Disclaimer: FOX abandoned them- we keep them young and alive, so that’s all the apology Fox is gettin’ from me!
My Johnny is nineteen and Scott is twenty five.
Well, here I am, sittin’ in my bath enjoyin’ a relaxin’ evenin’ for a change. The Old Man’s finally let up some, what with me stayin’ out of trouble and all. Big trouble, any way. Been almost a month since the last time Val tossed my sorry ass in jail.
‘Course I ain’t been off the ranch ‘til now, either. Damned good thing Scott remembered the stock auction. Even better he didn’t remind the Old Man about it until after Murdoch promised to make the train ride with Aggie to San Francisco!
Ol’ Scott can be pretty damned sneaky sometimes…
Not that the Old Man was all that happy to send me and big brother off to take care of business. Shit, he was still hollerin’ instructions at us when we were ridin’ under the arch. “Not one penny more than five hundred!” he had bellowed. “And nothing less than a full Hereford this time, and papers…make sure you get the papers…”
Well, we got them papers, all right. And the Hereford to go with ‘em. For less than five hundred, too. Not that we’re tellin’ the Old Man how much less. Let’s just say me and Scott figure that what we saved was part of our two-thirds…
Anyway, we got the Old Man a bargain. That should please the old bastard! And we made good time, too; such good time me and Scott decided -- hell, I decided, ‘cause I was gettin’ real hungry, and Scott knows how I get when I’m hungry -- anyway we decided to stop by this town. I’m real glad we did, too, ‘cause we found out there was a weekend carnival goin’ on. You know; with flags and all. Lots o’ pretty gals, too! And since we ain’t due back at Lancer ‘til Monday, and we are only a day’s ride away, I’ve convinced big brother to stay for the -- what’d he’d call ‘em -- festivities.
Was easy enough. I can usually wrap ‘im round my little finger; well, most times, unless he knows I’m up to no good. That’s where Boston is now; playin’ on that big fuckin’ wheel he loves so much. Can’t see the attraction myself! He says he has a system. A system for losin’ money, you ask me. Which he doesn’t. Well it’s his money -- a third of it anyway, since it’s what’s left over from buyin’ the bull -- but, hey, he bought supper, paid for the room, and the tub and a little entertainment, so I guess I can cut him some slack. Even if he did shake a finger at me and tell me to stay put and stay out of trouble before he took off like a bat out of Hell. Won’t see him ‘til breakfast, that’s for sure.
I gotta laugh when I think about him lecturin’ me; shakin’ that finger at me, goin’ all Lieutenant Lancer with his orders. I mean it, boy, -- he always calls me boy when he’s lecturin’ me; mostly ‘cause he knows it pisses me off -- you stay out of trouble! Trouble!? Shit. He’d already bought me more than my fair share of trouble when we were at the whorehouse! So I saluted him. Kind of. And called him Scotty. That got him so pissed off he slammed the door.
So here I am, sittin’ in the tub, sudsin’ up a bit and takin’ it easy. Got a full belly, got my “needs” taken care of and now… just gonna lay back and enjoy the quiet. And rest. There’s a dance tomorrow night…big dance. A lotta girls. Town girls, country girls. Carny girls.
Heard a lot about them; those carny girls. Saw one once, with a travelin’ show down near Juarez; little bit of a thing that could turn and twist her body...
Water’s gettin’ kind of cold. Make’s me shiver a bit. Figure it’s a good time to make sure all the soap’s out of my hair and my ears. I take a long look at the stack of towels next to the potbellied stove in the corner; kinda glad now that Scott thought to hang my calzoneras butt-first over the back of the chair. Suckin’ in a deep breath, I drop down beneath the water, decidin’ to go for a record count.
~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~
God, the water feels good. It ain’t been that long ago a bath was somethin’ I couldn’t take for granted; anymore than I took eatin’ regular as an everyday thing. Nope. Life for Johnny Madrid was a hit or miss thing -- well, at least as far as the food and a tub for bathin’. Hit or miss when it came to shootin’: well, missin’ wasn’t an option.
The bad memories make me feel like I need a deep breath; a lung full of air, so I pop up outta the water and take a good one.
I lean back now, just relaxin’, thinkin’ about how clean I feel, and how I’m smellin’ sweet as a daisy. Kinda have to laugh at that. Five days on the trail with a seed bull taggin’ along, sleepin’ in the dirt and nowhere to wash up but a stream that ain’t even deep enough to drown a newt…Hell, even big brother was gettin’ a bit ripe!
