Another little piece of nonsense brought on by those pesky March holidays. That, and the fact that I must be getting too many additives in my food. This one combines Pecan Day (25th) with National Sleep Awareness month.
If the boys are behaving somewhat silly, it’s not meant as an insult. Blame the additives. I love them dearly. (The additives AND the boys)!!
“Sleep well, brother?”
It had all started so innocently. Just one simple question, asked so often, and half the time not even really meant, just something to say over the breakfast table. And usually the reply, when it came as now, around a yawn and half-shut eyes, wasn’t even properly listened to.
“Uh-huh…like the dead.”
Murdoch regarded his two sons over breakfast, seeing how tired they both looked. Only three days ago they’d got back from a gruelling cattle drive which had taken them to Stockton and back, a three week round trip behind smelly, noisy, stupidly un-cooperative steers, with the barest of comforts on the trail. Usually Murdoch went with the drive, but a Cattleman’s Association meeting had been called as a matter of some urgency in San Francisco and he’d had to leave before the drive began. He’d met with his sons in Stockton after all business had been successfully completed and they’d ridden home together, but it was the drive itself that sapped a man’s strength.
Since getting home, Murdoch had watched his sons as they resumed ranch life. With a spread the size of Lancer there was never any shortage of work to be done, cattle to rescue from suicide missions down steep gullies, fences to be repaired and wild horses to be chased down and broken.
Johnny was the expert in that last department. He had a God-given way with the animals, perhaps because he shared so much of their wild nature. Murdoch thought back to one particular incident not long after the boys had come home when Johnny and his friend Wes had abandoned their work in favour of chasing a string of wild horses and one magnificent stallion. He’d very nearly lost both sons over that particular episode in their brief history together, and often he would sit and quietly give thanks that it had worked out the way it did.
So now, much to Johnny’s delight, Lancer was in the business of breaking and selling horses to the Army. Time would be set aside to allow Johnny some slack from ranching to devote to horse-breaking. It was punishingly hard work and Murdoch worried about his son. Sons, if he was honest, because Scott had willingly taken on a share of Johnny’s ranch duties to let his brother work the horses, and both were showing signs of exhaustion.
“What have you planned for today, boys?” he asked as they helped themselves to biscuits and eggs.
Johnny slathered butter onto his biscuit and waited for Scott to answer their father. Scott was the one who always liked to know the minutiae of their daily tasks. Johnny secretly thought it probably stemmed from his upbringing with old man Garrett. That old dog would have run his house and his grandson like a regiment, with play time allotted 5 minutes each afternoon after school work and before supper, then an early bed. Once Scott had chosen Harvard and then a military career, the seed had been sown for him to fall into the same regimental mien. It was only in the last months since coming home to Lancer and working alongside his easy-going brother that Lt Lancer had started to unwind.
“We’re going up to Black mesa to check the fencing, and then there’s the creek to check for obstructions that might give rise to flooding. Was there something you needed?” Scott looked enquiringly at their father.
“No, no there wasn’t, but take it easy today, boys. The fencing will still be there tomorrow, and we’re not due any rain for at least a week, so the creek can probably wait a day or two, as well. You’ve both earned your pay and more this month, so don’t push yourselves. I’m riding in to Morro Coyo with Teresa this morning, so I’ll see you when you get back.”
With that he excused himself and left the table, a good thing really as neither Johnny nor Scott had finished with it, and it was much too heavy for one man to move anyway.
The brothers looked at each other in some surprise.
“Now whaddya make of that? Think the old man’s comin’ down with somethin’? Maybe we should get Sam to give him the once-over.” Johnny sat back in his chair and looked in the direction their father had gone.
Scott laughed softly, but he too was concerned that their father, Mister I-call-the-tune Murdoch Lancer was not himself. Normally if they wanted time off, or even to be cut some slack from their usually full schedule, it was like pulling teeth. Murdoch had built the ranch up single-handedly and the concept of taking it easy was foreign to the man.
“Brother, whatever the reason, let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth.”
Johnny puzzled over his brother’s words.
“Who’s givin’ us a horse?”
