The Dates


     This is a sequel to both The Surprise and The Gifts.  If you haven’t read those stories, there may be parts of this one that are confusing.


Chapter One


     “Scott, wait up.  Scott!”  Johnny followed his brother out to the barn as Scott strode purposefully away from him.   “Come on, brother.  How long are ya gonna stay mad at me?”

     Scott kept going, then snatched Charlie’s blanket from the side of the stall and threw it on his horse.

     “Come on, Scott.  Talk to me. It’s been two weeks!  How long are ya gonna keep this up?”

     Scott turned and glared at his brother.  “I will start talking to you as soon as Teresa and Murdoch start talking to me!”

     Johnny sighed.  “How was I supposed to know that Murdoch would get THAT upset over the perfume?  After all, it was your idea!”

     “And why did you make sure it was from ME, and not from the both of us, if you didn’t know?”

     “I already explained that part.  You know I ordered that scarf for her.  I thought it would be nice if we both gave her somethin’ different.”

     Scott jerked the saddle off the rail and swung it onto his horse’s back.  “Uh huh.  And it was just luck I guess that YOUR present was so well received, while mine almost got me killed.”  He thought back to the memorable scene on Christmas morning.  “I’ve never seen Murdoch so mad.”  He thought for another moment.  “Or Teresa, either for that matter.  Or Victoria Barkley.”

     “Don’t forget Nick.”  Johnny volunteered, and received a glare for his efforts.

     Johnny sighed.  “Well, just the night before you’d been wishin’ we coulda gotten her some more of that stuff.  I wasn’t in on the conversation later.  How was I supposed to know?”

     Scott sighed.  As much as it galled him, his brother did have a point.  “All right.  You didn’t know.  But that doesn’t mean I’m ready to forgive you.  And I STILL smell like that damn perfume.  I don’t think I’ll EVER get it off me.”

     Johnny took a sniff and then grinned.  “You do smell sorta pretty.”

     Scott turned and glared at his brother, but Johnny had been glared at by Scott so many times in the last two weeks that it had ceased to affect him.  He hardly flinched. 

     “Come on, Scott.  Ya can’t stay mad at me forever.”

     “Who says?”  Was the muffled reply from the other side of the horse.

     Johnny thought for a moment.  “How about if Murdoch and Teresa weren’t mad at ya any more?  Then would ya talk to me?”

     Scott’s head poked up on the other side of Charlie.  “And how, little brother, are you going to manage that?”

     “Well, do you remember at dinner when Teresa said she’d just do ANYTHING to have Marty Danson ask her to the Valentine’s dance?”

    “Yes, I remember.” Scott said cautiously.

     “Well, all we got ta do is to get Marty to take her to that dance, and let her know we were the ones that got him to do it.”

     “I don’t know, Johnny.  She may not like us interfering.”

     “Well then, we won’t tell her.  She’ll be so darn happy about being asked she won’t be ABLE to stay mad at ya.”

     “What about Murdoch?”  Scott asked.

     Johnny looked at him in exasperation.  “If Teresa isn’t mad at ya, do you really CARE if the Old Man isn’t talkin to ya?”

     Scott thought for a moment.  “No, not really.  But I DO care about all those extra chores he has me running around doing.  You get him to drop those, and I might, just MIGHT go along with the rest.”

     Johnny nodded cheerfully.  “No problem.  I’ll talk to him when I come back in for lunch.”  He looked at his brother as he swung up into the saddle.  “So NOW are ya talkin to me?”

     Scott glanced at his brother as he rode out.  “No, not yet.”


    At lunchtime, Johnny rode up to the hacienda.  He thought briefly about not saying anything to Murdoch.  Since the incident with the perfume and Scott’s fall in to disfavor, Murdoch had actually been nice to him.  Maybe he should just leave things the way they were for a while.  He walked into the house and Murdoch immediately looked up from his desk.  “Johnny!  I was just thinking about you.  I thought maybe you’d like to go to the next Cattleman’s meeting with me instead of Scott.”

       Johnny thought quickly about the long, boring meetings, and decided now was the perfect time to try and get Scott back into Murdoch’s good graces. “Uh, maybe Murdoch, but you know Scott is MUCH better at those things than I am.”

     Murdoch waved his hand.  “Scott will be MUCH too busy with all the chores he has to do.”

    Johnny brightened.  His father had brought up the very subject he wanted to discuss.  “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.  Don’t you think you could lighten up some on them chores?  Scott doesn’t have time to do anything else.”

     Murdoch’s eyebrows shot up.  “That’s exactly the point.”

     Johnny shook his head.  “Come on, Murdoch.  Ya can’t keep it up forever.  How about backing off a little?”

     Murdoch tipped back in his big leather chair and appraised his younger son.  “So you think I should lighten up on him?”

     Johnny nodded nervously as he watched the way his father was appraising him, afraid he had somehow just volunteered to help his brother with all those chores. He wondered what his father was going to come up with.

    “It’s going to cost you.”  Murdoch said slowly, watching his son’s reaction.

     “What?”  Johnny said cautiously.

     Murdoch smiled.  “Jelly told me that he wished he had somebody to ask to that Valentine’s Day dance.  You fix it so he takes someone to the dance, and the chores stop.”

     A momentary flash of Teresa going to the dance with Jelly flashed through his mind, but he figured that might not work, in fact, it just might get him killed.  “We’ll need time to work on it.  You gonna stop the chores while we try ta get his date lined up?”

    Murdoch thought for a moment, and then smiled.  “All right, but if he doesn’t go to the dance, YOU’LL be doing extra chores right alongside your brother, and you’ll be doing them for a long, long time.  Deal?”

     Johnny swallowed convulsively.  There HAD to be SOMEONE out there that would go with Jelly.  “Deal.”  He managed to squeak out.



Chapter Two


     “You WHAT!!”  Scott shouted.

     “Now calm down, brother.  It won’t be that hard.”

      Scott thought he just might have a stroke.  “What if we can’t get anyone to go with him?  We’ll be doing chores for the next fifty years.”  

      “Come on, Scott.  We can find SOMEBODY to go with him to that dance.”

      Scott looked thoughtfully at his brother.  “Did you promise any specifics?”

      Johnny looked confused.  “Like what?”        

      “Oh, I don’t know, just minor details, like do they have to be human, do they have to be female, do they have to be alive, those kind of specifics.”

      Johnny laughed.  “Nope, I didn’t promise anything but that he’d go to the dance.”

      Scott nodded.  “Well, then that makes it a little bit easier.  Not much, but a little. 

      Johnny nodded.  “First, we gotta go over and talk to Marty.  Then we can worry about Jelly.” 

      Scott nodded.  “Let’s go.  Anything’s better than cleaning out the pig sty.”

      On the way over, they discussed how they were going to approach Marty about taking Teresa to the dance.

      “We have to handle this just right,” Scott said.  We have to make him think it was his idea.”

      “Why?” Johnny said, obviously perplexed.

      “Well, you certainly weren’t planning on threatening to shoot him if he didn’t go along with it.”  Scott glanced at his brother’s expression and continued.  “You weren’t, were you?”

     Johnny shrugged. 

      Scott shook his head.  “You have to be subtle.  You have to coax him into making the right decision without his knowing you’ve talked him into it.  You have to make him think it was completely HIS idea.  You have to use finesse.”  Scott shook his head.  “Maybe I’d better do the talking.”

     Johnny looked at his brother.  “I can do it.  I can be just as fin….finessful as you can.  Just watch me.” 

     An hour later, the two men rode into the yard of the neighboring Rocking T Ranch.  Marty’s father came out and greeted the two of them.  “Afternoon, boys.  What can I do for ya?”

     Scott and Johnny dismounted.  Johnny looked at the older man. “We wanted to talk to Marty, Mister Danson.  Could ya tell us where he is?”

    The man nodded.  “He’s in the barn.  Just don’t keep him from his chores too long.”

    The two brothers went into the barn and found Marty cleaning out the horse stalls.  When he looked up and saw the two men approaching, he put down his pitchfork and left the stall.  “Scott, Johnny, what’s goin’ on?”

    Johnny came up and put his arm around the younger man. “How would you like to take Teresa to the Valentine’s dance?”

    Scott rolled his eyes, waiting for Marty to refuse.  Instead, to his surprise, the young man nodded.  “I’d like that.”

   Johnny grinned.  “Of course you would.  And Teresa would like ta go with you.  Why don’t you ride over to the ranch and ask her?”

    Marty shook his head.  “I can’t.”

    The grin left Johnny’s face.  “What do ya mean ya can’t?”

    Marty shrugged his shoulders.  “I have ta deliver some animals over to Mister Talbot’s place the day of the dance”

    Scott spoke up.  “Why does it have to be that day?  Can’t you deliver them some other time?”

     Marty shook his head.  “My pa promised them to Mister Taylor no later than that day.  And I’m tied up with all of my other chores till then.  We’ve got ta get the barn and pasture ready for some new stock my pa bought.”

    Johnny thought for a moment.  “What if Scott and I delivered that stock for you?  We could deliver it anytime before then, right?”

     Marty nodded.  “But I don’t want ta put you out any.”

     Johnny grinned.  “No problem.  Scott and I would be happy to do it.  Right, Scott?”

     Scott reluctantly nodded his head.  “Right.”

     Johnny turned back to Marty.  “It just so happens we can do it tomorrow.  Just have ‘em penned up and ready ta go about eight, OK?”

     “They’ll be ready, and thanks.”

     As the two brothers passed under the Lancer arch on their way home, Johnny was whistling cheerfully.  “One down, one to go.” He told his brother.

     Scott shook his head.  “It can’t be that easy.”

     Johnny looked at his brother in disgust.  “What could be so hard about movin’ a herd to a place a day’s ride away?  It’ll be a piece of cake.”

     Scott shook his head slowly. “For some reason, I don’t think it will.”


     At dinner that night, Murdoch was almost happy, which put both Johnny and Murdoch on high alert.

     “Did you boys finish those chores I gave you to do?”

     Scott nodded.  “Yes, sir.”

     Murdoch took another bite of ham and contemplated his sons.  “Did you work on the project Johnny told me about?”

     Johnny took a deep breath and decided to tell a little white lie.  “Actually, we need some time tomorrow to work on it.”  He held his breath as he waited for his father’s reaction.

    Murdoch waved his hand in the air.  “Take all the time you need, boys.  But I expect results.”

    “Yes, sir.”  The two said in unison.

     After dinner, Scott and Johnny retired to Scott’s room to discuss their battle plan.  “Well,” Scott started,  “do you have ANY idea of who we could get to go with Jelly to that dance?”

     Johnny shook his head.  “Maybe we could put an ad in the paper.”

     Scott shook his head.  “No.  He might see it.  What about the church civil league that meets every week?  One of us could go there and ask around.”

     Johnny sat bolt upright on the bed.  “Oh, no BROTHER.  Unless you’re volunteerin’ yourself, don’t even think about it.”

     “Actually, I thought we could flip for it.”  Scott said, perfectly innocently.


     “Johnny, you know we’ve got to come up with SOMETHING.  And the best place to meet little old ladies is the church league.”


     “Come on, little brother.  You know it’s our best chance.”


     “Why not?”  Scott said in exasperation.

     “Do you know what they talk about at those meetings, big brother?  They talk about the sins of gambling, and drinkin’, and guns, and…. and all sorts of things.  I’m probably their main topic of conversation.”

     “Look.  Unless you planning on doing chores for the rest of your life, or you can come up with a better plan to meet little old ladies, then you ARE going to go along with this.  Besides, it’s a fifty – fifty chance that I’ll have to go, anyway. Now come on.”

