This is a story from “The Surprise” series that takes place after “The Squirrels”
For Liette – a little late, but oh well.
Scott stepped off of the boardwalk and glanced around. Except for the two of them, the streets were deserted. He sighed and looked over at his brother.
“You’ve had more experience with this than I have. Do you think it’s safe to go home yet?”
“How long do you figure he’ll be mad?”
“How long much longer do you think he’ll stay angry?”
“A while longer.”
“Well, you’re a big help!”
“Look, Scott, it ain’t an exact science.”
“Well as much as he’s mad at us, it should be by now.” Scott shook his head in exasperation. “Well, I’ve had it! I’m not going to hide in town any longer. I’m sick of that hotel’s lumpy bed.”
Johnny shrugged. “Suit yourself.” He slid a sidelong glance at his brother. “Why don’t you go home and soften him up a little. I’ll be along in a day or two – about time for your funeral.”
Scott glared at Johnny. “All right, point taken. We’ll stay in town one more night,” he groused. “But I get the bed by the window tonight. I want to be as far away from the door as possible in case Murdoch decides to launch a surprise attack.”
Scott nodded. “I prefer to call it a well developed sense of survival.”
Johnny grabbed his brother by the neck. “Come on; let’s go over to the saloon. Might as well enjoy the time off.”
“Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die,” Scott intoned glumly.
Johnny looked at his brother with raised brows. “Sounds like you know EXACTLY what Murdoch’s like when he’s mad.”
“Yes, well, it seems like since I’ve been hanging around with you, I’ve had plenty of first hand experience.”
“ME? Those disasters were all your doing.”
“My plans were foolproof!” He glared at his brother as he slid into a chair in the saloon. “They just weren’t Johnny proof!”
Johnny caught the bartender’s eye and motioned for some drinks. “I don’t know, it seems ta me that you managed ta make a shamble of things even when you were following your own plans.”
“I was tryin to make you feel better.”
“I would have felt better if you’d just left me out of your plans.”
The bartender set the glasses down on the table, then reached down and whispered in Johnny’s ear.
“The man over in the corner was askin’ about Johnny Madrid.”
Johnny slowly reached down and undid the safety on his holster before glancing casually over at the man. He certainly wasn’t dressed like a gunfighter, but looks could be deceiving. The man kept shooting looks over at Scott and Johnny, then finally seemed to make a decision. He stood up and approached the table, with Johnny’s and Scott’s eyes locked on him.
Johnny tipped back in his chair and studied the man. “Who wants to know?”
The man looked at him nervously. “May I sit down?”
Johnny hesitated a moment, then kicked out a chair. The man gratefully sank into it.
“My name is Cooper. I’d like to hire you,” he said without preamble.
“For what?” Johnny asked.
The man licked his lips. “I want to hire you to escort The Duchess Josephine of Yorkshire to her new home.”
The man shrugged. “The railroad doesn’t go all the way to where she’s going, and I know nothing about this part of the country.”
“Obviously,” Johnny agreed, studying the man’s clothes.
“Something unexpected has come up and I can’t go any further with her, and I need to hire an escort. I’m afraid of kidnappers, and you come highly recommended.”
Johnny frowned suspiciously. “By who?”
The man shrugged vaguely. “Various people.” He looked at Johnny eagerly. “Will you take the job? You’ll be paid very well for your time.”
“Where does she have to go?”
“Up north, about two hundred miles from here.”
Johnny’s eyes narrowed. “Why are you afraid of somebody kidnappin’ her?”
The man straightened. “The Duchess comes from a blue blooded line that can be traced back hundreds of years. There are people who would pay dearly to get their hands on her.”
“What is she doing out here in the middle of nowhere?” Scott asked quizzically.
“She’s going to meet her new…husband,” the man explained.
Johnny perked up. “She’s single?”
The man nodded slowly. “Yeeeess.”
Scott shoved his brother aside. “Is she pretty?”
“Beautiful,” the man said reverently.
“We’ll take the job,” Scott said hurriedly.
Johnny looked at his brother in disbelief. “No we won’t.”
Scott grabbed his brother by the arm and pulled him aside. “Johnny, what sounds better, spending the next couple of weeks escorting a beautiful single lady to her new home, or spending the same amount of time with Murdoch? An ANGRY Murdoch.”
Johnny shook his head. “I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it.”
Scott’s eyes widened. “Are you crazy? What’s to think about?”
Johnny slowly shook his head. “Nope, I ain’t crazy, just experienced with your plans. If you’re for it, it HAS to be a bad idea.”
“Come on, brother, what can possibly go wrong?”
Johnny looked at his brother in disbelief. “Scott, we don’t have that much time.”
Scott turned and looked at the man who wanted to hire them. “Any catches? Anything you’re not telling us?”
The man shook his head. “No, of course not. You simply have to deliver the Duchess to her new home, safe and sound.”
“We’ll do it!” Scott reiterated.
“YOU’LL do it,” Johnny clarified.
“All right,” Scott said agreeably. “I’ll escort the beautiful and sumptuous single lady.” He rubbed his hands together. “Who knows? She might decide not to go to her new husband after all.”
Johnny’s common sense made a valiant attempt to win, but it was doomed from the start. There was no way he was going to take a chance on letting Scott having all of the fun. The gunfighter finally nodded glumly. “All right, WE’LL do it.” He glared at his brother. “But if ANYTHING goes wrong…” he threatened. “Anything at all…”
“It won’t. Like I said, what could POSSIBLY go wrong?”
The man stuck out his hand and they shook. “Good. The Barkleys will be expecting the Duchess by the end of the month.”
Johnny froze. “The Barkleys?”
Scott, painfully aware that Johnny had already loosened the safety of his gun, hurriedly grabbed Cooper and hustled him out of the saloon. He hoped Johnny wouldn’t shoot his own brother, but he figured the more distance there was between the two of them, the better. He hurried the man across the street, getting the details of the job before the man boarded the waiting stage. As soon as the man was safely aboard, Scott ducked into Val’s office. He doubted if even his brother was crazy enough to kill him in front of the sheriff.
With a relieved sigh, Scott sank into the desk chair.
Val watched him quizzically. “Trouble?”
Scott merely nodded, keeping his eyes glued to the door. A moment later, it crashed open, and Johnny stormed in, waving his gun around threateningly.
“BROTHER, you are on…your…own!”
Scott shook his head. “Come on, Johnny. Nothing’s changed.”
Johnny stared at his brother in disbelief. “Nothing’s changed?” His voice rose. “Nothing’s CHANGED? We’re supposed to deliver this Duchess to the BARKLEY ranch! In case you’ve forgotten, NICK lives at the Barkley ranch!” He took a threatening step toward his brother.
Val watched with interest as Scott backed up. “Now, calm down,” Scott said quickly. “Heath and Jarrod live there, too. And Mrs. Barkley.”
“And you’re point is?” Johnny ground out.
“Too many witnesses for Nick to kill us.”
“And what makes you think THEY won’t kill us?”
Scott bit his lip, then finally shrugged. His brother had a point. They hadn’t been too happy about their ranch being taken over by squirrels, and he had heard Audra had to join Teresa in that hospital.
“We’re getting paid good money to deliver the lady, and besides, we probably won’t even SEE Nick,” Scott cajoled.
“Now why would you think that?” Johnny asked sarcastically. “That would take luck, and I learned a long time ago that luck isn’t exactly what your plans attract. In fact, what your plans attract smells suspiciously like what you find in a dirty stall!”
“Come on brother. Have I ever let you down?”
Johnny’s eyes widened. “I don’t know, let me think about it,” he finally choked.
“I tell you what. I promise you won’t even have to go out to the ranch if you don’t want. Once we get close, you can stay safely back in camp. “I’LL deliver the lady.” He smiled slightly. “That is, if she still WANTS to be delivered.” His grin widened. “On the other hand, if you want me to go alone, that’s fine with me. I’ve never complained about being alone with a pretty woman.”
Val glanced over at Johnny, who was scowling fiercely. Finally, the gunfighter blew air out through his nose. “Do you REALLY think she’s pretty?”
“Beautiful. Mr. Cooper reassured me she’s absolutely perfect.”
“Perfect, huh?” Johnny’s scowl deepened. “And she’s single?”
“You heard him. Free as a bird.”
“Do ya think she’s rich?”
Scott looked at his brother in disbelief. “She’s a duchess!”
Johnny shook his head slowly. “There HAS ta be a catch.”
Val shook his head in disbelief as he watched Johnny wavering. “You’re not thinking about going along with another one of his plans, are you?”
Scott smiled at his brother. “Your choice,” he said casually. “I’d just as soon be alone with the lady.”
“Johnny…” Val warned. “Remember the plumbing…and the Easter Bunny…and the gifts…and the ship model…”
“Val, shut up!” Scott snapped. “Johnny can make up his own mind.”
The gunfighter looked back and forth between the two men. Val was shaking his head emphatically, while Scott was smiling serenely. Finally Johnny closed his eyes. “All right, Scott,” he sighed. “I guess you’re right. Even bein’ a bunny is better than dealin’ with Murdoch right now.” He headed for the door. “Let’s go meet the lady.”
Val shook his head. “Boy, are you getting’ soft… and dumb.”
Johnny looked back at the sheriff. “You ain’t never had Murdoch tryin’ ta rip your head off, either,” he said resignedly. “Of course, you just might when you tell him Scott and I will be gone for a while.” Johnny hurriedly left the office and slammed the door behind him before Val could find something to throw.
After they left the office, Scott looked at Johnny thoughtfully. “I wonder which one of the Barkley’s she’s going to marry?”
Johnny stopped short. “I hadn’t thought of that.” Then he shrugged. “Jarrod, probably. Can’t see a fancy lady takin’ much to Nick. Of course, I can’t imagine ANY lady takin’ much to Nick. And somehow, I can’t quite picture Heath with a duchess, either.”
Scott nodded slowly. “I guess.” His eyes narrowed. “I wonder where Jarrod met her.”
Johnny looked at his brother. “Speaking of meetin, where are WE supposed ta meet her?”
“Cooper said she was waiting over by the train depot.”
“We’d better go to the livery and get a wagon. I doubt if she’ll want ta ride.”
Scott shook his head in disgust. “I KNOW she won’t want to ride for two hundred mikes in a wagon. We’ll get a surrey.”
“Those are expensive.”
“So, we’ll charge it to the ranch.”
“Scott, I DO want ta come back here eventually.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll pay Murdoch back as soon as we get done.”
A half of an hour later, Scott and Johnny pulled the lavish surrey up to the train depot. They jumped down and looked around, but the platform was empty.
“She must be inside,” Scott guessed.
The two men entered the depot, but it too was deserted. Even the stationmaster was gone. Johnny sniffed the air.
“What IS that smell?”
Scott shook his head. “I have no idea. That’s probably why the duchess left. Maybe she’s over at the hotel.”
“I guess.” Johnny walked out the door, and sniffed again. “Whatever that is, it sure is powerful.”
Scott held his nose. “It seems to be coming from over there,” he said, pointing to the side of the platform.
Johnny walked over to the side of the platform and stared for a long time. Finally, he turned and walked back toward his brother. Instead of stopping, he continued on past without looking and headed for the surrey.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Scott asked.
“Home. The Duchess is a pig.”
Scott glanced in the direction his brother came from and put his finger to him mouth. “SHHH! She’ll hear you.”
“So what?” Johnny asked. “It’s the truth.”
Scott straightened. “You don’t go around calling royalty names.”
“Yeah? Well, I’m sure she’s heard it before.”
Scott hurried after his brother and grabbed him by the arm. “Ok. So she’s not pretty. We can still make a lot of money delivering her to the Barkleys. It’s not like we have to marry her or anything. What she looks like is Jarrod’s problem.”
Johnny shook his head. “No, it’s YOUR problem, because I ain’t doin’ it.”
Scott shrugged. “Well, all right, if you want to chicken out, I guess I can’t make you stick to your word, but don’t think you’ll be getting any of Cooper’s money.”
