“Well that hit the spot,” said Scott setting his beer mug down heavily on the table he shared with Johnny at the saloon in Green River. He swiped at his mouth with the back of his hand and looked directly at his younger brother.
“Think we should head back now with those supplies, as it is Murdoch’s going to wonder why it took us so long.” He grabbed his work gloves off the table and swatted them on Johnny’s chest as his brother downed the last of his beer, sending a small cloud of dust puffing into the air between them.
“Yeah, wouldn’t want the old man to think we were shirking our duties and out having fun or anything.” Johnny said a bit sarcastically. Scott’s brow furrowed at the remark so Johnny smiled over at him letting him know that he was just teasing.
“I’m just kiddin’, it’s too dang blasted hot today so I’m feelin’ a little grumpy.”
“Well brother, I agree, it is hot but we have a job to finish and I hear a bath calling my name as soon as we’re done.” He chuckled as he watched his younger brother scoot his chair back and stand up wiping the dripping sweat off his forehead and face with a faded pink colored bandana before putting his hat back on.
“What’s so funny?” Johnny grumbled while piercing his older brother with a steady gaze.
“You and your penchant for flashy colors. Sometimes it just strikes me as funny, like now when you’re all grumpy. Come on let’s get home, you’ll feel better after you’ve had a bath and cooled off some in the house.” Scott threw his left arm around his brother’s shoulders and together they started to head toward the batwing doors of the saloon.
Johnny suddenly turned quickly around still walking backwards and mischievously said to his brother, “Hey Scott, about all them bright colors, I wear ‘em so that way I can attract all the pretty girls to me first, what with you bein’ so tall, blonde and pretty it gets kinda hard to compete. Just findin’ my way of keepin’ up is all, give myself a little edge….”
Johnny never completed his sentence; Scott shoved him good-naturedly in the chest with both of his hands as his brother walked backward through the swinging doors effectively cutting him off and causing him to loose his footing. He grabbed the top of the doors as they swung back toward him and peeked over the top grinning wickedly and hoping at the same time that Johnny wouldn’t be too sore at him for making him fall backward flat on his backside.
His grin however quickly disappeared as soon as he realized the big mistake he had made. His little brother did indeed fall backward but in doing so he fell onto a pretty young woman who had been walking down the boardwalk carrying an arm load of packages that were now strewn across both of them and the dusty road in front of the saloon.
Johnny rolled to his side packages falling from his chest and cursing Scott a blue streak first in Spanish then in English, “Damn it Scott, what did ya go and do that for? Hell I oughtta punch the livin’ daylights out you for that fool stunt!” Johnny got to his knees and then to his feet brushing himself off and then kicked at one of the packages that landed on the toe of his boot. His back was still turned away from Scott as he continued his tirade in Spanish; he stepped off the boardwalk to retrieve his hat, which had landed on the dirt next to the foreleg of one of the horses hitched to the rail. Just as he bent to pick it up the tethered horse sidestepped and stood on the crown of his hat. This further grated on his nerves and caused the angry young man to spit out more explicatives. “Damn it horse move your danged foot before I shoot it!” he yelled as he tried to get the horse to lift his front leg. Johnny stood up and took a deep breath breathing out loudly through his nose and wiping at the sweat that trickled down his forehead and temples. He craned his neck to one side then the other trying to get his temper under control as he took several more deep breaths.
Meanwhile Scott helped the young woman Johnny had knocked over, onto her feet apologizing profusely for the damage that he had caused. He held her arm and started brushing her dress off with his gloves smearing dirt all over her cream colored dress. He turned bright red as soon as he realized what he had done and even redder when he heard Johnny cussing at the big roan who still hadn’t managed to budge off Johnny’s hat.
“Um, Johnny,” Scott said as he still held onto the young woman’s arm.
“Will you let me go!” the woman spat. “He’s going to get my packages stepped on by that horse, not to mention the fact that he’s already kicked one halfway into the road!”
Scott looked down into stormy green eyes and back to Johnny who was now shoving on the horse trying to get him to move over by pushing on his neck and shoulder.
“This damn horse must be part mule! Move over!” Johnny shouted and pushed.
Scott let go of the young woman’s arm and stepped off the walkway to retrieve the package that Johnny had kicked in his frustration. Just as he was about to cross to the middle of the road a wagon driven by an older man Scott didn’t recognize drove by and rolled over it crushing it flatter than one of Teresa’s flapjacks. “Great. Now that’s just great,” he said to himself.
He turned and looked back at the woman to see if she had witnessed the destruction of her parcel. Her hands were on her hips; her auburn colored hair was in disarray and the fire in her eyes said ‘Yes” she had.
The woman pursed her lips and without a word to the tall blonde stranger she pointed her left forefinger toward the flattened package and managed to convey without saying a word that he needed to turn around and get her package pronto.
“Whoo whee, I got it!” Johnny finally picked up his dusty crushed hat and pivoted around toward Scott holding it up in the air and waving it at his brother who had crossed to the middle of the road. “Hey Scott, whatcha doin’?” he yelled out to his brother. “That mule horse ain’t got nothin’ on me, I outsmarted him with brute strength I tell ya! You ever shove me down like that again though I’m gonna have to kick your butt and knock you down into next Sunday!”
Scott bent and picked up the trampled package and turned back toward his brother and walked up to him swiftly. “In case you hadn’t noticed little brother there is a lady behind you that you knocked over and fell on top of. So if you don’t mind, watch your mouth. I think we’ve caused enough damage without further insulting her with bad manners and bad language.” He stole another glance at her from around Johnny’s head and shoulder then put his face back in front of his sibling and ground out between tight lips, “So turn around quick and apologize or I think there’s gonna be trouble.”
Scott moved his arms into the air and out to his sides away from him, the package he had retrieved falling to the ground next to Johnny’s boots. “Whoa now, we didn’t mean anything mister,” Scott said as he backed away slowly from Johnny his eyes staring past his brother. “Ah, Johnny…If I was you I’d run…now!” With that said Scott took several more steps away from his befuddled brother crouching a little in the middle of the street.
Johnny was confused and thought for a moment his brother had heat stroke or had simply gone crazy. He turned around to see what it was that his brother was backing away from. A large fist came barreling straight toward him punching him right in the nose knocking him flat on his back, dust flying in every direction as he landed on the dry hard packed street.
Scott gulped staring down at his little brother’s bloody face and yelled the word “Johnny!” and backed another cautious step backward away from the oncoming giant.
“Johnny!” he yelled again grabbing at the hands that now had him by his shirtfront. His mind registered the woman on the boardwalk screaming a name he hadn’t heard before as he went sailing through the air landing on top of his brother’s inert body.
“Milo no!” the woman screamed at the big bear of a man.
He wasn’t listening; he turned toward the two men on the ground and started stomping in their direction his cheeks flaming red from anger matching the color of his closely cropped head of hair.
Johnny was shoving at Scott to get off him, blood pouring from his nose and down the front of his white shirt staining it a stark crimson color. He got up to his feet quickly once he got his brother off him and faced the big man coming toward them. His eyes were blurry and he tried to take in a deep breath through his nose stumbling one step then a second as he tried to gain his balance.
The redheaded man reached down and pulled Scott to his feet intending to put his fist through his nose too when suddenly his body was thrown backward from the force of Johnny wrapping his arms around his waist and pushing with all his might. Both men landed on the ground in a heap rolling and throwing punches at each other.
Scott stumbled toward the hitching post and the woman who stood there with her hand covering her mouth and eyes alternately. Scott could hear his brother yelling at the man he was fighting and grinned a little even though the situation was not a very funny one.
“Nobody, and I mean nobody hits my brother and gets away with it!” Johnny yelled at the man whose face was now just as bloody as Johnny’s. Johnny threw a punch into the man’s gut and heard him grunt loudly. The man doubled over and Johnny took the opportunity to kick him square in the jaw knocking him over and back down to the dirt road. He then ran toward him jumping on top of his huge body and they rolled and punched kicking up the dust and dirt in a frenzy of flying arms and legs.