Scott returned his brother’s puzzled expression. “I don’t know, Johnny. You take more to do with the horse side of business than I do. If you can’t keep track of transactions, how am I supposed to know? Anyway, if Murdoch wants us to take things easy for a few days, I for one am happy to oblige.”
“Yeah, you’re right, but I’d better warn Jelly to look out for that horse in case it arrives while we’re away. If we’re still goin’ up to the mesa…”
“I see no reason not to. We can enjoy the fine weather and do some light chores. We might even continue those Spanish lessons we seem to have let slip of late. And after a leisurely lunch and siesta, we could fit in a swim in that lake which the creek feeds into; the creek that it would seem isn’t going to block for at least a week. Come on, brother, as you’re so fond of saying, time’s a-wasting.”
Scott slapped his brother fondly on the back of his head as he passed out to the rear courtyard.
Their foster sister Teresa bade them a good day as she set about clearing the breakfast dishes. She’d overheard Murdoch’s conversation with his sons and it had warmed her heart to hear him taking an easier line with them. So often their conversations ended up as shouting matches, usually between father and younger son, so it was nice to hear him encouraging them to take it easy.
She gathered her basket and shopping list together once her chores were finished and moved out to meet Murdoch who had the buggy ready for their ride to town.
“Morning, Jelly. Did you sleep well?” she smiled at the whiskered older man standing in conversation with her guardian.
“Mornin’ Miss Teresa. Didn’t sleep too well, if I have to admit it. Sure was warm last night. I had to step outside a coupla times fer air. Thought I heard somebody else about, too. Didn’t ya hear anybody movin’ ‘bout at the house?”
“Jelly, stop that nonsense talk. You’ll scare Teresa half to death with talk of people moving about during the night. I can assure you that no-one was doing any such thing. Your brain was probably too hot and you imagined it.” Murdoch glared at his old friend from where the girl couldn’t see him, and Jelly swallowed in acceptance of the rebuke.
“Sorry, boss, sorry Miss Teresa. Didn’t mean ta scare ya. Probably was just my brains fryin’, an’ no mistake. Now you an’ Murdoch head into town an’ get yer shoppin’ done, an’ Dewdrop an’ I’ll keep an eye on things here. The boys due back at chow time?”
“I don’t know. I told them to take it easy today, so they’re on their own agenda. See you later, Jelly.”
Murdoch helped his ward climb into the buggy before settling beside her and shaking Zanzibar from his horse-nap. Teresa giggled as the horse snorted in protest at being awakened.
“At least Zanzibar has no difficulty sleeping. I’m glad you let Scott and Johnny take it easy today. I’m worried about them, Murdoch, they seem so tired. It wouldn’t surprise me if they aren’t really sleeping properly.”
Murdoch looked across at her in surprise. “I don’t think there’s any problem there, Teresa. You don’t need me to tell you how hard the work is around here, and how long a working day is. By the time those boys hit the sack I’d say they’re probably asleep before their head touches the pillow. What makes you say that?”
“Daddy used to say that sometimes he was too tired to sleep. I guess I was thinking maybe the boys were, too.”
Murdoch threw his arm around her shoulder and drew the young girl towards him and into an embrace.
“Your daddy was a good man, and my best friend. You know that, don’t you, button?” Teresa nodded, her eyes misting as she remembered her beloved father. Murdoch cleared his throat gruffly to hide his own emotion. “Now let’s shake this nag up and go see what bargains Señor Baldomero has waiting for us.”
“This ain’t such a bad life, is it, Boston? I mean, if you were back east, what would you be doin’ about now?” Johnny lay on his back chewing contemplatively on a blade of grass, both arms bent upwards and his head cushioned on his hands. He had his eyes closed against the glare of the overhead sun and to Scott’s critical gaze, looked the epitome of relaxation.
"About now? Well let me see, I’d probably be fast asleep considering the difference in the time zones, but I see what you mean. This certainly is a beautiful place.”
He stretched his long legs out and crossed them at the ankles, careful to avoid the spots of damp grass here and there that still hadn’t dried from their overnight dew. Johnny had suggested they have their lunch here under a shade-giving oak and he had certainly not argued. In spite of their father’s recommendation that they take things easy they’d ridden up to the mesa and inspected the fence line as planned. But they’d shelved the plan to unblock the creek and were enjoying some down-time together, putting the world to rights.
