In three months I hadn’t been off Lancer, ‘cept just one quick trip in and out of Green River. On account of a little trouble with the law, ol’ Judge Beedly had banned me from leaving the ranch, but finally my time was up. Aggie Conway had invited us Lancer men to have supper at her place, and Murdoch had made me dress in company clothes for the visit. I was so glad to be getting some freedom back that I hardly groused at all. Scott never groused about getting all dudded up, him being a fancy Dan who always liked to be dressed ‘appropriate to the occasion’, as he liked to spout.
“You look like a fuckin’ foop.”
I’d learned that word when Scott had read it to me when I was laid up one time. Scott didn’t look like a foop at all, I was just wanting to rile him. But he just looked out the corner of his eyes and smiled as he stood at the mirror in his room, brushin’ his hair.
“The word is ‘fop’, Boy, and I actually look the picture of sartorial elegance, whereas you look like you’ve been dragged through a cactus patch backwards.”
Then his left hand flashed out and he smacked me on my ear. He knew what to expect, and was straight away ready as I tunneled into him and we both crashed back on to his bed and then onto the floor over the other side. I was trying to give him a smack across the mouth but he was laughin’ and telling me to quit it as we both needed to keep tidy. Him being strong enough to check me just made me frustrated, and of course I couldn’t a cared less about gettin’ mussed, so I redoubled my efforts and landed a whack on his chin just as a bellow came thundering over us.
“Scott! John!! Stop that right now!” Murdoch sure could yell.
Me and Scott sort of fell apart, but I got in a sneaky horsebite to the back of Scott’s thigh which made him scream like a girl. It also really riled him and this time the smack he delivered was serious and landed right across my mouth. I fell back, but was upright soon as Murdoch laid hands on me and hauled me up.
“Scott! Get yourself downstairs. And you, Young Man, when I say stop - I mean it!”
Murdoch looked real mad, and he had me by two handfuls of my shirt. He gave me a shake and then pushed me towards the door.
“You get to your room. You have five minutes to brush your hair and smarten yourself up, and then get downstairs.”
I gave him a filthy scowl, but waited till I was outta reach, not wanting to get a crack to help me along. I went across to my room and swiped the brush through my hair and then pulled at my pants and shirt till they was not all twisted about. I had a small cut on the corner of my mouth where Scott had given me that swate, so I found a clean kerchief in the drawer and I held it to my mouth like I was bleedin’ to death. It worried Murdoch for half a second when I got downstairs, but he quick pulled the kerchief away from my mouth, and when he saw one pin prick of blood on it he gave me this exasperated look. He clipped me over the ear. I heard Scott cut off a chuckle, the bastard.
“Go back upstairs and brush that mare’s nest until it resembles hair.” Murdoch growled out.
I did what he said, but took so long about it he next was yelling for me to come back down. And when I clomped down the stairs he licked at his thumb and then swiped it across my cheek! My usual gunfighting reflexes let me down and I wasn’t quick enough to dodge him. At least Scott had already gone out the door and didn’t see Murdoch spit washing me like I was a damn baby.
I wanted to ride to Miz Conway’s, but Pa grumped at me and I had to sit in the back of the damn buggy. He coulda let me drive, but no, Murdoch said he wanted to get there in one piece. He still hadn’t forgot seein’ me put the buggy up on the two side wheels when I was driving it three weeks before. I had to let him think that had not been my intention, when in fact I’d been practisin’ doin’ it against every fittin’ hillside the whole way back from the errand I had run for him.
I’d dropped old Fidelia up at her son’s home after she took a spill in our garden patch. She was some shaken up and had twisted her ankle, so Maria had bound it up and no way would let Fidelia ride her burro back home. I was glad to take her home, account of bein’ stuck at Pa’s desk doing the blasted bill entries. Fidelia didn’t have a tooth in her head, so she was a bit hard to understand, but she was real kind and always kept biscuits in her apron pocket which she would slip to me when Maria wasn’t looking.
Lunch at Aggie’s was not so boring as I thought it would be account of her having invited the Cheswicks as well. It didn’t take Aggie long to notice what fact I already knew, that Theodora was in a sop over ol’ Boston. Murdoch and Paul Cheswick were both too busy talking about bulls and fences and bloodlines and such, to pay any mind to Thee. Will Cheswick liked me and Scott both, so he weren’t fussed when he began to notice that his sis was all goggle eyed whenever Scott said anything to her. Scott had been seeing a bit of Claudine Cluney, had twice taken her on Sunday rides after church. Theodora went to church and musta seen that for herself, but she was still smitten, and it was real entertaining watchin’ her colour up and get stuttery whenever Boston asked her anything.
Miz Conway put on a fine spread which we all tucked into. The smells coming from the kitchen were floating over us and making me starved. Shinbone beef soup, and then this tasty chicken and tinned oyster dish she said was called New Orleans Gumbo, which none of us had had before. We had that with boiled rice and white beans. After that there was a Brunswick tart which was like a big biscuit with apples and wine and boiled custard poured on. I asked for a third helping of that and Murdoch told me I’d get a bellyache so I wasn’t to have any more. Miz Conway said how she would get Estralita to give that receipt to Maria so I could have it at home. After eating all that she and the two old men went and relaxed in the easy chairs, scoffing down ports, and the rest of us was served hot chocolate drinks and crells, out on the verandah. Thee was wearin’ a blue dress with white bits over it, and she had a blue ribbon tied around her hair to make a pony tail that Pancho woulda been real jealous over. She looked more girly than last time I’d seen her, but she was still just a kid so I wasn’t surprised that Scott didn’t look at her like he woulda looked at any of the girls in the saloon.
We were all stuffed so full of food that we were happy to sit around for a while, but once my grub had got chawed up a bit I decided to go across to the barn to see Lillibelle who had dropped a filly the week before. Thea came with me, first getting her courage up to ask Scott if he wanted to see the foal. He was busy talkin’ to Will about some back east game called rounders and said he would come over in a minute.
Thee and me petted the filly who was a jo-fired little darlin’. She was dark, a bay with buff stockings, which I knew could lighten up within a few weeks. Her mama had dark socks. Miz Conway had said for us to think of a name if we wanted, and straight away Thea said she looked like she should be called ‘Dainty’.
“That’s a soppy name for a little feisty girl like this! What about Lupita – means little wolf? Or Imelda – means warrior? Or what about Stormy – that’s a good monicker.”
Thea looked at me with scorn all over her clock.
“Why would you call a sweet little filly like this, all those violent names? Good grief, Johnny Lancer, if you ever have a daughter you’ll probably want to call her Tempest or Buck or something dreadful like that!”
“Well Jesus, it’d be better that being called Theodora!”
I scowled at her and then turned on my heel and started up the ladder to the loft. She’d huffed and folded her arms, looking up at me with her mouth going to flappin’.
“It’s a great pity you haven’t the manners of your delightful brother, John Lancer!”
I’d reached the loft and took ahold of the pulley rope up there, and placed my foot in the loop, ready to come on down, but not before I’d sassed her some more.
“You think everything about Scott is delightful because you’re so damn head over heels in love with him!”
Just as I stepped off while sayin’ this, Scott and Will appeared in the doorway, and Thee, who was already red in the face and about to holler at me, saw them, and saw Scott drop his head, awkward at what he’d overheard.
“Oooohhh!!!” Thea squalled and bolted.
But she bolted just as I was about to land, and it was a cryin’ shame that I landed plumb on top of her, and squished her flat. She let out a scream that was very like the one I’d heard from Scott earlier. I scrambled up, and Scott and Will both gasped and rushed to help her up, knocking me out of the way as they did.
Thee was gasping some herself, and any wonder. Her ribbon was now around her neck, and her pony tail somehow had got a glob of horse muck in it, and it was all a scraggled mess. I looked down and sure enough still had some manure on my heel. Lucky the manure had wiped off in her hair, ‘cause next my boot had clipped her cheekbone and there was a big, red mark there that didn’t look too promising. The toe of my boot had caught on this white bit of frip at her neckline, and now the whole top of her dress was ripped to the waist.
Will was looking at her damaged face, asking was she alright, but I saw that Scott was looking at her chest, and his mouth was hanging open and his eyebrows were disappeared under his hair. Thea had on one of them frilly chemmys that ladies wear, but right above the little row of pink ribbons there was some mighty fine swell.
She was breathin’ a bit heavy, which really made those swells even more impressive. She was tryin’ not to cry, and she said as how she was fine. That’s when Will wrapped his arm around her shoulders and started walking her out of the barn and to the house. I looked at Scott, and he looked at me.
“Jesus Johnny! What were you thinking?”
“Never mind that, Boston – we gotta tell Will to cover Thee’s milk - er, her bos – um - her fuckin’ chest before her daddy sees her! And Murdoch!”