Ooops. Got a bit of dirt there between my toes. I grab the bar of Pearl Soap and work up a thick layer of lather. Never thought about it before, but it kinda tickles when you scrub your own feet. Feels good, though…
I scramble a bit, almost fallin’ on my ass in my hurry to get outta the freakin’ tub. Like I have any idea just where I’m goin’!! Pistol’s hangin’ from the bedpost; pants hangin’ on the chair next to the stove…
And the door to my room is standin’ wide open, and this girl…this woman…is standin’ right there…right there!! lookin’ cool as a cucumber and grinnin’ like
…like she’s real hungry, and I’m about to become dessert.
Well, two can play this fuckin’ game.
I step outta the tub, not givin’ a damned how much water I’m splashin’ all over the floor. I don’t even bother to grab for a towel. “Mind closin’ the door?” I ask. “I mean, after you back outta my room and get your ass down those stairs.”
She just laughs and steps farther into the room. And then she shuts the door, back-kickin’ it with her right foot before leanin’ back and gettin’ comfortable. “Water must have been getting cold,” she smiles.
I feel myself gettin’ a bit red in the face. Which isn’t where she’s lookin’. My face, I mean. Next think I know I’m coverin’ the family jewels with my hands. I work hard keepin’ my voice under control; no easy thing when my temper ain’t doin’ so hot. “Maybe you should be checkin’ it out,” I whisper, noddin’ at the tub. I give her a smirk; the one I usually save for assholes. “Head first, maybe.”
She smiles and tilts her head like to the side, and then starts comin’ towards me. “Silly boy,” she laughs.
Next think I know, she comes at me; both hands suddenly pressin’ against my chest, and the next thing I know, I’m back in the tub and water’s splashin’ everywhere. And she’s right on top of me.
“It is cold,” she murmurs, her lips brushin’ against my ears. She pushes herself up then; the front of her dress so wet I can see her nipples. “Very cold,” she says.
As if she’s tryin’ to make a point, she jabs a finger at my crotch; turnin’ the gesture into somethin’ that looks like an “L”, as if she’s measurin’ somethin’. Somethin’ small… She’s laughin’ now; looking right at my… Hell, ain’t a man on earth goin’ to take that kind of crap.
“You got a fuckin’ eye problem?” I ask.
She smiles and the dimples appear on her cheeks. “Tsk, tsk, tsk,” she scolds, “such language,” shaking her finger beneath my nose. “You naughty, naughty boy!”
I’m feelin’ like I’ve just been raked over the coals by Maria. I back up a bit, and she follows right along, her hips swingin’ like she’s advertisin’ her goods. Hard not to notice, and next thing I know I’m feelin’ a tinglin’ sensation, and am ‘way too aware I ain’t wearin’ nothin’ but my pride and a whole new layer of sweat. Scott ain’t never gonna believe this.
~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~
I’m layin’ back on the bed, wonderin’ just how the Hell this happened, and not really givin’ a damn. Nope. I mean, it’s not exactly like I went lookin’ for this. What the hell, woman comes into your room without so much as a by your leave, what’s a man ‘sposed to do?
Fuck, if he’s that kind of lucky; I’m thinkin’.
She’s still here. Yep. Spent the whole night, and not just sleepin’ either. Fact is, she just settled right in. Feels right good, too. Her head’s restin’ on my chest right now; hair all snuggled beneath my chin. Gives me a warm feelin’.
A real warm feelin’.
I’m wide awake now; whole body’s wide awake now. Funny how the different parts of your body seem to wake up at different times: eyes first, what with the sun streamin’ through the window. Then the arms; fingers.
Fingers are kinda busy now. Like they got a mind of their own.
Seems somethin’ else’s got a mind of its own, too. Same thing that had a mind of its own when we ended up in the damned bed in the first place! But what the hell, she’s here, I’m here…
I’m feelin’ kind of guilty now. Here I am, all ready for another go ‘round, and … Jeez, I don’t even know her name… Anyway, she’s asleep. I feel myself smilin’. Kinda sweet, the way she’s all curled up. Be a lot easier if her bare-ass butt wasn’t pressin’ against my bare-ass belly.
