart and its reassuring thumping.
Soon Angelina was sound asleep, her arms sliding off Johnny’s to dangle loosely
by her side.
Shifting his precious bundle in his arms, Johnny lifted her up against his chest
and walked slowly from the barn toward the house. Maybe tomorrow I’ll show her
how the gentling process begins, Johnny thought to himself as he walked inside
the hacienda to carry his daughter up to her bed for her mid-afternoon nap.
Created August 22, 2007
Constructive criticism welcome: email@example.com