Johnny sighed deeply without opening his eyes, not needing to take in the view to appreciate how much his life had turned around. He recalled telling Laura that when he changed from being Johnny Madrid into Johnny Lancer it had been like stepping from darkness into bright sunlight, and he’d meant every word of it. The work was hard, darned hard, and he earned every penny of his wage, but apart from the occasional arguments with the old man, life was pretty good.
Scott remembered something he’d meant to raise at the breakfast table.
“I thought I heard someone moving around last night, Johnny. Did you hear anything?”
Johnny opened one eye to look at his brother. The ex-gunfighter was a light sleeper, experience teaching him it was a prerequisite in staying alive, but he’d heard nothing untoward.
“Nope! What did you think you heard?”
“Someone moving about on the stairs. But I could have been mistaken. I mean, if you didn’t hear it, and Murdoch certainly mustn’t have or he would have mentioned it…”
“Yeah, you know how old houses can creak at night. Most likely just that. Don’t go sayin’ anythin’ to Teresa or she’ll have booby-traps set all over the place, just in case there is someone about. I’d hate to fall foul of some of her traps.”
They agreed not to mention it to their highly imaginative foster sister, and before long they’d settled into a much needed snooze.
“Last one in’s a sissy, brother,” Johnny shouted as he stripped off the remainder of his clothes and leapt towards the lake which seemed to glisten like gold in the afternoon sun.
Scott sat on the hard-packed ground and shucked out of his pants and drawers, carefully folding them before taking off after his brother who had already disappeared under the water. He dove in as sleek and straight as an arrow and looked for Johnny in the crystal clear water of the lake. A dark shadow told him almost too late where his impudent sibling was as Johnny surfaced behind him and tried to keep him under water. Scott came up spluttering and laughing at the same time, the rough play appreciated as much as the coolness of the water.
They cavorted about like ten-year-olds for almost 30 minutes then dragged their water-logged corpses onto the warm earth to dry under the afternoon sun, unabashed at being buck naked in front of each other.
After some time Johnny rolled his head in Scott’s direction.
“You really think Murdoch’s okay, Scott? I think he’s lookin’ a bit tired.”
Scott thought over Johnny’s words. His brother was one of the most observant men he knew, and if he thought Murdoch looked tired, then he, Scott, would have to pay more attention to his father’s appearance this evening.
“You could be right. Perhaps this humidity is keeping him from sleeping well. We can’t all be desert cacti like you, brother dearest.”
Johnny grinned at the image. It was true that with his mixed heritage he tolerated the heat much better than his fairer-skinned brother and father, but even he had to admit that the nights were stifling.
“Yeah, you could be right. But you know what else deserts are known for?” At Scott’s raised eyebrow Johnny grinned again. “Tequila! I have a thirst like I just swallowed that desert. Come on, I’ll buy you a drink.”
Scott gazed down at their bodies, his own developing a pleasant tan that would never hope to compete with his brother’s much richer colouring.
“I fear our reputations would never recover if we don’t take time to dress before going for that drink.”
That afternoon, Teresa was delighted that the boys weren’t around, under her feet, demanding this and that for tea. Johnny was the worst culprit when it came to that. He had a huge appetite for anything exotic, having been raised on the spicy food of the border towns, and occasionally they would indulge him with his favourites. But only occasionally, as the richness of the Mexican dishes was too much for Scott at times. He had introduced them to the delights of French cuisine and even Johnny had to admit that some of it was acceptable. He drew a line at attempting anything that sounded remotely amphibian or even mollusc-like, but for the most part attempted anything put under his nose.
Tonight they were having good old fashioned beef and potatoes which left Teresa some time to indulge in her love of baking. Each of the Lancer men had a sweet tooth. Murdoch loved shortbread, a sweet cookie of butter, flour and sugar that he remembered from his homeland. Scott had a passion for any fruit tart, and Johnny went doe-eyed if presented with chocolate in any shape or form. She smiled to herself as she thought how easy it was to bribe these grown men by offering to make their favourite treat. Today’s special was the shortbread and she hummed quietly to herself as she prepared the cookies and set them to bake.