The woman on the boardwalk screamed at the two men again taking a step off the walkway to make her way toward the fighting twosome. Scott grabbed her by the arm restraining her. “Ma’am, you can’t go over there you’ll just get hurt.”
“What do you know about it?” she fairly shouted at him. “That’s my brother and that man is hurting him!”
“Well that’s my brother and I’m telling you that you’ll only get hurt!” he shouted back at her. “Besides, why’d you send that big galoot of a brother after me and my brother?” he wanted to know.
“I didn’t. He probably thought you two were hurting me, so he was protecting me! Like you would know anything about that!”
“I know plenty about that lady! If it weren’t for you my brother wouldn’t even be fighting that big ox you have for a brother.”
“Big ox! Why you…” She turned to face the blonde standing next to her leaning heavily on the post and slapped his face as hard as she could.
Scott was stunned still trying to catch his breath from the throw and the adrenaline pumping through his veins as he watched his brother and the red head duke it out. “Why may I ask did you do that when all I’m trying and have been trying to do is apologize and keep you from getting hurt?” he asked turning to her but not wanting to take his eyes off the fight, the sting from her slap irritating him.
“Because you called my brother an ox! He is not an ox and I don’t appreciate you saying that he is. Now what are you going to do, stand there like an idiot or go stop those two from beating each other to a pulp?” She asked the question with fire in her eyes expecting him to do something instead of standing there gawking like the rest of the men who had slowly made their way out of the saloon and some of the other businesses to watch the fracas.
“If you think I can break that up you’re out of your mind,” Scott said to her defensively. The girl started to move again but he held onto her arm more tightly.
“Let go of me! If you’re not going to stop this then I will!” She yanked hard trying to break his hold but couldn’t.
Johnny and the big man he was fighting were winding down. Their energy was spent but there seemed to be one last reserve in his system so Johnny grabbed the man one last time by the shirt front and gave him one last resounding punch in the jaw sending the big man for the last time toward the ground his heading thumping hard as he landed and didn’t move.
Johnny bent over grabbing his knees and trying to catch his breath. The men encircling them whooped and let out a cheer that their friend Johnny Lancer was still standing.
“All right you men just move along now!” they heard the sheriff yell as he came running up to the crowd. “What in the sam hill have you gotten yourself into now boy!” Val Crawford said as he ran up to Johnny’s side and took a look around. “ I said go on and git!” he yelled at the last of the remaining men.
Val saw Scott standing nearby clutching a woman by the arm and turned back to Johnny who was still trying to catch his breath and wiping at the blood that poured from his nose with the back of his sleeve. He took out a handkerchief and shoved it at Johnny, “Here use this, for cryin’ out loud, Teresa’s gonna have your backside coming home with blood all over that shirt and you looking like minced meat.”
“Couldn’t help it Val,” Johnny said as he held his head backward and clamped his nose shut with the handkerchief. He pointed in Scott’s direction saying, “Sides that, it’s all his fault anyways. So go yell at Scott, I’m not feelin’ too good right now.”
With that said Val turned back to Scott and said, “Well speak up dang blasted! Whatcha got to say for your self!”
Val watched as Scott’s eyes narrowed and turned to the woman he still held by the arm, then turned back to face Val, “Sorry.” He croaked out lamely.
Scott let go of the woman’s arm abruptly and embarrassment crept up his tanned face turning it bright red. He stared at the toes of his boots an apology on the tip of his tongue.
Ignoring his discomfort the girl ran to her brother falling on her knees beside him catching his shoulders in her tiny hands as he attempted to sit up asking him frantically if he was all right over and over again.
Val squinted at Scott, “Well I think you best git your brother over to the doc’s office while I help this one over here get on his feet. I’ll meet ya over there with the big one and then you’ll all have some explanin’ to do, ya hear?” He waited for an answer. “Ya hear me Scott?” he asked again when he got no answer.
“Yeah, I hear you,” he said walking over to where his brother stood still holding his head back to stop the nose bleed. Johnny was unsteady at best, the after effects of the fight finally hitting him and causing him to feel like he was going to pass out. He reached out for his brother’s arm as Scott walked up to him holding on tightly resisting the urge to fall to his knees and throw up.
“Come on little brother, I’ll help you get to Sam’s and pray he can get you fixed up enough to get you home. I got a feeling I’m not going to look much better after Murdoch gets a hold of me.” He sighed heavily and grabbed Johnny’s right arm pulling it around his shoulder as he wrapped his left arm around the injured man’s waist. They followed Val and the other man he was helping toward Doc Jenkins office just a few blocks down the street.
The redheaded man’s sister turned her head and glared at Scott before taking her brother’s other arm and helped Val steer him in the right direction. “Andy, you git over there and gather up those packages and bring ‘em to the Doc’s office,” Val shouted out to his deputy who had come running toward them still trying to get his gun belt buckled onto his slim hips. He was seventeen and wasn’t really a deputy but Val let him think he was and usually wound up letting him do mundane task such as the one he was now being asked to do.
The young towhead brushed his hand through his hair and propped his too big brown felt hat on top of his head and said, “Yes sir, Val. I’ll make sure everthin’ gets cleaned up and brought over faster than you can catch a greased pig.”
“You wanna I should get the jail cells ready too?” he asked rather excitedly hitching up his gun belt that threatened to fall down past his hips at any minute.
Val stopped for a moment and looked him straight in the eyes, “No, I don’t want you to git the cells ready dang blast it! I done told ya what I want you to do now git to it! And for God’s sake tighten up that gun belt or take it off before I gotta cart your sorry butt to the Doc’s cause ya done shot your own leg off! And mind that you don’t go gettin’ those packages messed up any more than they already are!”
Val tipped his dirty felt hat at the lady clutching the big man’s arm that walked unsteadily between them. “Sorry bout that ma’am, Andy’ll make sure them packages of yours will get back to ya all safe and sound soon as he gits ‘em all round up.”
“I think you’re a bit late for that sheriff, where were you twenty minutes ago when those two were trampling on me and ruining my stuff with their careless antics? Just look at my brother!” The frazzled woman peered around her brother’s big beefy arm and chest to glare at Val.
“Sadie, would you hush up! You’re talkin’ like I ain’t even walkin’ right next to you and actin’ like I’m some kinda baby that needs protectin’! Hells bells girl I got a tongue ya know,” the man said irritably as he glanced down at the fiery little spitball that was his sister.
Sadie punched his right arm, “Don’t you go telling me to hush up Milo or I’ll tell da and we’ll just see who’s the baby then!”
“Stop your caterwaulin both of ya!” Val yelled.
“How dare you!” the woman demanded, glaring at Val like he was some kind of monster in human form. “You’re supposed to be the law around here and I expect you to have a little respect considering we’re the injured party”
Val stopped short watching Scott ahead of them as he guided Johnny with his head still tilted back trying to stop his nose from bleeding, Val’s new white handkerchief soaked with Johnny’s blood.
“From the looks of it lady, I’d say there was two injured parties here not just one,” he said back to her squinting his eyes and hoping that she would calm down. He grabbed the man by the arm again and continued on to Doc Jenkins office just a few more yards down the dusty road.
Sadie didn’t respond to Val’s comments. For just a moment she felt regret at her harsh words toward the sheriff especially after she saw how much blood the dark haired man had lost into the hanky held at his nose and the unsteady steps he took with his brother’s help. Her brother wasn’t in much better condition, he had the signs of two black eyes and his lip was bleeding from the corner and running down his chin in a thin trickle.
Johnny felt sick and had to stop for a minute and catch his breath, blood was building up in the back of his throat gagging him. He leaned over and coughed up a clot of blood and spit it out causing his nose to start bleeding profusely again. Sadie could hear the blond haired man tell him to hold his head back again, stuffing another piece of cloth into his hands. This time it was a pink bandana she noticed he pulled from around the shorter man’s neck.