But it was too late. Scott and me burst outta the barn just as all the old people came out on the verandah. Mr. Cheswick was just askin’ did one of us scream when he realized Will was helping Thee and that she was messed up and bruised and showin’ her ladies parts to all creation.
“God in Heaven! What the hell has happened?”
Paul Cheswick came down the steps like a landslide being pushed by a stampede.
He grabbed his girl up in his arms, and then quick-like pulled her torn dress up to cover her front, and then he looked over at us Lancer brothers, and Christamighty, he looked like danger wedded to disaster.
“It was an accident, Pa.”
Thank God for Willard.
“Paul – bring her in the house.”
Aggie had that commanding voice which make ladies sound like they been ten years in the army. Mr. Cheswick hurried up the steps and in the door which Aggie was holding open for him. Murdoch looked at us two.
He said it firm, and us two hesitated for a moment, and then he took a step forward, and the two of us quickly moved and trooped up to the house. I wiped the manure off of my boot on a rock by the bottom step, and then followed Boston into the parlour.
Thee was flat on the sofa, and she had a blanket spread over.
“I’m really alright, Pa,” she said with a shaky voice.
Miz Conway came sailing in behind Estralita then, and Es had a bit of cloth tied into a bag which she put on Thee’s face, making soothin’ sounds as she fussed. She was wiping at Thea’s hair with a dripping cloth. I could smell the manure from where I stood. Mr Cheswick stood watching with his beefy arms crossed over his chest. Then he raised his eyes and looked real hard at us two standing next to Pa.
“How did this happen?” He growled out.
“Yes, I would like to hear that as well.” Murdoch could out-growl anybody.
“I swung down outta the loft, Mr Cheswick, and I landed on Thee-ah-Theodora. I’m real sorry.”
Mr C. looked like he wanted to backhand me right across the San Joaquin, but was controlling himself as it did appear that it was an accident, and so he needed to restrain himself. Murdoch didn’t need to though, but as he got ready to roar at me he seemed to think on not yellin’ when maybe Thea was brewing a headache. So instead of bellowing he talked hard and strangled.
“Johnny, how many times have you been told not to swing out of the loft? Your propensity for foolish, reckless skylarking has injured this young lady – and not for the first time!”
“Please Mr Lancer – please don’t blame Johnny! I ran into his way – he couldn’t have avoided me –“
“Thank you, Theodora, but the fact remains that Johnny should not have been swinging down from the loft. John, go and hitch up Beulah. Now.”
Jesus, the Ol’ Man looked godawful peevish, and I got outta there quick smart. As I squinched out I heard Thee again, askin’ Murdoch to please not blame me, and I hoped he was listening. Knowing him and his damn stiff neck I wasn’t too hopeful, and I wondered should I just swing up onto Beulah’s bare back and take to the hills for a few days. I’d been at Lancer long enough now though, to know that that would only make things worse, so with a mighty sigh I did like I was told and got Beulah hitched up for our trip home.
I was just fitting the crupper when Randy Bass ambled over from the bunkhouse. He didn’t know I’d got myself in Murdoch’s bad books yet again, and he wanted me to meet him Wednesday night on the road to Spanish Wells. I wasn’t about to tell him I mightn’t be allowed off the ranch till I was forty fuckin’ years old. Also, I was hankering for what was on offer in that town, so of course I told him I would be there. Sometimes I just plain didn’t have enough sense to keep myself outta trouble.
Pa and Scott came out about fifteen minutes later, and I asked Pa was Thee okay.
“Her eye is already closing. Aggie has insisted that she stay the night so she can cosset the girl, and Paul has agreed. Now, let’s get home.”
Murdoch brisk as all gettout got up in the buggy and Scott and I scrambled to get in. As we did Scott gave me a flick in the stomach with the back of his hand. Pa took off before I’d even got sat and I pitched back onto the seat and Scott looked over his shoulder and rolled his eyes, and then the three of us headed back to the ranch with not a word spoken the whole way.
On the way home I’d wondered if when we got there Pa’s first words would be what I’d heard too many goddamn times before, which was for me to wait in the barn. It was dark when we pulled up and I waited for the dreaded words, but instead Murdoch asked us to tend to Beulah and the buggy. As we clambered down he turned to the two of us and said his piece quite mild, for him.
“I’m going up to bed, and I suggest you two do the same. Scott, I’m going to church in the morning and would be pleased if you decide to come with me.”
I was keeping my head down as I started on unhitching the mare, but of course Murdoch was not havin’ that.
Jesus, not good. I stilled and looked up at him. He looked so sonofabitchin’ big, standin’ there with a louring look on his dial.
“I want to see you in my study in the morning, straight after breakfast.”
“Sure,” I mumbled, looking down and rubbing at my left elbow.
“I beg your pardon?” His voice was fractious as hell.
I looked up then and Murdoch nodded and turned away and his voice drifted back, still sounding irritable.
I watched him go striding off, and then Scott put his hand on the back of my neck and gave me a shake.
“Well, Boy, at least he didn’t drag your sorry carcass into the barn – looks like you avoided a larruping this time.”
Scott was always using words that normal people never heard of, but I knew what he meant. I weren’t too sure he was right. I shook the depressin’ thoughts away and helped him with Beulah and the buggy and we both turned in pretty soon after.
Pa musta slept real well, as he wasn’t near as cranky at breakfast as I’d expected. He made porridge and what he called eggy bread, and I ate it all, but didn’t hardly notice the taste. I was on guard. Scott was all prettied up, as he was looking forward to seeing Claudine at church. He kept nudging my foot under the kitchen table, and when I’d look at him he’d flick his wrist at me like he was cracking a whip. Then he would grab at his backside and do this grimace like he was in awful pain. He’d just grin when I’d mouth my advice as to what he could do to himself. He only did his play actin’ when Pa’s back was turned.
Murdoch and me had our meeting in the study. Or that is, I stood in front of his desk and got this godawful blazing lecture. He roused on me for my poor behavior, my reckless shenanigans, my failure to listen to what I was told to do, and my ignoring what I knew I was told. Jesus, he went on and on, and if I hadn’t a felt so bad about flattening Thea, I reckon I woulda fired up and got into a brangle with the Ol’ Man easy as anything. But I did feel bad so I took my drubbing and I kept the scowl off of my face that always riled Murdoch and made him squall to ‘wipe that defiant look off your face, Young Man’.
He finally wound down and gave me my orders. Not to leave the ranch, again, for another week, and pay for a new dress for Theodora. But the worst part was I had to pick any flowers I could find this time of year and make up a fuckin’ bunch for Thee, which Scott would deliver along with my letter of apology. Jesus! Johnny Madrid picking fucking flowers!
“And wipe that defiant look off your face, Young Man!”
I’d a preferred a licking.
I’d written the letter to Thee, twice, ‘cause Murdoch said the first one was an unreadable scrawl, and I’d crept around the ranch and picked goddamn flowers where none of the crews would see me. Maria took the gunny sack from me and hauled out what I’d picked, shaking her head and calling me ‘chico tonto’ (foolish boy). She was able to save a couple of the flowers so’s she could back me up with Pa when he looked at me over this real pretty flower bunch, and he had one of his eyebrows raised. Scott took the bunch and my letter to the Cheswick’s and said how Thee had a real shiner and Mr Cheswick was rather short with Boston. At supper that night I asked Boston what Thee had said, and he said he wondered was she concussed because she was all red in the face and didn’t seem to be able to put two words together. Pa looked worried, so I set his mind at ease.
“She ain’t concussed Scotty, she’s just so all fired got her heart set on you for a beau! She thinks you’re the prettiest thing in pants she’s ever seen!”
Scott went all red then, and Pa looked from him to me, both eyebrows raised.
“She’s just a kid, Johnny – like you,” Scott said as he picked up his glass and concentrated on drinking.
“Young girls often get crushes, Scott. I’m sure you’ll be kind and polite and she will grow out of it, in time.” Murdoch’s voice was mild, but he had a small smile around his mouth.
“Yeah, Boston, don’t you go getting no ideas of taking her for a tumble in the hay – old man Cheswick would gut you belly to brisket!” I chortled.
Scott went even redder, but so did Murdoch, and Maria was behind me with a plate of chilli, and she gave me a clout on the back of my head and went to scolding, which Murdoch added to.
“You keep a civil tongue in your head. You are infinitely more in need of lessons on decorum around young ladies than your brother ever has been!”
I rubbed the back of my head and gave Scott a filthy look. He was looking too smug over the top of his glass. I wasn’t sure what decorum was, but was pretty sure Scott would have more of it than me. I wanted to chow down on the chilli though, so I kept my head down and my mouth quiet.
Thinking on tumbling girls in the hay had been on my mind all week. Well, every week for about two years, really. But this week I was plannin’ for all those nice pictures on the back of my closed eye-lids to turn into the real thing. It was Wednesday, and tonight I was finally meeting Randy on the road to Spanish Wells.