Making her way in to the larder to return the baking ingredients she noticed a plate on the top shelf. Puzzled as to why an empty plate was in there and not washed and tidied away she brought it out into the kitchen, wracking her brain to try to recall what had been on it. She sat at the large table and closed her eyes, a trick she sometimes used to remember things. She could see herself walking from the kitchen into the dining room where they sometimes ate formally, and in her vision she saw the same plate in her hands. It held…a whole apple pie, and they’d each had a slice, leaving about one third of the pie left for today. So where had it disappeared to? Or more accurately, who had wolfed it?
Unless one of the boys had eaten it at breakfast time she couldn’t see how either of them could be to blame. Jelly had testified to the fact that they had stayed out all day. Perhaps he was the pie thief? Or maybe Murdoch had felt peckish and had finished it off. But why had the pie thief not simply put the empty plate into the sink? Had they thought the missing pie wouldn’t be discovered if the evidence was concealed? Teresa loved a good mystery, something to get her teeth into, and this tickled her imagination. She would have to watch the men in her life more closely for signs of reduced appetite come meal times from now on if they were going to fill up on snacks between meals!
“Teresa, my compliments on a delicious meal, and the shortbread was baked to perfection. Thank you, sweetheart, for bringing a taste of the old country to this new land.” Murdoch kissed his ward fondly on the forehead as she blushed under his praise.
“Thank you, Murdoch. I was going to suggest we finish the apple pie from last night, but it would seem that someone didn’t want to share.” She looked openly at the four faces before her, but if anyone was harbouring a guilty conscience, they hid it very well. “Does anyone know what I’m referring to?”
“Sure, I do, Teresa.” Johnny spoke.
Teresa regarded him sternly. “You’re admitting it?”
“Admittin’ what?” Johnny asked suspiciously. Hadn’t she asked a simple question to which he was giving a straightforward answer?
“That you know about the pie!” Sometimes men were too dense, she thought.
“Of course I know about the pie. Teresa, did you get too much sun today? We all know about the pie. Weren’t we eatin’ it only last night? Sheesh, sometimes I don’t understand women!”
“Only sometimes, Johnny? Remember that I’ve been married twice and I still don’t understand them,” Murdoch thought to deflect the glare directed at his son from Teresa’s fiery eyes.
It was an unfortunate tactic as the incensed girl swung on him.
“Don’t defend him Murdoch. It’s too bad that I can’t leave food left over from one day to the next but Johnny feels he has to scoff it!”
“Whoa, tiger! I didn’t scoff anythin’. I ate it at the same speed as everyone else. In fact, as I recall, Jelly finished first.” Johnny felt the need to defend his eating habits. It wasn’t his fault that he’d grown up needing to protect every morsel on his plate for fear of when the next scrap would be produced.
Jelly’s whiskers bristled as he jutted his chin out.
“Well, I was in a hurry ta get back to my concoction for Murdoch’s mare, if y’all recall. Ain’t no need to go pickin’ on a man fer wantin’ to do right by a dumb animal.”
Teresa thought they were all behaving like dumb animals.
“I’m referring to the rest of the pie that was left in the pantry. Someone at this table crept in and stole it, and I want to know who!”
Four blank faces looked at each other accusingly before four innocent faces shrugged their collective shoulders and turned back to their accuser.
“Alright, I’ll drop the matter for now, but if it happens again…”
“Argh!!! I don’t believe them! This is most definitely not amusing.”
Maria raised her dark head from where she was bent over the kitchen table preparing the evening meal. Tonight they were indulging her Juanito and she was adding extra spice to the dishes of her homeland, knowing how much the niño loved them. Juanito was such a good boy, so like his mama, //el Dios la bendice (God bless her)// and Maria had taken it upon herself to be his Mamacita.
“Teresa, qúe pasá?”
Teresa emerged from the pantry with yet another empty plate, this time the one that had held the left-over shortbread.
“Maria, we have a thief and a liar in our midst. Last night they convinced me with their act of innocence, but I won’t be fooled this time.”