They stepped up onto the boardwalk and Val tried to turn the doorknob to Doc’s office but it was locked. Knowing that the doctor was in Val rapped loudly on the door and turned to watch as Scott and Johnny joined them on the boardwalk. Everyone stood still not saying a word as they all waited for Doc to open up.
It seemed like an eternity that they waited, everyone glaring at one another silently daring each other to say something. Johnny lowered his head getting a full view of the people who had made his life miserable in the past half hour. Scott stood beside him, head lowered, eyes on the walkway not wanting to look his brother in the eyes, he scuffed his boot on the wooden planks for something to do while they waited.
Val rapped a second time on the door asking Johnny how he was at the same time. “I’m fine, just fine,” he said sarcastically staring directly into Sadie’s eyes the waded up bandana muffling his voice. His sapphire eyes then turned toward the bigger man who had attacked his brother daring him to make a comment.
“Mebbe next time you’ll watch where you’re going and not hurt my little sister ya little runt!” He smiled with busted bloodied lips and then gave Scott a small shove on the shoulder to see if he was listening to him. “You too wart!”
Scott’s head came up slowly and he squinted at the man who stood at least a foot taller than him. “Now I don’t see any reason why you have to behave like this. It’s not like we did anything to you or your sister deliberately, this whole mess was an accident and if you’ll just let me explain I think we can all be adults about this.”
“I don’t need you explainin’ nothing to me. I know what I saw and you’re just lucky the sheriff came along or I would have kicked your butt too.” The man pasted another one of his broken grins on his face and then poked Scott in the shoulder to emphasize his words.
Before Val could stop him, Johnny who had been listening to the whole exchange was getting madder by the second, barreled into the man’s stomach sending them both careening off the boardwalk just as Doc Jenkins opened the door to allow them all in.
Both men rolled through the dirt, their fist flaying at one another causing more damage than before. They both stood up glaring at one another blood dripping down from their noses and one second later started throwing their fist into each other again. Milo punched Johnny in the stomach sending him flying backwards and landing on his rear. He got up quickly and ran toward Milo grabbing him on the shoulder with his left hand and giving him a hard right into his stomach. It didn’t send him flying back but it did leave him doubled over gasping for breath.
“What the hell is going on around here?” Doc yelled as he grabbed onto Val who was attempting to keep the young woman from joining the fracas.
Scott ran down the step and tried to break in between the two fighting men, Milo punched him in his left jaw, knocking him backward, his hat flying off and landing several feet away.
“I told you not to hit my brother!” Johnny yelled as he threw himself at Milo’s waist shoving him backward with all his might. They broke through a hitching post; Johnny landing on top of Milo his fist battering the red headed mans face. Milo hit him with an upper cut to the chin and they rolled away fist finding their targets as each man fought with a fury.
Scott was getting himself up flexing his jaw back and forth hoping he hadn’t broken it. The big man was powerful, the clip to his jaw hurting more than he would care to admit. He watched both of them for a minute and looked up at Val who stood with his arms wrapped around the woman who struggled to free herself. “Well, what do you suggest?” he asked Johnny’s long time friend.
“I say let ‘em kill each other. Serves ‘em right for messin’ up my afternoon,” Val responded with a crooked grin and a twinkle in his eye.
“You would say that you no good, lousy, rotten sheriff!” the girl in his arms yelled turning her head back toward her captor. If she could have gotten close enough to his chin Val had no doubt that she would have tried to bite him. She was madder than a wet hen and all Val could do was laugh at the whole situation.
“Go on in there Scott and save that sorry brother’s hide of his. I got my hands full here with this little filly, I can’t let her go or I’d stop him myself.”
Scott’s eyebrows rose up a notch and he placed his hands on his hips pondering what to do.
“Oh for Pete’s sake Scott, go over there and get a bucket from the hardware store and fill it up with water. Pour it on top of them. That ought to do it,” the doctor said pointing toward the building across the street.
Scott ran across the street and grabbed a bucket from inside the store. Mr. Hanson, the owner was at the window watching and turned toward Scott as he entered the building. He said, “Take the big one over there Scott. That little one you got there won’t be big enough for them two.” He laughed as he watched Scott scramble in haste toward a bigger bucket that sat at the end of his counter.
Scott stopped himself just as he was about to run out the door and looked at Mr. Hanson who had returned to watching the fight from the front window. “You know, I could use some help if you don’t mind.”
Mr. Hanson pushed his round rim glasses back up the bridge of his nose, “Oh no you don’t Scott Lancer, I know that brother of yours and he’s gonna be mad as a hornet’s nest when you get done throwin’ that water on him. Thanks but no thanks. I’ll just keep watchin’ all the fun from here iffen you don’t mind.”
At Scott’s offended look Mr. Hanson doubled over laughing, tears streaming down his face as he stood upright and watched Scott run across the street to the nearest horse trough.
Everyone in town knew the story of Scott and Johnny Lancer and how close they had become since finding out they were brothers. Apparently everyone that is except the woman Val held in his arms and the man Johnny was fighting. If they had known they would have known also that you don’t mess with one brother without the other one coming to the rescue. Mr. Hanson thought he would love to be a fly on their wall when those boys got home. Ole Murdoch Lancer would have both their hides for getting into trouble. He laughed even harder at this thought and resumed his watch through the window knowing without a doubt that he would be able to find out what happened later from his friend Jelly when he got into town to play a friendly game of poker with him and some buddies on Saturday night.
Scott filled the bucket to the brim and carried it over to where the two men were still rolling on the ground throwing punches. They had both fallen over onto their sides facing each other, Milo punched Johnny in the stomach again and he responded with an equal punch landing a hard left in the other mans gut. Before they both knew what was happening cold water drenched them from overhead.
Gasping for air they both sat up and leaned forward. Another wave of cold water doused them and Johnny jumped up to get away from the onslaught. He backed up lifting his head and sucked in a lung full of air, hands on his hips, shaking his head back and forth as water drops whipped through the air making him dizzy. He stumbled back another step or two trying to get his balance when Scott’s strong hands gripped him by the arms.
“Whoa, Hold steady there now. You done boy?” he asked Johnny as he helped him to stand without falling backward.
Johnny gripped his forearms, still gasping for air. “I’m…I’m done. Can’t…can’t breathe too good Boston.”
Scott looked on at his brother in alarm. “Come on Johnny, calm down and take a deep breath. That’s it brother. Take a deep breath and let it out slowly.”
Johnny tried to do as his brother said but it was no use. Scott’s face paled as Johnny slowly began to sink to his knees his eyes rolling back as he passed out in his brothers arms.
“Get him in my office Scott, I’ll help Val get this one,” Doc instructed. Val had let go of Sadie and ran down the step to help Doc grab the other man under the arms. Together they held him up and maneuvered him toward the doctor’s open office door. Milo was heavy and it was all the two of them could do to get him into the office without letting him fall to a heap on the floor.
Sadie followed closely wondering how she was going to explain everything to her father while Scott who laid Johnny down on an examining table wondered the same thing.
Val and Doc Jenkins struggled but they managed to get Milo onto the bed that served Doc’s overnight patients. Although Milo was much bigger than Johnny he had taken just as much of a beating as he gave. Doc turned to Val, “Go down to the Mildred’s boarding house and ask her to come back with you. I’ll need her help getting these two patched up. Her boy’s are always fighting so she’ll know just what to do to help me with these two without me having to explain every thing.”
“Sure thing Doc. Be back in a jiff,” Val replied. He shook his head muttering under his breath as he passed by the young woman sitting next to her injured brother. She was already loosening the buttons to his shirt and reaching for a towel that lay nearby and wiped at the prone man’s bleeding lips.
Val wasn’t a happy man, no siree not one bit. His friend lay on a table in the examination room to the right of the front door, his brother speaking to him frantically to open his eyes, while the other one lay on the sick bed at the back of Sam’s office not nearly as injured but injured nevertheless and to top it all off the woman who cried soft cooing words of encouragement to the big redhead looked as if she might just collapse at any moment. Doc sure had his hands full and the sad part was that Johnny seemed to have gotten the short end of the stick in the whole mess.