“I don’t care. Whatever he said he’d pay isn’t enough.”
“Suit yourself,” Scott said calmly. “It looks like I’ll be able to pay back Murdoch all the money I owe him. Too bad he’ll still have you by the …neck.”
Johnny turned and walked to the edge of the porch before stopping. “How much?”
Scott smiled. “One thousand.”
Johnny stared at his brother for several seconds, then nodded slowly. “All right, but you and I are gonna get the rules straight first.”
It was Scott’s turn to scowl. “What rules?”
“Like I’ll take care of driving the wagon, making camp and taking care of the horses. YOU are totally responsible for taking care of the Duchess.”
“That doesn’t sound too hard. Even if she isn’t pretty, I’m sure she’s well educated. We can have some interesting conversations.”
“I bet you can,” Johnny grinned. “Deal?”
Scott thought for a moment, then nodded his head. Johnny turned and headed back to the surrey.
“Where are you going?”
“Ta trade this thing in on a wagon. Ain’t no way she’s gonna fit in that fancy surrey.”
“Oh, come on, Johnny. She CAN’T be THAT heavy. Besides, the surrey is much more comfortable.”
Johnny shrugged. “Your choice, but you can get her into it.”
Scott looked at his brother in disgust. “Fine.” He turned and headed for the far side of the platform. Johnny waited patiently, and when his brother hadn’t reappeared several minutes later, he walked over to the edge of the porch and looked. Scott was standing motionless, staring at a huge crate with a monstrous hog inside. On the crate was a nameplate proclaiming the occupant to be the Duchess Josephine of Yorkshire. Scott stared for several more seconds, and then slowly turned toward his brother.
“It’s a pig,” he said in a whisper.
“That’s what I was tryin’ ta tell ya,” Johnny answered. “Are you gonna let her ride in the front seat of the surrey or the back?” he asked innocently.
Scott took time from his fascinated study of the sow to glare at his brother. “She’d squash it flat. Don’t just stand there, go get a wagon. In fact, go get the biggest one they’ve got.”
Johnny turned to go and Scott called after him. “And you’d better round up all the men you can get. There’s no way we’re going to get that…that PIG in the wagon without help.”
“There’s no “we” about it, brother. She’s YOUR responsibility, remember?” Johnny said has he climbed into the surrey.
Scott slowly turned back toward the animal. He had never seen a pig as large as this one. He didn’t even know they MADE them that big. She reminded him of a hippopotamus he had seen at the Boston Zoo when he was a child. He shook his head as he continued to study her. No, she was definitely bigger. He took a step closer to the crate, and a loud snorting erupted, followed by several growls. He sat down on a box next to the crate. Just great. She was not only as big as a house, she had a temper to match. And that sneaky brother of his had made him promise Johnny wouldn’t have to have anything to do with her. Well, he’d just have to figure out some way to make Johnny change his mind. There was no way he was going to deal with this monster alone.
Almost an hour later, Johnny returned with a large wagon, crowded with men from the bar. Scott almost smiled. At least they would have help loading her into the wagon, and once there, he had no intention of moving her until they got to the Barkleys. Then it would be their problem. He stood up and began supervising the project.
After numerous nipped fingers and sprained backs, the crate was safely ensconced in the back of the wagon.
“Thank you, gentlemen,” Scott said sincerely. The men continued to stand and look at him expectantly.
“I don’t know what we would have done without you,” he continued.
They simply stared, and Scott sidled up to his brother. “What do they want, a medal?”
Johnny shrugged. “Nope, they want money.”
“Yep, they wouldn’t come till I told ‘em you’d pay them.”
“ME? What about you?”
“Not my responsibility. Besides, you’re the one that told me to get help.”
“All right,” Scott grumbled. “How much?”
“TEN DOLLARS for five minutes work?”
Johnny shrugged. “They had seen the pig already.” He glared at his brother. “In fact, it seems like we were the only ones in town that hadn’t. I was lucky ta get them. Seems like our Duchess has a temper. Course, I COULD tell ‘em to put her back on the ground and let you load her all by yourself.”
Scott sighed and drew out ten dollars from his wallet and held it out to his brother. “Here.”
“Ten dollars EACH.”
Scott’s eyes widened as he looked at the mass of men crowded around. He opened his mouth to speak, but instead slammed it shut and drew out some more money. “Here, but this comes off the top of the money we get.”
Johnny snatched the offering and began passing it out. “It comes off the top of YOUR half. Remember the deal we made. YOU are responsible for the Duchess. That means any expense involving her comes out of YOUR money.”
Scott slowly smiled. “All right, brother. If that’s the way you want it. But that means YOU have to buy the camp supplies and food for us and the horses.”
Johnny smiled. “Already did.” His grinned widened. “Of course, I didn’t buy food for the Duchess.” He managed to look thoughtful. “I wonder how much that pig eats?”
Scott looked in shock at the sacks of corn and feed piled high in the back of the wagon. He and Johnny had no idea what kind of food pigs ate or how much they needed, so they had asked Mr. Smith at the general store. They knew that Smith kept a few pigs now and then and figured he’d know. The store keeper had taken one look at the Duchess and grown pale. Then he had turned around on his heel and walked back into the store and began silently loading the wagon. Scott looked once more at the massive amounts of feed and turned toward Smith.
“Are you SURE she’s going to eat this much?”
The shopkeeper chuckled. “Mr. Lancer, that MIGHT get you half way. She’ll eat that and more. In fact, she might just wind up eatin’ you before the trip is over,” he chortled.
Scott looked glumly at the massive amount of food. “Isn’t there something cheaper we can feed her?”
Mr. Smith shrugged. “They’ll eat just about anything.” He grinned again. “You could make her pancakes every mornin’. Johnny made sure he got plenty of supplies for the two of you. He wasn’t takin’ any chances on goin’ hungry.”
Scott looked at the man icily. “Thanks for the suggestion.” He looked over at the pig. “At least we’ll have plenty of bacon in an emergency.”
Smith laughed again. “You boys have fun.” He handed Scott the bill, and the cowboy’s eyes widened.
“There has to be some mistake,” Scott said hoarsely.
The storekeeper shook his head. “Nope. No mistake. Takes a lot feed to keep a pig that size happy. Do ya want me ta put it on the ranch’s account?”
Scott swallowed hard. Maybe Murdoch wouldn’t notice a little extra feed. It was only about as much as a month’s bill for cattle feed. Besides, he figured they were already in trouble enough for the wagon, but with any luck Scott could pay off the bills before Murdoch noticed.
“All right,” he said quietly. Between the feed and paying those men for help, his profit on this trip was looking decidedly less promising. He looked up at his brother, who was sitting in the wagon grinning at him. Scott glowered back. He was going to have to figure out some way to make sure Johnny came up with some of the money.
Scott climbed aboard. “Let’s get going,” he commanded. “Maybe if we go fast enough, some of the smell will be left behind.”
“She is pretty ripe, ain’t she,” Johnny agreed. He shot a glance over at his brother. “And here I though royalty was classier than that.”
Scott set his lips in a grim line. Yes, he was definitely going to make sure Johnny paid.
“Just drive,” Scott ordered.
Johnny tried his best, but it didn’t matter how fast they went, the pungent odor remained. An hour later, he glanced over at his brother.
“What do ya think, Scott? I think the Duchess has them turkeys beat, don’t you?”
Scott nodded mournfully, too miserable to deny it. “I believe you’re right. Although at least she isn’t quite as loud.”
Johnny thought for a moment. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. Although that constant grunting is pretty annoying, and I think it’s getting louder.”
Scott nodded. “I think so too. I thought it was my imagination.”
“Maybe she’s hungry.”
“We just left town an hour ago!”
Johnny shrugged. “Yeah, but we don’t know when she ate last. There wasn’t any trace of food in that crate.”
“Well, she’ll just have to suffer until we stop,” Scott ground out. “She sure doesn’t look like she’s starving.”
The Duchess began grunting louder and Johnny grinned. “I don’t think she likes that plan much.”
“She’ll just have to learn to cope,” Scott growled.
Twenty minutes later, the Duchess mercifully fell silent, and the two men grinned hopefully at each other.
“Maybe she fell asleep,” Scott whispered.
“Maybe,” Johnny agreed. “Can you tell?”
Scott turned around. “I can’t see a thing except her back. She’s not moving, though.”
“Well don’t talk too loud. Maybe with any luck, she’ll sleep the whole way.”
It was late afternoon when the two men finally decided to find a camp for the night. The Duchess had been blissfully silent the whole way, and except for the almost palpable odor arising from her immense form, they could forget she was there.
“This isn’t so bad,” Scott finally said. “A few more days, and we can safely hand her off to the Barkley’s and get our money.”
“Yeah, if nothin’ goes wrong,” Johnny said glumly.
Scott looked at his brother indignantly. “Did anyone ever tell you that you are an eternal pessimist?’
“Only around you.”
Scott shook his head. “Would you cheer up? So far it’s been going beautifully.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Johnny admitted as he pulled the wagon to a halt under some trees.
Scott smiled at his brother. “I think I’ll just stretch out under those trees and take a nap while you get camp set up and make us some supper. I’d offer to help,” Scott said innocently, “But you were so adamant you wanted to be in charge of the camp…”
Johnny nodded quickly. “That’s right.”
“Well, I COULD help you…”
"Nope, Johnny interrupted. “That’s ok. I’ll do it myself. You go take care of your friend.” He looked at his brother. “Maybe you can have one of those intelligent conversations with her you were so lookin’ forward to. She DOES look pretty smart.”
Scott glared at his brother. “Well, I’m SURE she is more interesting than you.” He jumped down off of the wagon and stretched before walking to the back to check on their charge. Johnny started unharnessing the horses when suddenly he heard a startled squawk.
He looked over and saw Scott staring at the pig in disbelief.
“She ate a hole in the side of her crate.”
"You’re kidding. She musta really been hungry.”
Scott reached over and pulled out a mangled sack from the wagon.
“What was in this?” he asked quietly.
Johnny looked perplexed for a moment, and then he turned pale. “She didn’t,” he whispered.
“Johnny! What was in it?” Scott demanded.
Scott nodded in resignation. “Well, at least now we know why the Duchess has been so quiet.”
Johnny ran back and grabbed the shredded bag and anxiously peered inside, then put his arm in and felt around the obviously empty sack.
“Well, I take it back,” Scott said. “You ARE an optimist.”
“No, just desperate,” Johnny replied in a panicked voice as he continued to inspect the barren sack. Finally he brought his head up and sighed.
“I guess there’s only one thing to do,” Johnny said resignedly as he pulled his pistol from the holster.
“What are you going to do?” Scott asked suspiciously.
Scott grabbed his arm. “No way, brother. “I’m not going to let you eat all of the profits!”
“What profits?” Johnny growled. “I can see EXACTLY how this is gonna work out. We’re gonna wind up owin’ the Barkley’s money before it’s over, at least if we don’t starve to death first! We might as well cut our losses now while we still can! At least we won’t die hungry.”
Scott desperately kept hold of his brother’s arm. “Johnny, you couldn’t have put ALL of the food in that sack.”
Johnny hesitated. “No, there were two sacks. One with a ton of pancake fixin’s, and one with everything else.” He looked at his brother hopefully. “Maybe all she got was the pancakes.” He jerked his arm free and walked over to the wagon and started rummaging around. Finally he pulled up a sack and peered inside.
He looked for a long moment, and then closed his eyes. “I hope you like pancakes.”
Scott glared at the animal. “Not really, but I guess it’s better than nothing. At least she’s already eaten.” He looked at his brother. “I’d better give her some water. Where’s the bucket?”
“The bucket you bought when you picked up the supplies!”
Johnny shook his head. “Why would I get a bucket? The horse don’t need one, and neither do we.”
“But the Duchess DOES!”
“Ain’t my responsibility,” Johnny protested.
“But YOU picked up the camp supplies!
