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Peeling a Few Apples


San Joaquin Valley, California

Lancer Ranch


Our family has weathered the latest stretch of rough seas which, according to Murdoch, was no more than a bump in the road. I begged to differ but did so distanced from open windows, doors ajar and my father’s excellent hearing.


Scott scrutinized the pale, slightly frayed lines of his written words. Fishing a penknife out of his pocket, a half-smile recalled Johnny’s response to the revelation of their father’s eavesdropping strategy.


“What more proof do we need that the old man ain’t done hiccupin’? He just gave up one of his damn tune callin’ secrets.”


The pause blessed the courtyard table with a few wood shavings while the pencil gained a sharpened point.


In order for me to reasonably delay traveling east and keep an unassuming eye on our father’s improving health, Johnny readily agreed to ‘pour a little molasses on God’s calling’ and extend his time required at the mission by two weeks. Fortunately, my brother arrived back at the ranch yesterday. With Murdoch questioning if Lucifer was delaying the Good Lord from hand-delivering the oven bricks one by one, it became apparent the molasses was beginning to run thin.


Tomorrow, Kinsey and I ride to the Westcott Vineyards. Phillip Westcott will at long last meet the ‘wild pup’ who has captured his grandson’s heart. After a brief stay, Seth, Kinsey and I will journey to Boston where I anticipate -


Thud.


From the heavens above, a folded Green River Gazette dropped, covering the newly sharpened pencil and the hand holding it.


“You can thank me later.” Johnny and his grin splayed out in a chair with the casualness of a stringless marionette.


“Later, indeed.” Hand and pencil surfaced from under their newsprint blanket. “Mind telling me what I’m thanking you for at this time-yet-to-be-determined?”


The grin widened. “Page three. Take a look.”


Scott unfolded Will Jenkins’ bi-weekly publication of mostly factual information dusted with the editor’s own opinion and turned to the requested page. Viewing the articles, Scott squinted at the paper’s printed words.


“Half-pint’s right! You do need readin’ glasses.”


“My little cousin confuses the expression of farsightedness with that of pained confusion.” A finger landed on a possible gratitude. “Ah, I’m to thank you for Peggy Sue Palmer finally getting married. Congratulations!”


“Hell no!” Johnny cocked his head for a sideways glance at the paper. “Guess she got her pa to load up his shotgun and point it at some unsuspectin’ fool. Gotta admit, that’s a good break for the rest of us fellas.”


“Right.” As he scanned the newsprint, Scott wondered how close the fella seated across the table had come to meeting Pappy Palmer’s persuader. “Wait. Here it is.” A finger tapped the discovery. “Johnny, let me be the first to thank you for rounding up the stray cat population plaguing the good people of Green River.”


Eyes narrowed. “Brother, you have a way of trying a man’s patience.”


“I do.” To prove the accuracy of the statement, silent scrutinizing of the free press continued.


“The day ain’t getting any younger, Scott. Bottom of the page - right-hand corner.”


Impressively framed in a double-lined box, the advertisement’s generous use of exclamation points demanded an oral reading of Shakespearean quality. Scott happily obliged with a resonating tone.


Are you a silver-tongued devil with a story to tell?

Put pen to paper and coins in your pocket!!!!

Beadle Publications, providing readers with

literary excellence since 1860, pays top dollar for tales of

Intrigue!!!!

Mystery!!!!

High Adventure!!!!

New authors welcomed.

Submit to - 141 Williams Street, New York.


The thespian’s gaze slowly raised to settle on his younger brother. “You can’t be serious.”


“As serious as a nun kneelin’. I even got our word-slingin’ name figured out. J.S. Lance.”


“Whoa. Hold up.”


“All right. Fine. S.J. Lance. Didn’t think you’d care. Hard to deny though, J.S. Lance sounds better. In fact, it’s a damn fine handle for a writer of intrigue, mystery and high adventure.”


Scott squinted at the voiced opinion of letter placement.


Pained confusion settlin’ back in?”


“No. More like dubious befuddlement.” Scott pushed the gazette aside and dismissed Beadle Publication from the conversation. “Johnny, these dime novels are nothing but -”


“Easy money. Hear me out.” A palm slapped down on old Beadle and slid him back into the discussion. “We already got a story - just need to put pen to paper.”


“And that story would be?”


“Widow Patterson’s Apple Pie.” Johnny’s confident inflection was that of a riverboat gambler rolling loaded dice.


Rubbing the back of his neck, Scott borrowed serious pondering from his brother’s kneelin’ nun. “This might be harder than you think, J.S. Lance.” The devil stopped by with a smirk. “I have on good authority from the Presbyterian Ladies Social Committee, Widow Patterson’s taking her recipe to the grave.”


“Well, now that would be a right nice touch for an ending to Sam and Val’s shootout. Write it down.”


“Let’s see if I have it straight - instead of intrigue, mystery and high adventure, our conte involves bullets, jealousy and hunger pains.


“Couldn’t have said it better. I spin the tale, you add those pretty words of yours along the way.” The future dime novel author spread his arms out to round up all the hungry readers for intrigue. “Coins in our pockets. We best get started, brother.”


Scott leaned back with a smile and shake of the head. “Kinsey may be like a dog with a bone, but Johnny… you have the jaws of a snapping turtle.”


*********


Showdown at Apple Pie Gulch

by J.S. Lance


The sky’s flaming ball of scorching heat had covered the fair town of Red Ridge with a coating of sweat and dust. Leaning against the paint-peeled post that supported an overhang providing welcomed shade, Vernon Crawfish -


“Wait.” Scott’s pencil hovered above the writing paper. “Red Ridge? Vernon Crawfish?”