Murdoch Lancer would wind up blaming Johnny for the whole thing before ever asking what really happened. He just hoped that Scott would speak up before things got out of hand and assumptions were made in regards to his buddy.
Val knew that Murdoch’s opinion meant more than the boy would ever admit to him or anyone else for that matter, including Johnny himself. It devastated his young friend’s self-esteem every time he thought Murdoch was angry or disappointed in him. Johnny never said as much to him because that would be getting too personal and Johnny was pretty tight lipped in regards to his feelings but it didn’t take a brain surgeon to see the effects the old man had on his youngest son after one of their heated arguments.
Their relationship with each other was still in the developing stage having only lived together for just under a year. At best their relationship was a veritable up and down rocky climb, each losing their temper faster than a rattler’s snakebite. Maybe he would ride home with them just to make sure that Murdoch got the story straight, hopefully defusing any fireworks before they could possibly go off. He wasn’t sure how the whole thing had started but he had witnessed the redhead jump off the sidewalk and throw the first punch and he intended to get the whole story before going to Lancer if he needed to.
With that thought on his mind he took one last look in the doorway where Johnny lay silently. Scott turned his head and said, “I think he’s finally coming around,” to Val’s silent inquiry. He heard Johnny moan. That was a good sign. Least ways he wasn’t dead, hurting real bad but not dead. Johnny was tough. He’s been through much worse and lived to tell the tale. Val guessed today wouldn’t be any different.
Well if Johnny was moaning then it wouldn’t be much longer before he’d be trying to scramble up off the table and stand on his own two feet. Injured or not the one thing he knew his friend couldn’t stand was to feel vulnerable and lying on that table in the doctors office wouldn’t help. Scott would probably be hard pressed to keep him here long enough for Doc or Mildred to get him bandaged and cleaned up.
“Be back soon Scott, I’m gonna go Mildred from down the street. Doc says he’s gonna need some help gettin’ ‘em all patched up. When Andy gits here tell im to put them packages over here on the sofa in the livin’ room. Don’t want that woman havin’ anymore to have to think about with her helpin’ Doc with that other feller.” He waited a moment for Scott to respond but when he didn’t Val just licked his lips and turned back toward the front door knowing Scott was preoccupied and worried, he hitched his belt up and gave it a little twist to position it back the way he liked it and blew his breath in an exasperated manner as he spied the gangly deputy down the street in front of the saloon.
Andy was still trying to gather up all the dropped parcels but in his nervousness kept dropping some of them as he tried to get just the right balance to carry them across the street and down to Sam’s office. It didn’t help matters much that some of the men from the saloon were standing outside guffawing at his clumsy attempts to pick them all up and carry them as his gun belt kept sliding precariously down his hips while his too large hat fell forward obscuring his view.
Val stomped over and yelled at the men to get back into the saloon before he took the notion to arrest all of them for loitering and disturbing the peace. None of them wanted that so all four of them, Tom, Charlie, Ralph and Walter, better known as ‘Stinky’ to his friends slithered inside, beer mugs in hand laughing and slapping each other on the backs as they slunk back into the darkened interior to escape Val’s threat.
“Gall darn it Andy cain’t ya hear those fella’s laughing at ya boy. I told ya earlier, tighten up that belt or take it off. And for cryin’ out loud stop what you’re doin’ and make some sense out of it afore you go tryin’ to carry all that stuff at once. Take some and come back for the rest. One of these days you better smart up or you’re gonna find your self dancing the jig at the end of some cowboys gun.” Exasperated and sweating from the heat Val took some of the packages out of Andy’s arms and set them down on the boardwalk and watched carefully as Andy followed his mentor’s orders concerning his gun belt.
“Sorry Boss, thought I could get it all in one trip. Sides those fellows don’t bother me none, their just jealous and there ain’t ever been no one that I know of that died from someone having a good laugh at their expense.” Andy tightened his belt and righted his hat as he spoke to Val, seventeen year old eagerness written all over his face.
Val couldn’t stay angry; the boy tried so hard and had a heart of gold. Probably shouldn’t be thinking about being a lawman but he guessed that Green River was the best place to start if that’s where he was headed. The most that ever happened here on a good day had happened on this one. Mostly bar room brawls, runaway wagons, minor domestic violence between spouses or the town drunks getting a little too loud in the middle of the night singing rowdy songs and howling at the moon. Not much but it kept him pretty busy and most times the situations were harmless enough for someone like Andy to help with.
“Alright go on with ya now. And don’t forgit what I told ya. When you’re done getting those packages over to the Doc’s get on back over to the jail and start cleanin’ it up. And start a pot of coffee!” he yelled out to Andy who had finally made it down the street a ways.
Andy turned back to Val grinning like a kid on Christmas morning and said, “Sure thing Boss, I’ll…” the rest of his words were lost. His boot heel caught in a small pot hole causing him to lose his balance and fall onto his backside making the packages fly up into the air landing in all directions while his hat once again fell forward covering his face and the embarrassed blush that crept up his neck and stained his entire features.
Val lowered his head and turned it slowly in the direction of the saloon doors as sudden laughter erupted from behind him. He shook his head and stormed off in the direction of Mildred’s boarding house choosing to disregard the cackles and taunts that floated drunkenly at him. ‘Well the boy had to learn someday, and today might as well be that day,’ he thought even more annoyed than before. He didn’t look back, he didn’t want too. It was still fairly early and he figured the rest of the day wasn’t going to get any better so he would tackle one thing at a time and right now he needed to get Mildred. The boy would just have to take care of himself for the time being.
Watching Andy though made him wonder for the millionth time how someone like Johnny had made it on his own for so long. Johnny was only three years older than Andy, still a kid himself and yet he seemed so much older and wiser. By the time he was Andy’s age Johnny already had a reputation as Johnny Madrid that had spread throughout most of Mexico and as far north as Sacramento. The speed with which he drew his gun was legendary; the Mexican’s heralded the great Johnny Madrid as a hero while the gringos to the north feared him and his modified colt. Although he quit the life of a pistolero, a gun hawk for hire, his past would sometimes come back to haunt him, occasionally making it hard to ever really hang up his guns for good. But he was trying and Val knew that with the help and love of his family, his future looked much brighter than ever before. That is, if he could help Scott keep him in one piece in the meantime.
Johnny tried valiantly to open his eyes, he could hear Scott calling to him but he sounded like he was a million miles away. His head hurt and it was hard to breathe, his entire body ached with each jagged breath. He tried again to open his eyes wanting to reassure his brother that he was fine but try as he might they just wouldn’t obey his command. Memories of the time when he was temporarily blinded filtered through his mind and caused him to panic. He thrashed his head from side to side calling out Scott’s name and reached for him frantically, his anxiety growing with every second that passed.
Scott grabbed his hands in his own and spoke closer into his ear, “Johnny, Johnny calm down, I’m here brother, I’m here.” He said the words in a soothing tone and brushed the hair that forever fell across his brother’s forehead away from his eyes. “Johnny, take your time brother, open your eyes, you can do it, just relax.” He cupped Johnny’s face with his two hands turning him so that he was facing his voice as he spoke softly and calmly to him. He watched as his brother’s eyes seemed to race back and forth under his lids and then suddenly open and shut several times as if it were hard to keep them open for any length of time.
Johnny’s hands came up to cover Scott’s and he finally opened his eyes fully staring straight at Scott’s slate gray ones. He smiled crookedly and tiny crinkles appeared at the corners as a tear welled up and spilled down his temple. He coughed, letting go of Scott’s hands and crossed his arms over his stomach hoping to ease the pain that wracked his rib cage. He turned his head back toward Scott, “I got scared Scott when I couldn’t see you,” he whispered through broken cracked lips.
“Me too little brother, you had me worried there for a minute. How are you feeling?” he asked gently, touching his forehead again with the palm of his hand. Relief washed over him as Johnny smiled up at him again.