“And YOU picked up the supplies for the pig!”
The two men glared at each other for several moments, the Scott reached up and grabbed his brother’s hat. “I guess this will have to do!”
Johnny made a lunge for his hat, but Scott turned away.
“Come on, Johnny. You feed Barranca out of your hat all the time.”
“Yeah but Barranca’s a HORSE! No way I’m lettin’ a damn pig slobber on my hat.”
“What’s the difference between horse slobber and pig slobber?”
Johnny glared at him. “The SMELL!”
"I promise I’ll wash it out and it won’t smell.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Come on, Johnny. I tell you what. If it still smells when I give it back to you, I’ll buy you a brand new one.”
“I happen to like that hat!”
“Ok. I’ll buy you TWO new ones.”
Johnny thought about it for a moment and then nodded. “All right. TWO new hats of my choice if it smells like pig!”
Scott took Johnny’s hat and went down to the stream. He scooped up some water and hurried back to the wagon before it could all run out, then shoved the hat through the hole that The Duchess had made. The pig looked at the offering for several seconds as the water dribbled out.
“Come on, stupid, DRINK!” Scott ordered.
Finally the pig touched her nose to the hat, but by that time, the water was gone. Johnny chuckled as his brother grabbed the hat back and made another trek to the stream.
By the fifth trip, Scott was getting impatient. The Duchess wouldn’t approach the water until it was all gone, and Scott was getting tired of running back and forth. His brother’s constant laughter didn’t help matters, either. Finally, he reached all the way through and angrily shoved the offering right under the pig’s snout. The Duchess immediately grabbed the hat and tried to rip it from Scott’s grasp. He held on valiantly and placed his feet on the crate to get more leverage as he struggled to get the hat back. Suddenly there was a loud rip, and Scott went flying backwards out of the wagon as the hat’s brim suddenly parted from the crown.
Scott landed on his backside, trying desperately to get his wind back. After several minutes, he succeeded. He looked at the remains of the hat for several moments, and then sniffed it cautiously. Satisfied, he stood up and offered it to Johnny.
“Here you go. No smell at all,” he said cheerfully.
“YOU mean no HAT at all! What am I gonna do with this?” Johnny yelled. “All there is left is a brim!”
Scott shrugged. “But it doesn’t smell.”
Johnny glared at his brother. “I want a new hat! In fact, the deal was, I got TWO!”
Scott shook his head. “The deal was I’d get you a new hat if yours SMELLED. This hat doesn’t smell.”
Johnny scowled at him for a moment before grabbing the rim and jamming it on his head. Suddenly he smiled.
“So how are you gonna water The Duchess?”
Scott glared at his brother, then snatched his own hat off the top of his head.
Twenty minutes later, Scott stood glaring at the pig, the mutilated pieces of his hat once more resting on his head.
“Maybe she’s not thirsty.”
Johnny shook his head. “Oh, she’s thirsty all right. She sure can’t go all the way to the Barkley’s without water. Not unless ya want a dead pig.”
Scott stared at the pig in thought. “Maybe.”
“You won’t get paid,” Johnny warned.
Scott turned and looked at his brother, who was lazing comfortably under the tree, his back propped against the trunk.
"Well, do YOU have any suggestions?”
Johnny shrugged. “It looks like you’re gonna have ta take her outta that crate and let her drink from the stream.”
Scott’s eyes bugged. “Take her OUT?”
“Yep. Don’t see any way around it.”
Scott glowered at the pig, then sighed and turned toward Johnny. “I guess you’re right, but let’s eat first. I don’t want those pancakes you made to get cold.”
“It’ll be dark soon. Do you really want ta be chasin’ that pig around in the dark?” Johnny asked helpfully.
“No!” Scott walked over and wrenched the crate door open.
“Come on, your majesty, OUT!”
The pig looked at him for a moment, then bolted out of the crate, jumped down and took off at a dead run.
Scott stood staring after the pig, his mouth agape as its hind end disappeared into the shrubbery. A loud laugh erupted from his brother and Scott turned and glared at him.
“Well, come on, help me catch her!” Scott shouted in exasperation.
Johnny remained lounging against the tree. “Sorry, brother, ain’t my job.”
“What do you MEAN, it’s not your job!” Scott asked indignantly. “YOU’RE the one that told me to take her out!”
Johnny shrugged. “I said I didn’t see any way around it. I never said I thought you should do it. I thought you was smarter than that.” He yawned widely, then stood up and stretched. “I think I’d better take care of the horses and start supper. I’ll keep the pancakes warm for you in case you get tied up.”
Scott’s eyes got big and then his mouth closed with a snap. He glared at his brother for a moment, and then turned and stalked after the Duchess.
“Hey, Scott, don’t you think you’d better take a rope?”
Scott shook his head without turning around. “No, I don’t want anything to happen to that rope. I MIGHT need it for something MUCH more important later,” he ground out.
“Don’t forget to make sure she gets a drink before you bring her back,” Johnny shouted after his brother. He watched as Scott disappeared and then grinned and walked over and started rubbing down the horses, keeping one ear turned toward the loud cursing coming from the bushes.
Scott made his way down to the stream, cursing with every step. He wasn’t sure who he would rather kill right now; the Duchess or his brother. Maybe both. Neither one was making his life especially pleasant right about now. He cursed once more when he realized just how smoothly his brother had suckered him into taking care of that damn pig.
Here he had thought he would be enjoying a comfortable, leisurely journey up north with a lovely lady, and instead he was traipsing through the shrubbery, looking for a mean tempered, bad looking, bad smelling, perpetually hungry PIG. He could just see the dollars disappearing right before his eyes. Well, if he was going to lose his shirt, he was going to make sure Johnny did, too. He didn’t know yet how he was going to manage that, but he hadn’t gone to Harvard for nothing.
He cursed once more as he tripped over a low branch and went sprawling. He lay there, dazed for a moment, and then rolled over and came face to face with the Duchess. He uttered a strangled scream and crabbed backwards as she followed him, grunting and growling.
"Nice piggy,” he said hopefully.
She stared at him for a moment, and then calmly started munching on his trousers.
“NICE PIGGY!” he said desperately as he wrenched his pant legs out of the animal’s grasp.
The Duchess snorted and calmly walked over the fallen man, grabbing his hat as she moved over his head. He rolled over and watched as she disappeared into the bushes once more, calmly munching his hat as she went. With a sigh, he forced his bruised body to move and he lurched to his feet and followed.
It was well past dark when Scott dragged back into camp. He shuffled over to the cheery fire and sank down next to it, moaning slightly. Silently, Johnny handed him a plate full of cold pancakes. Scott glared at the offering for a moment, and then grabbed it in desperation.
“I’d prefer bacon,” Scott mumbled.
“I thought you told me that would be eatin’ the profits.”
“Right about now, I REALLY don’t care. At least I’d know where she was.”
“So if you didn’t catch her, what was you doin’ out there all this time?” Johnny asked innocently as he plucked a cluster of leaves out of his brother’s hair.
“Oh, I don’t know, I just thought it was a nice night for a leisurely stroll.”
Johnny looked at his brother critically, then reached out and touched some strange marks on Scott’s shirt.”
“What are those?” he asked quizzically.
Scott jerked away from his brother. “Nothing,” he said sullenly.
Johnny’s eyes narrowed. “They look like hoofprints.” Noticing Scott’s reaction, Johnny grinned. “Or maybe pig prints?” he guessed. He shook his head. “Scott, ya can’t catch that pig by lettin’ her run all over you.”
Scott shoveled a forkful of pancakes into his mouth. “Well, if you think you can do a better job, why don’t YOU catch her?”
Johnny shrugged. “Ain’t my…”
“I know, it isn’t your job,” Scott finished.
“I don’t know why you’re havin’ so much trouble,” Johnny mused. “It seems pretty simple to me.”
Scott snorted. “For some reason, her highness isn’t jumping at the chance to come back and go into that crate. I can’t imagine why.”
“You just gotta convice her, that’s all.”
“And just HOW do I do that?”
Johnny shrugged. “Ain’t my…”
“JOB!” Scott snapped. “Ok, brother, if it WAS your job, how would YOU do it?”
Johnny shrugged and Scott snorted. “You have no idea, do you? You’re just trying to annoy me.”
Johnny shrugged again and grinned. “Actually, I have a plan.”
“What kind of a plan?” Scott asked cautiously.
“It’s gonna cost ya,” Johnny smirked.
“Oh, no, I’m not going to fall for that.” He looked at his brother speculatively. “On the other hand, if you agree to catch and crate the Duchess all by yourself, and she remains ALIVE, then we might have a deal.”
Johnny bit his lip. “All by myself?”
“Uh huh,” Scott nodded.
“And she has ta be alive?”
“And unhurt. So, for that matter, do I.”
“What about me?”
Johnny nodded slowly. “All right. Three hundred dollars.”
“THREE HUNDRED DOLLARS! You’re crazy!”
Johnny shrugged, then leaned back and pulled his hat over his eyes. “All right, but the price goes up tomorrow.”
Scott stared at his brother in disbelief. “I’m your brother!”
“That’s why I’m giving you a discount,” came the muffled reply.
Scott glared at the hat. He’d love to see his beloved brother with pig prints on HIS shirt. It would almost be worth the money. “One hundred,” he countered.
“Done, but I get to watch.”
Johnny pushed back his hat and jumped to his feet. He reached over and snagged a pancake off of Scott’s plate, and then turned toward the bushes.
“Here piggy piggy piggy.”
Scott’s mouth dropped open as the Duchess trotted out of the bushes and toward his brother. As she approached, Johnny turned and nonchalantly threw the pancake in the open crate. After a moment’s hesitation, the pig jumped nimbly in and Johnny closed the door.
Scott stared at his brother for a long, long time. Finally he dragged his eyes away and stared at the pig, safely locked in the crate.
“How did you do that?” he asked his brother icily.
Johnny shrugged. “Well, I threw the pancake in the crate, and that old pig just hopped in,” he said innocently.
“I FIGURED that part OUT!” Scott ground out. “HOW did you know that was what she’d do?”
Johnny shrugged again. “Oh, I just had a hunch.”
“Uh huh. A hunch. Are you sticking with that story?”
Johnny bit his lip. “Well, yeah, it seems like the wisest thing to do.”
“Oh, I don’t know BROTHER. It seems to me you’d want to come clean before you died.”
Johnny bit his lip again. “Promise you won’t get mad if I tell ya?”
Scott stared at his brother. “Now why on earth do you think I’d get mad?” he asked calmly. “I mean you caught her, didn’t you? I really want to know so next time I can do it. Why would I be mad?”
“Well,” Johnny started cautiously. “There wasn’t a lot to it. While you were out there doing whatever it was you were doin’ out there all that time, the Duchess and I were eatin’ pancakes. Seems like she’s real fond of ‘em.”
He hesitated nervously and then stuck out his hand. “So anyway, pay up.”
Scott looked at the hand like it was a snake. “I don’t think so.”
“What do you mean, ‘I don’t think so’? Scott, a deal’s a deal. I’d hate ta have ta shoot my own brother over a stupid debt.”
“So would I,” Scott threatened.
Johnny stared at his brother and kept his hand out expectantly, and finally Scott dug into his wallet and drew out a few bills. Johnny grabbed them and counted them before stuffing them into his pocket.
“Did it ever occur to you to lock her in the crate BEFORE I came back?” Scott asked innocently.
Johnny shrugged. “Well, yeah, I admit it DID cross my mind, but I didn’t want ya to think I was showin’ off or anything. I mean, you were workin’ so hard and I thought you’d like ta be the one who got her in her crate. I didn’t know you’d be such a failure at pig wrangling. Besides, it wasn’t my job,” he finished.
Scott glared at his brother for several moments. Finally Johnny cleared his throat nervously.
“You’re not mad, are ya?”
“Oh, no, not at all,” Scott assured him.
“You look sorta mad.”
Scott shrugged. “Can’t imagine why.”