Jeez, I was squirming ‘round in my saddle continuous. The thought of finally getting laid was making my pizzle have a goddamn mind of its own, and if Randy didn’t show up soon I’d have to take steps for some relief. Even if he didn’t show, I was goin’ on in to Spanish Wells. I’d waited too blasted long to have a woman, and I was not going home this night without I finally got me some trim. There was a bordello in Green River, and accommodating saloon girls as well there and in Morro Coyo, and in Spanish Wells, but all their owners had a healthy respect for Murdoch’s reputation, and more so for the money that came their way from the ranch and the ranch hands. None of them would let me do what I wanted as they didn’t want to go against my ‘Ol Man.
But Randy had told me some time back that an old Mexican dough wrangler had givin’ up the trail and set up a small cantina on the edge of Spanish Wells. Name of Asdrubel Donato. What he made more money from than his third-rate cooking and tequila, and his home-made pulque though, was the two whores he’d brought up from Hermosillo, and then later a third one from Durango. I knew Scott had been with the last one, but all I got outta him about his ride was that her name was Nohemi. That name meant ‘delight’, which seemed fittin’. I was going to avoid her though, not really wanting to go where Boston had been before me.
I’d snuck outta the house around nine o’clock. I’d gone to bed early and I’d shoved pillows in my bed to make it look like I was in there. It would only work if Murdoch didn’t go to tucking me in which I knew he sometimes did when he thought I was sound and he could get away with it. If he found me gone, then there’d be a caterwampus in the morning, but I figgered it would be worth a licking to finally bed me a woman.
It was getting on for half ten, and I was about to dismount and take care of business, so’s I could have a more comfortable ride into Spanish Wells, when I heard the sound of hoofbeats. I kept back in the shadows and put my hand to my Colt, but relaxed when I heard Randy’s soft Texas drawl hey me. He came up at my heying him back, and he gave me a big grin as he pushed his hat to the back of his head.
“Well Johnny, you about ready to poke a wag-tail?”
“Jesus Randy, I thought you’d never get here!”
And I took off down the road with a whoop, and Randy wasted no time following me.
We tied our horses up out the front of the shabby little adobe building and went inside. There were three other horses outside so I stood in the doorway and took in the set-up. One fat Mexican in striped pants was leaning on the bar. He wore this huge Walker Colt high on his waist. He was no threat. Donato, the owner, was pourin’ some pulque into the man’s glass. Over to the right another Mexican was sitting at a table with a glass of pulque in front of him, too. I couldn’t see his face as he had his head tipped forward and still had his ratty looking sombrero on. As I checked him out he sort of eased forward and his head dropped onto his arms he’d put on the table. He musta had a skinfull, so he was no threat neither. He sat up then, and rubbed his hands over his face, before slouching back in his chair, dropping his hands to his lap. But he was leanin’ sideways a bit. I still hadn’t seen his face, but he seemed too tangle-footed to be a worry for me.
That left one man un-accounted for.
“What’ll it be, Senors?”
Donato was a stocky, barrel-chested older man. He had a big scar over one eye, so his left eyebrow was in two pieces. So looked like he had three separate black eyebrows. His thick, black moustache made his bucky teeth look real white. They stuck outta his mouth so he didn’t need to smile for you to get a gander at those tombstone teeth.
“One whisky, one tequila, and two petticoats for a poke.”
Jeez, Randy wasn’t mincing no words. I felt my blood rushing north and south, and I had no control over either. I grabbed my tequila and downed it soon as Donato had filled the glass. I’d drunk too fast though, so choked some and Randy and Donato both looked at me as I coughed.
Donato was pouring a whisky for Randy, and he looked us over with one eye squinted.
“Senor, that will be three dollars and two bits – each. Nohemi is here tonight. If you prefer Ederne you’ll have to wait. She is busy at the moment.”
So that accounted for the missing man, I noted, as I tried to get my breath back. I was goin’ to need it.
“Nohemi suits me fine,” said Randy.
“Senor, you go back to the second door on the right – Nohemi should be ready for you. You, chico, will be taken care of in a moment.”
The owner was already picking up the money Randy had quick pulled out and put on the counter. Randy gave me a big smile and slapped me on the back and was gone out to the back quick as a greased pig.
I ordered another tequila, and started fetchin’ out the money Donato asked for. Murdoch hardly paid me a damn thing for all the work I had to do, and then seemed I was always paying him back for some- thing or other, like Thee’s dress this week. Lucky Scott had left five dollars on his dresser which I had borrowed straight after dinner. He wouldn’t know he’d lended it to me till he went to get it.
I was careful drinking down my second tequila. My blood was getting hot again as I imagined what I was going to be doing in a very short time. I couldn’t hardly believe it, but ol’ John Thomas sure did, and I was thinking hard about Brussels sprouts as I wanted not to waste a full salute until I was actually with a naked female. Godamighty, I was that excited. I found I was having trouble swallowing, and my chest felt sorta tight. Donato had moved off down to the other end of the bar and was putting glasses away. I stood still with my condition gettin’ embarrassin’ obvious, and I was glad of the bar to shield me. I finished the tequila, my eyes stuck on the curtain to the passage. Soon as Donato gave me the word I was going to bolt down there fast as my twitchy legs could carry me. I knew what was what, but I was all frothed up at the thought of disgracing myself. Jesus! What if I didn’t even make it to the bed? What if I wilted? What if I couldn’t find the way in and she laughed at me? I felt the sweat break out on my forehead and my neck and my hands. I was plenty uncomfortable all over, and was trying to settle my heart rate down. I swept my hat off and wiped my sleeve across my forehead.
Donato walked past me and stuck his head through the curtain and yelled.
“Mabel? Are you ready?”
Mabel? Sure didn’t sound like no Spanish name to me.
A whiny screech came from somewhere. Donato turned and jerked his thumb towards the curtain.
“Senor, third door on the right.”
I’d been primed to bolt, but now I stood there like a stunned hoot owl, lookin’ at the owner. My legs seem to have froze. I could hear the Mex behind me havin’ some sort of coughin’ fit, and then Donato asked had I changed my mind, and that broke the spell and I walked quick as I could through the curtain.
The third door was open, so I didn’t have to knock, but I stood there like a hoot owl again. The room was so narrow there was barely room for a single cot, and the wall on the right was just slats of timber roughly slapped together and which didn’t even meet the ceiling, so I could hear all the thumping and groaning goin’ on elsewhere. Standing by the bed was a plump lady who looked to be at least thirty. She was wearing a tight red dress which showed bulges everywhere, and her mams were pushed nearly up to her double chin. She had a thin cigar in her hand, and she blew out a long stream of smoke. She had faded ginger hair, all piled up on her head. She hadda hard face, but big blue eyes which she looked me over with, before she rolled them eyes and then thunked herself down on the bed.
“Jesus, sonny, your Ma know you’re out of your crib?”
“No, M’am.” I really didn’t know what the hell I was saying.
She butted her cigar out on the bedhead and then dropped what was left of it onto a tiny table which held a small lamp.
“Okay, hon, wash your todger in the basin next to you and then let’s see what you’re made of.”
I turned real quick as I felt all the blood rush to my face. I bent over to grasp my left boot but soon as I did that she shrieked like a banshee, which rattled me something awful.
“Hellsbells, sonny – leave them boots on! I ain’t got all night and neither do you! Just drop your britches and wash up – and hurry yourself up!”
Jesus, she weren’t a romantic sort of woman - which I’d guessed no whore would be -but she was far from the sorts of girls looking at me with desiring eyes which I had been imaginin’ every time I was hot for wick dippin’.
I did like I was told, glad my shirttails covered my bare behind. The cold water in the basin didn’t do much for me, but almost straight away as I turned and saw her layin’ on her back my body started to get real interested again, and the front of my shirt stuck out.
“Well sonny, looks like your peter knows what it it’s about, even if you don’t!” She sniggered. “Get over here sonny - er - darlin’, and climb right on up.”
She was yelling, and I wondered if maybe she was a bit deaf.
She still had her dress on, and her pudgy legs were sticking out from the hem. She hadn’t even taken off her shoes. It was awful hard to shuffle over with my pants down but it wasn’t far to travel. I wondered should I lie next to her to start off but as soon as I got near her she shot out an arm and grabbed me and jerked me straight on top of her. I was taken by surprise and nearly got winded.
“That’s it sonny. Now - lift your hips a moment so’s I can pull up my dress.”
I did and she did and then somehow without me even trying she had thrust herself up towards me and I was in!
I was so shocked at what I’d done I froze up again.
“Jesus kid, what yer waitin’ for? Pump!” she hollered in my ear, startling me into action.
Both her hands landed on my shirttail as she grabbed me by my ass and gave me an almighty jerk to get me going. I closed my eyes and felt my blood nearly push its way out of every inch of my skin – ‘specially in one place – and I did what I was told. Then I nearly passed out with the explosion of relief, and hot, wet bliss.