Jesus! I bolt up out of the bed, starin’ hard at the window as I watch the glass rattlin’ in the frame. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear that was Murdoch bellowin’ for the milk cow or somethin’. It’s quiet again, so I ease back against the pillow. The girl snuggles in again; makes a little sigh like maybe she’s wakin’ up. I bend down above her, and nibble a bit on her ear.
“BECCA!! Where are ya, girl? I’m countin’ to ten, little missy, and you better be answerin’ me!
It’s the voice again; roarin’ down the hallway and gettin’ closer. “BECCA..a..a
I feel a shiver rip through me as I see the girl’s eyes flicker, widenin’ a bit before goin’ big as silver dollars; her pink cheeks goin’ all white. I can feel her takin’ a deep breath, and she kind of sinks down into the bed, pullin’ the covers up until only the top of her head is showin’.
The blankets coverin’ her don’t feel quite so soft now as I lift ‘em away from her shoulders. My mouth is goin’ dry and I lick my lips before talkin’. “Uhhh.” I clear my throat. “Please tell me you’re name ain’t Becca,” I beg.
How come is it when you’re hopin’ a woman is about to tell you a lie, she ups and tells you the truth?
She’s lookin’ up at me, and I can see it in her face before she even says the words.
“Sorry, Johnny, but my name is Becca.”
Shit. Shit, shit, shit!!
And then it hits me. She knows my name. How the hell does she know my name?
I chance a glance at the window. Good thing old Scott is wise about takin’ a corner room and always pickin’ one with a balcony. It’s a Boston thing, I figure, and I smile a bit at that, rememberin’ Scott tellin’ me about where he was when the Pinks found him. Well, if big brother can take off out a window, don’t see why…
It’s the voice again. Closer. And there’s the sound of someone poundin’ on doors and getting’ closer.
“That’s my father.”
I close my eyes; as if that’s goin’ to help! “Oh, fuck.”
“You have to help me.” She’s looking up at me, battin’ those eyes; her lips quiverin’ like she’s about to cry. “He’ll kill me, Johnny.
“He’ll kill us.”
She’s crazy if she thinks I’m goin’ out into that hallway; what with someone stompin’ up and down soundin’ like a bull primed on loco weed. I start lookin’ for my clothes, already gaugin’ the distance between the bed and the window.
Next thing I know all hell breaks loose. Becca tosses back her head and starts screechin’ like that fat woman in the opera in San Francisco that Scott made me sit through. Only that woman wasn’t screamin’ right in my ear.
I didn’t think it was possible for anything to make more noise than Becca screamin’ at the top of her lungs, but I was wrong. There’s one hell of a crash, and the next thing I see is the sole of a boot damned near as big as the one’s Murdoch wears comin’ right though the inch-thick door; and attached to the boot, six feet of brick shit house.
Becca stops screechin’. She’s cryin’ now, reaching out with both arms; practically beggin’ for help. “Daddy!!” And then, without takin’ so much as a single breath. “He forced me!!”
Before I can even suck in an ounce of air, the old man has me pinned against the wall with his forearm pressed across my Adam’s apple. I don’t know what hurts worse: my throat or my bare ass pressed against the bare wall.
He lets go; kinda. Has his fingers tangled in my hair and he’s shovin’ me towards the chair where my clothes are still hangin’.
“Get your clothes on, boy,” he snarls. Next thing he does is reach out quicker’n spit towards the bed post, and damned if he doesn’t snag my gun belt.
That’s when I see the badge.
No point in not doin’ what the man says. I steal a quick look at Becca. She’s grinnin’ like the cat that just ate the canary.
~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~
I look up, and there’s big brother. I hoist myself up off the cot, wastin’ no time gettin’ myself over to the cell door. “Where the fuck ya’ been?”
“Out,” he answers, kinda sharp. Boston don’t like it when I cuss. “And you?” he asks, leanin’ in a bit.
Fuckin’ smart ass. “My room,” I answer.
“Ohhhh.” Scott takes a long look around, his eyes explorin’ every freakin’ nook and cranny. “Odd,” he says, drawing the word out. “This doesn’t look like your room. At least not the one where I left you.” He smiles.
I’m really pissed now. I hate it when Scott goes all big brother on me; like he’s caught me pokin’ around the kitchen. He’s got that same shit-eatin’ grin on his kisser, too. “This ain’t funny, Boston.”
“I guess that depends on where you’re standing, little brother.” This time, he actually has the balls to laugh.