     Johnny closed his eyes.  He just knew that no matter how fair a toss of the coin was, he didn’t stand a prayer of winning.  He shook his head.  “All right.”

     Scott grinned and took a coin out of his pocket.  “Call it, brother.”

     “Tails.”  Johnny said, as the coin bounced on the bed and came to rest.


Chapter Three


     As the two brothers rode over to the Danson’s the next day, Scott stayed as far away from his brother as he could.  He had never known his brother to be a poor sport before, but for some reason he seemed to be a little less tolerant lately, and Scott couldn’t figure out why.  After all, it could have just as easily been Johnny that had won the toss.  He couldn’t believe that Johnny had actually insisted on checking the coin he had used.

     Scott decided it would be entirely prudent on his part to get rid of the two- headed coin that he had used upon occasion.  After all, he wouldn’t want his brother to figure out how many times he HAD been cheated, it might be bad for his health.

     As they rode up to the barn, Scott noticed there weren’t any steers in the pen.  He sighed.  If they had to wait while Marty penned them up, they would waste a good several hours, and they would already be hard pressed to get to Mr. Taylor’s before dark.  He sure hoped they wouldn’t have to spend the night on the trail, playing nursemaid to a bunch of stupid cows. And besides, if they spent the night out, he’d have to be with his brother, who wasn’t exactly in a congenial mood.

     Johnny swung off of Barranca and looked around.  He glanced up at Scott and shrugged, and after a moment he called out.  “Anybody home?”

     Immediately Marty poked his head out of the barn.  “Scott, Johnny. Wasn’t sure if you was comin’.   I can’t tell you how much it means to me to have you do this.  I really appreciate it.”

     Johnny nodded, looking distractedly at the empty pen.  “I thought you were going to have them gathered up for us.”   

     Marty nodded.  “Oh, I do.  They’re in the barn.”    

     Scott and Johnny exchanged looks.  “In the barn?  Just how many of them are there?”  Johnny asked.

     Marty shrugged.  “Exactly one hundred and two.  Mr. Taylor was VERY firm on the number.  Said he wouldn’t accept even one less than a hundred, not if we wanted our money.  Seems he has a buyer for them that insisted on at least a hundred to close the deal.  I threw in a couple extra, just in case, ‘cause we really need that money.”

     Scott stared at the barn.  There was no way that many head of cattle could fit into it, and he got a very strange idea.  “Marty, just what are we delivering to Mr. Taylor?”

     Marty looked at Scott in surprise.  “Turkeys!  What did ya think you were delivering?”

     Scott looked at his brother.  “Oh, I don’t know.  I had the funny idea we were going to be herding cattle.”

     Marty laughed.  “Now where would ya get an idea like that?”

     Scott turned fully around and stared at his brother.  “I have no idea.  Guess I’m just stupid.” He said dryly.

     Johnny looked up at Marty.  “How’re we supposed to herd turkeys?”

     Marty looked at Johnny, unsure whether he was joking, but something in the gunslinger’s eyes prevented him from laughing.  “Ya don’t HERD ‘em, ya put the crates in a wagon and DRIVE ‘em.”  He looked anxiously around.  You do have a wagon, dontcha?  Pa is using ours and won’t be back till Thursday.”

     Without a word, Scott turned Charlie around and rode out of the yard.  Johnny hesitated just long enough to tell Marty they’d be back, and then caught up with his brother.  “Hey Scott, how was I suppose ta know they was turkeys?  Besides, it’ll be a long sight easier ta deliver a bunch of stupid birds.  At least they won’t give us any trouble, I mean they’re locked up in crates, how much trouble can they be?  This’ll be just like a vacation after worryin about them dumb cows.   We can ride in a wagon, and won’t have ta worry about chasin’ a bunch of ornery steers all over the countryside.”  

     Scott turned and looked at his brother.  “Turkeys SMELL!”

     Johnny shrugged.  “So do cattle.  What’s your point?”

     “The point is, LITTLE brother, that I don’t have to ride in a wagon all day with a cow.” 

     “Yeah, well, at least you don’t have ta ride in a wagon all day with somebody that smells like ‘Ladies of the night.’”  Johnny shook his head,  “I’ve decided I really don’t like that scent.”

     Scott glared at Johnny.  “And whose fault is it that I smell?  You could have at least tried to stop Teresa from dumping it over my head.”

      Johnny glared back.  “If you remember correctly, I was tryin ta stop Murdoch from getting’ to the shotgun on the wall.”

     “Well, you didn’t exactly succeed, did you?”

     “I kept him from hittin’ ya, didn’t I?”

     “Yes, but Mrs. Barkley wasn’t exactly pleased with the remains of the Christmas tree and the mess that Murdoch made of all of those presents.”   

     “That wasn’t my fault.  It was Murdoch’s.  He’s the one that went for the gun!”

     Scott sighed.  “It really doesn’t matter, since we’ll never be asked back there again.”

      Johnny shivered.  “I wonder if Nick really meant what he said?”

     Scott remembered the look on that particular Barkley’s face when he saw his new saddle.  The saddle looked like it had been used for target practice, which, in a way it had.  “Yes, I think he meant every word.”

     Another though crossed Johnny’s mind as he remembered Jarrod’s reaction, and he bit his lip nervously.  “The judge can’t REALLY change his mind and decide we’re guilty of murder after all, can he?

     Scott shook his head.  “No.  But if we ever run into ANY of the Barkleys again, we just might be better off in jail.”

     Johnny shook his head.  “Don’t worry.  I don’t plan on goin’ anywhere near them.”


Chapter Four


     By the time the two brothers got back with the wagon, they had resigned themselves to spending the night on the trail.  They got back to the Danson’s at about ten, and then went into the barn to start loading the crates.  As soon as they opened the barn door, the smell assaulted their nostrils, and Scott gave his brother a dirty look.   As they approached the turkeys, an ear splitting din erupted from the frightened birds. 

    The two men advanced on the crates cautiously, but finally they each grabbed an end of the closest cage and started to lift.  Immediately, the crate crashed back to the ground as the boys jumped back and started nursing their pecked fingers.  After glaring at the angry birds for a few moments, they once more approached the crate and very gingerly grabbed the ends, doing their best to keep their fingers out of the way of the irate birds.  Twenty minutes later, the two men heaved the last crate up onto the wagon.  They had stopped being particularly careful with the birds after the second cage, and by the tenth, they had both decided that they sincerely hated turkeys.

     Both men gave up trying to talk after fifteen minutes on the road.  It seemed like those turkeys were real sociable; every time one of the men said anything, all the turkeys wanted to join the conversation and they started gobbling.  Of course, they started making noise every time the wagon hit a bump, too.  Actually, it was perfectly all right with Johnny that his brother decided not to compete with the talkative fowl; he had the distinct feeling that Scott was mad at him for some reason.

     That night, after being driven nearly insane by the relentless noise, they camped next to the creek.  Marty had impressed on them to be careful of those darn birds so they wouldn’t catch cold, so they made sure the wagon was pulled up close to where the fire would be.  As they pulled out their dry traveling rations, Johnny began contemplating the turkeys.  “Wonder if old Bill is really gonna count all them birds.”

     Scott looked at him curiously.  “Why?”

     “Cause turkey sounds a whole lot better than jerky for dinner.”

     Scott shook his head regretfully.  “It’s not worth it.  Knowing Bill, he not only will count the birds, he’ll probably count their feathers, too.  And Marty said he wouldn’t accept anything less than one hundred.  We can’t take a chance.”

     Johnny shook his head, still appraising the birds.  “Just having ta listen ta one less of them birds would be worth it.”  He looked over at Scott.  “There ARE two extra ones.  We could wring one’s neck and no one would even know.”

    “And what if something happens and we wind up short?”

    “Come on, Scott.  We’re only about five miles from Bill Taylor’s place.  What could happen?”   He turned and glared as the turkeys once more erupted into loud gobbles.  “Don’t they EVER shut up?”

    “Apparently not.  Just be thankful that Murdoch raises cattle instead of turkeys.”

     Johnny nodded seriously.  “I am. And I plan on tellin him that every day. Pullin’ a belligerent cow out of a mud hole is pure pleasure compared to babysitttin’ a bunch of dumb birds.”

     “Actually, turkeys are supposed to be quite intelligent.”  Scott offered.

     Johnny looked at his brother incredulously.  “Scott, they’re the main course all over town.  How smart can they be?”

     Scott shrugged his shoulders.  “Beats me.  It’s just what I heard.”

     “Well, THIS bunch had better be smart enough to know when ta shut up, or contract or no, there’s gonna be a whole lot fewer of ‘em in the mornin’.”

     Scott glared at his brother.  “Don’t even THINK of drawing on those birds.  We need to get the turkeys to Bill Taylor’s so Marty will go to the dance with Teresa.  If you hurt one feather on their noisy, smelly heads the deal is off, so just hold your temper and concentrate on getting the birds delivered, is that clear?”

     Johnny nodded reluctantly, “Don’t worry, I ain’t gonna shoot ‘em.”  He gave the turkeys one last disgusted look and kicked the wheel of the wagon. Immediately the chorus of gobbles started.  “But I may wring a few of their necks,” he muttered under his breath.   He looked once more at the jerky and then over at the wagon.   “Scott, there’s two whole birds extra.  Wouldn’t you like a nice juicy turkey leg instead of this stuff?”  He held up the jerky and looked at his brother hopefully.

     Scott looked down at the dried up strip of meat he held in his hand and stared at it for a long time.

     Johnny saw his indecision.  “We could have one of them birds on a spit and roastin’ in about five minutes.  And in an hour or so we could be eatin’ some nice, juicy, tender…..”

     “All right!”  Scott shouted.  “You win!  You know how much I hate beef jerky.”  He threw the dried meat in the dirt and turned towards his brother.  “I’ll get the fire ready and YOU can take care of the bird.”

     “Why me?”  Johnny asked.

     “Because YOU’RE the one that’s good with animals.”

     Johnny shook his head and grinned.  “Scott, I don’t think ya have to be good with animals ta wring one’s neck.” 

     “Just the same, it was your idea, so you get the honors.”

     With a sigh, Johnny went over to the wagon and appraised the bunch.  “I think a couple of theses crates had doors on ‘em instead of just slats.  That’ll make it a whole lot easier.”

      He looked for a few moments and finally found what he was looking for.  He reached up to one of the higher crates and yanked it toward him.  Blocking the door with his body, he cautiously opened the crate and stuck his hand in the opening.  Immediately the panicked gobbling intensified as Johnny tried to grab a bird by the neck.

      Amid some marvelously descriptive curses, he yanked a turkey out of the crate and tried to slam the door.  The next moment, the bird attacked him with its feet, throwing itself towards the man’s head.  Cursing, Johnny ducked, threw the offending bird away from him and drew his gun.   

     Just as he was pulling the trigger, he was attacked from behind as the rest of the birds in the crate streamed out of the door and crashed into him.  His shot went wild, and the turkeys scattered into the brush, disappearing almost immediately. 


Chapter Five


     Johnny turned in open-mouthed amazement towards his brother, who was standing frozen by the fire.  Scott recovered first and threw down an armload of firewood he had gathered.  “Nothing can go wrong, huh?   On a spit in five minutes?  How smart can they be?  Apparently, little brother, they’re smart enough to have outsmarted YOU!”  He picked up the previously discarded jerky and furiously tried to wipe off the dirt before popping it into his mouth. 