“Do ya want me ta turn her lose again so you can try ta get her in?”
“Do ya want me ta turn her lose again so I can try?”
Johnny pursed his lips. “Do ya want some coffee?”
Johnny thought for a second. “Do ya want to shoot me?” he asked cautiously.
“YES, as a matter of fact, I do!”
“Come on, Scott. You asked me ta do it. It’s not my fault; animals just sort of take ta me.”
“Are you goin’ ta let a little thing like that get in the way of our friendship?”
“I hardly think a million pound pig is a little thing. For that matter, neither is two hundred dollars.”
“Well, the Duchess IS in the crate, and that WAS the deal!”
“Yes, it was. And either you give me my two hundred dollars back, or I am going to shoot YOU,” Scott said calmly while he fingered his Colt.
Johnny looked at his brother thoughtfully and his eyes narrowed. “How much have you been practicing lately?”
“More that enough.” He watched his brother for another moment.
“WELL?” Scott demanded.
“Is two hundred dollars REALLY worth your life?”
“I told ya, I’m thinkin’.”
“Well, you’d better make up your mind, and quick.”
Johnny reached into his pocket and then stopped.
“Scott, I just can’t do it. A deal’s a deal. As long as that pig is in the crate, I figure you owe me that money.”
Scott glared at Johnny for a few minutes, then nodded. “Fine,” he growled. He whirled around and marched over to the wagon and climbed in. He looked back at Johnny and grabbed the latch of the crate.
“If she’s not in the crate any more, you can give me the money back, right?”
“Uh, Scott, I wouldn’t do that,” Johnny warned.
“WHY NOT?” Scott shot back. “You said all you had to do was to throw in a pancake, right?
“Yeah, but I still wouldn’t…”
“Why not? ANYONE can toss a pancake into a crate. RIGHT?”
“Well, yeah, but…”
“But nothing. I’m going to turn her highness loose, then throw in a pancake, and then when the Duchess jumps back in, you can hand me back MY money. Agreed?”
Johnny bit his lip. “Well, Scott, here’s the thing…”
Johnny stared at his angry brother and slowly shrugged. “Agreed. If you can get her back in the crate, I’ll give you the money.”
Scott glared at his brother. “All it takes is a pancake RIGHT?”
“Yeah,” Johnny said slowly.
“Well, then, I shouldn’t have any trouble. You DID tell me all of it, didn’t you?”
“Of course I did,” Johnny protested indignantly.
“I don’t have to talk to her in Swahili or say some mysterious incantation, right?”
“And if I throw a pancake in that crate, she’ll jump right in, right?”
“Well then, there’s no reason I can’t turn her lose and then get her right back into the crate.” He undid the latch.
Scott flung the door open, and the Duchess pushed him aside and jumped down off of the wagon before disappearing into the bushes. Scott watched, and then turned toward his brother and held out his hand.
“All right, Johnny, hand me a pancake!”
“That’s what I was tryin’ ta tell ya, Scott. We don’t have no more. You ate the last one.”
“We don’t have any more pancakes?” Scott asked in a deceptively calm voice. “We had enough for a hundred years!”
“Yeah, well the Duchess was hungry.” Johnny shrugged. “I ate a few, too.”
“You didn’t think it was important to let me know that little tidbit of information BEFORE I let her go?”
“Well, I TRIED ta tell ya,” Johnny said in exasperation.
“Somehow, every time you TRY to do something, catastrophes happen! From now on, don’t TRY!” Scott started rummaging through the sacks in the wagon. “There must be SOMETHING in here we can use to coax her back in.”
Johnny snorted. “Nope. I already looked. She ATE everything else that was even remotely edible. Smith was right, we’re lucky she didn’t eat us.” He looked around carefully. “In fact, we STILL might be on the menu. I don’t think that there’s enough food in the whole damn state for that pig!”
Scott lifted out a bottle of whisky. “What about THIS?”
Johnny’s eyebrows lifted. “What are you going to do? Get her drunk?” He shook his head. “It’ll never work. No pig in their right mind would like whiskey. Besides, how would you make her drunk it?” He shook his head. “Nope, it’d never work.”
Scott lowered the bottle with a sigh. “Then I guess I might as well drink it.”
“Aren’t you gonna go look for her first?”
“Maybe. When I finish this bottle. Of course, with any luck, after I drink the bottle, I’ll forget all about that damn pig.”
Johnny shrugged. “Ok. But if you don’t get her first, she might be long gone by the time you sober up.”
Scott’s eyebrows went up. “And your point is?”
"Well, I wouldn’t want ya to lose all that money, wouldja? I MIGHT be persuaded ta go look for her before we lose her completely.”
Scott’s eyes narrowed. “Why?”
Johnny shrugged. “Just tryin’ ta be helpful.”
“Uh huh. Are you sticking with that story?”
Johnny bit his lip. “Well, if I bring her back, I expect a suitable reward.”
“You mean more suitable than simply not shooting you?”
“Yeah, something like that.”
Scott stared at his brother, and then at the bottle. “We ARE all out of pancakes, aren’t we? You didn’t hide any somewhere?”
“I’m hurt you’d even suggest such a thing,” Johnny protested.
“Uh huh.” Scott stared at his brother for a long time. “All right. If you want to spend all night traipsing through that brush after an ill tempered pig, be my guest. I’m going to get better acquainted with this bottle.”
“I hate ta bring this up, but…two hundred, right?”
“Two hundred WHAT?”
“Dollars?” Johnny asked hesitantly. “If I get her back into the crate?”
Scott ripped the top off of the bottle “SURE why not? You’ll never catch her. Not without a bribe.”
Johnny shrugged. “I guess that’s my problem, huh?”
“I guess so.”
Johnny walked over and rummaged through the sacks and came up with his bottle of tequila. He tore the top off, and took a long swallow.
“I thought you were going to go look for The Duchess?”
“Nope. Don’t have to.”
“What do you mean?” Scott asked suspiciously.
Johnny shrugged. “Well, while she and I were eatin’ those pancakes, we shared a bottle of tequila, too.” His face scrunched up. “Course, that pig made a real pig of herself and drank most of it. She really enjoyed it. Anyway, I figure she’ll come if she sees the bottle.”
Scott froze. “Wait a minute. That’s what I suggested! YOU said it wouldn’t work! YOU said I couldn’t get her to drink it! YOU said no pig in their right mind would like booze!”
“I NEVER said that!” Johnny protested.
“WHAT?” Scott howled.
“I said the WHISKEY would never work. I never said ANYTHING about tequila.” He looked at his brother and shook his head. “You think I woulda shared my tequila with her without trying ta get her to drink your whisky first? You were right about one thing, though. That pig has class. Wouldn’t touch that rot gut of yours. She insisted on the good stuff.”
Scott stared in disbelief as his brother poured some tequila into a plate.
“Here piggy piggy piggy,” Johnny called.
A series of loud grunts answered the call, and a moment later the pig appeared once more. Snuffling and snorting, the Duchess crossed the clearing toward the tequila. Johnny carefully lifted the pan into the crate, and the pig once more jumped in. Johnny closed the crate and held out his hand to his brother.
Scott shot a glance over at his brother as the wagon bumped along. “I don’t know what you’re so mad about. I mean, I didn’t actually shoot you!”
“I wouldn’t be mad at ya if ya woulda shot ME! You SHOT my last bottle of tequila! That’s unforgivable!”
“And being conned by your brother isn’t?” Scott snapped. “You cheated me out of four hundred dollars!”
“I didn’t cheat,” Johnny protested. “I didn’t lie, and the Duchess is safe and sound in her crate, just like I promised! Besides, you only gave me two hundred!” he grumbled.
“I offered you the other two hundred,” Scott said innocently.
“Yeah, you offered to give it to me if I let ya shoot me.”
Scott shrugged. “It was still your choice.”
“If you were a decent shot, I might have considered it. But knowin’ how bad your aim is, I wasn’t takin’ any chances. YOU probably woulda hit someplace really painful.”
“Thanks for the confidence, brother.”
Johnny sighed. “We still have ta find some place ta get some more provisions. We’re out of food AND booze. Worse yet, the Duchess is out of food. She’s been gruntin’ for the last ten miles, and it’s startin’ ta get on my nerves. Havin’ her beady little eyes on my back and rememberin’ how easily she ate through that crate and knowin’ how hungry she is isn’t exactly a comforting thought.”
“I thought she was your friend.”
“Just ‘cause we shared a few drinks doesn’t mean we’re friends.” He hesitated. “Maybe drinkin’ buddies.” He glanced at his brother. “At least she doesn’t try ta shoot me.”
“Not yet, anyway. Give her time,” Scott said happily.
The two men pulled into the town of Sweetwater a little after noon. They studiously ignored the disbelieving looks of the townspeople and by unspoken agreement drove straight to the saloon. Scott pulled the brake on the wagon and jumped down.
“YOU can take care of the wagon. I believe it IS your job. In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy a nice leisurely drink.” Scott smiled at his brother. “See you later.” He jumped down and hurried toward the saloon.
Johnny glared at Scott, then turned and glared at the Duchess. “Well, I guess we’d better get you taken care of.”
Fifteen minutes later, Johnny walked toward the saloon, and met Scott coming toward him.
“I thought you were gonna have a drink,” Johnny said in surprise.
“I WAS. For some reason the patrons of the local establishment decided I needed a bath before I can enjoy a drink.”
“Yeah, well you do smell sorta ripe,” Johnny observed.
Scott snorted. “Evidently, you haven’t smelled yourself. I’M not the one who sat and had a drink with her highness.”
Johnny sniffed the air, then looked at his brother suspiciously. “Well, I guess it wouldn’t hurt ta take a bath first. Then we can relax while we enjoy ourselves.”
“THAT brother, is the first smart thing you’ve said since we left the ranch.” He looked around cautiously. “Where’s the Duchess?”
Johnny shrugged. “I left her in her crate in back of the livery. We’d better get some food for her before we go into the saloon, too. I don’t want her starvin’ ta death.”
“Somehow, I don’t think that will happen. She could live off of her fat for the next fifty years or so and STILL be as fat as a pig.”
“You don’t have to get mean.”
“Heaven forbid! She might get her feelings hurt.”
“She’s real sensitive you know.”
Scott looked at his brother speculatively. “Since the two of you are kindred spirits, how about you taking over her care? I’ll be responsible for the camp, the wagon and team, and everything else,” suggested Scott innocently. “In fact, I’ll let you have my half of the profits and you can be entirely in charge of her.”
Johnny thought for a moment. “Well, it IS sort of tempting, but I’d better think about it. I’ll let you know.” He looked at his brother suspiciously. “Do you even have any profit LEFT?”
Scott’s eyes grew big. “I’m sure I have SOMETHING,” he said innocently.
Johnny thought for a minute. “I’ll think about it.”
Scott smiled gleefully and clapped his brother on the back. “I tell you what. Even if you take me up on my offer, I’ll pay for her expenses while we’re in town.”
“Yeah?” Johnny asked suspiciously.
Scott nodded. “It’s the least I can do. I’ll take care of any expense we incur because of her until we leave town, including say….twenty five dollars worth of food for her on the trail.”
Johnny smiled. “And I get to keep ALL of the money Nick gives us?”
Scott nodded solemnly. “That’s right, little brother. It’s all yours. Of course, I’ll have to get back the money I already spent on her, but you can have the rest. All you have to do is pay me a token amount for my share.”
Johnny’s eyes narrowed. “How much?”
Scott shrugged nonchalantly. “Oh, I don’t know. Say… one hundred dollars.”
Johnny scowled at his brother. “According to my figures you don’t have any profit left.”
“Really? I hadn’t figured it out. But YOU have five hundred dollars, and it will ALL be yours! You don’t have to split it with me!”
Johnny’s eyes scrunched shut as he thought. “It’s already mine, and I ain’t gonna spilt it with anybody.”
Scott glared at his brother. “You’re missing a golden opportunity,” he warned.