“Not too good, but I’m glad you’re here,” he replied. He licked his lips and closed his eyes slowly as if they weighed a ton, “It’s hard to keep my eyes open.” He seemed to be searching for something else to say but moaned again as a feeling of nausea swept over him. Glassy sapphire eyes gleamed at Scott when they opened once more to focus in on his brother, “Murdoch’s gonna be mad at me for this ya know.”
Scott sucked in his breath, “Yeah I know.” He paused for a second, “Want to run away? I think Grandfather would take you in,” he said in his most innocent tone.
Johnny started to laugh and coughed as a spasm of pain ripped through his chest and stomach. “Scott don’t make me laugh, it…it hurts too much.” He swatted at his brother’s hand and turned his head away from him trying to staunch the laughter that wanted to continue as he watched his brother’s smiling face. Scott’s grandfather would be the last person on earth to take Johnny in and Scott knew it.
“Ok, I’ll stop. You’re right of course. He probably will be mad but we’ll stick together on this one no matter what. This wasn’t your fault, if anything it’s mine.” He shivered a little at the thought of facing Murdoch and trying to explain why Johnny was battered and bruised, possibly even a broken rib or two. Scott wasn’t usually the one to get into trouble let alone be the one to blame for instigating it. He figured that was going to be the very thought that would throw their father off balance once the explanations started coming forth. He didn’t know his father as well as he would like but the one thing he had learned in their short time together was that his father thought of him as the steady disciplined type who would never intentionally cause a problem that would besmirch the Lancer name.
The door to the doctor’s office flew open with a loud bang; Scott turned and watched as Andy struggled in the doorway nearly dropping his armload onto the floor. He turned back to his brother who lay with his eyes closed, “You ok for a minute?”
“Yeah, I hear ‘im, better help ‘im before he does any thing else to rile up that little she cat. Don’t think I feel up to takin’ on either one of ‘em right now.” Johnny raised his left hand up to the bridge of his nose trying to get a feel of whether or not it was broken as he spoke tiredly in answer to his question.
“Hey Scott, whatcha want me to do with these? How’s Johnny and who was that man yall brung in here with ya? Boy howdy Val is ready to explode. I don’t think I ever saw him so mad before,” Andy rambled his voice carrying to the back where Sadie and Doc Jenkins were patching up her brother. Doc saw her stiffen at the boy’s words and told her to continue with her ministrations as he stood stiffly and walked into the front room.
Scott was already there. “Andy, I think it would be best if you kept your voice down. Set those things down there on the sofa and go get the rest of them. Val will be back shortly and you don’t want him coming down on you for prattling on, now do you?”
Andy let his bundle fall the short distance to the sofa and turned to Scott smiling, “No, guess your right. But you’ll fill me in later won’t cha?”
Scott put his hand on Andy’s slim shoulder saying, “I sure will Andy. Johnny’s gonna be fine and thanks for asking. Now you go on and scoot before Val gets here.”
“Yes sir Scott, I sure will. I’m glad Johnny’s all right. I like ‘im a lot ya know.”
“I know and he likes you a lot too,” Scott replied sincerely.
Andy left the room just as loudly as he entered slamming the door behind him. Scott stood there, hands on his hips then chuckled and turned around to return to his brother’s side. He came to an abrupt halt as he faced Doc Jenkins, Sam smiled at him having witnessed the whole conversation; “You sure got a way with that boy Scott. Thanks for being so nice; he’s a good boy. Now, let’s go take a look at that other boy you have a way with.” Sam turned to his left with Scott following close on his heels eager to return to his little brother.
In the back room Sadie couldn’t help but smile as she dabbed a cool wet cloth on her brother’s face. She too had heard the entire exchange and marveled at how calmly and efficiently the blond man had reprimanded the young eager boy without making him feel bad, much the same as her mother did when she spoke to her way too overprotective brother Milo or her too tomboyish sister Jessica.
She smiled down at her brother wondering if he had heard the exchange also. He must have because his next words caused her heart to restrict and a lump formed at the back of her throat, “Think I overreacted sis? Maybe I jumped the gun just a bit. Sounds like I might have.”
“Maybe.” She placed the cool cloth on his forehead and held his large hand in hers. “I think maybe I got carried away too. It just all happened so fast and when I saw that other man go after you…well, let’s just say that I got carried away in the moment myself. Now that I think back on it I’m sure it was all just an accident to begin with but by the time you got involved everyone was all heated up and it just seemed like there wasn’t anything else that could be done. Of course it didn’t help that you called them names. I’m sure if they had done that to you I would have gotten pretty mad myself.”
She shook her head hoping with all her might that they would be able to get everything cleared up soon and head back home. Her mother and father would be furious with them both and probably punish them with endless chores for getting into trouble with the local sheriff. Fine way to greet the new town they were now residents of. She knew her parents main concern, aside from the obvious health of their children, would be the tarnish to their name once the local families heard about what happened. If there was anything her father in particular despised, it was causing any kind of taint toward the McIntyre name, especially when they were new to the area and trying to get settled.
Her father and mother were Scottish through and through having immigrated before they were born from Dornoch, Scotland just northeast of Inverness. They were both very proud and stubborn people who didn’t believe in public displays of any kind much less fighting. She knew that her parents would be devastated to hear that Milo had taken to fighting in the middle of the day in broad daylight in front of strangers who very well could be their next-door neighbors. She could only hope that they would try and understand her brother’s actions and not be too harsh on him. After all, he was only trying to protect her.
“What are you thinkin’ little sister?” he asked as he watched her chew her bottom lip in hard concentration.
“Oh nothing really, just that I hope Ma and Da won’t be too mad.” She smiled at him then wanting to ease the wrinkles that now creased his forehead as he too thought of the consequences once they returned home.
They both turned their heads toward the doorway as they heard more loud voices coming from the front of the doctor’s residence.
“Land’s sakes alive!” they heard a boisterous woman’s voice exclaim.
Brother and sister swiveled their heads in unison at each other. Milo coughed as he started to laugh and Sadie covered her mouth with her hand to stifle her giggle.
“Well, I guess we’ll be meeting some more of our new neighbors brother dear. Sounds like she’s going to be just as interesting as everyone else.” This time she laughed out loud her brother following suit and wishing he hadn’t. His ribs hurt and laughing only made them hurt more. That dark haired fellow wasn’t nearly as big as he was but he could sure throw a punch and had the tenacity of a mountain lion. Milo didn’t think he had ever been in a fight before where neither man was the loser. Now that he thought about it he looked forward to getting to know who he was how he had come to be such formidable fighter.
Mrs. Mildred Kramer bustled through Sam’s front door with Val hot on her heels and Andy following close behind. The front door slammed in Andy’s face just as he stepped up onto the boardwalk, he teetered back and forth as the last of the packages threatened to fall over to one side but managed to keep them from spilling by creatively moving his arms to the right and left maintaining a minimal hold on all of them. Using the toe of his foot he tapped on the bottom part of the Sam Jenkins door calling out to Val to open up.
Within seconds Val had returned and pushed the door open with his left hand signaling in an exaggerated manner with his right for the boy to hurry up and enter pointing toward the direction of the sofa where he had deposited his previous load.
Andy dropped the remaining packages on top of the earlier ones and turned to Val, “Can I say howdy to Johnny before I gotta go the jail and clean up?” he asked with all the hope in the world written on his face.
Val sighed loudly and walked up to Andy putting both his hands on his shoulders. He tipped the boy’s hat back just enough to see his eyes more clearly, “Now Andy, I surely would like for you to, but Doc’s in there right now and Johnny is feelin’ a might poorly and needs to be tended to first. So you just…”
“It’s ok Val. Johnny said to let him come in for a minute,” Scott interrupted. He winked at Andy and thought the boy was going to burst with happiness that his friend would see him.
“Go on in, he’s waiting.” He stopped him just before he passed and said, “Don’t stay too long Andy, Johnny’s hurt pretty bad and Doc needs to get his chest wrapped up before he hurts himself anymore than he already has.”