“Perhaps el ladrón does not know he is doing it,” Maria suggested, half-heartedly attempting to defuse the girl’s anger.
“What do you mean? That whoever is doing this isn’t aware that he is? How could that be?”
Maria shrugged. “I have heard of the restless who walk in their sleep. Perhaps Señor Lancer or one of los hijos is doing this.”
Teresa’s eyes widened with sudden concern, her anger over the missing confection forgotten.
“But that’s not a good thing, is it? I mean, couldn’t someone walking in their sleep come to all sorts of harm? What if they were to take off for the hills and get lost?”
“Perhaps you should talk to el doctor Jenkins, chica. I do not know any more than I have told you.” Maria shrugged again to signify that the conversation was over from her aspect.
Teresa resolved to do just that, tomorrow. After tonight’s confrontation at the dinner table…
“I’m sorry Teresa, but I can’t force anyone to confess. But I agree, this has to stop.” Murdoch turned a baleful glare on his sons and handyman seated around the kitchen table. “I was especially looking forward to finishing that shortbread and I don’t appreciate whichever one of you it was who ungraciously took it, with little or no thought for anyone else. If you’re hungry, eat some biscuits!”
Teresa carefully scrutinised the faces for signs of guilt but she had to admit that they were good, very good. Each man wore an expression of pure innocence. She sighed as she realised that it was going to take careful planning to catch her pie thief. Hopefully Sam would be able to confirm or refute Maria’s notion.
“I’ve looked it up for you, Teresa. It’s called somnambulism, a rather highfalutin word for sleepwalking. Some people believe that it’s dangerous to waken a sleepwalker as they might never fully recover their wits, but that’s an old wives’ tale. It’s much better to waken someone walking towards danger than let harm come to them through ignoring them. But what concerns me is that sleepwalking is usually a manifestation of a mind that can’t relax. I’ll come out to the ranch this evening and give them a once-over, just between you and me. No need to tell them I’m coming, I’ll just say I was driving past.” Sam Jenkins knew the way to the Lancer ranch with his eyes closed, he’d been there so often in the past few months since the sons had come home.
He smiled to himself as he recalled his old friend’s face when the Pinkerton report of Johnny’s narrow escape from the firing squad had landed on his desk.
“My goodness, Sam…another sixty seconds and it would have been too late. What sort of life must he be leading? Am I doing the right thing in sending for him?”
Sam had looked at the harrowed expression on his friend’s face and nodded.
“Bring the boy home and offer him a better life, Murdoch. If he turns you down, at least you can rest assured that you did your best to save him. After that, how he lives. . .and dies…will be his choice.”
And Johnny had come home, and stayed, much to the delight of everyone who got to know him, or as much of him as he allowed. He was still intrinsically a very private person, really only lowering his guard with his brother. And that had been another big surprise. Scott was the opposite of everything about Johnny: blond to Johnny’s dark looks, educated (Harvard, no less) to his brother’s street-smarts, a military background to Johnny’s gun-for-hire past. But they shared a kind nature and love for horses, and the more they spent together, the closer they became.
Sam shook his head to clear the memories and smiled at the girl, patting her arm in an avuncular manner.
“I’ll see you later, Teresa. And take it easy with the salsa and tortillas. This old man’s digestion isn’t what it used to be.”
Teresa giggled. “That was last night, don’t worry, tonight we’re having oven roasted chicken. See you later, Sam…and thanks.”
If the Lancers were surprised to see the good healer, they hid it well. Always pleased to see their friend, Murdoch had openly welcomed Sam and invited him not only to eat with them, but to stay the night.
“That’s very generous of you, Murdoch. If it’s not too much trouble, I’d be glad to.”
“No trouble at all. You can keep me company whilst the boys finish their game of chess. It does tend to get a bit competitive and can last all evening.” Murdoch led the family towards the dining room.
Maria smiled secretly with Teresa as they heard the doctor accepting his invitation to stay over. If their night-time prowler paid a visit tonight, it would be good to have the doctor present to see for himself.
After the evening meal, Teresa and Maria cleared the dishes and prepared the guest room, leaving the men downstairs. Sam covertly scrutinised the Lancer men.