Johnny shrugged. “Like I said, I’ll think about it.”
Scott sighed. “All right, but you’d better hurry up or I might change my mind.”
Johnny shrugged. “I guess I’ll take the chance.” He looked at his brother. “Let’s go get the supplies.”
With another sigh, Scott turned and walked toward the feed store, glaring at his brother’s back the whole way.
“Well, this oughta last a few days, anyway,” Johnny observed as he tossed the last bag onto the wagon.
Scott held up a bucket. “And we won’t have to let her out anymore.” He nodded toward the bags. Why don’t you feed her, and I’ll get her some water. Then we can go relax.”
Johnny smiled. “I think YOU should do both. It IS your responsibility.”
Scott glared at his brother once more. “All right. I’ll meet you in the hotel.”
Johnny nodded and left his brother to go check in. The desk clerk did everything but actually hold his nose while Johnny signed the register, and nodded eagerly when Johnny asked for two baths to be sent up. Twenty minutes later, Johnny was relaxing in a nice hot tub when his brother came crashing in.
Johnny sat up straight and grabbed for his gun before realizing who it was. “Everything ok?”
Scott nodded sullenly. “Except that damn pig slobbered all over me.”
Johnny smiled and pointed at the bath. Finally, a smile broke out on Scott’s face. “Maybe I can forget about that damn Duchess for a while.”
“I can’t wait to have a nice cold glass of…anything,” Scott said dreamily as they left the hotel quite a while later.
Johnny nodded in agreement. “Yeah, I don’t even care if it’s not tequila, as long as it’s cold and wet.”
“And doesn’t smell like pig,” Scott added.
Johnny nodded. “NOTHING is going to make us think about pig tonight!”
Scott clapped his brother on the shoulder. “Nope. Absolutely nothing!”
Johnny pushed the doors to the saloon open and stopped in amazement. The whole place was a shambles. Tables and chairs were overturned, and there was booze all over the floor. It also reeked with a suspiciously familiar odor.
Johnny and Scott looked at each other before approaching the bar.
“Give us a couple of beers,” Scott ordered nonchalantly. He looked around calmly. “What happened in here?”
“There AIN’T any more beer. Or anything else for that matter,” growled the bartender. “This monster pig came ambling in, as calm as you please, and chased everybody out. Then she drank every drop of booze in the joint before wrecking the place and walking back out.” He glared at the two men. “SOMEBODY owes me a fortune, and when I find out who owns that piece of bacon from hell, they’re gonna PAY!”
Scott turned pale. “Are you SURE you don’t have ANY booze?” he whispered. “I REALLY need some.”
Scott looked around, panicked. Having to admit he was the one who owned the pig was bad enough, and paying for the damages was worse. But doing BOTH things without being able to become obliviously drunk first was asking WAY too much of him.
“Johnny,” he croaked. “Help me.”
Johnny brightened considerably. “Be glad to, brother. Who do you want me ta shoot? You or that pig?”
Scott closed his eyes. “I really don’t care,” he said resignedly. “But whoever you decide to shoot, hurry up!”
Johnny scrunched up his face as he thought. “Well, if I shoot the Duchess, I won’t be able to get my money from Nick.” He shook his head slightly. “And if I shoot you, the Old Man would probably be upset.” He looked around. “And there are a few too many people in here ta shoot all of them, at least without gettin’ caught. Maybe we can figure something else out.”
“Like what?” Scott demanded.
“Like payin’ for the damages, first of all.”
Scott glared at his brother. “You call THAT a plan?”
Johnny shrugged. “Well, I have the feelin’ they’ll figure out who owns her, anyway. We didn’t exactly sneak in here.”
Scott sighed. “You’re probably right.” He looked over at the bartender. “How much?”
The man looked back at him suspiciously. “How much what?’
Scott drew out his wallet. “How much are the damages,” he ground out.
The man’s eyes bugged out. “That monstrosity belongs to the two of YOU?”
Scott nodded, but Johnny shook his head vehemently. “Don’t look at me, she’s ALL his. I’m just an innocent bystander in all of this.”
Scott glared at Johnny. “Don’t…push…me…BROTHER!”
Johnny looked at Scott innocently. “Well, she IS your responsibility.”
“And it’s an older brother’s responsibility to beat sense into his little brother,” Scott warned. He shook his head and resignedly peeled off some bills and held them out toward the bartender. “Here, this ought to take care of it.”
The man grabbed greedily at the offered money and stuffed it into his pocket. “Thanks. I think it will.”
Scott nodded morosely as he inspected his wallet. “Well, now I’m officially broke,” he said flatly.
“Well, it’s a good thing we bought the supplies first,” Johnny observed. “Or the Duchess would have had to go hungry. Us too, for that matter.”
“The thought of the Duchess OR you going hungry doesn’t exactly bring tears to my eyes right now.”
Johnny looked at his brother in shock. “What did I do?”
“Nothing. Absolutely nothing, as usual.”
“So why do you want me ta starve?”
Scott shook his head. “Never mind.”
“Well, at least I got a new hat,” Johnny said, running his fingers around the brim. He looked at his brother and smirked. “Too bad the only other one they had left was the one you got stuck with.”
Scott took a deep breath. “I don’t CARE about hats. The only thing that bothers me right now is there’s probably no more booze left in this whole town. That lush of a pig has seen to that.”
Johnny thought for a minute. “What about the store? I bet they carry whiskey, at least.”
Scott visibly brightened. “They would, wouldn’t they? He grabbed Johnny by the arm. “Let’s go!”
Johnny let his brother drag him a few feet, and then he stopped. “You don’t have any money, remember?”
Scott pulled his brother along once more. “And your point is? YOU have money, don’t you?”
“Yeah…”Johnny said slowly. “I have money. And your point is?” he asked sarcastically.
Scott stopped. “Little brother, I am NOT in a good mood. Don’t…mess…with…me!”
“I guess I can buy a few bottles,” Johnny agreed quickly.
“Good. I MIGHT even let you have a sip or two. Now let’s go!”
Scott stalked over to the store and slammed open the door. He took a few steps into the building then stopped dead. Johnny pushed his way around his brother and stared in disbelief.
“What happened in here?” Johnny asked quietly. “This place looks like a herd of elephants came through it.”
“Well, you’d know about THAT, wouldn’t you, brother?” Scott muttered.
The storekeeper looked back and forth between the two men. “It weren’t no elephant. It was destroyed by a drunken pig!”
“You shouldn’t talk about your customers like that,” Johnny observed lightly.
“Customers my ass! I’m tellin’ you it was a PIG!”
Johnny looked around in disbelief. “A pig, huh. You expect us to believe that?”
“Johnny, shut up,” muttered Scott.
Johnny grinned. “Just tryin’ ta help,” he whispered to his brother.
The man glared at Johnny. “What do you want? I thought you already bought all of your supplies.”
“We need some whiskey. All you’ve got!” Scott said emphatically.
The man snorted and pointed to the numerous puddles on the floor. “There it is, help yourself!”
“It’s ALL gone?” Scott said disbelievingly.
The storekeeper nodded. “Yep. That wicked beast ate all the food, too.” He shook his head. “Somebody owes me a hell of a lot of money!” His eyes narrowed and he stared at the two men. “Didn’t you say something about buying food for a pig?”
Johnny immediately pointed to his brother. “Ask him!”
Scott looked at his brother. “Traitor.” He closed his eyes in resignation. “How much?”
The shopkeeper smiled triumphantly. “Oh, I don’t know.” He looked around. “I think maybe two hundred should do it.”
Scott kept his eyes closed and held out his hand to his brother. Johnny looked at the hand suspiciously.
“What’s that for?”
“Money, obviously,” Scott ground out.
Johnny shook his head. “I said I’d buy some booze. I never said anything about payin’ expenses. After all, it IS…”
“Brother, if you say ONE MORE WORD about it being my responsibility, it will be the LAST thing you ever say. Now PAY UP!”
Johnny stared at his brother for several moments, and then reluctantly sighed. “All right,” he grumbled. “Just so you remember it IS a loan.”
“A loan?” Scott asked pointedly.
“Yeah, a loan.” Johnny looked at him worriedly. “You WILL pay me back, won’t you?”
Scott nodded his head. “Of COURSE I’ll pay you back, little brother. You’ll get every thing you deserve, you have my word.”
Johnny slowly reached for the money as his brother glared threateningly. The gunfighter’s hand stopped several times, but Scott’s glared increased each time, and Johnny’s hand unwillingly traveled toward his hidden stash. But before his hands reached their destination, a strangled scream erupted from outside, and a middle aged woman came running into the store, sobbing hysterically.
“Help me! Please, help me!”
The money forgotten, Johnny and Scott took a step forward. “What’s wrong?” Scott asked in concern as he grabbed the shaking woman’s arm.
“I’ve been attacked!” the lady sobbed hysterically. “Someone help me, please!”
Johnny pulled out his gun and took another step forward to look out the door. “Who attacked you?” he asked quietly.
“That…that…MONSTER! I was just sitting there, minding my own business, and he came up behind me and he…he…he… KISSED me! And then…and then, oh, I can’t talk about it.”
Johnny scowled. “What did he look like?”
The lady shook her head in confusion. “I don’t know, but he was big. Real big. And he smelled like alcohol!”
Johnny shook his head. “That’s doesn’t give us much to go on.”
“Surely you can give us a better description than that,” Scott urged as he led the lady to a nearby chair.
The lady vigorously fanned her face with her handkerchief. “Well, like I said, he was big.”
“What color was his hair?” Johnny asked.
The lady looked confused. “Black?”
Scott nodded encouragingly. “Black.”
“And white,” she continued.
“Black and white?” Scott asked skeptically.
She nodded tentatively. “I think. It all happened so quickly, I’m really not sure.”
“What about his eyes?”
She shivered. “Brown and beady.”
She shook her head and shivered. “He had whiskers.” She shivered again. “Oh, it was horrible.”
Scott patted her hand reassuringly. “Don’t worry, we’ll catch him.”
“Oh please do,” she sobbed. “And please rescue my hat.”
She nodded tremulously. “Yes, it was brand new, and he STOLE it! Right from on top of my head!”
Scott and Johnny exchanged glances.
“He stole your hat?” Scott asked incredulously.
She nodded again. “Please, it’s the first new hat I’ve had in years.”
“We’ll do what we can,” Johnny sighed as he reached the door. “By the way, what was he wearing?”
The lady’s eyebrows went up. “Nothing!”
Scott and Johnny gaped at her.
"Nothing?” Scott croaked.
“Not a stitch!” she reiterated.
Johnny snorted. “Well, he shouldn’t be TOO hard ta find. A naked drunk with black and white hair and whiskers and wearin’ a ladies hat. Come on, Scott, let’s go.”
Scott smiled reassuringly at the lady. “Just stay put. We’ll take care of it.”
“Hey, wait a minute! Where’s my money?” the storekeeper demanded.
“Now is hardly the time,” Scott answered impatiently.
“It’s ALWAYS the time to collect money. Now hand it over.”
“We’ll pay you later!” Scott ground out. “Right now, we have something a LITTLE more important to do. Maybe you should go tell the sheriff about the lady there and what’s going on.”
The man nodded. “I plan to do just that,” he assured them icily.
“Make sure he finds us,” Scott warned as he walked out the door.
“Oh, don’t worry, I will!”
Reassured, Scott walked outside. Johnny was heading for the bar.
“Where are you going?”
"Well,” Johnny drawled. “I figure the guy will probably be after more booze.”
“But there’s none left at the saloon!”
Johnny shrugged. “He don’t know that.” He looked at his brother. “Do you have a BETTER idea?”
Scott heaved a deep breath and followed his brother. As they approached, they heard a loud racket coming from the building. Scott drew his gun and the two men cautiously peered into the saloon.
The Duchess was snuffling across the floor, hopefully inspecting each ruined bottle, a wilted flower hanging out of her mouth. Johnny cautiously stepped inside, followed by Scott.