Andy looked up at Scott somberly understanding the full meaning of the older man’s words. “I won’t Scott, I promise, I’ll just say howdy, let ‘im know that if he needs me all he has to do is holler.”
“Good boy, I knew you’d understand,” Scott said as he patted Andy on the back urging him toward the room where Johnny lay.
Scott smiled to himself lowering his head and then glanced over at Val who stared after the kid’s back.
“Ya know Scott, I don’t know how Johnny does it. I don’t even think he knows that he does it. Ya know what I mean, how he affects people.”
“I know Val. It’s been a mystery to me and every other person I know since coming here to live at Lancer. My brother can charm and wiggle his way into a person’s heart faster than I can snap my fingers three times. I just wish it were that way between him and Murdoch. I sometimes wish he could see moments like this. I’d swear on my mother’s grave that Andy would do anything for Johnny if only he asked.”
“Yep, I see it all the time myself. He’s got a lot of friends around here. People that feel like they owe him.”
Scott’s brows shot up at that statement, “What do you mean Val?” Scott asked curiously. He wondered if the same things happened here in town that he constantly saw out at the ranch among the hands and the staff.
Val shrugged, “Oh you know, like with Andy and all. Johnny doesn’t take well to anyone givin’ the kid a hard time iffen he’s around to witness it. First time ole Stinky Barnett was caught makin’ fun of ‘im and kickin’ ‘im in the seat of the pants every time he bent over to pick up that gall darn hat of his, Johnny bout stomped the stuffin’ out of ‘im. He’s always headin’ over to Mildred’s place seenin’ if she needs anything fixed while he’s in town. Them lazy no good son’s a hers, is lazier than a fat cat in a sunny window sill.” He lowered his voice when he said it not wanting to make Mrs. Kramer feel bad hearing him talk about her rotten no good sons like he was.
Everyone in town knew that ever since her husband Mike died last year in a drowning accident the boys had been of little to no use having taken to cards and drunkenness in every town within a sixty-mile radius of Green River. Some weeks they were home for several days increasing her work load ten fold while other times they stayed gone for weeks on end making her worry about their health and welfare.
Val smacked his lips and rubbed his hand across his mouth. He leaned over closer to Scott, “There’s lot of others Scott, including myself that owe that boy a debt of thanks that we cain’t none of us ever repay. Just want you to know that brother of yours is a good man, a best friend and true compadre. Maybe when he’s feelin’ better we can tell ya about how we first met, saved my life. In the meantime I think we better mosey on in there, Doc’s probably gettin’ purty frustrated bout now. I like Andy, but time in his company is best limited when he starts to blabberin’ on and on. Once the boy gets started there ain’t no stopping ‘im.”
Scott knew Val was right but he was intrigued by the insights Val started to reveal concerning his brother. He never knew his brother helped out at Mildred’s boarding house and he had often wondered why Andy was like a little adoring puppy whenever Johnny was around. There were other people who had similar reactions whenever Johnny came into town and now he was even more curious to find out each and every one of their stories because he knew in his heart of hearts that somehow his little brother was leading the life of gallant knight to so many of them.
His little brother was an enigma and he decided then and there that he would try and discover more about him as soon as he had the opportunity to ask him all the many questions than ran through his mind. He didn’t know if his brother would fess up and tell him everything but Scott knew he needed to try. It was important not only to him but also to the other members of their new family. Of all of them, Johnny was still the least understood. He didn’t confide in any of them about his past and the few things Scott had gleaned from him had been like pulling teeth.
Just as he approached the doorway where Johnny was being tended, Val was courting Andy through it. He stepped back to let them through.
“Come by the office when you get finished up here Scott before your two go home. I wanna know how all this started so’s I can figure out what I gotta do next if anything.” He turned back to look at Scott still holding onto Andy’s shoulders from behind, “And bring that little filly with ya. I’ll need to know her side of things too and I want ta find out who the heck they are.”
“Sure Val, soon as I make sure Johnny’s going to be all right we’ll be over,” Scott replied while hoping the so called little filly didn’t buck at the idea of walking over to his office with him at her side.
“Go on now Andy, you got that pot of coffee to make and a jail to sweep out.” With that said the two of them left the building, the door slamming closed behind them just as loudly as it had done earlier.
With the doctor and Mildred both to Johnny’s right there was little room to see what was going on, so Scott move around to the opposite side of the table.
Mildred was a big woman full of warmth and love. She carefully helped the doctor remove Johnny’s gun belt and shirt while softly crooning motherly words of care and concern. Scott smiled as he watched her and was reminded of how Maria treated Johnny in much the same fashion. There was just something about his little brother that made women like Mildred and Maria want to smother him with all the motherly love and affection they could muster. Sometimes to Johnny’s bemused embarrassment, but most often than not his little brother lapped it up with good humor and a pinch of humility.
“Now Johnny you have to hold still while I check these ribs. It’s going to hurt some but I promise I will try my best to be a gentle as I can.” Doc Jenkins pressed his fingertips and the palms of his hands over various areas of Johnny’s chest and rib cage to determine the extent of damage. Next he took the stethoscope that hung from his neck and placed the earpieces into his ears and listened to Johnny’s lungs as he made him breathed in and out on command.
Johnny flinched as the cold steel of the doctor’s instrument touched his skin. He was beginning to feel nervous with so many people hovering over him and wished that Doc would hurry up and get the exam over with and wrap his chest in bandages so he could get back to the ranch. Every extra minute they were gone would be sure to bring on more trouble once they got within Murdoch’s verbal firing squad. Scott might think that all would be well once Murdoch knew what happened hadn’t been his fault but he knew better than to think that he could escape his father’s wrath by letting Scott take the blame, even if he was the one who started it all. It just never worked out that way, somehow, someway, the old man would find a way to lay the blame at his feet and then the heated arguments would start.
A slight tremor ran down the length of his body as he envisioned the scene. He didn’t want to fight with his old man but he knew it was inevitable even if Scott didn’t.
Mildred switched positions with Sam. She now stood at Johnny’s head and gently cleaned the blood off his face, She felt him tremble and saw the troubled look that so fleetingly passed across his face. “Now Johnny, don’t you worry none, everything’s going to be all right. I’ve seen a lot worse young man,” she told him thinking that he was worried about his injuries and that possibly he was going to die. “You’re just a little banged up is all, ain’t that right Doc?” she asked hoping to ease his concerns.
“That’s right Mildred, Johnny’s going to be fine.” He took the stethoscope out of his ears and realized that he needed to lower his tone a bit. Mildred was a bit loud when she spoke and Doc found himself raising his voice whenever he responded to her because it seemed the natural thing to do. “Johnny I think we should try and get you sitting up now so I can get those bandages wrapped around you. It’ll be a little hard to breathe for a few days, maybe even up to a week but if you keep your ribcage wrapped up nice and tight I think you’ll do just fine. Nothing broken that I can tell, cracked and bruised, but if you take it easy for the next couple of weeks and don’t over do it you’ll be fine.”
Scott crossed his arms and watched as they both helped him into a sitting position on the table. He decided he better ask the question he knew Johnny was already thinking, “So will Johnny be able to ride his horse home Doc?”
Mildred looked appalled at the question, “Good heavens Scott Lancer, have you gone totally daft? Look at this poor boy. He can hardly breath, his ribs are cracked and for heavens sake he can hardly manage to sit up on this table let alone ride a horse.”
Johnny cringed at the loudness of Mildred’s voice. He knew she was only trying to help but his head hurt and he wished the woman would leave. Besides his brother had only asked the question he would have asked eventually. He had ridden Barranca into town while his brother had driven the buckboard and it stood to reason that Doc would have a say about it before either one of them left his care.
“Scott, you and Mildred each hold up an arm while I get him wrapped up.” He began wrapping the bandages tightly around Johnny’s torso and replied at the same time to Scott’s question, “No riding.” He looked up to see if Johnny was listening to him. By the look in his eyes the answer was, yes he had. He knew Murdoch’s youngest son wouldn’t like hearing this but he also knew the damage that Johnny could cause to his lungs if he were to pass out and fall off his horse or be thrown. He wasn’t going to let him take any chances even though he knew the news was not good news to the young man.
