Lost Page from "Splitting Hairs"
(Answering the question: "What was Scott reading while on that stagecoach to meet his father?")
Scott raised his glass to mirror Seth’s. “However, Pullman’s train shall give us pleasure. Naught like it was known before. All its comforts we shall treasure. Ere we reach the golden shore.”
“Not my words. They were penned by a fella named DeWolfe. He called himself a wandering poet. I had the pleasure of his company during my first cross-country train ride to California. It was to be a round trip.” A sip brought his thoughts back to the present. “Ended up as a one-way ticket.”
“The name’s DeWolfe, George Gordon Byron DeWolfe.” The gentleman sat down and extended his hand across the table. “By the time you get through that name they’ll be serving lunch so call me G.B. Looks like a full train car this morning. I hope you don't mind a breakfast companion.”
“Not at all. I welcome the company.” Scott accepted the greeting with a firm handshake. “Scott Garrett Lancer. Not as long but I’d rather skip formalities so a first name suits me fine.” Shaking out his folded napkin, Scott eyeballed the man across the table. “George G. B. DeWolfe. I know the name. Wait, I have it. The Wandering Poet of New Hampshire.”
G.B. placed an open palm to his chest. “Guilty as charged. Although my illustrious colleagues prefer Steam-machine Poet. They are under the assumption I don’t suffer enough due to the speed and frequency of my publications.”
“I’ve read many of your broadsides, all quite good. The Regimental Verses and Release from Libby Prison come to mind.”
Crossing his arms, DeWolfe sat back with his own turn at scrutinizing while a porter served their coffees. “Here sits a blonde-haired man of stature, his ethics fine and true, he served our country and the cause, in his Union suit of blue.” A filled mug raised. “Tell me I’m wrong.”
Scott smiled and followed suit with his own cup. “2nd Massachusetts Cavalry.”
“Ah, served under Little Phil, correct?”
“He preferred Fightin’ Phil.”
G.B. winked and grinned. “Oh, I bet he did.” Levity faded. “Quite a few of you boys ended up as guests of the Confederates. I’ve had the opportunity to speak with several of those brave gentlemen and I believe the privilege has been bestowed upon me again this morning. It’s an honor, sir.”
Scott silently nodded an acknowledgment of gratitude and prayed to let there be no more on the subject as menus were presented.
“That middle name of yours. Garrett.” DeWolfe scanned the printed entrees from the St. Charles’ kitchen. “Any relation to John Garrett?”
Prayers answered. “I am, although distant.” Scott raised an eyebrow. “Let me guess. You’ve met him.”
“Well, yes.” G.B. donned an almost apologetic look for name dropping. “Garrett organized the funeral train that took the president's body from Washington to Springfield, Illinois and…”
“The Assassination of Lincoln was a fine piece. You thoughtfully penned where others failed.”
The slight upturned corners of DeWolfe’s mouth contrasted with the sadness in his eyes. “Thank you. A difficult time for our country.” They made their breakfast selections. “So you admire the great poets - myself included, of course.”
“Of course.” G.B.’s unpretentious view of himself brought Scott a smile. “I enjoy Emerson, Whitman, Thoreau, Longfellow -”
“Longfellow? What the hell is Henry doing in there with that bunch? He’s no revolutionary. The man never traveled new paths so never broke new paths.”
“He’s too lyrical for your tastes?” Scott’s questioning inflection spoke with a poke of friendly sarcasm.
“No.” The poet grinned at the jest of his own published verses. “The problem is the bastard rhymes better than I do.”
Over the course of their meal the men shared opinions on poetry, politics and principles. Scott discovered his breakfast companion’s casual persona easy to converse with as talk turned to California and the opportunities it held. With the agreement to dine together again soon, their ways parted with a good day and final handshake over empty plates.
Later, when Scott entered his compartment, he spied a rather hefty, well-read book lying in the middle of his turned-down berth. Retrieving the unexpected item, Scott smiled at the title and opened the front cover - surprised by the written sentiment of its author.