So help me God, I’m gonna kick his ass; once he gets me outta here. Guess it’s time to pull out the baby brother card. “C’mon, Scott,” I start, puttin’ on the face. “I’m in big trouble here.” I can see he ain’t buyin’ it. Yet. “Not my fault.” I sigh. “Honest.”
He laughs again. “It never is,” he smirks. Then, his face goes all serious. “Maybe it’s time you tell me…”
I open my mouth, debatin’ just how much of the truth big brother is gonna want to hear; or I’m gonna want to tell. “There I was,” I begin.
Before I can get another word out, the front door opens and in walks the sheriff. And right behind him, all scrubbed up and lookin’ as innocent some school girl comes Becca. She’s wearin’ a different dress now; one of those Sunday-go-to meetin’ dresses, the kind that covers everything.
“Sheriff,” Scott greets. He looks long and hard at the lawman; even harder at Becca.
“You know this boy?”
Scott is smilin’ now; but only with his mouth. He takes a quick look at me, and then turns back to the lawman. “That depends,” he says. “What has he done?”
I can see the sheriff’s givin’ Scott a good long look; sizin’ him up. Takin’ stock of what he’s wearin’, how he’s carryin’ himself. I don’t think he likes the way Scott’s grinnin’ at him.
“I found him,” the sheriff jerks a thumb at me, “with my daughter. Had her locked up in his room, takin’ liberties.” This time the old son-of-a-bitch is givin’ me the once-over. “If you get my meaning.”
Becca’s standin’ right next to her Pa now; all snuggled up close and snifflin’ like she about to bawl. “I was at the hotel looking for a friend of mine who just come to town,” she whispers. “I knocked on his door by mistake…”
Next think I know, the bitch takes out a handkerchief and starts to cry. “He…he…”
She’s really wailin’ now.
“He what?” Scott asks.
“…took advantage of me.e.e…” Wahhhhhh.
Gotta admit, she’s good.
Scott shoots me another look. “And?” he asks. Whole time, he’s watchin’ my face.
“The boy’s gonna make it right,” the sheriff answers. He’s puffed up now, tryin’ to pull himself up so he’s eye-to-eye with my brother. Ain’t workin’. Scott’s just pulled himself to attention; his back ramrod straight. I kinda snicker when the lawman damn near salutes.
Scott gives me another big brother look; the one that tells me I’d best wipe the grin off my face.
“And just how do you propose that he ‘make it right’?” he asks. He’s turned his back on me now and is starin’ right hard at the lawman.
“And that’s your business how?” the sheriff shoots back.
“He’s my brother,” Scott answers. “His name is Johnny Lancer.” He sticks out his hand, all polite. “I’m Scott Lancer.”
The lawman’s eyes narrow a bit at that one. Pretty damned clear from the look on his face he knows the Lancer name. Grinning, the old shit takes my brother’s hand and pumps it like they’re old friends.
“Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Lancer,” the sheriff declares, pullin’ his little girl close. “Gonna be a fine thing knowin’ my Becca’s goin’ to have such a fine name.”
Scott covers his mouth with his hand, and I know without seein’ he’s grinnin’ like a jackass. Me, I’m doin’ all I can to keep from upchuckin’ last night’s supper.
~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~
I’m still in the fuckin’ cell. Back on the cot again, my shoulders pressed hard against the brick wall; as far away from the rest of ‘em I can get without snakin’ through the barred window. Not like I ain’t done that a time or two before.
Before I was eatin’ reg’lar and got some meat on my bones.
Scott and the sheriff -- Tucker’s his name -- are sittin’ at the desk, a bottle of Bellows sippin’ whiskey between ‘em. And Becca -- Becca’s sittin’ on a chair in the corner all prim and proper with her legs locked closed, lookin’ Scott up and down like he’s a fresh piece of meat and she’s kinda sorry she didn’t find him in the tub, ‘stead a me. Fickle bitch.
Tucker’s on a rant. “Your brother had relations with my daughter, Mr. Lancer, kept her in his room all night; and he will make an honest woman of her!!” He slams his fist on the desk to make his point.
Scott turns a bit in his chair, lookin’ over his shoulder at me. I can tell from his face he hasn’t drunk anywhere near as much as the sheriff. I shoot him a grin; he frowns. “Is that true, little brother? Did you have relations with Miss Tucker?”
My butt’s gettin’ sore. Damned straw from the mattress is stickin’ me in the ass and I’m feelin’ prickly. “You askin’ if I fucked her?” I pipe up. “Or if she fucked me?”