Scott’s eyes narrowed as he watched the pig. “Johnny…” he said slowly.
“Does anything seem a LITTLE strange to you?”
Johnny snorted. “Oh, I don’t know. Not particularly, except maybe the pig that’s trying to single handedly run the state dry.”
Scott shook his head slowly. “Do you see what she has in her mouth?”
Johnny’s eyes squinted as he studied the animal. “Looks sorta like…a flower.”
Johnny looked closer. “I’ll be damned. A hat.”
“That’s what I thought,” Scott sighed. “And if you look closer, you’ll notice that she’s definitely black and white and has whiskers.”
“She’s also naked,” observed Johnny.
“It looks like we’re in more trouble,” sighed Scott.
Johnny nodded. “Maybe if we get the lady’s hat back, she won’t be too mad.”
Scott nodded. “Ok. Any idea on how to do that?”
Johnny shook his head slowly. “Nope. There ain’t a pancake or an unbroken bottle of booze in the whole town.”
“Don’t remind me. I hope you have plenty of money.”
Johnny shrugged cautiously. “Some.”
Scott studied the pig, then turned and looked at his brother and slowly smiled. “Don’t worry, brother. I have a plan.”
“Oh yeah?” Johnny asked skeptically. “Somehow, I think I’ve heard that before.”
“This is foolproof.” Scott reached out and grabbed his brother’s hat.
“Hey!” Johnny shouted. Give that back! It’s brand new!” He took a swipe at the hat while Scott moved it out of reach.
“Scott, this is NOT a good idea! Give it back!” He took another swipe.
Scott sidestepped adroitly and walked toward the grunting pig.
“Here, piggy, piggy, piggy,” he cooed.
“SCOTT! I’m warnin’ ya!”
“Hush! You’ll scare her!” he took a few more steps and offered the Duchess Johnny’s hat. The pig stretched out her nose and sniffed.
“Come on, piggy. This hat’s MUCH better!”
“SCOTT!” Johnny howled. “DON’T!”
The saloon door slammed open. “You’re BOTH under arrest!” the sheriff yelled.
The Duchess turned her beady eyes in the lawman’s direction, and then sauntered toward the bar.
“I SAID you’re under arrest!” the lawman repeated as he swung his gun in Johnny’s direction.
“For what?” Johnny argued.
“For disturbing the peace, theft, disorderly conduct, inciting a riot, assault, and public drunkenness!”
“But that wasn’t us! That was our PIG!” Scott protested indignantly.
The sheriff looked at the two men. “And your point is?”
“But sheriff! We didn’t do ANY of those things!” Johnny blurted.
“Then what about harboring a dangerous animal?” the sheriff shot back.
“She’s not dangerous!” Scott argued.
“No, she’s just an out of control menace that has destroyed and terrorized my entire town! I have enough evidence to throw you boys in jail for the next hundred years or so!”
“She’s not out of control!” Scott said desperately.
“Looks like it to me,” the sheriff scowled. He looked over at the massive pig and then back at Scott. “I tell you what, if you can corral that pig in the next five minutes and get widow Jones’ hat back in one piece, you can pay the fine and leave town, as long as you take that monster with you and never come back. If you can’t get her locked up, you boys are going to jail AND pay the fine.”
“No problem,” Scott said confidently as he held out Johnny’s hat once more. Here, piggy, piggy, piggy.”
“Scott, “I’m telling ya…”
Scott turned and glared at his brother. “Do you want to go to jail?
“No, but at least use your own hat!”
“MY hat cost a lot more. It’s simple arithmetic!” Scott huffed.
“Well, I’m tellin’ ya that MY arithmetic says ta use your hat!”
Just then The Duchess decided what Scott was offering was much more interesting than what she had, and she spit out Widow Jones’ hat, then grabbed the cowboy hat out of Scott’s hands. Scott reached over and gallantly picked up the sodden mass that used to be a ladies hat.
“See, sheriff! All in one piece! No harm done!”
“He ain’t as easy as I am, Boston,” Johnny mumbled.
The sheriff gingerly accepted the ruined hat and then glared at the two men. “I doubt if the widow will be pleased,” he warned. He nodded toward the pig. “Now get that menace out of my sight, and then we’ll talk about your fine!”
Scott looked up just as the Duchess pushed her way through the batwing door and went outside, contentedly munching her new prize.
Johnny and Scott stepped outside just as the pig gulped down what was left of Johnny’s hat.
“Well,” Scott said cheerily. “At least she’s eaten. Now we just have to get her back in the wagon. Come on, help me.”
Johnny dragged his eyes away from The Duchess and glanced at Scott. “Nope.”
“Johnny,” Scott threatened. “This is no time to tell me it’s my responsibility! We both need to stick together if we plan on riding out of this town in the next thousand years! Now come on and help me catch her!”
Johnny shook his head. “Nope.”
“What do you MEAN, Nope!’ If we don’t catch her, the kind sheriff is going to make sure we are BOTH a permanent addition to this town!”
Johnny nodded resignedly. “Yep.”
“You WANT to stay here?”
Johnny sighed deeply. “Scott, where do I keep my money?”
Scott opened his mouth to speak then clamped it shut again. He looked at Johnny for a long time, then turned his head and stared at the Duchess.
Johnny nodded. “The way I see it, is we’ve got four choices. We can stay locked up in this jail for the rest of our lives…”
“Not an option,” Scott said quietly.
“We can send a telegram to Murdoch to come bail us out…”
“DEFINITELY not an option.”
Johnny nodded in agreement. “We can shoot the pig and the sheriff…”
“That sounds a little bit better.
Johnny nodded. “Or we can shoot ourselves.”
Scott sighed deeply. “Let me think about it.”
Johnny nodded. “Just don’t think too long. The sheriff’s on his way over here.”
Scott sighed once more and turned toward the lawman. “Hello, sheriff,” he said brightly.
“Hello yourself. “Why isn’t that damn pig locked up yet?”
“Well…” He looked at Johnny for help.
Scott took a deep breath. “Well, sheriff, we were just getting ready to corral her, but it REALLY isn’t our responsibility.”
The sheriff’s eyes narrowed. “It’s not?” he growled.
Scott shook his head. “No, it’s not. You see, that’s not even our pig!”
“It’s not?” the lawman growled again, louder this time
“No, it’s not!” Scott answered indignantly.
The sheriff’s glare got even more unfriendly. “Then just WHOSE pig is it if it’s not yours?” he demanded.
Scott looked around, and then leaned in conspiratorially. “Have you ever heard of the Barkleys?”
The sheriff pulled back. “Course I have,” he barked. “Except for the Lancers, they have the largest spread in the state.”
Scott nodded. “That’s them. Anyway, that menace belongs to none other than Nick Barkley!”
“Then what do you have it for?” the sheriff asked suspiciously.
Scott shrugged. “My brother and I were just innocent bystanders, trying to do a good deed. Someone abandoned this poor animal, and we were trying to get it to its rightful owner.”
“And get a substantial reward, no doubt,” the sheriff snorted. “I can tell you boys ain’t exactly rollin’ in money.”
“Well, a small reward wouldn’t have hurt,” Scott said agreeably.
The sheriff shook his head. “But the Barkleys ain’t here, and you two ARE, and SOMEBODY’S still gotta PAY!”
“Now sheriff, look at us.” Scott pointed at his brother. “As you said, we obviously don’t have any money. You can lock us up for the next twenty years, and we STILL won’t have any. On the other hand, if you send a telegram to Nick Barkley, and tell him his pig is stuck here, I’m SURE he’ll come pick him up. And of course, once he’s here, you can discuss the damages with him.”
The sheriff scowled dangerously and glanced over at Johnny, who hadn’t moved, but was staring at Scott with his mouth open.
“What’s wrong with him?” the sheriff asked, jerking his finger in Johnny’s direction.
Scott shrugged and leaned in once more. “He’s a little slow,” he whispered. “He can never understand any of my plans.”
The sheriff continued scowling at the two men in front of him, then he looked over at the pig, who was just wandering into the millinery shop. A moment later, screams could be heard and several ladies ran into the street, followed by the Duchess, who was calmly munching on a ladies hat. The sheriff watched for a moment, and then shook his head.
“All right, I guess we can try it your way, but we can’t let that menace run loose until Barkley gets here. Any ideas on how to corral her?”
“None whatsoever,” Scott hurriedly assured him. “Unfortunately, I’M not the animal expert around here. That would be my brother.” He gracefully pointed at Johnny.
The sheriff looked at Johnny, who finally tore his eyes off of Scott and shrugged. “Got any pancakes?”
“For what?” the sheriff asked suspiciously. “She seems to be content ta eat hats.”
Johnny nodded. “Yeah, but she REALLY likes pancakes. If we can rustle up a batch, we might be able to coax her into a cage.” He shrugged. “Of course, she likes tequila, too, but I don’t think we need ta get her any drunker.” His dace darkened. “Besides, she already drank every drop of decent booze in this town.”
The sheriff snorted. “And where are we gonna find a cage big enough to hold that monstrosity?”
“Well, we have one,” Scott admitted. “And we might let you borrow it for a small fee.”
The sheriff glowered at the cowboy. “A small fee, huh? Is this the same cage she keeps escapin’ from?”
Scott nodded reluctantly.
The sheriff scowled. “’Bout the only place I know of that will hold her is the town jail.”
“That would do nicely,” Scott agreed quickly.
The sheriff grinned broadly. “I think so, too.” He pulled out his gun. “I think it would be a great place for all three of you to stay until Nick Barkley shows up. That is IF he shows up. Come on, we’re gonna go make some pancakes, then the three of you are going to share accommodations for a while.”
Nick rode along, whistling to himself. So far his plan was going perfectly. He knew Johnny and Scott wouldn’t be able to turn down a ‘quick’ thousand dollars. They owed so much money to their father for their last couple of escapades he doubted if they’d EVER get out of debt. He chuckled softly. He would have liked to see the expressions on their faces when they found out exactly who and what the Duchess really was. He could just about bet that Scott had jumped at the chance to escort a real lady. Of course, Johnny had probably been suspicious, but in the end greed had finally overruled good sense and both of the Lancers had fallen neatly into his trap.
It had been a stroke of genius on his part. Jarrod had purchased the pig, sight unseen, and had sent Nick to pick up the purebred sow from the Stockton livestock auction. Jarrod had stressed how valuable the animal was, and had even threatened dire consequences if the pig didn’t arrive at the Barkley Ranch in good shape. Nick had been eager to oblige; Jarrod had agreed to pay him a handsome sum for the small chore, and Nick had managed to con Heath into coming along for free. After spending two days with the horrible beast, however, Nick had been ready to shoot her. She had eaten everything on the wagon, starting with his food, then going on to their hats, then working her way up to the seat and the sideboards of the wagon. She was just starting in on the wheels when Nick decided she had to go. The problem was, he knew he couldn’t go back home without her; he’d already wired Jarrod they had picked her up.
They were just outside of Green River and Nick was ready to shoot her anyway when genius had struck. He would somehow get Johnny and Scott Lancer to finish the delivery of the pig. Heath had looked at him with his mouth agape when Nick had outlined his plan.
“How are you going to do that? They’re not exactly stupid!”
Nick choked. “They’re not?” he asked seriously.
Heath smirked. “Well, they seem to get the better of you each time you meet.”
“They cheat,” Nick growled.
Heath shrugged. “And you don’t?”
Nick shook his head. “THIS time, I’ll come out ahead. I won’t have to be anywhere around when they figure out they’ve been had.”
“Like they won’t know who was behind it,” Heath snorted.
“What are they going to do? Come gunning for me?”
“Probably,” Heath said mournfully.
“Hey, if they can’t take a little practical joke, that’s their problem. Besides, we OWE them, don’t you think?”
Heath shook his head. “I have the feeling you’ll be owing them all right. You can count me out.”
“I’m telling you, Heath, this plan can’t lose!”