“Johnny, I haven’t seen much of you lately. Are you avoiding me?”
The youngest Lancer looked up from the chess board with a broad grin lighting his face.
“Can ya blame me, doc? If you’re not stickin’ things where they’ve no business goin’ yer forcin’ me to swallow foul potions that make ya worse than the ailment. No offence, doc, but if I never have to come see you again I won’t lose any sleep.”
Sam’s ears pricked up, metaphorically speaking.
“And are you losing any?”
“Losing any what?”
“Sleep.” Sam wondered if these boys talked enough instead of these silent games of chess. It seemed the art of conversation was in danger of dying through lack of use.
Johnny shrugged. “It’s kinda stuffy at night sometimes, but usually I sleep ok.”
Frustrated, Sam turned his attention to the young blond.
“What about you, Scott?”
“I’m fine, thank you doctor.”
Scott and Johnny exchanged glances. “As my brother says, it’s very stuffy at night so if I toss more than usual it’s only to be expected. But that will pass soon when we have some rain. Murdoch tells me it’s unseasonably humid for March.”
Feeling as if he was getting no-where fast, Sam turned on Jelly who was making his excuses to leave for his own quarters.
“Jelly, I hear you’ve taken to stepping outside at night. Have you seen anyone else do that?”
Murdoch and Jelly exchanged glances, the one trying to reassure the other that he hadn’t told anyone, and the other silently berating him for having done so.
“I only stepped out that one time, an’ no, I didn’t actually see anybody, but I might have heard somethin’. But I ain’t sure, so there’s no use worryin’ Teresa over it. Then she mightn’t get any sleep, neither. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna hit the sack early. All this talk of sleepin’s made me tired.”
Murdoch watched his handyman’s departing back with a thoughtful expression. Jelly had mentioned that he had heard someone moving about a few nights ago. Perhaps their sweet-toothed thief was a vagrant who’d managed to get in to the house late at night and steal the foodstuffs. His thoughts were interrupted by Sam.
“So, Murdoch, are you managing to get 8 hours sleep? I have to say you’re looking a bit weary.”
Scott let out a yell as Johnny kicked his ankle. “What the Devil did you do that for?” he enquired crossly, rubbing the insulted limb tenderly.
Johnny inclined his head in the direction of the two older men sitting near the fire and the brothers shamelessly eavesdropped on their conversation.
“I sleep like the dead, Sam, but I have to admit I never really feel I’ve had my quota. You know what it’s like running a ranch. There’s always more work to be done than can be squeezed into a 16 hour day and sometimes it’s just hard to unwind. And like the boys said, this humidity isn’t helping. But I appreciate your concern. Now, you’re off duty tonight, so no more questions about our well-being. Have a brandy…have three, you’re not driving your buggy anywhere until tomorrow. In fact, why don’t we all have a good hefty night-cap and that way we’ll all be sure to sleep well.”
“Wouldn’t you know the very time I have a professional expert on the subject actually on the premises, our night-walker decides to stay in his room.” Teresa shook her head as she whined to the ever-tolerant Maria. “I had such high hopes that Sam would see who it was and give them something to stop doing it. Now it looks like it will have to be plan B.”
Sam came into the kitchen looking slightly the worse for last night’s drinking session.
“Sleep well?” Teresa asked, her words more solicitous than her tone, which had to be described as slightly waspish.
“Like a log. I don’t think I even heard anyone getting up for work this morning. I take it that it still is morning?”
“Just about!” Teresa relented in the silent persecution of her would-be ally. “Oh Sam, I was so hoping you’d catch them in the act last night. What am I going to do?”
Sam took several gulps of the strong black coffee Maria had slammed down before him. Or at least it sounded like she’s slammed it down.
“What you need is to catch the culprit red-handed.”
The girl snorted in disdain. “I worked that much out by myself. But if I have to stay up all night waiting for them, it might be like last night when nothing happened. Apart from four grown men getting sozzled.”