Whoops. Scott’s eyebrow just shot up, and Tucker ain’t lookin’ too happy either. Need to remember not to use the “f” word; leastwise not so much around Scott. Kinda like cussin’ in front of Murdoch. “Yeah,” I answer, holdin’ my temper in check. “We had…relations.” Stupid word, if you think about it.
Scott turns back to the lawman. “How old is your daughter, Sheriff Tucker?” he asks.
The old man does a double-take; sputters a bit. “Twenty-one,” he answers.
Scott’s noddin’ his head; rubbin’ his chin, same way he always does when he’s thinkin’. He thinks a lot.
“Age of consent,” big brother announces. I see the smile. This one reaches up to his eyes.
Tucker pours himself a shot; downs it in one swallow. “Don’t give a damn what her age is,” he mutters. He nods in my direction. “That boy sullied her.”
Sullied. What kind of fuckin’ word is that? Gonna have to remember to ask big brother. When he’s talkin’ to me.
“That boy,” Scott grins, “is eighteen. A minor. It appears, Sheriff Tucker, your daughter has sullied my baby brother.”
I’m off the cot in a heartbeat; pressin’ my face against the bars, tryin’ hard not to laugh. God, I love my big brother! Love that fancy Harvard education he’s got, too!! Him callin’ me ‘baby brother’ thing is a pain in the ass, but I’ll let it go.
Becca’s startin’ to bawl again. “Papa….” Damned if she isn’t pullin’ another snot rag out of her pocket. Six, and countin’.
Tucker’s jaws are tensin’. “I don’t give a damn how old that boy is, he’s marryin’ my girl! Today!”
Scott helps himself to a shot of whiskey; downs it is a single swallow and then puts his glass upside down atop the desk. He’s shakin’ his head when he stands up. “Not without the signature of his guardian,” he says. “And,” he turns and looks at me, “since I’m that guardian, and I have no intention of signing…” he lets the words just hang.
The sheriff’s still balkin’. “I’m tellin’ you, boy,” he thumps a bony finger against Scott’s chest, “I got the law on my side.” This time, he taps his badge with the same finger.
Scott’s face is stone cold. And they talk about the Madrid mask. He moves in closer to the sheriff, grabbin’ the man’s wrist when he tries for another thump. “If I leave here without my brother,” Scott whispers, “I will be coming back with an attorney. And I will, Sheriff Tucker, instruct that lawyer to file charges against your daughter for taking advantage of an underage child. Of course, there will be a trial; which will require the testimony of your daughter,” he hesitates, “amongst others living here in your fair city.”
That does it. Tucker’s -- well, Tucker is just plumb tuckered out.
Way to go, big brother!
~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~
Scott’s still in his Lieutenant Lancer mood. I can tell by the way he’s marchin’ down the board walk. Damn near have to run to keep up with those long legs. I finally catch him. “C’mon, Boston. Talk to me.”
He shakes his head; grabs my arm and pulls me into the hotel. Next thing I know he’s draggin’ me up the stairs and has me packin’ up our gear. “Don’t see why we have to leave,” I say; shovin’ things into the saddlebags. “Old Man ain’t expectin’ us for a couple of days, and that carnival…”
“…is over, as far as you’re concerned.”
I can see Scott checkin’ out the room, makin’ sure I ain’t forgot nothin’ on purpose so we’d have to come back. “Wasn’t my fault,” I grouse. “It’s not like I left my room or anything! Hell, I stayed right where you told me…”
Scott gives me the look. “It didn’t occur to you to show the lady out?” he asks.
He must be fuckin’ crazy! I know he saw Becca. Hell, even in her goody two shoes dress her tits stuck out to here. “Damn, Scott,” I snort. “If that’d showed up at your door, would you have showed her out?”
He’s shakin’ his head. “I’d have been smart enough to wonder how she managed to show up at my door uninvited,” he shoots back. He takes a deep breath; lets it out. “You don’t really think you are the first stranger that rode into this town and had Becca Tucker show up on their doorstep, do you? You said she called you by your name, Johnny. You didn’t think that was a little strange?”
He’s got me on that one. “Meanin’?” I ask. Don’t even try to hide the fact I’m pissed.
“Meaning I had a little discussion,” he raises his right hand, showing me his knuckles, which are lookin’ kind of raw, “with the hotel clerk,” he answers. “Seems the good Sheriff Tucker has a habit of checking the register to see who’s passing through. He always seems to find some poor soul more than eager to buy their way out of trouble. It appears this time; he thought he had actually struck gold.” He’s quiet for a bit. “Lancer name carries a long way, little brother; even in this hell hole.” He nods towards the door.