To my dear friend, George DeWolfe - a frequent patron of wayside inns.
~ H. W. Longfellow
Underneath, in different handwriting, another message had been added.
To S. G. Lancer - a fellow traveler seeking answers.
Pullman’s train shall give us pleasure.
Naught like it was known before.
All its comforts we shall treasure.
Ere we reach the golden shore.
May you find your answers at the golden shore.
G. B. DeWolfe
P.S. The bastard really does rhyme better.
Scott smiled. Even though a first edition of Longfellow’s Tales from the Wayside Inn sat on a study shelf in Boston, this edition was indeed more priceless.
Lost Page from "Abracadabra"
Riding home while dawn misted the horizon purple, Scott anticipated the hot, steamy bath commanding top priority on his mental task list. With only one set of hands, required fence mends proved slow and difficult during his solitary days of line inspection, the progress further stymied by a pouncing thunderstorm. Each night, aching muscles which hadn’t spoken since the war returned to say hello as Scott sought out the line shack’s offering of a bed.
It served its purpose, as in, it raised a reclined body a few inches off the floor. Asking for more would’ve been asking too much. A man who measured five foot ten or less had constructed the bed frame. At least that’s what Scott’s feet assumed as they dangled off the end. The so-called mattress consisted of a few folded quilts which had given up some of their stitching and most of their batting to better days. Scott did admit the burlap bag stuffed with straw made a decent pillow. The field mouse living inside it concurred.
Yes, a long, sudsy soak was definitely in order. It’d been a hard couple of days - days Scott had thought highly unlikely considering it was the influence of several consumed beers at Henry's that inspired the brothers’ far-fetched scheme.
“I don’t have the schoolin’ you got but, goddammit Boston, I could learn how to handle fancy papers and talk decent. Seems to me it’s as plain as a birthmark on a burlesque dancer’s bosom. The old man thinks I’m only smart enough to eat dirt and stare at a steer’s ass.”
Scott’s abrupt, choking laugh nearly snorted his third beer out the nose. Getting comfortable with this newly discovered little brother and his way of describing a situation leaned toward painfully humorous. Although, seeing Johnny’s sulking eyes darken, Scott understood the birthmark-steer-ass perspective held no amusement. The laugh ended as quickly as it erupted.
“You’re looking at this all wrong, Johnny. From where I’m sitting, Murdoch believes his youngest son is man enough to eat dirt and…” Scott hesitated. Staring at the backend of a steer seemed irrelevant to the current conversation. “Well… what I’m saying is, see my point of view. I got demoted to messenger boy and sent to Sacramento. It’s damn clear our father believes his oldest son can’t physically handle a cattle drive.”
Johnny emptied his drink. “There’s a lot I don’t know about you, brother, but I do know I went and judged you wrong in the beginnin’. And I don’t plan on doin’ it ...” A sly grin pondered the mug’s glass bottom. “Too often.”
Scott welcomed Johnny’s sibling jab with his own smile. “Noted.”
A signal went up for another round. A prompt delivery ensued.
“Murdoch Lancer’s the one who doesn’t know me.” Scott gestured toward his brother with a held mug - beer sloshing over the rim. “He doesn’t know either one of us. How could he?” A sip punctuated the statement.
“Hell Scott, we could switch places and the old man wouldn’t see a difference.” A gulp underlined the opinion.
Silence settled at the table as eyes locked across the foamy beers. Scott’s mug lowered. “Say that again.”
“The old man wouldn’t see the difference if we…” Johnny gazed upward, paused, and then bounced a laugh off the saloon’s ceiling. “Nah.”
A slow nod countered the rejection. “Yes.”
Mischief pulled up a chair and joined in.
It was only a short wait before another business trip to Sacramento dusted off Scott's travel bag while a stay at a line shack for fence inspections packed Johnny’s. The brothers switched their mandated roles without their father’s knowledge.
A hard couple of days, indeed, and ones that Scott wouldn’t trade away one minute of. A smile greeted the large stucco arch displaying the last name he proudly wore.