It was the most pleasurable four seconds of my life.
Holy Mary, Mother of God…
My pizzle was right where it wanted to be the rest of my life. All my bones had melted, and if John Wesley Hardin had burst in firing two pistols, I still wouldn’tve wanted to move one muscle.
Mabel did not feel the same.
She shoved me off her and into the wall. She grabbed her skirt and I saw a flash of pink thigh and ginger hair as she swept her dress down and she swung her legs off the bed and sat up.
“God save us, sonny, talk about aim and fire!” she yelled as she got to her feet.
I scrambled to get off the bed and hitch up my pants. I was buckling my belt as she picked up her smoke and lit it from the lamp. She used her thumb and little finger to pick something off her tongue as she watched me.
“I wish I had ten like you every night, kid.”
I was going pink, I could feel it, pleased with myself, until she spoke again.
“I’d make a fortune! Ten three-pump first-timers in one hour - and I’d hardly even know I’d been diddled. You jump-the-gun shave-tails are an old whore’s dream!”
I was red-faced again, and I felt like I already couldn’t remember what I’d just done, and how I coulda enjoyed it when I looked at her and her hard face and soft body. The bastard of it was I still hadn’t even seen and done what I’d been imaginin’ for so long.
She half closed her eyes and blew out another cloud of her cheap cigar.
“Off you go, sonny. See you next time, hey?”
She waved her hand towards the door, the smoke trailing through the air. I grabbed up my hat and backed up.
“Ah, um, thank you. Ah, M’am.”
She nodded and reached up and was scratching at her cleavage as I turned and fled.
I no sooner stepped outta Mabel’s room than the door next to hers opened and Randy stepped out, so I had to stop. He grinned at me as he turned back to the open door.
“Bye Nohemi, see you soon.”
Nohemi was standing in the doorway, one hand high on the doorframe and the other on her hip. She had a real thin wrap on, and it clung to all her curves. She was about twenty, plain as a pound of candles, but with long, dark, shiny hair and big brown eyes. She giggled out a farewell.
“Ve usted, Randy. Espero su pronto, mi amor. (See you soon. Hope it’s soon, my love.)
Fuck! Randy had been and had a real tumble with a real honest to God hot tamale, while I had barely even got my end in before that strapper sized heifer had bucked me off and sent me packing. I tried to remember how good those four seconds had been, but following Randy back to the bar I was seething, and wondering how I’d ended up with Mabel and if I could ask that fuckin’ chiseler for my money back.
“Let’s have another drink, hey Johnny? That fire-cracker Nohemi gave me a powerful thirst! What was your girl like?”
Girl? Madre de Dios, I tried to think of one thing to say, ‘cause Randy was lookin’ at me expectant, but just them Mabel appeared next to us.
“Asdrubel, give me my take would ya? This little cowboy plumb tuckered me out and I’m goin’ home.”
Mabel winked at me as she held her hand out to Donato, and he reached under the bar and then dropped a few coins into her hand. She turned and waddled out the door, and I stood lookin’ at the counter with both my hands clutching it tight.
“Haw! Haw! Haw!”
It sounded like Randy was like to choke, as he collapsed on the bar, laughin’ fit to be tied. I felt my temper start to fly up from my boots as I clenched my fists and thought about punching him and Donato both.
“Shut your fuckin’ mouth, Bass!” I yelled at Randy.
But he was laughing so hard he couldn’t get a breath, let alone stand up so I could wallop him one. I was itchin’ to clean his plow for him, and I didn’t want to leave until I had, so I just stood there cussin’ him in Spanish. I was so riled I didn’t take no notice when a door slammed in that back corridor, and I didn’t take no notice of the man who stepped out from behind the curtain. Thinking back on it later I thought how tupping a whore was no excuse for letting down my guard, and how I must never be that foolish again.
I was yelling in Randy’s ear, and he was still not listening to me one scrap, when a loud and raspy voice cut through the air.
That’s when I spun around, and I drew my gun as fast as I ever did, but not paying attention to my surrounds was nearly the death of me.
My bullet only hit Vern Butterwell’s shoulder, and his bullet plowed into my left arm, but that was only because a bullet from behind me had slammed into his chest and thrown his aim. He pitched back, grabbing the curtain which tumbled down on top of him.
“Shit, Johnny!” Randy strangled out, from behind me. Butterwell hadn’t moved so I turned side on, thinking I’d see Randy standing behind me with his gun drawn. But Randy wasn’t even upright, he was still huggin’ the bar, looking wild-eyed with shock. The man who did have his gun drawn was the drunk Mexican. Only he wasn’t Mexican at all. And he sure wasn’t drunk.
Allan Creane, the Sheriff of Green River was the shooter. He had on a sombrero and a dusty as hell serape and a pair of calzoneras.
“Check him, Boy.” Allan’s voice was steady and low.
I took in a big breath and kept my gun level as I walked over to Butterwell. His gun was away from his body, but I kept wary until I could see his face. The curtain was tight around him where he’d spun going down, but his eyes were closed. I kept my gun pointed at him as I closed in, and it was then I saw the derringer in his left hand point towards me. My shot and another one from Allan both hit him and then he was really dead. I had thrown myself to the side as I’d shot, and I’d lost my footing, and I crashed down on top of a chair which smashed under me. I felt a needle sharp pain pierce my backside, right in the middle of my right cheek. Fucking hell! It hurt like a sonofabitch – a hell of a lot worse than my fuckin’ arm, although that was starting to feel like it was on fire as well.
Allan rushed over then, dropping his Colt into its holster.
“Sonofabitch!” I yowled. Couldn’t help it.
I had rolled onto my left side as the pain in my ass was so bad, but that killed my left arm, but I couldn’t roll back.
“Easy, Son.” Allan had grabbed me by my right arm and hauled me up.
“For Christsakes, Randy – stop standing there like a shot sheep and get over here and help!” he yelled.
I glanced up and sure enough Randy was standing by the bar with glazed eyes and his mouth open.
“Randy! Confound you, Boy! Wake up!”
Randy looked at me then, but sudden as anything he turned away and heaved up all over the floor.
“Ah, God spare me these pea-brained, dick led, no-account shave-tail little skeesicks!”
Ederne and Nohemi appeared then, and Ederne started screaming, shrill as anything. She was tearing at her hair and cussing fit to make a whore – well, cussing a lot. Donato was shushing her and went over and was pushing both ladies back down the passage, and Nohemi was making soothing noises. A door shut pretty loud, and the Senor came back out.
He stepped over Butterwell and come around with a thick pad of cloth which he now jammed around both sides of my arm and held there. Sheriff Creane just about lifted me off my feet and laid me facedown across a table.
“Brace yourself, Johnny,” he ground out.
I didn’t know what he meant until he grabbed what was sticking in my backside and tried to pull it out.
It was my turn to scream like a girl. Or like Scott.
“Sorry, Kid. It must have like a hook on the end – this splinter ain’t wanting to budge.”
“You hold this pad, Senor Sheriff, while I get some pinzas (nippers). We must to cut it off and get the boy to a medico, pronto. The bullet went through his arm, but it needs very mucho clean and maybe the suturas ?(stitches)”
I was a sweaty mess, and feeling a mite light in the head. When the owner came back I no longer thought bad of him, because he held a shot of brandy to my mouth. I downed that and dropped my head back on the table. When Donato used the nippers to snap off the splinter sticking outta me, I gritted my teeth and kept my yowl down to a respectable level.
“Okay, Johnny, this is what we gonna do. Senor Donato, I need a quilt to wrap the boy in, and a bandage around that arm – it seems to have stopped bleeding, do you reckon?”
“Si, Senor Sheriff – I will get those articulos (items).”
“Randy Bass!!” Allan roared so loud I jumped, and that sent a horrible jolt through my arm and rear end.
“Yes? I’m alright now, Sheriff.” Randy sounded not too good I was thinking.
“Well I’m goldarned glad to hear it, Sweetheart.” Allan sounded pretty sarcastical, and proved he was by his next hollering.
“I don’t give a good goddamn about whether you feel alright, you blasted dunderhead!! You take your whore-mongering little keyster straight to Green River and see can you find the Doc. If he’s not there you track him down – you hear? I’m taking Johnny back to Lancer, so you find the Doc and send him there. Once you’ve done that get yourself home. And if you want some good advice for nothin’, you’d do well to steer clear of Mr Lancer for the next six months. When he hears how you led his little boy astray tonight, he’ll likely skin you alive and sell your hide for tobacco pouches! You hear?”
“Sure, sure…I’ll go do that right now. Goodnight Sheriff Creane…goodnight Johnny…”
Jeez, the Sheriff could yell nearly as loud as Murdoch. I closed my eyes at that thought. How the hell could I have the worst fuckin’ luck in the whole Godforsaken world to go out to get laid for the first time ever, and end up shot by a wanted outlaw, stabbed by a fuckin’ chair, and then delivered home to my Pa by the only sheriff within a hundred miles. Murdoch was goin’ to pitch a fuckin’ fit, and not even my grievous injuries would probably stop him from tanning me six ways to Sunday. I shoulda let Butterwell plug me; it would’ve been a hell of a lot quieter and a hell of a lot less painful.