Scott had taken Mildred’s outburst with a grain of salt. All his years of living with his Grandfather and his military training had taught him to think before he spoke so therefore he hadn’t taken her outburst as an insult so much as he took it as genuine concern on his brothers behalf. It rankled him a little but he didn’t show it in his demeanor or his expression. He just knew that if he didn’t have the doctor expressly tell his brother not to ride, Johnny would be up on his horse without a second thought.
“Ok, I think that will do. You can put his arms down,” the doctor said as he stood up to take a look at his handy work. “I mean it Johnny, no riding for at least a week. Got it?”
Johnny snorted which caused his head to ache even more since his nose was still a little stuffy from all the dried blood, “Sam, you know that’s gonna be hard to do this time of the year. We got round up that needs to be done and it’s gonna take every last man on the ranch workin’ to get it done. No, no way. Uh uh, can’t do it. Murdoch’s gonna be mad as it is and I don’t plan on makin’ him madder by telling him I can’t help with the roundup. Give me my shirt, I’m getting outta here.”
He started to scoot off the table but Scott grabbed him by the shoulders at the same time that Doc put his hands up to stop Johnny from rambunctiously sliding off the tabletop.
“Now you listen here Johnny Lancer, I can see you’re just about as daft as your brother is today but I’m here to tell you you’re going to follow the doctor’s orders or else.” Mildred stomped her foot to emphasize her words glaring harshly at him through slit dark eyes.
Johnny hung his head and said miserably, “Or else what Mildred? You gonna take on my old man for me.” He swiveled his head to look at her. As soon as he saw the stricken look on her face he immediately apologized. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Kramer. I didn’t mean it.” He didn’t mean it, in fact he felt bad for saying it. She looked like she was near to tears and it tore at Johnny’s heart. “I appreciate everything you said and for helpin’ out Doc, I was rude and I’m sorry. I’ll listen to him and do what I’m told.” He smiled his most charming smile and took her right hand in his lifting it to his lips. “¿Yo está apesadumbrado, usted me perdona?” he asked kissing the back of her hand as he did so.
She tucked her chin in toward her chest and blushed a bright crimson and pulled her hand away from Johnny’s turning away slightly embarrassed and feeling like a young schoolgirl. She fumbled her way past the doctor to retrieve Johnny’s shirt and returned to his side saying in her most brusque voice, “Yes Johnny, I forgive you, but don’t go thinking that every time you bat those soulful eyes at me you can turn me into butter.” She looked up at Scott who was watching the entire scene dumbstruck. “You either mister!”
Scott lowered his eyes to Johnny’s back and reached blindly for the shirt that was being thrust in his direction hoping he didn’t burst out laughing at the audacity of his little brother and how he had handled the indomitable Mildred Kramer with a single kiss to the hand.
Sam laughed out loud thinking that it would have been good for both of the boys to have had a mother just like her. She knew how to handle them both and wished fervently that her own sons would one day realize what a treasure they had for a mother.
“Well boy’s, looks like I’m done here for now. Need to check on my other patient. Johnny, you remember what I told you and I’ll be out in day or two to check on you,” Doc said as he washed his hands in a basin next to the door.
“Scott, do I need to take a look at you before you leave?”
“Ah, no Doc, I’m fine. Johnny was kind enough to take the hard stuff for me.” Scott grinned and gave his brother a slight squeeze to the shoulders. Johnny tried to turn his head and glare at his brother but it hurt to move too much so he let the remark pass.
Scott scuffed his boot on the floor and held out his hand to Mrs. Kramer, “Thanks Mrs. Kramer. We really do appreciate all your help.”
Mildred took his hand in hers and gently squeezed it, “I know you do. Now mind that you take care of him and yall come to see me next time you’re in town. There’s always a warm piece of pie with your names on it when you come to see me. And for pity’s sake Scott how many times I gotta tell you to call me Mildred.” She shook her head in exaggeration, harrumphing as she left the room, waving goodbye to both. They could hear her mumbling loudly as she left about how every time Scott was in town he was so prim in proper like and needed to loosen up some. The door slammed behind her and all was quiet.
Johnny sat and Scott stood behind him feeling as if a whirlwind had come and gone.
Scott walked around the table his brother sat on feeling a sense of relief that Johnny was going to be fine with a little rest and time to heal. “Feel up to walking over to Val’s with me? He wants to see us before we head home and he asked me to bring the other two people as well.”
He watched his brother’s reaction knowing that most likely he would say yes whether he felt up to it or not. Just as he supposed, that’s what he said, “Yep, might as well get it over with. Hand me my gun belt will ya. Can’t go outside like this. I feel naked.”
Scott just smiled at the remark and watched as Johnny slid off the table to stand on wobbly legs his dark head bent, his hands finding the buttons on his shirt. For a moment Scott wondered if his sibling was going to make it on his feet but Johnny just looked up at him and grinned, “Go on, I’m ok, so stop lookin’ at me like that.”
Scott got his gun belt and watched his unsteady brother carefully as he worked diligently with the buttons. His face was covered with cuts and the first hints of bruising colors were beginning to show under his eyes and on his cheeks. His nose was swollen making it difficult for him to breathe through it and there was a nasty cut on the left side of his mouth that still continued to bleed a little if Johnny grinned too wide. His brother was a mess but he didn’t complain one bit about any of his injuries. If anything his brother seemed a little anxious as he carefully slid his arms into the ragged shirt. He wondered what he was thinking as he saw the frustration on his face.
Johnny finished buttoning up his blood stained white shirt and grimaced at the mess he had made of it. Maybe it isn’t Murdoch he should be worried about he thought. Teresa was gonna skin him alive for getting blood stains all over his shirt. He noticed there were a few small tears here and there also; he knew for sure she wouldn’t be too happy about them. She didn’t mind mending but he knew it wasn’t her favorite thing to do.
Scott handed him his gun belt and left the room to talk to the woman in the back. He knew Johnny would be glad to have the room to himself as he struggled to get his shirt tucked in and his gun back on his hip where it belonged.
He entered the back room as quietly as he could not wanting to disturb the doctor as he finished up with the big redheaded man who was by now sitting up.
He heard Doc saying, “All right, guess that ought to do you too. Don’t think your brother has any broken or cracked ribs ma’am but he is sorely bruised and should probably take some time to rest up for a day of two and no riding for at least a week unless I say otherwise. Now his face is another matter. Keep cold compresses on the nose and right here on the forehead where that lump is.” Sam gave the man a cold wet cloth to place on his temple. “Looks like you’re going to have a couple of black eyes too since they’re swelling up and turning blue. Just keep putting the cold cloth there also. Might help to put a piece of beefsteak on it once you get home. Might not help much but it does make a mighty fine meal when your done.” He laughed at the face the young woman made at this piece of news.
Doc saw Scott enter the room from the corner of his eye. “Ah Scott, I’m glad you’re here. Let me introduce you to these two. This here,” he pointed to the bruised man, “is Milo McIntyre and this lovely young lady is Sadie McIntyre his younger sister. Their family is new here in these parts. Their father bought up the old Simmons place just a few miles north of here a couple months back. Milo, Sadie, this is Scott Lancer.”
Scott held out his hand to Sadie and she reluctantly put hers in his. Scott took the cue from his brother and brought her hand up to his mouth and brushed a feathery kiss on the back of it. “Charmed I’m sure,” he said smiling into her wide-eyed expression. He turned to her brother extending his hand and hoping to diffuse the cloudy look that crossed his features. Scott thought Johnny was protective but it didn’t seem anywhere near what he thought this man was feeling toward his sister as he watched her hand being kissed in such a manner. His eyes were literally squinting at Scott, almost daring him to touch his sister again so that he would have a reason to pummel him into the floor right then and there.
Sam gave Milo a sharp shake to his left shoulder, “Stop it Milo, he’s just being courteous. No need to go getting your dander up again. Now shake his hand and be done with it.”