The smell of Maria’s breakfast bacon floated out the open kitchen door and found Scott as he dismounted.
Tell me, ScottyGarrett, what has the good Lord blessed you with today?
Well, Winnie, I’d have to say the good Lord has blessed me with a culinary miracle. Bacon.
The bath slipped in rank. Rubbing his hands together, Scott’s strides carried him through the hacienda front door and on the path to the Great Room’s long table where delicious sustenance called out to an empty stomach.
Johnny, not a heavenly breakfast, sat waiting.
With his arm thrown over the back of a chair and sporting a cockeyed grin, the little brother’s hand hugged the mug in front of him while issuing a judgmental greeting. “You’re late.”
“Couldn’t be helped.” Claiming a chair across from the time keeper, Scott snagged an empty mug. “Bad weather set me back a day.” A finger pointed to the out-of-reach coffee pot. “Mind sharing?”
The cock-eyed grin slid into a smile to keep step with the traveling pot. “I do recollect admirin’ lightnin’ from a comfortable Sacramento hotel bed. Did you tell the shack mouse I said howdy?”
Scott poured his share of Maria’s strong coffee and lifted the mug in a toast. “He sends his regards.”
Each brother voiced a question at the same time - their overlapping words formed one unique query.
Did the Sacramento fence mendin’ lawyer find the papers to corral those damn strays up north satisfactory?
Laughing, Scott sat back and swept his arm out in front of him. “You have the floor, brother.”
“Well…” Johnny righted himself and examined the contents of his cup. “My meetin’ with the Sacramento lawyer fella went without a hitch. But…”
Mingling with the aromas from the kitchen, the word hung in the air to form a small, dark cloud of doubt. Scott’s stomach muscles tightened a bit. Hunger could not be blamed. “But what?”
Johnny’s voice lowered. “I jumped off the train in Cross Creek, headed to the livery stable to fetch Barranca and there stood the old man. He’d come to keep ya company on the ride home. But it’s me. Not you. When it shoulda been you. Not me.”
“Dammit! He met me bein’ you.”
Scott pinched the bridge of his nose. The fourth beer at Henry’s hadn’t addressed the possibility of Murdoch meeting what he thought would be his oldest son at the train station. “How’d he take it, seeing what we pulled?”
“Hard to explain.”
“Johnny!” The rumbling voice came from behind. “Didn’t hear you ride in.” The patriarch’s hand landed on his older son’s shoulder. “Did the mending go well?”
What’s Wrong with this Picture. It was a feature in the Boston Daily that, as a young boy, Scott couldn’t wait to snatch up. With pencil in hand, he’d pour over the detailed newspaper illustration, circling what was depicted wrong in the picture. Most of the time, it had been quite the challenge for Scott to spy the mistakes. Murdoch Lancer, on the other hand, currently made it rather easy to spot purposeful wrongdoing.
“Is there a problem, John? Did you leave your voice back at the line shack?”
“No. No, sir.” Scott cleared his throat. “The mending went fine.”
“Excellent. You both have been mighty busy these last few days. Get caught up over breakfast.” Murdoch’s eyes rested on his youngest. “I left the ledgers out on the desk, Scott. I want you to start working on those.” The father’s hand administered a quick, enthusiastic shake to the shoulder it still rested on. “Best hold off on a bath, Johnny. Cipriano will be needing an extra pair of hands for branding once you’re finished up here.” The patriarch shared a final thought upon his exit. “Good to have you home, boys.”
Scott’s squinted gaze drifted from the spot where his father was last seen back to the brother at the table. “He’s calling us by the wrong name.”
Johnny donned the smirk of a man who’d just heard the obvious stated as if it solved the meaning of life. “I hadn’t noticed.”
“Right.” Scott rolled his eyes. “Look, I’ll just explain why we -"
“Did that. Explained and explained… all the way back from Cross Creek. And let me tell ya brother, that’s a helluva long ride when there’s only one man doin’ the talkin’. We get to the hacienda and Murdoch finally opens his mouth. Calls me Scott and won’t let up. Damn annoying.”