     Johnny took his hat off and threw it on the ground.  “Well don’t just stand there stuffin’ your face, help me catch those gol-darned birds!”



     “Do you really think he’ll notice?” Johnny asked Scott hopefully.

     Scott turned and looked at his brother in amazement.  “Notice what?  That there are four birds missing, or that there are six birds in the crate with their heads shot off?”

     Johnny turned around and looked in one of the crates. “I guess it’s pretty obvious, huh?” He said, slumping back in the seat.

     Scott just rolled his eyes and didn’t even bother to reply. 

     They pulled up into Bill Taylor’s yard a little over an hour later.  Bill came out of the barn and waved his hand in greeting.  “Scott, Johnny!  How’re ya doin?”

     Scott answered as he put the wagon brake on.  “Fine, how about you?”

    “Great.  I sure was worried about getting’ those birds.  I was scared ta death that somethin’ would happen to ‘em before Marty could deliver ’em.”  He looked up anxiously at the crates.  “I really need that contract.”  He looked back at the two young men.  “Did ya have any trouble?”

     Scott snuck a glance at Johnny, who quickly looked away.  Scott cleared his throat.  “Well, just a little.  I’m afraid that a few of the birds met with a rather unfortunate accident.”

     “What kind of an accident?”  Bill said suspiciously.

     “Well, a couple of them got out of their crate, and we had a little trouble catching them.”

     Bill looked worriedly at the two men.  “But ya DID catch ‘em, right?”

     Scott glanced again at Johnny and decided he was going to be absolutely useless.  “Well, sort of.  At least most of them.”  He sighed and gave up.  “The only way we could catch them was to shoot them.”

     Bill walked over to the first crate and peered inside at the neatly decapitated birds.  “Must a been Johnny doin the shootin’ huh?”

     Johnny snickered while Scott gave him his best glare.  “As a matter of fact, it was.  I was trying to CATCH them ALIVE!”

     Bill took in Scott’s disheveled appearance and snorted.  “Did ya catch any?”

     “No.”  Scott said icily.  “With all the noise my brother was making, the rest of those birds were long gone.”

     Bill shook his head resignedly.   “Well, it don’t make no difference.  I still can’t give the Danson’s their money.  The buyer I have insisted on no less than one hundred LIVE turkeys.  “Fraid these won’t do me any good.  Sorry boys.”  He started to walk away.

     Scott looked around frantically.  “What if we could get you another ten turkeys?  Then could you accept them?”

     Bill stopped and closed his eyes as he thought,  “Sure,” he said, as he turned around.  “But I’ll need ‘em by tomorrow, cause if ya can’t get ‘em, I’ll have ta take my wagon and try ta get ‘em in Stockton.”

     Scott nodded.  “We’ll have them here by sundown tomorrow.”

     Bill nodded his head.  “All right. “Till sundown.  And good luck.”

     “Do you know anyone who might have ten turkeys for sale?”  Scott asked hopefully.

     Bill snorted.  “Now if I knew that, I could get ‘em myself, couldn’t I?”?”

     Scott walked back to the wagon and pointed to the back.  “Let’s get these crates unloaded.”  Johnny glared at him for a moment before throwing himself down off of the wagon and grabbing the end of the nearest crate.

     “We’re gonna need more than ten, Scott.  Because the next bird that bites me is gonna join his cousins there,” he said, pointing at the dead birds piled into one of the crates.

     Scott glared at Johnny. “Just keep a hold on your temper. It’s going to be hard enough to find ten.  Now come on and lets get these crates down so we can find some turkeys.”

     When they were done, Scott went to the wagon and flung himself up onto the seat.  He turned to his brother.  “Any suggestions on where we can get TWENTY turkeys, BROTHER?”

     Johnny hung his head sullenly.  “I warned ‘em, didn’t I?”  He thought for a moment.  “The only person that I know of around here that has turkeys is the widow Potter.

     Scott looked at his brother in alarm.  “THE widow Potter?”

     Johnny nodded dolefully.  “And there ain’t no way she’s gonna let us have those birds.”

     “We’ve GOT to try.”  He glared at his brother.  “Unless you want to go back to the Danson’s and explain what happened?”

     Johnny shook his head.  “But Scott, she’s not gonna give ‘em to us.”

     “Do you know ANYBODY else that keeps turkeys?”  Scott asked hopefully.

     Johnny shook his head again.  “Nope.  Only the Widow.”

      Scott shuddered at the thought of that lady.  Finally he sighed. “No sense in both of us going.”  Scott thought for a moment before suddenly asking, “How about if we flip for it?” 

     Johnny looked at his brother suspiciously before nodding.  “All right. Tails.”

     Scott grinned and dug in his pocket, finally fishing out a coin.  He immediately flipped it into the air, but before it could land, Johnny snagged it. 

     “I changed my mind.   Heads.”  Johnny said as he threw the coin up in the air without looking at it.

     Scott looked mournfully at the coin as it landed on the boards by his feet and shook his head.  He knew he should have gotten rid of that coin. With a deep sigh, he reached down and picked it up.  Stuffing it back into his pocket, he resigned himself to his fate.

     Johnny snickered as he watched his brother squirm at the prospect of going to see the widow.  At last something had gone his way.

      Scott looked over at his brother wondering how to wipe that smile off of his face, and then a wonderful thought occurred to him.

     “Johnny, I hate to break the news to you, but do you know what day it is?”   Scott asked innocently with a pleased smile on his face.

      Johnny nodded his head warily.  “It’s Tuesday, why?”

      “And guess what day the ladies church league meets?”  Scott said brightly.

      “Tuesday.”  Johnny said wearily as Scott nodded.

      It was Scott’s turn to snicker.  “I’m going to go home and go to bed early.  Good luck, brother, and don’t forget to take a bath before you go.”


     Johnny poked his head warily inside the church.  He thought briefly about just turning tail and heading home, but he figured Scott would probably find out somehow.   He glanced around at the group of older women and shuddered.  There was just no way Johnny Lancer could do this.  Taking a deep breath, he put on his best Madrid mask and stepped into the room.


Chapter Six


     All conversation came to an abrupt halt as the women looked up and saw who had entered the room. They looked at him appraisingly and Johnny was reminded of a pack of wolves surrounding a calf.  He self- consciously removed his hat and spun it around in his hands as he tried to decide what to say.  As the silence grew longer, the speed of the spinning hat increased.  Finally, one of the women broke the silence. 

   “May we help you, Mr. Lancer?”

   The spinning slowly stopped.  “No.  Well, yes.”  He hesitated for a moment.  “Maybe,” he said with finality.

   “And how can we help you?”  A thin seventy year old said.

    The tone she used caused Johnny to blush, and the hat once again started making it’s circles.

    He took a deep breath.  “Ya see, I’m tryin’ ta get a date.”

    “A date, Mr. Lancer?”  One of the women asked hopefully.

    “Yeah, a date.”  Johnny said uncomfortably.

     “What kind of a date?”  Another woman enquired coyly. 

     “Just a ….you know….date.”

     At the women’s perplexed expressions, Johnny continued.  “Ya see, there’s the Valentine’s dance comin’ up, and Scott thought that one of you ladies might like ta go to the dance.”

     “And why did your brother think of us?”  A gray haired matron asked.

     Johnny shrugged.  “Well, he said it was the most likely place ta find an….uh….a lady that might be willin’ ta go.”

    One of the women twittered nervously, and Johnny’s hat started spinning again.

    “I see”, an overweight red head said.  “And why didn’t your handsome brother come himself?”

     Johnny thought quickly.  There was no way he was going to admit to this bunch of formidable women that his brother hadn’t come because he had won a crooked coin toss.  That just might get both of them killed.  “Well, ma’am, he’s just a little shy, so he asked me ta come instead.”

    “And you’re not shy are you Mr. Lancer, or can we call you Johnny?”

     Johnny looked warily at the seventy year old lady.  “No ma’am, at least not usually.  And Johnny’s fine.”

     The hefty redhead approached him.  “What about your father?  Does he need a date too?”

     Johnny shook his head a little too fast.  “No, ma’am!”  Johnny had visions of what his father would do to him if he set him up with that particular lady.  But when he noticed the lady’s face, he thought he’d better be a little more diplomatic.  “My father already has a date for the dance,”  he lied and watched the disappointment flood the lady’s face.

     “And what about you?”  The  gray haired matron asked.

     “Me what?”  Johnny said in confusion.

    “Do you have a date for the Valentine’s dance?”


     The lady’s face erupted in a wrinkled smile.  “Well now, we’ll just have to do something about that, won’t we.?”

   “NO MA’AM!”  Johnny said in alarm.  He wasn’t going to get roped into going to the dance with one of these ladies’ granddaughters.  No way!  As he noticed the scowl on some of their faces, he once again decided he’d better be diplomatic.  “Ya see, I don’t go ta dances.”

     “Why not,”  the redhead asked.

     Johnny thought quickly.  “Because I can’t dance.”  He fibbed.

    “I tell you what”, one of the ladies said.  “Why don’t you spend the afternoon with us, and we can teach you how to dance.  Then you can go home and tell your brother that one of us would LOVE to go to the Valentine’s dance.”

     Johnny closed his eyes.  He didn’t know if he could go through with it.  Stay here all afternoon with these ladies, and …… with them?  He looked at their eager faces, and sighed.  There really was no alternative.  After all, he and Scott HAD to get a date for Jelly, although after looking at this bunch of females, he wasn’t sure Jelly was going to exactly thank them.  In fact, he just might come after them with a shotgun.  On the other hand, the grizzled handyman wasn’t exactly a prize winner himself.  Knowing his luck, BOTH  Jelly and his unfortunate date would be after his hide. Scott was going to owe him big time, and he was going to make sure his big brother knew it.

    Reluctantly,  he nodded and forced himself to smile.  “I would love for you ladies to show me how to dance.” He said somewhat convincingly.

    Two hours later, a very tired and lame Johnny finally brought the lesson to a halt.  “I’m afraid I have ta go, ladies, although I really enjoyed it.  Now which one of you ladies is goin’ to the dance?”

    The redhead immediately piped up  “I would be delighted to go to the dance, Mr. Lancer.”  The other ladies instantly put up a storm of protest, and Johnny had a brief vision of the gobbling turkeys enter his brain.  He shivered.  He really wasn’t sure which bunch had been the most irritating.  He thought he just might have nightmares from this day for years to come.

    Finally, the din receded, and the gray haired matron approached.  “We decided that Lulu  DID  offer to go to the dance first.”  She shot a look of pure venom at the redhead.  “So, unless you have any objections, I guess she’ll be the one going.”

    Johnny thought that Jelly just might have a whole lot of objections about taking Lulu, but he clamped his mouth firmly shut.  After all, Murdoch hadn’t been specific.

   “That will be fine, ladies”  He turned to Lulu.  “He’ll pick you up on the night of the dance, say about seven?”

    The woman blushed profusely and giggled.  “That will be fine, Mr. Lancer, and tell Scott I am SO looking forward to going.”

   Johnny nodded hesitantly.  “I will.”

   The seventy year old came up and put her hand on Johnny’s arm.  “Now that you can dance, Johnny, you have no excuse not to go.”

   Johnny panicked at the though of a blind date.  “Um…, ma’am.  Since everybody else’’ll be at the dance, I’ve gotta stay home and watch the ranch.”

   The lady looked disappointed.  “That hardly seems fair. Why can’t someone else stay?”  She pouted.

   Johnny thought quickly.  “It’s my turn.  Next time, Scott can stay home.”

   “Next time?”  She said brightly.