“Only makes sense to change the names. We don’t want all of Val’s soon-to-be admirers flockin’ to Green River. The man deserves his privacy.”


“Right.” Scott couldn’t wait to hear what moniker Doc Jenkins would be blessed with.


Leaning against the paint-peeled post that supported an overhang providing welcomed shade, Vernon Crawfish snagged his customary matchstick from the darkness of a shirt pocket and poked the replacement for rolled tobacco in the corner of his mouth. Nudged by a breath of hot August air, the hinged wooden sign above his head creaked like the cover on a coffin as it was hauled to boot hill. Ghostly white lettering spelled out Vernon's elected calling.


SHERIFF.


Back in the day, Crawfish had walked a different road. The matchstick danced across the sheriff’s lips at the recollection of his self-appointed title. Mercenary for Justice. He always liked how those words when repeated would raise an eyebrow.


Johnny grinned. “Got a nice ring to it. Mercenary for Justice. ”


Scott raised an eyebrow.


Crawfish had fared well as a Mercenary for Justice, but his tired bones began to settle uncomfortably in the saddle. Planting boots in a sleepy town to wear a badge rarely called out on the streets became mighty tempting. So, when Red Ridge offered, Vernon accepted.


Late night saloon talk, loosened by shots of rot-gut whiskey, has a way of hanging around for a few days. Currently knocking on the sheriff's door spoke of old Vernon getting soft around the edges from too many pieces of Widow Patterson’s apple pie. Crawfish removed the matchstick from its perch long enough to deliver a bullet of spit on a roasted cactus beetle. He smiled. Talk’s cheap. Let those boys think their town constable could no longer skin a sidearm to save a drowning man’s last breath.


“Hold up.” Scott frowned. “Dubious befuddlement is creeping back in. How does a fast gun save a drowning man?”

“All right.” A finger slashed through the air. “Cross it out.” Johnny rubbed a hand across his mouth and the saga continued.


Let those boys think their town constable could no longer skin a sidearm to shave the mange off a stray dog’s head.


Johnny paused for confirmation. “Clear things up?”


“Yep. Makes perfect sense.” Somewhere a Harvard English professor wept.


Gossip didn’t bother Vernon Crawfish much. Unless…


The sheriff's eyes darkened as if they’d been replaced by two black chips of hard granite forged by Satan squatting in Hades. Strolling down Red Ridge’s main street’s wooden walk, a dapper figure greeted passing townsfolk with a tip of his hat. It was a fact, gossip didn’t bother Crawfish much unless it was spilling out of the jaws of the pud-pulling Doctor Simon Jarkins.


“Whoa. Johnny. Pud-pulling? Let’s remember this is Sam we’re talking about here, not his burr-in-the-asscrack son. Show a little respect and give credit where it’s due.” Scott chewed the end of the pencil and pondered. “How’s this?”


Gossip didn’t bother Crawfish much unless it was spilling out of the mouth of Doctor Simon Jarkins or the yapping puss of his pud-pulling spawn, Winston.


“Well, I wasn’t plannin’ on bringing Will into this, but I gotta say that’s a damn poetic description.”


“Not to mention rather accurate.”


“Hard to pass up.”


“Indeed it is.” Scott grinned as he wrote it down and silently offered Emerson an apology.


The sheriff never took a liking to the Eastern sawbones, Doc JERK-ins. The matchstick wagged approval at its owner’s sharp-edged wit. Crawfish thought Simon’s words were too buttery, his clothes too fancy, his cologne too flowery and lately, a hint of apple pie floated on the man’s breath. Yes, it was safe to say Vernon Crawfish found Simon Jarkins -


Johnny’s gaze settled on a passing cloud. “What did Half-pint call you the other day?”


“Insufferable.”


“Nope.”


“Exasperating.”


“Not it.”


“Repugnant.”


“Nah.”


“Jackass?”


A brow lowered. “I believe the kid was referrin’ to me with that one.”


Scott puffed his cheeks and slowly exhaled. “For the sake of time marching on, would you consider the word vile.”


“Done.”


Yes, it was safe to say Vernon Crawfish found Simon Jarkins vile.


The passing years had taught the sheriff there were two things in life that would make a man happy to walk God’s green Earth for an eternity: a good meal and a good woman to prepare it.


Scott swore he heard the click of Kinsey loading the Yellowboy and targeting Johnny’s backside.

Vernon Crawfish became acquainted with such a blessing soon after the Red Ridge town council pinned a tin badge on his vest. Her name was Bedelia Patterson.


One dark night, the Lord above requested Bedelia’s husband, Phineas, to stand front and center at the pearly gates. The poor drunken bastard got his boot stuck crossing the train tracks and the eleven-o-five prided itself on punctuality. Bedelia grieved for Phineas’ misfortune by donning black for three whole days. Townsfolk’s opinion stated it was one day too many needed to honor the man.


The tempting aroma of the baked goods booth at Red Ridge’s fall festival provided Crawfish his first taste of Widow Patterson’s talent and she soon became the apple of his eye, so to speak. Nature saw to it that not long after, the sheriff’s slice of pie enjoyed a little a la mode behind closed doors.


Johnny’s devilish grin danced up to his eyes. “You think people will get our meanin’ right there?”


“Oh, it’s subtle, but confidence is high the reader will keep up.” Scott cracked his knuckles to relieve a touch of writer’s cramp. “Tell me, is the ending to this spell-binding saga in our foreseeable future?”


The teller of tales laced his fingers behind his neck and leaned back. “Brother, we’re just gettin’ started.”


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