Scott sat back with crossed arms and a soft smile. Damn annoying - also damn amusing. He’d miscalculated Murdoch’s sense of humor. “All right, let the man have his fun for now. Presently, all I want is what Maria is cooking up in the kitchen.”
As if on cue, the self-appointed mother hen of the Lancer children swooped in with two plates of mouth-watering aromas that only hearty breakfasts could produce. “Ah, Dos hijos en casa.” Servings glided in front of each brother with a no-nonsense directive. “Eat!”
Johnny’s confused frown reflected slight disgust as his knife poked one of the sunny-side-up eggs on his plate. Yellow lava oozed from the stab wound and flowed toward the numerous strips of greasy bacon peeking out from under thick cut grainy bread. Pats of butter melted and dripped from their toast tower, contributing to the ever-growing egg yolk stream.
Scott scrutinized the conglomeration placed in front of him. Fried eggs, onions and serrano peppers cascaded off a thick slab of smoked ham. The entire entrée swam in Maria’s spicy sauce created for the younger Lancer’s valiant taste buds. The fumes radiating from the dish made a man’s eyes water and his nasal hairs curl. Murdoch had enlisted a kitchen cómplice.
“The old man’s funnin’ ain’t given’ me the chuckles, Scott.” Sunny-side Up journeyed to a more accepting patron.
“He’s teaching his disobedient sons a lesson.” Spicy Sauce traveled to fill the empty space in front of a dissatisfied, dark-haired customer. “We’re not apologizing, Johnny.”
A few hours of branding intensified the allure of sweat Scott had acquired during his stay at Chateau des Souris. A hot bath reinstated itself as top priority.
“Sonofadevil burn in Hades!”
A mud-caked boot froze on the first step leading to the upstairs and sanctuary. Scott’s head slowly turned in the direction of the Great Room.
“Cursed jackass numbers!”
A heavy sigh and dipped chin acknowledged the resonating tone of frustration.
“Mother blessed sonofawhore oh hell and Mary help me Holy Ghost.”
The mud-caked boot stepped down and headed to the newly designated ranch accountant.
A thrown pencil bounced off the open ledger, arched through the air and landed neatly at Scott’s feet. Picking it up, an eyebrow raised. “I suggest keeping a firm grip on the reins with one of these. They have a tendency to buck a man off.”
Gripping the edge of the desk, Johnny pushed his chair back and stood. “Goddamn numbers.” A finger pointed to the columns of torturing figures. “They could make a nun toss off her habit.”
“And do a dance hall shimmy.” Scott approached the desk and rotated the ledger for a better once over.
A grin and guffaw ushered in a snickered inquiry. “How’d it go with you?”
“I managed not to brand Cipriano in the ass if that’s what you’re asking. Although it was tempting each time he called me Johnny. It seems our father’s clever response to his disobedient children has reached the bunkhouse.” Scott tapped the open book. “Here. You didn’t carry over this number. Tell your nun she needn’t go to confession - it’s a common mistake.”
“Gentlemen!” Teresa’s bright greeting danced across the room. “I’m pleased to announce your shirts are freshly washed, ironed, folded and delivered to your rooms.”
“My dear young lady,” - Scott's slight bow at the waist expressed appreciation - “you spoil us. Thank you.”
“You are most welcomed… Johnny.” A quick courtesy, a flip of the hair and the girl disappeared.
Johnny sidled up from behind the desk. “She called you Johnny.”
“She did.” Scott listened to the grandfather clock chime its afternoon hour. For whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
“You don’t think she…”
The brothers clambered up steps with the grace of two young lads stumbling down the stairs on Christmas morn. Slamming into their bedrooms, they soon reunited in the hallway.
Johnny, shaking a fist of Scott’s ruffled shirts from Boston, quickly summed up the situation. “I ain’t walkin’ into Henry’s lookin’ like I got a petticoat tied around my neck.”
