(Tenth story in the Destiny Series)
A feeling of unease makes me open my eyes... just a slit, until I’m sure there’s no danger. I’m in a strange but comfortable bed in an even stranger room. I don’t feel any pain. Guess I’m not hurt then. But, where the heck am I?
It takes a few
minutes to clear the fog in my head and remember where I am. I kick the
from me, get up, stretch my back and look around.
I spot the window and that’s where my feet take me.
I sit down on the window sill and look out over a broad sweep of Lancer land... up to the mountains in the distance. Mine…all this is mine? I still can’t believe it.
A snort escapes my lips. Yeah, it’ll be mine provided I can hunt down the coward who put a bullet in my father’s back. I’ll show him how manly I am.
I turn to look around the room – this room that, according to the girl, was my own back then. It sure doesn’t feel like mine. I have no memories of the time I spent here, before my father threw Mama and me out. Speaking of which, I gotta talk to the Ol’ Man again ‘bout that. Settle things between us.
Again, I look outside and enjoy the view. Might as well, because I don’t know if I’ll be staying here. Guess it’ll depend on the outcome with Pardee and his gang. If he succeeds in wiping out Lancer, there will be no Murdoch Lancer to deal with, nor any big brother to get to know. And, come to think of it, even Johnny Madrid, gunhawk, will be a thing of the past. Considering what I have in mind, I doubt Pardee would let me live... unless I side with him.
I frown. I don’t quite like this idea. I know how he operates and that ain’t really my style. Nope. Guess he’d kill me. I frown again. Not that I’m afraid of dying – came to terms with that a long, long time ago. Truth be told, now that I’m here, I want to know more about my Ol’ Man. I want to understand what happened when I was two, why he said that Mama left, taking me with her. Could it be true? And if it is, why has Mama lied to me?
And I want to know this brother of mine, too. I’ve always wanted a brother, but never dreamed of a blonde one. No siree! The brother of my dreams was tall, strong as a bull with dark hair and dark eyes. He’d have defended his little brother against bullies. If he’d been real, maybe I’d never have become a killer for hire. Wouldn’t have had to glance over my shoulder or wonder if a bullet with my name on it is about to find me and end my life.
I shake my head as I jump off from the window sill and walk over to the washbowl. No need to think ‘bout what coulda been. It’s in the past and the past is gone, like the Ol’ Man told us yesterday. I pour some water in the bowl and splash my face to try to wake me up good. I’m not used to getting up this early. I prefer to stay in bed ‘till about noon, when my stomach starts to grumble or nature calls. But, it seems that here, we do get up kinda early. Not sure I like that either. A long sigh escapes from my lips.
Next, I grab my saddlebag from the floor, dropped there yesterday evening, before going to bed. I retrieve my only other shirt – white with black buttons, embroidered by Felicia. She put it in the bundle she gave me when I left her the other day. There was a note pinned to it: “Hope I’ll see you again soon”.
Thinkin’ about Felicia makes me smile. She sure is something. Who knows, if I get out of this mess alive, maybe I’ll go back for her. But then again, maybe not! No matter how much she likes me, I doubt she would accept to share her whole life with a gunfighter... With a rancher? Yeah, maybe! Oh well, no use thinkin’ ‘bout her right now. Can’t afford the distraction.
Inside my saddlebag, there’s also my only other pair of clean socks. I snort. My possessions... two shirts, two pair of socks, a knife, two guns and a derringer plus a few boxes of ammunition for each. Talk about being equipped!
I slept almost fully-clothed as I’d only removed my dirty red shirt and my gunbelt. Thought it would be more, let’s think... certainly not more comfortable but safer. Yeah! Definitely safer! I’m not about to throw caution to the wind just because I’m supposed to be safe in my own room. Hell, my gun was under my pillow, too. And I also shoved that wooden chest at the foot of my bed against the door. One is never too careful in a strange place, even if that place is supposed to be home.
I dress myself... well, sort of. I’m kind of distracted. I look around again. Aside from the huge bed – can’t believe I was sleeping in that when I was two – there’s a six-drawer dresser and the washbowl I used a minute ago, topped with a mirror, a night table right beside my bed, the chest that should be at the foot of the bed, a small round table covered with a cloth and a padded chair near the window. Not bad, and sure as hell better than anything I’ve had so far.
Heck! There were even times when all Mama and I had was a lumpy mattress stuck against an adobe wall in one small room, maybe a table and chair at most, and if we were lucky, a stove that barely worked. We kept all our belongings in a single box, behind a curtain on one side of the room. I continue to look at the room and then I notice a second door. Must be a closet.
I put on my clean socks and leave the dirty ones on the floor, where they join my red shirt; I grab my boots and pull one on. Then, just as I’m about to pull the second one, curiosity gets the better of me; I take my shirt and hop over to the door. I yank it open and... Guess what? I end up in my brother’s room.