“Ah, Sheriff Creane?”
“You were layin’ for Butterwell?”
“Yeah. Got a tip that he’d followed Ederne Mendez from Hermasillo, so I had some people keep their eyes peeled. I’ve been sitting at that table for three nights running. I might have known that the night he shows up so does some little, knot-headed ex-gunfighter who should be home in his own soft bed. Not at a skeesy little flea-pit like this, getting his pizzle likely dosed up with French Pox. Jesus! You brainless little bastard – you don’t know how to stay away from trouble, do you?!”
French pox? Mother of God! I suddenly remembered the sheaths that Murdoch told me Sam left at the saloon in Green River, exactly for protectin’ a man’s most precious bit. I forgot all about my arm and my backside and now was worried witless about my pecker.
‘Kid Madrid?” The Sheriff interrupted my thinkin’. “I ain’t heard that before about you, Son?”
“It was just a backwater in Texas, a small town called Anthill where I worked for a couple of Irish miners for a month. I saved their claim from three claim jumpers and they called me that name to everyone they talked to. Butterwell was one of the claim jumpers – the only one who survived. Guess he never expected to get the chance to even things up. I want to thank you Sheriff – he woulda got me sure if you hadn’t been there.”
Asdrubel Donato came out then and tended my arm. While he did that Allan gave him some orders.
“Donato, rouse out Olaf Baumgartner in the morning. Get him to strip Butterwell and shroud him up and bury him. I’ll be back in a few days to collect his horse and stuff. Tell Olaf to make out a bill for the county. Make out your own bill for damages. I don’t want you sayin’ one word about Johnny here – and tell your little doves to keep their traps shut as well. Any word of Johnny bein’ involved in this fracas and I’ll close you down. Comprende?”
The Senor nodded. “Si, Senor.”
The Sheriff wrapped me round with the quilt, which I seemed to remember had been on Mabel’s bed, and then they helped me outside. I couldn’t move my right leg. The pain was too bad if I did. Donato supported me while Allan went off and fetched his horse from where he’d hid it. Once he came back and got mounted, he and the Senor worked as one to heave me up in back of the saddle over Allan’s bedroll. Allan had me on my left side, facing front. My head was on his knee and so was my left arm. I was curled around the back of the saddle with both my legs sticking out to the right side of the horse. Allan had a tight hold on my right arm, and my legs were held in place by the quilt which corner he’d sat on to help keep me in place. It was hell. My arm was throbbing and so was my backside and right down both legs
He walked his horse for an hour or more, I lost track, and then he stopped at a small truck farm which grew the Longworth’s Variety strawberries Murdoch gabbed on about. It belonged to Eloisey and Bright Waters. Allan hallooed the house while he lowered me down off his horse and unforked himself. A big ol’ shotgun came through the front door, followed by Bright, who set his gun down once he saw who was rousing him out of his bed. They hitched up an old two-wheeler trap they owned, and they put a pallet on the floor under Allan’s feet. Bright and Allan helped me onto my stomach under Allan’s feet, and Eloisey covered me with the quilt. Bright tied the Sheriff’s grey, Cloudy, to the back of the trap, and we set off again. It was a hell of a lot more comfortable than horseback, but both my arm and my backend were painin’ me bad. I thought the night would never end, but when I thought of Murdoch being at the end of the trip, I decided that the night never ending might be a real good thing.
I’d fallen asleep, but the crowing of a rooster and then the trap coming to a halt woke me. It was sunrise. I could see the deep black of night was faded away.
“Stay still, Boy. I’ll fetch your Pa.”
Allan was soon at the door, and was knocking firm, and saying who he was. I tried to get up some, but my left arm hurt and I couldn’t roll onto my right side to use my right arm. Sooner than I thought I heard the opening of the door, and Murdoch’s worried voice asking questions.
“He’ll be alright, Murdoch – but I’ve sent for Doc Jenkins.”
Then Murdoch’s giant hand was pushing my hair back from my eyes, and his face was so upset that guilt washed right through me. I wanted to say something but my throat was tight.
“Son, we’ll have you inside in just a moment.”
I shut my eyes and nodded.
“What are we dealing with?” Pa’s voice was tight too. His hand was still on my head.
“Bullet went through his left arm – bleeding stopped pretty quickly, but he did lose quite a bit. Then he fell onto a chair and has a big sliver of wood in his rump – right fundament. It wouldn’t pull free so we nipped off the end, but the Doc will have to see to that.”
“Nothing else?” Pa sounded choked.
“No Sir, so if we both carry him we can get him into bed.”
“If you help, Allan, I’ll put him over my shoulder – easier to manage up the stairs.”
“Good idea – but why don’t I carry him?”
“Thank you, but I’ll take him.”
Between the two of them I was soon draped over Murdoch’s right shoulder so my left arm wasn’t squashed. Jeez but it and my ‘fundament’ were scalding me fierce. Every movement hurt. We were halfway up the stairs when Scott appeared at the top. He had his pants on but was bare-chested and barefoot, which I didn’t see till we passed him.
“What’s happened?!” He sounded panicky.
“It’s alright Son, it’s not quite as bad as it looks.” Murdoch ground out.
Scott whipped in front of Murdoch soon as we were through my bedroom door. He dragged back the quilt and top sheet, and tossed out the pillows I’d arranged in my bed. Murdoch eased me down till I was on my feet, but had a strong grip on me.
“Scott, I’ll hold him and you strip him.”
“Jesus, Murdoch – I’ll undress myself!” I protested.
“You, Young Man, will learn to do as you are told if I have to spend the next ten years strapping your backside every day!”
Fuck, Murdoch’s tone of voice was one I knew from experience that he used when he meant every single word he was spoutin’. Any more protestin’ I was planning died on my lips, and I was meeked down to a nubbin. Also, it being the case that my left arm felt dead and I couldn’t move an inch without this searing pain shooting every which direction out of the centre of my right hindquarter. So I really couldn’t undress myself at all. But I woulda just got into bed dressed. But no, I had to stand there while Murdoch held me supported by gripping my right arm and holding me under my left. Scott undid my belt and my pants and then stripped them down to my boots. I gritted my teeth ‘cause blood must’ve stuck my pants to me.
“His longjohns, too, Scott.”
“Fu-Jesus! Murdoch - no!” I squalled.
“Johnny, Sam will need them off so off they come - now.”
“Let’s get his shirt off first, Murdoch. I think we’ll have to wet the shirt and drawers before we can remove them, Sir – the blood has dried.”
Murdoch nodded and Scott unbuttoned my shirt.
“Need to…take a leak…” I muttered, and thank all of the Saints I was at least able to do that by myself, though Pa hadda hold my arm and the damn pot for me.
Then Murdoch eased me facedown across my bed. Scott said he’d go get a bowl of warm water.
“Ah, Murdoch?” Allan Creane’s voice startled me. He musta been in the doorway.
“If you don’t need help I’ll get home – Kate will be worrying.”
“Of course – sorry. Johnny – stay right there – don’t move.”
Like I coulda! Murdoch moved over to the door, full of questions.
“What happened? And where? I was asleep in the chair downstairs, all night, once I found he’d sneaked out. Where was he?”
Jesus, here it came.
“He was at that dive Asdrubel Donato opened in Spanish Wells, Murdoch. He didn’t know I was there – dressed like this – to get the jump on a wanted man – Vern Butterwell. Butterwell came out from the back cribs, and saw Johnny and recognized him from some bother back in Texas. He drew so fast it was all I could do to plug him. Just as well I had my gun out, waiting. My bullet spoiled his shot, so his bullet hit Johnny in the arm. Johnny drew – so fast Murdoch! Johnny’s shot hit him in the shoulder. We thought I’d killed Butterwell, but when Johnny approached he had a derringer, but the Boy and I both finished him then. But that’s when Johnny fell back and landed on the chair and got the wood sliver in the rump.”
“God in Heaven – when will it end?” Pa’s voice sounded mighty tired, mighty upset.
“Murdoch, be thankful he’s alive. It will get better – bound to, as long as you can keep him close until people forget his reputation.”
“Allan, thank God you were there. You know you have my gratitude – I can’t thank you enough.”
“I was doing my job… Murdoch, we both know that that boy should not have been there. But that’s just the sort of things boys that age do – don’t matter what their background. I’ll leave that with you, and you know I think that strap you mentioned is a real good idea.”
Christamighty! That’s all I needed – the Sheriff encouraging Murdoch to be whaling on me! I heard Scott arrive back then and all three of them came back to my bedside as Scott put the basin down on the table there.