Scott, with a handful of embroidered shirts, stated his sentiment. “Well, little brother, I have no desire to be confused with a pink lollipop.” The absurdity of two grown men heatedly discussing a bunch of clothing encouraged revenge. “All right. It’s time we started adding our own notes to the tune caller’s melody.”
The strategy was simple. Adopt the mannerisms of the other brother and give the old man what he wanted. Scott’s acquired drawl of prolonged vowel sounds borderlined campy but fared better than Johnny’s butchered Boston accent of dropping the r out of words. The younger brother’s extended pinky teacup etiquette contrasted nicely with the older brother’s feet-up-on-furniture flop. Scott’s rendition of I’ll be danged weaved in and out of conversations with Johnny’s delivery of I beg to differ.
It didn’t take long for Teresa, Maria, Cipriano and others to lose interest in the game. By the end of the week, Murdoch’s accomplices had grown weary of calling a brother by the correct name and not getting a response.
“Boys, time for a talk.” The patriarch assumed his traditional seating behind the desk. “Scott -”
“Sir.” With eyes straight ahead, Johnny’s military stance proved worthy of a promotion.
Murdoch’s mouth twitched as his eyes settled on his youngest. “Johnny -”
“Old man.” Hooking thumbs in his belt, Scott cocked his head with a lop-sided grin.
Another twitch and the tune caller forged on. “My mishandling of decisions resulted in your inaccurate assumptions. Points have been made and it’s time we called a truce.” Sons’ nods of agreement were soon tested. “Scott.”
“Sir.” A military pose replaced a slouch.
“Old man.” The reply possessed the right amount of relaxed drawl.
“Fine. Now, this ranch doesn’t run on its own.” The fatherly talk concluded as the man of few words left the room.
“I’ll be danged.” Johnny rubbed his chin. “He apologized.”
Scott smiled. “I beg to differ.”
Lost Page from "Curiouser and Curiouser"
People only see what they are prepared to see. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Scott stopped loading the wagon to watch Kinsey balance packages in her arms as she made her way down the main street of Green River. Correction. He was taking note of the men who were watching Kinsey balance packages in her arms as she made her way down the main street of Green River. One gentleman and then another approached her to offer his assistance. Smiling, his cousin would slow her gait slightly to politely decline their services with a shake of her head and then carry on.
Finally, arriving at her destination she called out, “Scott? Please help!”
Coming around the back of the wagon, Scott reached out in time to snag a few of her purchases before they tumbled to the ground. “I thought you only needed one or two items for your trip to San Francisco.”
“Yes. But then I needed more.”
“Obviously.” Scott smirked as he retrieved Kinsey's final package. “Why didn't you let one of Green River’s Samaritans do his good deed for the day?”
Kinsey readjusted her hat that had gone askew during her journey from the dress shop. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Yes, you do.” Scott pointed down the street. “Two gentlemen tried to help and you politely wouldn’t give them the time of day.”
“I hate drawing attention.”
“You adore drawing attention.”
“I didn’t require assistance.”
“You looked like the juggling act from a traveling circus.”
“If I let a gentleman carry my packages he will insist on engaging in conversation.”
“So? I’ve never known you to be tongue-tied.” Considering the silence which fell over his cousin, Scott agreed there was indeed a first time for everything. “Why have you suddenly turned into a wallflower?” He patiently waited. “The sun’s getting mighty hot while we stand here.”
“Evidently, I talk funny.”
“You have an accent.”
“Well, the men in this town think my speech is rather strange.”
“Your accent is...captivating. It’s all in a person’s perspective.” Scott was greeted with one of his cousin’s epic eye rolls. “You’re being self-conscious.”
“Where did you get this information on what men think?”
“I overheard a few ladies in the dress shop and -”
“Stop right there. The dress shop? Jealous gossip. Pure and simple. Now...” Holding out his hand, “Climb up and sit. I’m almost finished loading the supplies and we’ll be on our way.”