Scott stands in front of his dresser, shaving. He looks at me in his mirror then over his shoulder as he stops.
“Come right in,” he says in a rather dry voice.
Doesn’t seem very happy to see his little brother, does he? And, I guess he’s done shaving, too, ’cause he wipes his razor on the towel over his shoulder. While he’s busy doing that, I lean against the doorframe and put my second boot on. All the time, I watch this brother of mine. He sure is fastidious as he takes his time to fold his razor and then picks something on the top of his dresser. Me? I’d have simply dropped the razor on the dresser – that’s it and that’s all. No fuss.
Scott turns and walks to the other side of his bedroom. I’m still near the door and I start to slip one arm in my shirt.
“Sleep well?” he asks me.
“I always sleep well,” I say, lying through my teeth. Fact is, I rarely do. In my profession, it doesn’t pay to drop your guard, even at night. So, sleeping soundly is kinda foreign to me, although I have to admit I did sleep rather well last night. Well, at least those few hours I slept because at first, all I could think about was how in hell I could deal with Pardee without endangering these folks.
Scott walks past me and heads over to a bureau where he opens one drawer and drops whatever it is he holds in it. He only has his socks on and he wears the strangest pair of pants I’ve ever seen. I have to control myself not to start laughing in his face.
I step over to the small table in the corner, much like the one in my room, and peer over it. The table is covered with the same patterned cloth as mine, there’s a vase, some papers, a photograph and a book – just like in my own room, except for the papers and the picture.
As I’m about to slip my other arm in my shirt, I spot a coin – similar to the one that’s on my table. “Well now, will you look at this?” I say as I pick it up, forgetting that my shirt’s still half on.
Scott looks back at me over his shoulder.
“They’re all over the place,” I add. Well, that’s a small lie – I haven’t checked the other rooms.
“What?” my brother asks, wiping his face with the towel.
“This...” I say, showing him the coin, while I finally finish putting my shirt on. “This is a twenty dollar gold piece. Found one in my room, too.” I pretend to examine the piece while Scott comes back near me and stops on the other side of the table.
“It’s like guest money, you know. Save’s ya askin’ for a loan,” I explain to him.
Scott wipes the last of the shaving soap off his face with the towel. I still hold the coin and offer it to him.
“Nice custom,” he says, in that dry voice of his again.
Seems he’s not interested at all. He doesn’t even pick it up and turns away, leaving me standin’ there, holdin’ the damn piece of gold.
I grin. “Teaches you somethin’...” I flip the coin into the air and catch it a couple of times. “Teaches you to never pass up a twenty dollar gold piece.”
Scott is now near the front of the bed and I can see he’s folding his towel. I bet everything in those trunks of his is neatly folded, not one wrong fold.
He turns to face me and makes a motion with his hand.
“Help yourself, it’s yours.”
“Well... thank you,” I say. I quickly put the coin in my shirt pocket before he changes his mind.
“A third of it, anyway,” he says, looking straight at me with a half smile. He waits for me to react but I let a few seconds pass. He’s gonna have to learn we don’t hurry things out here.
“You talkin’ about that piece of paper he showed us?” Somehow, I’m not able to say “our father”.
I pick up a different hat than the funny one he was wearing yesterday. Mind you, it’s another peculiar one. It has a fur hatband and a feather. What kind of man wears a hat like this in these parts? He sure has a funny taste in fashion. Some of my... friends would have fun shooting it off his head. Wonder how he would react to that. Makes me snicker.
I take my time, blow on the feather and brush it with my hands as I walk toward the dresser with a mirror. I notice that while we spoke, my brother has taken one of his trunks from the top of the chest at the foot of his bed and carried it over to the bureau.
Speaking of his trunks... he certainly doesn’t know how to travel light. Heck, the guy probably has loads of trunks back East, ready to be shipped here. And, judging from the quality of his clothes, money isn’t a problem for him.
“Let me tell you somethin’ about paper,” I say, as I put on the hat sideways and pretend to admire myself in the mirror. “You touch a match to it, ‘n it burns right up.”
As I say this, I walk away from the mirror and head toward my brother. He’s busy unpacking stuff... and loading it in a drawer. Seems he was serious when he said he’d stay.
“You don’t give the Old Man too much credit, do you?”
Funny! He’s not saying “our father” either. I’m still wearing his hat. I rest my butt against the wall and put one hand on the edge of the bureau while I dip my head and let the hat fall into my other hand. Then, I toss it into the air.
“Well, I’ll tell you... I don’t give anybody too much credit... saves a lot of disappointment.” I toss the hat onto the chest and step toward the bed. Scott watches me over his shoulder; I can feel his eyes boring into me.