   “Uh huh.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I need ta get back to work.”  He tipped his hat.  “Ladies.” 


Chapter Seven


     As he turned to leave, the next words the redhead said froze Johnny in his tracks.

     “Imagine SCOTT Lancer asking ME to the Valentine’s dance!”

     Johnny whirled around, his mouth working furiously, but no words came out. 

     The gray haired matron rushed over to him and grabbed his arm.  “Are you all right, Johnny?”

     Actually Johnny thought, he really didn’t feel very well.  The thought of Scott’s reaction to the news that he was taking Lulu to the dance made him dizzy.

     He glanced around at the women and courageously decided to try to get his brother out of this mess.  “I’m afraid I gave you ladies the wrong impression,” he started.

     Lulu glowered at him.  “What do you mean by that?”  She asked belligerently.

     Johnny wilted under her stare.  “Well, um, you see……”

     “Go on, young man.”  The skinny lady chirped.

      Johnny swallowed hard.  Where was Madrid when he needed him?  “Well, it wasn’t exactly Scott that was doin’ the askin’.”

     The redhead snorted.  “Well then who was it?  I KNOW you wouldn’t have enough courage to come in here and try to get us to go to the dance with one of your HIRED HANDS.”  She laughed loudly.

     Johnny was just about to blurt out the  truth when the gray haired lady tittered.  “Or with Jelly.  That would really be funny.”

     “And dangerous,”  the redhead said, contemplating the young man.

     Johnny looked at the redhead’s expression and admitted defeat.  There was no way either Johnny Lancer or Johnny Madrid could face these opponents.  There was a limit to anyone’s courage, and besides the worst that Scott could do would be to kill him.  Theses ladies, on the other hand……….  Johnny shook his head. “No ma’am.  I just meant that I was askin’ for Scott.  Scott didn’t actually do the askin’.”  He smiled broadly.

     The redhead’s face melted into a smile, and Johnny heaved a sigh of relief as he turned and bolted towards the door.

     On the way home, Johnny thought about how he was going to get out of this mess alive.  He had somehow committed Scott to going to the Valentine’s dance with a seventy year old named Lulu.  And Scott didn’t even LIKE red heads.  Johnny shook his head.  This was not looking good.  One thing he decided for sure.  Scott wouldn’t find out what he’d done until the last minute.  There was no way he was going to sentence himself to death one minute sooner than he had to.  With that decided, all he had to do now was come up with a reasonable explanation as to why he didn’t get Jelly a date.


     Johnny tried to sneak past his brother’s room, but to no avail.  Scott had his door open and had been waiting for him.


     With a sigh, Johnny turned towards his brother’s room.   “What, Scott?”

     “What do you think I want?  Did you get Jelly a date?”

     Johnny took the direct approach.  “Nope.”

     Scott sat straight up in bed.  “What do you mean, no?  Couldn’t you do ONE simple task right?  There have to be at least twenty eligible ladies that go to that meeting.  Now don’t ell me that NONE of them were interested in going to the dance.” 

     Johnny smiled slightly.  “Oh, they was ALL interested.”

     “Well then, if they were ALL interested, what happened?”

     Johnny shrugged and decided to tell the truth.  “They just weren’t interested in going with Jelly.”

     “Why not?”  Scott asked.

     Johnny grinned.  “Would YOU go with Jelly if you were a girl?”

     Scott looked at his brother doubtfully.  “I don’t think any of that bunch have been girls for a long, long time.”

    Johnny conceded the point.  “OK, But would YOU go with Jelly if you were a lady?”

    Scott thought a moment.  “I’m not sure they’re all ladies either,”  he said quietly.  “But I do see your point.”  Scott thought for a moment then shook his head.  “We’ve got to come up with SOMETHING.  I don’t plan on doing chores for the next five hundred years.”

    Johnny sighed, then he looked at his brother.  “Maybe you could talk Widow Potter into going with him.”  He said hopefully.

    Scott looked at his brother.  “Johnny, I LIKE Jelly” he said earnestly.  He contemplated his brother seriously.  “Besides, since I have to take care of getting twenty turkeys to replace the ones that YOU shot, YOU have to come up with a date for Mr. Hoskins.  It’s only fair.”

     Johnny dropped his head and sighed.  ANYTHING was better than going near Widow Potter.  “All right.  I’ll come up with a plan.  Just give me a day or two.”  He looked wickedly at Scott and smiled.  “Do you know what YOU get to do tomorrow, big brother?”

     Scott scowled.  One of these days, he was going to kill his little brother.


      The next morning Johnny came down to the breakfast table in a fine mood.  The thought of Scott going to Widow Potter’s alone was enough to keep him in a good mood for months to come.  He came into the kitchen whistling, grabbed a plate off of the stove, and plunked himself down at the table with a smile a mile wide plastered on his face.

     Murdoch looked dubiously back and forth between his two sons, and realized something was up.  Johnny looked like the cat that swallowed the canary, while Scott looked like he had choked on it.

     He fixed his gaze on his youngest as he sipped his coffee.  “Mind telling me what’s so funny?”

     Johnny shrugged and looked at Scott.  “I just have the feelin’ it’s gonna be a fine day, that’s all.”

     Murdoch looked at Scott.  “And I suppose you have a feeling it’s going to be a lousy day?”

     Scott looked at his father.  “No, I KNOW it’s going to be a lousy day.”  He groused.

     “Will ONE of you please tell me what’s going on?”  Murdoch asked, looking back and forth between the two.

     Johnny grinned.  “Scott here is going to go pay a visit to one of our neighbors today.”

     Murdoch’s eyebrows raised and he took another sip of coffee.  “Which one?”

     Johnny’s smile got wider.  “Widow Potter.”

     Murdoch’s coffee tried to go down the wrong way, and he wound up spewing it on to the table.  When he was done choking, he looked at his older son sympathetically.  “It’s been nice knowing you.”


Chapter Eight

     Scott rode over to Widow Potter’s as slowly as he could.  In fact, if Charlie were capable of backing up the whole distance, that is what he would have done.  He kept entertaining some wild hope that SOMEHOW he would be rescued.  With any luck, he would fall off Charlie and break a leg, or perhaps if he were very lucky, someone would shoot him.  He clung to those vain hopes until he had reached her gate.  Then, with a resigned sigh, he let go of Charlie’s reins, cupped his hands over his mouth, and yelled.  “ANYBODY HOME!”  Immediately after he yelled, he grabbed his horse’s reins once more, and waited for the onslaught.

     Immediately a stream of barking dogs came charging out from every nook and cranny of the house, and from under and inside the dilapidated barn. Several dogs even appeared from inside the outhouse, a wonder that Scott scarcely had time to contemplate before he had his hands full trying to keep Charlie from bolting.  The dogs surrounded the horse and the frantic barking kicked up a notch.  A few brave hounds jumped in and tried to nip the horse’s heels but a few well-placed kicks by the gelding soon discouraged them.  Just as Scott was beginning to lose hope of being able to rid himself of the Hounds from Hell without resorting to violence, an ear-splitting whistle rent the air.  Immediately, the dogs’ tails went down and the mangy beasts slunk back to their hiding places.  The instant calm was almost as nerve –wracking as the unearthly din had been.

    A few moments later, the lady herself appeared.  Dressed in man’s overalls and boots, she wore an old grubby Stetson pulled down low over her eyes.  As Scott watched, she hitched up her pants with one hand while holding a double barreled shotgun with disturbing ease with the other hand.

     “Who’s there?”  she hollered.

     “Scott Lancer, ma’am.”

     “Whatdya want?”

     “I was told that you might be willing to sell me some turkeys.”

     The lady looked at him skeptically.  “Turkeys, huh.”

     “Yes, Ma’am.

     Widow Potter snorted.  “Don’t ma’am me.  She looked at his appraisingly for a few moments, and then motioned with her shotgun.  “Go ahead and get on down.”

     Scott looked around apprehensively, and the lady laughed.  “Don’t worry.  Those dogs won’t bother ya.  They’re trained”.

     Scott slowly dismounted, keeping his eyes open for any signs of the slavering beasts, but they had seemingly disappeared into thin air.  He drew the reins over Charlie’s neck, and led the horse toward the porch where she was standing.  As he approached, she turned her head and spit a stream of brown tobacco juice into the dirt next to the porch, and not for the first time, Scott wondered what type of man the late Mr. Potter had been.

     As he approached, she turned and went inside her house, motioning Scott to follow.  Taking a deep breath, he called on all of his courage and followed the lady inside.  Although he and Johnny had occasionally been forced to pay the widow a visit to return a cow that insisted on wandering onto Lancer property, neither one had ever been inside the widow’s house.  The outside of the tumble down shack was intimidating enough, with it’s peeling gray paint and sagging roof.  Scott could only imagine what the inside looked like.

     Scott shuddered right before he entered the shack, and involuntarily took a deep breath in the hopes he wouldn’t have to breath again until after he had left.  His hopes were dashed when the Widow turned and asked him a question.  “So how many turkeys do you need?”  Scott cursed Johnny; if his hot –headed little brother hadn’t shot the last ten birds, he could have answered the lady by holding up fingers.  As it was, a brief thought of taking off his boots and using his toes to help indicate the number passed through his head, but one look at the filthy floor squashed that idea, and he finally let out his breath and answered.  “At least twenty.”

     The Widow fingered her chin, the gesture eerily reminiscent of Jelly.  “Twenty, huh?  I don’t know if I can spare that many.”

      Scott felt the first feelings of panic.  They HAD to get those twenty birds.  “Ma’am, we really need those turkeys.  We’ll pay you top dollar for them.”

     “We?”  The Widow asked.

     Scott nodded.  “Johnny and I need to take some to complete a sale.”

    The Widow nodded her head.  “I understand.”  She looked slyly at Scott.  “What’ll ya give me for them?”

     Scott looked at her in surprise.  “I told you we would give you any reasonable price.”

     Widow Potter laughed, a loud, raucous laugh that put Scott’s teeth on edge.  “I don’t need no money.”  She took her hand and gestured around the mournful shack.  “I got everything I need right here.  Don’t need nothin’ else.”

    Scott looked at her quizzically.  “Well then, what do you want for those birds?”

     The Widow thought a moment, her face scrunched up into a grimace.  Finally, Scott could see that she had an idea.  “I know. Let’s make a trade of sorts.”

     “A trade?”  Scott asked cautiously.

     The Widow nodded.  “Yep.  A trade.”

     “What kind of a trade?”

     Widow Potter smiled and told him.

      Scott looked in horror at the lady.  “Oh NO!  There’s NO WAY I can agree to that!”

     A dangerous glint appeared in the lady’s eyes, and she grabbed her shotgun.  “And why is that?”

     Scott realized his error almost at once, and came up with, to him, a logical explanation.

     Widow Potter didn’t seem impressed.  She shrugged her shoulders. “I guess you don’t need them turkeys as bad as ya thought.”

     Scott broke out into a cold sweat.  How could he promise what the widow had asked?  On the other hand, the prospect of spending the rest of his life as Murdoch’s slave wasn’t particularly appealing, either.  And, after all, HE wouldn’t be the one who suffered.  No, if he went through with it, he figured his death would be relatively quick and painless compared to what Widow Potter had in mind for her victim.  And they DID need those turkeys.  They could ALWAYS come up with a plan to sidetrack the Widow from her prey after the turkeys were safely delivered.

     He looked at the widow and made the mistake of taking a deep breath before he answered.  “Deal,”  he coughed.


Chapter Nine


     The widow nodded.  “All right.  The turkeys are outside in a pen behind the barn.  There’s some wood in the barn ta make ya some crates with.”