Walking a few feet Scott bent over to pick up one of the few remaining sacks of grain left outside the feed store. Turning around he observed a rather silly grin on his cousin’s face. Keeping an eye on her, he smiled back as he dumped the sack in the back of the wagon. Returning to the pile of feed he bent over to retrieve the next burlap bag when he heard his cousin giggle. Standing, he questioned Kinsey’s sudden mood change. “What’s so funny?”
“Oh, nothing.” The reflection in her voice told him otherwise. Bending over once again, Scott’s ears were gifted with another giggle which ended in a snort. Staying in his bent position, he gave his cousin a sideways glance to see her looking across the street.
Slowly righting himself, he followed Kinsey’s gaze to spy a few young ladies gathered - staring back at him - also giggling. Realizing they’d been discovered, eyes were everted and hands shielded smiles as quiet conversations began. Scott casually strolled back to the wagon.
“Are those the young ladies from the dress shop?”
“Yes, I believe they are.”
“I see.” Scott squinted as he scrutinized the onlookers. “Care to tell me what’s so amusing?”
Kinsey smiled sweetly. “I think you’re confusing amusement with admiration.”
Scott frowned. “Admiration of what?”
“Why, admiration of your visual attributes, of course. Actually, I’m guessing from your admirers' reactions it's one particular attribute.”
“I see.” Scott focused on the group of young ladies across the way and, tipping his hat, smiled. Knowing nods and slight waves were offered as a reply.
“Oh, Scott,” Kinsey tsked. “It’s not your dazzling smile they’re admiring. It’s more of a...” She briefly chewed on her thumbnail. “Such a delicate matter. My etiquette book didn’t cover this. Wait. I know.” Kinsey leaned in with the expression of sharing a well-kept secret. “It’s more of a posterior attribute!”
“Fine. It appears I need to be blunt. The young ladies are enjoying the sight of your... derrière.”
Dumbfounded, Scott needed a moment to find his voice. “My backside?”
“Well, Scott, that’s what the word derrière means -”
“I know what the word derrière means, Kinsey!” Scott felt his face turning hot and the sun had nothing to do with it.
“Did you know the word derrière is French for behind and in late Latin -”
“I think it’s a compliment the young ladies find your derrière ...cute.”
“Well, that’s the word they used in the dress shop.”
“My backside is a topic of discussion at the dress shop?!”
“Not cute necessarily. Perhaps captivating would be a better term? Oh. I understand your concern but you shouldn't be self-conscious.” Kinsey sat back and folded her hands in her lap. “I believe it’s an admirable feat to have one's backside gossip-worthy. I'm certain old man Fletcher’s derrière -”
“You’re right. I'm going to stop right here. Besides, it’s all in one’s perspective.”
Sighing, Scott placed his hands on his hips and stared up at his little cousin. “I do believe I've been taught a lesson on hastily dismissing your concerns as silly. Kinsey Rose, I apologize. When we get home I'll sit and listen. I promise.”
Walking back to the sack of grain still waiting to be loaded, Scott stopped, swept off his hat and bowed low at the waist to his adoring audience across the street. Replacing his hat, he turned and bent over to pick up the remaining burlap bag inspiring the sound of enthusiastic applause.
Yep. It's all in one's person’s perspective.
Lost Page from "The Interrogator and The Manipulator"
“Well, if Maria’s missin’ the heart from her spoon I can tell her where to find it; half-pint’s backside.”
Sometimes Scott didn’t know why Johnny said the things he said. The statement he just made was one of those times. What baffled the older brother, even more, is when his younger brother said it; between the passing of the potatoes and the buttering of the biscuits. To understand why Johnny said it one would need to go back to earlier that afternoon.
Their afternoon rides were usually more high-spirited, but today Johnny noticed Kinsey wasn’t talkative and her focus wasn’t on proper posture in the saddle. In fact, the expression on her face indicated she didn’t want to be in the saddle at all and he thought he knew why. It was obvious the little lady’s stubbornness is what still insisted on their daily outing. Johnny knew he should keep his mouth shut but he was reminded of what Scott had said in the past; When opportunity knocks…
“I’m surprised you wanted to go ridin’ today, half-pint.”