Nick had finally given up and decided he’d handle it himself. He would pay someone to approach Johnny and Scott and set the hook. Heath had told him that it would never work, and had been so adamant he’d actually bet Nick five hundred dollars that before it was over Johnny would turn the Duchess into a pet and shoot Nick. Nick took the bet, figuring if he lost he wouldn’t much care, anyway.
Now he was on his way to the little town of Sweetwater. He had received a telegram stating that his pig had been abandoned there, and to come collect it. He was a little surprised that Johnny and Scott had only gotten about fifty miles before admitting defeat, but he guessed it was further than he had gotten. Maybe he could find some other sucker to take her the rest of the way. Either way, he wasn’t going to get near that bad tempered homicidal creature again. He chuckled. He wouldn’t get near Scott or the Duchess, either. He started whistling once more.
“YOU’RE the one who likes animals!” Scott snapped as he tried to shove Johnny in front of him.
“THAT’S not an animal. THAT’S a monster! Besides, I already sacrificed my hat! I don’t aim on sacrificin’ anything more important!” Johnny dug in his heels and refused to budge.
Scott used his elbow to try to goad his brother into moving closer to the pig. In response, Johnny stomped on his brother’s boot. Scott glared at him as he grabbed his injured foot. “Would you quit fighting and cooperate for once?”
“I ain’t gonna have my headstone read ‘He was eaten by a pig!’”
“It’s better than having it read ‘Died of guilt for letting a pig eat his brother’.”
“No it ain’t. Besides, this was all YOUR idea, remember?”
Scott wrestled with his brother for another few seconds and then a deep growl drew his attention. He turned around cautiously and watched as the pig started chewing on the bars and growling at the sheriff, who was sitting at his desk eating a monstrous stack of pancakes.
“Well, at least she doesn’t seem too upset with us yet,” Scott observed.
"Give her time,” Johnny said glumly. “As soon as she figures out we don’t have any more pancakes ta give her, she’ll be mad as hell.”
“What do you think she’ll do about it?” Scott asked cautiously.
Johnny snorted. “Do you see anything else to eat in this cell except us?”
Scott looked around desperately, then sighed in defeat. “No, I guess not.” He looked at his brother hopefully. “Except maybe your clothes.”
“My clothes! What’s wrong with YOUR clothes?”
Scott shrugged. “I thought maybe with any luck she’d choke to death on those conchos on your pants. I thought I finally figured out what they’re good for.”
“Too bad we don’t have those plaid pants of yours, she’d REALLY choke on those,” Johnny shot back.
“Maybe we should flip for it,” Scott suggested.
“Do YOU have any money ta flip WITH, ‘cause I sure don’t have any. Besides, bein’ in jail when Nick shows up is bad enough. Havin’ ta face him in my underwear just might put me over the edge.”
“Do you really think he’ll show up?” Scott asked quietly.
Johnny snorted. “Of course he will.”
“Before the Duchess eats us?”
“Of course. It wouldn’t be no fun if we were dead. He’ll come here ta gloat that we fell for his stupid trick.”
“Why are you so sure it was him?”
Johnny looked at his brother in disbelief. “Are we in trouble?”
“Any chance of us getting’ outta trouble without it costin’ us a ton of money or getting’ us killed?”
Scott shook his head slowly. “I don’t think so.”
“If somehow we DO get outta here and make it home, is Murdoch gonna kill us?”
“I rest my case. It HAS ta be Nick.”
Scott shrugged. “I guess.” He wrinkled his nose, then sniffed cautiously. He looked at his brother accusingly.
Johnny glared back. “Don’t be blamin’ me. We ARE sharin’ a cell with a pig.”
“Don’t remind me,” Scott ground out. “You didn’t have to do such a good job at catching her.”
“What was I supposed to do? That damn sheriff had a gun to my head!”
“So? If you’re not going to use your head, what do you need it for?”
“I’M not the one that got us into this mess! You’re the one that wanted to escort the lady! I warned ya!”
“You SHOULD have shot me!”
“Next time!” Johnny promised.
Scott looked gloomily over at their cell mate and shook his head. For some reason he had never gotten into messes like this when he was in Boston.
“Now isn’t that cute.”
Johnny shoved his brother’s head off of his shoulder and looked up. Nick was standing outside the cell, a sarcastic grin on his face. “The three of you look real comfy.”
Johnny scowled at Nick, then glanced over to where the Duchess was sprawled on a squashed pile of wood that had once been the cell’s only bed, snoring and occasionally emitting a loud belch.
Nick followed his gaze and chuckled. “It sure is gentlemanly of you to sleep on the floor and let the lady have the cot.” His attention turned toward Scott, who had groggily lurched to his feet. “I hope you haven’t been disappointed in the lady’s manners.”
Johnny scrambled to his feet, slipping in the process. He examined the bottom of his foot, then glared at the man standing outside the cell. “Nick,” he said softly. “You either get us out of here right now, or so help me…”
Nick looked at the gunfighter in surprise. “That certainly couldn’t be a threat I heard, could it? I mean, I COULD just leave you here.”
Johnny lunged at the bars, and Nick took a cautious step back. “Or I COULD send a telegram to Murdoch,” Nick mused.
Scott looked at his brother warily. “I wouldn’t,” he warned Nick.
Johnny glared at Barkley. “You get us out of here right now, and I MIGHT not kill ya!”
Nick’s eyebrows went up. “Now why should I get you out? Behind bars is EXACTLY where you belong. It’s a lot safer for me, too.”
Nick shrugged. “Why do you think I should get you out? I’ll just be collecting my pig, and we’ll be going,” he said calmly.
Johnny turned a furious look at his brother. “I TOLD ya this was all his doin’!”
Nick shook his head. “Johnny boy, I have no idea what you mean! I can’t help it if you keep managing to get yourselves in trouble.”
“The ONLY reason we’re in trouble is because your DAMN pig ate the whole town, along with our money, and the local sheriff decided we’d have ta stay here till we paid all of the damages!”
Nick’s eyes narrowed, “You mean you’re in there because of the Duchess?”
“YES!” Johnny shouted. “That creature’s a menace!”
Nick looked at Johnny and chuckled. “Well, I guess Heath owes me some money,” he said, remembering his bet.
Scott glanced over at the Duchess, whose stomach rumbled noisily. Johnny and Scott cringed, and a few moments later, an almost palpable odor engulfed the men, sending Nick scurrying away from the cell, fanning his face with his new hat.
Scott looked panicky as he shook the bars. “I don’t care WHO owes you money, just pay the damages and get US THE HELL OUT OF HERE, or you won’t have to worry about Johnny, I’ll kill you myself!”
Nick looked at the Duchess, then looked back at Scott. “Just how much damage did she do, anyway?”
“She ATE the whole damn TOWN!” Johnny yelled. “Now get us OUT of here!”
Nick slowly shook his head. “I don’t think I can do that.”
"What do you MEAN you can’t do that?” Johnny growled.
“I MEAN there’s no way I can pay that much money. I only brought a little bit with me.”
“Then you have a problem, don’t you?” Scott said quietly.
“No, actually, I think you two have the problem,” Nick smirked.
“It’s YOUR pig!” Johnny protested.
Nick glanced over to where the sheriff was engrossed in trying to finish off the pancakes. Nick thought quickly, and decided Jarrod just wasn’t paying him enough for this job. He’d have to come and get his own damn pig.
“No, actually, I don’t think it is.”
“What do you mean?” Johnny said softly.
Nick watched as the Duchess belched noisily and then he shook his head emphatically. “I mean I guess I was mistaken. That is definitely not my pig.”
“Then whose is it?” Scott demanded.
“I believe she’s yours!” Nick beamed.
“SHERIFF!” Johnny yelled.
The sheriff looked up, then looked longingly at the last couple of pancakes left on his plate before standing up and walking over to the cell. “What do you want?”
“Sheriff, in case you didn’t know it, this is Nick Barkley, and this is HIS pig!” Johnny announced.
The sheriff looked interestedly at Nick, who hurriedly shook his head. “No, Sir, this isn’t my pig. It’s a case of mistaken identity.”
“He’s lying!” Scott insisted.
The sheriff scratched his head. “Now why would he do that?”
All three men stopped and stared at the lawman in disbelief before resuming their arguing. Finally the sheriff broke in.
“Is this or is this not your pig?” he demanded of Nick.
“It is NOT!”
“Are you sure?” the sheriff asked suspiciously.
Nick nodded emphatically. “Very. My pig was MUCH smaller.”
“Of COURSE she was much smaller!” Johnny howled. “She’s done nothin’ but eat and grow since we got her!”
“Well, she HAS done a few other things,” Scott muttered as scraped the bottom of his boot against what was left of the cot.
“Sorry, this just isn’t my pig!” Nick said emphatically.
“Yes it IS!” Johnny screamed. He looked at the sheriff. “Make him confess!”
“Now how am I supposed to do that? Beat him up?”
“YES!” Johnny insisted.
The sheriff shrugged. “The man says it ain’t his pig. I guess I got to believe him.”
Johnny looked around frantically. “I can PROVE it’s his pig!”
“How?” the sheriff asked suspiciously.
“Yes, how?” Nick asked in a slightly panicky voice.
Johnny bit his lip as he thought. Finally he shrugged. “Ya have ta let me out, and I’ll show ya.”
The sheriff looked at Johnny thoughtfully. “Ok. But your brother stays locked up, and if ya try anything, he’s gonna be the one to pay.”
Johnny nodded eagerly. “That’s fine with me.”
“No, it’s not!” Scott insisted.
“Oh no!” Nick looked at the lawman. “You CAN’T let him out!”
Johnny looked pleadingly at the lawman. “I can prove that pig is his, and then you can get paid and get rid of that menace!”
The sheriff looked at the mess in the cell and nodded, then stepped over and unlocked the door. Johnny stepped out, and the door slammed shut behind him.
“Now how’re you gonna prove it?” the sheriff asked.
“That pig loves Nick. He follows him everywhere. That would prove it, wouldn’t it?”
The sheriff looked at Nick suspiciously, then nodded. “I guess.”
“Sheriff, BELIEVE me, that pig does NOT like me!” Nick insisted. He looked at Johnny. “If anything, she likes her brother, here.”
Johnny launched himself at Nick, sending the two of them flying. Nick scrambled to his feet and punched Johnny in the stomach, and the gunfighter drove a fist into Nick’s face. The two of them wrestled wildly and crashed into the desk, sending what was left of the sheriff’s breakfast hurtling to the floor.
The men dropped to the floor and wrestled around, throwing punches and trying to rip each other’s head off. Finally the sheriff grabbed Johnny and dragged him off of Nick, then threw the gunfighter toward the cell.
Johnny started back towards Nick, and the sheriff drew his gun. “All right, back in the cell!” he ordered.
Johnny glared at Nick, who was grinning triumphantly while wiping his bloody nose.
“I SAID, back inside!” the sheriff ordered as he unlocked the cell door.
Johnny turned and reluctantly stepped inside.
“Feel better?” Scott asked sarcastically as his brother joined him.
Johnny looked at his brother and grinned. “Yeah, actually I do.”
Scott’s eyebrows rose, then he rolled his eyes and leaned back against the wall, studiously avoiding the Duchess, who had been watching everything with interest.
Nick stepped up to the bars. “Nice try, but as usual, I outsmarted you.” He looked at Johnny and Scott innocently. “Do you want me to let your father know where the two of you are?”
“NO!” Scott and Johnny shouted in unison.
Nick shrugged. “All right. How about a good lawyer? I can ask Jarrod to come and represent you, and it shouldn’t cost you TOO much.”
“Nick, you’d better watch your back,” Johnny threatened.
Nick looked at Johnny and smirked. “Now why would I do that? I have the feeling you boys are going to be out of commission for quite a while.”
“Not as long as you will be if I get my hands on you,” Scott said.
Nick chuckled. “You two have fun with your new bunkmate. I’m going home.” He adjusted his hat, which had been knocked askew in the fight, and marched out of the office.