Milo extended his hand to grasp the handshake that Scott offered but the look in his eyes did not soften as he shook it.
Scott recognized the look; it was the same one Johnny wore whenever he thought someone was a threatening his family or a friend.
“Milo, Nice to meet you. Guess we all got off on the wrong foot and I would like to apologize. If I hadn’t been fooling around with my little brother out there none of this would have happened. I hope you’ll forgive my foolish behavior and accept my sincere apologies to you and your sister,” Scott said in his most sincere and mannerly voice that reflected his deep regret.
Sadie spoke up quickly, “We do and I hope that you’ll accept ours as well. Don’t we Milo?” she turned questioning eyes toward her brother and furrowed her eyebrows for him to agree.
Milo’s face relaxed slightly and he nodded his head in agreement, “Just so long as you remember to keep those fancy kisses of yours away from my little sister. Not so sure I like those.”
Sadie’s face turned red. “Milo McIntyre I can’t believe you just said that!” She rolled her eyes at her brother, her hands going to her hips frowning reproachfully. “You know none of this would have happened if you had just been patient in the first place instead of rushing head long into a situation before you knew anything about it. I swear you’re like a bull in a china shop sometimes.”
Sadie stepped between Milo and Scott, “Thank you for apologizing Scott and truly I am sorry about all this getting out of hand. I’ve listened to you and your brother since we’ve arrived here and I realize that it was all just an unfortunate accident. I guess brothers can be pretty overprotective can’t they?” Sadie smiled her brightest smile at Scott and he felt his heart drop down into his stomach.
Lord but she was beautiful, even now with her hair tangled up, dirt smudged on her pretty dress and tear stains that flowed over delicate rosy cheeks. Those springtime eyes of hers made his insides turn to jelly just looking at them.
Sam noticed that Scott was speechless and grinned from ear to ear suspecting that fate may have just had an ulterior motive for bringing them all together.
The wise old doctor coughed, breaking the moment, “Well I have to be off. Can you folks take it from here?”
Scott and Sadie both came out of their reverie and answered in unison to Sam’s question, “Yeah sure Doc.” “Yes Dr. Jenkins.”
“Good, then lock up when you leave. I’ll be at Clara Thompson’s house if I should be needed. Her son’s got the colic and promised me a home cooked meal if I’d come out and take a look at him.” With that said, Sam left the room stopping by Johnny on his way out and reminding him of his promise not to ride for a least one week unless he said otherwise. He was glad to see him sitting on the sofa patiently, his head leaning back, hat covering his face, resting.
Johnny assured him that he would keep his promise without ever opening his eyes or pushing back his hat. He was sore and tired hoping fervently that his brother would want to leave soon. The only thing he wanted to do was get back to the ranch, into his bed and sleep the rest of the day away.
Scott took Milo’s other arm as he and Sadie helped him off the bed. He shook off their hands once he was standing telling them that he was fine now that he was up.
“I hate to say it, but unfortunately Val wants to see us over at the sheriff’s office. I think it might be best if we all go together and let him know that we have cleared things up between all of us. Agreed?” he asked hoping that they wanted to get finished up just as quickly as he did and return home.
Brother and sister looked at Scott and said together, “Agreed.”
Scott exhaled his relief and ushered them gently toward the front room.
Milo went first followed by Sadie then by Scott who brought up the rear.
They all stopped in front of where Johnny was dozing his hat lowered over his face. “Can we go now?” he asked them irritably, shoving the hat off his battered face. He was in no mood for introductions but knew he would get them anyway.
Scott stood in front of his brother not wanting another fight to break out in the doctor’s office. “Yeah Johnny, we can go now. This is Milo and Sadie McIntyre, they’ll be going with us over to Val’s to get things squared away.”
Johnny stood stiffly and tipped his hat at both of them heading for the door without a word to anyone. He opened it and started for Val’s office not caring if anyone was disappointed in his behavior. The longer he sat on the sofa the more stiff and sore he got and now his temper was rising faster than a volcano. He wanted to get back to the ranch and let Teresa pamper him and Maria feed him before succumbing to the darkness that dwelled just beneath the surface of his consciousness. He knew his brother would probably chastise him for his bad manners but right now he just didn’t give a damn.
“Sorry about that. My brother Johnny isn’t usually so…so…”he stammered.
“It’s all right Scott. We understand. I guess if I looked and felt like he does I’d be a little grumpy too. I’m sure Milo would like to get things over quickly too. I know he’s got to feel about the same as your brother.”
Milo was already out the door, holding the cool cloth to the lump on his forehead, by the time Sadie replied. Scott guessed she was right and offered his arm to her as they exited Sam’s office. He didn’t lock up just yet knowing that they would have to come back and get her purchases but he did close the door securely behind him and led Sadie after their battered brothers.
An hour later they were finished going through the details of how the fight started and left the office feeling better than when they went in. Everyone was satisfied that the whole affair had been a big misunderstanding and left Val’s office promising to keep their tempers under control in the future. At least that’s what Scott and Sadie promised. Neither Johnny nor Milo had much to say on the subject and just grunted their replies when it came time to speak.
Johnny kept walking as they left the building. Scott watched him make his way toward the feed and grain store where their buckboard awaited them and Barranca had stood patiently waiting for his master to return. It was somewhere around two thirty or so and they desperately needed to get back to the ranch before Murdoch sent a cavalry in search of them. His father was not a patient man and they were due back at least two hours ago. If his ears could burn he felt they were doing so at this very moment knowing Murdoch would be furious about their delay in town and complaining to anyone within earshot about what he would do to them when his errant sons returned.
He took Sadie’s elbow into his hand and walked back to the doctor’s office to help her gather up her things with the somewhat limited help of Milo.
“So do you have everything?” he asked just before closing the door for one last time to Doc’s office.
“Yes,” she looked around and over to where Milo had taken most of the packages to their buggy just a short distance from the saloon where all their troubles began.
Scott closed the door with a firm pull, after locking it carefully from the inside first.
He was standing on the boardwalk, one arm crooked behind him and smiling as he stepped down to stand in front of her. He decided then and there that he wanted to see this woman again but didn’t have the faintest notion as to how to go about asking her without acting like a young schoolboy. His bright smile turned mischievous as he continued to stare into her emerald eyes.
She smiled back at him wondering how long the two of them were going to continue to stare unspeaking to each other when suddenly he brought his arm from around his back holding up the flattened box and it’s contents from earlier that day. “I suppose you’ll be wanting this back.”
They both stared at the package for an interminable amount of time, each remembering how the package had ended up in its wretched condition.
The silliness of the moment struck them both and they began to laugh slowly at first then more contagiously when Sadie took the proffered package from his hand and a bright turquoise and black speckled feather managed to somehow poke its way through a broken crease in the box springing to life and waving slightly in the summer breeze choosing that moment to waft between them.
Scott felt that maybe this was his opening and he seized the opportunity to make his intentions known. Taking a deep breath he asked her breathlessly, “Would you mind if I called upon you sometime this week? I’d really like to get the chance to get to know you better.” He held his breath without realizing it until she answered.
“Why Mr. Scott Lancer, I do think you’re trying to be a gentleman.” She emphasized her best southern accent and batted her eyelashes just as she imagined the most proper of southern ladies did when pondering a courting request from a handsome man.
He was genuinely surprised and pleased at her sense of humor feeling that getting to know her would be exciting and captivating based on her charming personality, which so recently revealed itself.
“So can I take that as a yes?” he asked.
“Yes.” She turned without another glance and said over her shoulder, “I’m not doing anything Saturday afternoon. I hear tell there’s a wonderful little spot down by the creek near the church that’s just right for a picnic.” She stopped mid way between the buggy and where she had left him standing. She turned around, “Pick me up at noon. If you’re late you won’t get a second chance. And by the way, you owe me a new hat.” She laughed at the stunned look on his face but turned around and ran the rest of the way to where her brother sat waiting for her, reins in his hands readied to return to their own home.
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