“Murdoch, Johnny don’t need this gunfight story getting out. I told Donato to keep mum about Johnny being there.”
Please God, I prayed, make Allan stop there…but God wasn’t listening…
“Told him to keep his whores quiet about it, too. The one Johnny tup - er - was with, she’d already left when it happened, so she don’t know anything about it.”
Scott had been squeezing out a cloth. To me it sounded like even the water stopped drippin’ and the silence in that room was like this big crushing weight that just about put me right through the mattress. I squeezed my eyes shut so tight my eyeballs just about fell back into my brain. I don’t think I breathed for about what felt like three hours, as no-one said a word. I forgot about every scrap of pain I had, and wondered if I could die of embarrassment and humiliation…I wanted to.
Murdoch clearing his throat made me jump, and then Scott laid the hot, wet cloth on my arm, and as he did so he whispered in my ear.
“Pa is going to kill you, Little Brother. And I’m going to help him.”
Yeah, just fuckin’ great.
The Sheriff had left, and Scott and Murdoch tended to me. Scott eased my boots off, which hurt my backside something shocking. Off came my pants, and once they’d moistened off the blood sticking my drawers to my ass, off they came too. Murdoch poured some carbolic on the wound and that brought tears to my eyes as I cussed into the mattress. Then he covered the area with a pad of cotton, and finally pulled up a sheet to cover me. While he did that Scott was wettin’ down the blood soaked bandage around my arm, and he finally got that and my shirt off. Another douse with carbolic and more cussing, and then he bandaged my arm again. Then he pulled the sheet and comforter up to my neck.
“Here, drink this.” Pa held a glass of water to my mouth and I downed all of it.
Then he called over his shoulder to Maria that she could come in and in she sailed. She washed my face and was petting me and scolding me and spillin’ tears like she always did when I got hurt, and she promised to make me some churros as soon as el medico said I could eat proper. She went off to make breakfast then.
“Okay, my Son. We can’t do anything else now. I hope Sam will get here today, otherwise I’ll have to dig that splinter out myself. Maria’s brewing some tea for you, but see if you can sleep. Soon as Scott’s eaten he’s going to sit with you. Are you warm enough?”
I nodded, keeping my eyes shut. I listened as Murdoch settled into the chair near my window.
I wasn’t sure what I could say. There was a lot to cover.
“I guess you’re pretty mad.”
“At the moment, Johnny, I am very concerned. Very concerned, but also very relieved that you’re not worse off than you are. “
“So you’re not mad, huh?”
“I’m not mad at the moment, John. But I can assure you, I will be very, very mad later. Very, very, mad. Does that answer your question?”
I nodded again. Well, what the hell did I expect?
“Go to sleep if you can, Son. It could be a long day.”
I was thirsty again, but too tired to ask for another drink. I had a headache, my two wounds were throbbing, and I was sure my pizzle was already turning black and fixing to drop off. I’d have to ask Sam if it was already in danger. Sonofabitch, what if my first dip-wickin’ was also my last? Jesus, and Sam was going to be mad as hell, but I needed to know what to expect. At least I was alive, and at home in a clean bed, and warm and being looked out for, and if I didn’t move one muscle, I didn’t get the heart-gasping pain. I did fall asleep, and didn’t even hear Pa leave when ol’ Boston came in and took over the watch.
It was a very long day. Getting some good sleep was a help though, and keeping still except when I had to use the pot. Maria made broth for me, and Scott checked my dressings, which was damn annoying. Pa had told him to put a couple of drops of laudanum in my drinks of water. I groused, but he wouldn’t brook no refusal. Said if I didn’t co-operate he would give that splinter in my hind end a good shake, the bastard.
It was eight that night before Sam arrived. Murdoch hadn’t tried to talk about the night before, but Scott had, until I told him I didn’t want to think about it for one second right then. So he clammed up. I could always rely on Scott.
“Well, well. Let’s take a look at you, son.”
Sam’s voice was hard. Obviously Murdoch had filled him in already.
Sam first felt my forehead, and then he un-wrapped my arm, and inspected the entry and exit wounds. Then he threw back the covers and had a look at the splinter. He pressed down on the skin around it and also as low down on my back as he could without me having to shoot him for bein’ forward. I nearly screamed, but stopped myself in time and only a strangled mewl came out…I think.
“Well, Young Man, you must have nine lives. But we won’t talk about that now. Your Pa and brother did a good job of cleaning your bullet wound. I’m going to put a few stitches in the exit wound. Murdoch said that splinter must have a hook on the end, but I’ve got a probe that will grab that when I twist it. It’s going to hurt. I’ll douse the probe with carbolic so the wound gets a thorough clean. So unfortunately that will make it hurt even more. Then I’ll put two stitches in your bottom. You’ve been having drops of laudanum through the day, and I don’t want to give you any now. It would need too big a dose to work anyway. I’ll let you have a couple of drops after, to help you sleep tonight. Are you ready?”
I just nodded.
“Do you want your Pa? Scott?”
“Cuss again and I’ll drag that splinter out sideways.”
But he didn’t sound mad. He unclipped his black bag and got out his roll of damn needles and such. He went to the door and opened it.
“Yes, I thought you would be there! Murdoch I need two basins of hot water and some clean cloths, please. Also a pot of honey. And an old towel to protect the sheet.”
“I’ll be right back.”
Sam came back over to me and started threading up, and when Murdoch came back he took the supplies.
“Now Murdoch, you take yourself downstairs and make us both a drink. This won’t take that long, and I’ll call you the minute I’ve finished stitching.”
“I should come in and –“
“No, you should do what I ask, and hope your ornery brat of a son listens to me as well. Go.”
Murdoch made this ‘humphhh’ sound which meant he was mad, but hog-tied. Sam gently shut the door and came back to me. He got the towel under my hips. Moving made me gasp.
“John, I know you won’t want to make a sound. But you’ve known me long enough now that I hope you trust me and know that I don’t discuss with anyone what goes on with my patients. So don’t go holding in your pain or your tears – you don’t have to impress me with how tough you are. I already know, son.”
“Go ahead Doc.” I tried to sound not worried.
Jesus! When that probe went in and hooked out that splinter I couldn’t stop the yowl and the tears, but I smothered them as best I could into the mattress. The extra carbolic splashed on my bleeding backside killed as well, as did Sam pressing down on the wound till the blood clotted. Madre de Dios! He put a glob of honey into the hole where the splinter had been. After all that the stitching was nothin’. Sam moved to sit in the chair he’d pulled up next to my bed.
“That was a bit more than a splinter, Johnny – more like most of the chair leg!”
He had this huge, bloodied plank of wood held in some tweezers. It was so long it was lucky it hadn’t gone right through me and come out the end of my d-, well, anyway. Jeez, that reminded me. I was sweaty and didn’t feel so good, but I was real worried, so had to ask.
“Sam, I – ah – I – um –“
“Yes? Spit it out, boy!”
“Sam I fu-ah-I –er- …I had relations with a – a – well, with a –“
“Yes, so I’ve heard. And?”
“Well, Sheriff Creane said I could have the French Pox? It’s not like I spent much time in – that is– with the – with the whore!” I rushed out the end of the sentence, and looked at Sam.
“Isn’t it a bit late to be worrying about the repercussions of your foolish liaison? I’ll talk to you about the pox tomorrow. Let’s get to your arm, and while I’m stitching that you can be thinking about risking your precious male parts when there is protection available. You’re a thick-headed, intractable rapscallion, Johnny Lancer. But you’re not the only fifteen year old who has let his pecker rule his brain. Now, I need to get at your arm.”
He dropped the splinter into a bowl of water, after which he cleaned the wounds on my arm, and then daubed them with honey. Then he stitched up the back of my arm. I had my face buried in the crook of my right arm so he couldn’t see me grimacing like a bawl baby. I’d had worse injuries, but seems the one you got in front of you always feels like it’s the worst.
“All done.” He sounded real satisfied.
He washed his own hands and then dried them on a towel before going out to
the landing and givin’ Murdoch a hoy. ‘Course, Murdoch, Scott and Maria all
came crowding in. Murdoch gentle put his hand on my head.
“How are you doing, Son?”
“Good, Murdoch. I hardly felt a goddamn thing.”
Murdoch smiled and slapped my cheek a little rougher than necessary.
“Let us get rid of the toalla ensangrentada, (bloody towel) Patron.”
Maria bustled Pa outta the way so she could brush my hair outta my eyes and drop a buss on my forehead. In Spanish, she then proceeded to threaten me.
“Nino, I do not know what happened, but I will find out. Be sure of that.”
I closed my eyes, feeling the blood rush into my cheeks. I lifted up on my right elbow and left knee so Scott could pull the towel out from under me. Everywhere hurt like hell.
“Swick the devil, Sam! Is that the splinter?” Murdoch was peering into the water dish.
He picked it up with the tweezers, and Maria gasped.