     Scott’s mouth dropped open.  You mean I have to make the crates?”

     The Widow shrugged.  “Unless ya want ta hog tie ‘em.”  She chuckled at her own wit.

     Scott looked in alarm at the barn.  “What about those……dogs?”

    The Widow Potter cackled once more.  “Of, they won’t bother ya.  Just give ‘em a kick if they get too frisky.”

     “Aren’t you going to come out there?”  Scott said hopefully.

     The Widow shook her head.  “Nope.  I’m goin’ huntin’.  I’ll be back by this evening.  Just close the barn door when you’re done.”

      “You’re LEAVING me?”  Scott said, close to panic at the thought of being alone with all those ravenous dogs.

     “Well, yes, Hon, but I’m flattered that you want me to stay.”    

     Scott stared at her for a moment before saying flatly, “that’s OK.  I’ll be fine.”

     The Widow nodded.  “See ya!”  she said as she walked out the door.  Scott stood there a moment longer before suddenly realizing he was actually breathing the revolting air of the cabin.   He bolted outside and gulped in a lungful of fresh air before resolutely starting across the yard to the barn. All he wanted to do was to get this job finished and get out of this place.

    He yanked open the barn door, expecting a barrage of canine bodies, but was greeted with only silence.  Cautiously, he entered the building, and the sun streaming in caught the reflection of dozens of canine eyes.  At least he hoped that was what they were.  A little more confidently, he walked over to a large pile of wood and began sorting it, looking for pieces the appropriate size for building some crates. 

     An hour later, he finally finished the last crate, and stood up to stretch.  He had been totally engrossed in his work, and had forgotten about the dogs completely.  As he looked up, he realized that the dogs hadn’t forgotten about him.  They were no longer hiding.  In fact, they were surrounding him using their best wolf impersonation mode.  He cursed, wondering  why it couldn’t be Johnny in this mess.  Of course, his brother wouldn’t be in this position in the first place.  In fact, Johnny would probably be having the darn dogs jumping through hoops by now.  Scott glared at the animals, and was answered with low growls and snarls.  He plopped down on a nearby bale of hay and thought about his predicament.  He supposed Johnny would eventually show up, but if he did, Scott knew that he would never live it down, especially since Johnny would get past the dogs with no problem.  And of course, he COULD wait for Widow Potter to come back…..

     He had finally managed to lug the last crate up into the hayloft.  As long as he didn’t go anywhere near the door, the dogs left him alone.  Now all he had to do was lower the crates and himself down into the yard from the loft without the dogs figuring out what he was up to,  then race around and slam the barn door, trapping the dogs inside.  An ingenious plan, borne of sheer desperation.  He looked out at the ground from the hayloft, and noticed that he was directly above the pen where the turkeys were kept.  The pen wrapped around to the other side of the barn, out of sight. He lowered the crates down, then with a last look around, he started to lower himself into the pen. 

     He had just touched his feet to the ground when he heard a startling noise from behind him.  Whirling around, his feet slipped in the gumbo like mud and he went sprawling, but not before he caught sight of the group of pigs heading his way.  Apparently, the turkeys were not alone in the pen.  The pigs came towards him resolutely, and he yelled at them, which seemed to bother them not at all.  It did, however, let the dogs know of his presence, and they came streaming out of the barn in full cry.

     Scott looked up at the rope in desperation, but he knew he’d never reach it in time.  He watched in resignation as the dogs got closer, but then at the last minute they veered, and spread out along the pen’s perimeter.  Evidently they were smart enough to know better than to enter the muddy pig pen.  Which is more than what he could say about himself.  He looked ruefully down at his muddy and ruined clothing, and felt his temper rising.

     Two hours later, Scott finally popped the last turkey none to gently in a crate.  He had spent the last several hours chasing turkeys around the muddy enclosure,  falling more times than he cared to count, and getting up close and personal with several pigs that insisted on following him around like lost puppies.  Every time he had turned around while he was chasing those stupid birds, he had managed to trip   over one of the pigs.  He had landed on those darn pigs so many times he was on a first name basis with them.  And the worst part of it was, he could swear that the watching dogs were laughing at him.

     When he had finally finished, he realized that someday soon he would have to leave the pen, dogs or no dogs.  The thought of still being here when the widow came home spurred him to come up with a plan for his escape.  After studying the dogs once more, he decided that they really didn’t look any friendlier than they had earlier.  He had to figure out a way to trap the dogs in the barn.

     With a sigh, he went back to the rope and started hauling himself up.  Once he was back in the hayloft, he climbed down to the door and attached a rope to it.  Climbing back up again, he whistled loudly.  The dogs barking immediately tuned up and they came running into the barn.  With a smile at their stupidity, Scott yanked on the rope as hard as he could.  The door began to swing closed, then abruptly stopped.  When the door stopped, Scott lost his balance  and fell out of the loft, straight into the waiting mass of dogs.


Chapter Ten


     He came to a minute or an hour later; he wasn’t really sure.  What he WAS sure about was that he getting licked all over his face.  A not exactly unpleasant thought, at least until he realized what was doing the licking.  He sat bolt upright, and the dogs scattered like quail.  So much for the courage of the murderous bunch; the truth was out.  They were nothing but a bluffing bunch of cowards.  Pulling himself to his feet, one of the dogs started growling.  But Scott was too angry to be intimidated.  He yelled at the dogs and shook his fist at them, and they scurried back to the safety of the barn.  Pleased with this new found power, he waited until the last dog had disappeared inside, and then calmly walked over and shut the barn door.

     He went back to where Charlie was waiting patiently and untied him.  He was leading him back to the waiting crates when an unpleasant thought ran through his mind. He turned and looked dubiously at the horse’s back, and then at the waiting crates.  There was no way he could get the crates home without a wagon. A feeling of panic tried to surface.   He would have to come back to this ……  He stared at the crates.  There HAD to be a way, there just had to be.  He had no intention of making another trip back here, especially when the Widow would be home.  Frantically, he tried to think of a way out.  After staring at the boxes in desperation for an eternity, he finally came up with a plan.

     An hour later, his homemade sled was hitched behind a very suspicious Charlie.  He spent some time calming the apprehensive horse before he loaded the crates onto the sled and tied them down.  The gobbling birds did little to reassure the fidgety horse, and Scott knew that Charlie was on the verge of revolt.  He walked around the sled, making sure the boxes were tied down tight, and then he unhitched Charlie from the post and threw the reins over the horse’s head.

      Talking quietly, he started to lead the gelding out of the yard when he heard a sudden frantic gobbling from one of the crates.  He let go of his horse’s reins and walked back to the boxes.  Not seeing anything at first, he climbed up on top of the crates and found that one of the turkeys had gotten a foot caught in the slats.  He was reaching down to unhook it when the door to the barn suddenly flew open and the dogs came charging out towards them.   Scott watched with an open mouth as the dogs honed in on the hapless horse.

     When the frantically baying pack had gotten to within about twenty feet, Charlie at last decided that he had had enough.   With one backward kick, he took off towards home at a dead run with the dogs in hot pursuit and Scott desperately trying to keep his balance on top of the frantically gobbling birds.


     That evening at dinnertime, Johnny kept looking over at Scott and smirking.  Even Teresa had a hard time holding in her mirth.  Scott studiously tried to ignore both of the children, but when Murdoch started chuckling, Scott finally gave up and stomped upstairs.

     As Scott disappeared, Johnny started to laugh, and Murdoch and Teresa joined him.

     “That sure was some sight.”  Johnny chuckled.

     Murdoch laughed quietly.  “I still don’t know how he managed not to fall off.”

     Teresa giggled.  “I don’t think I’ll ever forget the sight.”

     Johnny grinned.  “I don’t think ANYBODY’LL forget it.” 

     Murdoch laughed again, recalling the sight of his usually fastidious son, covered in pig manure and riding a chariot full of gobbling turkeys into the yard at full gallop in front of all of the hands.  Men and horses had scattered as the horse and dogs had come charging into the yard, finally coming to a halt when Charlie stopped at the familiar hitching rail.  The surprised hands had stood around with their mouths hanging open as Scott then calmly stepped off and marched into the house without a backwards glance.

     Johnny smiled and shook his head.  “I STILL don’t know why he didn’t just jump off before he got to the yard. I sure would’ve.  NO way I would’ve ridden that thing into the yard with everybody watchin’.”

     Murdoch chuckled.  “He didn’t jump because your brother happens to be VERY stubborn.”

     Johnny started to laugh.  “Don’t ya mean very PIG headed, among other things?”

     Murdoch finally gave up and burst into loud laughter.  “It WAS a sight, that’s for sure.”

     When the laughter had finally died down, Johnny stood up.  “I guess I’d better go see how he’s doin’.”

     Teresa smiled.  “Be careful.  I don’t think he’s real happy with you right now.”

     Johnny nodded.  “Don’t worry, I made sure he wasn’t wearin’ his gun.”

      He climbed the stairs and knocked at his brother’s door.  “Hey, Scott, can I come in?”

     When there was no answer, Johnny cautiously pushed the door open.  “Hey, Scott.”

     Johnny decided to take his life in his hands and walked into the room.  Scott was lying on the bed, calmly looking at the ceiling.  He looked at his brother when he walked in.  “I hope you took care of those turkeys.”

     Johnny nodded uncertainly.  “Yeah, I put ‘em in the barn.”

     Scott nodded.  “Good.  Because if I EVER have to deal with another bird as long as I live, I might just do something that I regret.” 

     Johnny bit his lip as he watched his brother.  “Scott.”  He said softly.

     “In fact, you’d better warn Jelly to keep Dewdrop WAY away from me for a while.”


    “I don’t think I ever want to have turkey for Thanksgiving any more.  Maybe we can convince Teresa to make rabbit.”  He looked at Johnny. “In fact, even your miserable tamales would be better than turkey.”


     Scott finally looked up at his brother.  “What!”

     “I just didn’t want ya to forget, we have ta deliver them birds to Mr. Taylor’s tomorrow.”

     Scott’s eyes got wider and wider, and Johnny judiciously took off, slamming the door just as something crashed into the other side.


Chapter Eleven


     Johnny was beginning to get a little worried about his brother.  He hadn’t said an actual word all morning, at least none that were decipherable. Through his dark expressions and stilted gestures, however, Johnny was able to get the general gist of his brother’s mood.  Scott had silently hitched up the team while Johnny had loaded the crates onto the back of the wagon.  They were almost to Mr. Taylor’s and Scott was still silent.  Johnny was beginning to worry that he was in shock or something, and kept darting cautious glances over at his brother.

       As they traveled down the wheel – rutted lane that led to Mr. Taylor’s yard, Johnny heaved a sigh of relief.  They had made it there in one piece, all of the turkeys were alive, and they had met Bill’s deadline.  Their stint as turkey wranglers was almost over.  And he felt the same as his brother; if he never saw a turkey again as long as he lived, it would be too soon.  Johnny turned the horses around the last curve, and looked into Mr. Taylor’s yard.  He recognized Sam’s buggy sitting in the yard, and hoped Bill wasn’t sick.  They had spent a long time with him the other day, and Johnny sure didn’t need a bad case of whatever right now.

     Johnny guided the wagon up to the hitching post and then jumped down, just as Sam was coming out of the house.

    “Bill isn’t sick, is he Sam?”  Johnny said worriedly.  “I don’t need ta catch nothin’ right now.”

     Sam shook his head.  “Don’t worry, he doesn’t have anything contagious.  He broke his leg trying to fix the barn roof.  He’ll be laid up for a while, but he’ll be fine.”