The sheriff watched him go, then turned and looked at the men in the cell. “You two had better come up with some money, or you’re gonna be spendin’ the rest of your lives livin’ with a pig!” He looked over at his breakfast, which was strewn all over the floor, and sighed. “I’m gonna go get somethin’ ta eat!” He stomped out of the office, leaving Scott and Johnny alone with the Duchess.
Scott turned toward his brother. “Thanks, brother. YOU COULD have tried to be nice to Nick, and he MIGHT have gotten us out of here.”
Johnny shrugged. “No need.” He smiled as he held up the key to the cell.
Scott’s eyes widened when he saw what his brother had, and he grabbed for the key. “Let’s get out of here!”
Johnny pulled the key back and shook his head. “Now Scott, that would be breakin’ the law, and you know how I feel about that.”
“Yes, I do! So what are we waiting for? Let’s go!”
“Just calm down. We ain’t goin’ anywhere right now. I have no intention of gettin’ either the sheriff OR the Old Man any madder at us than they already are.”
“And I have no intention of staying in this cell with that monster ONE MORE MINUTE! Now OPEN that DOOR!”
“And why not?” Scott ground out.
“Because I have a plan.”
Scott froze. “A plan?” he asked incredulously. “A PLAN? Isn’t that what got us into this predicament in the first place?”
Johnny shook his head. “Nope. THAT was YOUR plan. Mine’s actually gonna work.”
“Somehow, I doubt that,” Scott muttered. “Besides, if your plan involves staying in this cell with that pig, you aren’t going to LIVE long enough to find out if it works or not.”
“I have no intention of bunkin’ with the lady any more. She snores worse’n Murdoch and smells worse than Jelly. Nope, we’re just gonna let our cell mate out and sit back and wait.”
“Wait? For what?” Scott asked in confusion.
“For the sheriff to come turn us loose. As soon as he figures out that the Duchess is really Nick’s pig, we’ll be home free.” He shook his head sadly. “I’m afraid Nick won’t be, though. I’m afraid old Nick just might be here for a long, long time.” He smiled. “Of course, we could tell his mother that he’s here.”
Scott shook his head incredulously “And just how is the sheriff going to figure out that the Duchess belongs to Nick?”
Johnny smiled. “Why that’s easy! She loves Nick remember? She won’t leave him alone!”
Scott shook his head once more. “The only thing that pig loves is food! Heck, she doesn’t even like YOU! There’s no way she’d going to like Nick Barkley!”
“Sure there is. You just have to give her the right incentive.”
“What?” Scott asked sarcastically. “Did you tell her he was rich?”
“Then what?” Scott asked in frustration.
“Have you ever heard the old saying, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach?”
“Well, that might work for you, but I doubt if Nick would be convinced that the Duchess is anything but a pig even if she fixed him a gourmet dinner!”
Johnny shook his head. “You got it backwards.”
Scott shook his head. “Backwards, huh? I guess that just about figures. After all, it IS your plan. All right, I give up. I can’t figure out what you’re talking about.”
“That’s ‘cause you’re not real bright. You never could understand any of my plans,” Johnny said sarcastically. “I’ll explain it real slow. Look, do you think the Duchess is hungry by now?”
Scott nodded. “Starving.”
Johnny nodded. “And do you think there’s ANYTHING left to eat out there?”
“Not a thing.”
Johnny grinned. “Well, there IS one thing. I hid a pancake in Nick’s hat.”
Scott’s mouth opened in disbelief, then he grinned. “Brother, you’re a genius!”
“I know,” Johnny agreed. “Now let’s let Her Hugeness out of the cell and sit back and wait.” He walked over and unlocked the door, and the pig strolled out of the cell. She stopped and licked the sheriff’s breakfast off the floor, then lifted her nose and sniffed some more. Finally, she ambled out of the office and disappeared.
Johnny beamed at his brother. “Now we wait. It shouldn’t be too long.”
Nick walked over to the saloon. He thought a drink would go down real well right about now. He had to admit, it had been pretty close. Johnny and Scott had almost managed to convince that stupid sheriff that the Duchess was his. He shuddered. He couldn’t imagine having to be locked in a cell with that monstrosity, and he was pretty sure that is what would have happened if the sheriff had thought for one moment that the Duchess belonged to him. For a second or two, he had actually felt sorry for Johnny and Scott. That was, until he remembered all of the problems that the Lancer’s plans had caused him the last year or two. He grinned. At long last, he was going to get revenge.
He pushed the bar door open and stopped in surprise.
“What the hell happened in here?” he asked the bartender, who was busily sweeping up. “It looks like someone had one hell of a good time.”
The bartender snorted. “She seemed to have enjoyed herself.”
Nick’s jaw dropped. “Are you telling me a FEMALE did all of this?”
Nick looked around incredulously, then made his way over to the bar, carefully stepping over the piles of broken glass.
“Won’t do ya no good,” the bartender observed.
“We ain’t got no more booze. She drank it all.”
“She drank ALL of it? The same lady that wrecked the place?” Nick asked in disbelief.
The bartender snorted. “That weren’t no lady, that was a PIG, and it was the SECOND time she did it! If I ever get a hold of the owner of that menace, he’s gonna be in a world of hurt!” He swept his broom angrily. That damn pig destroyed the café and the millinery shop, too! SOMEBODY owes this town a hell of a lot of money!
Nick opened his mouth and then snapped it shut. Suddenly, a drink didn’t seem quite as important as it had a minute ago. Getting out of town quickly seemed MUCH more imperative. He turned and sauntered casually out of the bar. Once outside, he hurried down the boardwalk toward his horse. He had only gotten a few yards when he heard a loud squeal, and he turned around to see a massive form bearing down on him. His eyes widened, then he turned and ran for his life, with The Duchess following along faithfully behind him.
The sheriff scowled at the two men sitting on the wreckage of the cell’s cot. “All right, you can go.”
Johnny beamed at his brother and punched him in the arm before jumping to his feet. “Told ya so!” He looked at the lawman. “How did ya figure out that was Nick Barkley’s pig?” he asked innocently.
The sheriff snorted. “You were right – that damn pig wouldn’t let him out of her sight. She followed him all over the town like a lovesick pup till he finally bolted to his horse and took off like a bat out of hell. Last I saw, the two of them were heading north.”
“You mean he actually left without paying the damages?” Scott asked in a shocked voice.
“Yep. Now it looks like I’ll have ta get a posse together and go after him.”
Scott shook his head. “Oh, don’t do that, sheriff. I’m sure it was all a big misunderstanding! Just send a wire to his mother, Victoria Barkley, and I’m SURE she’ll be delighted to pay the damages.”
The sheriff frowned in thought. “You think so?”
“I know so,” Scott said sincerely.
“Well, all right. Guess we could try it that way. After all, no one was real enthusiastic about goin’ after them, anyway, and I sure as hell don’t want that damn pig in my jail.”
Johnny grinned. “Aw sheriff, Nick ain’t so bad.”
At the sheriff’s raised eyebrows, Scott grabbed his brother by the arm and pulled him out of the office. “Come on, brother, we have some money to collect.”
Johnny stared at Scott. “What do you mean?” he asked suspiciously once they were outside.
“Thanks to Nick, I’ve lost a fortune, and I aim to collect what he owes us.”
“Uh, Scott, we didn’t deliver the pig.”
“So?” Scott glared.
“Well, I think that was kinda part of the deal.”
“That’s beside the point. We took the job in good faith, and that damn pig bankrupted me! Nick OWES us! Well, me anyway. Come on.” He grabbed his brother’s arm and dragged him over to the wagon. Johnny reluctantly climbed aboard. “I think this is a bad idea. Both Nick and the Duchess are miles away, and I’d just as soon keep it that way.”
“That’s the trouble with you! You’re afraid to confront people!”
Johnny stared at his brother in disbelief, then gave up and stared straight ahead. He knew better than to mess with Scott once he was determined to implement one of his plans. He just hoped this one wouldn’t land them back in jail. Of course, even that might be better than catching up with Nick and the Duchess.
Nick paced back and forth across the room, alternately glaring at the Lancers and his brothers. He finally decided his traitorous older brother deserved his wrath the most.
“You can’t be serious!” he shouted at Jarrod.
Jarrod shrugged. “I’m afraid I am. Since it was directly your fault that Scott and Johnny here weren’t able to complete their end of the bargain, you still owe them the money. It wasn’t their fault you kidnapped the pig from their care and brought her home yourself.”
“It wasn’t my fault, either!” Nick glared at Johnny. “I found out when I got home that SOMEBODY planted a pancake in my hat!”
“Do you have any proof that it was one of the Lancers?” Jarrod asked innocently.
“Well I can GUARANTEE you it wasn’t that damn pig!”
“Are you sure?” Scott asked seriously. “Maybe she was saving it for a midnight snack.”
Nick whipped around. “She was saving ME for a midnight snack! Every time I tried to get some sleep on the way home, I woke up to that damn monster slobbering all over me! Do you know what it’s like to go five days with no sleep?”
Jarrod shook his head. “I’m afraid you still owe the Lancers some money.”
Nick’s eyes widened comically, and he looked around at the surrounding men. “That’s right, gang up on me, why don’t you.”
Heath grinned. “You should be thankful that you don’t have to pay the damages that pig did to that town,” he said suggestively.
"And MORE thankful that Mother didn’t find out,” Jarrod added for emphasis.
“At least not yet,” Johnny mumbled as Heath and Scott each stomped on one of his feet, hard.
Nick looked at them suspiciously while Johnny tried to grab both of his feet at the same time.
“What did you do that for?” Nick asked his brother.
“We were afraid he was falling asleep,” Heath explained.
“Uh huh.” Nick tore his gaze off of them and looked at Jarrod once more. “Are you SURE I have to pay them?” he growled.
Jarrod nodded, and Nick reluctantly pulled out his wallet. He slowly picked out some bills and handed them to Scott. “I’m SURE the two of you are in a hurry to get home,” he said suggestively.
Johnny immediately reached over and grabbed most of the money from his brother’s hand and stuffed it into his shirt. Scott tried to get it back and Johnny swatted his hand. As the two of them fought for the money, Heath stepped up and held out his own hand to his brother. Nick looked at it like it might bite. “What do YOU want?”
“Money. We had a bet, remember?”
Nick turned purple. “Oh, no! The bet was Johnny would turn the Duchess into a pet! She HATES him.”
Heath smiled. “But she loves you!”
“Only because I had her dinner in my hat!”
“Doesn’t matter,” Heath argued. “She followed you faithfully all the way back home.”
“What does that have to do with anything?” Nick asked suspiciously.
Jarrod spoke up. “Heath told me the exact wording of the bet. I believe the bet was that Johnny would turn the Duchess into a pet. It didn’t specify WHOSE pet, and I believe that pig is still waiting for you to go back outside. She’s faithful to a fault.”
Nick’s mouth dropped open and he stared back and forth between Jarrod and a smug Heath before turning once more to Johnny. “I THOUGHT you were leaving,” he glowered.
“Nope, I’m enjoyin’ this too much.”
“So hand over the money,” Heath urged Nick.
Nick shook his head. “That was only PART of the bet,” Nick protested. And unless ALL of the conditions are met, I don’t owe you a thing!” he said smugly.
“I know,” Heath agreed.
“You do?” Nick asked suspiciously.
“Uh huh. The question is, do YOU remember the second condition?”
Nick thought for a moment, and then his eyes widened and he turned and looked at Johnny.
Heath smiled. “I’m sure Johnny here will be gracious enough to make sure that all of the requirements for the bet are met.”
Nick eyes widened even more as he stared at the gunfighter, who was grinning at him.
“Love to,” Johnny said happily.
“NICK!” Victoria Barkley yelled as she entered the room. “I just received a telegram from the sheriff in Sweetwater!” She shook the telegram in his face. “Do you know how much he is demanding from me?”
Nick turned back to Johnny. “Go ahead, shoot,” he pleaded.