“God, Little Brother – the size of that in your skinny, little a-er, behind!” Scott chortled.
Yeah, real funny.
“Alright, you people, let’s get my patient settled. Maria, please bring up the tea. Murdoch, you’ve had enough practice on this boy to know how to care for him. He’ll have another scar on the inside of his arm, maybe on the outer as well. We’ll see. He may scar on his rear end too, but if so it will probably just look like the dimple in his left buttock.”
“Ai ai ai! Tan adorable!” (So adorable) Maria bust out, clapping her hands together.
Scott bent double and laughed like a fuckin’ drunk fool. Even Pa smiled, but put his hand over his mouth. Dios, knowing Maria, she’d think that was ‘adorable’ enough to be a fuckin’ bulletin at church. My life was hell.
I shut my eyes and pretended I was in Canada. Sam kept on rattling off instructions.
“When he fell on that chair hard enough to smash it, he has bruised his tailbone.”
“And when he recovers I’ll be bruising his tailbone for him again.” Murdoch growled.
“That would be my recommendation, but please wait till I clear him before you proceed with that course of action. He’ll have a very sore tail for about four or five weeks. Put an ice bag on his lower back – right at the start of his cheeks. The splinter wound will heal quickly, hopefully, but the tail-bone bruising will take a while to clear.”
“As will mine.” Jesus, Murdoch was grumpy as hell. I thought about actually moving to Canada, soon.
Sam kept on.
“Scott, you can remove all of the bowls and used dressings. Then you can come back and put two drops of laudanum into the tea and get Johnny to drink it all. You can stay with him, but no talking. I want him to sleep. Murdoch, where’s my drink?”
I slept pretty good at times, but when I woke it was to lots of pain. Scott was snoring in the chair by my bed, but if I asked for water he came awake quick. Half-way through the night I woke and it was Murdoch in the chair, but he had the lamp low and was readin’.
Sam had stayed the night, but he came in before daybreak and said as how he’d been called away to a birthin’, so he gave me a real quick check and then left.
I felt even sorer all over the rest of that day. Pa and Maria took turns sitting with me most all day. Murdoch was reading some huge stock book, and Maria mostly kept busy mending. I wasn’t much hungry so just ate the beef and then chicken broth they nagged me about. Pa made Scott stay in bed till mid-mornin’, and then sent him out to work in the Grassy Flat pasture. Scott came and checked on me before supper, and then came back afterwards. I usually slept on my stomach, but I’d been too long in one position. He helped me out of bed and I leaned on the back of his chair for twenty minutes, but by then I needed to lie flat again.
“Well, Johnny? You going to tell me why you went to that absolute hovel in Spanish Wells? Surely you could have restrained yourself for a few more months?”
“Shut the fuck up, Boston. I been ‘restraining’ myself day and night for ever. And you been there yourself – so don’t go preaching to me!”
“I went there with the means to protect myself, Little Brother. And it was by no means my first encounter with the ladies of the night. I was waiting till you turned sixteen and then planned to take you to the bordello in Green River. It’s clean and the girls who work there are very, shall we say, good at their trade. God knows what you encountered at Donato’s place?”
Jeez, I musta been bad hurt, because usually that sort of subject would have my pecker real interested. Right now I couldn’t raise my eyebrows, let alone anything else.
“Which girl did you go with, Johnny? Ederne, Nohemi, Dorita?”
“None of ‘em.”
“But I thought –“
“I went with a lady called Mabel, if you have to know.” I groused.
Far as I knew, Scott had only been to Donato’s that one time, so as he’d been with Nohemi, then chances were he didn’t know who Mabel was. But as usual, no such luck.
“Mabel – what do you mean, Mabel? Mabel is Donato’s wife, Johnny. You couldn’t have – surely you didn’t – “
But Scott looked at my horrified face and knew that surely I did.
I had diddled Donato’s wife.
Oh Jesus, no!
I felt my whole self shrink up into myself and wanted to disappear and never be seen again. I’d closed my eyes, but this strangled choking sound filled the whole blasted room, and I opened one eye in time to see Scott fall right off his chair and roll around on the floor, laughing so hard he was gasping. He had his arms tight around his middle and tears were running down his stupid face.
He finally got his breath and his laughing turned into hawing like a fuckin’ donkey. He was trying to stretch his legs out and would then grab his knees again and roll side to side and roar again. If I coulda moved I’d a shot him.
Then I heard Pa’s thumpin’ great feet hitting the treads, and he burst into the room looking scared. He took in the scene, seein’ me still as a corpse on the bed, and his usually sensible eldest son rolling around on the floor braying and gasping like a fuckin’ lunatic.
“What the hell is going on in here? Scott, what on earth is the matter with you?!”
Boston tried to get a grip, and he tried to sit up on the floor. He raised his arm and pointed at me.
“Pa, your Son – he – well, he –“
But he started in caterwauling again, nearly choking.
Murdoch looked at me and must’ve seen how red and fuming I was. He reached down and hauled ol’ Boston up by both his arms and walked him to the door. Boston was still laughing and wouldn’t have been able to stand if Murdoch hadn’t had a firm grip on him.
“Go!” said Pa, and he sent Scott out of my room with a helpful whack to his ‘fundament’. I hoped it hurt, but it only seemed to make Scott laugh harder, and Pa swung the door shut and then turned to me, frownin’.”
“Care to tell me what all that was about?” he growled.
I did not.
It was lucky for Scott that I was not able to move except like a real old man for the next three weeks. I woulda shot him sure as eggs if I’d been able to get my gun and get a fix on him. Scott said as how he had never laughed so much in his whole life, and he reckoned on laughing about my first ‘intimate encounter’ the rest of his life. I told him the rest of his fuckin’ life was going to be powerful short once I could move, and that just set him off again, asking me ‘did old Mother Donato move as slow in the cot as you are moving now?’ Jesus, he was being such a bastard it set my recovery back because I would get so tense wanting to kill him, and that would wrench my tail bone bad.
Sam had come back a couple of days later to check up on me. He had described the pox to me in such horrible detail that I nearly passed clean out. While I was weak with horror and sick to my stomach he made me promise to wait till I was a bit older and let my brother take me to an establishment where the girls were checked regular. He said as how sheaths were expensive, but the pox would cost me a hell of a lot more. He showed me a hard rubber syringe, and told me if I got the pox, what he would have to do with it to try and cure me. When I saw that thing and he said the words ‘caustic solution’ I wanted to faint. I wondered if I would ever be able to use my pizzle for fun the whole rest of my life. It was grievous depressing. Sam patted my shoulder, but he had that fuckin’ syringe still in his hand, and I felt like blubbing.
He said he would like to assure Murdoch that I was going to wait till I was older before I again engaged in carnal knowledge.
“Tupping, Johnny. Swiving, copulating, fornicating –“
“Jeez, Doc! Yeah, you can assure him plenty.”
“Well, I’m sure you do feel that way at the moment. Just remember what I have told you.”
He shook his finger at me. He still had that fuckin’ rubber torture thing in his hand though, and I closed my eyes quick as I could.
I couldn’t do hardly anything that first week. No way could I get in a bath, so I had to have sponge baths in bed. Murdoch said he would be pleased to do that, but if I felt more comfortable with old Ced he would arrange that. Murdoch had damn well bathed me the first day I met him, and I knew Murdoch and Maria had done all that when I was out of my head with fever when I’d first come back to Lancer, but having that done when I was wide awake was altogether different. So Ced came up every second day. Jeez, I hated it, but I was at Pa and Maria’s mercy, and they said they didn’t want no polecat in the house. And the commode Murdoch carried into my room and left in the corner was a whole other hell I hadn’t had to face before.
I found I didn’t have nightmares about shooting Vern Butterwell. Maybe because he would probably have died of Allan Creane’s first shot, and Allan put a second bullet in him as well as mine. I was just relieved that he wasn’t another face to come into my dreams in the night.
Gradually my wounds all healed up and my tail bone started to ease. Sam removed all my stitches and said he was right – I was left with a new dimple.
“I’ll be sure and let Maria know on my way out.” He said, serious as all gettout.
Sam thought he was very comical…
Soon I could walk and sit normal, but couldn’t ride a horse to save myself. I had to do the fuckin’ damn books all the time, and so many lessons I reckoned I was smarter than Clayt Aubrey by now. The best thing was that it didn’t seem that I had got the pox – I was on the lookout continuous, lookin’ down my pants twenty times a day. I just hoped I would stop dreamin’ about rubber syringes soon, and go back to dreamin’ about dead men.
Six weeks after my injuries I finally got cleared to ride. Sam was satisfied, and I was outta the hacienda and on Pancho so fast I left a dust devil behind my boots. I took off and had me a ride which made me feel free as an alley cat, and I rode to my favourite parts of the ranch and stayed out till I did start to feel a little tender.
Pretty soon that passed as well and I was back to doing my normal chores and such. I was real pleased.