     Johnny nodded, relieved, and was surprised to hear his brother finally speak in a soft voice, “Just HOW long will he be laid up?”

     Sam shrugged his shoulders.  “I told him I don’t want him leaving the house for at least several weeks.”

       Scott just stared at Sam but didn’t say a word.  Johnny wondered what was wrong, until he finally realized what that meant.  He turned and raced into the house, with Scott following behind.

     “Hey, Bill, sorry about your leg.”  Johnny bit the inside of his cheek.  “We brought ya those turkeys.”  He said hopefully.

     Bill snorted.  “Reckon I won’t be needin ‘em, now.  I have to get ‘em to the buyer by next Tuesday, or the deals off.  Seems like they need ‘em for some big shindig they’re havin.”  Bill dropped his head.  “There ain’t no way I can get ‘em, there.

     Johnny opened his mouth,  “Maybe…..”

     Scott turned and drove his elbow into his brother’s stomach before he could get the next words out.  “No.”  Scott said quietly as his brother gasped for air.

      As soon as Johnny got his wind back, he looked at Scott like he had lost his mind.  “Ya didn’t even know what I was gonna say.”

     Scott stared at Johnny.  “I am a pretty good guesser, and the answer is still no.”

     Johnny grabbed his brother’s arm and pulled him away from where Mr. Taylor was lying.  “Scott, if we don’t get those turkeys delivered, there’s no way Marty will take Teresa to the dance.  And if TERESA’S unhappy, you can bet Murdoch won’t exactly be jumpin’ with joy.”

     Scott took a deep breath.  “WE STILL don’t have a date for Teresa.  Maybe we should just quit while we’re ahead and admit defeat.  After all, Murdoch will eventually have to stop torturing us.”

     Johnny stared at his brother.  “Wanna bet?”

      Scott looked back at Johnny and blew air out through his mouth.  “All right.  But YOU”RE going to have to take care of those lousy birds.  I’m not going to have anything to do with them.   I’ll drive the wagon.”

     “Me?  Why does it have ta be me?  I’m not exactly in love with those turkeys either.”  Johnny thought for a moment.  “Besides, last time I took care of ‘em, it didn’t work so good.”     

     Scott sighed.  “All right, we’ll BOTH do it.  But I’m warning you, if they give us any trouble I’m the one that gets to shoot them!”

     They walked back to Bill’s bedside, and the two brothers stared at each other for a moment, until big brother finally took the initiative.  “Bill, Johnny and I discussed it, and we decided that if you want us to, we can deliver the turkeys to the buyer for you.  That way, you’ll get paid, and you can pay Marty.”

     Bill’s eyes lit up.  “You boy’s would do that for me?  I’d really appreciate it.  But what about your father?  Will he be all right with you bein’ gone for a week or so?”

     Johnny grinned, recalling the conversation.  All they had to do was to convince their father that they were working on getting a date for Jelly.  And of course, they would be.  “Yeah, I think Murdoch’ll be OK with it.”  Johnny said.

    Bill nodded.  “That would be great.  If you boy’s will come back tomorrow morning, you can pick up the rest of the birds and get an early start.”

     Scott nodded, then stopped and stared at Bill.  “The rest of the turkeys ARE still in crates, aren’t they?”

     Bill chuckled.  “Of course not.  They can’t go that long without getting’ somethin’ ta eat and drink.  You’ll have ta catch ‘em and crate ‘em tomorrow mornin’.”  He thought for a moment.  “Ya better get here pretty early.” 

     The next morning, the two brothers were at Bill’s by daybreak.  It took them over an hour to catch all of the turkeys and get them into their cages, and Scott was pleased that Johnny had just as difficult a time catching them as he did.  When they finally got the last one in the crate, the boys looked at each other and smiled.  The hard part was over. They went into the house and told Bill that the birds were loaded and they were getting ready to leave.

     Bill looked at them and smiled.  “You just don’t know how much this means ta me, boys.  I don’t know what I would’ve done if I had lost that contract.  Times have been pretty hard lately, and now with me laid up……. well, I just want ta tell ya thanks.”

     Scott grinned at the man.  “Don’t mention it.  By the way, you’d better give us directions on where to deliver these turkeys.”

     Bill laughed, “yeah, that would’ve been funny all right, you not knowin’ where ta deliver ‘em.  I think ya know the buyer; he’s a friend of yours.  They go to Nick Barkley up in Stockton.”     


Chapter Twelve

     Scott was at it again.  Johnny was really beginning to worry about his brother.  He hadn’t said a word for the last twenty miles.  In fact, he hadn’t said a word since Bill had told them just where they had to deliver the turkeys.  Of course, Johnny was a little worried about that himself.  The last time they had seen Nick, he hadn’t been very friendly.  Johnny sighed. Perhaps that was being a little bit optimistic.  The last time they had seen Nick, he was being restrained by his big brother, who had barely kept him from reaching his gun.

    Johnny held out a slim hope that Jarrod would once more interfere, but Jarrod hadn’t been arguing with Nick about killing them, Jarrod was just more intent on doing it legally.  Johnny sighed.  He guessed there wasn’t much chance of Audra going to the Valentine’s dance with him.

     He snuck another look at his brother.  With a sigh, he tried again.  “Come on, Scott, talk to me.”

     Scott finally turned and looked at him.  “Why?”  As he answered, the turkeys tuned up and began gobbling madly.  Scott turned around and glared at them, then turned back around, crossed his arms, and stared resolutely forward.

    Johnny gave up.  Besides, there was no way he could compete with those darn birds.

     After hours of listening to the incessant gobbling, Johnny began fingering his gun thoughtfully.  He didn’t think he had enough ammunition to take out ALL of those darn turkeys, but it sure would be satisfying to try.  They hadn’t shut up since early this morning, and Johnny thought he just might go deaf if it didn’t stop soon.  He noticed Scott still wore the same expression on his face, and he wondered what his brother was thinking.  Maybe he didn’t want to know.

    About an hour before sundown, Johnny started looking for a place to camp.  He thought he saw a good place, and was thinking about turning in when his brother poked him in the ribs.  “Hey, do you hear that?”

     Johnny tilted his head to listen.  “I don’t hear anything.”

     Scott got a blissful smile on his face.  “Neither do I.”

     Johnny smiled as he realized the turkeys were finally silent.  “I guess they finally got used to the ride, huh?”

     Scott nodded his head.  “I guess so.  At least now we can hear ourselves think.”

     Johnny nodded, and pulled the wagon off of the road, toward a small stream that he had spotted.  As he did, he hit a small bump, and the birds gobbled once or twice, and then quit.  Scott shot his brother a glare, and grabbed the reins out of his hands.  “Let me drive.  I don’t want to take ANY chances of waking those darn birds up.”

     Johnny grabbed the reins back out of Scott’s hands.  “I know how to drive, I’ve been doin’ just fine all day.”

     Scott grabbed again.  “So help me, Johnny, if you wake them up……….”

     As the two brothers were arguing about who should drive, the wagon hit a huge hole and dropped down about a foot.  Immediately, the turkeys started their racket, and Johnny graciously handed the reins to his brother.

     Thirty minutes later, they had their camp set up once more beside the road.  Scott hadn’t said anything, and Johnny had resigned himself to traveling the rest of the way with a grump.  As they sat around the fire, Johnny pulled out some jerky and then glanced at the enthusiastically gobbling birds.

     “Brother, don’t even THINK about it.”

     With a sigh, Johnny turned back to the jerky and took a bite.  This was going to be a long trip.  He tired to pull his bedroll over his head to drown out the incessant racket, but it was no use.  The gobbling drowned out EVERYTHING.  He looked over to his brother, and saw he wasn’t having any luck, either.  Finally, after trying to sleep for several hours, Johnny threw back his bedroll and stalked over to where the horses were staked.

     “What do you think you’re doing?”  His brother asked.

     “I’m gonna take these darn birds and drive ‘em over a cliff.”

     Scott lay back down.  “OK. Just make sure the horses don’t go over, too.”

     Johnny turned and looked at his brother.  “What about me?”

     Scott shrugged.

      Johnny glared at him for a few moments, and then quickly hitched the horses to the wagon and started out.  As soon as he had gone a few feet, the birds quieted down.  Johnny stopped the wagon and turned to look back at Scott, but as soon as he stopped, the gobbling started again.  He clucked to the team, and once more quiet settled on the wagon.  Without stopping, Johnny turned excitedly to his brother.  “Hey, Scott.  I guess these stupid birds got used to bein’ driven.”

    Scott glared at Johnny.  “And what possible good is that information to us?”

     Johnny was trying to keep the wagon moving without leaving the clearing.  “Well, all we have ta do is keep drivin’ ‘em till we get to the Barkley’s.”

     Scott looked at his brother like he’d lost his mind.  “Johnny, that’s THREE days!”

     Johnny shrugged.  “Well, we can take turns, and besides, it’s better’n drivin’ ‘em off a cliff.  We really need to deliver ‘em.”

    Scott glared at Johnny for a few more moments, then got up and threw his bedroll in the back of the wagon as it went by.  He tried to throw the rest of the gear in as Johnny drove by, and missed.  “Can’t you just stop for a minute?” 

     His brother shook his head.  “Nope.”  Scott finally got all the gear in the wagon and managed to get in himself without breaking anything, and Johnny turned the wagon toward Stockton.

   Scott decided that he still wasn’t talking to his brother, so Johnny spent the drive thinking about how he was going to break the news to his big brother that he had a date for the dance.  He chuckled.  He’d bet if he told him, THAT news would start him talking.  Nothing else sure had. 


Chapter Thirteen


    Johnny squinted at the sun.  He figured there was about three hours of daylight left.  They had made pretty good time, considering, and should be at the Barkley ranch sometime this afternoon.  Johnny still couldn’t decide if that was a good thing or a bad thing, but he sure would be glad to get out of this wagon and rid of those birds.

     They had been forced to stop several times when the horses had refused to go any further.  The team was almost as stubborn as the turkeys; they insisted on eating and drinking at fairly regular intervals.  Each time they had stopped, they had kept the harnesses on the horses and allowed them barely enough time to grab a few mouthfuls of grass and a couple of sips of water before the noise from the vocal birds made the men hurry to get the wagon going again.

     Both the brothers and the horses were getting mighty tired of the routine, and Johnny felt that the horses were coming close to revolting.  Of course, so was he.  They had taken turns trying to get some sleep, but evidently, the turkeys didn’t believe in sleeping. The only place to lie down was on top of the crates, and as soon as Scott had tried to climb up so he could lie down, the birds started gobbling.   They had been so indignant that they wouldn’t stop gobbling for over an hour after Scott had given up and climbed back down.

     Johnny had a few choice words to say to his brother over that, but several hours later, when it was his turn to try to get some rest, he had determinedly tried with similar results.  Scott had barely been able to keep him from shooting the bunch then and there.

     Johnny sighed; a few more hours and they could hand this miserable bunch of prime dinners over to the Barkleys.  He smiled as he wondered who could make more noise, the birds or Nick.  Johnny shook his head; it didn’t matter.  He had no intention of sticking around to find out.  With any luck, Nick and the other men would be out working and he and Scott could drop off the turkeys and hightail it out of there before the Barkley boys were any wiser.

     He wasn’t paying much attention to the road, and as they came around a bend, there were two men standing in the road with shotguns pointed at the wagon.

     Johnny pulled the team to a halt and the men took a step nearer.  “Just take it easy, boys.  Don’t do nothin’ stupid.  We just want them birds of yours.”