I pick up the saddle bags and toss them over my shoulder; and head out the door. “So,” I start, “how much did it cost ya? Buyin’ me outta trouble?”
“Not as much as it’s going to cost you, boy,” he answers.
Next thing I know, he pops me on the ass; hard enough I end up in the hallway. Takes him like two steps to get to the stairs, and he’s already at the bottom and payin’ the bill by the time I catch up.
~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~
Tucker’s standin’ out in the street when we step out onto the boardwalk. Becca’s with him; already wearin’ another dress and lookin’ like she’s on the prowl again. Figures. The stagecoach is just pullin’ in.
I take the lead, just for the hell of it; ignorin’ big brother when I hear him callin’ my name. Johnny. I don’t pay him no mind; just keep headin’ down the boardwalk, even though I know I’m ‘sposed to be headin’ for the livery.
“Ma’am,” I take off my hat, bowin’ a bit as I come up even with Becca and give her a smile. Then, for good measure, I scratch my crotch.
Scott grabs my arm and about pulls me off my feet as he drags me down into the street and heads for livery. I’m still laughin’ when he pulls me inside the barn.
Big mistake!! Scott stops dead in his tracks; pullin’ me up short and not lettin’ go. “Hey, Boston,” I try pullin’ away, but it ain’t happenin’. With his free hand, Scott’s unbucklin’ his belt. “C’mon, brother,” I try backin’ away, “we got a seed bull to haul ass home…” Somehow, things don’t seem so funny anymore.
It ain’t long before I know what Scott’s got on his mind. Next thing, I find myself sprawled out across a bale of straw; big brother’s left hand locked around the back of my neck like a vise -- fuck, he’s stronger than he looks; shoulda remembered that from when he carried me into the house after that thing with Pardee -- and he’s beatin’ my sorry ass with that damned belt. Finally he lets me go and I jump up spittin’ mad; all the while rubbing my ass, which is on fuckin’ fire.
“You got no fuckin’ right to do that Scott,” I shout. “You ain’t Pa.” He steps forward, belt in hand, still lookin’ madder than a spittin’ snake.
“You want to go again, Johnny?” he whispers.
I dip my head. The last thing I want is another go ‘round. “No.”
That one word is enough and he turns to saddle his horse, Cheval, suggestin’ it might be a good idea if I saddle Barranca.
Ain’t quite sure about riding right now, but I do what he tells me. Fetch the fuckin’ seed bull from his pen, too, and big brother doesn’t even need to ask. Before I know it, we’re on the road; not that I’m feelin’ all that great. Kinda hard to sit leather to leather when your butt feels like someone’s doused it with kerosene and struck a match.
We ride for a time, not talkin’. Got a feelin’ Scott’s still not too happy with me, and I don’t like it much when he’s pissed. “Wasn’t my fault,” I say, raisin’ my voice some so he can’t pretend he don’t hear.
“I’ve heard that tune before, Johnny. This morning, if I remember right.” He turns towards me, tryin’ hard not to smile.
Well, at least he doesn’t sound mad. I dip my head and my hat covers the smile that’s creepin’ up on me. “Should’ve seen her naked, Scott,” I say. “Tits out to here,” I hold my hands out in front of my chest; as if I’m jugglin’ a couple good sized melons. “Tiny waist.” Scott has a thing for women with little waists and big pillows. Likes a tight butt, though. “Kinda pretty, too.”
He shoots a knowing look at me, and I remember how he checked her out at the jail.
“Well, it is comforting to know that you did, at least, notice her face. I don’t suppose you remember the color of her eyes?”
He’s teasin’ me now; a good thing. “She had eyes?” I ask.
He swats at me with his hat. “So you think she was worth all the trouble?”
“Hell, Scott. Been a long time since I’ve been screwed that many times in one night. And for free! Sure she was worth the trouble!”
This time, he pulls up; turning his horse around until he’s facing me. “Worth getting married and bringing her home as a surprise for Murdoch? We could always go back and I could sign the papers.”
He could’ve cold-cocked me, and not done a better job of makin’ my cajones shrink to the size of those peas Murdoch is always shoveling on to my plate at supper. “Fuck Scott, I’d just started to feel good bout it all again and ya’ had ta go and say that!”