There’s something on his bed... looks like a photograph. I pick it up and sit down on the edge of the bed.
“Well, will you look at that?” I say, smiling as I hold the photograph of two men wearing military uniforms. I recognize Scott in the tall one, so I point to the shorter man with a moustache on the left. “Hey, who’s this officer all smarted up?”
Scott hasn’t stopped watching me. He turns back towards the bureau and continues putting his stuff away. “It’s General Phil Sheridan. I was in his unit during the war.”
I raise my eyebrows, wondering at this war he’s been fighting in. Back on the border, I didn’t hear much ‘bout other wars – I had enough on my hands with my own war.
“You’re very pretty,” I say. Don’t know why, but it sure is fun to tease him, watch his reactions.
Scott turns and faces me.
“I photograph well,” he says seriously and then, starts to walk around the foot of the bed.
“Yeah! You are kind of a... snappy dresser at that,” I add as I lie back on the bed and roll so that I face Scott, on the other side. I’m careful not to put my boots onto his bed. Guess he wouldn’t like that, seeing how fussy he seems to be.
My brother’s heading toward the chair in front of the window. There’s some clothes draped over it. I watch him as he sits down and picks up a boot, flips it in the air before he catches it and gets ready to put in on.
“What kind of a unit did you say that was?”
The door on the
other side of the room sudden
ly bursts open and the girl, Teresa,
comes in, and that stops Scott from answering my question.
“Good morning,” she says, cheerfully.
I turn my head to look at her. Man! She seems to be in a very good mood. She’s kinda cute with her jeans and she looks very young with her hair tied at the base of her neck like that.
“Does anyone around here ever knock when they enter a room?” Scott says. His voice is kind of testy. Guess mine would be, too. Can’t help thinking I’m lucky I’ve put the chest against the door in my room. Not healthy to burst in a room like that; you never know what you might find behind door. And that thought makes me grin internally. Heck, I did the same thing a few minutes ago!
“Oh, think of me like a sister,” she answers, as if that makes it okay for her to burst into a man’s room.
I wonder if that’s what the Ol’ Man told her to say or if she’s really thinking she’s sort of a sister to us, what with her being the Ol’ Man’s ward.
She steps further in the room. “Hey, Cipriano’s cut out two horses for you. He’s waiting in the corral.”
“Yeah! You tell him I’ll be right down,” I say.
Scott doesn’t say anything. Guess he’s still pissed. Teresa’s looking at the hat Scott was wearing when we arrived, yesterday. She picks it up and looks at it with almost what seems like disgust in her eyes. She places it back on the post, taps it with one hand.
“We’re going to have to buy you some new clothes for living around here,” she says as she leaves the room, shutting the door behind her, not even waiting for Scott to answer.
I turn back to face Scott again, trying to control myself. She’s right, and it takes all my willpower to keep a straight face.
“What’s wrong with my clothes?” Scott looks annoyed as he stands, gesturing at the chair. Then, he places his hands onto his hips.
Dios! He looks like a petulant kid and that thought almost makes me lose it. I stand up. “Well, I mean, you’re planning staying in these parts...” I point at his pants, “Well, that just ain’t the style.” I grin as I say this and then, I stick my hands in my waistband.
Oh boy! Now he seems angry. He picks his clothes up from the back of the chair and says, “Of course, I’m planning to stay.”
I head over to the door that leads to my room. Scott is near it and is putting stuff away in a closet. I reach the door and I pause. It’s strange but I’m kind of nervous... no, not exactly nervous, more like I have a certain feeling of unease. I think he’s not gonna like what I’m about to say. I play with the bottom edges of my shirt, which is still unbuttoned, and without looking at Scott, I take the plunge, “Look, I tell ya... hum...”
“Get it said, Brother,” he says, harshly.
I look up and find him facing me. I’m starting to be pissed, too. So, I respond as calmly as I can even though I kind of resent his tone. “Just this. What I got in mind is pretty much a one man deal.”
Damn! There he is, smiling fully. Then, he becomes serious and squints his eyes, just as he’d do outside when the sun’s too bright. “Now, you’re gonna make me feel left out of things if you’re not careful.”
“Better left out than in a ditch... with ants crawling across your eyeballs. That don’t photograph too well.” I smile a little but my smile never reaches my eyes and I leave.
Back in my room, I’m a bit angry at myself. I wanted to talk to Scott about the dangers of accepting deals – any type of deals – as quickly as he’d done yesterday. I wanted... Hell, what did I expect? This brother of mine’s pretty hard to figure out. Guess I’ll have to postpone our talk.
Right now, I need to have a look at the horse the Segundo has picked for me and then, think... think hard about how to approach this whole Pardee situation.