We were having dinner on the Sunday night I was finally better. Murdoch said as how he’d seen Thee at church that morning, and how she was asking if I was quite recovered. She and Willard had been to visit me a while prior, and her face was all back to normal.
“You tell her I was fightin’ fit, Murdoch?” I chomped into the peach cobbler I was eating.
“Yes John, I did.”
John? I stopped eating and looked up at Pa. Scott looked at him, and then down.
“I told Theodora that you were restricted to the ranch for your little contretemps which had resulted in the injury she sustained at Mrs Conway’s that day. Do you remember that, John?”
I put my spoon down, looking at the shine on the peaches still in my bowl.
That was three ‘Johns’. I swallowed.
I swallowed again. Fuck.
“I told you the next day, on the Sunday morning, that you weren’t to leave the ranch for a week. What night did you leave the house - when you were supposed to be in bed - and go into Spanish Wells?”
I felt my temper rise, because I knew I was for it. Holy Mary, Mother of God. I felt my stubborn get roiling. I looked straight at Murdoch.
“Jesus, Ol’ Man, you know fu- damn well which night it was! After all I been through you still plannin’ to whale me? That ain’t fair!”
Dios! I sounded like a whiny shave-tail, but I couldn’t help it. Murdoch could make me feel like a six year old without hardly trying. Just like Val Crawford could.
“All you went through, my Son, and all the worry you put us through, was precisely because you left the ranch when you had been specifically told not to. You have been told time and time again that if you don’t do as you are told then there will be repercussions. You disobeyed me, you went into a disreputable establishment, you drank – and we won’t discuss of what else you partook.”
I dropped my head again. Scott took a breath then and started to speak. He wasn’t laughing now.
“Murdoch, I don’t think –“
“Scott, I am talking to your brother and I’ll thank you to keep your own counsel. If you can’t then you may leave the table.”
“But Pa –“ Scott protested.
“Scott, you are excused.” Murdoch had raised his voice.
I looked over at Boston who was looking at Murdoch. Scott felt my eyes on him and turned to me, and I shook my head small at him. He got up and threw his serviette down on the table and stalked out, all stiff backed and Lieutenant Lancer.
“Johnny, any one of those things you did would be enough to get any boy your age a licking. You have been through a deal of pain with the bullet wound and the tail bone and splinter, and because of that I might have let any other consequences slide. But because you grew up without any proper discipline, I’m afraid you are very much in need of my guidance.”
“I got no problem with you guiding me Murdoch. Just not with a strap.”
“I can assure you, Son, that I don’t want to tan you.”
“Good! Then don’t!” I had wrapped my arms ‘round myself. I couldn’t look at him.
Murdoch heaved a big sigh.
“Johnny, it’s my duty as your father to raise you right. Starting to do that when you were fourteen has been a trial for both of us. I understand just how difficult it is for you to be told what to do, and what not to do, when you have been used to being your own man. But as I’ve said before, you have a few years and a lot of learning to do before you actually become a man, and be the man I know you are going to be. I’m proud that you’re such a good person, when you’ve had so much against you. But you are far too headstrong and far too reckless and you are also in too much of a hurry to be an adult. I want you to enjoy being a boy as much as you are able.”
“Well I ain’t goin’ to enjoy being a boy if it means you whomping me every five minutes!”
“I most certainly do not whomp you every five minutes!” Murdoch’s voice was raised again. “And I wouldn’t have to whomp you at all if you would just damn well do as you are told!” He added, real loud.
Both of us were breathing deep and trying to keep hold of our tempers. The only sound was the clock ticking. But then Pa cleared his throat. I cut a look at him, and he was rubbing a hand down his face.
“Is that how you feel, Johnny? That I’m too hard on you?”
Dios, how did I answer that? I knew damn well that Murdoch had never given me anything I didn’t have coming. I knew he was a real good man and that he was powerful wanting to be a good pa to me and Scott. So if I said he was being too hard on me it would be a lie. But if I said he wasn’t, then looked like I’d be heading for the barn. Getting tanned when I didn’t have no say was one thing, but I just couldn’t bring myself to step forward and say he should go right ahead and do it…Mierda.
“Johnny. Do you think I am too hard on you?”
I was plenty roiled and didn’t know how to answer, but he was waiting.
“Jeez, Murdoch, I know you’re doin’ your best!” I bust out, and I held myself even tighter.
I thought Pa would stand up then, and say for me to come with him, and I’d be getting what for real soon. But there wasn’t a sound, and I glanced up through my eyelashes. Murdoch was sitting still, and he was looking at the tablecloth in front of him. He looked like he was thinking hard, and I suddenly thought of how he’d looked the night Allan Creane had brought me home, and Murdoch had seen I was injured. I felt guilty as hell.
He looked up then, and suddenly got to his feet. I sat back, tense.
“I need a drink” he said, and he went stompin’ over to the drinks table.
I sat still and watched him pour a drink and take a sip. He stood there and swirled the whisky around in the glass, studying on it. With my hide hanging in the balance I didn’t want to do nothing that would make him decide to go ahead and skin me. It was probably only a minute that he stood there, but it sure felt longer than that to me.
Then he sighed and went and sat in the blue chair and took another drink.
“Johnny, come over here, please.”
I slow got up and walked over and sat on the sofa, at the end furtherest away from him.
“Alright, Son. Perhaps you have paid a dear enough price for your poor behavior. Maybe I will let it go this time. “
Jeez – I was out of danger! Maybe Scott was right about holding in my temper and talking to the ‘Ol Man. I loosed all the muscles that had me fit to be tied.
Murdoch scoffed the rest of the drink. He rolled the empty glass between both his hands and then fixed me with a steady eye.
“We’ve discussed the reason I don’t want you going into the local towns unless you’re with Scott or with me, Johnny. I know it’s not foolproof, but it is the best chance we have of keeping you safe until people forget about Johnny Madrid. I wish you would do Scott and I the courtesy of giving us at least that much peace of mind.”
I sat forward and looked at Pa. The look on his face made me feel like I was a low-down mudsill.
“I can do that, Pa. But can we talk about it again when I’m sixteen?”
Murdoch kept rolling that glass, looking down at it now. He sighed.
“Certainly. Now, it would be good if you cleared the table. And then you had better go up and tell your brother that you have been given a reprieve.”
Murdoch headed for the drinks table again, and I headed to the dinner table. I cleared it away, whistling as I went. I finished the peach cobbler in my bowl, and then saw that Murdoch hadn’t touched his, and Scott hadn’t finished his, so I ate all of theirs, too. I put all the dirty dishes in the big wash up bowl and covered them with water. Maria would wash ‘em in the morning.
Then I left my spurs on a kitchen chair, grabbed the tomato and chilli sauce jug from the pantry and crept upstairs. I shut my bedroom door quiet as a mouse. I took off my boots and pants and my drawers. I kicked my pants under the bed. I laid the drawers on my bed and trailed the red sauce aross the seat in real thin lines. I padded back to the top of the stairs, glad Maria wasn’t around, and then I ran back to my room making as much clomping as I could. I slammed the door and then hitched on those drawers fast as cain and threw myself face-down on my bed. The drawers felt sticky as hell, but it would be worth it.
Sure enough, a few seconds later, there was a soft tap at my door. I kept mum. A few more seconds passed, and then another tap.
“Johnny? You okay?”
“Please leave me be, Scott.” I put a powerful hitch in my voice.
“You don’t sound okay. I’m coming in.”
The door opened and then I heard Scott’s panicked voice.
“Oh my God! What happened?! Your backside is bleeding!”
He rushed over and I hitched my voice again.
“He used the buggy whip on me, Scott. He just kept goin’ and goin’ and wouldn’t stop!”
“That’s not possible! Murdoch would never do such a thing!”
“Not to you, Scott, but he reckons on how I need it. But Scott, it hurts so much – please tell him I’m real sorry, so he don’t ever do it again.” I gulped like I was tryin’ not to cry.
“Johnny, I can’t believe it! Was he drunk?”
“Murdoch drinks a lot more that you know, Boston, he –“
Holy Mary, Mother of God…Murdoch’s voice rolled over us from the open door.
I spun over and jumped up, seeing Pa standing there with his arms folded. Scott was looking at my drawers, and suddenly he grabbed my arm and then his other hand flashed out and he whacked my backside and then looked at the sauce on his hand. His eyes narrowed.
Murdoch’s voice rumbled again.
“John, would you care to explain why I am driven to drink? And why there is sauce all over your long johns and your quilt?”
Scott’s hand squeezed so tight on my arm my voice came out in a squeak.
“Well, you see Pa…”
(Thanks Heather for checking for errors…)
The Nymphs Reply to the Shepherd, by Sir Walter Raleigh (with apologies)
If all the world and love were young,
And truth in every shepherd’s (rancher’s) tongue,
These pretty pleasures might me move.