     Scott turned and looked at Johnny, then immediately stepped down from the wagon.  “Go ahead, they’re all yours.”

     Johnny looked at his brother in amazement.  “Scott, what’re ya doin’?”

     “I am giving these kind gentlemen the birds.  What do you think I’m doing?”

      “Scott,” Johnny said quietly. “We can’t just give ‘em to them.  We need ‘em.”

     Scott turned to his brother as the two robbers looked on in confusion.  “We do NOT need them.  We NEVER needed them.  We should have just left well enough alone.  This is not working, and I have no intention of dying for a bunch of turkeys.  And I know, without a shadow of a doubt, if we had to spend ONE MORE SECOND with that bunch of ill tempered over- stuffed feather dusters ONE of us would have wound up dead.  I know, because I would have shot at least one of us.”

     Johnny contemplated his brother for a moment, and then nodded his head and slowly climbed down and handed the reins to the nearest man.  “Here ya go.  They’re all yours.”

    The two men looked at them suspiciously.  “What’s wrong with them birds?”

   Johnny and Scott shook their heads.  “Not a thing.”

   “That’s just the problem.”  Scott muttered.

     With a last disbelieving look at the two men, the robbers climbed up into the wagon and Johnny and Scott watched as the two men drove off.  “You could have at least thought to get our bedrolls out of the back.”  Scott said.

     Johnny turned and glared at his brother.  “You’re the one that was so all-fired anxious ta get outta the wagon.”

     Both the brothers sighed at the same time.  “Well, it looks like we walk,” Scott observed.

     Johnny nodded.  “Yeah, but we won’t have ta walk for long.”

     Scott looked at his quizzically.  “Why not?”

     Johnny grinned.  “Because those horses were just about ready ta stop again.  I figure we’ll catch up with those two in about an hour or so.”

     Scott laughed.  “Sometimes, brother, you’re a genius.”

     Actually, it was almost an hour and a half before the brothers heard the unmistakable sounds of irate turkeys.  They looked at each other and grinned.  They pulled out their pistols and snuck through the underbrush so they could get closer to the wagon.  They weren’t particularly worried about the robbers hearing them; the noise the birds were making would mask a stampede of buffalo.

     When they finally got within sight of the wagon, they crouched down.  There was another man with them, evidently negotiating for the birds.  Johnny glanced at Scott and shrugged.  It didn’t matter; they would get the birds and deliver them to the Barkleys.  Whoever the third person was, he was probably in on the whole thing.   They hesitated for just a second, and then they both stood up.

       Johnny cocked his revolver.  “All right, boys.  Hand over the turkeys, and no one gets hurt.”

     The two robbers immediately froze, but the third man turned and stared at Scott and Johnny in disbelief.  A sickly smile appeared on Johnny’s face as he realized he had just tried to rob their old friend from the gifts fiasco, the Police Sergeant from Stockton.


Chapter Fourteen


     The sergeant stared at the two men for a moment before exploding.  “YOU!”

     Ignoring Johnny’s gun, which was no longer pointing in his direction, the sergeant stalked toward them.  “I thought I made myself perfectly clear the last time I saw you that you I didn’t want to see the two of you again!”

     Scott nodded.  “Yes sir, you did.”

     The sergeant glared at him.  “Then just WHO am I seeing, because I KNOW you wouldn’t go against my wishes, now, would you?”

     Scott and Johnny looked at each other uncomfortably, and Scott finally opened his mouth to explain, but before he could get a word out, the sergeant started in.  “DON’T say a WORD!  I know I wouldn’t understand it, anyway.  Whatever you two have to say, you can explain it to someone else.  Right now you’re under arrest for attempted robbery.”

     “But…….”  Johnny started.

     The sergeant expression shot daggers at the gunfighter.  “I’m warning you, one word from EITHER of you will be MORE than ample grounds for me to shoot you, understood?  I don’t have time to try to unravel one of your stories about your hair-brained plans, and after hearing the last one, no jury in the world would convict me if I shot you. Now why don’t we just go back into Stockton and you can tell whatever story you’ve got this time to my superior.”

     Johnny watched as the two robbers smirked at them and got ready to drive off.  “But they stole those turkeys from us!”  Johnny blurted out.

     The lawman glared once more at Johnny before looking resignedly at the two men by the wagon.  “Well?”

     They both shook their heads.  “No sir, those are our birds.”

     The sheriff sighed and looked at Scott and Johnny.  “Why did I have to run into you two today?”  He shook his head.  “It started out to be SUCH a nice day” he sighed.  “All right, EVERYBODY back to town.”   


      “Why couldn’t you have kept your big mouth shut?”  Scott groused at his brother. 

     Johnny glared back at Scott.  “If I had, the sergeant woulda let those guys go and we’d be walkin’ now.”

     “Exactly!”  Scott grumped, trying vainly to make himself heard over the frantic gobbling coming from the crates they were sitting on.   As they approached Stockton, both Johnny and Scott pulled their hats down over their eyes to try to hide their identities and they both heaved a sigh of relief when they were finally safely inside the police department.   

     The sergeant motioned them over to a cell.  “You two can go right in there,” he said as he locked the door behind them.  He motioned to the other two men.  “And you two can go in the cell right down the hall.” As he escorted the two robbers down the hall, he turned and looked at Scott and Johnny.  “My captain can figure this out.  I’m going home.”

     The two brothers plopped down on the bench.  “Well, at least we can get some sleep.  Those turkeys are long gone.”  The words were just out of Johnny’s mouth when a very familiar sound wafted up from outside of their window.  Scott walked over to the barred window.  “Guess where they decided to park the evidence?”  He asked resignedly.

     Several hours later, they heard a visitor approaching their cell.  Hoping it was the captain so they could explain the situation and get out of there, they both stood expectantly.  Instead, the familiar countenance of one Jarrod Barkley appeared.

     Both Johnny and Scott sat back down and cautiously watched the lawyer approach.  “Johnny, Scott, how are you doing?”  He said cheerfully.

     The brothers looked at each other in confusion.  Finally, Scott answered him warily.  “How does it look like we’re doing?”

     Jarrod grinned.  “Well, it looks like things are about normal and you could use some help; that’s why I’m here.”

     Scott shot Johnny a glance and they both shrugged.  “Do you think you can get us out of here?”

     Jarrod’s grin grew wider.  “I’m pretty sure I can.  Tell me what happened.”

     As Scott and Johnny filled him in on the details, Jarrod listened sympathetically.  When they were done, he asked a few questions.  “Do you have any proof that that wagon belongs to you?”

     Johnny nodded.  “Both of the horses are wearing Lancer brands, and the wagon itself has an ‘L’ carved under the seat.

     Jarrod nodded.  “What about the turkeys?”

     Johnny looked at Jarrod in disbelief.  “Well, they ain’t branded, that’s for sure.”

     Jarrod thought a moment.  “You said you got them from Bill Taylor?

     Scott nodded.  “Yes, we’re delivering them for him.  We were supposed to bring them to Nick.”

     Jarrod’s eyebrows shot up.  “Nick and the rest of the committee members were worried that they wouldn’t be delivered in time for the celebration.  It’s Stockton’s founding day tomorrow.  Nick sent a telegram to Spanish Wells, and the telegraph operator sent a message back that Mr. Taylor had broken his leg and couldn’t deliver the turkeys.  We’ve been trying desperately to find replacements, without any luck.  I’m sure glad you showed up.”

     Scott nodded.  “And I suppose the sergeant is on the committee?  That’s why he was trying to buy the stolen birds?”

    Jarrod nodded.  “Only I’m sure he didn’t know they were stolen.  Don’t worry, I’ll talk to his supervisor and tell him what happened.  I think I’ll be able to get you released, especially since the two men you say robbed you don’t have a very good reputation.  I’ll go talk to the captain, and I should have you out of here within the hour.”

     Johnny and Scott exchanged looks once again.  This time it was Johnny who took the initiative.  “All right, Jarrod, what’s the catch?”

     “Catch?”  He said innocently.

     Scott nodded.  “Yes, catch.  I KNOW there’s a catch.”

     Jarrod shrugged.  “Well, now that you mention it, there is one tiny little catch.  But if you’d rather I not get you out, I can always send a telegram to Murdoch and let him come up and bail you out.”  He waited expectantly.

     Johnny and Scott looked at the grinning lawyer and then at each other. 

     “Ya should of shot us when ya had the chance,” Johnny grumbled to his brother.  I have the feeling we woulda been a lot better off.”


Chapter Fifteen


     “All right, Jarrod.  What’ve we got ta do ta get outta this mess.”  Johnny asked resignedly.

     Jarrod shrugged  “Nothing much.  We’re just short of workers for the celebration,……”

     “That doesn’t sound too bad.”  Johnny interrupted.

     Jarrod nodded.  “And…..”

     “And what?”  Scott cut in worriedly.

     Jarrod shrugged again.  “There’s this young lady that works at my office.  She’s VERY nice, and it just so happens she doesn’t have a date for the party tomorrow night.”  He looked meaningfully at the two brothers.  “And I’m SURE that one of you would be delighted to take her.”

     Scott turned and pointed at Johnny just as his brother was pointing at him.

     Jarrod laughed.  “You boys can figure it out.  Now, is it a deal, or do I contact Murdoch and tell him his sons are in jail for trying to steal turkeys?”

     Scott closed his eyes.  He could just hear his father now.  “All right, deal.”

     Jarrod glanced at Johnny.  The gunfighter thought briefly of hitting Jarrod over the head and escaping to Mexico, leaving his brother to his fate, but he finally decided that he really didn’t like Mexico all that much.  He sighed loudly; he had the feeling he was going to regret this.  “Deal” he finally muttered.

     An hour later, Jarrod was back, and Scott and Johnny were released.  He told them the charges were dropped, and the other two men would be tried for robbery.  Jarrod told Scott and Johnny that he would buy the turkeys from them, so they wouldn’t have to deal with Nick, and the brothers heaved a sigh of relief.  They not only didn’t have to face Jarrod’s brother, but they’d finally seen the last of those stupid birds.  Things were definitely looking up. 

      Even though Jarrod asked the two men out to the Barkley Ranch for the night, they declined.  They felt it was much safer in town, especially since Jarrod had mentioned that Nick would be at the house.  Jarrod told them to meet him at the grounds where the celebration was to take place the next morning, and Scott and Johnny agreed.

     That evening, after they’d had dinner and returned to their hotel room, they discussed their situation.  “We STILL need a date for Jelly.”  Scott observed.

     Johnny nodded.  “Somethin’ll come up.”

     “It had better,” Scott said glumly.  “Or we might as well not even go home.”

     “Aw come on, it ain’t THAT bad, Scott.”

      Scott bit his lip.  “Isn’t it?  So which one of us gets to take Jarrod’s friend to the dance tonight?”  Scott asked innocently.

     Johnny shook his head vehemently.  “Oh, no, brother.  I ain’t doin’ it.”

     “And you think that I should?”

     “Well, you’re the one with the two headed coin.  I figure you owe me that much.”

     Scott pulled himself up straight.  “Are you implying that I would cheat my own brother?”

    “I ain’t implyin’ nothin.  I KNOW you did.”

     Scott started to say something, and then thought better of it.  “If I take her, you’re going to owe me big time.”  He said warningly.

     Johnny started to nod, when he suddenly remembered Scott’s upcoming date with Lulu.  Maybe this was a way to keep himself from getting killed by his big brother.  He shrugged nonchalantly.  “If it’s that big of a deal to you, I”LL take her.”