“I want to go out every day. Scott said I need to be comfortable riding Buck before I can start my equestrian lessons.”
“Well, that’s my point. You need to be comfortable.”
Kinsey’s eyes narrowed. “And what is that suppose to mean?”
“I’m just sayin’ I’ve been on the wrong end of a wooden spoon myself and I know right now your behind feels like you sat on a bee’s nest.”
“Well, John, how my BE-hind feels is none of your bloody business.”
Johnny saw the thunderstorm taking shape in Kinsey’s eyes, yet he continued on. “Darlin’, forgive me, but I gotta ask...your daddy ever spank you?”
Kinsey brought Buck to a halt. “What?”
“It’s an honest question. Did your daddy ever put you over his knee, toss aside those petticoats and spank your sitdown?”
The inquirer sat back in the saddle and adjusted his hat, “Well, that explains quite a bit.”
“For your information, Johnny, he didn’t have to. I was the perfect child.”
“You were a perfect child?”
“Well, half-pint if you were the perfect child then I’d sure like to know what the hell happened because that doesn’t ring true now.”
Johnny knew how fast Kinsey’s temper could hit but the storm still managed to take him by surprise each time it happened. Before his sly grin reached its full potential, Kinsey had Buck in a full gallop; putting distance between them at an alarming rate.
“Kinsey, I was just funnin’ you!” The girl was reaching the rise in the hill. “Kinsey Rose! Get back here!” The girl disappeared.
Reaching the top of the hill, Johnny’s own temper was simmering when the little lady was not in his line of sight.
Glancing down, he spotted Buck’s hoof prints. Johnny smiled. Kinsey had broken a hard right. The grove of trees had hidden her allowing the escape all the way to Martin’s Lake. Johnny’s smile widened. What better place to cool off a bee sting. Patting his beloved Barranca’s neck, the rider shared his thoughts. “Let’s take our time, boy. Let the little lass get in the water and simmer down.”
Circling around, Johnny also took advantage of trees to hide his arrival. “Thinkin’ it’s time to teach this perfect child a lesson.”
Kinsey was deathly afraid of snakes. Once, he watched the girl climb up Scott’s back like a cat up a tree after she uncovered a garter snake in the barn. Examining a fallen tree limb, Johnny judged it was the perfect size and color for his needs. Avoiding Kinsey’s detection, the prankster reached the water’s edge and with a nudge set the branch floating in the general direction of the lone swimmer. Spotting the bush where clothes were discarded, the young man chose this location to be discovered.
“Kinsey, get out of the water.”
“Kinsey, get out of the water.”
“Not until I’m ready, John, and not a moment before."
“Okay, darlin’. I’m not one to argue but best know there’s a big water snake takin’ a good look at you.”
Johnny was pleased how damn convincing that old limb looked. Kinsey’s scream that echoed through the valley and paused a man from taking a sip of beer in Green River’s saloon was impressive. Even if it had been a snake, the girl’s thrashing to reach the dry ground would have scared the creature into rigamortis.
“Turnaroundjohnny, turnaroundjohnny, turnaroundjohnny…” was all Kinsey could spit out between gulps of lake water and gasps of air. “Turnaroundjohnny, turnaroundjohnny, turnaroundjohnny.”
“I’m turnin’ around, darlin’.”
Once out of the water, Kinsey gathered the pile of clothes to hold in front of her for a less than modest coverage. The deadly snake branch drifted to shore moments later to demonstrate how perilous her situation had been.
“Johnny Lancer, I HATE you!”
With his hands on his hips, Johnny looked up at the sky. “Well, half-pint, that’s a shame ‘cause I’m in love with you.”
Johnny glanced over his shoulder in time to see Kinsey also possessed a sly grin. “Turn around, Johnny.” Before Johnny could comply, Kinsey did her own turning around.
Winnie passed the bowl of steaming potatoes. “I hope we were able to find an adequate replacement for Maria’s kitchen utensil.”