Cheval is dancin’ a bit, so Scott turns him about; waitin’ on me until we’re ridin’ together again. “So, little brother, I can assume you’ve learned your lesson?” he asks.
“Nope.” The word slips out before I can stop it.
Scott’s rubbin’ his neck now and beginnin’ to look mad again, so I shut up. Don’t need him gettin’ pissed. Then, figurin’ it’s a good idea to -- what’s big brother call it? Oh yeah, create a diversion, I ask him a question. “What’s sullied mean, Scott?”
He loves it when I ask him about words; always tellin’ me it’s a good idea to expand my vocabulary. “It means to tarnish, or to dishonor. Tucker was implying you had soiled his little innocent,” he laughs at the idea, “his pure little daughter.”
It’s my turn to laugh.
We’re ridin’ on, closer to home and I’m feelin’ kinda sad. Don’t know why. Most times, comin’ home is a good feelin’, but sometimes…
Hell of it is, I like bein’ with my brother; just me and him. Workin’, raisin’ hell; takin’ the time to get to know each other with nobody else gettin’ in the way. Sure, he can be a pain in the ass sometimes -- I reach back and rub my butt -- a real pain in the ass, but for the most part it’s just good. Real good.
We pass under the Lancer arch and I see Jelly wavin’ us home. I think on that. Home. There was a time, not that long ago, I never thought I’d have one. All of a sudden it feels right; really right. I chance a quick look at my brother. Fuck. My brother. Never thought I’d ever have that, either. Scott’s grinnin’ at me, like he knows what I’m thinkin’. He nods toward the house, and they’re all comin’ out now; standin’ there waitin’. T’resa. Maria.
Murdoch’s there, too. Hard to miss him. He’s so fuckin’ tall… Scares the shit out of me sometimes, just the bigness of him.
Hell. The Old Man’s smilin’. Lookin’ a bit proud, too, talkin’ to Cip now; pointin’ at us; pointin’ at the bull we’ve got trailin’ along behind us.
“Boys!” Murdoch shouts, givin’ us a wave; steppin’ out into the courtyard.
“Pa.” We say the word together; me and Scott. My brother sneaks a look at me; I do the same to him. Both of us, grinnin’ like jackasses.
Never thought I’d call the Old Man that. Slips out sometimes; easy, like I’ve been sayin’ it all my life.
Murdoch’s grinnin’ like Cheshire cat! He gives the bull a quick once-over, pattin’ the animal’s back; givin’ it a final swat as he watches me and Scott dismount. Next thing I know, he’s pattin’ our shoulders, congratulatin’ us on our trip and the fine bull we got for him. I’m real happy, he’s real happy; fuck, we’re all happy! You’d think someone had won a fuckin’ prize.
I hear it then. Hoof beats; steady, not hell-for-leather like someone stormin’ the place. I turn, facin’ the sound.
I can’t fuckin’ believe it. Val. I close my eyes, shakin’ my head, and feel Scott’s hand on my shoulder.
Shit! Shit, shit, SHIT!
“Hey, Val.” My throats gone dry all of a sudden and the words come out whisper soft.
Val drops down from his horse, his right eyebrow goin’ up. He doesn’t say nothin’, just gives me the same look he gave me right before he hauled me out of the Silver Dollar last time I was in town. Diggin’ into his shirt pocket, he steps by me like I ain’t even there, and heads straight for the Old Man.
I know what Val’s got; what that piece of paper is. It’s the bill for damages I caused when some yahoo from Morro Coyo showed up at the Silver Dollar and tried to stake a claim on Rosie. Hell, the girl was sittin’ on my lap at the time, drinkin’ on my dollar…what the hell did the jackass think I was gonna do?
Thing is, Murdoch didn’t know ‘bout the fight, or ‘bout me bein’ in town, and I was kinda hopin’ he wouldn’t find out. It’s not like I didn’t tell Val I’d take care of it; told him straight out I’d be in town on payday, makin’ things right.
Trouble is, payday came and went; just about the time me and Becca were…havin’ relations. Like that’s my fault; not that I’m about to bring it up.
Murdoch takes one look at the bill and gives me his best ‘look’; and I know damned good and well what’s comin’. Major earthquake, and me standin’ right there on the fault. I shake loose of Scott and grab onto Barranca’s saddle, givin’ him a smack as I make like a Pony Express rider. Barranca’s at a full run when we pass under the arch; poundin’ hard towards the hills. Behind me I can hear Murdoch yellin’.