Sam winced at the accusation. It was true that Murdoch had been unaccustomedly generous with his good sipping brandy and by the time they’d headed to their rooms Sam couldn’t recall why he’d stopped at the ranch in the first place. He reached into his bag and rummaged for a few minutes before finding what he sought. Handing Teresa a small bottle he gave her some advice about its use and recommended dose.
“That will catch your thief for you, and maybe even scare them out of sleepwalking. Failing that I’ll have a long chat with him. So when do you plan to use it?”
“Tonight, I think. Today is National Pecan day and I’m going to make a large pie. There should be enough left over and I’ll add this to it before storing it in the larder. Then we’ll await developments. Maybe you should make it your business to be out this way again tomorrow morning.”
“Good morning, Scott, and how are you this fine morning?” Teresa was cheerfulness personified this morning, Scott thought. Perhaps too much, if truth be told. He hoped she’d toned it down a few degrees by the time Johnny appeared.
He crossed to plant a kiss on her cheek. “Good morning, I’m fine thank you. And you?”
She nodded and smiled, mentally ticking him off the suspect list, not that she’d ever REALLY suspected him. He was too well-mannered to be a thief. So that was one down and three to go.
The rear kitchen door opened and Johnny slithered through, his face green. Teresa inspected him critically as he slouched into a chair at the table.
“Some eggs, Johnny?”
The brunette shook his head gingerly, certain it had fallen off with the movement.
“No gracias. Coffee only, por favor. I ain’t feelin’ too good this mornin’.”
“A-HA!” Teresa let out an exultant shout. Scott’s coffee cup jostled in his grasp at the volume of her outburst and Johnny clutched his head between trembling fingers.
“Teresa…por favor…mi cabeza…”
“Oh I’ll just bet your head hurts. And how is your stomach, dare I ask?”
Johnny clutched at it as he tried to ignore the smells of Scott’s breakfast wafting towards him. “Not so good,” he whispered, eyes clamped shut.
“A-HA!” Teresa let rip again.
Johnny wanted to scream at her but he felt certain his head would explode if he did. Instead he called on Madrid to deliver a warning.
“Teresa, if you do that again,” his voice was silkily soft, “I’m gonna have to shoot ya.”
“You have some nerve, Johnny Lancer. You should be sitting there shame-faced at having been found out instead of threatening me. What have you to say for yourself?”
Scott looked from sister to brother in consternation. He hadn’t a clue what Johnny was supposed to have done this time, but it looked like it had got Teresa well and truly steamed about it. His brother peeled open one blood-shot eye.
“If you must know, an’ I don’t know why I have to justify myself to you, last night Ike an’ Pedro an’ I took Hal into Morro Coyo to try an’ talk him outta this weddin’. We figured gettin’ him drunk on one or two tequilas, but it took nearer two bottles, an’ my head an’ belly don’t feel too good, so could you stop sayin’ a-ha!”
Scott regarded his brother in sympathy. “Are you only getting home now?”
Johnny opened the second blood-shot eye and looked blearily about him. “Am I home? I don’t remember gettin’ home. Good ol’ B’ranca, mi buen amigo…”
The door banged open loudly, almost bouncing off the jamb.
“Hey Johnny! Why’s Barranca out there with his saddle on this early?” Jelly came into the kitchen, his voice loud enough to strip paint.
Johnny closed both eyes tightly and moaned pitifully. “Scott, make it stop. Won’t somebody shoot me, please!”
Teresa looked suspiciously at her ‘brother’, but if she was honest he really did look drunk, not suffering from the effects of the doctored and now missing pie. She was about to apologise when the door once again opened to admit a further entrant into the fray.
Murdoch staggered towards the table, his face green and his insides unsettled, the hand clutching his mid section attempting to hold things were they were designed to stay. He gave his ward a pitiful simpering smile.
“Teresa, be an angel and pour me a coffee, would you? I’ve been in the outhouse for most of the night. It must have been something I ate.”
Scott just managed to grab his brother’s hand as it snaked towards his holster.
“Lemme shoot her, Scott, just once.”
Scott watched a look of smug satisfaction settle on Teresa’s face before he whispered in Johnny’s ear: “Hush brother, I’ve a feeling Murdoch’s about to be served a helping of crow, and we wouldn’t want to miss it, now would we?”