“Well, if Maria’s missin’ the heart from her spoon, I can tell her where to find it; half-pint’s backside.”
Lost Page from "The Temperature in Hades"
“Scott, this is extraordinary. Teresa and I have discovered several names, which match beautifully with John. Now, we must research further to find the one with special meaning for the said individual.”
“That can wait. Right now, Murdoch wants to speak with you.”
“The current temperature in Hades.”
Hesitation demanded a moment of silence.
“I see. Isn’t it rather late?”
“Well, young lady, I guess that depends on what you’re referring to; your time to retire for the evening or your decision to make a good choice.”
Scott noticed his little cousin blink twice and then once more. Her poker playing “tell” for being dealt a bad hand. You can’t stack the deck now, Freckles.
Murdoch continued to examine the papers on his desk as the two cousins entered the patriarch’s domain. Signaling Kinsey with a nod, Scott indicated she was to move forward while he waited behind. With chin held high, the little lady confidently walked to the nearest chair to be seated.
“No.” rumbled thunder in the distance.
Frozen in mid-flight to a landing, Kinsey observed a finger pointing to where her presence was required; in front of the desk. With false confidence still in control, the younger cousin presented herself front and center, hands on hips. “There’s no chair.”
Still focused on his paperwork the tune caller cleared up the confusion. “You won’t be sitting.”
Scott had planned to retire once delivering the requested culprit when he had a thought. What if someday I have a daughter and she’s just like Kinsey? Staying to take notes now seemed prudent.
Murdoch stacked his papers, crossed his arms, sat back and silently observed the stance of his guest. Time ticked on. Realizing her posture was delaying the conversation, Kinsey’s hands slowly dropped to her side.
“Kinsey, I would like you to explain to me your reasoning for inviting Winifred McLoughlin to our home.”
A cheerful response was offered. “To surprise Scott!” Silence indicated the questioner was waiting for more. “And to surprise you! And everyone...Surprise.”
“I see. That was your only motive?”
“What else could it be?”
“Rule number seven; you do not answer my question with a question.”
“Honestly Murdoch, I simply wanted to surprise Scott.”
“Rule number three; no embellishing, no avoiding, no statements of convenience.”
Encouragement came from the back of the room. “Freckles, you need to be truthful and answer the question.” A glance from Murdoch validated what the man had indicated to his son earlier. Okay, so maybe I am responsible for her spoiled, stubborn, indulging attitude.
Struggling, Kinsey disclosed what Scott had thought all along. “Winnie told me her relationship with you has been strained for years. She has regrets. She’s so sad and I thought. A letter worked for you.”
Murdoch held up his hand to silence the rest of the confession. “The next time you decide to build a bridge, speak to me first before you start hammering away.”
Scott nodded. Good, no mention of a barn door.
Rising, the tall man positioned himself in front of the desk; towering over the young lady. “Tell me Kinsey, how cold does it need to be in Hades in order for you to apologize?”
“Could we say the temperature of your room would be adequate?”
Uncertain where the conversation was leading, next to praying, Kinsey felt agreeing was her only option.
“My room would be quite adequate.”
“Excellent. You can retire to your room and write me a letter of apology for your disrespect displayed at the supper table this evening. I expect your letter to be by my breakfast plate tomorrow morning.”
The next morning as coffee was being poured, Murdoch found an envelope waiting for him but no Kinsey. Johnny indicated that “half-pint” was up at the “asscrack of dawn”, dropped off the envelope and proceeded to leave “like a bat outta hell” for an early morning ride.
Grinning, Scott commended his younger brother. “Why thank you, Johnny, for that eloquent description of the events which transpired moments before our father’s arrival.”
The brothers watched as Murdoch removed a neatly folded letter and began to read. His customarily gruff morning expression was slowly softened by the words on the paper.
Glancing at Johnny, Scott whispered an observation. “I thought only coffee could accomplish the transformation.”
Johnny’s first thought verbalized. “Check the temperature in Hades.”