      Scott’s eyed narrowed.  “Why?”  He asked suspiciously.

     Johnny shrugged again.  “No reason.  Just thought I’d be nice to my big brother, that’s all.”

     Scott’s eyes got narrower and he snorted.  “Why?”  He thought for a moment. “Is she pretty?”

     Johnny laughed.  “How would I know?  I’ve never seen her.”

     “Are you SURE?”  Scott hesitated, watching his brother’s reaction.  “Maybe I will take her.”  Scott said.

     Johnny shook his head.  “Scott, I’m just tryin’ ta do you a favor, honest. I’ll take her.” 

      Scott shook his head.  “No, I think I should.”

     Johnny finally threw up his hands.  “OK, you take her.”

     Scott glared at his brother.  “You did that on purpose, didn’t you?  You KNEW there was something wrong with her, so you made me think you wanted to take her so I would insist I took her.”

     Johnny stared at his brother in resignation.  “Scott do what ya want, I’m goin’ ta sleep.”

     Scott continued to glare.  “It’s a trick, isn’t it?  Well, I’ll figure it out, if it takes me all night.”


     The next morning, Johnny and a very sleepy and grumpy Scott made their way to the grounds where the celebration was going to be held.  They found Jarrod, busily supervising several workers, and they stood around until the lawyer noticed them.  “Scott, Johnny!  You’re just in time!”

     The two brothers both sighed and cautiously approached Jarrod.  “Did you decide which one of you is going to take Gertrude?” The lawyer asked.

     “Gertrude?”  Scott asked.

     “Yes, certainly you didn’t forget about our deal.”

     “No….no, we didn’t.”  Scott wrestled with the decision for a moment before his courage deserted him.  “I guess Johnny’s going to take her.”

     He smiled when Johnny glared at him; he’d obviously made the right choice.

     “What do we have to do before then?”  Scott asked.

     “I figured you could be in charge of the Turkey Shoot.”

     Johnny brightened considerably.  “Turkey Shoot?  Do we get ta shoot those darn birds?”

     Jarrod laughed.  “Of course not.  People pay money to shoot at clay targets, and then if they win, they get a prize.  All you have to do is to replace the targets, and hand out the prizes when someone wins.”

     “At least there’s no turkeys around,” Johnny muttered.

     “That doesn’t sound too hard,” Scott said cautiously.

     “Of course it’s not hard.  And there’s the booth, right over there.  I’ll go over with you, and then you can go ahead and start setting it up.”

     As they walked closer to where the game was to be set up, they became aware of a familiar noise.  Johnny and Scott looked at each other before Scott turned toward Jarrod.  “And WHAT are the prizes we’re giving away?”

     “Well, it IS a turkey shoot, so we thought it would be fun to give away live turkeys.”  Jarrod said brightly. Then he looked at Johnny.  “And whatever you do, be sure you take a bath before tonight, you both already smell like turkeys.  What did you do?  Sleep with them?”

     Johnny was glowering at the birds.  “Do they have ta be alive?”


Chapter Sixteen


     While they were working the booth, Heath Barkley dropped by to see just how they were doing.  At least that’s what he said he was doing, but Scott and Johnny had the distinct feeling that he simply wanted a good laugh.  After about an hour of listening to Heath’s turkey jokes, Johnny had just about had enough.

     “So anyway, the fella goes into the saloon and says ‘Do you want this turkey or not?’”  As Heath laughed at his own joke, Johnny turned and pointed his gun at Heath’s nose, immediately cutting off the laughter.

     “Ya know what would make me happy?”  Johnny said.

      Heath swallowed hard.  “No, what?”

     “I don’t know, but as soon as I figure it out, I’ll let ya know.”  He shoved his gun back in its holster, and Heath started to walk away.

      “Oh no, ya don’t,” Johnny said.  “You’re gonna be helpin’ us today.”

     “Johnny, I can’t.”  Heath protested.  “I’ve got to go get ready for a hot date tonight.”

     “Real important to ya, huh?”

      Heath nodded.  “Ya, REAL important.  I’ve been tryin’ ta get her to go out with me for months.”

     Johnny thought for a moment.  “All right, I’ll tell ya what.  I’ll make a deal with ya.”

     “What kind of a deal?”  Heath asked suspiciously.

     “I’ll let ya live, AND go get ready for your date, and all you have to do is to help us get a date for a friend of ours for the upcoming Valentine’s Dance in Green River.”     

     “What friend?”

     Scott started to answer, but Johnny shot him a patented Madrid look; Heath knew Jelly.  “Just a friend.” Johnny said innocently.

     “Why can’t he get his own date?”

     Johnny shrugged.  “He’s too busy.”

     Heath looked skeptical.  “And what is he too busy doing?”

     Scott finally jumped in.  “He’s too busy helping people.”

     “He’s a doctor?”

     Johnny nodded; remembering the last time Jelly had removed a big splinter from his hand.  “And a surgeon.”

      “How old is he?”

     “Distinguished is a more suitable term for this gentlemen.”  Scott offered.

     Johnny nodded.  “Yes, VERY distinguished.”

     “Is he good looking?”

     Scott figured he was in deep enough anyway; he might as well finish burying himself.  “Definitely.  Why he’s the talk of the town.”

     Heath pursed his lips.  “Why don’t I believe you?”

     Johnny put his arm around Heath.  “Have I ever lied to you?  Besides, I really should have killed ya after ya suggested we get that perfume for Teresa, and I didn’t, so I figure ya owe me.”

     Heath nodded his head reluctantly.  “All right, I’ll make sure he has a date.  And I’ll bring her personally.  Now, are we even?”

     Johnny nodded, but Scott cleared his throat.  “Not quite.  You know, I should have killed you too.”

     Heath sighed.  “And what do YOU want?”

     Scott smiled.  “Does Audra have a date for tonight?”

     A turkey came whizzing by Scott’s head from where Johnny was standing, but Scott deftly ducked as Heath answered resignedly.  “I’ll see what I can do.”

     That evening, Johnny reluctantly got ready for his date in front of an amused Scott.  Scott had built up a picture of the blind date in his mind, and was sure that Johnny knew about it.  “While I am dancing the night away with Audra, you’ll be trying to pry GERTRUDE’S arms off of you. I really WILL be thinking of you, though, and I PROMISE, next time, I’ll take the bad date and you can ask Audra and I won’t interfere.”  Scott chuckled.

     Johnny smiled slightly.  At least no one in this town knew him except the Barkleys.  When Scott took Lulu to the Valentine’s dance, the whole town would know him.  He chuckled.  One night of misery was a small price to pay for the promise that Scott had just made. 


    The following week, Scott still wasn’t speaking to Johnny.  Audra had danced two dances with him, and then begged off.  She hadn’t been feeling well all day, and although she wanted to go to the dance, she just wasn’t feeling up to it.  Scott had spent the rest of the evening trying to avoid the flock of man hungry vultures flocking around the dance floor while Johnny and Gertrude had stayed until the very last dance.  Scott shook his head; he STILL didn’t know how his brother could be so lucky.  Gertrude was an exquisitely beautiful girl, and intelligent and witty on top of it.  Scott shook his head; it just wasn’t fair.

     But tonight, oh tonight would be different.  Heath had sent a wire saying that the whole family was coming to attend the Valentine’s Dance.  So Scott would once more have a chance to ask Audra to go with him.  Scott strode quickly down the stairs, anticipating the dance.  As he sat down to lunch, a flicker of doubt crossed his features. He still had to break the news to a very volatile member of the family that he had a date for tonight.

     Johnny came in from the other room and sat next to Murdoch and Teresa.  He smiled at Teresa.  “So, I hear you’re goin to the dance with Marty Danson?”

     His sister looked at him with amazement.  “Where did you get that idea?”

     Johnny and Scott started at each other.  If they had suffered through delivering those darn turkeys to Stockton, and Marty had bailed, they just might wind up back in jail for murder.

     “What do you mean?  Didn’t he ask you?”  Scott asked cautiously.

     “Yes, as a matter of fact he did.  But I decided I like Jimmy Prescott MUCH better, and I’m going to the dance with him.”  She stopped and looked at Scott suspiciously.  “And just HOW did you know Marty asked me?”

     “I um…”  Scott looked beseechingly at his brother.

     “We delivered some turkeys for him last week.  He sort of mentioned to us that he was gonna ask you.”  Johnny explained.

     Teresa watched the two of them for another moment before nodding.  “All right, but if I ever find out you’ve interfered……”  She gave both of them a deadly stare.

     Murdoch hurriedly changed the subject.  “Heath said that Victoria is coming.  I think I’ll see if she wants to go the dance with me.”

     Scott froze. It was now or never, and he figured at least there would be witnesses if his father decided to kill him.   “Sir, I don’t think that will be possible.”

     Murdoch looked at his son in surprise.  “Why not?”

     Scott dropped his head.  “Remember when you said to do ANYTHING it took, and go to ANY lengths to get Jelly a date?”

     Murdoch’s eyes narrowed.  “Yes.”

     “Well, I sort of already got you a date…..Sir.”

     Murdoch’s eyes narrowed more.  “WITH WHO? 

     Scott swallowed hard.  “Well………” 


       “Come on, Scott it don’t look so bad.  I’ve had black eyes lots of times.”  Johnny tried to shove his brother away from the mirror to check his own reflection.

     “But you’ve NEVER had one when you’re going to take Audra to a dance.”

     Johnny sat down on the bed, wondering when he should break the news to his brother.  “Actually, Scott, I’m plannin’ on takin’ Audra to the dance tonight.”

     Scott snorted.  “And WHAT, little brother, makes you think she’s not going with me?” 

     Johnny bit the inside of his lip.  “Well………..”



     “So, Audra, are you going to the dance with anyone special?  Jarrod asked as he guided the carriage toward the Lancer arch.

     “Actually, yes.  Teresa set me up with a very nice young man by the name of Marty Danson.”

     Victoria nodded.  “I’m sure if Teresa set it up, he’s sure to be nice.”

     Heath smiled at Victoria.  “I sure hope you have fun tonight. Mother.  Scott and Johnny assured me that this doctor was a VERY distinguished man.”

     “I certainly hope so.  I really didn’t want to come, but when you assured me this would be one man I would never forget, how could I pass up the chance?”

     Nick growled.  “He’d better be, or those Lancer boys and I are going to have a BIG problem.”

     “Count me in, brother,” volunteered Jarrod.  “If they’ve pulled anything, they’re going to wish they’d been hanged the first time.”



     Johnny slammed the shovel down into the dirt and wrestled with the stubborn tree root.  It just wasn’t fair. After all, they had kept their end of the bargain.  Just because Jelly hadn’t actually gone to the dance wasn’t their fault; they had gotten him a date, and Victoria had been willing to go with Jelly.  But Murdoch had been VERY adamant about the wording of the bet. He said that Johnny promised that Jelly would go to the dance, and looking back, Johnny realized that’s what he said.  But it isn’t what he meant.  He laughed.  Maybe he should get Jarrod to argue for him.  After all, he doubted that a man of Jarrod’s upbringing really planned on doing the things he said. Nick, on the other hand………

He wiped the sweat from his eyes, and then winced as he touched his black eye.  Scott sure had belted him one when he’d told him about Lulu.  He looked over at his brother, who was trying to dig into the rock hard clay to set some fence posts.  

    All Murdoch had told them was to make a pen next to the barn.  He said he was diversifying, whatever that meant.  All Johnny knew was that he and Scott were to be in charge of the new stock, and whatever it was, this pen they were building was WAY too small for beef.



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