A week, I figure. Picked me a spot to camp, pissed off with myself because I’d planned on Maria fillin’ me up with real cookin’ when me and Scott got home; and what am I eatin’? Fuckin’ jack rabbit, that’s what. Skinny jack rabbit.
I give it up after three days; dog tired and so hungry even Barranca was beginnin’ to look good. I’m smart enough to wait until after dark; sittin’ up on the ridge ‘til I see all the lights go out.
I know I ain’t gonna have a problem sneakin’ in. Nope. Big brother spent a whole day not that long ago, oilin’ all the hinges on the doors and the big windows in the Great Room. Even showed me that trick about doctorin’ up the squeaky floor boards in the upstairs hallway, and on the stairs. Scott can be pretty sneaky when he puts his mind to it; and he did. Mostly ‘cause the Old Man caught us comin’ in early one mornin’, and Scott don’t like muckin’ out the pig pen any better than me.
Left my spurs in the barn, and I take off my boots before comin’ into the house; just to make sure. Don’t hurt to be careful. Maria’s gonna be pissed about the dirty socks, but I can handle that; just takes a little sweet talk and a hand full of fresh flowers.
Door opens without as much as a squeak. Kinda need to hold the laugh in goin’ up the stairs, even bounce a little to test ‘em out. Scott did a fine job. Ain’t no squeakin’ here, either. I tiptoe down the hall -- ain’t all that far to my bedroom -- and reach out, turnin’ the knob. Nothin’.
Man, my bed looks good. I ease the door behind me, and head straight for the bed, careful not to drop my boots. And then, slippin’ out of my britches, I pull back the covers and settle in.
“Where the Hell have you been, boy?”
Jesus Fuckin’ H. Christ! I about jump outta my skin. Even whisperin’, the Old Man sounds like thunder on the mountain.
Ain’t no point in fightin’ what’s comin’ next. Not like the Old Man hasn’t told me plenty of times about runnin’ off, or about raisin’ hell in Green River, or about consequences. Consequences. More like ass-blisterin’, if you ask me.
Which he didn’t.
So here I am, layin’ on my belly, wonderin’ how the Hell the Old Man knew I was comin’ home; if maybe he hadn’t been sittin’ here in the dark in my room every night, worryin’ and waitin’.
I feel my jaws tensin’; bad memories comin’ from the dark places, some in my heart, some in my head. I know now the Old Man’s spent a lotta nights sittin’ in this room, worryin’ and waitin’. Mama did that to him. Last couple of days, it was me.
Scott will be on my ass about it tomorrow; Scott and Maria and Teresa. Cip and Elena. Jelly, too. Hell, Val will make a point of rakin’ me over the coals. All of ‘em, raggin’ on me about how I worry the Old Man; how I worry ‘em all. How I worry my family.
Mi familia. Never had a reason to say those words when I was in Mexico; except once, when me and Mama were with Val. But she took that, too.
Ain’t goin’ there, not anymore. Mama’s gone. I’m here, and here I’m gonna stay.
Kinda funny when you think about it. Johnny Madrid stickin’ around, puttin’ up with a Pa and a big brother; both of ‘em workin’ hard to make up for lost time, makin’ sure I toe the line. Not that I plan on makin’ it all that easy. Hell, I got some lost time, too. Ain’t all that used to havin’ someone watchin’ my back, or lettin’ me play. Besides, the Old Man and Scott are forever pointin’ out I ain’t even legal; that I’m still a kid. A boy.
Well, this boy wants to play. It’s who I am now, Johnny Lancer; Murdoch’s boy, Scott Lancer’s baby brother. Yep. I’m just gonna let them do their jobs, and I’m gonna do mine.
Feelin’ kinda tired now. Bed’s feelin’ pretty good; sure beats the Hell outta sleepin’ on the ground. And tomorrow…
Hell, tomorrow’s a brand new day. If lucks with me, the Old Man will make me ride with him into town and make peace with Val. Like that’s got a chance in hell of happenin’ anytime soon. Not like the man couldn’t have waited ‘til I made things right.
Yep. I owe Val one. A good one. Somethin’ -- what would Scott call it -- subtle. Kinda crafty and devious. Nothin’ that’s gonna kill the man, just somethin’ to make him think twice about tattlin’ to the Old Man when I get in a little trouble…
By Heather Mallard.